Digging down

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.

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Pentecost: let’s speak

‘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).

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Can we see in colour?

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!!

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To, for or with?

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.

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Spirit & Power: religion set the rules

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.

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Can we hold the space?

The European project that has been a gift to create peace among nations is under great threat. That project, with such Christian people as Robert Schuman (1886-1963) at the foundation, has been criticised as it developed into the EU. Certainly far from perfect, but if any demise will lead to a pulling back into self-protective borders, we might be regretting the jettisoning of the imperfect. I do not simply refer to the Brexit, but to the responses and tensions within the EU over how the humanitarian crisis is faced. And of course this is not just a European issue but one that is affecting the USA very acutely also.

I live as a privileged immigrant. We have food, we have legal, if not full status. Yet we have come not too different to many other immigrants who are arriving for external reasons. They are forced to come and many wish to make a contribution to the land. We are not here for external reasons, but by inner conviction and seek to make a contribution to the land. We pay our taxes here, and as a result pay significantly more than if we remained registered in the UK. Many come here as privileged immigrants, do not pay taxes and call themselves ex-pats. Those who act in that way are not under any great threat of expulsion from Spain or another similar country. They are, after all, only doing at a personal level what major institutions do at the global level. Finances and power give them the right to live / exploit where they want and when. We do not want that right, and many cast adrift on the Mediterranean of course do not come with finances or power… but if given the opportunity would make a home in the European lands and seek to make a contribution.

The EU is more likely to collapse as a result of the shutting up of borders to the outsider than it is simply post-Brexit. A number of years ago, long before the Brexit we were sent an open vision someone had while praying. She saw that a hand came and took the UK out of a European map. Then colour and light drained out of Europe. This was long before the Brexit and at a time when there was no-one predicting that the referendum would go the ‘leave’ route. We held it as the track record of the person is exceptionally high and noted that she said the Brexit referendum would be about the future of Europe. A number of us have travelled to the place where the colour and light disappeared in the hope that we could sow into the future. There was a second part of the vision also.

While in Prague we were told that most of the Eastern European countries are looking to tighten their borders. We were told this by believers who did not seem to see this as an issue. However, it is not just Eastern Europeans. There are very real issues that Italy and Greece face as most immigrants arrive in those lands and it is easy to criticise their actions of turning away mercy ships. If they turn away ships and other European nations turn away we have a problem.

We are grateful that Spain (Valencia) welcomed the Aquarius (and two other ships) with 600+ rescued from the Mediterranean. Grateful that into a port that brutally shipped Spanish born Muslims in the 1600s it now welcomed some 400 years later others in return. This we have prayed for, ending in Gibraltar last year, and curiously the ship arrived under a Gibraltar flag!

There are very real issues being faced in the so-called developed West over immigration. However, we have contributed to the problem over decades. The supply of arms to these nations where the conflicts exist have meant countless thousands have been made homeless and lives put at risk is down to us. The wealth we have accumulated at the Southern hemisphere’s expense has likewise driven people this way. (And when in Prague, an ex-communist city, it was easy to see that there is no difference between capitalism in its dominant neo-liberal expression or communism. Both are servants of the evil of bio-power. Human resources are their fodder.)

We are not politicians, and they certainly need prayer for wisdom as to how to move forward as so much is at stake. We are not politicians but the Gospel does not allow us to think of the message of Jesus as non-political. We, as the body of Christ, and therefore some individuals within that body will have to step up, have to somehow hold open the space for the future. And in holding the space begin to speak some content into that. God created through holding space (to counter the ‘without form’) and then filled that space (to counter the ‘and empty’). We likewise have to hold space and this is vital at a time when there is the desire to collapse borders. The shape of the EU is not the issue but living as family across Europe is. The Pauline Gospel seems to drive us that way. Living in the one-world government era his one passion was to get to the extent of the borders. The Jews in Exile had a great opportunity to live out life in the imperial world of Babylon – but they hankered for the land and created the synagogue!

