Monday, May 01, 2017

The bastardisation of photography and the quest for truth

My wife pointed out something on facebook this morning to me that immediately offended me, although it seemed like a tame (pun?) topic.

It seems that there are a bunch of commercial photographers who are prostituting their art for financial gain. Instead of capturing the pure beauty of an animal in the wild, they are attending "photography game parks" where "wild settings" are staged for optimal opportunities at the perfect shot. Have a look at the expose article for yourself.

For those of us who attempt to photograph animals in the wild, and are thrilled when we succeed, this is a bastardisation of the art of photography. God forbid I would ever stumble to such a low.

What it does remind me of though is the phenomenon of the fake news cycle that we find ourselves in now. How much of what we see and read can we really trust? Where can we even find the truth? Or as Pontius Pilate famously once quipped "what is truth (anyway)?"

In an age when truth can be so hard to find and so often doubted, I am reminded that truth is not even found in a newspaper or television article. Truth isn't even really found in any text at all, although I know that sacred text does point to the truth. This is ultimately because the truth is a person.

"I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father, except through me." -Jesus.

Monday, February 03, 2014

It's here! U2 Invisible (lyrics included)

U2 Invisible (lyrics by Bono- assumed)

It's like the room just cleared of smoke
I didn't even want the heart you broke
It's yours to keep you just might need one
I've finally found my real name
I won't be me, when you see me again
Though I won't be my father's son

I'm more than you know
I'm more than you see here
More than you let you me be
I'm more than you know
A body and soul
You don't see me, but you will
I am not invisible

I don't dream, not as such
I don't even think about you that much
Unless I start to think at all
All those frozen days and your frozen ways
They melt away, your face like snow

I'm more than you know
I'm more than you see here
More than you let you me be
I'm more than you know
A body and soul
You don't see me, but you will
I am not invisible

I am here

There is no them
There is no them
There's only us
There's only us
There is no them
There is no them
Only us
There's only us
There is no them
There is no them
There's only
There's only
There is no them

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

To preach or not to preach?

When is it an appropriate time to preach the gospel, and when is it not? Is it possible to be too forceful in our presentation of the gospel to people? Is there a time to not preach the gospel?

Even as I ask these questions I hear a myriad of responses from people who will likely not agree with me. I will try to answer some of these, but know that people will want to throw more at me.

The first and most important thing to remember is some of the ways that we are actually exhorted to preach the gospel. A couple of examples come to mind. Peter says that we should always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us. (1 Peter 3:15) That is be ready, but this does not mean, always preach. Another is when Paul tells Timothy to "be prepared in season and out of season". Again, this is about preparation and readiness, but does not mean to always preach regardless of the season. (2 Timothy 4:2).
Paul also teaches that people can not believe unless they have heard. (Romans 10:14) There is a strong implication here that the gospel must be taken to everyone. But are we actually required to take the gospel to every individual, or is our individualistic world view an obstruction to the gospel? Jesus teaches that the gospel must be preached to all nations. In fact there really is an approach to the gospel in scripture that is more centred on nations than on individuals. This could be unpacked quite extensively.

When Peter tells people to be ready to share the gospel, he tells them to do it with gentleness and respect. I would argue that this is something that often gets left out. In fact many Evangelicals often take the approach that their only job is to preach, often without any love at all, and that once they have "preached" their responsibility is done. Often such people are very quick to damn someone to hell if they do not listen to a forceful presentation.

Therefore, I want to challenge the evangelical presupposition that we should preach the gospel to every individual and propose that we should only do so when someone is ready to listen. (I am sure this sounds heretical to some, and at least highly controversial to others.) Let me present from scripture why I believe this to be so.

A key concept in understanding the preaching of the gospel is how Jesus did it. Jesus did not in fact preach to everyone. John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus. A key part of this was the baptism for the repentance of sins. A maxim is used to refer to how many received this baptism- all of Judea, minus the rebellious pharisees. So for starters, Jesus was not actually too interested in preaching to rebellious pharisees. Most of his conversations with the pharisees saw Jesus answering the pharisees attacks, but doing so in ways to cryptically throw them off their attacks. Other times when the masses followed Jesus, Jesus preached in such a way as to again be cryptic, telling parables so that people would be "ever hearing, but not understanding", so that only those who were really hungry would seek the truth. (Mark 4:12, Matthew 13:14, Acts 28:26, Isaiah 6:9). This is consistent with other things Jesus taught- "blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness" (Matthew 5:6)  and "whoever seeks the truth will find it" (Matthew 7:8).

A lot of that description of Jesus' method sounds a little reactive. That is, so many were flocking to him because of his miracles that he was forced to react in how he preached the truth. He wanted to make sure that he was actually preaching to those who wanted to listen and were not just seeking the fireworks show. A common argument might be, "well, we can't actually compare ourselves to Jesus, we need to do things differently."  But, Jesus was deliberate in actually telling us how to go about preaching the gospel. He was not only reactive, he was proactive.

