The Korean Church and the Great Commission

I’ve just spent three days at Wheaton College to interview a number of Christian leaders. The reason the leaders were gathered at the college was to minister to a Korean Missions Conference. In addition to the general mission leaders, I interviewed quite a number of Korean church leaders and missionaries. The story of Christianity in Korea is actually a fascinating and instructive tale, so in addition to making a TV story out of the narrative I wanted to spell out on paper my thoughts about the history, the role, the challenges and the destiny of the Korean Church that I have discovered over the past few days. Before I begin however I want to beg the indulgence and indeed forgiveness of my Korean brothers and sisters if my views appear somewhat presumptuous, I am sure this opinion could be more nuanced. However, it is often easier to analyze a situation from the outside rather than when you are so emotionally committed to the story. I do find the story of the Korean church instructive as I look at other nations who are embracing the Gospel and seeing economic blessings as a result. So let me begin.

Traditionally the Korean people were given to a potent cocktail of Shamanism, Confucianism and Buddhism. Roman Catholicism had been a persecuted minority for nearly 200 years when the first Protestant missionaries arrived in 1884. The Body of Christ slowly grew in Korea, and was given a massive injection after the move of God happening across the globe from Asuza Street and Wales landed on Korean shores. The Revival of 1907 is still looked back on with affection by many in the Korean Church. With the spiritual blessings touching the church in Pyongyang first, the Christianity from the North was soon affecting the whole peninsula. The first thing we notice about Korean Christianity is that it is relatively new in the whole context of 2000 years of Christian history.

Blessing preceded persecution, as it often does, and in 1910 with the passing of the Japan-Korea Annexation Treaty a period of brutal occupation by the Japanese began for the Korean people. Many of the Korean ruling classes turned to Christ during this season of hardship as persecution pushed the people both together for support and mutual encouragement and also started to push people out, away from Korea. From 1910 until 1953 Korea suffered under intense oppression. While everyone may know about the Jewish Diaspora, the suffering of the Korean people in the 20th Century resulted in a profound Korean Diaspora. Today over 7 million Koreans reside in nearly every nation on the planet, and wherever Koreans have resided they typically (at least for the last generation) have retained a strong identity as Koreans.

The history of the Church from this point on begins to split in several ways, firstly between the Christians in the land, and those in the Diaspora. The end of the Second World War and subsequently the Korean War also saw another split between North and South Korea. Many in the North fled south of the border, and the blessings of the Northern believers came South. Forty Three years of intense oppression, which culminated in years of bloodshed and war had taken its toll on the Korean economy which was now almost non existent. Korea had similar economic wealth to many famine ravaged African nations by the end of the Korean war.

This is where the rags to riches story begins, for South Korea began to look to its financial and military patron the USA and embrace much from the land of the free, including the American Dream, the Puritan work ethic and more than the other two (at least initially) – Prayer. When you don’t have anything and you’re at the end of your rope sometimes Prayer is all you can do. So that is what the Koreans did. They gathered and they prayed; heartfelt, deep prayers for God to breakthrough and unsurprisingly God answered. Koreans started to prosper financially, so more people came to church. In 1963 Billy Graham conducted what would be his largest crusade ever in Seoul, with over 1.1 million gathering to hear the great Evangelist. This crusade had a catalysing effect on many Korean Christians and the Churches in Korea began to gather and swell in numbers and passion. In Yoido, where the crusade had taken place, the world’s largest church congregation grew, which would eventually see over 800,000 as part of the church under the Pentecostal preacher Yonggi Cho. But every denominational church saw growth, especially the Presbyterians. With Seoul becoming the home to the largest denominational churches on the globe.

And not only did the churches grow, but financial prosperity began to be enjoyed by many Koreans, as Korea’s economy, once an anemic kitten needing life support, became a vibrant tiger and one of the largest on the planet. What a turnaround of circumstances. The mood both in the church and in the nation was neatly summed up by Yonggi Cho’s book – “Dream Your Way to Success”.

The prayers had been answered. Korea was prospering. Now, just as Korea had been the recipient of the blessings of the Gospel they wanted to give these blessings away to the nations of the earth and thus carry out the Great Commission. Koreans had a unique position as it relates to the carrying out of Missions work. While many who carry out Missions work will look for a “person of peace” (Luke 10:6) in a foreign location. For Koreans, the “person of peace” is often the local Korean, who may not know the Gospel, but will welcome a fellow Korean and subsequently embrace the Gospel and then begin to reach out to the local community

I believe in the sovereignty of God and believe that the Korean Diaspora is actually a divine set up. However the story is not that easy as it would first appear. Significant challenges lie ahead for the Korean Church. While the Korean Church may be in nearly every nation on the planet, the Korean diaspora are often completely isolated, at least in the first generation of immigrants. It is not uncommon to find Koreans in the US who have been here 30, 40 or 50 years who do not speak English and live almost entirely within their Korean sub culture. Second and third generation Koreans on the other hand are well integrated into their adopted culture and provide the biggest hope for the Korean Church in reaching out to the nations with the Gospel. However, here again we face another challenge in the road ahead, because second and third generation Koreans are questioning the very gospel of their parent’s generation. While there are many godly leaders in the first generation, there was also an embracing of man made religion in efforts to improve their situation. Wherever such religion exists, there also resides pride and hypocrisy. Many of the younger generations who have not grown up with the economic deprivation of their parents are dispensing with the values and religion of their parents and thus many have noted a hemorrhaging in the second and third generations as high as 5% decline per year from the church.

The divergent destinies of North and South Korea is startling, while starvation is still a problem in the once more fertile North, the South is today one of the richest nations in the globe. The Church of Korea has passion and commitment and despite some of the challenges, there really are great signs of life amongst the second and third generations, but I do believe we are in a critical season for the destiny of the nation of Korea, the role for the nation of Korea amongst the nations appears clear, God has called His disciples to the Great Commission.The question is whether the next generation will embrace Jesus and the message of the Gospel, or will they turn aside to the Spirit of the Age and reject the call.

Posted in Bible Stuff, Church History, Personal Updates | Leave a comment

Would Jesus Tweet?

