Christianity 201

November 23, 2020

Placing the Message of a Prophet in the Form of the Proverbs

Indeed, the Sovereign LORD never does anything until he reveals his plans to his servants the prophets.
 – Amos 3:7 NLT

For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
 – 2 Peter 1:21 NIV

I have also spoken to the prophets, And I gave numerous visions, And through the prophets I gave parables.
 – Hosea 12:10 NASB

Again and again the LORD had sent his prophets and seers to warn both Israel and Judah: “Turn from all your evil ways. Obey my commands and decrees—the entire law that I commanded your ancestors to obey, and that I gave you through my servants the prophets.”
 – 2 Kings 17:13

When they were alone, the people around Jesus, along with the Twelve, asked him about the parables.He said to them, “The secret of God’s kingdom has been given to you, but to those who are outside everything comes in parables. This is so that they can look and see but have no insight, and they can hear but not understand. Otherwise, they might turn their lives around and be forgiven.
– Mark 4:10-12 CEB

Usually when we introduce a new author here, it’s someone just starting out on their writing journey, but today we have someone who already has a profile, though he may be new to you as he was to us. On his Twitter account, Mark Charles describes himself this way: “I’m a dual citizen of the US and Navajo Nation and was a 2020 Independent candidate for President of the United States.” He’s also the coauthor of Unsettling Truths: The Ongoing, Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery (IVP 2019) You can learn more about it at this link. (Just reading the book’s blurb will change how you react the next time you hear that “Columbus discovered America.”)

I felt directed to share his writing today. This short article appeared on his blog, WirelessHogan in 2018. (Again, note this was written at least two years ago.) Read it slowly. Click the title below and read it there.

From Prophecy to Proverb

The summer of 2018, during the height of the immigration crisis with families being separated at our borders, I had the privilege of speaking at Calvin College to a couple hundred worship grant recipients from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. In a plenary session titled “Learning How to Talk in Proverbs” I was given a few minutes to “Propose a proverb about your prophetic insight using a ‘prophecy to proverb’ mode of speech.” Below is what I wrote and shared:

Wise is the church that refuses to buy into the trappings of partisan politics

Remember my brothers and sisters, Jesus did not come to create a Christian Empire

He came to make disciples.
He came to offer his body as a living sacrifice.
He came to plant a church.

When the church merely lobbies one political leader and protests the other

When, for the sake of argument or political gain, the body of Christ turns a blind eye to one sin and magnifies another

We are not representing the headship of our body…

who is Christ.

As vile, repulsive and urgent is the Trump administration’s separation of families at our border

it is not the first time…

Indian Removal, the slave trade, Boarding Schools, lynching’s, Japanese Internment camps, mass incarceration, even the deportation numbers of the Obama administration

the list of ways the United States government has worked to destroy the family structure of people of color throughout our history is as long as it is depressing.

So lets stop pretending that President Trump is the God ordained savior, or the ultimate demise of our union.

The same with President Obama.

What our nation needs is not for democrats to be better democrats.

Nor do we need Republicans to simply be better Republicans.

We don’t even need our nation to be more Christian.

My brothers and sisters, the United States of America is not, never has been, nor will it ever be Christian.

Jesus did not come to create a Christian Empire

He came to make disciples.
He came to offer his body as a living sacrifice.
He came to plant a church.

And wise is the church that refuses to buy into the trappings of partisan politics.

I agree with Kenneth Kaunda, the former president of Zambia, who said,
“What a nation needs more than anything else is not a Christian ruler in the palace but a Christian prophet within earshot.”

Mark Charles
(Navajo)

 

 

September 12, 2019

A Christian Nation No Longer: How Did We Get Here?

After a few weeks off, we welcome back Thursday regular contributor Clarke Dixon. I not only get to post this today, but I was able to hear the sermon on which this is based as it was originally given on Sunday. Although it reflects a Canadian context, it’s equally true of the U.S. as well; it’s just that the UK and Canada are further down the road of secularization. This kicks off a series on the book of Daniel.

by Clarke Dixon

Does it feel like we are no longer living in a Christian nation? The influence of Christianity seems diminished compared to just a few decades ago. We, who are Christians, may feel like we are now outnumbered. With the pace of change in Canada, we might feel like we are living in a new and strange land with new and strange values.

How did we get here? Who gets the blame? Who is responsible for the diminished role of Christianity in Canadian society? Should we blame the government for changing laws? Should we blame the people for a lack of interest in Christianity?

Scholars have been pointing to the Old Testament Books of the Bible from the time of the exile of God’s people as a good mirror of our position today. The Northern Kingdom fell in the 700’s BC, while the Southern Kingdom, Judah, fell to the Babylonians in the 500’s BC. Those who were deported to Babylon from Judah, including Daniel and his friends from the Book of Daniel, found themselves living in a new and strange land with new and strange values.

How did they get there? Who gets the blame? Who is responsible for the likes of Daniel and his friends winding up in Babylon? Could they blame the Babylonians for being cruel? Could they blame their own government for defence cuts?