Can we hold the space? The lands are changing, and need to change. We have utterly failed in our stewardship of the lands, failing to be a resource to the rest of the world. We can only anticipate that there will be wholesale shifts of population. Can we hold the space for the new? This is not a time to allow small borders to shape the future. And in holding it can we begin to prophesy what will fill that space?

I hope, as a Brit, that the Brexit did not sow something into Europe of closing borders that is now being replicated in other nations. Maybe the Brexit had little to do with political shape and more to do with how open we will be to the other. If so something must begin in the body of Christ as we are called to be the salt of the earth. We will have to step up to hold back the pollution that rises so easily.

We can do so little. Gayle and I can live here as immigrants, love the land, refuse to live with a border mentality. We can begin there in response, but we know that will not in itself be enough. There will be more we will have to do, but we must start with what is in our hands.

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Ephesus – remarkable Asiarchs

The riot is in full swing and Paul is being blamed for the downturn in business. There is a untied protest of ‘No’ to Paul’s influence from the artisans whose profits are being threatened:

A certain silversmith, Demetrius, conducted a brisk trade in the manufacture of shrines to the goddess Artemis, employing a number of artisans in his business. He rounded up his workers and others similarly employed and said, “Men, you well know that we have a good thing going here—and you’ve seen how Paul has barged in and discredited what we’re doing by telling people that there’s no such thing as a god made with hands. A lot of people are going along with him, not only here in Ephesus but all through Asia province. Not only is our little business in danger of falling apart, but the temple of our famous goddess Artemis will certainly end up a pile of rubble as her glorious reputation fades to nothing. And this is no mere local matter—the whole world worships our Artemis!”

Paul, being who he is, takes it on himself to sort it out and says he will go in to the midst of the riot and calm things down. Whether this was a faith, or simply a personality, response we don’t know but his optimism was not shared by his merry band, who strongly insisted he did not risk his life. We read that their response is to strongly oppose him:

the disciples would not let him.

Thus far understandable, then comes the amazing part which Luke precedes his description with the word ‘even’ indicating that what we are about to read is a surprise:

even some officials of the province of Asia, who were friendly to him [Paul], sent him a message urging him not to venture into the theater.

I moved away from quoting the Message which translates the term ‘Asiarchs’ as religious leaders. They did have responsibilities connected to religion, but their involvement in that was because they were in positions of influence over the city (polis, hence political) and region. I note that Luke does not include them as ‘disciples’ but as friends of Paul. These are non-believers whose city is in turmoil because of Paul’s message. Further, his message is undermining of their position, so they do not have vested interest in Paul’s survival, the one who has come to town and upset the well-ordered apple cart. They have potentially a lot to lose if Paul continues with his Gospel / political (‘polis’ re-orientating) message.

These Asiarchs have not got hold of the ‘through Jesus you need to get saved’ part of Paul’s message, or if they have they have not accepted that part, but somehow they have seen or heard enough to realise that Paul’s message contained the hope for the future. However good the city was now, they somehow had grasped that the implications of Paul’s Gospel would so impact society that it would bring about positive outcomes, even if maintaining their own position was put in jeopardy.

This indicates some incredible challenges for us as 21st century believers:

  • The gospel that Paul proclaimed had serious implications for the ordering of society.
  • He articulated that part sufficiently to make an impact on political / social leaders.
  • His message was centred on Jesus, though not all grasped the need for ‘personal salvation’.
  • He was friends with those in society. They were not simply there as fodder for an evangelistic course.
  • I extrapolate (and this is consistent with the call of Israel / the call of the church as royal priesthood for the world) that the church was present in the city to facilitate those finding space who needed it. It was not about the church being the highest mountain, nor about there being mountains of influence, but the church taking the servant role to ensure a re-orientation toward the low parts being raised up… and the mountains brought down.

Ironically a turning point in a city is when there are those who don’t get the message but get the message!! Now we have to work out what the message would be that they need to get. This is why it seems there is such a push toward re-grasping and re-framing the Gospel message, that has been imprisoned within piety and / or law court language (i.e. privatised faith that draws simple in/out lines).

