Racial and Ethnic Tension: Letting the NPP School Us

reconciliationWe live in a big world, but indeed we live in a small one. Today, news is available to us all at the touch of our fingertips and via our TV screens, and one’s serene life somewhere can be brutally disrupted by news of happenings thousands of miles away. This was the case last month with the series of news reports concerning racial violence in the US, focused on killings by white police officers of black men, and retaliatory killings by aggrieved black men of innocent police officers. Being a Ghanaian “sitting my somewhere”, its all too easy to ignore this phenomenon and go on with my life, but that innocent, mind-my-own-business side of mine died a few years ago, courtesy of certain shifts in my perspective on the human problem of racial and ethnic tension driven by changes in my reading of the New Testament.

Let me be straightforward here. I believe that the church is the only tool designed by God to actually show the world how racial tensions can be overcome. Not the government, not politics. But to do that the church has to confront some of it’s own flawed theology which has rather seen it buying into the racial hatred instead of standing against it. And it is here that I wish that the church worldwide, especially Protestant churches in America (but also critically, in Ghana) will take seriously the tremendous work over the last few decades of the school of thought about the NT called the New Perspective on Paul (heretofore referred to as NPP). I’ve written quite a bit about the NPP, and my latest take on reading the bible with that perspective can be found here. Coming away a few weeks ago from Scott McKnight and Joe Modica’s “The Apostle Paul and the Christian Life: Ethical And Missional Implications of the New Perspective”, a compilation of essays by a number of scholars on the implication of taking the New Perspective seriously, I looked again at what was happening in America, and it was obvious to me why Protestant Christianity hasn’t done much to help resolve this problem, but may have rather participated in worsening it, knowingly or unknowingly.

The NPP’s Paul: The Bearer of Yahweh’s Reconciliation

Although there are many well known scholars associated with the NPP and they all don’t agree with each other on every detail, I’ll be presenting mostly the thoughts of Nicholas Thomas Wright, seeing as he’s the one I’ve read the most from, though these points are not unique to him.

  1. Paul wrote his letters in reaction to issues that arose as a result of his unique ministry amongst the apostles – being one who had dedicated himself solely to ministry to the Gentile world. He was dealing with problems, not writing a rule book.

  2. The primary problem was that of how Jews and Gentiles are all now acceptable before Yahweh without the requirement for the Gentiles to keep the Law.

  3. Paul poses Jesus’s death as a means by which Yahweh reconciles himself not just to his unfaithful wife Israel (and by extension, Jews), but to the rest of the world, to the nations, who have not known him but who are his anyway. Paul uses the language of “peace” to describe this in many of his letters.

  4. This reconciliation was not only between Yahweh and his creation, but also meant a breaking down of the barriers of hostility between Jews and Gentile. Paul’s letters are full of guidance on how his churches should navigate this new reality, primarily by laying down one’s rights for the benefit of the other.

  5. The cross is the means of God breaking the powers that hold us in chains to the devil, and setting all his creation free from the captivity of sin. God himself being willing to die on the cross to reconcile himself with his people is described by Paul in 1 Cor as “the power of God” (1 Cor 1:18) or “the demonstration of the Spirit’s power” (1 Cor 2:2-4) .

  6. By this means of reconciliation, nobody has the upper hand anymore to be considered part off the people of God. Yahweh requires all to receive the gift of his forgiveness so to be considered a part of his people. This is what Paul’s language of adoption is all about. There are no more any natural born children – both Jew and Gentile are adopted children “in Christ”.

  7. Being “in Christ” means one participates in his righteousness. Jew and Gentile become considered righteous/justified by being participants in Christ. There’s a long debate within the NPP on how to interpret 2 Cor 5:21, but I think Michael Gorman’s interpretation using the Eastern Orthodox concept of theosis is much better than NT Wright’s on this matter.

  8. Yahweh now desires that all his people learn to live as one people, via his own power – via his own Spirit. The only means by which life together for people of different cultures, backgrounds and social standing is possible is via the same the cross as the example of God in Jesus – via self-sacrifice and the laying down of personal “rights” in favour of the other. Love within and without the body of Christ is the goal, and the power to love is given in living by the Spirit, not living by the flesh.