ImageJesus spent 21 years as an adult. For three of those years he was a wonder-working Rabbi, that is one seventh of his adult life. For the other six sevenths we have very little information, but it seems likely he would follow in Joseph’s trade of wood-working. The word used in the New Testament for this is Tekton, it is from this word we get our English word technology, in other word Jesus was a tech guy for much of his adult life.

There are often very polarized views toward technology in the church. On one hand the “older” generation bemoan the latest inventions as the main source of corruption of the “younger” generation. We have seen this happen throughout the ages, various new innovations and new technology that have “corrupted” the church have been: the church pew (not really introduced until the Reformation), the church organ, the use of electric guitars, drums and bass, the use of lights, the TV and now the internet. If it weren’t for such corrupting influences we would be in a much better place. This is a very determinist view towards technology. On the other hand people rapidly adopt the latest technologies saying that technology is neutral, the thing that really matters is the message that is being communicated through the medium. The church and missionary activity have often been at the cutting edge of new technologies from the Gutenberg Press to TV. The opposing views of the determinist versus instrumental approach towards technology are seen in the views on handguns, the instrumentalists say that guns don’t kill people, people kill people, the determinists say handguns radically transform a society for the bad. In the “church” world the instrumental view towards technology asserts that a microphone has no morally corrupt influence, what has the influence is the message that is spoken through that microphone and therefore we must focus on the content of the message.

The truth however is somewhere between these two extremes. It is true that the microphone is not morally corrupt. It would however be wrong to conclude that it is neutral in effecting behavior and Christian discipleship. Let us take the said microphone as an example and another invention of the 19th Century, the internal combustion engine. These two inventions have radically effected the expression of Christianity in much of the world. Before these inventions church congregations were much more parochial and local. You would be part of a church community with other local residents; the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker! Most people would walk to their local church building and the congregation itself would be limited in size to the vocal strength of the preacher. For those with exceptional voices (the likes of George Whitefield and Charles Spurgeon) the congregation would be bigger in size, but generally church communities would be smaller and much more local. The advent of the microphone meant that it was possible for one man preaching in one venue to easily speak in a normal voice to thousands. I have observed Evangelist Reinhard Bonnke preach to literally millions of people in one location in Nigeria because of the microphone. Preaching to millions is exceptional, but the widespread use of the microphone meant that congregation sizes did increase for good preachers. The advent of the widespread use of the car meant that if a church was “alive” it was “worth the drive”. The collision and widespread use of both technologies in the 20th Century saw the rise of the mega church in the US. This appealed to many American sensibilities, some good and some not so good; independence, desire for greater choice, spiritual vitality, entertainment, celebrity and fame.

It has radically affected the makeup of the church in the US particularly, most people who attend a congregational church meeting now drive a considerable distance (at least more than a comfortable walk) to a church meeting. It has led to the deacon ministry of car park attendant! But more importantly it has led to an increased consumer approach to Church and a decline in the ability to have effective church discipline. I believe the growth of the seeker sensitive movement can be directly attributed to the widespread adoption of such technologies. The use of such technologies also magnifies certain tendencies we already possessed as humans. I do believe the focus on quantity of people in a location has been massively emphasized over the past 100 years over above the quality of discipleship. I have put a moral gloss on some of these changes, which paint them in a negative way, however in themselves the changes are not necessarily morally bad. Overall however, it would be incorrect to say that the adoption of technologies such as the car or the microphone are neutral.

Media theorist Marshall McLuhan who coined the expression that the “Medium is the Message” was such a technological determinist that he said the content of a message “has as much importance as stenciling on the casing of an atomic bomb”. This example is clearly a radical extreme, but it is massively important for those who want to communicate to this generation to realize that the medium used is not neutral and has varying effects on those we are communicating with. If a young man is expressing his love to a young lady, it says something different on one hand if he sends a text “luv u” or if he hand delivers a single red rose and ring engraved with “I Love You”. The use of media is an extension of who we are and a choice we have in how we need to communicate.

This introduction draws me to my main point of internal rumination. If the microphone and the car had such a critical impact on the expression of our Christian faith, what effect does the internet, the adoption of mobile technologies and the widespread adoption of social media have on us. What effect will the widespread adoption of these technologies have on the global church? What effect is it having on us individually? As with all technologies they can possess a tendency to corrupt, but also present opportunities of great redemptional purposes.

The smartphone is perhaps the most “humanlike” device that the world has recently and rapidly embraced. It is our communication tool, it is our entertainment center, it is our window to the world in news, it is our business and banking partner, it is our work assistant and now with Siri it is our ever-present companion. Ray Kurzweil has famously said that a child in Africa with a smartphone now has access to more information than President Clinton (the most powerful man on the planet) had 20 years ago. Current stats suggest 72% of Africans (yes Africans, not Americans) have cell phones and respected technology blog Techcrunch recently[1] suggested that MOST Africans will have a smartphone within 5 years, this is nothing short of incredible. How could such a powerful device that has such a radical effect on the way that we live our lives not also radically effect the way that we express our faith?

My purpose in presenting this really is to ask the question, make you start to ask the question and start a discussion rather than to provide any definitive answers. It is important when we adopt technology that we don’t do it blindly, we must be aware of what we are doing. In order to begin thinking about possible answers I have given some thought and offer some suggestions, both to the question of the corrupting influence and to the redemptional purposes.

Let us first start with the bad news, the warnings over the adoption of the world of the hyper-connected. There are quite a number of pitfalls involved in embracing recent technologies.

1 – How can I Keep a Focused Eye (Idolatry) – I have noticed a very real upsurge in business articles about overload, too many emails, burnout, the problems of hyper-connectedness, ADD etc. I would attribute many recent technologies for this recent mood. I would say that the biggest challenges in embracing such technologies is to keep our “eyes” good. The internet is the home of many temptations. It is the most recent iteration of idolatry that can consume our hearts in many different ways.  In a recent article a Seminary Professor said “We no longer ask our entering students if they are struggling with pornography, we assume every student is struggling. The question we ask: ‘How serious is the struggle?’” Another missions agency said that 80% of their applicants voluntarily indicate a struggle with pornography, resulting in staff shortages on the field[2]. However it is not just the blatantly sinful. Is the amount of information bombarding us through email, facebook, twitter distracting us from what should be our true focus? Is our handheld device becoming as my sister-in-law likes to call it the “iWife”. The good and busy can often be the biggest enemy of faith. Did Daniel foresee this when he said in the last days “Many shall run to and fro and knowledge shall increase”?

