Do Missionaries Belong in Our Modern World?

Social and News Media has been abuzz in the last 48 hours with the news of a young American Missionary/Explorer named John Chau who was speared to death by a group of tribespeople from the Sentinel Islands – one of the remotest tribes in the world (a tribe of around 80-200 people), who seem to kill nearly every person that trespasses on their remote island in the Indian Ocean. They are so unique that the Indian government has made it illegal to go within 300 miles of the Island to both protect their way of life and to protect them from various viruses and pathogens that contact with the outside world could present to the island and wipe out the tribe through disease.

Much vitriolic angst has been spilled denouncing the actions of this young man, while at the other end of the spectrum he is being lauded as a modern-day Jim Elliot – a missionary who was speared to death in a similar fashion by a remote Ecuadorian Tribe in the 1950s. I didn’t know John personally so I can’t really make comment about his motivations and decisions to do what he did, but I do want to ponder some of the bigger questions that have been bandied about on the internet in light of his actions. I don’t finally want to come down on a judgment on this particular instance, but I do want to ponder the following questions briefly:

 1.        Is the spread of Christianity a force for good in the world?

2.         Is evangelism/missionary work the same thing as colonialism?

3.         Should people be evangelized if they don’t want to be?

4.         Is it good to defend tribal practices of remote people groups?

5.         Should Christians always obey the “laws of the land”?

6.         What is a martyr and being persecuted for one’s faith?

7.         Are the activities of missionaries reflective of what it means to follow Jesus?

  1.      Is the spread of Christianity a force for good in the world?

Christianity didn’t begin as a socio/religious bloc, it was simply a small sect of Judaism who proclaimed that the Messiah of the Jewish people had arrived. Jesus, was, however, no ordinary Messiah, he was the incarnated Son of God. Both the identity and actions of Jesus were at odds with many Jewish expectations of Messiah and the split from Judaism came in the first and second century, but the growth of this small persecuted sect was nothing short of phenomenal, so much so that the mighty Roman Empire co-opted it in the 4th Century.

There are many opinions about the marriage of the Christian church and Imperial state power, but a few things are incontrovertible. Firstly the church continued to grow and secondly, in spite of the MANY bad things that so-called Christian rulers have done, Christianity is the bedrock of western thought and action and has been a force for good in providing an understanding of freedom, compassion, charity, and many other of the values and rights in the west that we may consider are self-evident and right. If it were not for the teaching of Christianity and the acts of true Christians I would contend that there is nothing self-evident about some of our societal values and rights. One thing is also incontrovertible, the ideas and way of life of Christians did change the way of lives of many tribes throughout Asia, Africa, and Europe. If you need to dig into this subject deeper I would recommend the works of people such as Rodney Stark or Philip Jenkins, but despite all the abuses of Christianity it has been a force for good in the world and much of this good has been brought about through the actions of missionaries and young intrepid, sometimes foolish young men (yes, they were usually male).

2. Is Evangelism/Missionary work the same thing as Colonialism?

An accusation against John Chau in this particular instance is that what he was doing was the work of a “colonist”. In other accusations, he was spreading the “white patriarchy”. This is perhaps the most absurd of the accusations, however, it does merit some conversation. The dictionary definition of colonialism is “the policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically.” Colonialism has been around for thousands of years with the Phoenicians and Romans engaging in forms of colonialism, however, our popular understandings of the practice rather hearken back to the activities of the European powers during the 18th and 19th centuries. The challenge for the church has been that while at times the work of missionaries and the European powers were at odds with each other(the works of the Moravians and the early British missionaries to India were at odds with the ruling powers), at other times the two were inextricably linked. David Livingstone’s maxim of “Christianity, Civilization, and Commerce” meant that the pith helmet became the symbol both of Christianity and the British Empire in Africa; in many cases becoming a Christian actually meant becoming a European.

Contextualized missions work became a quick push back to this movement with the likes of Hudson Taylor’s adoption of Chinese culture although being seen initially as a shocking innovation was soon seen as the correct methodology for missions work – embracing Christianity should never mean being divorced from one’s culture unless elements of the culture were at odds with the fundamental tenets of Christianity. An example might be that Christianity does demand that a tribe give up revenge killings, widow burning, and cannibalism, but does not demand changes to food, clothing, language, and local customs. This is obviously a nuanced discussion (as most of this discussion is), however, I would contend that the historical record shows that where changes are merited they certainly benefit the community for the good.

