Archive for the ‘faith’ Tag

Cultural Dance   16 comments

My discussion of Christmas got me thinking about how Christianity works itself out in a cultural context.

Contextualization is sometimes a controversial topic, but it remains a critical component in communicating the gospel effectively. The New Testament and the history of Christian missions display the need for healthy contextualization.

Contextualization involves an attempt to present the Gospel in a culturally relevant way. For this reason, any discussions about contextualization are connected to discussions about the nature of human culture.

Culture is the common ideas, feelings and values that guide community and personal behavior, that organize and regulate what a group thinks, feels and does about God, the world and humanity. It explains why the Sawi people of Irian Jaya regard betrayal as a virtue, which Americans see it as a vice. …The closest New Testament approximately to culture is kosmos (world), but only when it refers to language-bound, organized human life (I Corinthians 14:10) or the sin-contaminated system of values, traditions, and social structures of which we are a part (John 17:11) – The Evangelical Dictionary of Missions

There is nothing inherently evil about culture. Like most human inventions, it is a composite of good and evil values, customs, beliefs, creations, vocations, and behaviors that characterize a particular people in a particular place. Some cultures are more brutal than others, but might still have redeeming qualities while other cultures are more praiseworthy except for where they are not.

Unfortunately, not all evangelicals understand culture in this manner. Some evangelicals mistakenly believe that Scripture’s warnings against the world, the kosmos, are warnings against culture itself. This isn’t true. All people are fashioned in the image of God and are recipients of common grace. This means that we should expect to find some positive features present in every culture, even non-Christian cultures. At the same time, every person has sinned, and we should expect to find some negative features present in every culture. Instead of shunning culture completely, we should instead engage culture with care and discernment. We should also hit pause for a moment and realize that evangelical American Christians live within the context of their own culture that is also a human-defined construct.

We cannot avoid discussions about culture because all people live in a culture of some sort. There is no neutral position. None of us stand in a cultural vacuum where we can make objective pronouncements on the cultures of others. All people, whether they realize it or not, are shaped by the culture in which they live.

I had a recent discussion with someone on social media about culture. His contention was that we should reject our culture and stand outside of it. He defined culture along the lines of bacteria. I think this fellow does not understand that his rejection of the concept of a culture is itself an influence from his culture. For about 40 years, since the Hippy era, Americans have been told that our culture is banal and worthless and that we will find much more significance in the cultures of other countries. That is a message born in American culture and is therefore a cultural message. Culture shapes everything we do and believe, often without our direct knowledge.

Culture even shapes a person’s reception of the Christian faith. Andrew Walls has written well on this issue:

No one ever meets universal Christianity in itself: we only ever meet Christianity in a local form and that means a historically, culturally conditioned form. We need not fear this; when God became man he became historically, cultural conditioned man in a particular time and place. What he became, we need not fear to be. There is nothing wrong in having local forms of Christianity–provided that we remember that they are local.

Walls does not suggest that the Christian Gospel is merely the product of a particular culture or that it is only “true” in particular cultures. The teachings of Christianity remain objectively true in all times and in all places. Walls merely argues that we receive the truths of Christianity wrapped in the baggage of a particular cultural context. We humans are not eternal, timeless and a-cultural. Some of the ways we worship, how we present eternal truths, and how we live in and relate to society must be considered because we live in a culture.

A failure to understand this point can actually lead to a form of cultural arrogance where a person might begin to believe that his culture’s way of practicing Christianity is the only way to practice Christianity. This attitude would be unhelpful to the gospel because it tries to force a distant culture onto potential converts as if it were the gospel.

The process of contextualization takes these facts about culture into account by presenting the unchanging truths of the gospel within the unique and changing contexts of cultures and worldviews.

Contextualization works as a tool to enable an understanding of what it means that Jesus Christ is authentically experienced in each and every human situation. While the human condition and the gospel remain the same, people have different worldviews which in turn impact how they interpret themselves and the world.