  9. The Spirit then, is not given as a genie in a bottle to be rubbed up to fulfill personal desires and egos of those amongst and within whom it dwells, which is exactly Paul critique of the Corinthians. The Spirit gives different gifts to different people in order that those gifts may be used in service to the united people of God that gather together – to be used in service and in love.

  10. The church is a sign to the world that Yahweh’s desire to be known as God over all the world, and hence to abolish ALL DIVISIONS so there is only one people of God has been launched. Therefore when the church fails at the task of integrating the rich and poor, the slave and free, the black man and the white man, the Jew and Gentile, male and female, the church has lost sight of it’s calling, and is still living in this age, when the age to come has already been inaugurated by the death of Jesus.

Reconciliation: The Center of Paul’s Teaching

It becomes obvious the impact that taking the NPP seriously about Paul’s mission, and reading the bible as a narrative of how God desires to choose a people for himself and dwell with them has on our practice of Christianity and church. Building our understand of Jesus and Paul beginning from Yahweh’s choice of Israel to his choice of the whole world via inclusion “in Christ”, yields a church that is not just interested in “saving souls” for heaven, but in revolting against the divisive structures of this world whiles in this world. And it will have to do this by taking up it’s cross and actively working towards ethnic, racial, gender and socio-economic integration within its own walls by the power of the Spirit, before it can have something to tell the world about these issues.

Rather, within most Protestant circles, Paul (and hence the whole bible) is read as focusing on justification of individual sinners before God, making one’s personal salvation the beginning and end of the matter, and leaving churches confused about their purpose after they have actually “won the souls”. No matter how hard classical Protestant leaders have tried, it’s been impossible to defend the accusation that a) the Protestant Reformers read back their own experiences of battling Roman Catholicism into Paul’s letters and therefore distorted its meaning and that b) their reading of the bible, and the propagation of such a reading within Protestant Christianity has led to individualism on the one hand, and complicity in or inertia in the face of divisive evil like slavery, racism, segregation, sexism, colonialism and violence on the other. Even when reconciliation is mentioned in most Protestant teaching, it is limited to God reconciling himself to the sinful individual, and has very little with people groups being reconciled to one another (whereas Paul’s language is of God reconciling himself to humanity, not just individuals, as well as bringing reconciliation amongst people groups). The most Protestant of all European nations in the early 20th century, Germany, was also the worst culprit when push came to shove.

In Africa, our Protestant churches, still bearing the individualist fruits of their Western torchbearers , continue to be totally incapable of any real social transformation. The systemic evils of tribalism, classism, corruption, poverty, unemployment and destitution continues to abound, whiles they spend all their energies raising “harvest” upon “harvest” to build the next big church building. Charity is practiced as one-off events meant to placate consciences, typically in far off, romantic locations. The needs of church members, or neigbhourhoods within which local churches are situated are marginalized in favour of grandiose investments in infrastructure projects on a national scale so these churches can put their name on it and claim they are working for the common good – what I call “empire building”.

And yet given the realities of the time in which we live, it is frustrating to watch Protestant Christian leaders, especially within the Reformed tradition in the West, focus on defending their heroes instead of being true to scripture and to the mission of Christ in the world – to the hope of a new heaven and a new earth, to the hope of all races and tribes singing together before the throne, which age has already been launched by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

So I have little hope for both the American and African church when it comes to racial reconciliation if it continues down it’s good old individualistic trajectories. This trajectory is the main reason why 40 years after segragation laws were revoked in the US, American churches are still segregated into churches dominated by whites and churches dominated by blacks etc. In this light, I wish the American Reformed churches will realize that the New Perspective is not it’s enemy. The Spirit which is at work in the Reformed churches, though they somehow failed to listen to Him when the cry for freedom from slavery, segregation and inequality rang out in times past, and which today all Reformed churches acknowledge was a mistake, is the same Spirit which is at work to bring Black, White, Asian, Arab, Jewish Christians of all classes, gender and economic standing together in post 9/11 America. The Sprit’s work didn’t come to an end  after Reformation, and it certainly will not be kept in that bottle forever. It is better to listen to the Spirit and to truth, than to be engaged in defense of tradition.

