These interviews with Stephen Hill are very enjoyable (for me… hope for any viewers also!). Second interview with Stephen Hill, somewhat on ekklesia, with some conversation on post-Christendom.
In the last post I used the term ‘anthropecene age’ (big word… no expert here with keyboard I assure you!). The suggestion with the use of this term is that since the ice age we have lived with a reasonably consistent climate, but that there has been a huge shift due to our behaviour and that the next era will not be settled in the same way. Add to that the increase in pandemics in the 20th and now the 21st centuries and it seems likely that we have to think of the future as markedly, as opposed to marginally, different to the past. [A while back someone sent me a very helpful paper on the church and the pandemic, suggesting that there were three analogies that might help us think through a response. If it is a storm, it will pass, so just shut down until it is over; if winter then think a little longer term, make sure the supplies are in place etc., but again it will be over, just the time till things are back to normal will be longer. But if it is akin to an ice age we should not be thinking this will be over, and we will not be able to predict too accurately what will come out the other side. I consider this is not a storm, and it is something more sever and longer lasting than a winter….]
It gets me thinking… and, although I understand the hope that everything will get back to normal I am really not convinced that is the case. What if this coincides with a couple of awesome scenarios? What if we really will see something along a ‘third phase’ outpouring of the Spirit. From Pentecost of 2012 I have been declaring that that is what we are entering into. Let me explain… I see a pattern in Peter’s prophecy in Acts 2: this [outpouring] is for you, your children and for those afar off. What does ‘afar off’ mean? Does it simply mean they get pulled into ‘us’… or as per Peter / Cornelius is the discovery that God is already present in and among ‘the afar off’ for ‘us’ to find out?
Then what if…
Come on there has to be a lot of ‘what if’s?’ if we are going to get our heads to no longer determine what is and what is not.
What if Paul was very smart but only had revelation to a point? Sure revelation way beyond the likes of you and me, that I don’t think is to be disputed. After all you have to have serious revelation to go about planting (right word?) an ekklesia where there was already an ekklesia, planting / initiating the true body of people who would make sure that their polis (city / city-state) was transformed. The ekklesia of Jesus was where he pinned his hopes, not the one that was sanctioned by Rome that already existed. So given he had incredible revelation; but what if he saw the first step on the process. What would he consider today? Would he think primarily geographically, because I am sure he was shaped by discipling ‘all nations’ (ta ethne: I know we like to think of ethnic language when we consider this, but it was simply an overarching term for all those that are not seeking to live from a covenant relationship with God… now that opens up whole communities that we need to think about, and arguments about sovereignty being restored to nations when the nation -state of today is NOT the nation of the Bible is likely to cause us to miss this moment… Blah de blah…)
But beyond the blah blah, maybe we need to think again about the first step in our context, and as we enter this so named ‘anthropocene’ age. And maybe we need to be already thinking about steps 2 and 3… steps that Paul perhaps did not have sight of; after all he was keen to get to Spain so that the whole of the Imperial land could be impregnated with the first step. Until the first step is complete maybe there wasn’t revelation for the steps beyond?
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.
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!
It is genuinely difficult to know what was going on inside the mind of someone like Paul in the NT times. We are not living in that culture, and there has been so much development in church tradition since then. I often ask myself a question along the lines of ‘what on earth was Paul seeking to do as he travelled across the Roman Empire?’ We can answer it with planting, encouraging and seeking to keep on track the various ‘in Christ’ communities. But for what purpose and what did he hope might be accomplished by his focused activity?
I open with that because often, and certainly so in Protestant circles, the adjective ‘local’ has been added to the word ‘ekklesia’ which seems to make that expression legitimate… and, by default (or design) all other expressions as illegitimate. To some other expressions the adjective ‘para’ has been added, thus accepting that they have some relationship to church, but are certainly not the real thing.
The new church movement is what shaped me with a belief that the church was built on a foundation laid by apostles and prophets. The ongoing work of the church was to evangelise a locality, plant new LOCAL expressions that carried the same DNA, and enable people to grow in Christ. And I thank God for the many lives that have been impacted through that work.
However, the adjective ‘local’ is questionable. I can certainly find the understanding of the church in the locality (‘saints in Corinth’, for example), and the use of the word ‘church’ across a region (Acts 9: 31).
Maybe tradition means that the word local is the one word that legitimates but I challenge that. In challenging that I am not questioning the validity of a local expression, but I am seeking to push beyond that to legitimise other expressions, that have often been delegitimised through the addition of such adjectives as ‘para’, or worse ‘not proper’ church.