A final footnote… The town clerk stands up and his final words to Demetrius and his rioting friends are:

If there is anything further you want to know, it must be settled in the regular assembly.

Or in the words of the Message (with my emphasis in bold):

If anything else is bothering you, bring it to the regularly scheduled town meeting and let it be settled there.

Or to pull out the Greek text:

Bring it TO THE EKKLESIA.

The regular word used for the city council, the ekklesia of the city. To suggest that NT language is not political (city related) is to miss so much of what is going on.

I suggest Ephesus is a strong paradigm to understand the implications and application of the Gospel. Ecomonics, riots, friends who are not believers but have grasped the political element. Disciples who see the world as God’s world, and the ekklesia in Jesus there for the sake of the future re-orientation of the polis.

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Ephesus – disciples

Finding twelve… will that be enough?

In Ephesus Paul encounters these great, but not yet-complete, believers. They had grasped the story line up to John the Baptist’s proclamation and had submitted to his baptism, but had not realised that what John spoke of as the future was now the past. So Paul’s task was to update them, their response shows they were already on a very serious trajectory, and God responded from heaven with the Holy Spirit. These were either Jews (most likely) or a least Jewish converts, for John’s baptism was a baptism for a new entry to the land, to restore and prepare the people. It was divisive in the sense that so much of Judaism was divisive, as witnessed in the prophetic and sectarian streams within the faith. Not all those born of Abraham (race) qualified to be considered as his descendants (faith).

From that initial meeting he takes them to the synagogue for three months. What is he doing? I am convinced it is due to his understanding of Israel’s call. They are called to be aligned uniquely to God for the nations. Since the Exile and the response of the synagogue based rhythm (that was developed in Babylon) there was an inevitable greater measure of Jews looking inward as survival became more the focus. Paul (then Saul) had himself moved from being focused on the purity of Israel, through his Damascus road encounter to seeing that race did not count before God, that the only identity marker was to be in Christ, and therefore part of the new creation reality of being there for the world. I am sure that the message that he debated in the synagogue was exactly that, and at two levels: the call of Israel and the pathway to the future for Israel as being through Jesus, the one true Israelite (and the only true human). At both levels he did not have success. He persevered for three months then called it a day, taking with him those who were committed to his teaching. He sets up in Tyrannus hall and is publicly teaching there for 2 years.

The proclamation of the Gospel was not a simple, Admit you have sinned, Believe he died for you, Confess your sin… Not that that is invalid, but to reduce the narrative of Scripture, nor the narrative of the world, to that does not do justice to Paul’s gospel. The salvation of the world, the preparation for the new heavens and new earth was a proclamation for the public space, it was certainly a political proclamation. Deeply societal, deeply human and confirmed with dramatic heavenly interventions.

Discipleship is a challenge, deeply stretching not just to the mind, but to lifestyle. Witnessing is not completed once we have told someone they have sinned and here is the escape route; but is something that is continual, which words can explain but can never become the substitute for. I sometimes wonder if we have even started on the pathway. Thank God for the word ‘radical’ but to stick it on as a label probably isn’t the best thing to do.

Paul is not setting up a new political party (as if!) but seeking to train people to see the world through a narrative of the world being God’s world, that all humans are of one family, that Jesus death somehow was the means by which all, whether Jew or Gentile, could be reconciled to God and be incorporated into Messiah. I don’t think he was looking for the perfect activist group who were spotless, but that somehow together with all their issues they would be a visible sign of a different way to live, pointers to, and of, hope for society.

This was very akin to what Jesus, in the Jewish culture, had given as his response to John when he wanted to know if ‘he was the one’. Tell John that there is something happening at two levels, was his response – the inbreaking of God with miracles… and the poor have good news being proclaimed. The endless flow of resources in one direction is coming to an end. Those on the thrones are being dethroned, a new society is being born. Despite the obvious signs that ‘God was with this man’ Jesus said the way ahead was narrow and few would find it. And as sure as his word was that was the fulfilment, with a few finding salvation. The same thing is happening in Ephesus, but now in the Graeco-Roman world, a message of hope for society that was for the total re-ordering of the world with incredible inbreakings of the miraculous.

