Male and female

There is a patriarchal bias in Scripture and there is always a challenge as we read any portion of Scripture to grasp how we should respond. We can capture the Bible to our bias and use it to confirm our position, status and bias, or we can also seek to read it ‘against’ us as well as for us. That of course is very difficult to do with real integrity. The ultimate lens through which we have too view the various texts if Jesus, who is both the word of God and the revelation of the invisible God.

However much of a patriarchal bias appears at times in the Scriptures the first creation narrative does not seem to carry that bias.

So God created humanity in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’ (Gen. 1: 27, 28).

There is a temple theology undergirding the creation story. The whole of creation is a temple with the fitting final element placed at the heart of this ‘good’ temple – the image of the deity. Now we have a ‘very good’ situation. There is no carved image for this cosmic temple, but an image ‘made’ by God. That image cannot be expressed by a gender, but by humanity as a whole, or perhaps we could say humanity as intended.

We might wish to say that the image of God is equally revealed in the female as in the male but I suspect that is travelling in a too-Western and individualistic direction. I don’t think the gender distinction is really what is in mind here. Humanity is created and the language is probably a type of speech known as a ‘merism’. We use such phrases when we say ‘I searched high and low for…’ We do not mean we only looked in high places and only looked under other objects. We searched high, low and everything in between. Genesis begins with a merism by stating that God created the heavens and the earth – the whole of creation. Here then I also consider we have this type of speech: the focus is not on male or female as distinct but on humanity as a collective whole.

Humanity relating together is where the image of God is to be seen, and where those relationships are dysfunctional that image is tarnished and at the extreme simply is obliterated. Hence how we see others is so key.

Paul in his ‘freedom in Christ mantra’ refers to this Genesis text. He says

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3: 28, emphasis added).

The language is both a direct quote from Genesis and also incredibly strong. He writes twice ‘neither… nor’ but when he comes to this gender element he changes the language to ‘nor… and’. The gender difference has no weight at all in Christ, being human is the point. With Jew and Gentile there is a difference regarding election – not to salvation but to purpose. Slave and free is as a result of economic and social inequalities. Humanity, regardless of gender is something we all have in common – hence all war is ultimately civil war. This shared humanity is something so close to all of us where we can respond.

In the three distinctions I suggest we could think creatively about the election being with a purpose of holding space for a just society. Israel was to be an elect people for the world, both as a sign to the world, not being as one of the nations, and as a gift for the world. Slave and free, where position and status determine identity cannot be present in a true expression of the kingdom of God. All of this is founded on the creation reality that there is NOT male and female in the sense of identity, role and status. One humanity in Christ as image of God.

Definitions are difficult, and stereotypical generalisations are often not helpful but restrictive. Maybe there are feminine characteristics that are more intrinsic to females, and masculine ones that are more intrinsic to males. Maybe. However, it is whenever truly human characteristics are manifested that the image of God becomes visible, and the outworking into creation can take place.

For sure that can never take place in the context of a patriarchy that limits ‘male and female’; it cannot take place where ‘male and female’ are demarcated so that the image of the divine cannot be seen. There is something so fundamental at stake.

Maybe we need to draw up what are feminine and what are masculine characteristics. Probably very helpful so that we can gain clear sight. However, theologically it is essential to discover what is truly human and what is not.

We know that when God is present something happens to our relationships, and if it does not we have to question what ‘god’ was present. The radical nature of the Genesis verses are that when humanity relates rightly God is present! The image of God is there, God is seen, his goodness is distributed. Moses looked to the desert and saw the glory of God. He looked to the dry dust. Dust animated by the breath of God is where glory is seen.

Leonardo da Vinci has a quote attributed to him:

An arch consists of two weaknesses which, leaning one against the other, make a strength.

Now that is a challenge. Lean in not with our strength but with our weakness. In Spain vs. Cataluña there is no leaning in but coming in opposition to each other, even to the extent that the phone is not being picked up until the other party backs down. The result is a lock up. The result is division, fighting and violence. What is clearly visible there on a macro scale so often though comes through at a micro-, at a personal interrelationship level.

