Category Archives: essays

War

The second in a series of short essays for a course in Ethics. 

How is a Christian to relate to the reality of war?

“…for his own glory and the public good… [God] has armed [civil magistrates] with the power of the sword, for defence and encouragement of them that do good, and for the punishment of evil doers.”[1]

“It is lawful for Christians to accept and execute the office of a magistrate when called thereunto… they may lawfully now, under the New Testament, wage war upon just and necessary occasions.”[2]

The reality of war is rooted in the nature of government as ordained by God and armed by Him with the power of the sword.  That God has done this is established in Romans 13:1-4.  While the Confession is perhaps referring to the exercise of capital punishment in both defensive situations (i.e. “for the defence of them that do good”) and offensive (i.e. “for the punishment of evil doers”), there is no reason to limit the exercise of the sword to the sphere of domestic relations.  Rather, “…this responsibility from God also provides justification for nations to engage in armed conflict (“to bear the sword”) in order to protect their citizens from evildoers who would attack them from outside the nation, including a defence against armies sent by other nations when those armies are “those who do evil (1 Pet 2:14) in the pursuit of such a war.”[3] The second paragraph of the same chapter of the Confession asserts that not only may Christians be involved in the exercise of the sword in domestic affairs, but may also “lawfully now, under the New Testament, wage war upon just and necessary occasions.”

While there is divergence with regard to a Christian view of war, it would appear that the Confession would support the Just War Theory. The concept of Just War is built on several presuppositions, namely[4]:

  • some evil cannot be avoided;
  • the just war position is normative for all, Christian and non-Christian alike;
  • this theory does not try to justify war, rather it attempts to bring war within the limits of justice so that if everyone were guided by these principles, many wars would be eliminated;
  • the theory assumes that private citizens have no right to use force.

This theory, from the outset, “sees war as evil” (Feinberg, 652) and must met several criteria in order to qualify as an ethically permissible “just war”.  Criteria has typically been considered under the categories of jus ad bellum (i.e conditions that must be met before war can be deemed just) and jus in bello (i.e. the conduct and aims of the war). 

Conditions that must be met before war can be deemed just include the following[5]:

  • There must be a proper or legitimate authority who has responsibility for judging whether the other criteria are met.
  • War must be the last resort.
  • Insofar as possible, a formal declaration of war is required.
  • There must be reasonable hope of success.
  • There must be some proportionality between the good objective hoped for and the destruction involved in achieving it.
  • There must be a just cause.
  • The war must be fought with the right intention.

Criteria for the right conduct of war are as follows[6]:

  • There must be a limited objective in waging the war, namely, the restoration of peace.
  • The immediate object is not to kill or even injure people, but to incapacitate or restrain them.
  • Direct attack on non-combatants is illegitimate.
  • One is obligated not to inflict unnecessary suffering.
  • Indirect effects upon civilians must be justified by the principle of proportionality, i.e., the evil averted or the good attained justifies the action.

With regard to those persons featured in the New Testament who were militant by profession, they are never told to resign from their positions, but are rather exhorted to abound in compassion (Luke 3:14).  Additionally, “The NT church included many soldiers on active duty and saw nothing morally inconsistent with Christians serving as military professionals.”[7] 

In sum, how ought the Christian relate to the reality of war?  For one, war is a last resort and as such, the church must insist that all other diplomatic means are employed.  Secondly, there is scope for members of the church to be involved in the military. Third, Christians may serve in active duty in combatant roles given the above criteria of a Just War (with both categories of criteria being substantially satisfied) though they would be compelled to advocate the extending of mercy and sparing of “innocents” such as those serving in non-combatant roles and civilians.

[1] LBC 24:1

[2] LBC 24:2

[3] ESV Study Bible, 2554

[4] Feinberg, 653

[5] Feinberg, 654-655

[6] Feinberg, 655

[7] ESV Study Bible, 2554

Gender

The first in a series of short essays for a course on Ethics.

Explain and demonstrate from Scripture a Christian understanding of gender (sex – male/female) and discuss the implications of this on our culture’s current “gender debate”.

Gender is established in God’s sovereign act of creating man in His image and likeness (Genesis 1:26-28; 2:7, 21-23).  In this a male/female distinction is established.  Genesis 1:27 is a fundamental text because of the closeness of association between God creating man in his own image, and His creating them male and female.  The creating of man at the start of the verse need not be understood as being synonymous with male (i.e. it would not be right to translate it as “God created males in his own image”).  Rather, it is the collective humanity that God creates in His own image.  This collective humanity is created male and female.  The use of the word translated “them” means that man is neither androgynous nor hermaphrodite.  Rather, it is right to think that God creates human beings and that whether male or female, they bear His image.  There is no scope within the creation account to suggest non-binary gender distinctions.  As Kevin de Young has written “The Bible knows no other gender categories besides male and female. While men and women in Scripture may express their masculinity and femininity in a wonderful diversity of ways, Scripture still operates with the binary categories of men and women. You are one or the other.[1]” Jesus Himself affirms the origin of maleness and femaleness in God’s creative design (Matthew 19:4).

The fall of man into sin has obviously had a significant impact on creation in that through it, it is subject to futility (Romans 8:20).  Again, Kevin de Young asserts “The anomaly of intersex individuals does not undermine the creational design, but rather gives another example of creational “groaning” and the “not the way they are supposed to be” realities of a fallen world.” Though this is the case, and it must be taken into account, there is nothing in the biblical record that supports gender fluidity or non-binary gender distinctions. Granted, although Paul distinguishes a naturalness from an unnaturalness when it comes to the use of one’s body and human sexuality, there is nothing to suggest that naturalness/unnaturalness gives rise to a substantial change in the biological realities of binary gender.  

de Young is not so naïve as to suggest that there are not individuals who struggle at a profound level with the issues of whether what they think and feel accords with the biological gender assigned to them at birth.  Rather, he asserts “The question is whether the is of our emotional or mental state equals the ought of God’s design”.  In other words, he does not allow the existential or situational perspective to confuse the normative perspective on issues of gender. 

de Young concludes his article by saying “I have not begun to answer all the important questions about pastoral care, counsel, and compassion for the hurting and confused.”  In this, he acknowledges that though we stand on a solid foundation of God’s truth concerning gender, we have obligation to approach the issues is raises with Christ-like compassion, especially when acknowledging the hurt and confusion from which gender confusion can arise as well as result in.

[1] https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/kevindeyoung/2016/09/08/what-does-the-bible-say-about-transgenderism/ retrieved 18-10-2017

The Punjabi – An Overview

The Punjabi – An Overview

Brendon Ward (2016)

The PunjabIn terms of people group, the Punjabi people of the Indian subcontinent are effectively a nation belonging to two countries.  Their cultural and religious identification transcends those national borders so that one is first Punjabi, and Indian/Pakistani second.

The PunjabiThe Punjabi are defined by common language and custom, as well as religious identification.  Spanning India and Pakistan, they are neither Hindu, nor Muslim.  Rather, they are Sikh, a word meaning “disciple”.  They can thus be identified by the wearing of a turban and the possession of the last name Singh (which means lion).

Sikhism is a hybrid religion, incorporating aspects of both Islam and Hinduism.  While it is monotheistic (i.e. one God), it is also pantheistic (i.e. God is all pervasive).  Sikhism retains the idea of a karmic cycle while rejecting the Hindu cast system.

Sikh History

Guru NanakSikhism is relatively new, being established by Guru Nanak in the 15th century.  It is a mystic religion, that is, it does not appeal to empirical evidence for the basis of its tenants.  At the age of 30, Guru Nanak is said to have had a heavenly vision.  His report of that vision was captured in the words, “There is neither Hindu nor Mussulman (Muslim), but only man. So whose path shall I follow? I shall follow God’s path. God is neither Hindu nor Mussulman and the path which I follow is God’s.”