Scripture supports for this concept of contextualization. Jesus lived His earthly life in Palestine as a first-century Jew. He entered the culture of His day and “was so thoroughly a part of His culture that, when being betrayed by Judas, He had to be identified by a kiss. His captors could not tell Him from other Jewish males hanging around in the first century gardens. Jesus’ ministry operated within a specific cultural context.

Paul’s ministry also reveals the need for contextualization. Paul intentionally addressed his Jewish listeners one way but addressed pagan philosophers differently. When he addressed Jews, Paul began with Scripture. When he addressed Gentiles, he began with general revelation. The focus of Paul’s sermons remained the same—the Gospel, but he shifted his presentation of the Gospel to fit the worldviews of his listeners.

Contextualization is simply about sharing the Gospel well. Those who deliberately practice the process of contextualization desire to share the Gospel in ways that is most relevant to the culture they are addressing.

 Watch for the series

Cultural Dance (this article)

Gospel in Obscurity

Context is Critical

How Then Should We Live?

Jerusalem Council

Instructional Letter

Building Bridges

Culture of Evangelism

Look out for Black Ice

 Make a Choice

Recognizing the World

All That is In the World

Illustrated Man

How Do You Know the Difference?

Paradox

Sent

Messiness

A History of Contrariness   1 comment

In examining my anabaptist roots, I am struck by how often these advocates for non-violence and separation of church and state used civil disobedience as their means to protect themselves from the encroachment of the government into their faith.

For the purpose of this article, “civil disobedience” is defined as:

Purposeful, nonviolent action, or refusal to act, by a Christian who believes such action or inaction is required of him or her in order to be faithful to God, and which s/he knows will be treated by the governing authorities as a violation of law.

This article further assumes a Christian stance which rejects violence as a means to any end.

Three Scripture passages are generally cited for the proposition that Christians are to obey the government:

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to the governors, who are sent by him to punish {24} those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men (1 Peter 2:13-15 NIV).

Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men (Titus 3:1-2 NIV).

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities which exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves (Romans 13:1-2 NIV).

In my prior conversation with Becky Akers, she explained how these Bible verses have been misinterpreted and misrepresented to urge Christians to obey the government in every instance, even when the government infringes upon our right to practice our faith. This contradicts clear Biblical narratives that show that the early Christians did not always obey the government.

The tension in which Christians find themselves is shown in Acts 4 when the Sanhedrin orders Peter and John not to teach or speak in the name of Jesus, and they ask whether it is right to obey God or men. The Sanhedrin believed their authority superceded God’s in this matter. Peter and John took the opposite view.

Paul’s preaching in Jerusalem caused his opponents to incite a riot for which Paul was blamed. The Bible shows that he was quite willing to use the Roman legal system to avoid be flogged for something that was not really his fault. His decision afforded him an opportunity to witness in new ways. Simply being a Christian was a violation of Roman law until Constantine endorsed Christianity. Luther violated the law by arguing with the Roman Catholic Church over matters of Biblical doctrine versus Church dogma. Sixteenth-century Anabaptists violated the law by not baptizing their infants and by baptizing adults previously sprinkled as infants.

We tend to forget that before Jesus began to preach the Jews were certainly in tension with their rulers. Josephus, in his Antiquities of the Jews, tells the story of Jewish resistance to Pilate’s introduction of images of the emperor into Jerusalem. A large number of Jews lay in the courtyard for five days in protest, and when Pilate ordered his soldiers to surround them and threatened slaughter if the Jews did not submit, they instead bared their necks and said slaughter was preferable to the images. Pilate relented, by the way.

Historically, tension between Christians and their governments centered upon either the government’s demand that all citizens subscribe to and follow the practices of a state religion or the government’s prohibition of Christian practices which are central to the faith. Military service became a problem for both reasons. Pre-Constantinian Roman soldiers were required to participate in emperor worship and/or sacrifice to Roman idols. Moreover early Christians understood that killing was contrary to Jesus’ teaching whether done in peace or war. Marcellus the centurion, who was martyred in A.D. 298, objected for both reasons:

I cease from this military service of your emperors, and I scorn to adore your gods of stone and wood, which are deaf and dumb idols. If such is the position of those who render military service that they should be compelled to sacrifice to gods and emperors, then I cast down my vine-staff and belt, I renounce the standards, and I refuse to serve as a soldier . . . I threw down my arms; for it was not seemly that a Christian man, who renders military service to the Lord Christ, should render it also by inflicting earthly injuries.