And I have little hope for African Protestantism when it comes to reconciliation at all levels, if it continues down its good old Christendom trajectory. For African Protestant Christianity is so comfortable in its Christendom mode, there is very little introspection and questioning going on. It took our brothers in the Western world two World Wars to cause Christians to ask serious questions about the individualistic teaching that allowed such evils to happen. Today, Europe has virtually abandoned Christianity, and faith in Jesus is declining in the US as well. Do we need some cataclysmic events here before we wake up and smell the coffee that is brewing – the coffee of ethnic, social and economic reconciliation that the Spirit of God has been brewing for the world since Jesus’s resurrection?

Wake up, and smell the coffee!!

Vicit Agnus Noster, Eum Sequamur – The Lamb has Conquered, Let us Follow Him.

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Understanding the NT from the OT – Pt 3 – The Return of the King

Understanding the NT from the OT – Pt 3 – The Return of the King

Praying at the Temple Mount

Photo Credit: Robert Croma via Compfight cc

I chose to title this post after the 3rd book in the magnificent JRR Tolkien’s fantasy epic series “The Lord of the Rings” – because this post focuses on the eschatological expectations of the Jews vis-a-vis the return of YHWH, and how that forms the basis of what we read in the New Testament. In Part 1, we looked at the 3 main beliefs of the Jews (monotheism, election, eschatology). In Part 2 we looked at the 3 main symbols of land, temple and law (Torah), and the impact of 2 of the above mentioned beliefs on these symbols, as well as the impact of the exile. I intentionally left out the eschatological angle for a longer discourse, so here we go.

An “Eschatologically-Flavoured” Rent Contract?

Recently, New Testament scholar Scott McKnight pointed out an article on the Christian Science Monitor about certain clauses in rent contracts in Jerusalem today. Apparently some landlords living abroad had stipulated in their contracts with their tenants that whenever the Messiah is revealed in Jerusalem, the tenants have a short time (i.e. a week, month, 3 months etc) to vacate their rented houses for their returning owners who want to be part of this prophesied return. Because most Christians (including myself) already believe Jesus is the Messiah, such an actualization of Jewish belief will sound weird to us. But I believe the devil is in the detail of this story, so let’s get on with a short discussion of Israel’s eschatological hopes, because a single post like this cannot really summarize enough the huge tomes that have been written on this subject.

Deuteronomy 30, and the Return of YHWH

When the Babylonian destruction and exile happened, the people of the Land of Yisrael realized that something dreadful had happened – YHWH who had led them with a mighty hand and outstretched arm from slavery in Egypt, across the Red Sea; into the desert and wilderness for 40 good years; fed them with manna and quail; led them to defeat Og king of Bashan and Sihon king of the Amorites and given them the land promised to their fathers – this faithful and loving god YHWH had abandoned them to their enemies.

The prophets who had seen this coming destruction and warned them to no avail, had now begun rallying the people back to hope, pointing them to what Moses had said in Deuteronomy 30 about YHWH looking favorably on them again if they didn’t loose hope and rather kept faith with him. Prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah,Ezekiel etc expounded on this hope of YHWH returning to them, and so developed certain beliefs, some which already existed before the exile and needed rekindling, and some which were new. These became the hopes that they held to and believed that YHWH was going to do when he returned to them.

The Return of YHWH – The Kingdom of YHWH and His Messiah

Way before the exile, YHWH had promised David an everlasting kingdom, with his heir being the one to lead that kingdom (2 Sam 7). David himself then pens down Ps 72, expounding what kind of king this will be aka his job description. In this psalm, you see clearly David referencing the promise first made to Abraham – “Then all the nations will be blessed through him, and they will call him blessed (Ps 72:17)”.

Now the prophet Isaiah restates these credentials of the coming Messiah in chapter 42, 49 etc

Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations” (Is 42:1).

You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor” (Is 49:3)

Any observant student of the bible will notice that this is exactly what was repeated when the Spirit of God descended on Jesus whiles he received his baptism from John the baptist Mt 3:17;Mk 1:11). Two other things were to be noted as well about Jesus’s style of speaking

  1. He alluded to passages like Isaiah 42,49 when he kept insisting that “I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me” (Jn 8:28;Jn 5:30 ). He was basically saying that being that prophesied servant, YHWH was displaying his splendor through him (Is 49:3).
  2. The OT only spoke of a “Father/Son” relationship in reference to either YHWH and his nation Israel, or YHWH and his servant to come (as in Ps 2). It was therefore highly unusual for Jesus to be speaking of being a “son” to “The Father”. Any observant Jew who listens to the Neviim (prophets) and the Ketuvim (the Psalms and writings) being read in he synagogue every sabbath would notice the allusion to the “Father/Son relationship” as mentioned Ps 2 and many other such quotations from the Hebrew Bible (the Tanakh).