Jesus did have a plan for spreading the gospel (i.e his message, the truth) to people. He actually outlines this plan very clearly twice in the gospels, in Matthew 10 and Luke 10. Jesus sent out his disciples two by two. Let's have a look at what he told them to do.
1) Jesus told the pairs (among the 72, not just 12, which included women who were among his closest followers) firstly to go into the harvest. (Luke 10:2) That is, the harvest was ready to be collected.* (More on this a bit later).
2) Jesus told them to take nothing with them. In a first century middle east context they could easily go from village to village. The commonality in a 21st century Siberian context is that we should approach a village or other context in need, depending on hospitality.
3) Jesus told his disciples to greet someone's home with "May the peace of God be on your home." If this was received, then it was a key indicator that this person was ready to listen.  If the host did not receive the peace of God, Jesus intended for his disciples to move on, that is not to persist with a person who was not ready or willing to listen.
4) When received, Jesus then wanted his disciples to (a) receive the hospitality offered to them (b) heal the sick and (c) preach the Kingdom of God.
5) When not received in an entire town or location, Jesus basically tells the disciples to move on and not waste their energy on stubborn people.

There is some context worth looking at in the above example. First century Jewish villages had all of God's word and law. They were in no ways naive about what they were rejecting if they chose to reject God's peace and kingdom. When going to an unreached context this needs to be approached a little differently, taking the time to patiently and contextually explain the truth. Unreached people however are not as big a stranger to God's law as we might think, and there is still a time for not preaching even in such an unreached context. Where Jesus told his disciples to shake the dust off their feet in a Jewish context, this could mean going away and praying and waiting to come back in the future in a different context.

Jesus' method is deliberate and proactive. He wants us as his disciples to seek out those who are ready to listen. A good way to refer to such a person is a "person of peace". This method is employed by Jesus many times in his ministry. Jesus seeking out the woman at the well in Samaria is a classic example. He found a specific person who was ready to listen, and through her the doors opened to an entire community where he stayed for a couple days teaching about the Kingdom of God. He actually does the same thing with the man named legion, who he heals from demon possession. That man opened the doors to an entire community when Jesus later returned there. If we are to be deliberate about following Jesus' proactive example, this is the best way to preach the gospel- find a person of peace who is ready to listen and reach an entire community through them. It could even be argued that it is counter productive to do otherwise. We end up spending so much time and energy convincing ones and twos and removing them from their community, where as God has a plan to transform entire communities and see rapid multiplication of the gospel.

The argument needs to come back to the idea of whether we are obligated to share the gospel with every person we meet. Firstly I would say that Jesus' name and truth should always be on our lips. We should not hide our light under a table, we should put it high on a stand for all to see. But, and this is a big BUT, we need to be ready in gentleness and respect to stop when people do not want to listen. This can be very hard for us to do at times. We tend to take it upon ourselves that if we do not give someone a full gospel presentation that they may never have another chance to hear and seem to think we could be personally cosigning them to hell. Surely if we had done more we could have prevented this! Or could we have? Or should we?

I will go on record as saying I am not a calvinist. I really do believe in free choice, given by God. I know my ideas seem inconsistent with this. Perhaps the biggest question we should ask is, who is better at preaching the truth, us or God? Let's have a look at where God does preach to people.

In Psalm 19 we learn:
The heavens proclaim the glory of God
The skies display his craftsmanship
Day after day they continue to speak
Night after night they make him known
There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard
Their message has gone throughout the earth
And their words to all the world

Those are some amazing facts! There is not a language where the voice of God's glory has not been heard. This message has gone to all the world! That is a little staggering to realise, if we think the responsibility is all ours. This means that all ethnicities, all people groups have already been hearing something from God. Our part as disciples is to be obedient, not to question God's methods. He tells us to preach the Kingdom of God, but there is a proactive way we should do this, and a way we should avoid.

Often in theology we reduce God's preaching to a patronising "general revelation". As if to say, "well God can only give some vague message to people himself, and it is up to us to fill in the gaps". Have a look further at the context of Psalm 19. The rest of the Psalm goes on to say what the heavens, the skies are preaching about. Verse 7 and 8 tell us that they are giving us the instructions and commands of the Lord. What? That doesn't make sense surely? Surely God went to great efforts to give us his law, and then to even greater efforts to come as Jesus, the Word made flesh. But Psalm 19 is telling us that God is even teaching us his instructions and commands through his glory being revealed in the skies. Again, our part is to play obedience and bring people to Jesus so they can be disciples and follow Jesus' commands closely. But still, we are not allowed to say that God doesn't do more than simply make people aware of his existence, he preaches so much more to them.

