Friday, 30 September 2011

On ducking challenges to naturalism

Some good interaction, here.

The Western Missionary Machine - A Western Missionary Weeps For Africa

Who is to blame for the ungodliness and corruption of Kenyan society and church?

Ultimately Kenyans are, of course - the Bible teaches us that personal responsibility is always ultimate and non-transferable. Nevertheless, the Bible also teaches us that secondary causes exist, and secondary responsibility exists.

My journey has led me to become convinced that the sad shape of the Kenyan church is the predictable outcome of Western missionary policies. I'm not just talking here about rampant heresy and the health-wealth-prosperity "gospel". I don't just mean the bad eggs.

I'm talking about the fact that few Kenyan churches have believers who know how to deal with their ordinary challenges, to take responsibility, to grow to maturity and lead others along that path. The number of leaders who know how to live lives of godly self-sacrifice in order to build the church is vanishingly small.

How could they know that? The missionaries didn't teach them to. The missionaries didn't set them that example.

I'm painting with broad-brush strokes here, of course. Each missionary is different. Each enterprise has its own flavour. There are many good men trapped in misconceived enterprises. Everyone has their own calling, etc. But the number of misconceived enterprises is way too high.

The pattern of Pauline, Biblical, Christian missions, is that missionaries are servants and that the nationals are the served. The way up is down: true leadership means radical servanthood. "Radical servanthood" means more than simply condescending to exist in the so-called "Dark Continent".

The pattern of Western missions has been too much that the missionaries are the controllers, and the nationals are the controlled. A reversal. All of this can be defended quite plausibly of course, and sometimes with a seed of truth. The nationals are not yet mature; they need help to get up and going; the missionary has all the experience/education/funds/etc.

But how can those reasons still hold true in Kenya after 150 years of Protestant missions? How long is the stage of infancy meant to last? Isn't it time to ask if it's only the nationals who are responsible for still being in infancy? Doesn't the parent have to wonder if he's done all that he should? Doesn't he have some responsibility for a failure to raise the infant into manhood?

The big man from the West thinks he has the answers. These answers are quite often institutions, constitutions, programmes, procedures, rules, programmes, boards, institutions, directors and more formal programmes. These normally need large amounts of funding - and thus the oversight of the white man (money has to be carefully stewarded... or, "he who pays the piper calls the tune" - or put another way, nobody hands their wallets over to the infants). It's unfortunate, and we don't mean it to continue too long in the long term, of course...

Institutions, constitutions, programmes, procedures, rules, programmes, boards, institutions, directors and more formal programmes played a remarkably small part in Jesus' training of his disciples, or Paul's missionary activity. Jesus' training of his disciples and Paul's missionary activities were astonishingly successful, despite being apparently radically under-funded. Western missionary activity in Africa, on the other hand, has been astonishing unsuccessful, given how many years, workers and dollars have been involved, when measured in terms of Biblical fruitfulness and maturity.

The reasons for doing it this way are explained, of course: the modern world demands all the institutions, constitutions (etc.). We have to adapt to today's realities. And yet, for all this adapting (or rather, non-adapting - for the Westerner is simply doing what the Westerner does)... the fruit is rotten. The fruit is rotten! The populations of the African nations have not been discipled according to the Great Commission. They have not been trained to themselves disciple other nations - or even their own backyards. There are churches on every street corner in many countries; but those churches are very largely full of spiritual infants (leaving aside the downright heresy - again, I'm not talking about the followers of T D Jakes, Benny Hinn, etcetera). If the Western Missionary Machine's methods have been adapted to today's realities, then why didn't it work out better?

It's time to dismantle the Western Missionary Machine. The parts of it need to be repurposed in a new body. We need to return to the roots. Jesus walked with his disciples, prayed with them, suffered their ignorance from day to day, rebuked, corrected, trained, enabled, empowered, oversaw as a painful day to day task of bringing them to maturity. Then he sent them out, and they changed the world.

Jesus wouldn't have had much to write on his missionary newsletters. Not much that is, of what the Machine grinds out. There were no buildings, programmes, directors or programmes of our sort. The sort that we measure with numbers, year after year, to demonstrate our astonishing progress (but which perpetually needs us to remain in charge to prevent the house falling down). Likewise Paul; the society would have raised a few eyebrows at him (perhaps you've come across this well-known skit). Where's your denomination, Paul? Where are the programmes? What, you meant you just spent your time in a hired room talking to people who came in, and worked with your hands to show them an example of how to serve poor people? How do you expect anything substantial to come out of that? Where's the seminary, the conferences, the buildings, the organisation? You mean you're trying to teach them how to love Jesus and serve the poor in their everyday lives? That's nice of course, but when are you going to get onto the real meat of the work? (Poor naive fellow!).

