The Gay Marriage Debate: Leave your belief at the door


1It is often said that Christians should not push/impose/force their beliefs on the rest of society.

I find this not a little bit interesting.

What is meant by such a statement?  It is quite simple: You have beliefs that impact your life, which I don’t care for.  So please refrain from doing whatever you’re doing in the event that your beliefs end up impacting my life in a way that I don’t care for.

The premise is simple – this is my life not yours.

An issue has again raised its very ugly head due to events that are taking place over in the US.  For more on this check out the front page of the NY Times here.

I’ve been reading blogs, Fb posts, and articles around the traps that are hellbent on wiping the other side out.  These kinds of ethical issues draw out the worst of both sides, which is a real shame.

It is immature.

Whether it is the legalisation of prostitution, the privatisation of the state-owned railway or the implementation of industrial reform there is a political process that is to be followed in order to create legal norms in our societies.  One aspect of this is public debate in which exists numerous parties (not two!) that fight it out for their own piece of the ideological pie.

Shhhhh!But no matter how many parties are fighting for the pie, how dare anyone or any party try to remove opposing voices from the debate.

The call for Christians to leave their beliefs at the door is not only naive (how can they?), but also contrary to the very pillars that our modern societies are based on.

Furthermore it is simplistic.  There are many people who are not religious that hold ‘traditional’ views on this matter.  So what request is to be made of them so that their view/s might not impact in a similar way to the christians’?

What we see in these debates (on both sides) is a kind of insecurity, the kind of insecurity that one can see in autocratic states where any given ideology cannot fly by political persuasion alone.

Voices are silenced.

Perspectives are outlawed.

Make no mistake, debate is to be had, due process is to be followed, and outcomes are to be respected, but on no terms are Christians (or any other party) to be quiet because their beliefs impact their voice, whether we agree with them or not.

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Jesus’ Patchwork Kindness


blingJesus didn’t really mean it.

Is it true that Jesus didn’t really mean what he said in Mark 10:17 when he told the rich young ruler to sell everything he had and give it to the poor?

How do we play this text away to justify that Jesus didn’t really mean it?

Most often we use the ol’ Jesus was really talking about the man’s heart.  However, it should concern us not a little that Jesus did not say, ‘Have an attitude of the heart that demonstrates that you would sell all your possessions and give them to the poor and come and follow me.’  This is not in the text.

question_markBut let’s ponder this line of reasoning for a minute.  If we truly had the attitude that we would sell it all, what would the circumstance be where we would put that commitment into action?  Hmmm…

I’m pretty sure that whatever circumstance we might insert here actually exists, which presents a bit of problem.  By our own reasoned standard, who of us has the proposed attitude of the heart that is willing to actually sell all we have and give it to the poor when the occasion arrives?

As I prepare for a seminar on the topic ‘Is is possible to have faith?’ (for a Bulgarian primarily secular audience) I’ve been reading a bit of Dietrich Bonheoffer.  It is impossible to not be challenged by the guy, especially when you get hold of chapter 2 in The Cost of Discipleship where he breaks down our rationalising and relativising of the said text.

He takes the last clause of the text (come and follow me) as serious as the selling everything clause.  Jesus is demanding a life of commitment, not merely commitment.

I think the way that we render this text has implications on the way that we help the poor.  We’re not obligated to sell all we have to help the poor and so we live this out.  We don’t sell what we have to help the poor.

imagesInstead our lives become patchwork gifts.

We find a cause here or there to contribute to out of our excess and in so doing we fail to engage with Jesus’ point – die to self and follow me.

We give cups of water when we a) manage to find a spare cup b) have some spare water lying around c) have some spare time to hand it over and c) find a spark of motivation to do it.

This means that our lives are not characterised by a) sacrificing our own wants for others’ needs and b) giving to the poor and needy, let alone c) following Christ.

Maybe Jesus means what he says.

If you want get a hold of this personally, head on over to www.thecriticalgap.org and get on board.  Or like The Critical Gap facebook group here

Damned Suicide


suicide-pictureRecently in Bulgaria a man died.

His death is interesting because it was a political statement.  His death has achieved what the man set out to do when he set himself on fire.  He wanted to draw attention primarily to the plight of the Bulgarian masses that are suffering under corrupt and incompetent governance.

This act of self-immolation was an anti-government protest.

Interestingly, the government and the Orthodox church (though I cannot confirm this) have paid tribute to this man.  The state has even sanctioned a national day of mourning for the man.