Leaning in… leaning in in weakness. Leaning in in such a way that there is no male and female. That is a different version of ‘ruling’!

A sweet day!!

Today was a big day to close a loop in Spain, and of course what I write here is a perspective on the events. The Valley of the Fallen was a burial place for Francisco Franco (driving force in the Civil War (1936-39), dictator until his death in 1975), José Antonio Primo de Rivera (founder of the Fanlange party, shot in Alicante, 1936) and 33,000 combatants from the war – from both sides… but many of them were also left in unmarked graves. (Spain is said to be second behind Cambodia for mass unmarked graves.)

In the Civil war there were terrible atrocities committed by both sides, so a one-side reading cannot do justice to what went on. However, the inappropriateness of Franco being buried in a place of honour along the dishonouring of those crushed has been an offence to many Spanish. And of course for Gayle and I this has been a focus for us for many years. It has taken us to the (now previous) actual grave of Franco, his birth home – the day after which parliament passed that he was to be exhumed. We have also been to the grave of Franco’s daughter which is in the main cathedral of Madrid, and was the place the family had wanted Franco to be buried if the exhumation went ahead. Gayle placed a blade of grass on it, declaring that all of us are as a blade of grass. Transient, and the effects of Franco’s domination was over. There followed many court cases fight both the exhumation and seeking to ensure that following any exhumation that the remains would be placed in the Almudena Cathedral in Madrid. Nice to get a result – though we are sure that whatever difference the above made, any shift that takes place is almost always due to the many unknown acts of people who have stood for the future.

So 80 years after the end of the Civil War, 44 years after Franco’s death and 41 years after the (supposed) end of the Transition to democracy, a HUGE event has taken place. We are so pleased that his remains were not moved into the main Madrid Cathedral. We have been praying and declaring – with some huge setbacks – that ‘Madrid will be the tomb of fascism’. Had his remains been moved into the Cathedral it would have become an easily accessible shrine to fascism.

The prime minister with great perception said a few days ago that this will bring the Transition cycle to a close. Those words sparked faith in our spirits as we had been praying into the completion of what was in its time, a good move forward, but increasingly was being shown as lacking completeness.

This day marks something enormous!! And we love days such as this. Now there are some real possibilities… and also perhaps even greater challenges. For the past 3 weeks I have had 2 nights of unbroken sleep – last night being one – so it seems to signify that there is a peace that had come…. that peace marks the closure of an era. ‘Tomorrow’, whenever that is, we will move forward from a place of rejoicing to put our shoulder back into things. As one wise politician said today (with a play on words), the remains of Franco have not been moved, his corpse has. The remains of Franco are in and through all the institutions… now is the time to move the remains of Franco.

A significant peg that was holding things in place has been removed. A brindis (toast) is in order, and tomorrow we will be calling for tomorrow. If the past cycle has been closed, now the only immediate question is what shapes what is to come.

Below is a provocative photo. The flag is a republican flag. Bottom line we do not give our allegiance. I was tempted to photoshop Gayle on the photo as this was something she might have crazily done!!

No it is not Gayle!! The flag? But the cross to mark such a place is not appropriate.

A great egalitarian Scripture

I will from time to time look at a few of the wonderful Scriptures that overwhelmingly convince me that status by gender is not something the Gospel entertains. Of course as always how we read Scripture is an issue for we can read it to almost defend whatever view we wish. Maybe if I get round to it I will also look at that. But for an opener there are two verses that record for us an interchange between Jesus and a woman that are simply mind-blowing (Luke 11: 27, 28). They follow on from some pretty hot teaching and activity by Jesus, demonstrating wisdom, understanding and the delivering power of God in a way that had not been seen before. In that context the woman says:

As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.”

Jesus responds immediately. He does not need to wait to consider what she said. We read

He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”

In this very short exchange comes an amazing contrast of world views. A world view that was common to the day and the starkly contrasting world view of Jesus as far as the status of women was concerned. The woman holds to the dominant world view of her day concerning the gender difference, and she articulates, without realising it, what the culture has taught her about as far as significance was concerned. She is so impacted by what she sees, hears and experiences when encountering Jesus directly that from deep inside something spills out.