2 – Do Recent Technologies Isolate Us? – While social media is supposed to bring us together there is an isolating factor if all your meetings and relationships are conducted in a virtual space. In recent book “The Demise of Guys: Why Boys are struggling and what we can do about it” it states the average 21 year old guy has immersed himself in 10,000 hours of video game play[3]. Porn and Video Gaming are arousal addictions, which desensitize and make real life connections harder. With the only meaningful relationships happening online it becomes very easy to do the thing that humanity has been doing since Adam – hiding.

3 – Does the Internet feed our Individualism? – We all want more choice, but statistics actually prove that more choice provides more anxiety not actually more happiness. Yet we now have more choice and access to Christian teaching and discipleship material than at any time in history. But that can also mean we are simply consumers of different types of information rather than a dynamic part of a community. This leads to the problem of the Judges “Every man doing what was right in his own eyes” and really offers no discipline or oversight.

4 – Is Christian Community more than Information Transfer? Since the Reformation when preaching became the ultimate expression of Christian worship we have become more and more successful and efficient at communicating information. The communication of information quickly and efficiently is perhaps what the internet and mobile technologies do best. However we must ask the question of whether information transfer is our ultimate goal as a believer? The internet offers information, but Biblical knowledge is more than cerebral, it must be experiential. The two are radically different. We must recognize this and struggle with what true discipleship looks like in this new age?

5 – Is Instant Gratification Biblical? We are in the world of getting the answer and getting it now. Email was supposed to be an asynchronous communication tool, too often we get impatient if we don’t receive an answer within the hour. Yet Ishmael and Esau’s bowl of red stew show us that immediate results are often the antithesis of getting Biblical wisdom through faithfulness.

I have pointed out some of the glaring pitfalls of adoption of recent technologies, but what about the redemptive uses?

Relational Depth – Although the counter impulses of isolationism and inability to concentrate on one thing because of the barrage of information. Certain tools do give us the ability to actually connect relationally at a deeper level. My own relationship with my family is certainly richer because of the wonders of skype. I am also able to connect with people quicker and deeper because I follow them on twitter and facebook. The use of video conferencing certainly gives us the ability to connect in a much more focused way, if we will make the time.

The Roman Road – Missions Organizations are quick to point out that the internet is the new Roman Road; the new marketplace and they are correct. The information superhighway is just a bit quicker than its Roman counterpart. The reason Facebook is succeeding and Google+ is not is because Facebook is where the people are at. People are in this virtual marketplace and we must meet them here, evangelize them here, disciple them here. I really appreciate the work of Global Media Outreach http://www.globalmediaoutreach.com as they seek to reach and disciple individuals in this virtual space. I truly appreciate the work of the Jesus Film Project as they take an older media and incorporate it into newer forms. Video is however the area where I feel the most pain, I am painfully aware of the rapid growth in video on the internet. While in 2005 video accounted for under 5% of video traffic on the internet. By 2015 IBM say we will have 1 trillion internet connected devices and Cisco predict that at this point 90% of internet traffic will be video. The question is not whether we have people who know the Gospel, the question is whether we have enough people who both know the gospel and the language of video production to effectively communicate to the billions who haunt the net.

Resources for Discipleship and Encouragement – The Internet is full of information and that is helpful to keep teachers accountable. But it is moving beyond simply delivering information to becoming interactive tools, the web is dead, but the internet is growing exponentially[4]. Youversion, the Bible App recently surpassed 50 million downloads. At IHOPKC we are seeking to invite the nations into a global prayer meeting through our webstream and applications, people are responding. Although our monthly 400TB usage is an interesting statistic, the most encouraging thing for me are the testimonies of those encouraged in prayer by what we are doing in Kansas City and inspired to do a Prayer Room themselves.

We are standing at a point of history like no other. The way we are communicating is changing so rapidly and in the midst of the change we have to pause and think that how we are living and how we are communicating often speaks as much as content we are conveying.

I want to thank John Dyer for his ideas in “From the Garden to the City” and encourage people to read his book if they want to go deeper on these subjects.

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Moving Beyond Assumptions to Share the Good News

 

We are bombarded today with wall-to-wall news coverage; some news is quirky such as the latest UFO sightings or lottery win, some is interesting such as the latest technology release or science study, some is “entertaining “ such as the latest sport or movie news, but mainly we are fed a diet of bad news, whether it is wars, natural disasters, financial crisis or the latest grisly crime. What we do not get is good news, I mean really good news. I have just finished grading (a lot of) papers from a class I have been teaching for the past few months on Basic Christian Beliefs. I hope it has been as much a learning experience for the class as it was for me. The question I set the for the paper is something that has the potential to elicit many and varied responses; “What is the Good News all about?” The teaching of the class and the subsequent responses have led me to consider this great question anew and I have a number of thoughts that I want to write down to further my meditation. The typical answers Evangelicals give to this question range from “Jesus died for my sins” (i.e. Penal Substitutionary Atonement) to the fabled response Karl Barth gave to the reporter who asked him to sum up his Church Dogmatics in one sentence and he replied “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so”.

The Good News or Gospel as we alternately know it is first seen on the lips of Jesus as he goes around the region of the Galilee “And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.” (Matt 4:23). Clearly Jesus was not teaching Penal Substitutionary Atonement, yet he was announcing glad tidings had come to Israel. What Jesus was teaching (that the Messiah had come) AND Penal Substitutionary Atonement are messages of Good News and they are a critical part of the story of God that we will address in a just a little bit, but before we get to the story I want to talk about assumptions.