Of course the Romans scripture can not be ignored.
Ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities- his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. 
This verse (Romans 1:20) actually sounds remarkably similar to Psalm 19, that people can know God from what he has taught us in the sky. This also lines up with Genesis 1, day 4, that God created the stars to bring light on the earth. So we can see from scripture that people in all parts of the world should know something of who God is, something of his glory and even something of his instructions and commands. In fact Paul goes even further in chapter 2 (verses 14-15).
Even Gentiles, who do not have God's written law, show that they know his law when they instinctively obey it, even without having heard it. They demonstrate that God's law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts accuse them or tell them they are doing right.
Really, this is quite a lot of scriptural evidence to let us know that God most definitely speaks to all peoples before we ever turn up on the scene.

What this all means is, if someone rejects the peace of God when we bring it, they are cognisant of their actions. This doesn't give us permission to communicate the gospel in a culturally insensitive manner (gentleness and respect = cultural sensitivity), but it does give us permission, in fact even requires us to pull back when people reject God.

We have to consider our actions. So often we can come in with a lot of pride and force and insist that people listen to our entire presentation. This approach is not loving. In fact it's not even wise, not what Jesus asks us to do. Jesus asks us to seek out people who are ready to listen, people who have noticed his glory in creation, people who have God's law in their hearts. When we are obedient to Jesus this way, doors will be opened wide into entire communities or people groups.

This should give us a lot of relief. God is in control. We should not be preaching to everyone the entire gospel presentation. We should be opening our mouths and speaking out God's glory, and when people show their curiosity we have a perfect opportunity to go further.
I can think of times in my own life when I believed that I had to push through and convince someone to listen to me. I can think of times here in Russia where other workers here have sat in taxis or trucks with me and pushed through, handed out tracts when the driver has indicated that they do not want to hear. I can even think of a time, when having told my believing brother that this was insensitive, it lead to a big argument and falling out, because he believed he had to preach the full gospel to everyone he met.

Be ready, be prepared, in season and out of season. Always speak the name of Jesus, do so in love with gentleness and respect. Seek out people of peace who are ready to listen. Remember that God has already been preaching to people. Remember that in obedience our job is to go into the harvest and collect the harvest* that God has already prepared. When people do not want to listen, don't push them. You are not letting them down if you don't give them a "full presentation". God is far better at preaching and revealing his glory to people than we are. Often we can get in the way of God getting through to a person. By our backing off, we give God the chance to keep speaking in his own way. Then when someone is ready our job is to be ready to give the reason for the hope that is within us and hopefully even collect a harvest!

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Thinking about covenants (and oral bible stories)

We have been telling stories in Genesis for quite a while now. It could be argued that we have been bogged down in Genesis, but then again we have learnt so much. In fact I would go so far as to say that we have relearnt a lot.

As we embarked on telling stories orally to students here in Siberia we did not know just what stories from the old testament we should include, and when we would then move on to Jesus. I have often argued in the past that it is not wise to rush to the new testament too quickly. One of the things we realised as we studied bible translation, was that many of the key terms needed in the new testament can actually be discovered by going through the old testament first. In the same way, it has been the stories of the old testament that have revealed to us, just how many we also need to share.

Quite a while back I wrote a blog on The First Covenant. I had a bit of a personal revelation after telling the story of Noah to some of our indigenous Siberian friends. I realised that a covenant was all about God taking territory back on earth. When he made a covenant with Noah, this was ground that the devil could not take back from God, even though he claimed the rest of the planet. It was God's first step in his plan for victory to reclaim everything.

With this enlarged view of covenants other revelations have laid in wait for us as we have continued to share oral bible stories. There is clearly a big thing going on between God and Abraham. God makes a promise to bless all nations through Abraham. This is a covenant of massive prophetic levels. God is now laying out his plan to claim everything back. If we look at the Abrahamic covenant we will see that all nations on earth are included in it. It is therefore very relevant for all peoples who have never heard the story before. In fact, I would even say that they are provided for or covered by the Abrahamic covenant, even though they still need to place faith in it.

Our understanding of scripture is that Isaac is the son of the promise, who God promised to Abraham. It was through Isaac's line that God would bring his message of salvation to the world. This is of course true, but there is more to the Abraham story than meets the eye. On more than one occasion, something interesting has happened when we have come to the story of Ishmael, when sharing it with Siberian indigenous peoples.  (Bear in mind that we were even tempted to skip over this "irrelevant" story.) Each time we shared the story, the listeners were convinced that Ishmael was the son of the promise. We told them, wait on, the story will reveal someone else.

On deeper reflection, there is something going on with the Ishmael story. He is not God's original plan, Isaac is. But at the same time, God does not reject Ishmael. In fact God even decides to bless Ishmael and bring about a great nation through Ishmael too. When God made his covenant with Noah, he enlarged his tent in this world. When he made his covenant with Abraham he enlarged his tent again. When Ishmael came along (a mistake by Abraham), God decides to incorporate Ishmael into his plan.

