Wednesday, 31 August 2011

A pastor speaks out against dependency

I was really encouraged today with something I saw for the first time - a prominent evangelical pastor blogger in the West speaking plainly on the problem of dependency in missions. It's Doug Wilson, here.

It can be hard to do this, because one prevailing Western political current is the need to appear "nice". Speaking plainly about this problem appears on the superficial level to be not "nice". But contemporary standards of niceness are not the same as Biblical teaching. The former leads to a pile of useless goo that someone else has to clean up. The latter is realistic, manly and leads to solid growth.

By way of analogy, Wilson points out that a £10,000 tax upon those who are successful and a £10,000 fine against being succesful will affect behaviour the same way the long term. The label has limited importance, whether we wish it to be so or not. Just so, after you hand over cash to the developing world without meaningful, culturally appropriate strings attached to those who could never dream of earning so much, it will make little difference whether you attach a label that says "this is some well-meant help" or say "Hey! We planned, self-disciplined and worked hard, so that you don't have to!" The economic and behavioural realities will work themselves through just the same either way: that's human nature in our fallen world, however "nice" we are with it, and however "nice" the grateful recipient is. As Doug Wilson says, "So God calls us to be involved in missions as though we were parents, called to raise our children up to maturity and independence. But what we have actually given way to is the temptation of being silly grandparents, who think that our job is to spoil everybody rotten. But we need to be fathers, not sugar daddies."

Thursday, 25 August 2011

King Jesus

The birth of Christ is recorded by Matthew and Luke, in their gospels.

Luke tells us that the good news was announced to poor, humble shepherds, who went to worship the baby in the animals' stall. Matthew tells us that wise men from the east came with their gifts to worship him.

Putting those together, we see the glorious twin truths: the gospel largely bypasses the high and mighty but is revealed to the humble "nobodies" who believe. And yet, in the proper time, Christ was and is destined to be worshipped as the king of all nations.

The humble shepherds were doing their ordinary work on an ordinary night, when a choir of angels revealed the glory of God to them - and they went up to worship, whilst the great and important of Judea were passed by. The wise men from the east were summoned by a star and by ancient prophecies, and made their long journey to do homage and acknowledge the world's true king, arriving at a later date yet not too late to praise him.

Shepherds and wise men pointed together to the two sides of the future of the new-born Son of God.

The unexpected effects of regular aid

Story on the BBC about the Horn of Africa famine:

Quote: "Correspondents say several African governments have faced criticism for their lack of response, and Aid agency Oxfam says only a handful of African countries have donated money so far."

What the BBC reports there on a national level is what we see on a local level. It's the effect of regular, institutionalised aid. We see it often in Western-helped churches, pastors and with individuals. Those who regularly get aid in sums far above their local earnings learn to depend upon it. They learn that in need, someone will help them out. And gradually the definition of "need" changes, so that they learn that others will pay and they don't have to. They learn who the important people they really need to serve and keep happy are: when needed, the foreigners will be paying, not the local "little people". This causes leaders to become proud and aloof from their people, and the people to learn that they are pawns, not significant players. It's inevitable: the money talks and sets the agenda, however much you try to wish otherwise.

The aid-givers believe that aid helps. But when dependency comes in, aid harms, again and again. It weakens the local people by teaching them that someone else will pay - and when that becomes a long-term mind-set, as it has in many churches, it becomes crippling and the church is doomed to long-term weakness. It's much harder to reverse the mindset once its set in than to never let it to begin with. The above quote is a testimony to that: there's a dire crisis, and the local response from governments is lethargic. (Note: I take the quote at face value for the purposes of this post, I am a very grateful guest in my adopted country and it is not my purpose or role to provide political commentary).

Aid should be for can't-eat-or-drink dire emergencies (like the present food crisis), not as a long-term strategy. Many times I've heard "we're happy to give, they say they can use it, what's the problem?". If you lived here from day to day, the problem would be obvious to you and would break your heart. Unneeded aid makes the giver feel good and is easy to give for wealthy Westerners - but as a regular rule, causes long-term damage to the recipients. It's easy to give - but to undo the attitudes that the unnecessary giving has caused will take at least a generation.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Global conspiracy theories

I very much like this post by Doug Wilson, on conspiracy theories. Global-scale conspiracy theories? We haven't got time, and we don't need to. They exist: but they won't work, so let's get on with the real task the Lord gave us...

Saturday, 20 August 2011

What Africa needs from the Western Church

What Africa needs from the Western church: its best, tried-and-tested, proven pastors to come over, give up their lives in the West long-term and embed themselves in the lives of the majority population (i.e. the poor), teach them the gospel, teach them self-sacrifice, teach and personally demonstrates to them from the Scriptures that they by the power of the Holy Spirit can build self-governing, self-financing, self-propagating communities of Jesus Christ.

Africa's not getting this, it's getting half-measures. These half-measures have brought as many problems as solutions. The West giving less than the above is one of the root causes of the Kenyan church's weakness. We came as friends, but because we gave less than we could, we hurt those we were professing love to. It's heart-breaking.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Paul gave his people long lists of evil deeds

One practice of the apostle Paul - hence, an "apostolic practice" - which appears to have fallen out of use amongst preachers today, was to give his hearers and readers specific, detailed and lengthy lists of evil deeds for them to avoid. Examples:

"Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God." - Galatians 5:19-21

"Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God." - 1 Corinthians 6:9-10

Have you heard preachers doing this lately? As you read those sentences, is hearing that kind of thing familiar to you - does it resound from your pulpit? In the culture I grew up in; and indeed the one I now live in; paragraphs like that may generally be considered going a bit too far, to be too detailed and explicit. But I think it would have been in the refined Greco-Roman cultures Paul wrote those letters in too. Nothing has changed.