He is a hero!

This event has led to a number of interesting discussions around the traps, some of which have demonstrated a lack of clarity on the issues by confusing the denunciation of such political maneuvers with the topic of suicide and its consequences. As communicators of biblical truth, pastors need to be careful with their influence.

Hell-maze-mapRegarding the topic of suicide, a number of pastors here in Bulgaria have told me that suicide is a sin that condemns one to hell.  I find this interesting for a number of reasons, not least because the Bible is obviously the source for their perspective.

However, when we look at the Bible regarding suicide we find that the Bible is conspicuously quiet on the subject.  Where then does this thinking come from?

It seems to me to be a response to dealing with murder, more specifically, self-murder.  But this does not explain how one can conclude that suicide is a sin that warrants eternal damnation.

Who committed suicide in the Bible.  There are a few, but let’s mention only 4:

1.  The most famous is probably Judas, who, after betraying Jesus for some silver coins went and hung himself.  Matthew 27:5 states:  ‘So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.’

2.  We might mention Sampson.  In judges 16:30 ‘Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” Then he pushed with all his might, and down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it.’

999-2543. Then there was Saul and his armour-bearer.  1 Samuel 31:3-5 is pretty clear:  ‘Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword and run me through, or these uncircumcised fellows will come and run me through and abuse me.”   But his armor-bearer was terrified and would not do it; so Saul took his own sword and fell on it. When the armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he too fell on his sword and died with him.’

4.  Have you heard of Abimelech.  In Judges 9:54 we read: ‘Immediately he called to the young man who carried his armor and said to him, “Draw your sword and kill me, so people will not say about me, ‘A woman killed him.’” So the young man thrust him through, and he died.’

So there certainly is suicide in the Bible, but the question is this: how does the Bible view suicide?

quWell, we don’t know to be frank.  However, in each of these instances the suicide reflects the disgrace and defeat that they find themselves in, except Sampson’s, which might be construed as martyrdom rather than suicide (there is room for debate here!).

We can say that suicide is deemed as a sin and unfavourable because life is not for humanity to take (even if it is our own).  One pastor was keen to point out the clear commandment not to kill in Exodus 20:13.

With this pastor we must agree that suicide is sin.  But this is hardly ever the point of contention.

The question on everyone’s lips is, ‘Will they go to heaven?’

And to this question we respond as the Bible does.  Quietly!

There are no grounds to claim that suicide leads to eternal separation from God, unless ones believes that one is saved not by God’s mercy and grace but by virtue of one’s deeds.

The reasoning goes something like this.  If I commit suicide then my last act was rebellion against God; a total abandonment of God as saviour and healer; and a demonstration of my poverty of faith.  Suicide shows that I have no faith.

loveFor the protestant evangelical Christian this thinking is incongruous with our tradition (and the Bible of course).  One is saved not by virtue of one’s own deeds, whether good or bad, but by virtue of God’s love demonstrated in Christ’s deed – his obedient death.

To say that one is condemned on the basis of one’s final deed relegates salvation to a work of the flesh.  God help us all if this were the case.

No, we contend that we are saved by grace through faith, which is a gift from God, so that we have nothing to boast about.  Suicide as a sin does not fall beyond the scope of God’s love and mercy.

His death is enough.  This is the good news that gives us all hope.

Atheist Church


The Sunday AssemblyWhat would church be like without God?

Now we know.  Check it out here.

In Islington there is a church service for atheists.  In a stroke of pure irony, they hold their meeting in an unused church.

The service is taken by a comedian called Sanderson Jones.  They sing songs, take up money for the running of the service, and they even have a time of silence.  To round it all out, there appears to be a segment where Sanderson teaches about the atheists’ position.

One wonders why?

evangelOne attendee said that she was coming to sing and to listen to something positive.  The clip shows them singing one of Queen’s hits.  ‘After all the church does not own Sunday mornings’, one lady said.

True.

Sanderson stated that he’s not taking the mickey out of church, but rather, ‘trying to build upon it.’

Interesting.

Of most interest to me were the intentions of the movement, yes movement.  The goals of the atheist church are chillingly familiar to those of any suburban Christian church or Islamic mosque.  ‘If the idea spreads’, they wish to create another Sunday service and then they want to expand into other cities.

We find ourselves in interesting times when organised religion is simultaneously rejected and embraced.

You’re a Tart!


burgerYou are what you eat.