Ishmael was not part of God's original plan, but God decides to enlarge his tent through Ishmael anyway. If you like, Ishmael is an annex to the Abraham tent, even though the front chamber is still in Isaac's name. This means that the Arab's exist in provision under the line of Ishmael as a blessed nation.

Every single covenant made in scripture needs to be fulfilled by Jesus the King. We as believers now live under the new covenant of Jesus. The covenants of Noah and Abraham apply to us as gentiles, and then it is Jesus who fulfils these covenants and then brings completion through his sacrifice. As gentiles we were never and should never be under the Mosaic covenant. Paul argued rightly in the new testament that the Jerusalem church should not bring gentiles in under the Mosaic covenant. The Jerusalem church were under the Mosaic covenant, but this was still incomplete without the new covenant of Jesus to fulfil it.

If Jesus fulfils all covenants, then he also fulfils the Ishmaelic sub-clause of the Abrahamic covenant that applies to Arabs. When Muslims claim Ishmael we should not be so quick to tell them they are wrong. But we should point them to Isa (Jesus) who is the only true fulfilment of the Ishmaelic sub clause. This of course means that there is no such thing as a Mohumadic covenant.

When we are bringing the gospel to people, we need to consider what covenants they are under before bringing them to the new covenant. For Jews, this means they need to come in through the Mosaic covenant first and then on to Jesus. But this does not apply to any other peoples. For Muslims, or Arabs at least (I haven't figured out whether they are to be considered the same or not), they need to come in through the Abrahamic covenant with the Ishmaelic sub clause. For most peoples of the world however it is enough for them to come first through the Noahic and then Abrahamic covenants, before they finally come to Jesus and his perfect new covenant, in which we are all provided for.

This deeper understanding of covenants has brought us to the place where we realise that we do need to share all of the oral bible stories from Genesis 1 to the end of Abraham. But for the majority of peoples in the world, it is then appropriate to move on to Jesus next.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Jesus original intention for his followers.

What did Jesus mean when he said, "Upon this rock I will build my Ekklesia?" This came up in Matthew 16 verse 18 when Jesus was speaking to Peter, after Peter is the first of the disciples to openly declare Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.

Do we automatically know what Jesus meant, or is it worth revisiting this again? The first mistake would be to simply assume we know what he meant based upon modern translations of the Bible. Modern translations all seem to translate the work Ekklesia as Church. Older translations into English such as Tyndale and others of the 16th century did not do so.

But what does the word Ekklesia actually mean? When Jesus uttered the word in this context it was radical. In fact, so many of the things that Jesus said were completely radical the first time he said them. That is why he had so many enemies and was crucified. Remember, he completely upset the religious sensibilities of established institutional Judaism.

Here are a few places that I have looked at to seek a definition:

1) A straight definition of the Greek word the way it had been used up until Jesus' time can be found in Wikipedia. Ecclesia (from ancient Athens).
In Ancient Athens, the Ekklesia was a political assembly in any one city that made decisions for that particular city. All citizens were welcome to be a part of the Ekklesia. When Jesus uttered the word Ekklesia, this is the definition that his disciples would have heard. Another definition did not exist at the time.
Could Jesus have had a political definition in mind when he uttered this word? Well good exegesis demands we consider Jesus' views on politics from elsewhere in the gospels. Jesus says in John 18:36 that "His kingdom is not of this world" and that his followers would fight to defend it, if it were. Pilate rightly goes on to say "so you are a king then?" to which Jesus agrees.
I would argue that Jesus did have a political definition in mind when he said the word Ekklesia. The distinction that needs to be made though is that he was not saying his Kingdom was of this world, so neither should his Ekklesia be.

How could the word Ekklesia be translated as it had been understood by Greeks and Romans before the first century AD? If it is to have some political meaning, then this needs to be considered. It carries the idea of a council, a body of representatives, a legislature, a parliament, senate or congress. This "council" is to be the representative of God's Kingdom here in this earth. This does not mean making earthly political decisions as such. It does mean however, making decisions to transform this world through acts of love into God's Kingdom.

Consider the place that early believers had in the Roman Empire. They were expected to worship the Emperor as all people were. The Emperor set himself up as a god and demanded worship. Early Christian believers refused to worship the Emperor, and said "we have a different King". What is more they also had a different Ekklesia, the assembly of believers that endeavoured to see Jesus' Kingdom established on earth. It is no wonder that Rome was threatened by this concept and executed early Christians. I count myself among these believers. I know that in today's world if the Ekklesia of Jesus was truly impacting society in a big way, that it would be a threat to the established political system of the day, a threat that would undoubtedly result in persecution and execution of Christians once again.

In my mind, this is something of what Jesus meant when he said would establish his Council Assembly, starting with his first follower Peter.