It spills out, almost involuntarily, because the very act of speaking (shouting?) out as she did in public was not something that her world view supported. The impact of Jesus provoked her in that moment to act beyond what she believed was even appropriate. Her speech even confronted her own views!

Her world told her that her gender had a status that could increase with every break she might get in life:

She would start as the daughter of, growing up her status might increase if she was not single. So singleness was the base level. If however she could be married – be the wife of someone – she would go to the next level. Married but childless? That was not something she could live with easily. So to bear a child was the next level… and if the child was a male an even higher status was hers. That was as high as anyone could ever hope for, but on this day when she encountered Jesus she realised there was one higher step: imagine giving birth to a rabbi who lived, taught and behaved as Jesus did.

Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.

The contrasting view is the one Jesus came back at her with and in a few words turned her world upside down. Status is not based on gender, it is the same for women and for men. It is simply becoming who we were meant to be. There is no higher blessing, perhaps I might even suggest no higher glory.

Pause for a moment. Being the mother of Jesus is not the highest calling for a woman. Mary is blessed, but…

The Gospel is crazy. It does not put us down but pulls us all up. Unless of course we take a superior attitude then it seriously does pull us down. There are not many attitudes that God actively opposes but pride, arrogance, superiority? The Gospel has always been good news for the marginalised. And it will not appear as good news to those who do not make way for others to discover who they are and express who they are. Freedom to discover and to express rather than restrictions and blockages will always be the bias of the good news that Jesus brought.

Heaven’s help needed

I do not know how much the current unrest in Cataluña is being covered in international press. Below is a link to a set of photos from the third night of unrest. At this time there are 5 marches also en route from across Cataluña that are due to arrive in Barcelona on Friday.

Photos of third night of unrest.

There are questions that arise at such times, though the questions raised are always present, just not in such a provocative way as they are currently. Two simple questions that can be asked (though not so easily answered) are:

  • How much is what we are seeing simply a revelation of what was already there beneath the surface?
  • What level of expectation can we have to see a shift in the current crisis?

The only aspect of such a clear crisis as we are facing currently is that it helps one to focus. It is ever so easy to go through life and not see what is there. We can isolate ourselves, even isolate ourselves inside the Christian community, even by experiencing heaven’s touch, but not face the huge issues around us. I passionately believe that ultimately the keys for change do not lie in a White House, a #10 or a Moncloa (or a Brussels!), but are in the hands of believers, who understand that ‘all authority in heaven and on earth’ are in the hands of the Risen Lord.

Of course the current crisis has a context. A long historical context where two stories have been rehearsed. A story of oppression, restriction and persecution; and an opposing story of rebelliousness, selfishness and greed. The immediate past few days have added fuel to the fire with the sentencing of a number of Catalan political leaders. The result has been a large divide. Some of course protest concerning the harshness of the sentences – sentences for enabling people to express a vote concerning their future, and that vote facilitated by those who do not have any accusation of violence against them. Even last night from prison, Oriel Junqueras who was sentenced to 13 years, was appealing for non-violence, saying that ‘this is not who we are.’ Others have called the sentence a disgraceful sign of state weakness, calling the action a ‘coup d’etat’, and the sentences a betrayal of the constitution. That extreme view can be seen with one party leader appealing to the king to intervene as the sentences should have been up to 70 years long.

There is a context historically, but there is also a context spiritually. In a few days we should have the bones of Franco removed from the Valley of the Fallen. For some 5 years we have been praying into the constitution of Spain, and four years ago went to the Valley of the Fallen where Franco is buried, since that time we have prayed into the Transition years (1975-78) as we sensed they were far from complete, though almost certainly a wonderful result given that the country was coming out of fascist dictatorship to democracy and with a Civil War as the backdrop. Just a few days ago the acting PM said that when the bones are removed the loop of the Transition will be closed. We are grateful for that prophetic declaration, particularly as we had not seen it so clearly.

