Archive | June, 2013

The Church and Ethnic Jews

14 Jun

I love history, especially history about Ancient Roman architecture and construction. Great Britain is soaked in Ancient Roman history in terms of its structures and buildings. If I were to locate a marvellous Roman excavation and replace it with a modern building, I’m sure many historians, organisations and even government would be horrified at my dishonour and arrogance. The new building that I constructed has written off hundreds of years of history, society and great importance to the formation of contemporary Great Britain. The better option would be to restore it to be all it was created to be.

This is similar to the Church and ethnic Israel’s position. The Jewish people have great history and importance. Paul describes many of their attributes in Romans 9 as follows: ‘theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah’.

If the Church were to come along and say, ‘we don’t need any of that, we are now the new chosen people of God, and in fact we don’t even need to consider our history or founders of our faith’ then we would be committing a great crime, being arrogant and dishonouring. God would not be happy. Rather, the people of the Messiah (the Church) must honour and not write off their heritage, history and foundations. The architecture God used in the form of Israel to bring about his redeeming purposes for his people in Christ is highly significant and must be preserved. Not only must this history be preserved, but our attitude towards the ethnic Jews of our day must also be of honour and respect. We should not be arrogant, as Paul describes in Romans 11, toward the Jewish people, ‘If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches.’ The gentiles have been grafted into Christ (the olive tree) along with believing Jews to form the church. However, just because we have been grafted in to God’s family does not mean we are better or superior to the branches that are not currently part of his family (unbelieving Jews).

Using the analogy above (though not perfect), we might say that God is in fact restoring the ancient building (rather than replacing it) under new management, namely the Messiah. The new restored part of the building (God’s family through the Messiah) should not say ‘I am a new building, better than the old one that used to exist’. Rather it should say ‘I honour the previous existing building and desire it to be renewed to the requirements of the manager’. The new restored part of the ancient building is fulfilling its destiny to be the building the architect desired it to be.

In summary:

1/ the church must recognise, honour and respect its Jewish foundations and history ensuring it is preserved and understood

2/ the church must not be arrogant toward unbelieving Jews who are not yet part of God’s family, thinking of itself as more superior

3/ the church’s desire should be for God to restore humanity (Jew and Gentile) into a commonwealth through the Messiah to be all it was designed to be

Exploring the gospel – The gospel in the Old Testament

12 Jun

The gospel is often presented as a ‘New Testament’ phenomenon with a huge chasm between its counterpart ‘the Old Testament’. It is offered as a new message, bringing a seeming divide between the Ancient Jewish/Gentile and first-century Jewish/Pagan worlds. Was this the case concerning the gospel in the days of the likes of Isaiah? Is the gospel present in the Old Testament, and if so, is this the gospel message personified in Jesus the Messiah?

700 years before Jesus’ ministry on earth the prophet Isaiah emerges amongst an exiled Jewish people who desire desperately for God to vindicate them and to rid them of evil that manifested itself in forms of oppression, injustice and poverty. Their beloved temple had been desecrated and its creator God had seemingly withdrawn. Their world seemed to be in major disorder, their land desolate and government corrupt. Israel had failed to be a light and redeeming nation, there seemed to be no hope. This sets the scene for the announcement of ‘good news’. Isaiah proclaims as follows in chapter 40 and 52:

Get yourself up on a high mountain,
O Zion, bearer of good news,
Lift up your voice mightily,
O Jerusalem, bearer of good news;
Lift it up, do not fear.
Say to the cities of Judah,
“Here is your God!” (40.9)

How lovely on the mountains
Are the feet of him who brings good news,
Who announces [b]peace
And brings good news of [c]happiness,
Who announces salvation,
And says to Zion, “Your God [d]reigns!” (52.7)

These scriptures speak of God returning to Zion and returning his people from exile. The good news is to be announced, declaring ‘here is your God’, ‘your God reigns’. God is creation affirming, he is coming to restore his earth by becoming King, by reigning on earth as he does in heaven.

N T Wright states, ‘When their [Israel’s] god, YHWH, acted within history to deliver his people, the spurious gods of the heathen would be defeated. If and when YHWH set up his own king as the true ruler, his true earthly representative, all other kingdoms would be confronted with their rightful overlord.’

The hope of the gospel had been proclaimed through Isaiah, that God would send his messenger to declare God King of all by bringing forth justice.

So is this the same gospel we see proclaimed in the New Testament?

The good news is announced in and through the Messiah to Israel as he gathers disciples unto himself. Jesus presents throughout his life the Kingdom of God through word and deed as he heals the sick and raises the dead, affirming God’s creation and restoring God’s people unto himself. As the climax of Christ’s death and resurrection unfolded, many of his follower’s hopes would have dwindled. Their longing for restoration, vindication, freedom from exile, oppression, and purging of evil had been dashed as they saw their beloved teacher and hopeful Messiah overcome, yet again, by the imperial pagan powers they longed to be freed from. But, the story did not end there.