Now note lastly the purpose of YHWH putting his spirit on his servant – “and he will bring justice to the world”. The whole chapter 42 seems to dwell on that theme – justice. Jesus’s statements about “the kingdom of heaven/YHWH is at hand” could only mean one thing – YHWH has returned to look favourably on Israel, though the nature of that return was quite unexpected.

The Return of YHWH – The Outpouring of His Spirit

We tend to locate our attempts to look at the pouring out of the spirit of God from only the prophets, but the concept actually dates back to the Exodus and Moses himself. Moses sets the tone by stating

The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul and live” (Deut 30:6).

Here lies what Israel felt was the problem leading to their exile. They hadn’t been faithful observers of the Laws of YHWH, leading to his abandonment. Therefore they hoped that YHWH’s return will mean he himself will enable them to be better observers of Torah, making them his true children, as captured by Jeremiah:

“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord.”(Jer 31:33-34)

The prophet Joel expounds on this, stating that it is God’s own Spirit which he will give to his people when he returns, that will make them true and faithful children of his.

And afterward,I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy,your old men will dream dreams,your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.” (Joel 2:28)

So then, to the early Christians, Jesus’s promise and outpouring of the Spirit signified again, that YHWH had indeed returned, and had began assembling his new faithful people who serve him not by their own effort, but by his own Spirit implanted in them. Hence, Paul’s argument in Romans 2

No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God” (Ro 2:29)

In today’s flurry about the Holy Spirit, it seems we haven’t paid much attention to what really mattered to the prophets then. Yes, the Spirit would give us certain gifts that we didn’t have before, but as Paul points out it is meant to achieve 2 clear things

  1. Whatever gift one receives, is for the benefit of all.“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for THE COMMON GOOD. (my emphasis)”(1 Cor 12:7)
  2. The presence of the Spirit was to make us better observers of the Law of God, just as Moses and the prophets had desired.“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Gal 5:22)

So contrary to popular belief of Charismatically-influenced Christianity, the Spirit of God is not a genie in the bottle that we rub in the right way (probably through the rattling of some “tongues”) and use as a tool to pursue our selfish personal agenda. It was given to seal us (1 Cor 1:22, Eph 1:13), to set us apart as the new faithful people of YHWH who go about doing YHWH’s will. Now read Acts 2, and see what the Holy Spirit led them to be – a peculiar people (election) who went about doing good (justice) and healing those under the devil’s control, just as their Messiah did (Ac 10:38).

The Return of YHWH – The Coming in of the Nations/Gentiles

When this Kingdom was inaugurated, then one of the cardinal desires for which the Torah was given to Israel (which we discussed in Part 1) was that the nations/Gentiles will see the light of YHWH, and be drawn to worship and submit to him. One of the tasks he gives his servant in Isaiah 42

I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles”(Is 42:6).

Ps 67 repeats this expectation, asking that

May God be gracious to us and bless us, and make his face shine on us – so that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation AMONG ALL NATIONS”(Ps 67:1-2 my emphasis).

Because the early disciples Jewish as they were born, viewed Jesus life, ministry, death and resurrection as a sign that YHWH had returned, coupled with the pouring out of the Spirit, it meant the door had to be open now for the Gentiles to become part of the new faithful people of YHWH. And so begins this mission, began by Peter to Cornelius, and fully taken up by Paul. Here then is the whole center of the arguments about justification, and why the Torah was now an inhibitor to this welcome of the Gentile. Because Torah was meant to keep the people of Israel separate from the nations, it wasn’t possible to still obey it, and be able to welcome the Gentile as well. The Torah said the Jew must not eat with the Gentile, that the Jew must not marry a Gentile, that to be considered one of the people of God the Gentile must be circumcised and so on. Therefore Paul comes to the conclusion that “the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith (Gal 3:24) i.e. Jesus the Messiah had established a new means of being considered a faithful child of God – faith in Jesus the Messiah.