For anabaptists of the 16th century adult baptism and military service were key points of tension with the government. The Martyrs Mirror shows how Christians have responded to demands of the government which directly contradicted their faith. The heroic acts depicted in the Martyrs Mirror may not seem the same as what we call civil disobedience in modern times, but the only real difference is the higher cost to those who defied the government in centuries past. They paid with their lives while we pay with fines and jail time.

Henry David Thoreau developed the modern concept of civil disobedience in the 19th century. In the western world of his era, emperors did not demand worship. The concept of civil disobedience was applied to “social issues” such as slavery, child labor, women’s suffrage, and prohibition of alcohol. Thoreau’s work on civil disobedience influenced Mahatma Gandhi’s struggle for Indian independence.

In reviewing church history, we need to remember that the pre-Constantinian worldview was unfamiliar with the North American understandings of individualism and personal liberty. Marcellus did not throw down his staff and belt to make a statement about who he was as an individual or to strike a blow for individual liberty. Marcellus renounced soldiering as being unfaithful to his true Lord. Anabaptists in the 16th century didn’t have those concepts either. When we talk about Christian civil disobedience we are not talking about Thoreau and his New England Transcendentalism which focused on private conscience as against majority expediency. We are talking about faithfulness to God which transcends all earthly loyalties.

Nevertheless, the scripture passages quoted at the beginning make it clear that we are to be subject to the governing authorities. How is it that one is subject to government, yet refuses to obey it? That would appear to be a contradiction. John Howard Yoder offers an explanation:

It is not by accident that the imperative of [Romans] 13:1 is not literally one of obedience. The Greek language has good words to denote obedience, in the sense of completely bending one’s will and one’s actions to the desires of another. What Paul calls for, however, is subordination. This verb is based on the same root as the ordering of the powers by God. Subordination is significantly different from obedience. The conscientious objector who refuses to do what his government asks him to do, but still remains under the sovereignty of that government and accepts the penalties which it imposes, . . . is being subordinate even though he is not obeying.

Sexual Immorality in the Church   2 comments

This is going to hurt, but it’s for your own good.

How many couples in your church are divorced and remarried?

I’m not talking about your pastor (although that is also an issue today), but about the people sitting in the pews.

In his first (extant) letter to the Corinthian church, Paul was very clear on this. Remarriage is not allowed in the Christian churches. Read Chapter 7, he’s clear that this is not a command from Paul, but from God. Remarriage following divorce is not allowed in the Christian churches.

No, I didn’t write “divorce is not allowed”. Paul wrote that there were circumstances where Christians could divorce. If a partner became a Christian and the other did not and the non-Christian left, the Christian was free to remarry. The reason for that is simple. God covenants with a man and with a woman separately to make a marriage. They then covenant with one another before a body of witnesses. Non-Christians lack the ability to make covenants with God. So a marriage between a Christian and a non-Christian is not a godly marriage and the covenant is one sided. The Christian is required by God to hold to the promise they made to God, but the non-Christian is not, so when the non-Christian leaves, the Christian (having fulfilled their promise to God) is now free to marry, though Paul is clear they should only marry Christians.

The other circumstance is if a Christian couldn’t stand to live with their spouse any longer (as happens in cases of abuse or unremittant adultery), they may elect to separate, but they are to remain unmarried unless reconciled to their spouse.

There are no other alternative excuses for divorce or remarriage.

No – the “God wouldn’t want me to be unhappy” argument is not found in the New Testament. God is more interested in your character than your comfort. Human marriage is meant to reflect the marriage relationship between Jesus and the Church. Paul sought to teach the Corinthian church (which existed in a society with similar sexual attitudes to America and Europe today) how it might reflect its relationship as the Bride of Christ through how its members conducted themselves in their marriages.