It seems that the word ‘ekklesia’ has two underlying backgrounds. It was an everyday Greek word, being the regular assembly where those who qualified could give their vote on the issues facing the community / city. This local assemnbly had been pioneered in Athens at least 600-700 years before Paul. A solidly agreed description of the ekklesia was that it was
The regular opportunity for all male citizens of Athens to speak their minds and exercise their votes regarding the government of their city. It was the most central and most definitive institution of the Athenian Democracy.
By the NT era this assembly was something well established across the Graeco-Roman world. It was open to males over a certain age and those free. Paul’s mantra of ‘neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male and female’ is radical not only in the light of Jewish but also Graeco-Roman restrictions.
We see this use of the word ‘ekklesia’ with this meaning when the town clerk responds to the riot in Ephesus with ‘If there is anything further you want to bring up, it must be settled in a legal assembly (ekklesia, Acts 19:39).
The radical nature of Paul’s language into the culture of the day was that of using the term ekklesia for what he was involved in planting. Each city already had an ekklesia before he arrived! Just a little provocative.
The other background is drawn from the Hebrew Scriptures and again in Acts we can see how it is used when we read that Moses
was in the assembly (ekklesia) in the wilderness (Acts 7:38).
This word, ekklesia, is normally used in the LXX (Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures widely used in the NT era) when the underlying Hebrew word was not simply ‘people’ (edah) but a word used when the context was of people being called to listen to God and to act in response. The word ekklesia normally translates the Hebrew word ‘qahal’, which seems to be related to the word for voice. It is a purposeful word, referring to a people on a mission.
Unless we suggest that Jesus’ use of the word ‘ekklesia’ in Matthew 18:17 are words written back into the mouth of Jesus by the writer, then he seemed to suggest that the travelling companions were indeed church… and certainly not ‘local’.
If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church (ekklesia); and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
Back to Paul… So what was he up to?
With this post I finish the material we sought to share in Brazil and the earlier part will also summarise some of what I have already written about. Hope it is not too long to read right through. Tomorrow I will copy a writing from around 150AD – who said I was not a traditionalist?
We are not sure exactly how different the focus ‘up’ to limit hostile powers differs from digging down to the depths as the two have to be related. The spiritual powers gain authority from what has been sown (history affecting geography, down establishes up) and likewise the hostile powers shape what can grow and multiply (up solidifies what is down). They both affect each other. The dimension of digging down though has a very earthy element to it and it is necessary to hear the cry of the land to respond, even if that cry is at times twisted or inarticulate. The response to the cry has to be through us seeing a new way of freedom, proclaiming it and relating to what is around us as far as is possible as if the new way is the reality. This emphasis of digging down coincided with a dream we were sent for our work in Spain about finding the shape that held up false structures. That shape was like an arch and in the dream the person had Gayle said the shape reminded her of a boomerang. The challenge with the boomerang is that one can throw it away and it returns. This has been our experience of late, when we have had a verifiable significant shift witnessed reflected by a news item, but only for it to be replaced by something perhaps even stronger. This pushed us to consider how we need to go deeper.
We consider that this is becoming very necessary in the context that many of us are finding ourselves. We are to be pressing in for a ‘whole new creation’ and at the same time we are experiencing that being challenged as we are in danger of losing the good that has brought us thus far. Democracy is not sacrosanct but the shift to control and silence the voice of the people is a huge danger sign. The use of the term ‘fake news’ does alert us to manipulative elements and biases in news reports, but when it is used now in a popular way so that it becomes a blanket term to silence criticism and control the work of the free press, we should recall that this was one of the ploys of the Nazi movement in the 1930’s with their term ‘Lügenpresse’ (=fake news) to attack journalists who were trying to report the facts.
In the previous post I wrote of Paul’s apostolic message and how we need to get to the starting line with respect to his message. Paul’s summary sentence about the result of the community of God in Christ is very informative when it comes to the shapes that are deep in the land that hold up false structures:
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).