2) It is worth taking a look directly at the Greek scriptures. This is not hard to do these days. The NET bible on makes the Greek text available.  (A note here for dissenters- the Greek text has been deduced from the over 25,000 original manuscripts available. The fact that there is some variation in these texts is not alarming, as a process of Triangulation can be used to come up with the original words.)
Read the Greek text. To actually read the Greek you will have to click on the Grk/Heb tab at the top of the right hand column. You can click on the word ἐκκλησίαν and come up with a definition.
The definition speaks of "a gathering of citizens" or "an assembly of people gathered". The definition then goes on to speak of what the word means "in a Christian sense". That is, the word Ekklesia did add meaning from it's original Athenian political sense. But this is added meaning that came over the next couple of centuries.

So, I will readily admit that Ekklesia also means "a gathering or assembly of Christians".  But that is the definition of the word as it appears in Acts or in Paul's letters, but not as it appears when Jesus first says it in Matthew 16:18.

3)  A well researched article entitled "The translation of the Greek word 'Ekklesia' as 'church' in the English Bible and its ramifications", further discusses the definition of the word.
The article makes the point that there is no sense in scripture of a universal hierarchical church. Indeed the word Ekklesia is always used in a local context. Even in Revelation, Jesus addresses seven separate Ekklesia groups, but not one mass Ekklesia. This article argues that it is a mistake to translate the word Ekklesia as church, and that assembly or congregation are better suited.

Conclusion: Jesus was interested in establishing his Kingdom on earth, a new order. To do this he wanted to see Local Council Assemblies of believers be his representatives through out the earth. He always intended to remain the King in charge of all of these assemblies, never to have an intermediate person in charge. These Local Assemblies are of course places of worship, but if they never consider how to transform the world around them, then they are not fulfilling their purpose. Therefore the Council part of the definition needs to be worked out in practical Christian love.

I have argued strongly against the word church before. Again, I am not even suggesting a replacement. It is equally possible for us to behave as the representatives of King Jesus in local gatherings without having to put a label on anything. Often when we start to use labels, we begin to shape them into our own human religion and depart from Jesus' original intention. Let's be about doing Jesus' Kingdom.

Ekklesia in my own life

I've been enjoying reading some posts on Jim Wright's blog recently. One post that really blessed me was "Finding Ekklesia"  and another was "Organic Dead Ends". The thing I really like about Jim's writing is that he is completely honest. He gives the reader permission to be who Jesus wants us to be. His writing is the shot in the arm that I have needed.
A few weeks ago I was feeling all depressed and guilty about "not going to church" after having spent two months in church services while back in Canada. I feel some of this guilt lifting after reading Jim's posts. Why? Well because the posts are about simply living as an authentic Christian. Jim describes this as simply reproducing the life that Jesus has put in us.
In Jim's post "Finding Ekklesia" he warns against people seeking others for the purpose of sharing their hurts from the institutional church. Rather he encourages people to seek genuine fellowship by simply being hospitable. That is either inviting people for meals to your own home or visiting people in their homes. In the midst of this it is possible to share the life that Jesus gives us with one another. From this genuine Ekklesia should develop.
The great thing is that is exactly what my wife and I are already doing. The thing is, most of the time we are actually doing this with non-believers. Of course we are sharing the life of Jesus in us with them. We are hopeful that in time life will reproduce in these friends of ours. It has changed my perspective a little. I have been brought up with the attitude that if I don't have enough fellowship with Christians that I will find myself in trouble. But in time, I am sure these friends will be a huge blessing. We already find our time with them an encouragement often anyway. It will just be special to hear the things they have to teach us as they hear the Holy Spirit talking to them.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

An honest plea for open discussion about dropping the word "church".

I remember some years back some people visited the city we were living in at the time, which was Novosibirsk. They were traveling from church to church, proclaiming that denominations are not in God's will. This particular premise has a lot of validity. However, I found their methods wanting. There was one man in their group who was from an indigenous Siberian people, so we were keen to get know him a little more. As this man, and another from his group sat in our living room, we spoke of the the Body of Christ and true fellowship. But we were disappointed to find they did not have time to hang around for long and pray with us, because they had to hurry off to another church meeting and tell people why they were wrong. I remember back to this time, and how badly they shared their message and how so few listened to them. They did not have the spirit of fellowship in them. I really don't want to be like this as I try to convey the message that is on my heart.

I am hoping to again bring up discussion surrounding the use of the word "church". There are a few prominent bloggers and authors who have taken the time to explain or defend their use of the word church. What I write here is not meant to be an attack, rather a plea that this become a topic for discussion. I would like to approach this topic from my professional background as a linguist, taking into account issues of semantics and translation.

My argument goes deeper here though, I want to see believers dropping the use of the word church. I think the word itself is a sacred cow to so many of us, and we are afraid to stop using it.