Yet, today, divorce and remarriage statistics inside the churches are not substantially different from what they are in secular society. Woe unto us, Church, and until we get that straight, we really have no business pointing a finger at the world about its sexual immorality.

Sexual Immorality in Our Minds   1 comment

The Bible is pretty clear about sexual immorality and the Christian response to it … FLEE!

But in the 21st century it appears that Christians are even uncertain of what sexual immorality is.

Well, there’s the big one — adultery. God doesn’t want you to cheap on  your spouse. That seems pretty easy, except Jesus reminded the high and might Pharisees that if they looked at a woman who was not their wife with lust in their hearts, they were guilty of adultery.

OUCH!

Let’s be honest here, Christians. We all do it! Even the ladies! We cheat on our spouses with our minds.

By the way, if you’re not married, but your sexual partner is … yes, you are an adulterer. Men, how many of you get a little warm when you see certain actresses who are married? Yeah … guilty!

Then there’s fornication – which is basically unmarried sex. That would be two people who are not married who having sex with one another. But following the example of adultery … yeah … guilty!

Pornography falls into these two categories as well. And that’s an easy soup to fall into these days. Husband Brad won’t watch Game of Thrones with me because of some of the images there. But you could take it further. Our 15-year-old son won’t watch kissing scenes on television because he says it makes him feel lustful and he doesn’t want to disrespect his Savior in that way.

Are we not all guilty, church?

You know we are

 

We Are Guilty   Leave a comment

So now that I’ve pissed off my non-Christian readers by comparing them to The Walking Dead, I’m turning my attention to Christians.

When the apostle Paul talks about the works of the flesh, he wasn’t telling Christians to go out and condemn non-Christians for living like … well, non-Christians. They can’t help themselves and they don’t owe God a moral life because they have never accepted His gift of salvation. When Paul wrote about the works of the flesh, he was talking about us — Christians.

When we accepted Christ, our spirits were made alive. We are no longer the walking dead. Our old selves and our past sins were crucified and new spirits exist in us. There is no more condemnation for what we did in the past because we have been made new.

But ….

In Romans 7, Paul talked about how the flesh wars with the spirit so that we struggle to live a Christian life. Our spirits have been saved, but our bodies are still very much of this world.

So what do we do?

We are required to put to death the aspects of our nature that separate us from God. To make it easier for us, Paul identified them in Colossians 3 and Ephesians 4.

The works of the flesh are: fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiescence, coveteousness, anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication, and our “former corrupt way of life” that tended toward “deceitful lusts”.

Even Paul battled carnality. Our entire Christian lives deal with battling Satan, ourselves and society. Today, I’m focusing on ourselves.

Mark 7:21-23, Romans 1:29-31, Galatians 5:19-21, Colossians 3:5-8 list the following terms having to do with carnality (our fleshly weakness):

Adultery, an evil eye, anger, backbiter, blasphemer, boaster, covenant breaker, covetous, debater, deceiver, despiser of those that are good, despiteful, disobedient, disobedient to parents, drunks, emulations, envious, evil concupiscence, evil thoughts, false accuser, fierce, filthy communication, foolish, fornications, hater of God, hating one another, heady, heresies, highminded, idolaters, implacable, incontinent, inordinate affection, inventors of evil things, lasciviousness, lovers of pleasures, lovers of their own selves, maliciousness, malignity, murder, proud, revellings, seditions, serving various lusts and pleasures, sorcerers, strife, thefts, traitors, trucebreakers, unclean, unholy, unmerciful, unrighteousness, unthankful, variance, whisperers, wickedness, witchcraft, without natural affection, without understanding, and finally, wrath.

Every last one of the letters Paul wrote were written to Christians, so he was not talking to the world when he made these statements. He’s talking to US … YOU and ME.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus expanded on the commandments. It wasn’t just “you shouldn’t kill”, it was you shouldn’t think angry thoughts about your neighbor. Um, yeah, I’m guilty. It wasn’t “don’t commit adultery”. It was “don’t look at the opposite sex with lust in your heart.”