Guru Nanak was followed by 10 patrilineal Guru each of whom contributed to the evolution of Sikhism as a religion.  The last of the human Guru, Guru Gobind Singh passed the guruship not to another human, but to the “First and Last, eternal living guru” Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh Scriptures.

Sikh Scripture

Guru Granth Sahbib

The Guru Granth Sahib contains the writings (mostly hymns) of Guru Nanak and successive Guru as well as writings of both Muslim and Hindu religious leaders.  In contemporary Sikh custom, the Guru Granth Sahib is venerated, having central place in processions and position within the Gurdwara.  In terms of a daily procession, the Guru Granth Sahib is held above the head before being placed on a cushion in a special area of the Gurdwara, that has been previously washed with an ablution of water and milk.  That special area becomes the focal point of the Gurdwara.  To the Guru Granth Sahib money and food is offered.

A complete recitation of the Guru Granth Sahib takes place with major life events, which may include moving into a new house.  The printing of the Guru Granth Sahib maintains a strict format in order to maintain the exact page numbering.  This means that every copy of the Guru Granth Sahib must have exactly 1430 pages and so would take approximately 48 hours to recite from cover to cover.

Sikh Worship

sikh worshipSikhism has neither liturgy nor clergy.  Being a mystical religion, Sikh devotional practice is meditative in nature, centring on the singing of hymns from the Guru Granth Sahib.  Meditation focuses on the Divine Name, viewed as a method of moving toward a life totally devoted to God.  The God of Sikhism is known as Nam, or Name.  Other synonyms include the Divine, Ultimate, Ultimate Reality, Infinity, the Formless, Truth, and other attributes of God.

In addition to meditation on the name, Sikhs adhere to two other basic principles: hard work and sharing what one has.

After services in the Gurdwara, all people, regardless of caste or social standing, sit on the floor in a straight line and eat a simple vegetarian meal together.  This meal is served out of free kitchen that is attached to every Gurdwara.

Social Justice from a Sikh Perspective

Social Justice from a Sikh Perspective

Prof Upkar Singh Thethi Pardesi OBE

July 16, 2014 posted from LinkedIn

One definition of Social Justice is the desire to create a fair and socially mobile society through wealth distribution, equality of opportunity for personal development and protection of human rights. If we accept this definition, then achieving social justice is the bedrock of the Sikh faith and teachings.

Social Justice and the Sikh Scriptures

The central message of the Sikh Holy Scriptures, Sri Guru Grant Sahib Ji (SGGS) is of humanism and universal brotherhood. It is a source of inspiration for those who seek social justice, the equality of all people, the empowerment of women and of the under privileged. It is for those reasons that the text has remained alive as a guide to all those who value these fundamental principles of humanism and human integrity. The SGGS developed the concept of “Sarbat Da Bhalla” that simples translates to mean the importance of all human live, care for the environment and to live in harmony with the rest of God’s creation.

A deeper interpretation of the four core tenets of the Sikh Dharam : kirat kamai (earning an honest living); wand (sharing); nishkam sewa (selfless service) and simran (prayer and contemplation) reveal how the practice of these principles contribute to the achievement of social justice.

Social Justice and the Sikh Dharam

The Sikh faith propagates the importance of self help through work to earn an honest living (kamai) and the desire for life long learning as the first step towards achieving personal development and social mobility. “Kirat Kamai” has a much more profound meaning. Kirat is work that is done with utmost passion, whether it is cleaning the streets, laying bricks or performing surgery. Passion and dedication to one’s profession leads to personal satisfaction, excellence and hopefully, sustained employment and career progression. This however is still not Kirat in its intended meaning. True Kirat kamai is when one works with passion and dedication to earn an honest living while remembering God with every stroke of the brush; laying of every brick and sewing of every stitch on a sick patient. Kirat kamai therefore brings to life the world wide concept of “Work is Worship”. Hard work (including running an honest business (sacha sauda)) helps one to climb the social ladder and provides the means for the most basic needs for survival of food, shelter and warmth.

In simple economies without state controlled systems of wealth distribution to support those not able to earn an honest living, the Sikh tenet of “wand ka shako” (share your good fortune) became a powerful driver in creating sustainable communities. Sikhs everywhere are required to donate at least one tenth of their earnings to charity and other good causes for all humanity. The numerous successful and self sustaining learning institutes, hospitals, eye camps and social housing projects around the world are testament of the durability of the principle of sharing to this day. The sharing of food that is cooked by the community and for the community is one of the most important attributes of the practice of Sikh Dharam.

Social Justice and the Sikh Kitchen

The Langar, or free kitchen, was founded by the first Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak Dev Ji. It was essentially designed to uphold the principle of equality between all people of the world regardless of religion, caste, colour, creed, age, gender or social status. In addition to the ideals of equality, the tradition of Langar expresses the ethics of sharing, community, inclusiveness and oneness of all humankind. “..the Light of God is in all hearts.” (sggs 282). Everyone is welcome to share the Langar; no one is turned away. The food is normally served twice a day, every day of the year. In many parts of the world Sikh Gurdwaras prepare Langar specifically to feed the poor because people can only work and look for social justice when they have a fully belly.

Social Justice and Sikh Service

Irrespective of the wealth of any community, there are always fellow humans who, for whatever reason, suffer disadvantage or economic deprivation. As Sikhs, we are required to do voluntary work in the community without the expectation of any reward or recognition. The core tenet of Nishkam Sewa (selfless service to humanity) encourages Sikhs to apply their manual labour and , or their professional skills to help build loving community life; to assist those less fortunate to improve their health, wellbeing and education so that they can become more active members of a socially mobile society.

Simran (prayer and contemplation) – the forth tenet of the Sikh Dharma helps an individual to meditate and to achieve self actualisation and consciousness of the need to connect with God. Practicing kirat Kamai, wand and nishkam sewa that helps other improve their lives assists an individual to reunite with his/her maker.

Social Justice and Sikh Equality

The promotion of equality has been a distinguishing feature of the Sikh faith since its conception in the late 15 century. In around 1499 when the world offered low, or no status or respect to women, Guru Nanak sought to improve the respect of women by spreading this message: “From woman, man is born; within woman, man is conceived; to woman he is engaged and married. Woman becomes his friend; through woman, the future generations come. When his woman dies, he seeks another woman; to woman he is bound. So why call her bad? From her, kings are born. From woman, woman is born; without woman, there would be no one at all. O Nanak, only the True Lord is without a woman.” (page 473). Equality and brotherhood of mankind have been emphasised in the sacred Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Guru Nanak says in Japji Sahib: “Accept all humans as your equals, and let them be your only sect” (Japji 28), and Guru Gobind Singh promoted the principle of: “manas ki jat sabhe eke paihcanbo – recognise all of mankind as a single caste of humanity”. Therefore, Sikhs believe that all human beings are equal. “We are sons and daughters of Waheguru, the Almighty”. Sikhs have to treat all peoples of the world on equal basis and without gender, racial, social or caste discrimination.

Social Justice and the Sikh Sant Sipahi

Sikhs are also required to be ready to protect and stand up for the rights of the weak among us; to fight for justice and fairness for all. Sikhs fight for human rights through the concept of “Warrior Saint” and use the term “Sant Sipahi”. Sant is used to refer to a wise, knowledgeable and Dharmic person or a “person with knowledge of God”. This concept was first developed by Guru Hargobind, and later personified in Guru Gobind Singh. The first duty of every Sikh is to be a “Sant” – to be a wise, considerate, judicious and knowledgeable person who has a good understanding of Dharam or religion. A “Sant” should also be a soldier (Sapahi) able to fight and engage in warfare. So the second duty of a Sikh is to be able and ready to fight for a worthy cause and for the protection of righteousness and the weak. Sikhs are taught to be kind as well as fearless. However, a Sikh is forbidden to ever engage in a first attack on any person for whatever reason. Only when all means have been exhausted and negotiations have failed can the sword be yielded in defence of a legitimate and worthy cause.