So many modern protestants would prefer that the word "church" would mean a gathering of God's people, or the Body of Christ, or other metaphors that scripture uses. But sadly, every time the word is used for that definition, a qualification needs to be added, "Church isn't really the building, it's the people you know." But even as modern Christians, we so often speak of "going to church", "the church roof needs repairing", "the altar is at the front of the church" or similar phrases. We betray the desired definition by the constant use of the other definition.

Neil Cole mentioned that he considered the word church to have been corrupted and abused. This is not actually the case. A look at the history of the word will show otherwise. The word "church" comes from the Greek word Kyriakon. It is the same word that is also translated Kirche in German or Tserkov in Russian. In the time of Constantine, believers were moved from the home into the temple. Constantine built basilicas, and banned people gathering in their homes to worship God. They were to gather in these public buildings to worship God. These buildings were named after apostles. As the Roman Empire institutionalised Christianity people began to call these basilicas Kyriakon doma, or the "house of the Lord." Sound familiar? Later on the phrase was shortened to simply be Kyriakon, the possessive "Lord's". The concept of this basilica and Kyriakon became synonymous. But this was never even a concept or a word that appeared in scripture. So the word in scripture has not been abused, but sure enough God's people have been. [1]

Over the centuries the word itself dictated definition to God's people. To be God's people they must meet in the Lord's house. It was not possible to truly worship God other than in this context. It began to shape people's understanding of what it meant to be the people of God. The Institution took over in people's understanding. The real fluid, organic nature of God's people was lost. There were always underground movements through out history, be they monks in the desert fleeing institution or Waldensians in Italy getting killed for their "heretical" faith in the 12th and 13th centuries. [2]

William Tyndale was a famous reformer, who tackled this controversial issue head on. Tyndale translated the New Testament into English after being inspired by Martin Luther who had been translating the Bible into German. When Tyndale came to translate, he was not reading the word Kyriakon in the Bible, he was reading the word Ekklesia. He accurately decided that the word was best translated "congregation." Tyndale came up with other controversial translations such as "elder" instead of "priest", "repent" instead of "do penance", "love" instead of "charity." These translations got Tyndale in a lot of trouble, ultimately getting him burned at the stake for his efforts. [3] 

Tyndale saw fit to translate Ekklesia faithfully. The established church however had been using a word based on the Greek Kyriakon. Tyndale's translation was an affront to the institution. To stop using the word church today in some ways carries similar risks, but likely not resulting in execution.

Can the word "church" really have two definitions? Some would like to say it means "a gathering of God's people", but in reality any survey of the English speaking population would show that it actually means "a religious building." Words influence how we behave. This word has had a massive effect on how we behave as believers, dragging us away from an honest expression of the priesthood of all believers into a religious temple form of worship. An attempt to redefine the word will not yield results, because the majority of the English speaking world will continue to use the word "church" the way it always has been.

I wonder just how the Spirit of God would lead us if we were no longer bound by a label, such as "church"? I am not even proposing we come up with a new word. I say let's just drop the word, be the Body of Christ and see where the Holy Spirit leads us. This is kind of like walking a tight rope with no net beneath us, but if we fall, we just might fly.


Neil Cole took the time to answer my initial comments on his blog on August 17th, when he had blogged on the topic of "Is Bigger Really Better, the Statistics actually say No!"  You can read my comments and his responses there.
Alan Knox wrote a post, "How others use the word Church, according to Google." He also took the time to answer my initial comments.
I would like to continue this discussion, but have chosen to not put a string of comments on their blogs, but open it up to wider discussion (if anybody ever bothers to read my blog. :)  )

Sunday, September 09, 2012

New AFL Draw proposal

The structure of the Australian Football League fixture has been a mess for years now. Many of the clubs complain that the fixture needs to be more fair. The AFL how ever constantly ignores these requests because they want to stage the block buster games more often in a season. The AFL would prefer to have clubs such as Collingwood and Essendon play each other twice every season, or both Perth teams etc.

In 2012, amid controversy Adelaide received a very easy draw which saw them play Greater Western Sydney (new club), Gold Coast (new club) and Port Adelaide (greatly under performed) twice. This east draw saw them finish in second place at the end of the home and away season. Adelaide went on to lose easily to Sydney even as they hosted a home final.

The finals draw for 2012 has seen a potential top six being capable of winning the Grand Final, but realistically only the top four have a chance of winning. After the first two games of week one of the finals, it became clear that Hawthorn and Sydney will mostly likely contest the Grand Final. The following six games before the Grand Final are almost meaningless.

The AFL are scared that they will not deliver to the tv networks the highest ratings for the $1.253 billion contract that was drawn up in 2011.

I have a solution that will deliver both fairness and even more blockbuster games.