Well, that was how the advertisement campaign went.  Their point was clear, if you eat healthy you’ll be healthy.  If you eat fat, guess what, you’ll be fat.  It stands to reason that if you eat tart, you are a tart:)  (I am a dad now, you know).

A little closer to reality is the idea that you are what you do.  That is, your value is inextricably bound to the role that you carry out in society.  If you are a doctor then you get treated like a doctor.  If you are a plumber then you get treated like a tradie.  If you are a cleaner then you get the cleaning treatment.

And so we’ve had this somewhat generous revolution in the past 20 years that has seen the role of mothering move from being considered as ‘just’ mothering to the full-time job of mothering.  And rightly so, I might add.

old teachers3The opposite has been cast on nurses, teachers and the police.  These once respected roles are now mud.  Ok, some will pipe up here and tell me that they are needed and are a vital part of society’s proper functioning, but that is not my point.  The kudos associated with such roles has depleted considerably over the past 20 years.

I understand this well.

I am a teacher and my wife is a doctor.  The stark reaction in the past when we were quizzed as to out occupations was deafening.  If I was the first to say (my preference), then people would respond with, ‘Oh, that’s great.  Do you enjoy it?  I could never do that.’  Then Katie would say that she is a doctor and she would be met with, ‘Oh, wow, etc, etc.’.  If Katie was to respond first, she would get the same reaction.  Then came the let down, ‘I’m a teacher.’  It was weird to say the least.

Here we are being defined by what we do.

I wonder if this attitude has crept in the church too?

Paul would turn in his grave and Jesus would shuffle on his throne to hear that such value was being derived from what one does, the role one plays, or the badge one wears.

Paul writes in Colossians 1:2,

To God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ

One’s identity here is not determined by their capacity to do this or that.  They are defined by whom they indwell, that is, Christ.  By their own merit they are not holy or faithful, but because they are in Christ they are holy and faithful.

JesusIn Christ they are holy and faithful.  We have to get a grip of ‘in christ-ness’.

When reflecting upon my last post (here) and the subsequent discussion that occurred around the traps, I could not help but think that much of the reaction was due (at least in part) to connecting the role and person.

In other words, if role is synonymous with person then any kind of priority that is given to a particular role (by God?) necessarily depreciates those without it.  But this should not be the case.

I admit that doctors are more important than teachers – they are!  Keeping someone alive is much more important than anything that I can teach someone.  However, if Katie and I were to attach our respective roles to our persons then she would be more important than me.  But we all know that this is not the case, though not because I am more important than her.  Nor am I equal to Katie by some measure based on our roles.

In God’s economy, there may well be roles that are more valued than others, after all there are some gifts that should be desired because they are greater.  The possession of these roles (or not) has no bearing upon one’s value as a person (before God and therefore other believers) in the positive or negative.

If our identity is bound by our roles there is cause for hierarchy, but this is not the divine economy.

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28).

graphThere you have it again – in Christ Jesus – the great equaliser!

Instead of trying to find or create personal value in the roles that we (or others) are engaged with, and  even given by God, perhaps we should be focussing our attention on finding value in whom we dwell.

I think this ontological orientation might just free the church to engage with God’s economy even if it places greater emphasis or value on certain giftings or roles in the church.

Missions Musings 16: The controlling legacy


bulsagaWe’ve inherited a legacy.

My mum always said, ‘If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it at all.’   I try to operate by that principle with my blog posting.  Ok, I revise it a little.  It goes more like this: ‘If you don’t have something to be appropriately critical, insightful or encouraging to say, then don’t say it at all.’

Hence my lack of Missions Musings in the past 6 months.  Yes, life has been that ordinary.  But here I am for number 16 to break a few missiology rules, be a little politically incorrect and probably succumb to some form of colonial indiscretion.

Here it goes:

If I was to summarise my time in Bulgaria with one word I would choose the word ‘control’.

When I reflect on my time growing up in Australia I was blessed with the freedom to do what I want, when I want and how I want.  I’m sure that I annoyed my parents, teachers, Bible college professors and the like no end.  I could choose what I would study at university.  I could choose if I wanted to get a job or not.  I had complete control – or so I felt.

I sound like a spoiled brat!

Whatever I may have been I rarely felt as though I was fighting the system to be able to live my life.

Since arriving in Bulgaria we have felt as though we have been doing nothing but fighting the system.  We have felt like a piece of property, or a possession.  We were a resource to be used as the owner felt.  We were not our own.  Whether is was government, church denominations, individual churches, other organizational bodies, and sometimes even friends, we were at their mercy and under their control… well, so they thought.