Although Social Justice is the one of the foundation stones of the Sikh faith, it is human centric. The much wider Sikh principle of Sarbat Da Bhalla, that embraces Social Justice, but emphasises the importance of our duty to the care of the environment and to live in harmony with the rest of God’s creation is much more powerful and relevant goal for all humans to pursue in the beginning of the third millennium.

six unavoidable facts

Paul Tripp, Tim Lane, and Brad Hambrick present: six unavoidable facts

  1. Someone in your life had a problem this week. That person may be you. Even if you are here for yourself, chances are you know or will know others who struggle in this area. Because we live in a fallen world and have a sin nature, we can be certain that we will battle with sin and suffering in our lives. Because we love people, we can be certain we will be called on to love and assist others in their battle with sin and suffering.
  2. We have everything we need in the Gospel to help that person (2 Peter 1:3). God has given us Himself, the Gospel, the Bible, and the church and promised they are effective for all things that pertain to life and godliness. Our task as Christians is to grow in our understanding of and ability to skillfully apply these resources to our struggles. These resources are the essence and source of “good advice,” and we hope to play a role in your efforts to apply and disseminate this “good advice.” We do not aim to present new material, but new ways of applying the timeless, eternal truths of the Gospel found in Scripture.
  3. That person will seek help from friends, family members, or pastors before seeking professionals. Counseling (broadly defined as seeking to offer hope and direction through relationship) happens all the time. We talk with friends over the phone, crying children in their rooms, spouses in the kitchen, fellow church members between services, and have endless conversations with ourselves. We listen to struggles, seek to understand, offer perspective, give advice, and follow up later. This is what the New Testament calls “one-anothering” and something we are all called to do.
  4.  That person either got no help, bad help, or biblical, gospel-centered help. Not all counseling is good counseling. Not all advice that we receive from a Christian (even a Christian counselor) is Christian advice. Too often we are advised to look within for the answers to our problems or told that we are good enough, strong enough, or smart enough in ourselves to overcome. Hopefully you will see today how the Bible calls us to something (rather Someone) better, bigger, and more effective than these messages.
  5.  If they did not get meaningful help, they will go elsewhere. When we do not receive good advice (pointing us to enduring life transformation), we keep looking. We need answers to our struggles. This means that as people find unfulfilling answers they will eventually (by God’s grace) come to a Christian for advice. When they eventually come to you, we hope you will be more prepared because of our time together today.
  6. Whatever help they received, they will use to help others! We become evangelists for the things that make life better (this is why the Gospel is simply called “Good News”). We quite naturally share the things that we find to be effective. Our prayer for you today is that you will find the material presented effective for your struggles and that you will be so comforted and encouraged by it that it will enable you to be a more passionate and effective ambassador of the Gospel in the midst of “normal” daily conversations.
  • Bold faced text taken from Paul Tripp and Tim Lane How People Change.
  • Non-bold-faced text taken from Brad Hambrick False Love.

Obstacles to Evangelism

This essay is the third and final in a series of essays on evangelism put together in the course of my own study on the topic at Grace Theological College.

Obstacles to Evangelism

Brendon Ward

This essay seeks to address several barriers to evangelism.  Firstly, I consider the barrier imposed by the false dichotomy between evangelism and social responsibility. Secondly, I look at barriers within ourselves including a sense of guilt, a lack of confidence, and the reality of over commitment.  Thirdly, the issue of pluralism and its impact on the church’s influence.

Evangelism and/or Social Responsibility?

It is extraordinary… that controversy should have blown up over the relationship between evangelism and social responsibility.[1]

Throughout my involvement with the pro-life movement in New Zealand, I have had to wrestle with the question of whether this is a distraction from whatever call God has placed on my life regarding vocational gospel ministry.  While I affirm the uniqueness of the ministry of God’s Word through public, private, and personal ministry of it, the idea that the church is built up as a witness to the world by working on the interior only is bogus.

Sadly, it seems within Protestantism, being engaged in the culture, to build a culture of life is treated like an optional extra.  Engagement seems to be rather characterised by the occasional skirmish into enemy territory, ever with the bastion of the church castle as a safe place into which the wounded solider of Christ can scurry for respite or retirement.

It is sadly still the case that some believe that Christians do not have social responsibility in this world but only a commission to evangelize those who have not heard the gospel.[2]

I’ve made reference to the locality of my local church and the seemingly untapped opportunities that lay on our doorstep.  My thinking is reflected in what I propose would be a great way to begin knocking on those doors.  But I am curious, what is the corporate consensus on our responsibility to those people, in families, who are the faces behind those doors?  Are we simply in a position where the only thing we have to offer is the message that they’re each sinful, in need of a saviour from those sins?  Or could it be that the gospel is bigger than that?

Could it be that “Social activity was said to be both a consequence of and a bridge to evangelism, and indeed the two were declared to be partners. Besides, they are united by the gospel. “For the gospel is the root, of which both evangelism and social responsibility are the fruits.””[3]

Could it be that, apart from independency from the mission of the church, offering hope to families whose definition of marriage has been underdeveloped, perverted, and even redefined by democratically elected governments, is actually an outworking of the gospel?

Could it be that an offer of such hope is the natural consequence of a robust understanding of and faithful commitment to the gospel?

As suggested by Stott, we confront this false-dichotomy through a bigger vision of who God[4] is as the God of Genesis 1 and not just of Genesis 3.  We confront this by understanding that man[5], as image of God, has inherent worth, and is worthy of the same common graces as those in church.  We confront this by understanding that Jesus[6] came to inaugurate a redemption that is bigger than the forgiveness of sin and a ticket to heaven.  We confront this by understanding that soteriology is John 3 AND Romans 8[7].  We confront this by understanding that “The church is the only cooperative society that exists for the benefit of non-members.”[8]

Surely the following is a healthy outworking of our robust theological convictions: “…each local church (at least of any size) can and should get involved in as many areas as possible, through its groups.”[9]

Barriers within ourselves

Jesus and His apostles have called every one of us who knows Jesus Christ to the task of reaching out to those around us. However, if we are honest we will have to admit that the great majority of us find this calling very difficult, if not almost impossible.[10]

To the church’s discredit, Jerram Barrs identifies pulpit imposed guilt as an evangelistic barrier.  He suggests that congregants cringe the notification of such topic focused sermons and may even excuse themselves physically or simply tune out.

He argues that, “Pastors can easily and with the best of intentions fall into the trap of berating their congregations with commands to evangelize or illustrations about evangelism that seek to motivate by creating the maximum amount of guilt in those who hear.”[11]  He suggests that such disingenuous approaches to stirring up God’s people to love and good works is at odds with the mission of Jesus to set people free, even from a guilt-conscious driven motif for doing good.

The remedy to this of course, is for preachers to become freshly acquainted with the grace of God that brings salvation[12].  Such grace, rather than appeals to trying harder to do better, teaches a community of grace how to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age.  Surely the mission of God communicated to the people of God is characteristic of a godly life, without being so black and white as to what this looks like in practice.  The passage in question (Titus 2:11-14) is deeply rooted in the gospel itself as it is book ended by gospel indicatives, speaking of “…our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”

Another internal wall is our lack of confidence in our ability to present the Gospel clearly or to answer the challenges that people might put forward against the Christian message.[13]

This, I have seen even in my own experience, seems to be one of the greatest barriers within ourselves.  Great in its constraining power over against what could be termed the absence of practical solutions.  While it could be argued that at its root is the fear of man, Barr’s is perhaps somewhat more charitable when he acknowledges the reality of “our anxiety and nervousness about our abilities, our embarrassment, our fear, even our sense of shame when we try to tell someone what it means to us to be a Christian.”[14]  Such honest assessment, Barrs argues, should not be met by some kind of claim of victory over it, but a glad and humble acknowledgement that I am weak but He is strong.