If you are able to extract the work of Christian missionaries from the foreign policy of a political nation (which is increasingly easy – for instance, I am certain that John Chau was not in anyway an actor of US Foreign Policy), then it is very easy to say that the work of Christian missionaries (who come from every culture on the planet) does not in any way represent colonialism. It may as already mentioned mean that if individuals become Christian they cease doing certain actions which they had previously done, but this is I would contend not exploitative, is not empire-building and not colonialism.

As an add-on to this, I would contend that missions work is not the work of the white patriarchy. John Chau was male, but not white. Most missions workers today are actually female (one commentator has said the ratio is 7 to 1), and a growing number of missions workers today are from the global south – Africa, South America, and Asia.

3.      Should people be evangelized if they don’t want to be?

It is very clear that the inhabitants of the Sentinel Island did not want to be contacted, let alone “evangelized” by anyone. This for many is prima facie evidence that they should not be contacted.  Our western postmodern mores dictate that an individual’s religion is a private matter and we should not force our personal religious beliefs down others throats. This view was popularised by Immanuel Kant and really came on the heels of some of the biggest religious conflicts in European history, with much bloodshed on either side predicated by faith positions (although I would contend that the mixture of powerful political positions was much more to do with the conflict). The challenge with this position is that it is self-defeating and hypocritical. The philosopher Charles Taylor has very ably proved that the secularization of western culture is not a negation or subtraction of religious positions rather simply the introduction and addition of another religious position; the claims of secular humanism being as much a construct of various truth claims as Christianity. The prevailing idea that one should not force personal religious beliefs down another’s throat is itself a religious position being forced down another’s throat.

Most cultures do not like change, most people do not initially want to be evangelized. Some cultures are more open to new ideas and products. As humans, we have a predilection to evangelize our ideas. I would contend that this cannot and should not be stopped. Rather than stopping people thinking and sharing their ideas I would contend simply that the best ideas should rise to the top. There are clearly other things at play in this particular instance, but let’s dispense with the idea that we limit the spread of ideas to only people that are initially open.

4.      Is it good to defend tribal practices of remote people groups?

There are approximately 7000 living languages in the world today. Some of these languages are only spoken by a handful of people and in many cases, languages and cultures die out and cease to exist. Is this a good thing? Should certain ancient cultures be protected the way that UNESCO protects its World Heritage sites?

My initial reaction is always to preserve cultural diversity, however, the change of cultures is the way of history – even with some of the largest cultures in history. Nobody speaks Latin and lives Roman culture anymore, neither Phoenician, Carthaginian, Anglo-Saxon etc and these were all hugely dominant cultures.

Many amazing tribal cultures have been destroyed by more dominant oppressive cultures throughout history. But similarly, many oppressive tribal cultures, bound by violence and poverty have been emancipated by more dominant cultures, giving the individuals in the previous culture a pathway to freedom, better health, and education. when William Carey campaigned to stop the ancient tribal practice of Sutee – the burning of widows as part of the chattels of man that has died – he categorically did a good thing. When missionaries brought Christianity to cannibalistic tribes in Irian Jaya and as a result brought peace and prosperity to warring tribes, they categorically did a good thing. However, this is a difficult and more nuanced conversation. One of the reasons why the Indian government has banned contact with the people of the Sentinel Islands is because contact with the tribe could introduce foreign pathogens which could introduce diseases to which these people have no immunity and thus wipe out the tribe. The biggest examples of such introduction of foreign pathogens would be the massive epidemics which wiped out big populations in the Americas with the coming of the western colonial powers. Due to the previous contact with the outside world, this may be an overblown concern, nevertheless, spreading disease should not be a small consideration.  I do feel this consideration should not be conflated with simply a carte blanche desire to protect ancient cultures without reference to what the ancient culture represents.  