The Apostle Paul visited many synagogues and meeting places with Jews and God-Fearing Gentiles to persuade them from the Hebrew scriptures that Jesus was was both the Son of God and the Son of David and therefore the promised Messiah. For Paul this was the proclamation of the Gospel. Yet Paul was speaking in a largely Jewish context, the Gentiles he spoke to also held most of the same assumptions (with a couple of exceptions). If the news that the Son of David and the Son of God has finally arrived is to be considered Good News one must have an understanding of this set of assumptions. These assumptions are often where apologetics focus:

Assumption One – God exists

It is a sad fact that in our secularized culture belief in God (any God) is no longer assumed. While not every unbeliever is a Richard Dawkins or indeed like his militant atheist compatriots, belief in the existence of God is certainly declining in the Western nations. This is the most fundamental of assumptions that has to be realized and countered. A big caveat to this however must be made, many people will concede that a God exists, but typically it is a unthought through fuzzy type of spirituality rather than a belief in one (Judeo -Christian) God. This leads us to the second assumption.

Assumption Two – God is righteous and has an absolute moral standard 

While many in our culture will have a belief in some kind of God. It is often a pluralistic, “any thing goes” type of deity rather than a Holy God who requires righteousness and has set his moral standard in history and in also in our hearts. The assumption of pluralism has led to an all ways lead to God approach. This approach is logically foolish, for all the main monotheistic  beliefs in God offer an absolute and exclusive approach to God. None of the main world religions are compatible with each other. While people of different beliefs can and should live together in peace, this does not mean that people of different beliefs morph their belief into a pot-pourri approach of all belief.

Assumption Three – The Bible is God’s Word to mankind 

Belief in the veracity of the narrative of the Bible is a fundamental assumption that has come under attack for the past two thousand years and at this point in history like at no other time. For evangelicals the Bible is the plumb-line of truth and for good reason. Belief in the inerrancy of scripture is something that must be explored and explained repeatedly. While textual variant criticism must continue in order to resolve copyist errors, these are truly insignificant in relation to the attacks upon scripture related to their veracity, the existence of the supernatural and the existence of a moral standard.

Assumption Four – Sin is real and has consequences

The assumption of sin is clearly related to the assumption of the existence of a moral law which can be found in the scriptures, but it must be mentioned. Because a moral law exists, disobedience or transgression of that law is what we call sin. Giving oneself to activities which are contrary to the law of God is giving oneself to sin. The very existence of sin is denied by many unbelievers today, yet it is important to understand that acts contrary to the law of God are sin and they do have terrible consequences. The wages of sin really are death. Christians believe two fundamental things about sin, beliefs which are not often shared by unbelievers. Firstly we are all “born in sin”, meaning that the disobedience of Adam is passed to us through our parents and as a result of this inherent corruption we all have a propensity to sin. Secondly, many beliefs and actions that society not only condones, but celebrates (and often ridicules those who do not share the same assumption) are in fact sinful and must be recognized as such.

Assumption Five – God gets involved – He sees and he cares

This last assumption concerns the nature of God. A movement which came out of the Enlightenment called Deism, promoted a belief in God, but the Deist God is a detached stoic creation. Deists denied God acted on the Human stage, He didn’t (and doesn’t) get involved in the events of the world through supernatural means. Deism does not remain as a movement, but the impulses of Deism are alive and well. Evangelical believers believe that God does get involved on the human stage. They believe he sees humanity and he cares about humanity. The assumption of the Evangelical is not necessarily shared by the unbeliever.

While there are several other assumptions one could introduce, one can safely assume that all of these assumptions would be shared by Paul and the audience to whom he was proclaiming the Good News. Likewise when Jesus proclaimed the Good News His audience would also share these assumptions. These assumptions are often the place where a presentation of the Gospel gets derailed today, and as a result we should have thought through these issues. However I wanted to remind myself not to stop here, because none of these assumptions are actually the Good News as it is described in the Bible.

Paradise Lost – The Bad News

To understand the Good News, we have to first understand and meditate upon the “Bad News”. The bad news is the loss of Eden. Eden presents us with a picture of unmarred beauty, full and unhindered relationships both between man and woman and between humanity and God. No shame, no tears, no pain, no worry, no poverty, no strife., no injustice. Instead we find significance, loving relations, provision, meaningful work, even romance. From the height of perfection paradise was truly lost through one small act of disobedience. God said that disobedience would bring death and it did, both spiritually and physically. From this one sinful act corruption entered the world. Eden was lost but could it be regained? The narrative of the scriptures is that Eden will be restored and humanity will be redeemed, but how?

The plan of redemption involves the choosing of a family: the Jews, and through this family the revelation of how God will bring about redemption. Then finally through this family the coming of the redeemer who would restore humanity to Eden. Promises and prophesies were made continually since the sin of Adam and Eve that this redeemer would come. Facts about what he would look like were continually given. He would be the Son of David, therefore a King of Israel, he would be God incarnate. When he finally arrived after so much promise, it is not surprising that He announced His coming as “Good News” and His followers after him realized this truly was good news.

Not only was His coming Good News, but what he came to do was Good – He came to “seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:9), he came to “destroy the works of the devil”. His life, his death, burial, resurrection and ascension all mean that if we repent and believe in Him we will have life in him. This means we are on the road to a restored Eden. Now that is Good News. Nobody can get on that road except through His blood, nobody is righteous enough. But there is a way to get on the road and we have it through Jesus. The bad news is that if we continue to live in the corruption that entered the world at Eden, we will condemn ourselves to an eternity without Jesus and therefore without life.

This is such a brief overview of the Good News. But it involves a tremendous story of love, of lost love, of tragedy, of redemption and with a beautiful happy ending. We need to be aware of the assumptions, but let us focus a little more on the story which truly is Good News.

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Julian the Apostate’s View of Christians

Julian the Apostate's View of Christians

In the Fourth Century an Emperor who was very antagonistic to Christianity had this to say about Christians. Oh that enemies of Christianity would say such things today “Why do we not observe that it is their [the Christians’] benevolence to strangers, their care for the graves of the dead, and the pretended holiness of their lives that have done most to increase atheism [unbelief of the pagan gods] For it is disgraceful that, when no Jew ever has to beg, and the impious Galileans [Christians] support not only their own poor but ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us. Teach those of the Hellenic faith to contribute to public service of this sort.”