He further suggests that “Knowing our own fears and weakness is the starting place for all growth, because this knowledge drives us to prayer for ourselves and requires us to acknowledge to others that we are not at all adequate for the tasks to which God has called us.”[15]

We may also feel walls of inner anxiety about overcommitting ourselves or wanting to avoid having our privacy and personal space invaded by strangers we really don’t desire to know. Many of us are already in over our heads with too many church activities.[16]

Barr’s suggest that such over commitment prevents the church members at large from engaging non-church friends, families, and others.  As a remedy it’s like a call from a doing-focus to a being-focus.  He suggests, “Perhaps we need to cut out some of the activities, even go to fewer services and Bible studies, so we have time to become good friends with a few people who are not believers.”[17]  Having time to become good friends with a few people who are not believers certainly is being orientated.  This also does justice to the idea that evangelism is not about method, but rather a consistent pattern of life.

Pluralism and Influence

Western Christians find themselves increasingly out of step with a post-Christian society.[18]

Stott hints at a decline in the church’s overall influence as he also suggests a decline in church membership.  While he is hopeful that in certain denominations there is a resurgence in attendance, he, with candour admits that attendance and membership are not synonymous.

As church membership declines, Stott argues that secularism fills in the gaps.  He also suggests that liberalised immigration policy has led to an increase of diverse religious opinion, option, and competition in the marketplace of ideas.

This can be seen in a New Zealand context especially when it is learned that many Christians seeking asylum from Islamic countries are denied their request because they are systematically miss-represented by their Muslim interpreters[19].  The sinister side of immigration aside, the influx of people from the Indian subcontinent brings with it religion native to that area.  I do by no means advocate an environment of religious intolerance, but am conscious that the diversity of opinions does make the church’s job that much harder.

Our world, particularly the West, has shifted on its axis and has in many respects moved from being modern to postmodern.[20]

This shift, Stott describes as a move from conviction that humanity had the answers to life’s problems to a situation characterised by uncertainty and the adage that no one can really know anything for certain.

The impact this has on evangelism is that the gospel contains various truth-claims and is in itself a truth-claim.  Along with post-modernisms rejection of both meta-narrative and objective reality, the sceptic can be heard responding to the gospel by asking “How do you know?”  Rather than this being an easy out, the postmodern is presenting an epistemological crisis.

“In such a society Christianity cannot back down on its essential claim that God has revealed the truth through Christ and that this truth is what the late Francis Schaeffer used to call ‘true truth’.  God’s revelation in Christ is at the heart of the gospel.  It is a non-negotiable.”[21]  For the Christian, this revelation is the meta-narrative through which sense is made of the world.  Yet in a post-modern world, it is an offensive weapon that suggests the rejection of absolutes is erroneous.  Rather than being cause for despair, Stott suggests that “our postmodern society provides creative challenges for Christian witness which are very positive… we must rethink the way we conduct mission for the twenty-first century.”[22]  Similarly, the call to a proper confidence in the gospel, “neither imposing it on others nor being timid in holding to its truth.”[23]

So, in the light of pluralism in the form of growing secularism, diversity in the marketplace of ideas, or post modernism, how can the church respond?

Stott rejects the extremes of imposition and the laissez-faire approach.   While making reference to historical examples of the church’s imposition, he cites contemporary examples by suggesting “You cannot force people to believe what they do not want to believe or practice what they do not want to practice.  Similarly, to image today that we can force Christian convictions and standards on Europe (for example) is totally unrealistic.”[24]  In terms of the laissez-faire approach Stott argues that “What has happened is that true tolerance, which respects the views of others while disagreeing with them, has become a false or empty tolerance, which does not bother to engage and amounts to indifference.”[25]

Stott offers a third option:

Better than the extremes of imposition and laissez-faire is the strategy of persuasion by argument. This is the way the Christian mind advocates, for it arises naturally from the biblical doctrines of God and human beings.[26]

In persuasion tolerance is characterised by a “respect [for] men and women made in God’s image.”[27]  In addition, such evangelists are called to “seek justice, hate injustice, care for the needy, guard the dignity of work, recognize the necessity of rest, maintain the sanctity of marriage, be zealous for the honour of Jesus Christ and long that every knee will do homage to him and every tongue confess him.”[28]

Driven by such passions Christians “should seek to educate the public conscience to know and desire the will of God.  The church should seek to be the conscience of the nation.  We cannot impose God’s will be legislation, neither can we convince people of it merely by biblical quotation.”[29] Rather than these authority from above approaches, Stott champions an authority from below in which “the intrinsic truth and value of a thing which is self-evident and, therefore, self-authenticating.”[30]  I suspect by his injunction to Christian ethic in action, Stott is citing examples of the truths self-evidence and authentication.

Insofar as this concerns evangelism Stott says “we should neither try to force people to believe the gospel, nor remain silent as if we were indifferent to their response, nor rely exclusively on dogmatic proclamation of biblical texts… but rather, like the apostles, we should reason with people from both nature and Scripture, commending God’s gospel to them by rational arguments.”[31] Again, the call for Christian to live out biblical ethics makes gospel commendation substantial rather than dogmatic.

In other papers, I have alluded to the mission field that our church is geographically situated.  The Christian School and Preschool represent families whose parents hold to secular, religious, and postmodern presuppositions that run contrary to the truth of God revealed in Christ.  If we are to reach these families, it is not going to be by imposing our beliefs (even on their children), or tolerating their ideologies as equally valid.  Rather, by living out and presenting Christian ethics that lay at the root of who we are as human persons.  That is, concerned about justice and injustice, caring when it comes to the needy and promotion of industry, conscious of the struggles of marriage and parenting.  With respect to all these things we find common ground with our non-Christian parents whose own presuppositions have answers (with varying degrees of ambiguity) that find counterpart in the gospel of Jesus.  Through a presentation of Christian perspective on all these things it will be demonstrated that a biblical worldview is comprehensive, well considered, and represents a caring, and concerned conscience for human persons in community.

 

[1] Issues, p. 23

[2] Issues, p. 24

[3] Issues, p. 32

[4] New Issues, p. 19

[5] New Issues, p. 22

[6] New Issues, p. 26

[7] New Issues, p. 27

[8] New Issues, p. 29

[9] Issues, p. 45

[10] Barrs, p. 129

[11] Barrs, pp. 129-130

[12] Titus 2:11-14

[13] Barrs, p. 130

[14] Barrs, p. 131

[15] Barrs, p. 131

[16] Barrs, p. 133

[17] Barrs, p. 133

[18] Issues, p. 71

[19] Voice of the Martyrs Asif Mall recently gave a presentation to suggest that this is happening in New Zealand, with a number of disaffected Pakistani Christians being sent back to Pakistan despite having legitimate cause for seeking asylum.  He suggested that Pakistani Muslims seek asylum when no need exists and are being granted their request on account of their disingenuous representatives.

[20] Issues, p. 73-74

[21] Issues, 73-74

[22] Issues, 73-74

[23] Issues, 74

[24] Issues, 75

[25] Issues, 76

[26] Issues, 77

[27] Issues, 78

[28] Issues, 78

[29] Issues, p 79

[30] Issues, p 79

[31] Issues, p 79

A day without writing…

There’s a lump in my bed

Salad Days

Jump In

Maintaining Lifelong Commitment

By Focus on the Family

“But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”  (Ruth 1:16-17)

What does it mean when a person says, “I am committed to my marriage for life?”