It is this that has pushed us to look again at a deeper level on the issue of gender: neither male and female. Interestingly Paul changes the language from neither… nor to nor… and. A clear reference back to Genesis (God created them, male and female) suggesting that the destiny of humanity is not through going back but forward. We cannot underestimate how deep the gender issue is for the release and fulfilment of God’s future vision. We have to go deeper than simply ‘can a woman teach / have authority’ etc. Thank God for the work done on that to show the reading of Scripture (the ‘difficult texts’) do not need to be read at all in a limiting way. But pressing deeper to something very insidious, to the foundations of patriarchy takes us to another level, and opens up that Scripture is not simply written in a historic context (it is written, for example, pre-science as we know it) but also it is written an underlying patriarchal context – the context of the Fall. Scripture is God’s word to us but contextualised; it is a narrative that means we have to read it in context. If not, there would be a very strong argument to revert back to days of slavery and to defend that position, as did evangelicals at the time, on the basis of the clarity of Scripture. We do not have the right to change Scripture but we are compelled to free Scripture to be the word from God.
Likewise class issues (neither slave nor free) means we have to change how we see people. They cannot be seen according to the labels society put on them. Seeing people according to their destiny also necessitates relating to them in that way. The ‘fear’ narrative dehumanises people and what dehumanises is rooted in the spirit of antiChrist. I consider that perhaps dehumanising even leads to demonising, not simply in the figurative sense of the word, but by releasing demons to their work in that context… and certainly those who dehumanise open themselves up to demonic blindness and oppression, for there is in some measure an alignment with the spirit of antiChrist in the dehumanising response. More is being required of us, and given the wonderful outpourings of the Spirit and the release of gifts within the body this should not surprise us. The level is going up and so we are to go deeper, and our prayers for the glory of God to be revealed means how we relate to the ‘other’ will determine the level of glory seen. When glory comes it will come full of grace and truth with the evidence it has been manifest will be that the person we are relating will find their head has been lifted up (‘You are my glory and the lifter of my head’).
There still is something very deep to be worked through on Paul (a Jew) who says ‘neither Jew nor Gentile’ both in the specific context of how Israel is viewed and related to and the wider issue of nations and borders. We must always hold out, as Paul did, for those who are Jew by race to come to true faith. He saw that coming through a jealousy of what was taking place in the body of Christ. Jealousy is the fear or realisation that one is losing one’s place. Is there sufficient evidence that the church is marked by the presence of God? That is the pathway: through provoking jealousy to salvation, and so ‘in this way all Israel will be saved’ (καὶ οὕτως – ‘in this way’, not a temporal clause as sometimes translated ‘and then’, thus Paul is looking for a continual process not a one off end time event). ‘All Israel’ of course is a challenging phrase, but we have to remember that the debate in Israel was who was Israel, and it was defined by those who had true faith not had proven genealogy. How many of genealogical Israel can be part of ‘all Israel’ was a burden for Paul so he worked hard among the Gentiles to be an answer to his own burden.
A blanket support for Israel will I think blind us. After all they were not to be a nation as the other nations were, and so maybe we should be careful in simply wanting to help them become that. We should anticipate some very creative ways for the borders for the peoples being resolved there. And I consider that the body of Christ should be at the forefront of praying and working for those creative, reconciling paths. (I am aware that life in and or Israel is not easy with many who wish their annihilation. I am not suggesting an easy solution. If ever there is a geography that needs deep digging then that land is the place.)
Beyond Israel and the Gentiles though lie something for most of us much closer to hand. The deep nationalism that many of us have been taught to embrace has to give way to understanding the unity of all humanity. We are all from one source and within that God has given boundaries and times for the peoples to live:
From one person he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. (Acts 17: 26,27).
Yes there are boundaries but they are not fixed for all time. They are fluid and are the place where angels are often encountered in Scripture. We are living at a fluid time in history, perhaps the time of greatest change. A time when many people can find God, and find him in a new geography. We cannot simply respond with fear to what we see nor with an appeal to sovereignty lest we find ourselves opposing what God is at work doing. The challenge is when God is at work there is also a great presence of the demonic seeking to pervert and suffocate what God is doing. There are no easy answers to the many challenging global and national crises but we have to be careful as the body of Christ that we do not fall quickly into the trap of finding the quick solution. If we lift our eyes we see him, then we see others in the context of a new world.
The body of Christ… What a call. Thank God there is variety within the body, but there also has to be an increasing connection to the world beyond. This leads me to the final aspect we shared:
We are not to resort to God is in control
I overstate things somewhat but in order to bring in a corrective perspective. We sing God is sovereign, but he gave that responsibility to us. He reigns in the heavens and one day his reign will be complete throughout all creation. The question is how is that accomplished? We can consider the commission in the Garden and from that understand that the responsibility was given to humanity. God was freely available for review and advice at the end of each phase of work – he came in the evening time. That commission came to rest on Israel’s shoulders, to be a light to the nations, and a priest before God on their behalf. At the fullness of time, the time of great darkness, the Light came into the world and the darkness could not overpower it. He, as the Second Adam, showed us the pathway, with the disciples saying ‘what manner of human is this?’. Raised as the eschatological human he becomes something for the body. Having gone down to the deepest place and risen to the highest place he filled all things.
