Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Peace and War

*One reason that the world finds the New Testament's message of peacemaking and love of enemies incredible is that the church is so massively faithless. On the question of violence, the church is deeply compromised and committed to nationalism, violence, and idolatry. [By comparison, our problems with sexual sin are trivial.] This indictment applies alike to liberation theologies that justify violence against oppressors and to establishment Christianity that continues to play chaplain to the military-industrial complex, citing "just war" theory and advocating the defense of a particular nation as though that were somehow a Christian value.

Only when the church renounces the way of violence will people see what the Gospel means, because then they will see the way of Jesus re-enacted in the church...*

[1] Richard Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

*What is the Mission of the Church?*

Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert have created another stir in the evangelical world with their book, What Is the Mission of the Church? Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission. Wheaton: Crossway, 2011.  While I haven’t read the book yet, I’ve been watching the blogosphere on both sides of this discussion and am thoroughly amazed.  This could be one of the silliest debates I’ve ever witnessed. 

Rather than respond to each point they make, I’d like to just offer a few thoughts on their recent clarification and response to Ed Stetzer.  They state in their clarification on the mission of the church the following:
However, we should probably say something here about the common idea that the church’s work of “making disciples,” that is, “teaching them to obey everything I commanded,” necessarily means that the church itself, as an institution, must provide an example of or model all those things.  Sometimes, of course, that’s true.  As the church loves one another and cares for one another, we are certainly modeling to one another what it means to love and care for others—our families, our neighbors, our co-workers, the needy, and others.  But sometimes the case is made that the command to “teach everything” implies that the church is to be “exampling everything.”  So, the argument runs, if we want Christians to care for the poor, the church as a whole needs to care for the poor.  If we want Christians to feed the hungry, the church needs to feed the hungry in order to provide a model for its members.  But surely that’s too easy a solution.  If you’re talking about a clothes closet or a soup kitchen, that solution works just fine. It makes sense in that particular case.  But considered as a driving principle, the idea that the church “teaching” necessarily includes the church “exampling” just doesn’t work.  You have to ask how far that goes.

My response is, simple, and not complex.  It goes as far as the teachings and example of Jesus goes.  Did Jesus care for and feed the poor?  Did Jesus advocate that those who wished to follow him would have to make sacrifices to aid the poor?  Did Jesus teach, embody and advocate for social and restorative justice, i.e., that people engage in acts of forgiveness, restitution, and acting righteously for ourselves and others?  In specific areas, too many to list here (just read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), Jesus modeled and taught the way of the Kingdom.  The church, the people of God, are to go and do likewise. 

Their reasoning for the above stated position, follows this line of thinking:
For example, must the church, as an institution, be modeling to its members how to make good Christian films?  Must it be providing an example of how to do good Christian art?  How about good Christian cooking or marathon-running? We are not trying to be snarky with these questions. We believe there is a legitimate point to be raised. Must the church as an institution be actively engaged in politics so as to model what Christian civic engagement looks like? Doesn’t it make more sense to say that the church as an institution is to teach Christians what Jesus commanded, and teach his disciples that they are to obey him in every area of their lives, rather than to say that it must provide an example or model obedience in every particular instance?

Did Jesus say anything about Christian films?  Art? Cooking?  Did Jesus say that the Church (as an institution) is to be actively engaged in politics?  Never.  So Christians are encouraged to flourish in these areas and bring about influence and perhaps even change, but this is not part of their mission.  However, the mission of God does include all the types of activities that Jesus himself engaged in. 

They get to the heart of the issue when they state clearly their aims and intentions.
The question we are addressing in the book is whether the mission of the church—the thing it is organized and sent into the world to do—is to do those good deeds to the end of making the world a better place.

Their position on this question is, no.  My positions is, of course.  By following Jesus, and doing the things Jesus taught us to do, we will inevitably make the world a better place (see What Has Christianity Ever Done for Us?: Its Role in Shaping the World Today by Jonathan Hill; How Christianity Changed the World by Alvin J. Schmidt; The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success by Rodney Stark and most importantly, Edwin Judge’s Social Distinctives of Christians in the First Century).   By being a “faithful presence” (See, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World by James Davison Hunter which DeYong and Gilbert draw from), Christians have always made an impact on the world (for better and worse, but hopefully we’re getting better!).   Our aim is to “seek the welfare of the city” (Jer 27). 

One final comment on their take on “moral proximity.”

For starters, we believe the principle of “moral proximity” is a biblical principle. According to the New Testament we must do good “especially” to the household of faith (Gal. 6:10). We have an even higher responsibility to care for members of our own household (1 Tim. 5:8). In the Old Testament it was never the case that God’s people were equally responsible to meet the needs of everyone.

Galatians 6:10 - So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.
1 Thess 5:15 - See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all.

So much more can and should be said about these two verses, but suffice it to say that Paul saw a mandate for Christians to be a blessing and benefit to those in society (See the careful work of Bruce W. Longenecker Remember the Poor: Paul, Poverty, and the Greco-Roman World). 

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Communion - A Spiritual Encounter

Francis Watson in his excellent essay, ““I Received from the Lord. . .”: Paul, Jesus and the Last Supper,” makes the following opening comment which I thought was helpful. 

“For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the lord Jesus, on the night on which he was handed over, took bread. . .” (1 Cor. 11:23).  By repeating a tradition the Corinthians already know, Paul seeks to reawaken their sense of awe in the presence of holy mysteries: the bread and the cup of the Lord's Supper, through which they participate in the Lord's own body and blood, imbued with the supernatural power of his risen life.[1] To eat this bread and to drink this wine as if they were ordinary bread and wine, heedlessly and without preparation, is to risk converting their life-giving power into a poison that causes weakness, illness, or death.[2]  The abused bread and wine can become the agents of the Lord's judgment – a judgment that intends final salvation rather than condemnation but which one would still wish to avoid.[3]  Some at Corinth are already guilty of an abuse of this kind, ungraciously going ahead with the meal without waiting for the whole congregation to be assembled.[4] By the time the latecomers arrive, the food and drink have all been consumed so that they are left hungry and humiliated. Perhaps those responsible will plead that the hour was late and that they too were hungry? In that case, they should have taken something to sustain them before they left home. Only when the whole congregation is gathered together can the Lord's Supper truly be celebrated. This apparently trivial discourtesy to fellow Christians is symptomatic of a more serious error, the failure to reckon with the invisible presence of the Lord himself in the sharing of bread and cup.  The Last Supper tradition is fully integrated into the exhortations and warnings of 1 Cor. 11:17-34, since this tradition underlies Paul's point about the lifegiving yet potentially threatening holiness of its re-enactment as the Lord’s Supper.[5] 

[1] The Eucharistic bread and wine are “spiritual food” and “spiritual drink” (1 Cor. 10:3-4), in the sense that they enable participation in “the blood of Christ” and “the body of Christ” (10:16; cf. 11:27) – that is, in the heaven existence of the crucified and risen Lord who is “lifegiving Spirit” (15:45).
[2] Cf. 1 Cor. 11:28-30
[3] Cf. 1 Cor. 11:31-32.
[4] “So, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for one another” (1 Cor. 11:33).  Going ahead with the meal without waiting for latecomers would be a specific instance of the unworthy consumption of the bread and the wine against which the preceding verses warn (vv. 27-32).
[5] Francis Watson, ““I Received from the Lord. . .”: Paul, Jesus and the Last Supper” in Jesus and Paul Reconnected: Fresh Pathways into an Old Debate. ed. Todd D. Still. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 103-105.