It means, among other things, that marriage is created by God and meant to be honored by everyone (Hebrews 13:4). Healthy couples believe marriage is permanent and that divorce is not an option. They look forward to their future together and see their marriage as one of the most important parts of their lives. They love each other and invest in their relationship. In strong marriages, couples expect to face challenges together and are willing to do whatever it takes to make their marriage work. How does all this play out in everyday life? Let’s take a closer look.

1. Marriage is a priceless gift

Lifelong commitment reflects and grows out of a realization that God created marriage and gave it to men and women as a priceless gift. Malachi 2:15 says, “God, not you, made marriage. His Spirit inhabits even the smallest details of marriage…so guard the spirit of marriage within you.” (MSG).

Couples who stick together over the long haul understand that marriage is not merely a contractual partnership or a sexual liaison between two people. It’s a sacred and solemn spiritual mystery in the eyes of God. Of all the human relationships we could name, it’s the one used most frequently by the biblical writers to symbolize and describe Yahweh’s covenant with His people and Christ’s relationship with the church (see Ephesians 5:31, 32; Revelation 21:2).

2. Love is a decision

Lifelong commitment also implies that you love your spouse and make a decision to stay married “until death do us part.” In other words, divorce is not an option in your mind. At some point a husband and wife need to “decide” to love – even when they don’t feel like it. The word “decide” comes from a root word meaning “to cut.” You cannot make a commitment without deciding to cut off other options that compete against what is most important.[1]

Burn the ships! This phrase refers to one of the most dramatic incidents in the history of the Spanish conquest of the New World. In 1519, conquistador Hernando Cortés landed in Mexico on the shores of the Yucatan intent on claiming the treasures of the Aztecs. Knowing that he and his men faced incredible odds, he changed the terms of the entire campaign by giving the order to “burn the ships.” With no way out and no fallback option, his men had no place to go except forward.[2]

Successful married couples “burn their ships” by taking the word “divorce” completely out of their vocabulary. It’s a simple matter of commitment. “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Matthew 19:6). Remember, retreat is easy when you have the option.

3. You like your marriage relationship

Another aspect of lifelong commitment is the ability to say, “I really like this relationship and want it to continue.”

Marriage should be honored by all…” (Hebrews 13:4). Making the decision to stay together is one way to honor your marriage. But honor and commitment also involve the emotions and feelings. If you can say, “I value and like this marriage,” and really mean it, you’re on the road to building a relationship that will go the distance. Here’s what some of our seminar participants have said in answer to the question “What do you love about your marriage?”

  • Having fun and laughing with each other
  • Synergy – 1+1=3 (Tower of Babel; Genesis 11:6)
  • Shared spiritual relationship
  • Raising our children together (tag team)
  • Making memories
  • I have someone to celebrate with
  • Sharing the deepest levels of intimacy
  • Sex
  • Serving together
  • Loving and being loved
  • Married to my best friend
  • Riding life’s roller coaster together (Adventure)

4. You take action

Last but not least, commitment isn’t simply a matter of “deciding” to stay married (will) or “liking” the relationship (feeling). On the contrary, commitment is primarily about taking active steps to maintain your marriage. As the Bible says, “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:17). It’s the same way in personal relationships. You demonstrate how important your marriage is to you by proactively investing time and money to make it better. During difficult seasons you fight for your marriage. In season and out of season, you show yourself willing to do whatever it takes to keep your relationship strong.

Putting It Into Practice

Research shows a marriage commitment yields a more satisfying relationship on all levels.[3] Women respond when they know their husbands are willing to “die to self” for them.[4] Men hesitate to invest unless they know there’s a payoff. One researcher concluded that “a man tends to give most completely to a woman once he has decided, She is my future.”[5]

How do you make these concepts real and practical in everyday life? There are a number of ways you can start working toward that goal. You might begin by trying a Date Night activity that highlights the excitement and adventure of mutual commitment. Come up with some activity that simply won’t work unless the two of you decide right up front that you’re both going to stick it out to the very end. Dancing naturally comes to mind – after all, “It takes two to Tango” – but there are other games and sports – tennis, handball, or rowing, for instance – that might fit the bill equally well. An art project might also serve the purpose.

Questions for Discussion

You can also drill down deeper into the meaning of marital commitment by discussing the following questions together:

  1. What was it that brought us together in the first place? What attracted us to each other?
  2. How can we re-ignite the spark of that attraction and bring it to life again?
  3. What was our vision for our marriage when we were just starting out? Where did we see ourselves going together? How can we recapture those original dreams and reaffirm our hopes for a shared future?
  4. What were the vows we spoke to each other at our wedding? Why did we make those vows and how are we doing in terms of keeping them? Has anything happened to change our commitment to pursuing those goals? If so, what can we do about it? How can we renew and reaffirm our vows to another at this point in our relationship?

[1] http://www.focusonthefamily.com/marriage/strengthening-your-marriage/commitment/the-half-hearted-marriage

[2] https://opisina.wordpress.com/2010/11/18/burn-the-ships/

[3] Scott Stanley, “The Half-Hearted Marriage,” accessed July 3, 2015,http://www.focusonthefamily.com/marriage/strengthening-your-marriage/commitment/the-half-hearted-marriage, originally published in Focus on the Family magazine, January 2007 © Scott Stanley.

[4] American Psychological Association, “Religion or Spirituality Has Positive Impact on Romantic/Marital Relationships, Child Development, Research Shows,” news release, December 12, 2014,http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2014/12/religion-relationships.aspx.

[5] Stanley, “The Half-Hearted Marriage,” Focus on the Family magazine.

Copyright © 2016 Focus on the Family.

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The Task of Evangelism

This is the second in a series of essays on evangelism as part of my own study on the subject at Grace Theological College.

The Task of Evangelism: A Manifesto for the Church

Brendon Ward

If evangelism is the mission of the church, then it is something that the whole church is involved with.  Granted, that while “Not all of us will feel confident about speaking to others about salvation”[1] there is an active role for each member of the body of Christ to play.

Accordingly, “All believers are called by the Lord to “make the most of every opportunity” (Colossians 4:5) and on every occasion to be “prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15).”[2]

There are lots of different ways that individual church members can get involved that are all an outworking of the Great Commission task of taking the gospel to the nations. What follows is a brief exploration of what the corporate task of evangelising our community could look like.  It is by no means an exhaustive exploration, but perhaps each member can identify where they can contribute.

A Heart for the Mission

Before exploring specific task-orientated aspects of corporate evangelising, it is helpful to consider what kind of people we should strive to be as we engage in various evangelism related activities within the church.

We are encouraged to see our contribution to the Great Commission as an outworking of our Christian discipleship.  Accordingly, John Dickson writes:

Following Jesus in his mission must at least mean sharing something of his compassion.  It is directly out of this compassion that the call to be involved in mission comes. [3]

God’s people understand the world’s need for the Shepherd, feel the compassion of Christ toward them and beg the Lord of the harvest to advance the work of the gospel.[4]

We must be willing to ask ourselves whether we actually have a heart for the Great Commission.  That is, do we have an expressible heart-desire to see the Kingdom of God grow?  Do we share a passion similar to that of Paul the Apostle whose heart desire and prayer for his countrymen was that they be saved?[5]

If we lack in this area, then we need to search our own hearts and examine ourselves in the light of the gospels – gospels that present the one who saved us as a Shepherd who sacrificially sought each of us out.  The same Shepherd has committed the task of gathering other lost sheep into the fold to His body, the church.