The world is not out of control and God is deeply involved, but the key issue is that there is a major role for the body of Christ. Stewards taking responsibility. Maybe one day people will say, ‘we did not recognise you we thought you were the Gardeners working to restore all things.’ We await the parousia for the fullness of that, but can live now as a prophetic sign that is visibly pointing to that great day.
‘They all spoke’ and if there is a creational pattern we can also look at what God spoke into in Genesis as there is a pattern there. Creation has two issues, namely it is without form and it is empty. For three days God deals with the issue of the formlessness, he puts in boundaries so that there is shape, then for three days he fills the shapes he has prepared. Given the creational background to Pentecost this pattern is something we would be advised to follow.
The first aspect then is to create a shape in a hostile environment. When we do this we should not be expecting great success! The powers (institutional and heavenly) are hostile to the plan of God. The heavenly powers hostile by nature and the institutional ones hostile by default as they are hijacked by spiritual powers. If we enter those spaces assuming all we need to do is fill them we should not be surprised if at times we are overcome. Simply sticking the name ‘Christian’ or ‘kingdom’ to it will not make the difference. I have heard too many times (and also from Christians) ‘that’s the way it works’ when referring, for example, to business practices where an unfair offer is placed on the table and that is used to manipulate a deal. Really? A kingdom approach? I appreciate that we work from where we are to something more redemptive and there is compromise in the kingdom as we engage the powers, but there is redemptive compromise and there is being sold out to unethical and dehumanising practices.
What kind of shapes should we be pressing for in politics, medicine, health, education, farming / animal walfare etc.? In the current political realm it seems we have moved beyond simple lying, through denial to the predominant culture of denialism (Denialism what drives people to reject the truth.) The battle to enter that arena as a redemptive politician is enormous. Coming at things from a bias of prayer is there a pushing back in the spirit so that the spirit of denial does not take root? If we, the body of Christ, are responsible for the world we live in what world are we complicit in allowing to take place? The examples can be expanded to cover all the bases of our society.
If we embrace the implications of pentecost I will continue to speak in tongues, exercise the gifts of the Spirit, but will also need to push for something beyond that – or at least some within the body of Christ will need to do so. Into a business / financial culture of profit is the bottom line (and one that is normally aligned to the idolatry of the ‘invisible hand of the market’) what definition do we need to bring as those who embrace a pentecostal paradigm? The bottom line for us believers has to be some level of effort to provide a shape where the majority possible can be helped to see and step toward their destiny. How about a bottom line financially being a response to the question of how many people that we are able to benefit from our services… for free!! Maybe I am pushing it here, but that was an OT stipulation.
If Pentecost is about an imperfect people being empowered by heaven’s perfection so that there can be a transformative agent in the earth, we have a lot of ‘speaking’, of drawing lines in the midst of chaos and mixture. Only once God had drawn the shapes did he begin to fill them. And there is so much need for a filling of the shapes in society. This I understand to be the body of Christ’s responsibility, not a responsibility to fill the shapes but to ensure they are filled.
I am glad that at one level we fail, that is if we set perfection as the level. If however God is not expecting perfection but redemptive signs we have a lot to pull for with optimistic hope.
(Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash).
I have referred to an open vision that someone sent us – along with others – many, many months before the UK referendum on EU membership. In it she saw, and no one was even close to predicting this at the time, that a hand would come and withdraw the UK from the map of Europe. The result was that light and colour drained out of Europe, she saw it going down something like a hole in the south of France. We did endeavour, with those she sent the vision to, to close the hole by travelling there some two years ago.
I appreciate that for those within the UK there is divided opinion on the merits of the (less than perfect!) EU. I voted to remain as an embracing of the continent has always seemed very important to me spiritually – and of course one could vote ‘leave’ and still hold the importance of being together relationally. I also voted that way as I see NO reason from Scripture to suggest the evil beast of Europe – if only it was that easy!! The beast is a lot more subtle and more widespread than anything Brussels could ever compete with. Anyway enough of that and back to the vision…
In these past weeks I have been thinking about what a draining of colour would mean, and realised that colour is diversity. In the diversity of the light spectrum came the promise of God’s commitment to the world. In the diversity of the oft-four times repeated (and varied) phrase in Revelation: ‘every tongue, tribe, peoples and nation’ we find that God is glorified.