5.      Should Christians always obey the “laws of the land”?

One idea thrown around in the recent discussions is that this young man was foolish because he was not obeying the laws of the land. The relationship between Christian’s and societal rules and laws is an interesting one. I believe history shows that Christians have generally strengthened societies, the social capital they bring to a nation has historically strengthened a nation and they do by and large obey the laws of the land to a greater extent than the general population. However when the legal framework of a nation comes into conflict with the commands of the Bible, many Christians throughout history have followed the example of Peter in Acts 5:29 who said to his rulers “We must obey God, rather than men”. Typically the arena where this is primarily played out is in relation to proclaiming the gospel. If the laws of the land prohibit evangelization, should Christians follow those laws? The testimony of the global church throughout history is that generally these laws must be broken if the church is to be faithful to the commands of Jesus.

6.      What is a Martyr and being persecuted for one’s faith?

The current situation has brought up the topic of martyrdom and being
persecuted for one’s faith. Some people are calling this young man a martyr and others are calling him foolish or worse. Was John Chau a martyr or just
foolish? The same question could be asked of Jim Elliot and Nate Saint – in both cases were these young men persecuted for righteousness sake or simply because they were trespassing on another’s territory? Is the motivation of the “trespasser” important in relation to martyrdom? This is as you can imagine quite a controversial subject. A small segment of scholars have recently called into question the martyr record of the early church – did some of the disciples in the early centuries have a bit of a deathwish so that they would be martyred? I think this is probably true. What is martyrdom anyway? What is being persecuted for your faith? I recently sat with a Christian leader from a Creative Access Nation, who has a number of his friends sitting in a prison cell with a potential that they may be executed for sharing their faith. When we dig into the specific circumstances of people that are being persecuted for their faith one
could contend that they are being persecuted not because of faith, but because of “breaking laws” or because of stupidity. I don’t like the label of martyr (although it seems clear that the Bible does label certain individuals as martyrs) or want to measure what is persecution for righteousness sake and what is not. As it relates to myself, I want to be a bold witness of Jesus (which is a martyr) and wise to try and avoid persecution wherever possible. While at the same time, I will continue to pray for my brothers and sisters who are being persecuted for their faith.

 

7.      Are the activities of missionaries reflective of what it means to follow Jesus?

This is perhaps the most important question IF you are a follower of Jesus. Followers of Jesus follow Jesus commands. One of these commands has become known as the Great Commission. It has different aspects depending upon which gospel you read. However in Mark 15:16, one of the earliest references to the Great Commission Jesus says “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation”. We can have much discussion about what is involved in the Great Commission and the best methodologies to complete it – however one thing that it does present us with is a clear call to tell people about the Good News of Jesus with some very black and white outcomes – salvation or condemnation. One thing that I have a conviction about is that if you follow Jesus commands this one is not an optional one. This is the one command of Jesus that is disliked the most (and outlawed the most by nations who are opposed to Christianity). You may disagree with many things that John Chau did (and I would probably agree with many of the criticisms), but if the death of John Chau provokes a discussion about what the Great Commission means to Christians then I think his death will at least in this respect not be in vain.

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The most important injustice to set right?

change-the-world

We live in a busy world with increasing demands on our time and our resources. The phrase work-life balance is fairly new to this generation, but so many of us feel the stretch as we seek to answer the demands of the workplace, the demands of our family and marriages, of our friends and our communities, the demands to provide and the demands to relate. It can get overwhelming and so many people seek to find respite in entertainment and in social media. Yet this year has not been a good year to relax in social media (I’m not sure if there has ever been a good year), but it seems this year has been particularly angst-ridden. In the summer, everybody was sounding off about Brexit and in the fall, it was all about Clinton-Trump. THE END OF THE WORLD HAS BEEN NIGH FOR SOME TIME! Or so it would seem -2016 was, after all, an ALL CAPS type of year.

What is particularly disheartening and the reason for this blog is the public shaming and social media shouting that goes on over social justice issues that each side thinks are important. Each tribe picks its list and then gets all self-righteous if the other people (and especially people from the other side of the political spectrum) do not consider their list of social ills the ones that need to be prioritized.

A Long Laundry List of Needs

What do I mean by social ills? We live in a world where there are a lot of things wrong.