Living Faithfully

The mission of the church, as defined by Jesus in the Great Commission, is so much more than what we do.  It encompasses the very heart of who we are as both individual believers, and as a corporate body of saved individuals called The Church.

Accordingly, in what has been called The Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives two powerful “images that are to shape the way we Christians are to think about our calling in the world: ‘You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.’”[6]

Before we limit the task of evangelism to simply speaking to people about Jesus and asking whether they are saved, it is helpful to consider that Jesus uses the two images (salt/light) to teach “us that if we live in obedience to God’s commandments, loving Him and loving our fellow men and women, then people will see the beauty of our lives, the acts of kindness, the daily life of integrity and faithfulness, and their response will be to glorify God.”[7]

Similarly, “His two images, ‘salt’ and ‘light,’ demand a life that is to be lived in the world and applied to the world, out in the darkness where there is no light, out where the savouring salt is needed to make the food tasty. These images and Jesus’ use of them require Christians to be in the world, and not simply in the church.”[8]

Prayer In and As Evangelism

The most basic gospel- promoting task… is not evangelism; it is prayer to the Lord of the harvest.[9]

Prayer is not a passive, sideline aspect of evangelistic commitment; it is a fundamental expression of that commitment.[10]

…evangelism and prayer are two sides of the one coin.  One is public; the other is silent and hidden from view.  Both are vital.[11]

With those thoughts in mind, church members are encouraged to actively and deliberately pray evangelistic prayers.  They are encouraged to do so in all of the various gatherings of the church.  This means that as members gather together, in small groups, for whatever other purpose, they are encouraged to devote themselves to prayer (Colossians 4:2).  In the context of the letter to the Colossians Paul is encouraging the church to pray for the work of the gospel in his own ministry.  It is thus appropriate that as members gather together, and as they pray, that they pray for the work of the gospel.

In that regard, members are encouraged to:

  1. Pray for themselves

“Pray for yourself in all your relationships.”[12]

“We are to pray for open doors in our relationships so we will have opportunities to make the Gospel known.”[13]

  1. Pray for front-line workers

“Paul asked the believers to pray for him (Ephesians 6:19-20), that he would have courage to make the Gospel known when he was given the opportunity.”[14]  So members are to pray for those engaged in front-line gospel work, that they be given courage in every gospel-orientated endeavour.  Paul also asked for prayer in order that his gospel proclamation may be done with clarity.[15]

Similarly, Jesus calls His disciples (which includes every member of His church) to “pray earnestly to the lord of the harvest to send out labourers into His harvest.”[16]

  1. Pray for unbelievers

“…all of us can confidently speak about others to the Saviour himself…”[17] There are people in our lives (whether or not we consider being in relationship with them or not) who do not confess Jesus as Lord or know His saving grace.  Praying specifically for these people is “a fundamental expression of both dependence upon God and commitment to his mission.”[18]

Similarly, while the apostle’s implication is all kinds of people, his instruction to Timothy[19] suggest that people beyond our direct sphere of influence be included in our corporate prayers.

Hospitality

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers”[20], said the writer of Hebrews.  In this passage, there is an inseparable connection between hospitality and strangers.  In fact, the Greek behind the King James Bible translates one word as entertain strangers.

The scope of biblical hospitality is much wider than being on a church’s hospitality roster.

“Scriptural hospitality is inviting people over who need our love, who need a meal, who are unlikely ever to repay us with a return invitation. Consider adopting a widow or widower, a single-parent family, a college student away from home, an international student, someone struggling with psychological difficulties. Don’t ask yourself if these people will ever invite you back. Don’t ask if they are Christian believers. Don’t even ask if they are nice people. Hospitality might mean asking a person in need to come and live with you and your family for a while.”[21]

A demonstration of this kind of entertaining strangers is to be found especially in elders and deacons within the church.  “Leaders in the church are required by Scripture to set an example in the areas of love, kindness, gentleness, patience, and forbearance before they are appointed to preach, teach, and rule. If we obediently require these attitudes and character traits of our leaders, what will our “new community” look like?”[22]

Meeting People Where They’re At

Christians acknowledge that everything about everything they do is an outworking of the gospel.  For Christians this is true of marriage, parenting, budgeting, and the way we use the internet.  Yet even unbelievers have an interest in these areas of life.  Accordingly, and especially because the Church has an authoritative voice on each of these issues, the Church is in a unique position to help members of their communities in the context of marriage and family.

It would be great if our church could work towards a situation where the following could be said of it:

Today many of those who come to our churches are parents knowing they need some help in raising their children in this morally challenging culture. Such parents often do not realize they are seeking the Lord and His truth, nor do they know that they are going to come to faith in Christ. But God uses that parental sense of responsibility they have toward their children as His means of reaching into their hearts and drawing them to Himself. All truth is God’s truth, and all good human qualities arise from the image of God that is indelibly imprinted in our human nature.[23]

In addition to the reality that married people and parents often seek ways to improve their marriages and parenting, our church is in a unique position in that it shares a property with a school and preschool.  While both school and preschool are committed to a Christian curriculum, it’s a well-known fact that many unbelieving parents send their unbelieving children to be educated on our property.

There is real potential to bring these factors together, and to offer such parents much needed guidance and support in the issues of life that are unique to them.

That being the case, what follows could be a really good way of building a bridge between the church and the community with the expectation that relationships form, and opportunity for the kind of gospel-centred hospitality emerge.

Making this open to families both within the Church and community[24], a series of classes would be offered covering topics such as marriage, parenting, budgeting, and internet safety.  The number of classes would be no more than 8 in as many successive weeks.  The delivery of these classes would include relevant instruction from the Scriptures knowing that in whatever context they are presented they have power to make one wise unto salvation.[25]

Towards the end of this block of classes, we, as a church, could start facilitating a program similar to Christianity Explained – which, again, is a series of classes that present the gospel in a way especially suited to people who have not had a lot of exposure to the Scriptures.  By the time those invitations are extended, the parents etc in our community will have already had a taste for what we are like as a church, as well as exposure to the Scriptures as they pertain to issues of marriage, family, etc.

Underpinning all of these initiatives would be the need for deliberate and focused prayer – and as individuals (and couples) express problems they face in marriage, family, etc – can come the offer to have people pray specifically (within the bounds of confidentiality).

In addition to our school and preschool, those family, friends, co-workers who are being prayed for as the church gathers could be invited/included, or similar, more focused programs could be facilitated to meet a specific need that these individuals/families might have that the church can minister to.

 

 

Bibliography

Barrs, J. (2001). The Heart of Evangelism. Wheaton: Crossway Books.

Dickson, J. (2005). Promoting the Gospel: The Whole of life for the Cause of Christ. Sydney: Aquila Press.

 

 

[1] (Dickson, 2005) 65

[2] (Barrs, 2001) 45

[3] (Dickson, 2005) 55

[4] (Dickson, 2005) 56

[5] Romans 10:1

[6] (Barrs, 2001) 55-56 quoting Matthew 5:13-16

[7] (Barrs, 2001) 56

[8] (Barrs, 2001) 56

[9] (Dickson, 2005) 54

[10] (Dickson, 2005) 57

[11] (Dickson, 2005) 60

[12] (Barrs, 2001) 51

[13] (Barrs, 2001) 50

[14] (Barrs, 2001) 51

[15] Colossians 4:4

[16] Luke 10:2

[17] (Dickson, 2005) 65

[18] (Dickson, 2005) 65

[19] 1 Timothy 2:1-2

[20] Hebrews 13:2

[21] (Barrs, 2001) 70

[22] (Barrs, 2001) 76

[23] (Barrs, 2001) 107

[24] A mixture of both would encourage relationships to form between Church and non-Church parents etc

[25] 2 Timothy 3:15, Romans 1:16

A Heart for Evangelism

The first in a series of essays on evangelism as part of a course I’ve taken at Grace Theological College.