The Return of YHWH – Judgement

Another expectation of the return of YHWH was judgment – judgment of his own people and judgment of the nations. It was expected that when YHWH returned, he will repay all the enemies of Israel for the wicked that they have done not only to Israel, but to the world. The Psalms are full of such statements, from Ps 110:6; 9:8; 76:9 etc. Psalm 149 says

May the praise of God be in their mouths and a double-edged sword in their hands, to inflict vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples, to bind their kings with fetters, their nobles with shackles of iron, to carry our the sentence written against them – this is the glory of all his faithful people.” (Ps 149:6-9)

The early Christians viewed this judgment in 2 forms. The first was the judgment that comes on Israel for it’s unbelief in who they believed was the Messiah – Jesus the Christ. Hence they took Jesus predictions about the coming destruction of Jerusalem quite seriously (Mk 13,Mt 24), and many of these Christians in Jerusalem were able to escape to tell the tale in AD 70.

The second was that Jesus will return to now serve justice to the rest of the world, as is expected of the Messiah. One (and certainly not the only) measures by which YHWH was going to judge this world was by the simple word – justice. Ps 82 shows him calling all the “gods” (leaders of the world) before him and rebuking them for showing partiality, wickedness, failure to defend the weak, and general injustice. The world’s political leaders may be wary to pay attention, for their time will come soon enough. Even Paul focuses on the same issue when he speaks to Gentiles in Athens

For he has set a day when he will judge the world WITH JUSTICE by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him [Jesus] from the dead” (Act 17:31, my emphasis)

The Return of YHWH – New Heaven and New Earth

It was expected that YHWH’s return will culminate finally in a transformation of both heaven and earth, such that heaven and earth will now be together, and YHWH will come and dwell with men on this newly merged earth. The prophet Isaiah speaks of this.

See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind” (Is 65:17)

The expectation also developed that YHWH will create a new Jerusalem, from whence he will dwell. The prophet Ezekiel seemed to have sparked off this expectation, writing no less than 8 chapters on the subject (Ezekiel 40-48) with the expectation that this city will be built by God himself. This therefore came to be referred to as the “New Jerusalem”. Some apocryphal books like 4 Ezra, 2 & 3 Baruch explore this further.

Coupled with this was the development of the hope of resurrection. Whatever new world God was going to create, how could Abraham (as well as all their forefathers) who was dead, also benefit from it? By resurrection from the dead. The righteous were in heaven with the YHWH, but when he returns with them he will give them new bodies and they will dwell with the rest of those alive in this new world of his.

In Christianity, this hope of a new heaven and earth as well as a New Jerusalem is merged together into one in Rev 21.

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.” (Rev 21:1-3)

Even Abraham is supposed to be looking forward to that same “New Jerusalem” in Hebrews

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went … he lived in tents … for he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God”(Heb 11:8-10).

The only city in the OT whose architect and builder is God is the New Jerusalem.

Conclusion

Now with all this eschatological expectations about YHWH’s return, imagine Jesus saying “repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand”. What do you think a devout, synagogue-attending, Temple-sacrificing, 23% tithe-paying (not 10%), Torah-obedient Jew would have heard? Come and let’s sit in the synagogue, sing some songs of worship, listen to a “good” sermon and go back the rest of the week to pursue our own agenda?

No I don’t think so. As I’ve said elsewhere, the coming of Jesus Messiah meant a call to action for the early church. It meant each and every local church taking up the task of the Messiah and making it their own – his tasks of justice, redemption, restoration and healing – and finding ways to work with other local churches in that same pursuit. It meant a new heart and a new obedience, without a written law to tell us what to do every little moment. It meant being zealous for good works (Tit 4:12), not something to be done grudgingly. It meant “new is creation” (2 Cor 5:17), because version 1.0 of the kingdom of God has begun. The king has been announced, and we are the people he has called to display what future version 2.0 of his kingdom will be like when he returns – bringing the future of good news to the poor, release for the oppressed and family for the fatherless and motherless and rejected forward to today. Even creation is frustrated in waiting for it’s renewal in that 2.0 version (Romans 8:21-22).

We may laugh at the modern day Jerusalem landlords for still expecting a Messiah when one has already arrived the first time, but they may be onto something (albeit fuzzy) about what his return might look like. For us who believe in Jesus the Messiah, are we busy being his kingdom people, or are we are simply just a collection of individuals who have come to hear what may spur us on in our pursuit of self?

