Monday, July 13, 2009

Will You Not Listen?

Hey man, would you please send me biblical proof that we need to listen other as part of our spiritual growth...assuming its true. -Gordon

Listening to other believers is not only part of our spiritual growth, in a general way, but actually a part of our salvation--
Matthew 18:15-17-- The one who does not listen to a brother or the church is to be counted as a gentile and a tax collector-- one who is no longer a part of God's kingdom.
Matthew 10:14-15-- Whoever does not listen to prophets will be treated as Sodom
James 5:19-20-- The one who speaks to a sinner, helping them to repent, saves that person.

Also, forgiveness is not just between us and God, but is a process that includes the church--
John 20:23; Luke 17:3-4-- We are to be part of the process of forgiveness

I Cor. 6:1-5-- The church is supposed to be mediating between brothers

I John 3:15-18; Galatians 6:10; Matthew 25:31-46-- We are to be assisiting each other in need; If we don't we don't love God, and we will be punished on the final day

John 13:34-35; John 15:12-13-- We are supposed to love one another-- and this love is to be reflected in giving up our lives to each other

All of this is to prove that the Christian life is life in community. We can't ignore each other, we have to pay attention, we have to connect, we have to love. Our very salvation depends on it.

However, we do not just listen, but we also discern what each other is saying-- I John 4:1; I Thessalonians 5:21-22. Thus we need to check what others say by the word and by other believers.

So, in summary, we are to listen to other believers, it is a part of our salvation. If we refuse to listen, we will be judged by God. And yet, we need to have discernment in listening, taking care that what believers tell us is really God's word.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Abortion and Mediation

I have two comments on the abortion discussion in general:

I am often disturbed by the lack of understanding between the two main viewpoints. They are each based on a philsophical (NOT religious, unless you are Catholic) answer to the question: When does human life begin? One viewpoint says that human life begins at conception, and that such a human being deserves all the rights and privleges of humans. The other point of view realistically says that human life– as far as rights and privliges go– begins at birth. In the ancient pagan world, human rights didn’t exist until much later in the human development. So, philosophically, there are different points of view. For the first point of view, it makes sense that the fetus has equal rights– not more than– to the mother, and so both should be treated with respect. The second point of view, while honoring all life, gives preference to the mother, and all points follow from that.

The main issue is to understand that the point of view opposed to the one we hold is not evil incarnate, but simply a different point of view. If we react harshly to those who disagree with us, then we will never come to agreement, or even compromise.

And this leads me to my second point. The responses in the abortion debate in society in large has been so dramatic and extreme, that it makes discussion about the subject almost impossible.

Could it not be that Anabaptists, with concern for mediation and peacemaking, could open up this discussion to all, trying to understand the other point of view, even while disagreeing with it, setting aside the propoganda and seeing the true human feeling and compassion on both sides?

I have hope in some of the present discussions about public policy, seeing possibilites that both sides might agree to having abortions reduced by reducing poverty, and increasing opportunities for well rounded education about sex and contraception.

Judging the Culture of Oppression

Joe responds to Top Ten Acts of Oppression:
It seems to me that it is fairly obvious these are at the very heart of the things that offends God. I’m not too bothered about arguing over the other stuff - which seem to me like straining a gnat to catch an elephant.

For me the problem is that by existing I am deeply entrenched in a lifestyle which oppresses. Like it or not, people exist in terrible conditions so that I can enjoy a lifestyle characterised by the pursuit of leisure.

I can’t speak for God, but I honestly can’t see him blaming people for being within a structure they didn’t create. But I think he will blame us for knowing that our lives are oppressive and not doing much about it.

It is one thing to identify an evil institutional structure and quite another to work out what to do about it. This seems to me to be the great question of our time - if we claim to have something to do with Jesus of Nazareth, how can we continue to live like we do?

I understand your perspective, and I deeply appreciate it. It is one the main focuses of my life since as a teen I spend time in Kolikut (Calcutta) and Bangladesh. I am a part of a wealthy, oppressive nation, and what is my response to it.

I personally don’t feel that God is so much judging us for being a part of our culture, but is calling us to be free of it. Jesus isn’t in the judging business, but in the deliverance business. So when he told the rich young ruler, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor,” he was calling him to be free of what was oppressing him.

So, for me, the response I have to God is less in speaking out against injustice– although I do that– but in living a lifestyle that frees me from being oppressive, a lifestyle that sets me apart from a culture of leisure and spiritual and cultural narrowness.

Killing the Innocent in War

Regina responds to Top Ten Acts of Oppression:
Perhaps the reason a liberal democracy was such a wonderful idea was because people helping people was alway the best and most Biblical way.