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Thoughts on My Conversation with Peter Xu

Meeting Peter Xu last December in LA

I spend a number of hours yesterday afternoon interviewing Brother Peter Xu. A leader in the Chinese House Church, who now lives in exile in the US. I was trying to sum up the conversation I had with him in a tweet – I couldn’t. Speaking to someone who has lived as a believer in Jesus through the Communist Revolution, through the Cultural Revolution. Someone from a Christian family who saw the Communist Authorities almost wipe out the Church in its entirety in China and through the process was put in prison 5 times was humbling.

Those who have read “The Heavenly Man” will recognize Pastor Peter as Brother Yun’s “Spiritual Father”. Yesterday Brother Peter gave an overview of the church in China for the past 2000 years and then specifically since the coming of Mao in 1949. It is remarkable to hear about essentially the growth of a new indigenous church since the late 60s/early 70s and the approach of training and sending forth Christians to share the good news and establish new work throughout China. I was struck by the high value of unity that Brother Peter strove for in the church. It almost seems like this is not even a value in the church today.

I have been thinking recently about the great work that many parachurch organizations are doing as it relates to missions, evangelism, education, training and works of compassion. These are organizations that are focussed on a mission, but it almost seems like many of these activities have ceased to be the remit of the church and yet as I listened to Brother Peter I was struck by how the work of the underground church in China felt like “parachurch” work in the west. They realised they were on a mission and needed to fulfill the great commission and therefore did the things they needed for this mandate. Oh that we would have unity of heart and unity of purpose in the church to finish the Great Commission together. May we learn some things from our Chinese brothers.

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Is Morality really a Private Thing?

When I read an online news article I often do a foolish thing – read the comments below. Especially when the news article is in some way related to God, Christianity or sexual morality. I have to admit I get terribly frustrated by the ignorance I typically read and sad that any comment I might add to the melee is lost in the morass of anger and anti-Christian sentiment. One sentiment I have been thinking about for some time is the idea that many express – “Don’t give me morality!”- This usually leads to the perennial chestnut – Can morality actually be legislated?

 Can Morality be Legislated?

Morality clearly can be legislated. In fact all legislation is morality legislated, the question is not whether it can be legislated, but rather what the morality is that is actually being legislated. When someone expresses they do not want morality, what they are typically expressing (at least in the US) is that they do not want to hear and abide by Christian/Biblical morality. They in fact do abide by a ‘type’ of morality, but they have rejected the absolute claims of a biblical authority.

I wanted to explore a little of how we got in this situation and what our answer as Christians should be. Some people may take an entirely spiritual view of this situation and they would be correct to take such a view, however I want to explore a little of how the unseen realm has effected the visible realm of human history.

 The Political Co-option of the Reformation

I begin my exploration 500 years ago. The Roman Catholic Church was perhaps at her lowest ebb. It is said that Renaissance Pope Alexander VI committed all capital sins apart from gluttony due to the fact of a weak stomach. The penitential system, combined with extreme human corruption led to an extreme reaction – the Protestant Reformation. The Reformation was a good thing, however it was co-opted by many of the secular rulers of Europe to extricate themselves from the influence of the Roman Catholic Church. Political co-option of religion was not a new thing however this led to perhaps the worst bloodshed that Europe had seen as war after war culminated in the 30 Year War between Protestant and Catholic forces which eventually ended with the 1648 Peace of Westphalia.

 After such intense dogmatic disagreements, for such a long time, Europe did not have the stomach for more disagreement and bloodshed over religious morality and we observe the rise of rationalism and reason in the late 17th and early 18th century. This philosophical climate converged with the growth of scientific discovery, which was largely a fruit of the Renaissance learning of the 16th Century. Just prior to the scientific revolution and geniuses such as Isaac Newton (1642-1727) who discovered so many “Laws of Nature”. We discover French Philosopher Rene Descartes (1596-1650), dubbed by many the “Father of Modern Philosophy”. With Descartes we recognize what I have termed the “Enlightenment Divide” and that is the separation in the way that we pursue different types of knowledge. Theology, which had been the source of such bloodshed was separated from other pursuits such as science and mathematics.

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Rene Descartes - I think therefore I am

 For academic pursuits such as science and mathematics everything was to be doubted, but through observation, observable “facts” could be determined. Science would determine the cause and effect, but would not venture into the realm of purpose (think of the present day search for the Higgs-Boson “God” Particle which is entirely concerned with cause and effect rather than purpose, which should be part of the discussion). Descartes is known for his famous saying Cogito Ergo Sum – “I think therefore I am;” the only thing that he did not doubt was that he was a thinking being. This is a crucial seed in understanding our predicament today. The center of Descartes’ universe was himself. Meanwhile the role of religion was relegated. While science was sure and based on “facts”, religion and morality were henceforward not to be trusted in the same manner due to the fact they were based on revelation and faith. Science had facts and religion had beliefs. While facts are indisputable, beliefs are subjective. Subjectivity was also a result of this “Enlightened Divide”, for while the facts of science were objectively true, religious beliefs were simply subjectively true. Finally this divide meant that while the objective facts of science were acceptable in the public marketplace, the subjectivity of religious beliefs should be a private affair.

 The Hypocrisy of this “Enlightened” Divide

The effect of this Cartesian divide was not to do away with revelation or faith per se, it was simply that God and religious Morality were removed from the public square and told they should not be a part. The reason I say revelation and faith were not removed was because it is perfectly easy to see the hypocrisy of the claims of the rationalists. Every single pursuit of knowledge begins with faith. In all types of education one begins his or her pursuit with faith that the answers that their teacher is giving are indeed correct. In the case of the scientist, he or she has such “faith” in a rational universe with the commensurate laws of nature that when he or she observes an abnormality which doesn’t fit in with the rational universe that they observe they need a “revelation” to come up with a hypothesis that they can eventually test and prove that the abnormality really does indeed make sense within the framework of the said rational universe.