The end of a loop! Little wonder so much has kicked off. At a personal level we leave one framework and enter another one through the doorway of crisis, whether that be small or great. Likewise if this is a shift to a new framework in Spain it is not surprising that we are now facing crisis at a great level.

Without a doubt the current situation shows us what is there and things are being brought to the light. They also sadly become the soil to enable what is there to grow to a greater level. So I do not accept that we just sit back and say that it was there all along. Salt was one of the analogies Jesus used for his followers, and the salt of the NT from the Dead Sea had a strong property of preventing growth of what pollutes society. We are meant to limit what manifests as we take responsibility for our setting. The salt likewise, containing as it did phosphates, was also a promoter of good growth, a fertiliser. Our presence is meant to promote the good coming through.

We are not silent… we call for heaven’s help… we recognise the closing of a loop, the end of an era… and we call because we know that salt, as a metaphor, suggests that we do not need to see the full manifestation of unfettered division, hatred, anger and violence.

The next 20+ days leading to the national election will be very challenging indeed. Turning points often come at great expense. One of the key turning points in the original Transition took place with the non-violent response to a brutal assassination. That event was a major draw on us to live where we live, in the shadow of one of the most powerful sculptures remembering that event. We are watchful in this season for obvious reasons.

This has been a personally insulting year with many set-backs in our focus, and it probably indicates that we missed some keys along the way, yet even when we fail there is not a loss that cannot be redeemed.

What can we expect in Spain and into the crises we face? As we increasingly stand in the gap in whatever way we are led in our diverse settings we can expect a new landscape to appear that is more fertile than before. I remain ever so hopeful. None of us are alone… heaven loves to send in help. And we need it ever so much.

A little humility?

Most of us will have read about the sentencing of the Catalan leaders, and quite a few will have also seen the manifestations and stand-offs between demonstrators and police with a focus at Barcelona airport. I have my not-adequately-informed perspectives, and being neither Catalan nor Spanish am limited as to what I can really say.

Maybe though a few personal perspectives. I have always been right in all my opinions. I am convinced of that because I see what I see, and my sight… Oh no! All that just came out before I could press the delete button. How often we would love to find the delete button before our own inadequacies, weaknesses and arrogance are revealed. Yet not possible.

Things happen and then we are right there in the situation with our history and weaknesses delightfully manifesting. I had a situation this week. Here we are with two guests and it comes to paying the bill at the cafe. The bill comes, clearly totalling up what we have had and I pay exactly what was on the bill. Two minutes later as we stand up to leave, across comes the waiter with the manageress. ‘You owe us another 6.00€. You had two more drinks, and they were 3.00€ each.’ I look at the bill in her hand – 21.00€ and a list of exactly what we have just had, and there she is standing with 21.00€ in her hand that I have just given her! We also know exactly what we have had… A water-tight case and I will need no defence lawyer in this situation. Gayle is beginning to open a sensible dialogue and everything will be within seconds clear. However, there is a better way of doing this. In fact there is a right way of doing this, which has nothing to do with the money of who owes who what, it is about everyone being clear that I am right. So I quickly take over, and absolutely make sure that that my perspective becomes the only one. Stuff the money, I now have a platform for all my gifts. A God-opportunity handed to me on a plate. What God has opened no-one can shut.

On this rare occasion my perspective was the right one (nice for once), but now with reflection, why did I have to do it that way? The manageress did not have a leg to stand on. The best part of the experience was going back a little later to find the manageress to apologise to her for being too aggressive. I have no idea if she needed an apology or not, she graciously insisted she did not, but I needed to do that.

I am convinced change is easy. A little humility goes a long way. If I took time to reflect I would quickly understand the blockage to my six decades of slowness to change. A little bit of humility goes a long way, so I guess my lack of change and my wonderful double portion gift of revealing my immaturities just might be connected to a lack of humility. However, surely not, so I will move on very quickly.

A personal perspective because when it comes to something that really matters how difficult change becomes. Prison sentences, separated from families, histories being recounted that go back generations… it is hardly surprising that there are stand-offs. After all I can have a stand-off about 6.00€.