The fact is, sinful human nature both strongly dislikes and needs to hear these lists and the warnings that go with them. Our people actually need to hear that they should take all pains to avoid greed, drunkenness, orgies, homosexual practice, theft and so on. These things are promoted to them strongly and explicitly elsewhere - they absolutely require equally explicit and strong condemnation. When a pastor believes that that's not so with his people (they're too refined and educated!) then that pastor is almost certainly ignorant of the real lives of his people and needs to get out of his study more.

If human nature really was refined and cultured, we could then avoid this level of nitty-gritty detail. But it isn't - so we can't. If we want to reform the people of God according to the Word of God, Paul's practice in preaching here needs urgent restoring. When we spell it out like this, people will be helped to believe that we're really serious. It's another place where preachers need to decide who and what they're going to offend against; the prevailing evils in the culture and the fake outward respectability of the classes who pretend they're ignorant of these things, or the apostolic commandment they received to "preach the Word".

It's wrong to be crude; God is not crude, and his world was not designed with any crudeness in it or to encourage anyone to be crude. But Paul's example shows us that the naming of these sins is not crudeness. It is indeed (Ephesians 5:12) a shame to speak of the things which the ungodly do in secret - but the same Paul who wrote Ephesians 5:12 also wrote the verses quoted above. Our belief and practice should harmonise those verses and then allow us to speak as he did.

Friday, 12 August 2011

A few thoughts on rioting

Since my last blog, several national commentators, and indeed the Prime Minister, have raised the issue at parenting. Here's one, Melanie Philips. Here's a sad blog in the Telegraph from Peter Oborne, on how Britain's moral decay goes from top to bottom.

As I read these kind of articles, few go beyond describing the mess and ascribing secondary and tertiary social causes. Only Philips, of those I've read, (and I understand she is an agnostic) touches the religious root of Britain's moral decay and points to church leaders failure to preach the Bible instead of trendy liberal dogma. I read in the Telegraph the Prime Minister promising to restore moral foundations; how does he propose to do this; how can the House of Commons and the legislative process be sources of moral foundations? There was no hint. You cannot source moral foundations in politics, only express them. Who will tell us where to actually obtain these moral foundations? How do we know which moral foundation is right? After all, the looters were "living out their values", which is something our relativist cultural leadership has encouraged us to do for years. How do we get some roots in our conviction that actually their values were wrong in an absolute sense?

But nobody so far of all those I've read has pointed to the 1960s cultural and sexual revolution as the fundamental societal event that enabled this chain of events, leaving us with. Philips does not go far back enough, pointing to the years of the recent Labour government, who worked out a lot of the "revolution"'s implications, as those who grew up under it came to positions of power.

The present hand-wringing is not getting us anywhere. Hand-wringing is not repentance. Pointing out our moral collapse is of only temporary and limited value unless we also point the way back to moral wholeness. This is the work that preachers of the gospel of Christ must give all their energy too. Society's leaders are confused and do not even know why it is so dark. It's only been a few years, but they do not even seem aware of how we got from there to here. Light needs to shine from God's word, and we need to show the relevance of the Lord Jesus to the present hour. Let every Christian turn to prayer, that they will preach with boldness and directness in the present hour.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Where the Dickens is dad?

At last, someone in connection with the riots in the UK points out the importance of parenting:

I mean... when teenagers go looting through the night where the Dickens is dad?!?

And when teenagers go looting through the night, and the obvious elephant-in-the-room question where the Dickens is dad?!? comes up in our minds, how on earth do so many allegedly learned writers managed to produce their allegedly learned analyses of the situation without asking that question?

This blog, also from the Telegraph website, by Mary Riddell seems to have got a number of plaudits: But I put it in Birbalsingh's category of analyses that "beggar belief"... how did she write so much about the state, and nothing whatsoever about parenting? Riddell says that "social democracy", with costly education and universal health care, is "the only solution". She talks about various politicians; is the state our father now? Analyses like Riddell's are part of Britain's problem. We're in the Biblical category of those so far gone in their sin and blindness, that the elephant in the room can actually tread on us, again and again, and we still don't know what just happened...

Rejecting God's created order for sexual ethics in the "sexual revolution", Britain now reaps the consequences of that folly. Having decided that God's order could just be tossed aside for one of our own, we now see where it gets us. A visitor (from East London) remarked to me this morning that the leaders who come up with their grand-sounding ideas are not the first ones to reap the fruits - it's the poor who have the shocking results in their homes and in their neighbourhoods; but in these riots, it's moved out and now we can all see what the results of our sexual profligacy are. There can be no going back until we first identify the problem - and that means, first of all, repentance towards God and faith in Jesus Christ.

Monday, 8 August 2011

When restraint is removed

The Internet tells me about riots in London, UK. One thing we are learning is that there was a lot of opportunistic looting. Not people who were angry, or who had a cause - but people who found that the authorities were over-stretched, and took advantage. People who wanted something for nothing. Normally they wouldn't steal - but when the threat of arrest and imprisonment was gone, they were more than willing.

We had the same in Kenya after the 2007 elections. Law and order broke down. Some people rioted for political reasons - but many more went looting because they could get away with it.

That's the Christian doctrine of original sin. Why is the world not more evil than it is? Because God restrains, via law and order. Though law and order is often corrupt and faulty, yet it still has real, beneficial effects. Once the restraint is temporarily removed, we get a glimpse behind the curtains. We see what the human heart is like, once it gets the opportunity. I read in one article that at one point "all hell broke loose". The writer didn't mean anything particularly Christian, but that's getting nearer to the point - once the fear of punishment is gone, the proto-hell in the human heart goes rampaging.

That's why politics, development and education are not the real solution to the world's problems, and the gospel is. Jesus Christ changes the heart.