 It is important that we recognize this divide, because it is apparent that the western church operates within the boundaries that this Cartesian divide has provided. Is there really such a great difference between facts and beliefs? If you use the word belief then you are immediately introducing the implication that it is a private thing, if you use the word fact then there is an implication all people must accept it as true. The bottom line is that both fact and belief are  “truth claims” and we must approach truth claims the same way. It is also important that we do not accept the objective/subjective divide. This is a made up division in order to exclude God from the public square. The reality is that all truth concerns an object that is believed by a subject. Instead of the subjective/objective divide it might be more appropriate to say that all knowledge is personal knowledge. It is easy to dismiss subjective opinions, usually the person who rejects subjective truth claims is rejecting the truth claims of that particular individual

During the Scientific Revolution it was not safe (or reasonable) to assert complete unbelief in God and therefore we see the emergence and growth of Deism, a framework of believe which still claimed the existence of a “Clockmaker God” who had created the universe according to the laws of nature, but deists denied the realm of miraculous and supernatural. Such a Deist view of God massively supported the Cartesian divide and even added a veil of religious acceptability to such beliefs.

 More fuel was added to the fire by a number of other critiques of organized religion in the ensuing two hundred years. The nineteenth Century saw some of the most hard hitting critiques of religion that were true for a good part.  Like all good lies they included a good deal of truth.

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Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), the famed Austrian neurologist who founded the discipline of psychoanalysis claimed that all religious truth claims were simply inventions of man to placate misplaced guilt. People simply invented “God” as a way to pay for their so called their “moral” failings. He observed that people really don’t want to change they simply want to justify their lives. This explained the popularity of indulgences and the penitential system of the Roman Catholic Church and indeed any religious activity which acted as a form of self-atonement. He claimed people invented a “mean, punishing” God and said religion and religious duty is simply Psychological Self Justification which leads to smugness, self righteousness as well as guilt anxiety and a fear of being found out.

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Karl Marx

Karl Marx (1818-1883) the author of the Communist Manifesto (and the architect behind the biggest Godless system of government to inflict the earth in the twentieth century) offered another powerful critique of religion, claiming that religion was simply used by the upper classes as a means of Sociological Justification. He famous saying that “Religion is the opium of the masses” stated religion was being used (by the upper classes) to mask the symptoms of pain and suffering of the masses. People will survive if you tell them they cannot expect to have a good life in the here and now, but will receive eternal reward in the by and by. Religion and God is therefore a man-made imperialism, a way of trampling other people, a way of asserting the rights of the upper classes a way to sociologically exclude other races and classes.

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Nietzsche

Finally Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) a German Philosopher, who is seen as the father of Post-Modernism and known for abandonment of absolute truth, morality based on religious truth and assertion of the death of God offered one of the most damaging critiques of religion . He would look at anyone who made a truth claim and question the person’s motivation – known as “The Hermeneutic of Suspicion.” He rejected all morality based on religious conviction thinking that God was a man made invention to accrue power and control others. All religious or truth claims by anyone concerning anything are power trips to control someone else and the result is abuse. Although Nietzche’s philosophy became closely associated with Nazism, but his critique is still widely used by modern day atheism. The biggest objection to Nietzsche’s claim that there is no such thing as a truth claim is that this claim itself is in itself a truth claim and therefore self defeating.

 The truth in these critiques is that this is indeed how people use religion. It is indeed how the church has acted throughout history. It is also this type of religious behaviour  that Jesus critiqued so savagely.

 This little survey of 250 years of Enlightenment History has shown the reason why absolute truth claims are so distrusted (even though arguments against truth claims are self defeating) and the reason why the truth claims that people dislike the most (and for good historical reason) are truth claims made by the church.

 So what should we do?

 But where does this leave us? Well as believers living in the midst of an immoral world I believe our first port of call when it comes to living according to scripture is the church itself. The hard truth is that much of the church lives with the same morality as the world. This has to change and as brothers and sisters in Christ we have a responsibility to say things like “all sexual union outside the marriage covenant between a man and a woman is sinful – so stop having sex with your boyfriend/girlfriend etc” We have a responsibility as the body of Christ to encourage one another to live holy. What about those who are not part of the church community? I think our approach should be the same as Paul who said “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?” 1 Cor 5:12. In other words those who do not follow Christ can do whatever they like.

Finally the thorny question of legislation, which the New Testament does not really help us on as the church was never in a position to legislate through the Roman Senate. I believe all “Christian” legislators have a responsibility to act as righteously as they can and legislate in a manner commensurate with the morality that they hold. It will never be easy and we must make each decision as it comes. But the question is not and never has been morality or no morality. The question is who’s morality?

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An Evangelical Christian’s Response to Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill

In 2009 the world news media picked up on a controversial bill to be enacted in the Ugandan Parliament entitled the “Anti-Homosexuality Bill”. The global outrage at this bill has been deafening, with the news media sensationalizing the story and in the process demonizing many who had nothing to do with this entirely Ugandan political affair. It has undoubtedly caused battle lines to be drawn. The bill was shelved and many in Uganda feel it has very little chance of being resurrected, but the debate is still alive and extremely polarized. In the midst of such animosity one thing is striking. Very few people have actually calmly analyzed the proposal point by point. After hearing conflicting views on the content of the bill I felt it important that I read through it to assess the various merits and defects contained therein. Before I offer any personal opinion let me say there is always a level of discomfort that I have coming from a different culture commenting on a law that is intended to be Ugandan in nature. Despite this level of discomfort I will still make the following comments:

Firstly let me mention the positives as I see them in the version of the bill found on Wikipedia. I do appreciate and support the desire of the legislation to “protect the cherished culture of the people of Uganda” especially as it relates to “traditional family values”. Uganda does have a very conservative culture and the people should have the right to determine these values for themselves. I also appreciate and support the definition of marriage that they wish to uphold which is “only between a man and a woman”; in much of the developed world the redefinition of marriage has become the center of a culture war and I appreciate Uganda’s stand for traditional marriage. Many have said the bill is primarily to prosecute pedophilic rape. This is indeed part of the bill, and I believe the desire to prosecute offenders is right. These offenders, who are often in positions of trust, rape those under age, in whom they have a relationship of trust or with those who knowingly have HIV and have sex to infect another person.  Legislation should be enacted in Ugandan Law to protect the vulnerable in such situations. Furthermore, I believe it is completely acceptable to criminalize brothels, which I believe blight many societies.