  1. Abortion – Children are some of the most vulnerable people on the planet and this vulnerability is no more keenly felt than in the womb. Having had a micro-preemie personally and then seeing videos about the miracle of life such as this one I don’t know how it is right that we do not speak out on behalf of those who have no voice

 

  1. Orphans – Foster Children – Street Children – Vulnerability does not, however, stop in the womb, so many children around the world are orphans, street children, lost, without love and without family, even those caught in the foster system are often no better off. Who is speaking out for them?
  1. Anti-Family Culture – I add this to the last two although no-one really has this one on their radar, but study after study has shown that children grow up best with their biological mother and father, yet we live in a culture where single motherhood has increased, divorce has increased and so many come from broken families. What is being done about this?
  1. Disabilities and Special Needs – Again some of the most vulnerable in our communities all around the world, yet so often they have no voice to speak out and defend themselves.
  1. Widows and the Elderly – In the developed world we don’t think too often about widows – but why not? When parents become a single parent with kids to provide for needs abound
  1. Human Trafficking Victims – Sex Trafficking and Labor Trafficking – Slavery was abolished long ago surely? Unfortunately not for the millions of lives that are still affected. Indentured servitude, grinding poverty, horrific sex work and even the grotesqueries of trafficking in human organs. Millions are affected, but who is speaking up?
  1. Victims of Abuse – So many suffer in silence, sex abuse, physical abuse, mental abuse. Afraid to speak out. Vulnerable women, children and sometimes men – who is speaking out?
  1. Clean Water – Do you realize the deaths and diseases that could be immediately eliminated worldwide if only millions had access to clean drinking water? A problem that could be solved next year if we had the will
  1. Refugees and Victims of War – Much has been said in the recent election cycle about illegal immigration – but the world is facing some humanitarian crises if we do not realize the impact that war in the middle east is having – as Christians, we surely have an obligation?
  1. Gang Violence – Our inner cities have continued to see gang violence take the lives of our young men. Fatherless and disturbed young men with guns is a problem that needs focus if we are to avoid race wars and the solution would seem not to be police with bigger guns.
  1. Global Challenges of Poverty – We continue to see the poor suffer through malnutrition and starvation, disease, poor education and lack of adequate housing – yet who is speaking out for these billions of people?
  1. Victims of Natural Disaster – Add a natural disaster to the mix of all the poverty and you have a truly horrendous scenario – but who is speaking out?
  1. Racial Discrimination – Wherever you look there is prejudice and bigotry both in the US and around the world. With hundreds of years of black slavery and segregation the cards are surely stacked against the black community on many fronts, but racial discrimination doesn’t stop with the black community, much could also be spoken about systemic discrimination against Hispanics and many other ethnic groups including those in the first nations.
  1. Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism – After the atrocities of the holocaust surely the world has learned its lesson in regards to anti-Semitism and its new forms of Anti-Zionism and the BDS Movement – but no I guess not
  1. Misogyny – Many will say their first priority in their fight against injustice is the fight against systemic misogyny with the cards stacked against women in our systems. Women make up 50% of our culture – surely this is a massive injustice?
  1. Systemic Corruption – Such a fundamental problem in nearly every nation – surely the fight for justice is also a fight to see corrupt things get set straight?
  1. The Glorious Gospel – Surely one of the main injustices in our world today is that people have not had access to the gospel, I shouldn’t even put it in this list. This message that brings meaning to the wrong that we see and a solution to the evil in men’s hearts. With this transforming power combined with providing so many areas of the world access to the Bible is surely the most important thing? Especially as we look to the needs of the Islamic world? Yet this is still something we have to do.

I could go on, but even with this initial 17 can you prioritize them from most important to least important? Once you have done this, can you place all of these needs into the context of the busy world that we mentioned at the outset. Now answer the question what can individuals do about this whole list? I think everything on this list is noble and needs to be pursued, the thing is I think someone is lying if they say they are actively doing something about everyone of the items on the list and therefore I don’t think it is a good idea to shame other individuals if you see them not doing one of them.

There is, however, one specific way to get involved in all of these and that is through prayer. Prayer changes things. When heaven gets involved things often shift quicker than twenty years of hard slog.