Why was this, and was this necessarily a bad thing?

I’ve thought a fair bit about this issue because of the pervading reach of it.  My conclusions are not conclusions per se, but thoughts about how this cultural phenomena might be comprehended by a foreigner trying to make it long-term in this country.

brotherFirstly, communism is the elephant in the room.  Control was how the communist rulers perpetuated ideology, and perhaps more importantly its own rule.  If you wanted to head to Sofia for the weekend you would have to report to the police when you left your village and report to the police when you arrived in Sofia.  You could not pack up and move villages or cities easily for work, etc.   If you were a teacher you would holiday with the other teachers.  The engineers with the engineers, and so on, and so on.  The family was dismembered and subjected to the control of the state.

It is clear that this method of operation is still a major part of the DNA of the government structures and voices within it, the non-govenment structures, and also the church.

I’ve observed that the release of control to others in nearly non-existent.  It is closely guarded.  Micro-managing is the natural tendency.  Dissenting voices are not welcome and quickly shut down.  There is next to no leadership development and handover.

As you could therefore imagine, our feeling of being controlled is a fairly normal thing.  A day in the life of 7.2 million Bulgarians.  Our experience is not an exception.  We are just another stat in the fat part of the bell curb experiencing the same thing as everybody else.  It is culture clash.  We are resources to be controlled.  We are a resource that is available for the leaders to use when they see fit.  If you don’t fit then you get thrown out.  It’s really that simple.

Secondly, the culture of control, especially within churches, was in part set up and perpetuated by the workers that have gone ahead of us.  That is, we’ve inherited a legacy of missions that was characterised by control.

Let me explain.  I believe that all cultures should be viewed through the lens of the Bible and critiqued appropriately.  After the changes (late 80’s), it was imperative that the church was lensgiven the skills to evaluate how they have been impacted by communism.  They needed to be able to evaluate themselves in light of the gospel.  They needed to become something from the start that was characterised by biblical principles rather than something that was characterised by assumed communist ones.  Once the changes had happen and the tsunami of ‘missionaries’ flooded in, it was their duty to set up proper working relationships with whatever existing churches there were and the ones that subsequently sprung up.  It appears that these missionaries set up autocratic church structures and relationships, and served within them as such.

Our experience has been that there is a general tendency for churches to treat ‘missionaries’ (forgive the use of the horrible term!) as a commodity.  When I look at the recent past this is not an uncommon story for most workers.  They’ve been subjected to church/denomination control in no uncertain terms.  If they haven’t performed as they ‘should have’ then they were given the royal boot.  This treatment seems to me to be the mere out working of a certain mission legacy that was implemented by the post-fall workers, perpetuated by certain missiological practices since, that is now turning around and biting us newbies on the behind!

Question: Why have we been subject to such a culture of control?

Answer: Bulgaria’s communist past and mission legacy.

I’m not so sure that I’ve nailed this, but I think that I am getting close.  I’d really appreciate my Bulgarian friends to give some input into this.  Being on the inside you would have a much different perspective than me, which I am really interested to hear.

 

Book Review: Hearing Her Voice – A Case for Women Giving Sermons. By John Dickson.


hearHearing Her Voice: A Case for Women Giving Sermons.  By John Dickson.  Zondervan, 2012. $4.22 (On Kindle here).

The main theme of John Dickson’s latest ebook is the way that modern notions are projected onto first century biblical concepts.  In 1 Timothy 2:12 Paul states, ‘I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man;she must be quiet.’  Dickson argues that the modern semantic range of the word ‘teach’ (didasko) covers far more than how Paul used the word in the first century.  When the word teach is understood as an apostolic role, the modern semantic range of the words preach, teach and the like, are brought into question, thus opening the door for women to engage in preaching.

The target audience for this ebook is mixed.  While he states that it is not an academic book, he seeks to engage not only ministers, church leaders, and laypeople, but also his colleagues, which ones assumes are academics.  Dickson’s stated intention is to help the reader (re)assess the biblical grounds for allowing or prohibiting women in the pulpit.  The book is persuasive, but there is room for further dialogue on the raised issues, which can be aided by the provided discussion questions at the end of the book.  This section is a great resource for exploring Dickson’s thoughts in a group setting.

