Not Exactly John Locke's "A Letter Concerning Toleration," but Helpful

Chris Broussard said this:

“… if you are openly living in sin, whatever it may be, not just homosexuality, adultery, fornication, premarital sex between heterosexuals, whatever it may be, I believe that’s walking in open rebellion to God and to Jesus Christ, so I would not characterize that person as a Christian because I don’t think the Bible would characterize them as a Christian.”

 

and lit up the internet. The whole story here.

A Mission and Vision Statement

This was, and still is, our mission and vision statement. I wrote this in 1993, and think that it is probably still helpful. It does need some application to current situations, and some might be confused about some terminology:

Our Vision

—It is our vision to reach the lost in the city of Hamilton. By “lost” we mean those who most painfully know what life without Christ means. This includes all people, but especially those outside of mainstream church: the divorced, those unmarried but living together, the poor, the disabled, the unemployed, the alcoholic and their children, the abused, the immigrant, the criminal offender and their families; those without family, those hurt by churches in the past, those with no attachment to organized religion, those who have given up on church but not on God.

—It is our vision to intentionally reach those who are not church members, and those who would not be welcome, or feel welcome, in other churches.

What does this mean in practise?

—We must reject all forms of discrimination: sexual, racial, economic, ethnic, educational, and social.

—We will also reject anything that will hinder this vision. Many of the expectations normally found in traditional church settings can keep the “lost” from ever being “found”. Churches are often too concerned with “proper” dress, or have an obsession with order, embarrassing the poor, keep an ‘arms-length’ relationship between members, and place a stigma upon a select range of previous sins, etc.

—We must be careful to place only the demands upon people that God does.

We will be identified in our community by
these qualities:

—We will Love one another

—We will celebrate the cross-cultural family that is the church

—We will Embrace those without money, property, prestige or power

—We will have modest but well-used facilities

—We will be honest about our need for God’s salvation, holiness, and righteousness

—We will be Shepherding.

This means a big difference in how we do
church

 —Many churches expect people to get their lives together before they come to Jesus

—Jesus says, “come to me all you who are heavy burdened, and I will give you rest”

A means a big difference in the
individual’s life

We will reach the whole person: bring the salvation of Jesus to a soul, teach honesty, diligence and responsibility, right and wholesome relationships, financial responsibility, commitment, and hard work. We will seek to restore individuals to be the kind of people God meant for them to be.

I Love It When This Happens

1 Corinthians 1:26–31 (ESV)

26 For consider your calling, brothers:

not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

 

1 Corinthians 1:26–31 (NA28)

26 Βλέπετε γὰρ τὴν κλῆσιν ὑμῶν, ἀδελφοί,

ὅτι

οὐ πολλοὶ σοφοὶ κατὰ σάρκα,

οὐ πολλοὶ δυνατοί,

οὐ πολλοὶ εὐγενεῖς·

27 ἀλλὰ

τὰ μωρὰ τοῦ κόσμου ἐξελέξατο ὁ θεός,

ἵνα καταισχύνῃ τοὺς σοφούς,

καὶ

τὰ ἀσθενῆ τοῦ κόσμου ἐξελέξατο ὁ θεός,

ἵνα καταισχύνῃ τὰ ἰσχυρά,

28 καὶ

τὰ ἀγενῆ τοῦ κόσμου καὶ τὰ ἐξουθενημένα ἐξελέξατο ὁ θεός,

τὰ μὴ ὄντα,

ἵνα τὰ ὄντα καταργήσῃ,

 

29 ὅπως μὴ καυχήσηται πᾶσα σὰρξ ἐνώπιον τοῦ θεοῦ.

 

30 ἐξ αὐτοῦ δὲ ὑμεῖς ἐστε ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ,

ὃς ἐγενήθη σοφία ἡμῖν ἀπὸ θεοῦ,

δικαιοσύνη

τε καὶ

ἁγιασμὸς

καὶ

ἀπολύτρωσις,

31 ἵνα καθὼς γέγραπται· ὁ καυχώμενος ἐν κυρίῳ καυχάσθω.

 

 

The Power of the Cross

I recently read a commentary on 1 Corinthians 1:18. I found it to be an especially poignant statement that we would do well to heed today. Below is a quote:

18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

 

The death of Jesus is one of the foundational symbols that determined Paul’s vision of the Christian community (Pickett 1997: 29). But Greco-Roman symbols and mythology (see Zanker 1990) competed with the cross to provide a framework for interpreting life. The Corinthians’ quarreling reveals that they have absorbed, uncritically, the ideals and values of the pagan world around them, and Paul wants to replace pagan paradigms with the ideals and values exhibited in the cross. When he proclaimed the crucified Christ, however, every hearer from Jerusalem to Illyricum (Rom. 15:19) knew that this so-called Christ had suffered “a particularly cruel and shameful death, which as a rule was reserved for hardened criminals, incorrigible slaves, and rebels against the Roman state” (Hengel 1977: 83). The story behind Jesus’ death discloses that he was rejected by the very people he came to save, was deserted by his own disciples, was strung up by the proper authorities, and apparently was powerless to save his own skin. Paul did not sweep the crucifixion under the carpet as an unfortunate episode remedied by the glories of the resurrection. He does not say that he preached the resurrected Christ, but the crucified Christ.