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Exploring the Transfiguration

transfiguration

 

A little while ago I spent an evening looking at the Transfiguration, what actually happened on the mountain and what was its significance. If you are interested here is the video and audio (and some accompanying teaching notes)

Teaching Handout

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A Short History of Day and Night Prayer

Have you ever looked at the rising number of prayer rooms around the earth and wondered whether this was simply the latest fad or whether it could be squared with New Testament Ecclesiology. I recently spoke at an IHOPKC Encounter God Service to give doubters and those who are becoming vocational intercessors some historical precedent for what we do. Hopefully you will find it helpful

Streaming and downloadable audio only: 

Download the notes here

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My Problem with Church

When James I of England agreed to a new translation of the Bible, a translation which would eventually become the 1611 Authorised Version in the UK and more commonly known in North America as the King James Version, he had only two stipulations to the translation committee. The first was that he wanted to keep the transliteration of the word “Baptism” rather than using a translation such as “dunk” “plunge” or “immerse” and the second was that he wanted to keep the word “Church”. I have some challenges with this stipulation and that is what has led me to write this hopefully short blog.

ChurchVarious words were used in the New Testament to describe the new community that was established after the Holy Spirit fell at Pentecost. The Apostles use multiple metaphors to try and describe this “one new man”. The remnant of the faithful in Israel now had embraced Gentiles who had expressed faith in the Jewish Messiah. The most prevalent word that is used to describe this gathering is ekklesia. It was a common word, with no particular religious significance, it is alternately translated as “mob” in places where the context is a riot. Yet it was through this “ekklesia” of believers that “the manifold wisdom of God might be made known … to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places” (Eph 3:10). 

Whenever the word “church” appears in English translations of the Bible the Greek word being translated is ekklesia (ἐκκλησία),which actually means “called out ones” but is always used in the context of a gathering.The English word “church” however derives from another Greek word κυριακός‚ (kuriakos) which means “belonging to the Lord.” It is only used twice in the New Testament and both times are not related to our understanding of what the “Church” is: “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s (κυριακόν) supper that you eat.” (1 Cor. 11:20, ESV) and “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s (κυριακῆ) day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet.” (Rev. 1:10, ESV).

Because the building where the believers met together eventually became known as “the Lord’s house” (using Greek kuriakon), it entered into the German language as “kirche,” Anglo-Saxon as “circe,” and Middle English as “chirche.” With the advent of “Christendom” and the meshing together of political power with the church, the name “church” became very convenient. The church meant building, the church meant institution, the church meant control. The origins of the word meant this and that is indeed what the institutional church became. However this was not the original meaning of the simple “gathering” or “community” of believers and therefore in the Reformation both Luther and Tyndale translated ekklesia into words meaning community or congregation (in German this became germeinde).

When King James stipulated that the word NOT be translated as community or congregation he knew that the word “church” conjured very different connotations in English as it means either a building or an institution. James wanted to retain this meaning and held a deep hatred towards the Puritans who wanted to see a return to New Testament understandings instead of preferring the institutional power and grandeur of the Roman Catholic Church. The King James Version became not only the standard Bible translation, but it had a defining effect on the entire English language. It is hard to get away from the word – for the idea of word in the New Testament – the New Testament community – the bride of Christ is one of the most powerful groups of people that see the love of God on earth. But the institutional “Church” has not been this throughout history. It has at times in fact been the direct antithesis of this, committing the greatest atrocities known to man. However the challenges remain today in very subtle ways for Christians – how many Christians on a Sunday morning say they are “going to church” – it is unsurprising that many will think of a building when they refer to a church, because that is what it means. What about “I love Jesus, but that doesn’t mean I have to go to church” – this is a foreign concept if you think that salvation means being “born again” into a New Testament community, it is not a strange thing to say if the church is merely an institution or a building to attend.

But at the end of the day we are stuck with the decisions of our forbears to use the word and so perhaps the only way forward with our English word is redemption rather than rejection.

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Does God have One People or Two?

IsraelIs the nation of Israel still relevant today to believers in Jesus? Do those who are ethnic Jews have any place in the plans and purposes of God if they do not believe in Jesus? And what about the land of Israel — I cannot think of a more controversial piece of real estate on the planet — yet does Jerusalem and the land of Israel hold any special place in the heart of God that is different from Tallahassee or Peru? I believe the answers to these questions are important to the heart of God and they are not academic. I also believe the answers to these questions have direct impact upon the lives of Jews and Arabs in the land of Israel therefore they are truly not academic, however in answering the question I want to beg your forgiveness as I must get a little academic to begin with.