Dialogue and de-escalating potential conflict is not easy, and in Spain right now it will not be easy. Maybe though I will have a few opportunities to add just a little bit of humility to my prayers for the land. I don’t have to know too much about the rights and wrongs of the current situation; I probably won’t have an opportunity to have any level of influence at a visible level, but there will always be something I can do.

We certainly cannot stop what is beneath the surface manifesting. That is clearly a good perspective to hold. But by the grace of God there are aspects beneath the surface that can be so dealt with that they do not manifest, as the soil of history is cleansed.

These next 26 days in Spain running up to yet another election will be so key. We certainly cannot sit back and tick off what manifests. There are events that will take place that turn the outcome, but the nature of those events will be key. Who wins the election is not at all important; the outcome is what is important. A greater level of listening, co-operating, laying down personal agendas – the outcome is what is important.

These are huge days for Spain. There was a ‘transition’ over the years 1975-78 in the move from dictatorship to democracy. In a few days time there will be an event that has been described (and I believe prophetically described) as closing the loop of the Transition. A major door in and through the Transition of 75-78 was a tragic political shooting, right in the area where we live – that being one of the main reasons why we wanted to live here. As the loop closes there will be events. If we can shift something the events can take place in the heavenlies. That would be great. We do not need yet more manifestations of what is there. Enough is visible.

Equipped to serve…

With all my great abilities (!!!), or with a mediocre level of ability, I have over many years been involved in helping teach on courses that seek to equip people. Most of that was aimed toward helping people be more effective in evangelism or in taking responsibility within the (local) church. I have always enjoyed that and think a few people have also benefited. Thankfully this has not just involved helping develop skills but also in highlighting life issues and attitudes as being vital.

In this current stream of posts, writing about ekklesia it seems to me that there has to be a shift to helping equip people to serve the ekklesia, the body of people called to enable the world to find her right alignment. This is not to negate the need for all of us to be better equipped to share our faith or to hone pastoral and other skills, but once we consider that the setting for our faith to be outworked is the world, any element of training will be differently focused. Probably one aspect that will develop in these coming years will be networks of training that are not simply focused as previously, but on the implications of the ekklesia in the world. This is certainly one aspect we see for Spain.

Training people for ekklesia! That opens a wide scope and is so challenging. Many of the practical skills will be honed in the traditional settings, and in – sorry for the language as it is desperately shorthand – secular settings. But surely a commitment to Jesus should mean there are specifically Christian aspects to be developed.

We sat yesterday in an hour’s political gathering that had a focus on the environment. Two contributions stood out. One speaker named those who are (or were) prominently involved in politics within Spain and who are directors of, or financed by, the energy sector (gas, oil, electricity etc). The extent of the list was mind-blowing. Into a debate on climate change one realised just how ‘bought’ are the policy makers. Even where such politicians are not involved so much of their financial support comes from those sectors. (An aside – the reason we perceive that no coalition could be formed here in Spain and we are headed back to the electorate is that the banks stated directly who they would accept. This was both undeliverable and blocked all obvious other coalitions.) The speaker went on to say that democracy’s voice has to temper the economic world, or if not then that (economic) world will temper the voice of democracy, indeed it will all-but silence that voice. The other speaker that made an impact on me said in all the push for change in this crisis area of climate that if we ever resort to violence and move away from love that the means will never achieve the desired end, indeed it will block the path to the desired outcome.

I was deeply moved with the insights. (Interestingly as we sat there, listening and praying, we both saw behind one of the speakers an angel with him. This person is soft in heart, has been grossly maligned and professes to be an atheist… challenging paradigms, but we have to discover afresh who God is standing behind.) Those insights were so right on… and the challenge is that anyone following Jesus should be able to give those perspectives. Challenging as it leaves one thinking maybe there is no need for the ekklesia, with the voice of Jesus being so clearly heard… Or the bigger challenge of how different would a follower of Jesus be in those settings? We might have to learn some new language but as carriers of heaven there has to be something unique. The need is there to help followers of Jesus understand that they do carry something different, something beyond street-level enhanced wisdom. Equipping carriers of heaven to be an effective part of ekklesia.