Those twelve that Paul initially met committed themselves right into that trajectory. God is found in all sub-versions of the good news (including my version) but I am also sure that he is continually lighting up the pathway to provoke us to embrace the (shorthand) Pauline gospel that those initial twelve committed themselves to. (And I am sure there is a strong symbolism here in this event in Ephesus starting with ‘about twelve’. The pattern that Jesus began in Israel had a strong bearing on what is beginning here. The two are deeply connected. Jesus with twelve to restore Israel for the world, and here a mere twelve removed from the Jewish culture and for the world.)

Amidst a secularised society that is open to all kinds of spirituality, one of the greatest challenges is how to be deeply embedded in society with the ‘Jesus’ part of the message intact. The Pauline Gospel is deeply political, but it is not based on a clever political manifesto, it is based on God’s activity in Christ. Holding this all ogether is not easy, but Paul somehow managed that, for Jewish excorcists used the name of Jesus, knowing that this was the name by which Paul was acting.

Following Christ is not a hobby; it is not fulfilled when we copy the synagogue pattern and show up week by week; it is not fulfilled when we gain some successful converts; it is not fulfilled when we get older and can retire. It is a life-long lifestyle trajectory of looking forward with the ‘Maranatha’ cry, realising that for most of us that will be fulfilled beyond our departure, but also knowing that we have an incredible opportunity to contribute to that event.

What unfolds in Ephesus surely was founded on the issue of discipleship. Paul’s single focus on the implication of the death and resurrection of Christ for the world, and a group of those who grasped what he had seen during his days of blindness and subsequent time in the desert, post Damascus. Costly but ever so valuable.

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Are we to blame?

There are some crazy things that take place in society and more-then-crazy things proposed in response. I seek to hesitate to comment on anything in the USA as I it is not a geography that I have been asked to take responsibility for, but Gayle and I are over here a few days, and the gun debate is of course in focus. Arming teachers? Once one starts with the good people can (and must) have control we are on a slippery slope. I can (almost) handle the kind of response to issues when it is phrased with ‘regrettably for now the best way forward is, but we want to be clear, this is only because at this stage we are unable to make a better response…’

Responses that involve an escalation of power never seem to bring a solution, and ironically of course reflect the view that many have of God’s government! Making a healthy response at a legislative level is never an easy one, but those who do that have to at least have one eye firmly fixed on the future, in the sense of where will this take us in 5 / 10 years time.

I wonder how we are to measure the health of the church in any given area? We could of course consider look internally and consider how the body is nourished, what level of care is shown one to another. However, if the church is to take responsibility for the health of the wider society we would also need to look at the what is taking place in wider society. I am sure that there is a principle laid out in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus moved from murder in society to the issue of anger among the disciples. There seems to be a correlation. Seeds in the body and fruit in society.

The terminology of the NT is highly political, the word ‘ekklesia’ being a common word already in use. The Hebrew background of ‘qahal’ is important, but the immediate context of the NT is of the city government. Paul did not, in one sense, plant an ekklesia in the cities he worked in, he planted ekklesias ‘in Christ’. The city already had an ekklesia, he planted a ‘Jesus’ version. I suggest the use of the word indicates, that just as the city ekklesia was there for the future of the city, so also the ekklesia in Christ.

We cannot control the outcome within a society, there are choices that are there to be made, and freedom indicates that the wrong choice can be made. However, I believe we can shift (bind = limit) powers that control. Our battle is not against flesh and blood, but we have a battle.

If the church measures its health only by what is happening within the four walls we are going to miss it. We have to let the issues within society reflect back. We are not to blame for what happens, and if the church is marginalised in a setting survival might be the main focus… but where it is established we really have to step up to the plate.

Back home we take this seriously. We now have political prisoners (from Catalonia), none of whom have been involved in violence. We have corruption (named as the most corrupt government in Europe), control of the media and so on. Are we to blame? No. But we have to live in a different way and outwork our faith so that in 5 or 10 years time there is a change.