A Heart for Evangelism: Experience in Evangelism

Brendon Ward

A Brand New Christian

My early experience of evangelism was characterised by ignorant zeal.  As a brand new Christian who knew nothing of formalised discipleship, I ended up living with some Muslims.  It would perhaps be more accurate to say that my presentation of the good news focused on the bad news that Mohammed was a false prophet.   And perhaps this was more a case of how to lose friends and alienate people.  While it seemed they were supportive of my new found faith (and actually challenged me on issues like substance abuse), I gave a poor representation of Christianity and the Christ of Christianity.  I had no respect for them as Muslims, often threatening to cook a pork roast in their kitchen under the auspices of Christian liberty.  Any relationship that had developed on the occasion of our living in the same apartment seemed to be fractured beyond repair as I surrendered my key emboldened by a police escort.

I thought I could engage in winning the lost by making pot-shots, essentially assaulting unsuspecting wearers of burqa with language I doubt they understood from a skinny white boy they were probably enculturated not to engage.  “Jesus doesn’t want you to wear a burqa” was about as close to the gospel as it came in these brief skirmishes. By the grace of God, I felt the Holy Spirit more and more restraining me as He focused on changing my heart as well as my attitude towards people as those made in His image, my understanding of the gospel, and what it meant to announce good news.

A Redefined Role

Ignorant zeal gave way to what I thought was an educated simmer and I began to conclude that my role within the church was to be confined within the church, that is, it’s four walls.  I saw myself more a teacher than an evangelist and developed an arrogant concern that professing Christians learn the doctrines to which I had begun to subscribe.

I was climbing the ladder of the inner doctrinal echelon within the church when I remember hearing God speak in such a way so as to knock out all the rungs of the ladder, seeing me falling to the ground, humbled by a reality that I had “forgotten Jesus”.  This was the beginning of an ongoing discovery that the good news is caught up with the reality that Jesus is both the Christ and the Son of God.  That conviction, as the core of the Christian message, became a compelling commitment and lead me to being asked to leave some churches, and deciding to leave others – the litmus test being whether this gospel, this good news of Jesus Christ was being preached, and preached without ceasing.

I was getting opportunity to preach in church even as the rungs were rotting under my falling feet.  I began to preach grace, that Jesus was everything – a rare message from the King-James-Only cult.  I was finally lead to a church that seemed to share convictions about the abundance of grace and the exclusivism of Jesus and in time given opportunity to preach under the watchful gaze of discerning leaders.  I sought to preach Christ and Him crucified – to win and woo both sinners and saints to seek and savour the one who seemed so clearly the subject of every biblical text.

A New Way

Along came William Fay and Ray Comfort.  What emerged was a modified Way of the Master approach and passion for conversational evangelism.  William Fay taught me to let them do the talking, prompted by gentle, though deliberate, open ended questions about spiritual beliefs.  The goal was to win their respect and gain permission to “tell you what I believe”.  This William-Fay Five-Step was augmented by Ray Comforts dual concern to prove a Creator, and convince good people that they were lawbreakers subject to the narrowly satiable wrath of the proven Creator.  As I cracked the lid on the “And what about Jesus?” question I had in store all along, the animosity, from those with a convincing consciousness of the divine, was exhilarating.   The ensuing conflict demonstrated that though seemingly patient, gently asked open ended questions, with timed yet tailored responses, this one-off was no builder of a necessary relationship of trust.  Invercargill isn’t a big enough place for the face of smug street preachers, or unresolved animosity to be forgotten.  I had, I thought, one chance, and once blown, I would sooner have crossed the road or walked in the other direction than have another go.

A Better Way

Upon moving to Auckland, it seems conversation gave way to compassion – hearing drunken strangers stagger past my house and racing out to offer them a ride home, and then to church the next morning.  Or the unconditional offer of assistance to the Crips with the broken down beamer.  Or the insistence that I had been slightly overcharged by the sushi lady, explaining my honesty in terms of being a Christian. Or scouring the streets for hitchhikers, even though I wasn’t going their way, cracking out some William Fay as passenger became prisoner to my prodding and left the vehicle with a bible and a phone number should any questions arise from their promised reading of the New Testament.  There were no phone calls.

A New Sphere of Service

In relation to my present heart attitude towards evangelism, it is expressed most clearly and consistently within my serving as a preacher.  It has been my conviction that the gospel is to be preached in/on every preaching occasion with the awareness that the visible church is made up of the elect (some professing, some yet to profess) as well as the reprobate. With that in mind, is the awareness that as the gospel is preached, it is the power of God unto salvation.  What’s more, the quiet confidence that God may very well see fit to use my service as a preacher to effectually (and actually and actively) call those of His children previously lacking profession.

Beyond the safety of the church, I remain apologetically Christian in the sense of always being ready and willing to answer those who ask me about my faith.  All of my co-workers know that I identify as a Christian and though I work in the construction industry, I seek to engage by asking the question first of “What does it look like for me to be a Christian in this setting?”  Exclusion has only ever been the answer once, when it was suggested visiting the strip clubs as a natural flow on from the company Christmas dinner.

Beyond that (though I consider this level of engagement sits somewhere above half way on an “Actively Involved in Evangelism” register), I am otherwise publically unintentional.

A New Burden

Before reading Barrs and Dickson, I had not considered the discipline of prayer evangelistic in nature. What I mean by that is that I didn’t really have a category for promoting the gospel apart from its proclamation.  Furthermore, praying evangelistically hadn’t been a hi-viz in my prayer closet.  But having read Barrs and Dickson – who give considerable ink to the idea of promoting the gospel through prayer, I began to do just that.  Short and simple – at first based on Matthew 9:35-38.

Then came Saturday.  My weekly catch up with Isobel Cochran.  We always end our time by praying together.  The prompt is never more than “Let’s pray together”.  Together, we have been reading a series of books (intended for children but of great value to those who have had a selected exposure to our countries history at school) about the history of New Zealand.  The current focus is the early interaction between Maori and the missionaries.  As is normal, Isobel started us praying and she prayed specifically for the Maori people of New Zealand, especially in Auckland – that they would encounter the gospel afresh.  Then the net was spread further to the vast salad bowl of ethnicities represented in our city.  Affirmative sounds and quiet amens came from me and when it was my turn all I could do was echo Isobel and add my rediscovery of Matthew 9:35-38.  This, in short, was really encouraging, to know that God would so order things that just when I was rediscovering prayer and/as evangelism, that we should be reading that series of books, followed by that kind of praying.

Similarly, post-sermon conversations with a particular gentleman have lead me to question whether this kind of specific prayer is part of our own gathered worship.  Sure, we pray for missionaries – which is great – but prayer as evangelism seems limited to places none of us have been and people none of us have ever met.  Besides praying for the logistics of the Light Party and a vague perhaps this will allow us to build contacts, I am not sure we have the boldness or passion to pray in such a way that could mean we’d need to buy more chairs (either for our gathered worship space, or our living rooms).

The question is often about how to approach this at a corporate level with pastoral sensitivity especially when none of my roles include rule in this regard.   Mentioning Matthew 9:35-38 doesn’t quite fit prayer requests for knees and nieces and next week’s meeting.

In terms of written interaction with Barrs, Dickson, and Stott – I start with Stott, exploring just a few of his statements.