Now look at that list and ask yourself — does any of that exist in you in even the slightest amount? A drop of yeast leavens the whole loaf. You’re guilty. I’m guilty.

The list breaks down into some broad categories.

Attitudes: anger, covetousness, deceit, emulations (jealousy), envy, foolishness, hateful, incontinent (lacking self-control), lasciviouseness, lovers of themselves and pleasure, malice, proud, and uncleanness (immoral actions and motives).

Actions: adultery, blasphemy (speaking evil of either God or man), boasters, variance (contentious), fierce, filthy communication (foul language), fornication (which is a broad topic), heresies (wrong teachings), idolatry (putting anything before God), seditions (divisions), traitors, unmerciful, unthankful, wickedness (lawlessness).

1 Corinthians 10:12, Paul wrote that Christians should be wary because Satan is trying to trip us up. And, I would submit that every Christian in the world could not cast a stone at an unsaved sinner were Jesus standing there to observe. We’re all guilty and we should all recognize it because it will allow us to be better Christians.

Spiritual Zombies   Leave a comment

Let’s be perfectly clear about this — if you are a non-Christian of any sort, what I have to say in the next few posts is not for you. You’re certainly welcome to read it, but you are not part of the intended audience. If you mistakenly think you are, you will end up pissed off by what I have to say for no reason.

Why? Because God holds Christians to a different standard than He holds non-Christians.

If this offends you, I’m sorry, but this is the situation.

Non-Christians are dead in their sin. They have not accepted the salvation provided by Christ’s atonement on the cross, so have not been made alive in Christ through the grace of God, so they do not have anything to lose by disobeying God.

 

Now for the people I actually want to piss off ...

Christians — get this straight. Non-Christians already have a stake through their hearts. It’s no good you worrying about the  mud on their boots because they’re walking dead already.

That comes off as harsh, but it really is that simple. When we are talking about Christlike living, we can only talk to Christians, because non-Christians do not have Christ and so cannot live in a Christlike manner. They can be “good” people, they can have many admirable qualities, but until they accept Jesus Christ as personal savior, they cannot produce the fruit of the spirit and there is no use fuming about their works of the flesh. They are flesh. It is unrealistic to expect zombies to act like living people.

And, yes, I just used The Walking Dead as a spiritual illustration.

Fruit of the Spirit Redux   Leave a comment

A lot of things in the Bible require a God-centered perspective to truly understand. The Trinity, for example, is a concept that develops through a Christian’s experience with Jesus. A non-Christian may acquire a head knowledge about it, but they will never truly ‘get’ it until they’ve spent time with Jesus, in the Bible and in prayer.

Other concepts can be explained by Christians and, I believe, this is one.

If you’ve ever tried your hand at gardening, you should be familiar with the following concepts.

You reap what you sow.

The branches are defined by their root.

If you plant tomatoes seeds, you won’t harvest peppers. If you are growing tomatoes under the conditions for cabbage, your  crop will die rather than produce.

Here in Alaska, apple trees do not grow naturally. The ground is too cold for too much of the year. But we have hybridized crab apple trees and graphed regular apples to that root stock so that we can grow small, edible apples here. The root must be adapted to our conditions for the rest of the tree to grow.

Christians are like God’s hybridized seeds. He has transformed us (with our permission) to serve His will. He plants us where He needs us to be and we are there to serve His purpose. We draw our spiritual sustenance from Jesus, the root of our faith.

As the apple trees here can produce fruit because their roots are adapted to our conditions, Christians produce fruit because we are nourished by Jesus.

love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5)

This is not ala carte Christianity. A faithful Christian will produce these fruits.

Except …

Remember what I said about growing tomatoes in conditions fit for cabbages?

Plants respond favorably to treatment that suits their needs and unfavorably to treatment that is harmful to them. Christians who choose to disobey God (and it is always a choice) won’t produce the fruit of the Spirit in any appreciable quantity, because we’ve chosen to divorce ourselves from the root of our faith and land ourselves in conditions that favor the works of the flesh.

Jacquie Biggar-USA Today Best-selling author

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