The history books that will be written of this period of time will I suspect reflect on a battle for the future of Europe and its identity. Either the future could be more diverse (with the wonderful challenges presented by that) or there could be a shutting down and an exclusion of what looks different. Colour or monochrome?
I think it is very rare that God says, close the door!! It seems he usually says open the door and make room. To do so necessitates that we come out from under the fear narrative. Many in Germany have done just that and we hear wonderful reports of those who have fled there, with no faith or with faith in a God other than the Lord and Father of our Lord Jesus, who have come to faith. It would not be the first time in history that God has revealed himself to those fleeing imperial power.
While reflecting on the vision it becomes apparent that the response of the UK is very important. More important than a referendum on the EU, important as that was and is proving to be, is the willingness to embrace at a deep level diversity. Easier said than done, but an open heart to travelling unknown paths is a starting point.
It is interesting living life in a land that is not one’s birth land. I cannot claim to understand being an immigrant – I am probably a hypocritical one. (Hypocrite was ‘actor’ in Greek.) Gayle and I have privileges. we can live here legitimately. We are not in fear of someone banging on the door and we are deported – and even if we were we are not being sent back to a dangerous situation. We refuse to live as ‘ex-pats’. We are immigrants. I was told by one of my more honest neighbours recently – so you have lived here 10 years and your Spanish is a disgrace (OUCH!). We are immigrants, but only slightly on the outside. I guess all we can do is continue at the hypocritical (acting) level and maybe we will so get into the character that we become more genuine. We can only give what we have and what our situation allows us. That is our very small contribution into the plea for colour to be present in Europe.
Our contribution is small – all our contributions are small, but maybe in the context of the future of Europe those living in the UK might just have a big say. Bring on the colour!!
For the past couple of months I have been mulling over these three words in the context of our relationship to ‘the world’. Here then are a few of my not totally formed thoughts (partly provoked by a video clip of Dr. Sam Wells that I watched). My guess is this is an extension of contemplating how to be ‘in’ the world but not ‘of’ it. The application should be into a much wider context than evangelism (and I think the primary biblical paradigm is ‘witness’ not evangelism as defined by modernism) but will use that as my means of dialogue.
In the TO the world, my approach is shaped by a view that I am over here, the world is over there and there is a gulf in between the ‘washed’ and the ‘great unwashed’. I have an obligation to do something to them, but in taking that approach I enter into a I-it relationship (Martin Buber’s usage to describe something that falls far below a true encounter). I do this to someone as we are very different, they are truly the other, and other in the sense of inferior. Evangelism is done to in order to convert, if there is a conversion then they can move over here to where I am, and then together we can act to do more ‘to’ those who need conversion. If there is no conversion then necessity means I should move on with the hope that someone else I do this to will be more responsive.
In the FOR mode, I recognise how much I have that the world does not have, therefore am moved to share what I have with them. The invitation is to come to my ground as I have something for them. This normally moves beyond a simple I-it relationship, but can prove very problematic when there is no response leading to conversion. Does the relationship continue or is it now unprofitable as there are others who I can relate to in a ‘for’ them relationship. The hope is that they will convert, join me in my ground and together we invite others across to hear what we have for them. If they do not convert I am in a bit of a dilemma as I only have so much capacity. If it was a true I-thou relationship do I drop them and use my energies with others?
In the WITH mode, I recognise that there is a commonality between us all. I do not abide in some separate piece of ground, but live, move and have my being as all others do in God. This commonality means I am seeking always to relate to anyone, regardless of how ‘other’ they are in a I-Thou relationship (Buber’s term). I see we have much in common, this commonality is not based on a specific response of faith – and Paul’s relationship with the Asiarchs is a powerful example on this (Acts 19). We are not simply coming with our projects, but with our gifts, calling and faith to discover ways of being ‘with’ people. There will be a very strong ‘with’ whenever there are those who dream of a different world, for if anyone is in Christ they do not simply dream of a different world – there is a different world.
(The above I have applied to ‘evangelism’, but it needs to be applied to so much of Christian charitable work also. It might be a great experience to go and work in an underprivileged place, and there might be many reasons why we cannot simply go and live there, but the deepest relationship is the ‘with’, not the ‘for’, and certainly not the ‘to’ relationship.)