Crucifixion and resurrection belong together as part of the gospel story (15:3–5), but the cross was repugnant to ancient sensibilities and assailed the world’s self-centeredness and self-destructive ways. It was not yet the “old rugged cross” sentimentalized in hymns, embalmed in stained-glass windows, perched on marble altars, or fashioned into gold charms.

Cicero (Pro Rabirio Perduellionis Reo 5.16) decries the crucifixion of a Roman citizen, exclaiming, “The very word ‘cross’ should be far removed not only from the person of a Roman citizen but from his thoughts, his eyes and his ears.” To proclaim a crucified Jew from some backwater of the empire as “a divine being sent on earth, God’s son, Lord of all and the coming judge of the world, must have been thought by any educated man to be utter ‘madness’ and presumptiousness” (Hengel 1977: 83). Christianity was cradled in what looks like disastrous defeat, and the unspeakable stigma of the cross exposed the preacher of this message to woeful contempt. Paul, however, did not refer to Jesus’ death with embarrassment or skip over the awkward facts. Quite the opposite, it was central to his preaching, because the resurrection disclosed Christ’s suffering and death to be God’s modus operandi in the world. Since he also argues that the followers of Jesus must share the sufferings of the crucified (Rom. 8:17; Phil. 3:10), the message of the cross is an antidote to human self-glorification. It is “hardly a message for the ambitious” (Stansbury 1990: 476). The gospel transforms the cross as a symbol of Roman terror and political domination into a symbol of God’s love and power. It shows that the power of God’s love is greater than human love of power.

How could Paul expect anyone to respond to such a message? Litfin (1994: 261) outlines the five steps of persuasion in Greco-Roman rhetoric: (1) attention, (2) comprehension, (3) yielding, (4) retention, and (5) action. Greco-Roman rhetoric stressed step three, getting the audience to yield. Paul, Litfin argues, stressed step two, comprehension. Litfin contends that, in contrast to “sophisticated speech” (1:17), this “word of the cross” was “straightforward and open” and aimed at getting listeners to comprehend the content rather than nod assent after the speaker has proven the case (see also Winter 1997d: 186–94). Paul left the third step, yielding, to the persuasion of the Spirit. Rhetorical strategies designed to manipulate an audience to withdraw its objections empty the cross of its power by putting in its place the orator’s artistry and cleverness. I (Garland 1999: 472) write elsewhere, “Paul did not get people to believe by arguing that Christ crucified accords with the common principles of logic or that belief is in the long-term best interests of the hearers. As a herald, he simply announced what God has done in Christ. From his perspective, his job as proclaimer is to make sure that each hears and understands.” Paul trusts the power of the cross to convict the audience rather than the power of his eloquence. The Spirit reveals the message’s truth to the believer (2:4, 13). The audience is dethroned as the ultimate arbiter of what is true or persuasive (see Litfin 1994: 86), and the message becomes sovereign with the power to save or condemn, depending on the listener’s response. Brown (1995: 75–77) makes the case that the word of the cross is a performative word that has the power to change one way of knowing for another: “Through the logos, the cross continues to break powerfully into the old world’s ‘dominant system of convictions’ wherever it is proclaimed.”

The Corinthians had absorbed, “uncritically the ideals and values of the pagan world around them, and Paul wants to replace pagan paradigms with the ideals and values exhibited in the cross.” Garland goes on to describe the repugnance of the cross, and how Christianity was “cradled” in what looked like “disastrous defeat.” I cannot imagine how the church has moved so far from the cross! While nodding respect to the cross, it is now gold-plated, and almost everyone in the West thinks not of an instrument of torturous death, but a decoration for churches, altars, and necklines.

That we have abandoned the message of the cross is now so evident in our rush to entertainment as outreach, and the setting aside of preaching. Corresponding to our entertainment thirst is the ancient practise of rhetoric. Garland quotes Litfin (St. Paul’s Theology of Proclamation: 1 Corinthians 1–4 and Greco-Roman Rhetoric. Society of New Testament Studies Monograph Series 83. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.) who describes contemporary rhetoric in Corinth. Note that Paul places himself as a hearld, not as a rhetorician!

“Paul did not get people to believe by arguing that Christ crucified accords with the common principles of logic or that belief is in the long-term best interests of the hearers. As a herald, he simply announced what God has done in Christ. From his perspective, his job as proclaimer is to make sure that each hears and understands.”

In Paul’s preaching, The audience is dethroned as the ultimate arbiter of what is true . . .” Could we even begin to imagine speaking this way in our era? What does modern wisdom have to say about this?