1) During rounds 1-17 all 18 clubs will play each other just once. This will be done on a purely home and away system. If Sydney were to play Collingwood at the SCG in 2014, then they would play at the MCG in 2015, and then alternate every year. If Collingwood had 9 home games in 2014, then they would have 8 home games in 2015.
This is the only fair format with the current number of clubs, unless a conference system is put in place, which has other draw backs. The team at the top at the end of round 17 would be the minor premier.

2) After round 17 the finals would start. All top 8 teams would play each other once. The finals series would have a new ladder. The points from the first 17 rounds would not count. Home games would be played on rank from the first 17 rounds.

3) After the 7 week finals series the teams would have a new ranking of 1-8. From this the top four would go through to direct knock out semi finals, followed by a Grand Final.

This new system would not involve less blockbuster games. In fact there would be four blockbuster games every week for the duration of the finals series. The finals series would remain competitive to the very end as all top eight teams battled to earn their place in the semi finals.

Under this system every game would count for the entire season.

The ten teams that did not make the finals could play an 'International Cup' exhibition series. The ten teams could be split into two groups. Group A would play each other once (four games per club) in a European Pool. Group B would play each other once in a North American Pool. There would be a final in each group with the winners playing a Grand Final in either London or New York (to be rotated each year).

Sunday, September 02, 2012

I am a baby Christian learning to take my first steps

I made the decision to stop going to church in July 2011. It was a decision that was a long time coming. I have long known about the priesthood of all believers and long known this is God's plan for the body of Christ.

So leaving church was not a sudden decision nor was it not deeply considered. Back in 2007-08 my family was blessed to be part of a home church when we decided to step out in faith following reading "Organic Church" by Neil Cole. This wasn't even the first time I had been involved in something close to the priesthood of all believers. Back in the early to mid 90s I was part of a church that made its way from a traditional "sitting in rows and pastor led church" towards an "open church" where all were encouraged to share, prophesy and lead in worship and teaching.

The decision in 2011 followed after reading "Pagan Christianity" by George Barna and Frank Viola. (Yes, I did read Reimagining Church and found it to say nothing new than I already knew from previous experience and reading.) There were many good points made in this book about the development of the church from Constantinian times. I had also long been aware of the massive changes that happened during the fourth century, but never to the extent that the book pointed out. I no longer needed any convincing. 

If I was to be a part of the solution instead of the problem I needed to be a part of something new. This meant I would have to go through a period of "detoxification" from many of the things in the church that had polluted my faith. At times this past year has been very good, and at times very hard. On the positive side, I noticed that I made friends with a lot more people who were not Christians. At the same time I did not judge them, I did not plot how I would invite them to church. I spoke to them of Jesus out of an overflow of my faith. I know this has had many positive effects on people, leading them towards Jesus. But on the downside, there would be times of feeling guilty for not going to church.

This guilt passed with time. It is quite ridiculous that I had subconsciously picked up the belief in my life that to be a good Christian you have to go to church. This is fraught with so many problems and is at the root of human religion. As I realised that there must be something else to being a Christian I began to go back to the gospels, and began to see Jesus in a very different light. I began to notice that Jesus is very forgiving. In fact, he forgives without provocation. 

The biggest story that wedged a splinter in my mind is the story of the woman caught in adultery. This woman had just been caught, she hadn't even the time to repent. Yet as Jesus exposed the hypocrisy and sin of the pharisees as none could throw the first stone, he tells the woman "no one condemns you, nor do I, now go away and sin no more."  Jesus does not ask the woman if she repents before he is willing to forgive her sin. (He hasn't even died on the cross yet.) He forgives her first! He then asks her to repent as an act of response to her forgiveness. This is not in keeping with evangelical doctrine, and so I have realised neither am I.

Forgiveness is a massive part of Jesus' purpose. When he heals the paralytic he is more concerned that he be forgiven than physically healed, "so that you may know that the son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins, I say to you take up your mat and walk." Jesus teaches in some hard hitting parables that if we do not forgive, we are fried. I'm not much of a fan of hell, but I can not avoid that Jesus teaches about it. But it is not in reference to punishment for sins that he so much speaks of hell, but rather that people who do not forgive will lose the Father's forgiveness. This seems so backwards, but I believe it is a massive part of the gospel that we have misunderstood. There is NO option to not forgive. We endanger our very salvation by not forgiving. Yet at the same time Jesus is handing out salvation as quickly and as generously as he can to who ever will receive it. This challenges me in ways that have often been glossed over in my past church going life, where there is much unforgiveness.

Let's go straight for the most obvious of all stories Jesus taught when it comes to heaven and hell. Many church going evangelicals will love to put this one in the too hard basket. It's the parable of the sheep and the goats. Jesus does not let us off the hook. If we ignore those in need around us, we are ignoring Jesus, we are unloving (perhaps unforgiving of someone for offending our prejudices), and yes we set ourselves up for hell fire. Surely my idea of Jesus forgiving everyone is a universalist sounding idea? No, I am not a universalist. I do believe Jesus hands out forgiveness much more easily than any Christian or any church on the planet. But we humans have an awful knack of throwing it back in Jesus's face and saying "no thanks, I think I will hold on to my comforts, my prejudices, my unforgiveness and I will go it my own way." People reject salvation, far more than missing out on seeing it.