To begin with, Dickson outlines that there are many speaking/teaching type roles in the Bible, but only one that women are prohibited from engaging in, and that is the role of teaching (1 Tim. 2:12).  He explains that there are differences between the roles of exhorting, prophesying, evangelizing, reading and teaching.  Dickson grants that there is overlap between these roles, but he is keen to show that any overlap should not negate any apparent distinction.   A helpful clarification is that these speaking roles have a similar content but different function.  In this first chapter, Dickson demonstrates that at the very least women should be able to engage in a number of speaking (‘teaching’) roles that involve biblical content in mixed gender settings because these roles, especially the role of exhortation, most closely resembles the modern day sermon.

In chapter two Dickson seeks to answer the question ‘what is teaching?’  It is argued that in 1 Timothy 2, Paul is not referring to a general conception of teaching but teaching that is authoritative, which he further clarifies using ‘historical realities and biblical text’.  ‘Teaching for Paul means preserving and laying down the fixed traditions of and about Jesus as handed on by the apostles.’  By drawing on the historical reality of the early church’s need for an oral tradition to preserve the core truths, Dickson mounts the case that teaching, in the narrow 1 Timothy 2 sense, is comprised of, and is the communication of, the new covenant truth prior to the advent of the Bible.  The biblical defense is made up of two phrase structures.  The first is similar to that which we read in 2 Timothy 1:13: ‘Follow the sound words you have heard from me.’ (2 Tim. 1:13).  The second phrase is found throughout the Pastoral Epistles: ‘trustworthy word’ (pistos logos) (1 Tim. 1:15, 3:1, 4:9; 2 Tim. 2:11 Titus 3:8).  It is thus argued that the notion of teaching is thus a specific role with specific content.

Dickson concludes that the role of preserving the truth is different to the other speaking/teaching roles, which in essence expound the content of the oral tradition.  The concept of teaching in 1 Timothy 2 is referring to the preeminent role of safeguarding, preserving and delivering the content of Jesus’ person and work both orally and later in text.  This, according to Dickson’s argument, is what women are prohibited from engaging in.

In the last two chapters, Dickson’s main thesis comes together as he differentiates between exposition and teaching.  Exposition is explaining what the teachers have preserved.  That is, exposition is the explanation and application of the content (teaching) that has been safeguarded by teachers through oral tradition (and later through text) to the life of the church by men and women.  Dickson explodes the assumption that expounding is equivalent to teaching, though not without a measure of nuanced discussion regarding certain content and function overlap.  An interesting supporting text that Dickson draws on is 2 Timothy 3:16, which states that Scripture is useful (ophelimos) for teaching (didaskalia).  In other words, Scripture (the Old Testament) supports, but is not equivalent to, the apostolic task of laying down the apostolic tradition.

Dickson addresses the obvious critique that someone who is expounding the preserved teaching is in fact preserving and passing on the very content that Dickson has solely ascribed to the apostolic teaching role.  He counters this by explaining that this notion of preserving the teaching is secondary.  The person expounding the preserved truths is not preserving the teaching in the primary apostolic sense.  Such expositors are wholly accountable to the apostolic tradition, whereas the apostolic teachers and the tradition that they preserve is not accountable to anyone in any such way.  In other words, the preservation has been completed and is final.  What is left is the communication of these truths and the application of them to the body of Christ.  For this Paul uses the terms exposition, prophesy, evangelism, etc., all of which women are not prohibited from engaging in.

The argument put forward by Dickson is simple – if teaching is understood in the narrow sense to be the preservation of the apostolic truth, then the command that women cannot teach in 1 Timothy 2 prohibits women from the narrow sense of teaching only, that is, preserving the apostolic tradition.  This allows women to engage with other forms of communicating biblical content to mixed groups.

Dickson’s argument is a compelling reminder to check the glasses that we use when we read the biblical text.  His argument is well rehearsed and buttressed with thorough biblical grounding, historical context and sound logic.  One aspect of the book that needs extra attention and debate, however, is the notion that one who today teaches the apostolic truth is not a teacher (in the narrow sense) but only secondarily so.  It might be argued that while the modern expositor is not the original preserver of the new covenant truth, there is still the requirement to faithfully pass on the truth as it was handed down to them.  Does the famous 2 Timothy 2:2 passage challenge the primary versus secondary distinction that Dickson draws with regard to those that preserve apostolic truth?  What is the difference between the role of Paul, Timothy and the early church fathers, and the preacher in the pulpit today in maintaining the apostolic truth?  Are the roles today of teacher in the narrow sense (even if secondary) and expositor necessarily conflated?  If so, what impact would this have on the discussion of women teaching from the pulpit?