The Machine is too professional, too impersonal. And sadly, the fuel in the engine is too much man, man's wisdom and man's effort, instead of that of the Spirit of God. Jesus and Paul were neither professional nor impersonal; and yet they changed the world. Their principles were folly in the eyes of the world and of The Machine. They believed in simple preaching in the power of the Spirit backed up by a life of radical self-giving. Their kingdom was not of this world; and because it wasn't of this world, it had the power of the other world which made it destined to be the kingdom over all in this world. We praise the Lord that there's still enough of their kingdom and principles in the machine to have done much good. But if our goal is actually to see the African church come to maturity, we need to take it apart and rebuild it. It needs reconstructing with the living, breathing sacrifices of lives laid down for Jesus in a far more radical way.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

The gospel according to John the Baptist

In Luke 3:18, we read that John preached the gospel to the people. The word is euangelizeto, which means that he declared good news. Hence the ESV and NIV translations, "he preached good news" and "proclaimed the good news".

In the immediate context, John had just preached the fiery judgment of the wicked; that the wheat would be brought into the barn, and the wicked burnt up with unquenchable fire. The Messiah was coming, to refine his people - to purify out the dross from the silver.

Under the canons of secularist "niceness", that's not good news. Good news is when everyone receives pleasant things, a smooth and enjoyable time, regardless of how much wickedness overflows their lives and floods the earth. The ultimate bad news is pain and suffering; and even the grossly immoral should not have to endure that.

But under the canons of God's truth, it's very good news. Wickedness is dealt with, there is a clear and decisive separation between good and evil. Faith in God is rewarded, and disobedience of his word receives its right recompense. The earth again becomes a place where the Creator God can be known, enjoyed and glorified in purity, as it was meant to be.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Calvin on public confrontation of false religion

Great words here from Calvin (commenting on John the Baptist's preaching) on how faithful gospel ministers should confront false religion:

As to the loud and open rebuke, which was administered to them in presence of all, it was for
the sake of others; and that is the reason why Luke mentions, that it was addressed to multitudes,
(Luke 3:7.) Though the persons whom John reproved were few in number, his design was to strike
terror on all; as Paul enjoins us to regard it as the advantage of public rebukes, “that others also
may fear,” (1 Timothy 5:20.) He addresses directly the Pharisees and Sadducees, and at the same
time, addresses, through them, a warning to all, not to hold out a hypocritical appearance of
repentance, instead of a true affection of the heart. Besides, it was of great importance to the whole
nation to know what sort of people the Pharisees and Sadducees were, who had miserably corrupted
the worship of God, wasted the church, and overturned the whole of religion; — in a word, who
had extinguished the light of God by their corruptions, and infected every thing by their crimes.

It is probable, therefore, that John publicly attacked the Pharisees, for the benefit of the whole
church of God, that they might no longer dazzle the eyes of simple men by empty show, or hold
the body of the people under oppression by wicked tyranny. In this respect, it was a remarkable
display of his firmness, that those, who were highly esteemed by others, were not spared on account
of their reputation, but sternly reduced, as they deserved, to their proper rank. And thus ought all
godly instructors to be zealous, not to dread any power of man, but boldly strive to “cast down
every high thing that exalteth itself” against Christ, (2 Corinthians 10:5.)

If John, the organ of the Holy Spirit, employed such severity of language in his opening address
to those who voluntarily came to be baptized, and to make a public profession of the gospel; how
ought we now to act towards the avowed enemies of Christ, who not only reject obstinately all that
belongs to sound doctrine, but whose efforts to extinguish the name of Christ are violently maintained
by fire and sword? Most certainly, if you compare the Pope, and his abominable clergy, with the
Pharisees and Sadducees, the mildest possible way of dealing with them will be, to throw them all
into one bundle. Those, whose ears are so delicate, that they cannot endure to have any bitter thing
said against the Pope, must argue, not with us, but with the Spirit of God. Yet let godly teachers
beware, lest, while they are influenced by holy zeal against the tyrants of the Church, they mingle
with it the affections of the flesh. And as no vehemence, which is not regulated by the wisdom of
the Spirit, can obtain the divine approbation, let them not only restrain their feelings, but surrender
themselves to the Holy Spirit, and implore his guidance, that nothing may escape them through

Thursday, 15 September 2011

When sin is abolished

When society abolishes the theological idea of "sin" from its thinking, two things can happen to actual sins.