If you were oppressed by Saddam Hussein would you be wishing America would not have spent billions of dollars to free you? That seems like it goes along with your social liberal philosophy. EVERY war kills innocent people, read about WWII but that doesn’t make it a waste….. Read Romans 13.

My response:
Every human is not only an individual, but a whole society, of thoughts, cultures and endeavours. Every human is a little piece of God. Should any society or group decide that a number of innocents are worthy to be killed, not by their own choice, then it is not only a tragedy, but a travisty. It is a disaster for a whole culture, if the death of innocents is so casually accepted then justice is turned upside down and we have accepted the Big Brother who tells us that the lie is truth.

I have read Romans 13. It says that a government holds the sword, not to harm innocents, but to strike fear in those who do evil. I have also read Romans 12 that says that we, who believe in Jesus, need not take vengeance, because that is God’s job, not our own. God himself will judge those who determine that the life of the innocent is unimportant.

Read Psalm 82.

The OT and the NT

Top Ten Acts of Oppression as quoted in Young Anabaptist Radicals:
All references are from the ancient Hebrew prophets:

1. Refusing to defend the needy- Isaiah 1:17, 23; Jeremiah 5:28
2. Stealing from the poor- Isaiah 3:14-15
3. Unjust judgments against the poor- Isaiah 10:1-2
4. Not assisting the needy- Ezekiel 16:49
5. Taking interest for loans- Ezekiel 18:15-17
6. Enslaving a people- Amos 1:6
7. Excessive violence in war, especially against innocents- Amos 1:13
8. Excessive rent against the poor- Amos 5:11
9. Accepting bribes- Amos 5:12
10. Turning away those who need shelter for a night- Amos 5:12

Daylight replies:
You are absolutely right in your scriptural basis against acts of oppression. I wonder though. If I posted a list of Old Testament scriptures to build a case against homosexuality, abortion, or to support such things as the death penalty and war, you might reject my list under the notion that we are New Testament people now. Why do liberal Christians have one list of favorite Bible causes and conservative Christians have different list? Both lists have a common source. Just asking.

My response:
I have to admit, that while I am deeply interested in the Hebrew Scriptures, I don’t often use it as a source of moral truth, except when it explains what Jesus was saying. Jesus (and especially his brother James) spoke against the oppression of the poor. However, the definition of this, he depended on the Hebrew Scriptures, just as he depended on the Hebrew Scriptures for the defninition of “porneia” or sexual immorality. So this list is in the way of a definition.

Also, although I know that there are “liberal” and “conservative” Christians, I don’t find that divide to be helpful. There are people who use the Scriptures for their own ideologies. I have no interest in them. I think that kind of interpretation of the Scripture is not only wrong-headed, but boring. I find truth in Jesus, and so Jesus is the way to interpret the rest of the canon. We understand him first, and then the rest of Scripture makes sense.

Two Jesus'

Folknotions asks on Young Radical Anabaptists: “the Jesus of the gospels, not the Jesus of theology” Could you clarify this distinction? Thanks.

The Jesus of theology is the Jesus discussed conceptually in intellectual circles, churches and Bible studies. This is the many “historical Jesus’” (although there have been many honest attempts to find the “real” Jesus), the Jesus of orthodox doctrine, the Jesus of deity alone, the Jesus who rules and who only loves in the abstract. The Jesus of theology has been developed over two thousand years, and has increasingly made Jesus, as a person, more philosophical and able to put in a box. Although this Jesus is arguably greater than the Jesus of the gospels, he is less “touchable” and more moldable by whatever concepts we find most dear within our own worldview.

Perhaps the Jesus of the gospels is more static, but he is more touchable, more realistic, and more difficult to conform to our notions of morality and reality. The Jesus of the gospels always challenges our thoughts and who we are. The Jesus of the gospels never panders to us, or tells us what we want to hear.

But the Jesus of the gospels is the one who looked with compassion at the rich young ruler. The Jesus of the gospels is the one who drew in the sand when asked for judgement. The Jesus of the gospels yelled at his disciples. The Jesus of the gospels insulted the Pharisees. The Jesus of the gospels cried to God to change the plan they had determined upon already. The Jesus of the gospels didn’t know everything. It isn’t just that this Jesus is human– he is real.

Jesus and the Bible

Posted by Tim N, on Facebook:
My awareness of how I read the bible has been strongly shaped by my experience of British Anabaptism through working Anabaptist Network. The second of the Anabaptist Network's seven core convictions is: Jesus is the focal point of God’s revelation. We are committed to a Jesus-centred approach to the Bible, and to the community of faith as the primary context in which we read the Bible and discern and apply its implications for discipleship.(read more from the AN) Naming an Anabaptist value as a "Jesus-centred approach to the bible" helped me to understand some distinctive of my own Mennonite tradition

I just read a book that talked about this approach to the Bible, but the Jesus he was speaking of is a theological Jesus-- the Jesus of the creeds. This isn't exactly an Anabaptist approach. The theological Jesus can just as well be a construct in our minds. The Jesus of the gospel is a real Jesus, one that we can disagree with at times, but one that is worthy to be acknowledged as Lord of our lives, not just the world.