While the bill has some positive points I do believe it also has some serious defects, which are, I believe, significant enough to invalidate the bill in its current form and purpose. I believe acts of homosexuality are sinful; however legislating against sexual immorality is a thorny issue at the best of times. It is very difficult to impose morality and seek behavioral change through legislation and I would suggest unwise in many cases. I believe that legislation to protect the vulnerable should be in place and enforced (and with this in mind I believe legislation to bring an end to prostitution in Uganda should be a greater priority in the minds of the legislators). This bill does intend to prosecute anyone who engages in or attempts to engage in a homosexual act. Furthermore if a person is convicted of acts of homosexuality twice it is considered an “aggravated” offence and they are liable to receive the death penalty. I do not believe the criminalization of this particular sexual sin is helpful at all. I actually believe it is very harmful to Ugandan society, where accusations and slurs of homosexuality have become commonplace. Furthermore demonizing one sin to the exception of others can be dangerous. Adding the death penalty to this offence is very unwise. If acts of homosexuality are criminalized, should fornication and adultery not also be criminalized, and if this is a “Christian” nation should the very thought of lust have some kind of penalty attributed to it as well? Legislators have a huge responsibility, and legislating morality is always going to be tricky to achieve. However, I do not think this bill represents a success in solving the problems of sexual immorality in Uganda.

Clause 4 outlines a further offence, the, “attempt to commit homosexuality”. The wording of this clause is so wide and imprecise that even if it was right to legislate this in the first place a relaxed interpretation of this clause could lead to massive and manifest injustices especially given the punishments under this clause have penalties ranging from seven years to life imprisonment, which are indeed incredible.

Moving on to Clauses 13 and 14 we find what I consider some of the most frightening parts of this bill; they deal with the “promotion of homosexuality” and the “failure to disclose the offence”. I believe these are frightening and dangerous for a Christian because they cut against one of the very cores of the gospel, which is the call to repentance. Is a church group that seeks to minister help and healing to those who struggle with sexual brokenness (including those who struggle with same sex attraction) guilty of the promotion of homosexuality? I think it could definitely be interpreted this way. Do church ministers who are trying to bring healing and restoration to a person who is struggling with sin have to turn that person over to the authorities? They must do so under the provisions of this act. Instead of becoming a place of safety and healing, the church becomes a place of danger, accusation and suspicion. A regime of fear and suspicion would be created akin to US McCarthyism similar to the many regimes of fear that this East African region has already experienced. As I have already mentioned, it appears that the accusation of homosexuality has become the slur of choice in Uganda already. As such, it would not be helpful to take this unfortunate propensity and encourage it with legislation. This act criminalizes sin and then provides no way for repentance from sin and for healing and restoration to happen. With this bill there could be no testimonies of redemption.

While I hate with a passion all sin that separates us from God (including but not limited to sexual sin) and long for a day when people everywhere would “lift up holy hands in prayer” (1 Tim 2:8), I believe this act is unhelpful and harmful. While the Ugandan people (Christians and Muslims) may rightly say they hate sexual sin, demonizing and hating people who struggle with sin is guaranteed to lead to deception and massive hypocrisy. I believe the enacting of this bill would be a human rights disaster. It provides a very scary and paranoid vision of the future. We should hate the sin but violence against the sinner is not the answer.

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My Week in Uganda…

Again I am sitting in Chicago airport on my long (30hr) journey home from Uganda considering the many and varied happenings over the past week. It has been quite an experience to say the least, perhaps one of the most bizarre weeks of my life. So as I wait for my plane back to KC, I will try and recount all that has gone on. I have been up for over 40 hours at this point so my lucidity may not be stellar but here goes.

The week began when we arrived at Entebbe Airport; greeted on the tarmac by the film crew no less. After a brief round of introductions (in addition to Roger we met the DP, Derek and also an Englishman – Crispin Buxton who was location manager for The Last King of Scotland) off we went and arrived at the guesthouse of Ron and Shirley DeVore which had a fantastic view overlooking Kampala. After getting to bed at 3am we were on the road again by noon. This time travelling east, as I was being followed by the cameras and passing the baton to Jesse and Rachelle Digges, I did a quick interview with Jesse and Rachelle as we drove along. I was saddened to learn along the way that the Bujagali Falls (some of the best rapids in East Africa) were being flooded that week and would therefore disappear. We had arrived during rainy season therefore the entire week was interspersed by heavy downpours. We arrived at the base of Youth Ablaze in Tororo a little after sun set. Jesse and Rachelle have a great work here raising up native missionaries to go and reach unreached people groups that can be found within a short distance, in Uganda, Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia

Our first day in Tororo saw the Youth Ablaze team and the ACTS students using a new location for the Prayer Room. The Prayer Room is central to the raising and sending of native missionaries, and although they still need to actually buy premises, the new Prayer Room space is a great area even if a little AC would help J. Towards the end of the day we undertook an interview with Jesse and Rachelle. I believe the ministry they are doing in East Africa is definitely worth supporting in prayer and financially.

The second full day in Tororo saw many of the students stripping paint off the walls of the prayer room. Here I met an English guy who actually came from the North East of England and had been at my sister’s wedding last year. This would not be my only encounter in Uganda for me to exclaim “Small World”. While the students were stripping paint I went off with Jesse to pick up 500 Bibles which had been recently (this year) translated into the Karamajong language. Karamajong is a native tribe similar to the Masai in Kenya known for their tribal violence. We also did some more interviewing in the Tororo market. The last day in Eastern Uganda saw us pack up and head north into a much more rural setting, with the ACTS students getting their first taste of “hut to hut” evangelism; talking with and praying with a number of local people. We left as Jesse and the team were beginning a small crusade.