WHY THE CHURCH TODAY IS NOT THE CHURCH CHRIST WANTS

 

Mt 16:18 “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it”.

 

Jn 17:20-24 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one; I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you loved me.

 

Often times I’ve shared my worry about the total powerlessness and disunity of the church today. It had so baffled my mind that for a while I was very confused. The question I’d been asking myself (and most genuine Christians do) was is this the church that Christ is coming for?

 

The mark of a man is determined not by his knowledge of the truth, but his reaction when confronted with the truth. My personal search for the truth has led me to believe firmly that the church today is in no way what Christ is coming for and I’ll let a little of that conviction known on this post.

 

A church is an assembly of people, and Christ has determined to build his own such assembly. The first point to understand is that it will be owned by Christ (“My church”). Secondly, if it is owned by him, then it will be built according to his own standards. Now what standard will that be?

 

Eph 5:25-27 “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word and to present herself to him as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”

 

This is a high standard indeed. I bet we’ve all read this before. But how many of us have stopped to ask ourselves if the church today meets this standard. Most of us in our heart of hearts know that it doesn’t match up to it. But Ps 119:89 says “Your word, O Lord, is eternal; It stands firm in the heaven”. God’s will is already written down. It’s not what we want that will come to pass, but what he wants. So it is rather up to us to make sure that we are in that plan, because God is not about to change his stance to suit us.

 

The church today is not what Christ wants. Period. Why? Let us start from the most fundamental point – the gospel. If you’ve read my previous post on “What Is the Gospel Of The Kingdom?”, you’ll find that what we even preach today as the gospel is just a cloud of jumbled confusion. We do not know why we ourselves are called to become Christians, a knowledge which should shape every action that we take as a church.

 

Secondly, we have lost the emphasis on the importance of the Holy Spirit in our Christian walk and the necessity for individually asking for its infilling in the lives of every Christian. Most of our orthodox churches believe the Holy Spirit is received at conversion therefore there is no need for it thereafter. Lk 11:13 says “If you the, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!

How many times have we seen the apostles converting people and subsequently laying their hands on them to be filled with the Spirit. (The Samaritans’ Example – Ac 8:1-25; Paul’s personal example -Ac 9:15-19; The Ephesians’ Example – Ac 19:1-7).

 

Even our so called “charismatic” and pentecostal churches have lost their “charisma”/ “pentecostalism” and have only turned to money making and self-aggrandizement in the name of “motivational speaking”. The power-filled life of the believer has now been delegated to only the “men of God”, and they use them as if they were their own property. But every Christian is supposed to be an exhibit of the power of the Kingdom. And these signs shall accompany those who believe; In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well” (Mk 16:17-18). Wasn’t Ananias just a disciple to have healed Paul and prayed for him to be baptized with the Holy Spirit?

 

But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Mt 12:28) “But the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power” (Ac 4:20). “I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done – by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit” (Ro 15:18-19a). Hmm. Where did all that go? We don’t have to look far to know the cause of this spiritual bankruptcy in the church today. Rev 3:14-22 will tell you why. But let me just point out a little detail of it – “You say I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing (v 17). Ah there it is. Today’s church is being run on all sorts of emotions, confusion, traditions of men and worse things instead of looking to the ultimate source of direction – the Spirit of God which leads us into all truth. No wonder God says in Jer 2:13 “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water”. Much of the church today is “having a form of godliness but denying its power.” (2 Ti 3:5).

 

Thirdly the church today is a very defeated one, unlike what Christ himself is building where “the gates of Hades will not overcome it”. Trust Christ, “Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand‘” (Mt 12:25). I think most of us don’t realize how this applies to the church today. But I believe the model of the church in the book of Acts and the Epistles is the model that a Holy Spirit directed church will follow to be part of the “radiant church”. Why do you think that Paul was so vehement about divisions in the church?