Did you grow up Dispensational - always afraid you would be Left Behind?

Did you grow up Dispensational – always afraid you would be Left Behind?

For the last hundred years in North America two very vocal hermeneutical positions have held sway in the church and both have come to different conclusions concerning the place of Israel. The Dispensational position has been supported by the likes of Dallas Theological Seminary, the Assemblies of God, TBN and the Left Behind series – a strong proponent of this position today would be John Hagee. This position has supported the political nation of Israel almost without criticism, the theological position of this group is that God has TWO peoples: Israel and the Church.

According to the traditional Dispensational position God made promises to Israel in the Old Testament which still apply today, however the Church is a different people that began on the day of Pentecost (some even see the birth of the Church taking place in Acts 8 or even 10 – when Gentiles are grafted in). The church will be whisked away by a secret rapture according to this view before an event called the Tribulation while Israel unfortunately will have to go through the great trouble coming to the earth. The extremes of this view, which most Dispensationals eschew, but which most of the opponents will say that this view leads to is “Dual Covenantism”, this essentially means that there are two ways of salvation. Christians are saved through the sacrifice of Jesus, whereas Jews are saved by virtue of their chosen status through the Abrahamic Covenant. I am of course generalizing here, but this means that Dispensational groups will visit Israel en masse, but will often be hesitant to support any form of evangelism to Jewish people.

New Reformed? You probably are influenced by Covenant Theology

New Reformed? You probably are influenced by Covenant Theology

The other hermeneutical position that has been very popular and vocal in recent years has been Covenant Theology. This position has been largely formed and adopted by the Reformed wing of the church – think Presbyterians, many Baptists etc. It holds that there are two (and oftentimes three) covenants that God made (although not explicit and not to be confused with the explicit covenants of Abraham, Moses, David etc). The “Covenant of Works” was the covenant made between God and Adam promising life for obedience and death for disobedience. The “Covenant of Grace” was subsequently made after the Fall of Man – where life is promised to all who put their faith in Jesus. An additional Covenant of Redemption is often added to this framework, which is a covenant made between God the Father and God the Son about the way that the redemption of humanity would come about through the death of the Son. Humanity has therefore related to God since the Fall of Man according to this schema under the Covenant of Grace.

Under this position the church is simply a continuation of the people or assembly of God found during Old Testament times. The “qahal” of Israel is the beginning of the “church” in Old Testament times, then because of the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus the qahal or ekklesia of God’s people is now Jew and Gentile – one new man in Christ. There is not two people of God, there is clearly one. The extremes with this position is that there is no longer any significance for Jews or the land of Israel because the ekklesia of God and Israel are synonymous and the chosen people are now the church and in such way the ekklesia has “replaced” the blessings that were previously promised to ethnic Israel who had been given the land of Israel as an eternal inheritance. While those who hold dispensationalism do not like being daubed with the “Dual Covenant” brush, likewise those who hold to Covenant Theology will try to evade the “Replacement Theology” tag.

Confused yet? Does God have one people or two? At the heart of much theology is paradox and it is important that we don’t come down too heavily on one side for if we do we will only get part of the story and while this isn’t really paradox it does need nuance. For I believe the answer to the one or two people question is “both”. But you can’t have it both ways I hear you respond impatiently it logically has to be one or the other. Let me respond first by saying what I do not believe about the two people arguments of some dispensationalists. There is only one way of salvation through the blood of the Jewish Messiah. There are not two ways of salvation, furthermore I don’t believe that the “church” will be whisked away for the tribulation leaving the second people of God – the Jews on the earth. There is only one new man in Christ that will be ultimately saved. There is only one people of God ultimately.