This Messiah who looked in certain defeat, gloriously and authentically rose from the powers of death. The King could not be overcome by evil, rather the declaration that ‘God reigns’ was confirmed eternally. ‘God is King of this world you belong to, and as you follow this announcement your belief and confession grants you to become part of the King’s redeeming, earth affirming, and creation dwelling family.’ The gospel spoken by Isaiah of peace, happiness and salvation becomes very real as God continues to redeem his creation through his reign. The world that is in turmoil, conflict and chaos is reordered through the death and resurrection of the Messiah.

The gospel therefore is continuous throughout all scripture, New and Old. The good news is declared all the way through the Old Testament and points to the climactic appearance of the Messiah, who will one day return with an even fuller climax to establish his Kingdom, renew his creation and grant his sons and daughter’s peace, happiness and salvation from this present evil age.

Sources:

http://ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Gospel_Theology_Galatians.pdf

 

What is God doing amongst our Community of Believers?

10 Jun

I have been part of the Amblecote Christian Centre community from the age of three. During the many years I have spent involved in this community of believers God has been at work in a fundamental way.

Eight years ago there was a change in church leadership in terms of its structure and more traditional leadership style. The church community had previously relied and appointed one man as a pastor to oversee the church community, give direction and vision, preach sermons and many other duties involved in leading. However, the church leadership changed as God sought to challenge the way we thought concerning the purpose of his body. We no longer relied on one man; rather, we formed a leadership team to oversee the duties of the church fellowship. The mission and vision befitted God’s heart for our community and was ‘to equip believers to build the Kingdom of God on earth as it is heaven’. The whole community took up the mantle to be empowered to build God’s Kingdom as he looked to change the traditions to which we had become accustomed.

After a period of time God revealed in many ways our religiousness. He spoke to us clearly through scriptures such as Matthew 15:8, “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” God revealed to many in the congregation that though they performed good works, were actively involved in community projects, giving and charity, their hearts were still in bondage to the world. We talked and acted like ‘good Christians’ on the outside yet inwardly our affections for self prevailed. Many also struggled with issues of self righteousness and even penance (though not overtly), trying to atone their sins by good works, therefore feeling more acceptable to God.

The further God revealed our helplessness, vulnerability and inability to keep his commandments, the more he unveiled his son Jesus to us. We slowly came to realise that our efforts and good works were no match for the work Christ had accomplished at the cross. Our need to be in control of our destinies and assurance were triumphed by Christ’s faithfulness and his suffering at Calvary.  Chapter three of Philippians promenaded itself within our midst as we understood more clearly that all our righteousness was likened to filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6) and our pharisaic ways were now being considered garbage (Philippians 3:8) as we sought ‘to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.’ (Philippians 3:10-11). Our fundamentals had been shaken as God delighted in making the congregation’s foundation Christ rather than man.

As a church we embarked on a teaching series in the book of Romans as God captivated us with the truth of the gospel. The teaching could be summed up in four main categories:

1/ Individualism

Previously many had viewed the gospel and soteriology as individualistic. We believed God to be more concerned with saving individuals than vindicating his collective people. Failing to see Paul’s emphasis on community, we often risk endorsing a faith ‘that teaches our mutual interdependence into a religion of privatized piety’.[1]

Our understanding is now being transformed by the gospel that is much greater than my personal plan of salvation; the gospel affects society, politics, education, creation and us corporately as a community.

2/ Consumerism

Consumerism influences our society and culture tremendously. We pick and choose what we like when we like. Often this mentality influences how we approach Jesus and his word. As a community many would admit that our understanding of God was pick and mix, often selecting the scriptures and doctrines of Christianity we wanted to hear and discarded others that weren’t so pleasing, therefore giving us a warped view of the gospel.

Now, as we read scripture and walk together as a community we try to focus on centralising Christ and his word, ensuring we submit to the gospel holistically.

3/ Existentialism

Existentialism plays a huge role in our current world in which our individual existence thrives on feeling and experience to determine truth. God conversely challenged the church’s desire to determine truth through feeling and experience. Many of us looked for experiences of God on a Sunday morning but were duly disappointed when God ‘did not turn up’. Feeling and experience are important; however this became the sole focus.

God is currently helping us to ‘worship in spirit and truth’ (John 4:24), ensuring our understanding of the gospel is not shaped exclusively by experience and feeling but by God’s word and our faithfulness to it.

4/ Imperialism

Under previous models of leadership within the church, many believed that those in a leadership role were more superior and important, especially in terms of ministry. Many attended church on a Sunday morning and felt the position of the pastor was more important than the everyday congregational member’s role in society and working environment.

Through a change of leadership and understanding of the gospel we now seek not to construct an imperial, superior model of church membership, rather we endorse the gifting of all believers, and function to serve one another in building the Kingdom of God together under the headship of Christ who is impartial.