Discussion on Death to Self

“The outflow of the Spirit depends upon death to self.” -Donald Gee

Phil replies on Facebook:
I usually know when the Spirit is at work because it's the direct opposite of what I think I would want or desire. It also speaks to me when the message is in opposition to the things of this world like money, security, luxury, etc.

Julie replies:
Oh yeah...whenever I have a knee-jerk reaction to something I know it is time to re-think my position...

Emmet replies:
Rather than "death to self," "life to self" - that is, the self choosing G-d's life. G-d does not want us merely to vacate and become a finger-puppet for the divine; G-d wants us to become better us's, in communion with him. This takes more than pulling the trigger. This takes ongoing active investment of our selves. Let the self live to receive the spirit.

Cat replies:
I am inclined to agree with you, Emmet (hi, nice ta meetcha!)Death to self-will, not self itself. I hear in Christian teaching and lyrics all the time the prayer to "disappear." But I wonder if that is really God's heart. God wanted us to be ourselves enough to give us the gift of free will. That suggests to me that there is a wholesome, holy self we are to lay hold of. I wonder if we are afraid of the freedom to be ourselves?

Apathy and Hatred

Apathy is the bedfellow of hatred. Both are equally the enemy of love.

Phil replies on Facebook:
Yes and apathy can sometimes be worse than hatred. I think God would rather have us hate Him than not care at all... or be lukewarm.

I reply:
Not to disagree with your basic notion, but the basis for the idea that God would rather have us hate him, Revelation 3:16, when it speaks about the church being either "cold or hot" means that either cold water or hot water is useful-- good for drinking or cooking. But lukewarm water is the only one not useful at all. The apathetic Christian is like lukewarm water, as is the hating Christian-- neither does the will of God, which is love.

Death and Suffering

My original post on Facebook:
“The outflow of the Spirit depends upon death to self.” -Donald Gee

John Johnson comments on Facebook:
I was teaching Romans a couple of years back and was taken with the theme that Christianity is about death. I love the quote, "When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die" (Bonhoffer). The "secret" to my progressive freedom in Christ seems to be tied to my acceptance of and submission to the reality that I am crucified with Christ. This leaps on into the radical doctrine that I am already righteous, not positionally, but factually. Unfortunately, the conscience "I" is rarely in step with the righteous "I." As this earthly "I" is killed off more and more, the "I" Christ has made me will show through more and more. When talking with religious people I love to point out that God doesn't want us "good," He wants us dead; and that is a much tuffer standard.

I reply:
Speaking of death of self, I'm beginning to realize that the main way Scripture talks about this is the embrace of suffering-- whether that be suffering for refusing sin, suffering from persecution or suffering for being in a place to preach the gospel. I'm still studying this.

John replies:
I'm working on suffering. One discovery is that I tend to avoid the emotional effects of suffering through "masking" so I won't feel the pain. It's a cop survival thing. But Jesus did nothing to mask the pain. He suffered the sufferings both outside and inside. Hence, under the heading of Things I Learned since Bible School in my FB Notes you read "Suffering hurts." Pretty profound discovery, huh?

Jesus, Not Religion

Gordon asks: When some says they dont want religion, they want Jesus. What are they really saying?

They mean they don't want organization-- they don't want anyone telling them what to believe about Jesus.

I can appreciate that, but I think that we all should at least be in conversation with the main traditions of Christianity. For example, anyone who denies the Catholic tradition without looking at it is poorer in their understanding of Jesus. Not because they should agree with the Catholic tradition, but because the tradition has been working through what Jesus means to them and what it means that He is Lord for 1700 years. That's a voice that should be heard. So "religion" is important, tradition is an important voice, even if it issn't the only one.

Basic Definitions

Gordon asks: What does it mean to be a christian?? What does it mean to be a God fearing person? What does mean to be truly devoted to Him?

Those are three different questions:
A. A Christian is one who has Jesus as his or her Lord. A cultural "christian" is one who claims some connection to God in the guise of a Christian worldview, even though that person may have no real spiritual life at all.

B. A God fearing person, literally, is one who's actions are changed due to a recognition of judgment. It is a person who is afraid of what God will do to them if they don't change their actions.

C. To be truly devoted to God is defined differently, even in different places in the Bible. Right now, my best understanding is: Treat God as the Lord of all, in worship, obedience, and belief and to treat other people as God's creation in His image-- with respect and care for their needs.