Any temporary responses that give more power to the ‘good'(!!!) people have to give way to shifts that are visibly reflected in society along the lines of care for the marginalised, co-habiting of space, peace and well-being.

We are not to blame, we cannot dictate the outcomes… but we need to take responsibility now to open up possibilities that look different in the future.

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No, not an advocate of Christendom!!

Had a few responses to the post ‘Toward the vacuum’ and also Steve Lowton re-posted it on his facebook page soliciting a few more comments. In the post I was both reflecting back on the dream from years back on the opening up of the façades, the response of a number of believers in the public sphere and the danger of the ‘familiar’ being our default response. In the post – now some 8 years on from the dream – I suppose there were a few paradigms that crept through that I am becoming increasingly aware of. So I thought I would outline what I think they might be below.

Surprisingly (!!) I am not an advocate of Christendom. I have been too heavily influenced by anabaptism, the new church movement and the like to be in that camp. I see Christendom as an aberration of the apostolic faith, not as some sort of fulfilment of eschatological hope. And given the nature of God (another paradigm here) this does not mean that God did not use Christendom… he works in all things for a purpose. His work ‘in’ does not mean his approval ‘of’.

Paradigm 1: the church is here for society

The primary role of the church is not to evangelise society (keep reading…), but to, as witness to God, create / fashion / hold a shape where something redemptive can fill it. It is our responsibility as royal priesthood to stand to mediate the presence of God to the world and to allow the world to grow up into a healthy space. This is not a) withdrawal to a spiritual realm (sorry to one stand of anabaptism there) nor b) to impose some kind of theonomy on the world (sorry to that strand of Calvinism, Reconstructionism, Kuyperism, 7 mountains etc.). The latter is ultra-Christendom. Not all come to faith, but there are those who will grasp the Jesus’ values and fill space in a Jesus-like way, even if some of those were to be atheists. (I see this in the reference to the Asiarchs in Acts, for example.) The former (a withdrawal) is to deny the intensely political nature of the Gospel. Not political in the sense of party politics, but carrying an all encompassing vision for society. The kind of vision we have been trying to capture with the word ‘convivencia’.

(Now don’t read ‘don’t evangelise’ into the above but do read ‘some evangelism is not a witness’.)

Paradigm 2: the world is not the church

My background of course left me very clear on that… however, the two realms are related. One has been redeemed, the other, not being evil but fallen, is there to be redeemed. The church that resorts to the familiar and does not connect with the era in which it is placed and participate with God’s redemption of the world might not be able to fully own the term ‘church’. Church is political (the ekklesia of Christ in every geography was a provocative term when the cities of the empire already had their ekklesia shaping the city and future). We have to somehow engage with the tension that not everything is in Christ but everything is in God. In him we move, live and have our being…

In Jeremiah 22: 16 Josiah is honoured because

He judged the cause of the poor and the needy; then it was well. Is not this to know me? says the Lord.

The chapter begins with a call to:

Act with justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed. And do no wrong to the alien, the orphan, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.

Jeremiah did not say that Josiah’s behaviour was indicative of someone on the way to knowing God, nor that someone who knows God will seek to behave in this way. His words are too strong for that. Someone behaving in that way is showing the evidence that they know God! (And Jesus promise was not that people who followed him would know God… but that they would know who this God was.)

Paradigm 3: God is not in control

A little strong maybe? But what on earth do we mean by ‘in control’. Love and partnership have to be the ways in which we understand God at work in the earth, not omnipotence. Love means he is at work. It means he will work in and through whatever he is given. But he does not act in isolation – we are partners with heaven.

In all the above I am not an advocate of Christendom, I do see a distinction between the church and the world. I am not looking to Christianise society, but to heavenify it. That kingdom that comes from heaven does mean that convivencia has to manifest. Space for those who are not believers in Jesus to express their gifts for the sake of others. It means any wall that is built is a sign of failure, that any bridgebuilding will mean we are trampled on from both sides.

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