We have to move beyond some old discussions. There are crises on almost all sides, with thankfully the climate crisis getting some front page space. We might as believers have been known for being pro-life, sometimes known for campaigning outside clinics, but the climate issue? To be pro-life is to look to the future so we cannot ignore it. To ignore it and claim to be pro-life seems every so empty. We drove to Madrid a few days ago and to see in spite of the levels of rain a few weeks ago that in October the land is parched (hence photo of Spain’s crisis attached to this post). Water, water everywhere (climate change flooding)… but increasingly for more people, but not a drop to drink.

Gayle and I are full of (self-examining) questions at this time. We are no experts. Here are a few of our musings (OK our confusions):

Where does change come from?

We are opposed to the idea that as the top 3% influence society so we need Christian people to get to the top of the mountain. Yet we carry some written words for those in the public eye who we believe God has placed there. Are we also believing the top 3% are the ones to be addressed?

We try to approach this with, the person who gives a cup of cold water is key to change the world. Change takes place through the smallest of acts. Yet there are those with influence for change, but if they seek to impose change top-down and do not flow from love they will not have contributed redemptively to the future. It is not simply structural change that is needed but a heart shift.

The early ekklesia is a challenge. Not many important, wealthy, wise etc. And chosen not to become the wealthy and wise but to bring to nothing that which is. (Now where did I put that Bible that told me my faith was a private thing that I can keep locked up in the world of my own spirituality. Better find it quick as the one I have now is causing me a lot of trouble.)

Are we too embedded in the system?

How does one look to see a shift in the economics of this world? Can it be done by buying in to the safety net of what do we do when we retire? Does wisdom (dependence on pension schemes) mean we are simply filled with hot air? In the scheme of white middle class we are not well set up, and having made the choices we have made our joint incomes are now 1/4 of what they were before our move to continental Europe… But in the big world of 7+billion we are maybe totally guilty as charged. Following Jesus is not a hobby, nor are prayers for global shifts ever without personal implication, yet I suspect that many current disciples are contributing to a future of greater inequalities as they put away their monthly contribution and are going to leave their offspring some serious resources. I don’t know if that is wisdom or building on sand. What we do know is we cannot answer for others, that we live in a world that is not clean… but we have to make sure that our actions, plans, hopes and securities line up with our prayers.

Are we contributing members of the ekklesia?

Are we effective, the measurement of which is not to be made by who we are but what happens around us. Life for the NT believer was measured by the presence of the life of the Risen Lord who became a ‘life-giving Spirit’. Life by NT definitions is measured by what happens through us. Is Spain different because we live here? One can have a house but a home in a place is very different. A home is a place where God is present and when s/he is present there are some very clear evidences.

Have we been able to make space for others to rise? We have certainly seen too many aspects go in the wrong direction to pat ourselves on the back too much!

Being an effective part of the body of Christ will make a difference to the world we live in. We seek to do that as we did yesterday, sit and pray. It is unlikely that an atheist is going to shift the spiritual powers that need curtailing, so at least we can do that for someone like him, who is better trained than we are and talks hope for the future. Then there is that family who we gave keys to our apartment so they can use it when they wish. If we want keys to Spain surely the least we can do is give them keys to here? Or is this to be our private property… in a land with many crises in housing.

Are we effective in helping those who do follow Jesus align themselves to the call to be witnesses to the Easter event and heralds of the coming parousia? I spent many good years with a focus on helping people align to be effective members of the local expression, and to evangelise so that expression might grow. But the future has to be increasingly provoking people to be witnesses so that the presence of Jesus might increase within the world. For all of us we will need to respond to the challenge of enabling people align to ekklesia, that body of people who self-consciously have taken on responsibility for the future of the world.

I just hope our musings / confusions, along with a few faltering steps, as we have tried to self-consciously align to ekklesia is taking some responsibility for the future of the world.