I have been praying for the last couple years that Jesus would help me to love the weak and the poor. I am such a novice at this. I have began to really take a notice of the poor people in our city, of the street people and the beggars. Jesus tells us to give to everyone who asks of us without expecting anything in return, and as a rule I really try to do this. Only recently my wife and I found ourselves holding the hand of an old lady we know from the street as she died of gangrene behind some rubbish bins on the wet concrete. The Lord's graciousness in this situation speaks such volumes. He provided a person to tell us that she was dying, he provided an old arm chair that someone had thrown out so we could lift her on to it, he provided a caring doctor in the ambulance who did not reject a street bum. It is staggering for us to realise that our friend Marina was most likely destined to die alone in the cold, rain and garbage, but that the Lord loved her enough to make sure that this would not happen. I read to her from Psalm 23 and Revelation 21. As I was walking on the way to those garbage bins with another street lady, the Lord spoke to me and reminded me "what ever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." I knew that I would offer her forgiveness of sins. Melody and I were at her side, Marina was quite unresponsive as she died from toxins in her system. But the Lord blessed us as we saw Marina nod a couple of times in response to Melody. I prayed for Marina, "Marina, Jesus forgives you of your sins, Jesus is waiting for you." No matter your belief on sin and forgiveness it is hard to argue that Jesus did anything else in the gospels. Of course I do not know Marina's heart. But I also know it would have been her choice to reject this forgiveness that was freely given to her. We saw this woman open up to us slowly over the last couple years, shedding tears as my wife and I hugged her many months ago and declared our love for her.

It is only in taking these baby steps that I am beginning to learn what actually being a Christian means. This feels like the beginning of the journey of my faith, that my entire life up to this point has been embryonic. I am still very weak and hopeless in being able to truly love the way Jesus does.

So back to this dreaded church thing. Why do I feel so guilty about not going to church? Recently we went to Canada for two months, to see family and supporters of our work. We went to church every Sunday for two months. I didn't have the heart to tell people I wanted to skip services. I didn't want to offend them. I figured, how could going to church for a couple months hurt? But I fell into my stupid little subconscious lie that I was pleasing God by going to church services, that I was performing some kind of holy religious ritual. And surely all the people in these church services are good people who love God, so it can't be that bad? But after doing this for two months, and getting my religious reward in God's eyes for attending his holy temple, I suddenly feel like a heathen again for not going to church. It feels like a year of progress in my detox has gone down the drain.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Part 5: What is the definition of an Empire?

The simple answer to this question is: when one country exerts its will over another country and extends its borders or kingdom.
The very first example of an empire in history (that is widely accepted and known) is the Akkadian Empire. The Akkadian Empire was founded by Sargon sometime in the late 24th century b.c. It was an empire that included both the Akkadian and Sumerian cultures. The Sumerian culture is a very famous one, but this post is not about that. There of course have been many other famous empires throughout history, many of them feature prominently in the Bible. Off the top of my head these empires include: Egypt, Babylon, Assyria, Persia, Alexandrian Greece and Rome.
There is a very common thread all ancient empires hold in common. The king or emperor considered his culture and empire to be the greatest in the world. His intention was very clear- he wanted to take over all nations of the world and subdue them to himself. These emperors even bestowed upon themselves god status, they believed they were descended from the gods, they believed they were gods themselves.
That emperors believed they were gods and that people should worship them is no secret. The pharaohs  of Egypt were famous for such behaviour. Nebuchadnezzar, in the time of the Jewish exile to Babylon also carried on such behaviour. He built a big statue of himself and insisted that all people worship the statue.
A god like complex is not the only thing that is problematic or sinful about an empire. The simple fact of exerting one's will over another is obviously sinful. We know this to be true on an individual level. The same is true on a cultural level. For one culture or nation to exert its will over another culture is sinful. To force another culture to take up language and customs is abusive. This has also been a very common thread among the practices of empires.
It would be a worth while topic of research to look into ancient empires and see how they violated God's precepts. There are many examples in the old testament of this. Quite often we know that God considers their practices to be quite evil. He often waits to judge an empire when its "sin has reached its full measure". God's judgement over the Egyptian empire can be seen in the time of the Exodus. God sends clear warning to Nebuchadnezzar as the emperor of Babylon. (Many seem to forget that Nebuchadnezzar actually listened to God in the end).

In following posts I would like to look at how these threads also existed in the Roman empire and how pivotal that was in early Christianity. I would also like to look at how the concept of empire is still very alive in todays world, and still affects nearly everything we do in society including the very practices of church.