The believer in Christ lives in two places: in Christ / heavenly dimension and geographical / horizontal relational level. (‘To the saints in Christ in Corinth’ was a typical Pauline greeting.) We have to be faithful to both settings, and both settings are lived in simultaneously. Our faith determines how we live in the second setting. We live there to humanise others, to be full of hope, to bear witness that our world view is shaped by the Transcendent one who entered into a I-Thou relationship with us. Tangible signs also accompany us: the signs that Jesus gave marking the change of time, those of supernatural healings and of the marginalised hearing the sound of good news.
To be in the world but not of it necessitates living in both spheres simultaneously, of determining to be shaped by the ‘with’ mode. A new day is always being offered; a new day should have been our habitat given the resurrection. Maybe the sound of a new day has been muted because the body of Christ has not been too quick to live out the new day in the ‘with’ mentality.
Glad I call this site ‘Perspectives’ as it gives me an opportunity to write from time to time some musings that enter my head. Today’s musing began when Gayle read me concerning a lawyer who used to play on his home beach in Mumbai as a child but when he returned as an older adult it was covered in trash. He began with one other person to try and clean it up and eventually engaged the wider community. It took over a year till they began to see the beach restored. When the beach had been in good condition all those years ago turtles had come and laid their eggs on it, but none had been seen in the previous 20 years. After cleaning it up the turtles returned. Although there is ‘no more sea’ in the new heavens and earth this surely is a theological statement concerning the imagery of the sea as the source of chaos and not a material statement about its non-existence. If what we do now is providing the building material for the age to come (our good works) maybe what this community is doing is making some sort of provision for that age. (Perspectives / musings!!)
The story did get me thinking about something that many religions have in common. They seem to elevate ‘spirit / spiritual existence’ above physical existence in a way that denigrates humanity. Thus embracing the ‘soma sema’ of Greek philosophy (the body is a tomb, the real me is inside this tomb… real life is non-physical, death is an escape, etc.). Or they embrace the exercise of power over as being the mark of righteousness. We see this with Paul as a ‘righteous’ Jew. Persecuting those who were renegade to the faith, viewing them as enemies and deserving of the expression of his zeal. The Crusades and some aspects of current terrorism are religiously motivated with the desire to impose what is ‘right’, and what is right takes precedence over the lives of others. In the realm of legislation we see this in a desire to express ‘sharia law’ over a society, and also the Christian variety of that where we wish legislation that imposes Christian values.
I, as do most believers, oppose abortion except for some very few cases. As far as I am aware this was also the personal position of Obama in the USA although his position on legislation was that it was a personal choice. Abortion is one of those very difficult areas for believers who are in public office. Personal beliefs and public legislation cannot always line up. The arguments are very far reaching, but the fact that the abortion rate was lower at the end of Obama’s time than before the famous Roe v. Wade ruling indicates the complexities involved.
Faith has a huge impact on the public life of a society and rightly so, but a religion, any religion that seeks to impose on the wider society often draws on the concept that righteousness is aligned to power over. Add to that the elevation of life that is a removal from society (spirit is superior) and maybe we can suggest that (most) religions have those two elements in common. The two elements result in a withdrawal from the wider society and an engagement that is an imposition of a change from above.
The Jesus way I think is different. Righteousness cannot be about expressing zeal against people. Paul concluded that what he formerly considered was an expression of righteousness he now saw as excrement and that he was indeed the chief of sinners. Righteousness has to be centred on enemy love. Zeal has to be a zealousness for the ways and character of God to infiltrate society: love permeating all relationships and actions. A spirituality that is life-affirming, that sees the (eternal) good in the actions of all around us.
Does such an approach compromise the message of the Gospel? Yes, if the Gospel is about power and the denigration of human existence. But if the Gospel calls all those who have heard the voice of Jesus to follow him and lay down their lives for others, and then ‘go’ with a focus on discipling all peoples there is no compromise, particularly when on that journey there is no elevation of self over others.
I end my musing with the question as to what contribution religion, in all its forms, has made to the world as we have it today when shaped by the twins of spirit above matter and power over others for righteousness’ sake. And what might happen if there was a genuine Jesus revolution by a new apostolic wave that was willing to work for the future with patience, knowing that the multiplicity of the small and the richness of diversity could yield a future so different to the one that will be ours if we continue on this current pathway.