On the one hand we can deny they are a real problem at all, and then reap the consequences of letting the elephant in the room run amok. For example trying to fund the government from money that belongs to our children precipitates huge financial crises. Well, blow me down, you say! Failing to stigmatise unmarried sexual relationships leads to a generation of the inner-city fatherless.... who'd have thought?

On the other hand, we can admit that sins are real problems, but medicalise them; they are some kind of illness. They're not moral offences; they're unfortunate diseases the victim is suffering from. The solution is then not punishment, restitution, forgiveness and restoration, but medical treatment. Repentance is not the answer: psychiatry and the drug companies are.

"Unfortunately", ideas have consequences. Since original sin exists even when we pretend it doesn't, we have end up defining every child as ill. Sadly they all behave badly more or less (and more if it's not dealt with properly). So it seems we have to end up agreeing that they're all ill. Instead of a kindly rebuke and perhaps (horrors!) a smack and a cuddle, we set off down the road to medicalising every boy and girl born into the world. Been spiteful more than once in the last half-year? That'll be "oppositional defiant disorder"; here are some sedatives. Once the medicalisation juggernaut gets going, it knows no bounds - even things which are hardly issues at all get caught in the net. Is your child shy? That must be "social anxiety disorder"; have some Prozac.

When you don't know what the problem is, you can't know the solution. These are symptoms of a society in deep decline; the West doesn't even know how to respond to childishness. The day-to-day behaviour of children stumps it.

This is why the Bible says that Christians are the light of the world. Whilst the world fumbles around in darkness because it doesn't even know the basic categories of our existence (God, creation, sin, judgment, redemption, forgiveness, etc.), Christians, living by the book, can shine all the brighter. We can point the way. We can have "ordinary" families, where ordinary means that when kids do wrong or haven't yet learnt how to handle a situation maturely, it's dealt with and we then move forward. We don't have a crisis and call in the Psychiatric Association because it completely stumped us. Non-Christians will tell us that we were "lucky" to have such good kids born to us; we'll be able to tell them it was because we followed God's Word, trusted Jesus and with his grace they can get the same results too.

Sexual immorality and the evolutionary fallacy

Here's a supposed investigative piece by John Preston in the Telegraph, presenting the case that monogamy (one man, one woman for life), is unrealistic. Much of it reads like the author had a bet with a colleague as to how many different logical fallacies he could wedge into a fixed number of words.

The main one invoked as the premise of the article is the "evolutionary fallacy", which runs like this:
  • Lots of people do X
  • Therefore, X is natural
  • Therefore, X is right
In this case, "X" is sexual immorality. Lots of people do it, so, perhaps as a species it's what we're meant to do... right? Evolution guided us into it, didn't it?

Perhaps the author should have ventured beyond just adultery and fornication; how about paedophilia? It's been around for thousands of years, so perhaps as a species we're just not meant to not molest children? Perhaps evolution never intended us to avoid burglary, rape, pillage and sticking needles in the eyes of investigative journalists?

Preston never discusses how we can know if something is moral or not. When he uses the word "moral" and purports to discuss morality, he simply discusses the results. He appears to know no difference between ethics and pragmatics or hedonism: what is good to Preston is what makes people feel good. The underlying assumption just appears to be, that if men are unfaithful, then unfaithfulness is good. Behold the cultural fruits of Darwinism!

The main character in Preston's article is a promiscuous homosexual called Dan Savage, who is presented to us as "America's leading relationships journalist" (as appointed by people who agree with him, presumably). The reality of Savage's life is clear from his words: he's doing wrong, he knows he's doing wrong, but he enjoys the wrong... and so he has come up with a "clever"-sounding theory to justify it. i.e. like every other fallen human being, he's been working hard to come up with reasons for why his wrong behaviour is OK. The upshot is that he believes everyone ought to behave like a promiscuous homosexual or at least be relaxed about it; that would (he thinks) make Savage feel a lot better about his life. That's the predictable way of sin too; we try to surround ourselves with people who've plunged into the same sins, and that assuages our guilt by deadening our consciences to it. Their comradeship in iniquity helps us feel less bad about our personal iniquity.

So, John Preston responds by writing a long-winded article toying with Savage's self-justifications as if they were very clever. It would have been wiser and more to the point to just ask, "Dan, why not repent?"