However as I read both the Old and the New Testament I am convinced that the “church” (I actually hate our English word “church” and the historical baggage it brings, but that is a rant for another time) was hidden from ages past and was only really “revealed” in the first century after the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. This initial gathering was nearly entirely Jewish in nature, and reflected something that has always been true in the history of Israel – the elect in Israel are always a remnant of the faithful (which is why we find Hebrews from the Exodus dying in the wilderness through unbelief). As time went on more and more Gentiles were grafted into the Ekklesia, however I do still believe that the entirety of the ethnic Jewish nation (including currently unbelieving Jews) is what most of the references to Israel were made in the New Testament. With this being the case although I hold to one people of God, there is still a truth that there are promises made to unsaved ethnic Jews, which are different to unsaved ethnic Peruvians.

israel_treeThe picture Paul paints for us in Romans 11 is instructive. He is giving an analogy about a tree – how many trees does Paul talk about? It is possible to answer the main answer is that there is one tree, however the answer has to be a little more nuanced than that. The analogy begins with a natural olive tree that represents ethnic Israel. This is a chosen tree. This is a tree that is actually “holy” in terms of it being chosen and separated for God’s purposes – this is not the case for the wild branches that will be grafted in subsequently – prior to their grafting in they are not to be considered “holy” or “chosen”. The analogy finishes with another tree – it is a hybrid tree, it is not a completely natural tree. This hybrid tree is ultimately the tree that will be saved. The one new man in Christ.

If we apply this analogy to the “unsaved Jew” and the “unsaved Gentile”, it is clear we see there are differences. The unsaved Jew is chosen until he rejects the salvation that is offered through the blood of Jesus. The unsaved Gentile is not chosen until he accepts the salvation found through Jesus Christ. There is therefore a truth to the fact that God has chosen both the natural and the hybrid tree – although ultimately (and eternally) it is only the hybrid tree that will enjoy the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant. The blessings of this include the land of Israel which I have not mentioned hitherto now, yet the land is a hugely important component of the blessing of all the covenants of God and will ultimately be fulfilled by the Son of God returning to earth and ruling from Jerusalem. Therefore both the unsaved Jew is still “chosen” in one sense and the land of Israel is also still chosen and it is important for those of us who are grafted into this hybrid tree to never forget. Israel is important in the heart of God and for that reason must be important to us.

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Act of Killing and the Judeo-Christian Heritage we should not despise

Act of KillingThe Act of Killing is a hard to watch, thought provoking 2012 documentary which won Best Documentary at the 2014 Bafta Awards. It follows certain Indonesian ‘death-squad’ leaders from the 1965-66 purge which saw 500,000 killed in the space of a year. The documentary makers follow these guys as they chillingly re-enact some of their heinous crimes. As I said it is not an enjoyable watch. It becomes somewhat surreal in places, as they are trying to create a “movie” of these recreations. These “gangsters” as they are called are still somewhat revered by the authorities in Indonesia today. It made me think it would almost be like meeting up with ex-Nazi’s in South America and filming them re-enact some of their crimes – not for the faint of heart, but certainly thought provoking.

The reason it got me thinking was due to a comment by one of these murdering “gangsters” who questioned the standards by which society judges such crimes. He essentially said he cared little for the Geneva Conventions – tomorrow it might be the Jakarta Convention. He said it was the “winners” who enforced such standards. This made me think about some of the discoveries that were made in the making of the Nefarious Documentary. When the team went to South East Asia, it found that in some of the countries the practice of selling daughters into sex slavery was not only prevalent, but it was to a large extent an accepted part of the culture. When it is ingrained into a society that accepts these positions as Karma, and nobody even questions such behaviour as “wrong” it becomes very difficult to break rings of violence and evil.

Which brings us back to the Geneva Conventions and indeed much of what we consider to be right and wrong in Western Culture. Much of these standards owe much to the Judeo-Christian heritage that has prevailed in Europe for nearly the past millennia and in North America for the past 300-400 years. That is not to say that these places have been free from mass abuses of power and massive tyranny at times. But the basis for right, wrong, mercy and forgiveness, were largely set by the assumptions of this heritage. We actually have much to be thankful for. It is these standards that informed things like the Geneva Convention. Although I believe many of these standards come ultimately from God, there is nothing to stop us from rejecting this heritage and dispensing with these standards over time. However I think that as I ponder the lessons from South East Asia in these two documentaries, dispensing with objective truth and such Christian values does not bode well for our society.

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