Conclusion

God has worked in many ways to bring the church community to the foot of the cross. We are being moulded into his image through his word. God uses many circumstances that are not always pleasant to bring us into submission to him. He is always gracious and merciful to us and we now understand more fully our ‘sonship’ and his loving ways of disciplining us as a father does his ‘son’.  God continues in Christ to bring us to the foundations of our faith, enlightening us to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. By no means are we perfect, however there is no doubt God is moving within the church community as he brings to completion the great work he started.

Bibliography

New American Standard Bible, Tennessee: Holman Bible Publishers, 1985.

Thompson, Michael B., The New Perspective on Paul, Cambridge: Grove Books Ltd, 2010.


[1] Thompson, ‘The New Perspective on Paul’, P.6

Paul’s perspective on Adam by N T Wright

9 Jun

Exploring the gospel – Pope Benedict XVI Definition

6 Jun

Benedicto_XVI,_2011

Over the past few weeks and months I’ve realised how little I understand the gospel. The natural and simple question that came to mind this week is ‘what is the gospel?’

The word is used so often in Christian, and even non Christian circles that it’s true essence and meaning is deprived, leaving our understanding a little malnourished.

So, I have begun a voyage to explore the gospel somewhat further and therefore feed my malnourished understanding, hopefully making it a bit healthier.

Interestingly, after a little research, I found out that the word gospel in English originally derives its etymology from the Anglo-Saxon translation ‘godespell’ or ‘godspell’ being a compound of two differing words: god (God) and spell (tidings or story). Godspell was later translated to gospel and meant ‘the story concerning god’.

How fascinating? Well, I found it interesting anyway. The word gospel seems to have been lost in translation, and I wonder how much we really understand its meaning to be ‘the story of God’. When I think of the word ‘gospel’ I often imagine an evangelist preaching on a street corner ‘hell fire’ and ‘brimstone’, condemning people to the eternal bottomless pit of endless suffering. Or people shoving leaflets in my hand, bribing and blackmailing me with strange information about a God that doesn’t seem in touch with reality. How about the classic alter call? That surly connects in my mind to the word gospel – ‘put your hand up and receive Jesus into your heart’. I wonder if this is the gospel we hear about in Matthew’s writings, or the good news we read from Paul.

After a quick Google search for the word gospel (cheating I know), I found that Trevin Wax from the gospel coalition had compiled a long list of Christian definitions by persons such as N T Wright and John Piper.  After reading several excellent definitions, I came across, in my opinion, a fantastic elucidation of the gospel, unexpectedly through my naivety, written by Pope Benedict XVI:

“The term has recently been translated as ‘good news.’ That sounds attractive, but it falls far short of the order of magnitude of what is actually meant by the word evangelion. This term figures in the vocabulary of the Roman emperors, who understood themselves as lords, saviors, and redeemers of the world…. The idea was that what comes from the emperor is a saving message, that it is not just a piece of news, but a changing of the world for the better.

“When the Evangelists adopt this word, and it thereby becomes the generic name for their writings, what they mean to tell us is this: What the emperors, who pretend to be gods, illegitimately claim, really occurs here – a message endowed with plenary authority, a message that is not just talk but reality…. the Gospel is not just informative speech, but performative speech – not just the imparting of information, but action, efficacious power that enters into the world to save and transform. Mark speaks of the ‘Gospel of God,’ the point being that it is not the emperors who can save the world, but God. And it is here that God’s word, which is at once word and deed, appears; it is here that what the emperors merely assert, but cannot actually perform, truly takes place. For here it is the real Lord of the world – the Living God – who goes into action.

“The core of the Gospel is this: The Kingdom of God is at hand.”

– Pope Benedict XVI, from Jesus of Nazareth, pgs. 46-47.

There is so much to comment on in this quotation; however I will try to keep it brief and point out a few misnomers concerning the current understanding of the gospel in contrast to the gospel the Pope describes:

1/ We have lost the magnitude of what is meant by the Greek word evangelion – the meaning of the word gospel has become so dull in our understanding that we know little of its power, being reduced to the ‘hellfire’ message we often hear in the street today. The magnitude and the audaciousness of the message led many to be persecuted and martyred. To defiantly declare to emperors someone else other than them was Lord and Saviour was most certainly not attractive. I wonder if I declare in God’s story through me that Jesus is Lord and Saviour of the world.

2/ The gospel isn’t just information, its transformation – the gospel isn’t solely information giving, compelling leaflets and attractive church youth groups. The gospel is the power of salvation to those who believe. It is action, not through self righteousness but through the transforming act of the life, death and resurrection of the son of God.

3/ The gospel announces that Jesus is Lord and Saviour of the world – though not wrong, the gospel is so much more than a commitment to Jesus at a meeting. It’s a declaration that Jesus is Lord, which the current rulers, leaders and governments who promise ‘peace and safety’, who announce the ‘hope of justice’, and guarantee ‘blessings for the poor’ can’t perform. Only in the story of Christ is there hope for the world.

A bit much for a Thursday evening, but suffice to say, I will continue on the journey to explore this gospel of which I haven’t even touched the surface. Come and join me in submitting to the word, and ask ‘what is the gospel?’