A final (or further) piece

It is great being the author of a blog as one always has the final word to say, although I cannot quite claim to have ‘great and unmatched wisdom’, though I am obviously working on that. Yes the gentleman who suggested that was one of his many attributes has set the bar high. So pulling back, momentarily, from self-inflated opinion I will modify the title to be a ‘further’ (and certainly not a ‘final’) piece on the ekklesia.

I appreciated the comments on the two articles and of course I am coming strongly from a perspective, hopefully not denying the validity of other perspectives. There are two ways in which sociology approaches healthy groups. They are either at the ‘community’ end of the spectrum or at the ‘movement’ end. Community is centred in on being there for each other, to enable one another, movement is focused on purpose beyond the community. Both are visible in Scripture. There are enough ‘one another’ Scriptures related to followers of Christ to see that perspective is a strong one. (‘Love one another’; ‘admonish one another’; encourage one another’; etc.) Most Christian communities that I know that carry this emphasis also strongly desire to change their environment. Movements have something in common among themselves – they hold to a common world-view that is not shared by the wider world and are seeking to change the wider world based on their world-view. The Civil Rights movement can act as an example. Martin Luther King’s speech ‘I have a dream’ is one example of what they shared in common that was not realised in the wider world that they were a part of. Their aim was to change the world-view and practise of the wider society.

Writing about ekklesia with its background both as the Hebrew of being called to listen to God then act in the light of that instruction, and the Graeco-Roman background of the legislative assembly I was pushing the ‘movement’ understanding of being together. That is my bias. I was also pushing that as a push back against a common approach that only accepts one expression (‘local’) as church. I am not advocating independence nor that another form is how it should be done. We need one another, one size does not fit all, and most of us recognise that many others who are followers of Christ are responding to the claims of the Gospel better and more faithfully than we are.

The challenge that we all face is being faithful in our context. Maybe we all find ourselves in settings that are ‘sub-church’! Now there is an adjective that might be very applicable. I find the thought of what on earth was Paul up to in planting and nurturing ekklesias within the one-world government system of Rome fascinating.

I suggest Jesus, and no one else could have done this, opened the door for Peter (as representative not in his unique right) to give shape to what an ekklesia would be within the Jewish world. That is one window on ekklesia but it is the world of pre-70AD and also of pre-Gentile mission. It is really the expression of ekklesia beyond that that should provoke our thinking deeper. Peter opened the door to Paul, in that he was the first, and reluctantly at that, to go beyond the Jewish world to the Gentiles. The Gentiles (us lot) was Paul’s first century mission field. The context was not of a covenant-people but of the world, and as already mentioned an all-but one-world government world.

It is interesting that the term ‘synagogue’ is rarely used for the Christian communities of the New Testament. That expression was developed in Babylon, and I wonder if it was something of a compromise in order to survive that then became the accepted norm. Paul uses the term ekklesia which would have been strongly understood to be political, and confrontational to the system.

There is good research that shows that many forms of church enable people to grow to a level of faith, but then by default place a ceiling over people going further. We also know of many lone-rangers who seem to get detached from the core of the faith.

As I look at the wider world we are in crisis. We could see the collapse of so much, or the coming together in alliances that provide the platform for dictators. Into that context I cannot help but believe Paul’s Gospel is so relevant. And yes, I do think he is pushing the movement end of the spectrum, while strongly recognising how much we need one another.

So thanks for the comments – provocative and clarifying. But not quite ready to suggest the photo I have attached is the image of the church. It is a photo of a very impressive building in Rome and worth a visit!

Miracle of Leipzig

Jeff Fountain publishes a weekly word which I have given a link to on previous occasions. Today was about the non-violent, Jesus-inspired movement of 30 years ago in Leipzig that grew to be a contribution to the Berlin wall coming down. The quote below from the secret police is so powerful:

We were prepared for everything, except prayers and candles.

Below is a link to the newsletter, followed by the article in full.

newsletter link opens in browser

Thirty years ago this week, a remarkable event took place in the eastern Germany city of Leipzig, inspiring millions to take to the streets across the country and to tear down the Berlin Wall exactly one month later.