I appeal to you brothers, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another “I follow Christ”. Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptised into the name of Paul” (1 Co 1:10-13)

 

Was it just for fanaticism sake? Jn 17 shows the prayer of Christ before he was arrested. His will was that the unity of the church will be a visible sign of him having been sent by the Father. Paul says “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms” (Eph 3:10). The church as a visibily united organic body is a display of the glory of God and his purpose for the redemption of men. It is a sign of the preparedness of those who have been given “an inheritance among those who are sanctified” (Ac 20:32) – those who are going to be co-heirs to the throne of Christ when his kingdom is established. It is interesting to note what Paul says here: “For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name (Eph 3:14-15). Today’s Christian generally accept that in heaven there is no distinction in terms of denominational names/inclinations that a Christian belonged to. In the light of the above verse, are we doing the will of the Father in giving ourselves names and dividing ourselves on this earth? In almost all the introductory passages to every epistle, Paul refers to them as “the church of God in ‘blah blah blah town or city’”. Ask yourself why.

 

Fourth and most importantly, the church today is totally bereft of love. No, I don’t mean sensual or filial love. I mean “the love of God” – Agape. This is the love that Christ talks about when he commanded it on his disciples. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (Jn 13:34-35; Jn 15:12; I Jn 3:16). I don’t mean going to orphanages to give donations and calling the media to cover it. I mean being burdened by the needs of the individual members of the church most importantly and then extending that love to the neighbourhood or community. Today the church is only a meeting place to “worship” God, not to meet the utmost need of the people. People leave church drained of all their monies, meanwhile nobody has bothered to find out their employment status. James puts it aptly “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” (Jam 2:15-16). Our so called “men of God” are more bothered about riches and fame than about the financial, social, marital etc problems that individuals in the church face. There is no self-sacrifice for the benefit of a brother, unlike the extreme outpouring of love exhibited in Ac 2:44-45. Some of our modern day Christian leaders cannot even love their own wives, and others pride in openly displaying their “God given” wealth on TV. Meanwhile they live or come from communities where poverty levels are unbearable.

 

The standard of love that Christ commands is very high, and again can only be achieved by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. “And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (Ro 5:5). This “the love of God” is a love that is defined fully in v 6-8 “You see, at just the right time, while we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us”. We can see that the church today is only marking time because it is definitely not meeting this standard.

 

 

But the church as it is today is not going to bring about this revolution that Christ yearns for. They are too busy consolidating their monolithic, money-making, political-aligning, praise-singing, fame-seeking, denominated, disobedient model – a model which values the mega church buildings they build and not the real temples of God – the individual members (I Co 6:19) and the congregation of members together (I Co 3:16); a model which values quantity and not quality (Mt 7:13-14; Lk 13:22-24; Ac 15:14; Ro 1:5). No, rather it will be a church based on the model of the apostles of old – small, household and neighbourhood based churches which refuse to be denominated and which sees itself as just another part of the bigger family of the Father. It shares an “open source” ministry with all other related churches around it, allowing the Holy Spirit to use anybody in one church to minister to both physical and spiritual needs of another. Such a church will recognize the Holy Spirit as it’s power source which must fill every individual in their congregation and the bible as the ultimate standard of life and scriptural direction and not the traditions of men. Such a people will understand the glory to which they are called, and the sacrifices in obedience that this glory requires.

 

Paul told Timothy in 1 Ti 4:1-7 that some will abandon the faith in the last days. Note from v 7 that he wasn’t only talking about the future but he was addressing what had already began happening in his day and warning them not to be a part of it. The seven messages to the churches in Rev 2&3 had started pointing out the mistakes of the church even before the death of some of the apostles. There is no doubt that the message to Laodicea relates completely to the church today. The fall of the church happened a long time ago, right from the day the Roman Catholic Church (or is it “Cult”) decided to hold itself as the only true church that must rule every other one. Unfortunately, the Protestant movement did not take the cleavage much farther than it should have – returning completely to the model of the New Testament church – and still exhibits appendages of the Roman Catholic hegemony.

 

However, there is hope. In whatever situation that God finds his people in, he still preserves a remnant.

 

Mal 3:14-18 “You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What did we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the Lord Almighty? But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly the evildoers prosper, and even those who challenged God escape.’ Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honoured his name. ‘They will be mine’, says the Lord Almighty, ‘in the day when I make up my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as in compassions a man spares his son who serves him. And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.”

 

 

The revolution of the church that Christ is building is upon us. Are you ready to stand up and be counted, or will you go with those on “the broad way”?

 

Jam 4:17 “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins”

 

 

Quotes are from the NIV version of the bible. All mistakes are mine please, not the bible’s :-).