Stott suggests “In evangelism too we need incentives, for evangelism is difficult and dangerous work.”[1] He then outlines several incentives starting with “plain obedience… since the call of God is to share in His own mission in the world.”[2] He then says, “loving concern is the second.” (p19).[3]  The question for me then is, am I sufficiently motivated by the often used adage “love God, love others[4]”?  Sometimes it can seem that being involved in evangelism is an optional extra rather than a matter of obedience to the commissioning of God and a basic expression of neighbour love.  I think there are graceless ways of trying to stress these motives but the way Stott frames it, makes it a matter of the heart.  He makes it a question of “Is our love for God (expressed in obedience) and neighbour of a quality that generates a sacrifice of the ease and safety of not doing evangelism?”

A New Interpretation

How do these statements from Stott interpret my early experience?  Well firstly, I am not sure my early efforts were characterised by love for neighbour.  It wasn’t that I was so compelled that “God so loved the people on the street” and so I did to.  Rather, it was almost a case of I have something to tell you with the emphasis being on what I had discovered.

In addition to praying that the Lord of the Harvest would raise up labourers, Jerram Barrs suggests praying “for the work of the Spirit in the hearts and minds of those around us.”[5] This echoes an old quote from E.M. Bounds “Talking to men for God is a great thing, but talking to God for men is greater still. He will never talk well and with real success to men for God who has not learned well how to talk to God for men[6].”  While I am not so sure the Spirit is bound by who has and hasn’t been prayed for prior to evangelistic engagement (whether generally in terms of “Let who I speak to today have an open heart and mind” or for a specific individual), the Spirit does seem to work in the heart of those doing the praying to the end that they are compelled by a deeper neighbour love.  Similarly, we can be confident that the Spirit really does work in response to our prayers, preparing hearts and minds for the reception (and germination) of gospel seed.

“The vital link between the masses who need to hear the gospel and the few who are sent out to preach the gospel is the whole company of disciples praying for the work of the gospel.”[7]  I am not in total agreement with John Dickson at this point.  Perhaps it is a quarrel over words, but I would argue that the ideal is not a “few who are sent out”.  While I recognise that there are people that are specifically gifted in proclaiming the gospel, I would argue that more than we would readily admit are called to incorporate intentional gospel proclamation within a life dedicated to gospel promotion[8].  Even so, this is a reminder to pray that those specially gifted would be identified, and even set apart for intentional, even vocational gospel proclamation in a way that is perhaps distinct from pastoral ministry.

 

Bibliography

Barrs, J. (2001). The Heart of Evangelism. Wheaton: Crossway Books.

Comfort, R. (2006). The Way of the Master. Bridge-Logos Publishers.

Dickson, J. (2005). Promoting the Gospel: The Whole of life for the Cause of Christ. Sydney: Aquila Press.

Fay, W. (1999). Share Jesus Without Fear. B&H Books.

Stott, J. (1967). Our Guilty Silence. Hodder & Stoughton.

 

 

[1] (Stott, 1967) 17

[2] (Stott, 1967) 18

[3] (Stott, 1967) 19

[4] Expressed by Jesus in the words of Mark 12:30-31

[5] (Barrs, 2001) 49

[6] Bounds, E.M Power Through Prayer (https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/558571-talking-to-men-for-god-is-a-great-thing-but retrieved 11/04/16)

[7] (Dickson, 2005) 56

[8] Dickson deals with the proclamation/promotion distinction in his introduction (pp 9-17)

Jehovah’s Witnesses in a Nutshell

mattslick4Matt Slick is the founder and president of Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.  He wrote the following article: Jehovah’s Witnesses in a Nutshell

Jehovah’s Witnesses in a Nutshell

According to Jehovah’s Witness’ theology, God is a single person, not a Trinity, who does not know all things and is not everywhere.  He first created Michael the Archangel through whom He created all “other things,” including the universe, the earth, Adam and Eve, etc.  This creative work took God 42,000 years.  At one point, The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society taught that God ruled the universe from somewhere in the Pleiades star system.  They have since modified this to say that the “Pleiades can no longer be considered the center of the universe and it would be unwise for us to try to fix God’s throne as being at a particular spot in the universe.”1 Such changes and even contradictions in teaching are frequent in the Watchtower organization; and when a doctrine changes, they tell their followers that the light of truth is getting brighter.

Paradise Lost

After Adam sinned, the paradise which God had created for them was ruined.  So, God instituted a system of redemption which was revealed in the Bible and would ultimately lead to the crucifixion of Jesus the messiah.  But, in the meantime, God needed to have a visible, theocratic organization on earth to accurately represent Him.  Throughout history, this true organization had a remnant of faithful Jehovah’s Witnesses (Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, etc.); but it wasn’t until the late 1800’s that Charles Taze Russell formally began what is now known as the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society which is run out of Brooklyn, New York. This organization claims to be the only true channel of God’s truth on earth today and that it alone can properly interpret God’s word since it is the angel directed prophet of God on earth.

Angel-Man

When it came time for the savior to be born, Michael the Archangel became a human in the form of Jesus.  Jesus grew and kept all the laws of God and never sinned.  Finally, when Jesus died, it was not on a cross but on a torture stake where he bore the sins of mankind–but this did not include Adam’s sins.  Jesus rose from the dead as a spirit, not physically (his body was dissolved and taken by God); and during his visitations to people on earth, he manifested a temporary physical body for them to see and touch.  Thus began the true Christian church of Jehovah’s followers.

Throughout history there have been faithful Jehovah’s witnesses who have managed to keep The Truth in spite of the “demonic” doctrine of Trinitarianism that has permeated the Christian church in “Christendom.”  Christendom is filled with pastors who are antichrists in churches run by Satan and who support the earthly governments which are all of the devil.  In other words, all of Christianity is false; and only the Jehovah’s Witness “theocratic” organization led by several men in Brooklyn, New York, is true.

Charles Taze Russell

In the late 1800’s, a young man of 18 years by the name of Charles Taze Russell organized a Bible class in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  In 1879 he sought to popularize his ideas on doctrine so he co-published The Herald of the Morning magazine with its founder, N. H. Barbour; and by 1884 Russell controlled the publication and renamed it The Watchtower Announcing Jehovah’s Kingdom and founded Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society (now known as the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society).  Russell served as the teacher and guide for the organization which taught that Jesus returned invisibly in 1914 and is now reigning in heaven.  When Jesus finally returns physically to earth, which will happen at the time of the Battle of Armageddon, He will set up his earthly 1000-year kingdom.

The Millennium

During this 1000-year period, people will be resurrected and have a second chance to receive eternal salvation by following the principles of Jehovah’s Organization on earth known as the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.  After the millennium, those who reject God and His organization will be annihilated; that is, they will cease to exist.

The rest of the Jehovah’s Witness who have faithfully followed God’s organization on earth will be saved from eternal annihilation and reside forever on Paradise earth.  Heaven, however, is a place for a special group of 144,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses–the only ones who are “born again” and who alone are allowed to take communion in their annual communion service.  These are the ones who have “immortal life”;  all other Witnesses have “everlasting life.”  Those with immortal life do not have resurrected bodies.  They have “spirit bodies.”  Those on Paradise Earth have everlasting life and consists of a resurrected body that must be maintained through eating, rest, etc.

Five Meetings a Week

When you study with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, you agree to attend five meetings a week where you are taught from Watchtower literature.  You cannot be baptized until you have studied their material for at least six months and have answered numerous questions before a panel of elders.  Men are not supposed to have long hair or wear beards, and women are to dress in modest apparel.  They refuse to vote, salute the flag, sing the “Star Spangled Banner,” celebrate birthdays or Christmas, won’t take blood transfusions; and they can’t join the armed forces.  A schedule of door-to-door canvassing is required where you distribute the Watchtower literature, acquire donations, and forward all monies to the headquarters in Brooklyn, New York.

If you ever leave the Jehovah’s Witness organization, you are considered an apostate and are to be shunned.