The Nikolaikirche was the starting point of this movement of peaceful rebellion against the oppressive communist rule. The church was founded in about 1165 at the junction of two important trade routes, north-south and east-west, and named after the patron-saint of merchants. Luther is said to have preached here. Johan Sebastian Bach was master and organist of the choir, from 1723 to 1750. Many of his compositions were heard for the first time in this church.

The angel of peace above the altar was painted centuries before peace prayer services were begun, each Monday evening in the church in 1982. A protest movement against the arms race, and for justice and human rights, began to grow in the DDR (East Germany). The church became the focus for such discontent, including agitation for the right to emigrate. Believers and non-believers alike prayed, discussed and studied the contemporary relevance of the Old Testament prophets and the teachings of Jesus. The church was the one institution in the DDR that seemed to offer protection from the Stasi (State Security Police).

RADICAL IDEA
The pastor of the Nikolaikirche, Christian Führer, relished the chance to speak to a captive audience on the Sermon on the Mount. He also publicly supported those who wished to emigrate. But by late summer 1988, a more radical idea had taken hold: stay and agitate for a free and democratic Germany.

In February 1989, police broke up a rally calling for democracy and freedom. But the Friedensgebete continued to grow and, by the spring, the authorities saw the prayer meetings as a threat. Access for cars to the church were blocked. Even the closest motorway exits were closed off or subjected to large-scale checks.

By the autumn of 1989, the movement was approaching its climax. The Nikolaikirche continued to be open for all: true worshippers, the discontents, the curious, the Stasi and their collaborators, all gathering beneath the outstretched arms of the crucified and resurrected Jesus. Flowers decorated the church’s windows; candles multiplied throughout the building as silent signs of hope. Throughout all, a spirit of peace reigned. Crowds continued to gather at the church. Some demanded the freedom to leave the country; others declared their commitment to stay. The authorities tried to pressure the church leaders to cancel the peace prayers. Police surrounded the church and began making brutal arrests. Each Monday more arrests were being made, yet more visitors flocked to the church, overflowing its 2000 seats.

On 25th September, Pastor Christoph Wonneberger criticised state violence in his sermon and demanded democratic change through peaceful means. At the end of the service, crowds walked around the city’s ring road, gathering support until they were 8,000 strong. The following Monday, 2nd October, 20,000 marched to the Thomaskirche on the far side of the city, where they were met by riot police with shields, helmets and truncheons.

PROVOCATION
October 7 was the 40th anniversary of the DDR, an occasion for widespread protest. Police waded into protesters, arresting many and hauling them off to horse stables.

Two days later, October 9, a thousand Stasi collaborators were sent to the Nikolaikirche to ‘prevent provocations’. By early afternoon, 600 of them had taken up positions inside the church. By mid-afternoon the church was full and late-comers filled up seven other churches in the city centre by 5pm.

After the prayers, the 2000 congregants filed out of the building with their candles, to be greeted by 10,000 peace protestors outside. Waiting soldiers, paramilitaries and police began to move into the crowd seeking provocation, but no-one allowed themselves to react in violence.

Pfarrer Führer described what happened: ‘If you carry a candle, you need two hands. You have to prevent the candle from going out. You cannot hold a stone or a club in your hand. And the miracle came to pass. Jesus’ spirit of nonviolence seized the masses and became a material, peaceful power. Troops, industrial militia groups, and the police were drawn in, became engaged in conversations, then withdrew. It was an evening in the spirit of our Lord Jesus for there were no victors or vanquished, no one triumphed over the other, and no one lost face.’

Later the head of the Stasi admitted: ‘We were prepared for everything, except prayers and candles.’

The following Monday, 150,000 disciplined protestors walked through the city. The next week there were 300,000. A movement inspired by prayer, the teachings of Jesus and the courage of church leaders to stand for truth and justice was spreading across the country.

In spite of Eric Honecker’s claim on October 7th–at the 40th anniversary commemorations–that the Berlin Wall would last another hundred years, it hardly lasted another month. The soft powers of love, truth and justice had finally prevailed over brick-and-mortar expressions of division, deceit and injustice.

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