When Savage tells people his ideas, he recounts, they respond with disgust and horror. Instead of asking himself it there's something horrifically disgusting about his lifestyle, Savage assumes that people must feel very insecure about the rightfulness of faithfulness in marriage. They protest too much, he intones! I wonder why he thinks people are revolted by paedophilia or rape? Is that also the response of people who are not yet morally grown up and who still believe in Santa Claus? Is all moral disgust a sign of insecurity? Is there nothing in the world that is actually morally revolting?

See again the ways of sin: people keep telling Savage that his life is morally disgusting, but this persuades Savage to see himself as a moral superior. He's been able to rise above that "childish" sense of horror at a vile lifestyle.

Preston attempts some discussion of the origins of the idea of monogamy. He says that history is not on monogamy's side. In the Preston universe, history apparently begins somewhere in the 18th century, and all before that is the swirling mists of the beginning of time. Apparently monogamy only originated in the 1700s, and before that everybody thought it a completely stupid idea. The Preston education appears to have lacked some key points about the philosophical origins and development of European civilisations. Christianity, Judaism and the Bible do not appear once during this discussion; in the Preston investigation of why people believe in monogamy, they are not worth a mention. But the Inuit people do appear, and they're promoted as potential guides for us. Why? Who knows? Are they divine, or the gold standard of right living? How would we know?

Preston does interview a few people on the other side of the discussion, who point out that outside of the make-believe world of the rest of the article, infidelity brings ruin and misery to people's lives, and it was at least a good thing that the article finished with a man's confession that ending his first marriage was the worst mistake he ever made.

How does a promiscuous homosexual get to be presented as an authority on the subject of the goodness of life-long monogamy? How would he know? We might as well ask him if it's fun being an owl's left foot, what it's like to run marathons inside 5 minutes, or what Esther Rantzen had for breakfast this morning. He has no way of knowing what he's talking about.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Steve Saint on poverty

Steve Saint is the son of the famous martyr missionary to Ecuador, Nate Saint.

He knows what he's talking about when he talks about missions, poverty and handouts, because he's been there. Read him here.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Church membership

Here's the text of a leaflet we've been using at our church to help people understand about church membership:

Feel free to adapt and use it for the same purpose if you find it helpful.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Where God dwells

It's interesting to think of Jesus and the temple in the timeline of the gospels...

  • At the beginning, the temple was the centre of Israel's worship. The angel Gabriel came to the priest serving in the temple, to announce the coming of the Messiah's forerunner.
  • Jesus' parents bring him to the temple to present him, in obedience to the law.
  • At age 12, Jesus is found in the temple, feeding on God's word being taught there.
  • At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus came to the temple to purge it of uncleanness. As a baby he was brought because of the Old Testament laws of uncleanness - and he had come vicariously to take that uncleanness on himself - as a man, he came to purge the temple. Roles were reversed.
  • He repeated this cleansing again at the final week of his ministry; which was in itself an anticipation of its final destruction.
  • In that week too (and earlier, with the Samaritan woman), he announced plainly the end of the temple - the true worshippers in the coming age would worship in every place, by the Spirit and Truth - which ultimately means (John 14:6), by himself.
  • On the cross, as Jesus' body was put to death, the curtain in the temple was ripped from top to bottom.
  • After his resurrection, the temple was a place where Christ was preached, and the end of the old Jewish order announced.
  • In AD70, as Jesus had said, the final destruction came upon the Jewish theocracy, and the temple was destroyed.
What is the overall pattern here? It's clearly a transfer. The temple, so central to Israel's life,faded in glory as the Morning Star rose to utterly eclipse it - not to "replace" it, but to fulfil the promise it had always contained of his coming. The anticipation moves off the stage, forever, when the ultimate reality has come.

I was talking with a friend last week who believes that the temple is to be rebuilt - so that it can be destroyed again. As a matter of fact, the prophecies which such friends point to were written before the temple was rebuilt before the coming of Christ, and hence are already fulfilled. The New Testament writers never prophesied a further rebuilding, and that idea is an arbitrary use of Scripture. But from a theological point of view, this whole idea is missing the point. The temple is, in terms of redemption, old hat; eclipsed, out-moded, superceded. There can no more be another temple of any theological interest than there can be another ark or captivity in Babylon. The true temple is the body of Christ, which was destroyed on the cross and resurrected - and the body of Christ on earth now is his people, who take up the cross to follow him, in anticipation of rising with him after they have died with him. We do not look today for politics and buildings, but for the indwelling glory of Christ amongst us.