Where the responsibility lies is made quite clear in the Old Testament:

15 “Now listen! Today I am giving you a choice between life and death, between prosperity and disaster. 16 For I command you this day to love the Lord your God and to keep his commands, decrees, and regulations by walking in his ways. If you do this, you will live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you and the land you are about to enter and occupy.
17 “But if your heart turns away and you refuse to listen, and if you are drawn away to serve and worship other gods, 18 then I warn you now that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live a long, good life in the land you are crossing the Jordan to occupy. Deuteronomy 30:15-18 (NLT)

Long before God’s people were deported to Babylon, covenant promises were made as recorded in Deuteronomy. God’s people were not deported from their land because the enemy was stronger, but because their devotion to God was not strong at all. They refused to listen to God over the course of hundreds of years! God’s people themselves, were responsible for their ending up in a strange land.

Do we, as Christians in Canada bear any of the responsibility for the fact we find ourselves in a strange land? Yes, for several reasons.

First, we have watered Christianity down.

We have tried to make Christianity palatable to a people who find the beliefs and values to be weird. By “we,” I of course do not mean all of us, but many of us, too many of us. Many Christian teachers have downplayed the supernatural elements of Christianity, focusing instead on faith as being ‘helpful’. The messaging has been; become a Christian, not because it is true, but because it is useful. However, when we water down Biblical teaching, when we delete the supernatural, Christianity becomes tasteless. Who could be bothered?

The Psalmist tells us to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8 NLT). In many churches you can taste and see that the social club is good, but perhaps not as good as the senior’s centre; the entertainment is good, though perhaps not as good as Lady Gaga; that the celebrity pastor is good, though not as good as Oprah; that the good works are good, though maybe not as good as the cancer society. Church needs to be a place where people experience that God is good. Church needs to be a people who know that God is good. We cannot water down the teaching of God’s goodness and grace.

I recently attended a church where the vision statement was something like “helping people on whatever journey they are on, wherever it leads, thanking the earth for its goodness.” Where did God go? What about Jesus? When Christ is diminished in our churches, don’t be surprised when Christianity is diminished in our society.

Second, we have added unnecessary ingredients to Christianity.

My Mum once tried adding a tin of Heinz baked beans to Kraft Dinner. That did not work. The beans destroyed the Kraft dinner. Likewise there are beliefs and practices people try adding to Christianity that don’t work. These are destructive to Christianity.

By adding in religiosity and making it all about the rules and traditions, we have made Christianity taste awful. When Christianity is all about being religious, and not at all about being in relationship with the living God through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, then it becomes just another religion. When Christianity is just another religion, don’t be surprised when people choose another religion.

Also, by adding in unBiblical doctrines, we have made Christianity taste awful. I heard of some big-name Christians “de-converting” in recent years. Their faith began to unravel when they realized that what they were taught, that obedience leads directly to blessing from God, just didn’t work out in real life. However, that theology misses the mark with regards to what the Bible teaches. When Christians have trouble holding onto the theology of a church, because it is apparently not how the world works, then don’t be surprised if no one else is interested either.

Third, we have taken away important ingredients from Christianity.

Some people don’t need cream or milk in their coffee, but I do. I have great difficulty drinking coffee without a wee bit of something. Likewise, many will struggle with Christianity without some helpful ingredients.

Here is one helpful ingredient; the possibility of expressing doubts. Christian churches, movements, and even denominations can become subcultures which are based on certainties on practically everything. Doubts are not allowed, often about anything. Leaving out this ingredient leaves a bad taste in many mouths.

Here is another helpful ingredient; the encouragement of thought. Thinking is often discouraged in Christian circles. Christian artist, Marty Sampson from Hillsong, recently expressed his doubts publicly. In his post he listed some things along with “nobody is talking about it.” Actually Christians are talking about the things he listed, perhaps just not in his church. He also said that ‘science has pierced’ religion. Maybe science and faith don’t mix well in his church, but they work well together in ours, and many others. Freedom to be able to think through things, including how Christianity and science interrelate, can be a very important ingredient for many of us.

If thinking is discouraged, if the expression of doubt is impossible, if understanding is not there, then don’t be surprised if people are not there either.

Daniel and his friends found themselves in Babylon as a consequence of their own actions. If we, who are Christians, find ourselves in a strange land, we should not blame the government or the people of the land. We bear some responsibility for where we are. In spurning Biblical teaching we have watered down Christianity so that it has no flavour. In adding in unBiblical rules and doctrines we have added unnecessary, even harmful ingredients, to Christianity, so that it tastes awful. In taking away opportunities for people to express doubts, to think and rethink, and grow, we have taken away important ingredients. Before we call Canadians to repentance, let us look to what we need to repent from.

(This is an introduction to a series on the Book of Daniel called “Outnumbered. The Book of Daniel and Living As Christians In A Not-So-Christian Society.” Watch for the rest in the weeks to come.)