 

David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 801.

That's a Feature, Not a Bug

I was preparing a post along the lines of the above title, but then I found this, that states it all much better than I could, from

Reymond, Robert L. Contending for the Faith: Lines in the Sand That Strengthen the Church. Fearn, Ross-shire, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 2005.:

The Arabic word translated “Islam” is etymologically related to the Hebrew word “shalom,” usually translated “peace.” But “peace” does not mean to most Muslim clerics in the Middle East what it means to the Westerner. To these Muslim clerics “peace” connotes “surrender” or “submission” to Allah, which means for them with respect to the non-Muslim world “placing their foot on their enemy’s neck.”

No Muslim scholar can truthfully deny that Muhammad taught that the faithful should “make war on the unbeliever …, and deal sternly with them” (Sura 66, “Prohibition,” verse 9; see also Sura 8, “Spoils of War,” verses 13–17, and Sura 9 [virtually a declaration of war against unbelievers], “Repentance,” verses 5, 14, 29, 112, 123). Muhammad himself, as he sought to propagate his religion beginning with his move to Yathrib or Medina (this move is called the Hegira) in September, AD 622, waged “holy war” (jihad) in the name of Allah against village after village in Arabia, finally entering his birth city Mecca in AD 630 as a conqueror and cleansing its chief shrine (Kaaba) of the 350 idols worshiped there. In other words, from its beginning Islam was spread by the sword. And the first four caliphs (successors) of Muhammad—Abu Bakr, Umar, Othman, and Ali—also drew the sword and conquered one land after another through Palestine and North Africa all the way to Spain, killing multiplied thousands as they did so and also establishing a tax system (the Dhimma) to subjugate those they did not force to convert.

While Christianity has had its misguided Crusades, its Spanish conquistadors, and has committed other misdeeds in the name of Christ, spreading Christianity by the sword has not been its normal mode of operation and was never its founder’s mode of operation. Yet in the last 100 years Muslim expansion still goes on apace by warfare. The Muslim Ottoman Turks slaughtered a million and a half Armenians in 1915–24 (a fact still ignored by much of the West). Today converts to Christianity are regularly executed in Saudi Arabia and tortured and murdered in Egypt. In the Sudan over two million Christians have been slaughtered and a million Christian children have been sold into slavery, all under the direction of the Islamic General Umar Bashir. In Indonesia Muslims have killed over three hundred thousand East Timorese Catholics since 1975. And Muslims in Palestine, Lebanon, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, etc., danced in the streets with joy while our widows and orphans mourned their dead on September 11, 2001. The late Hashemi Rafsanjani of Iran declared:

Every problem in our region can be traced to this single dilemma: the occupation of [modern Palestine] by Jewish infidels or Western imperialists … The everlasting struggle between Ishmael and Isaac … cannot cease until one or the other is utterly vanquished. (Cited by George Grant, The Blood of the Moon, 56)

And the late Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran stated:

Until the cry “Allah Akbar” resounds over the whole world, there will be struggle. There will be Ji’had … Islam is the religion of militant individuals.… Weapons in our hands are used to realize divine and Islamic aspirations. The more people who die for our cause, the stronger our Ji’had shall become … The governments of the world should know that Islam cannot be defeated. Islam will be victorious in all the countries of the world, and Islam and the teachings of the Koran will prevail all over the world … We have in reality, then, no choice but to destroy those systems of government that are corrupt in themselves and also entail the corruption of others, and to overthrow all treacherous, corrupt, oppressive, and criminal regimes. This is the duty that all Muslims must fulfill, in every one of the Muslim countries first, and then throughout the infidel West, in order to achieve the triumph of our revolution and to garner the blessing of Allah. (Cited from George Grant, The Blood of the Moon, 72)

Nevertheless, in spite of the words of the Koran, Muhammad’s own military actions, Islam’s bloody history, and such declarations as the two just cited, Western political leaders are representing Islam to their people as a religion of peace and affirming that such Muslim clerics as I just cited are “radical Muslims” who have simply “hijacked this great and beautiful religion”! But Muslim authorities know very well that the Koran prescribes jihad as the obligation of every able-bodied male and that Islam from its inception in the seventh century to the present has sanctioned war and conquest as means of advancing Islam. The truth of the matter is that Islam is a religion of war, literally a killer religion. So in spite of what President George W. Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and every major news agency asserts, the true nature of Islam is jihad, and the Muslim clerics in the West who say otherwise either do not understand their own faith (they are called “folk Muslims” by Middle Eastern Muslim clerics) or are purposefully attempting to conceal from the gullible Westerner the true nature of Islam.

The West cannot defeat the Muslim world by the sword. Only Reformed churches, using the spiritual tools God has made available to them (see 2 Cor. 10:3–4), can defeat Islam, for the real problem is one of the human heart and only Jesus Christ can change the heart of Muslims.