I travelled back with the film crew to Kampala, little did I know the firestorm we were about to enter. I was traveling with the crew for a number of reasons, firstly anytime I have an opportunity to share with others the passion I have for Jesus I am happy. Secondly I wanted to introduce the crew to a number of calm and credible voices in Uganda. I love this country and I love the church, however the church is like a family and if someone has met your crazy aunt or your obnoxious second cousin you really want them to meet your wise uncle or your uber-cool sister to get a fuller understanding of your family. However my ability to make introductions was hampered significantly due to a number of factors. A number of emails were flying around Kampala warning Pastors away from the crew who had a “pro-gay” agenda. A few major factors encouraged the leeriness. Firstly the BBC had created a sensational piece last year entitled “The World’s Worst Place to be Gay”. Secondly there had been a number of unfortunate email interactions between the crew and one pastor in particular. I found myself in an unusual position. I was travelling with a crew who represented main stream media and all the assumptions and world view contained therein and recommending that church leaders were interviewed.

I am aware of the furore over the Anti-Homosexuality Bill and have been told that while the documentary would include reference and debate over the bill it would not be the main focus. I am also aware of how fluid documentary making can be. I went to one of my Pastor friends who leads perhaps the biggest church in Kampala, they did not want to be a part due to the BBC documentary which vilified them and as a result they lost financial support for their orphan program. These were legitimate concerns indeed. I completely understand them. For me however I really wanted to take the Sermon on the Mount approach, that even if we were misrepresented Jesus told his disciples that if an evil man sues you for your tunic you should give him your cloak as well. We were told to go the extra mile for an evil man. I realise that my reputation doesn’t matter, Jono is dead and is now alive in Christ, I want his fame to be made great and I also want to be faithful to follow his commands.

One thing that struck me was the fact that everyone said the Anti-Homosexuality Bill was to protect young people from Pedophilic Rape. I needed to read the Bill for myself. I subsequently did and will blog my response to the bill. I did have some success in introducing the crew to certain individuals. However I have felt in a very strange position over the past week. Overall my feeling is that I want to be true to Jesus as it relates to speaking truth in love. It is hard to speak truth in an age of relativism and it is hard to love in an environment of hate or indifference. Yet we are called to follow Jesus in this narrow path.

I ask that you would continue to pray for this project that as the decisions of the narrative of the film are made Roger would avoid polarized positions and seek to bring greater understanding to the motivations of Christianity even if people do not agree.

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Why I’m Going to Uganda

I’m currently sitting in Chicago airport awaiting a Turkish Airlines flight to Entebbe Uganda via Istanbul. I’m with a group from the Antioch Center for Training and Sending School (ACTS School) from IHOP. They have been in classes for the past three months and for most this is their first time to Africa in a missions context.

But why am I going with them? Well, a few months back we had a visit at IHOP from an award winning documentarian – Roger Ross Williams. They were following a missionary who had done an Internship at IHOP. At first I was very wary. We have had many media outlets at IHOP in the past few months (even this past week a reporter from the LA Times visited) most come without holding the same convictions of faith and many come to try and do some kind of expose on the “new religious right” or the New Apostolic Reformation. I have written previously on this, so I won’t spend any more time on these issues here. The previous documentary that Roger won his Oscar for was called Music by Prudence, which was an uplifting documentary about a disabled singer from Zimbabwe.

This documentary is called “God Loves Uganda” (you can find more about it here http://www.godlovesuganda.com) It is funded by HBO and BBC. At first due to the recent news furore over Uganda, I thought that we did not want to be involved in another project which invited controversy, however after spending time with crew, while I am aware that we do not currently hold the same faith convictions, I believe the motivations in creating this documentary are not to perpetuate polemical stereotypes of the Christian community. Which leads to the fact of why I am with this missions team. The documentary crew are following me and the team of “new missionaries” to a small House of Prayer in Eastern Uganda. After we arrive there I have hopes of coming back to Kampala to introduce the documentary team to some of the more mainstream Christian leadership in the capital.

So, I’m asking for your prayers (if you’re a Christian brother or sister) that I would have the right words to say, that this documentary would go in a direction that is both interesting and actually glorifies God. And that the documentary makers would actually come to life giving knowledge of Jesus.

Better get to the flight….

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He Died in My Place

Adam was annoyed. He had been so busy for so long and now his head office in San Francisco was calling him to a week long round of meetings to determine why his division weren’t meeting their goals. The airline tickets sat discarded on his office desk. Adam had been grumbling to his associate Josh for months that if they didn’t get their act together one of them would have to go to the head office. Adam had hoped that it would have been Josh.

The trouble was that Adam had a long weekend planned. He really had been working too hard for too long and a weekend at the shore was just what he needed. He REALLY didn’t want to go to San Francisco. Earlier in the month Adam had tried to cajole Josh that perhaps Josh should be the one to go to the round of meetings, Josh had politely declined. He had quite correctly stated that Adam was the senior of the two and besides which Josh had some other East Coast meetings scheduled that week.

But Adam really did not want to go. Adam didn’t mind bending the truth now and then, perhaps a little exaggerating, but he didn’t like outright lying, but perhaps… just this once.

Poking his head into Josh’s office Adam said “Bad news I’m afraid, my Grandma just passed, we’ve been expecting it for sometime, but my Mom is really cut up about it, think I’m going to have to take some time out of the office and travel down to Charlotte to help out a bit”.

Josh looked up concerned “Oh, I’m sorry, please pass my condolences onto your mother”

“The only trouble is” Adam continued “One of us is supposed to go to head office next Tuesday for the round of meetings – I know you had those meetings arranged, but is there any chance you could do it – I’ll make it up to you”

Josh looked a little crestfallen, but what other option did he have? “OK, I’ll do it, but you owe me”

Adam walked back to his office, he would have to transfer the tickets into Josh’s name. He looked at the tickets that had arrived that morning, he had to call up United. The call center operative quickly agreed to the change. “Could you please give me the date and the flight number please sir?” Adam looked it up “Tuesday September 11 2001, Flight United 93”

When the events of September 11 unfolded, how do you think Adam would have felt? Grief stricken that he had essentially killed his colleague? Or do you think he would just blown it off as fate?

The other day I was thinking about this scenario and was putting myself in the place of an “Adam”, I was considering how such an event would probably radically shake you up. “It was my lies that put Josh on that plane.” Then I considered the scenario of the death of Jesus. He also died in my place, it was also my sin which caused his death. It is also his death which gives me another chance at life. Do we just think Jesus died for the “sins of the world” or do we truly realise he died for “my sins”. And in light of this are we repentant and thankful as we ought to be?

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