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Monday, November 26, 2012

Comment to Stayrev Victor

Stavrev Victor posted in House2Harvest Network Group Page



Stavrev Victor
10:49am Nov 25
 
Is communism in the church in the west or is that a slander ? Who can give some teaching on humanism and socialism mixed with some organic vision ?
   

Stayrev,

While this is a short question, the answer is not short. Now, I believe that I have seen that you are based in Europe. I have lived in the U.S. all my life. I feel, therefore, I could not reasonably comment about any society I haven't lived in, and I have no idea whether you have ever been to the Americas. Anyway, I will give my opinion from where I am.

First, since you are writing from an organic church perspective, or at least on House2Harvest, which recognizes church as a group of believers, not an organization, you are probably aware that few of us can comment on what's going on outside of the church one is part of and some others nearby. From society's traditional definition of church, though, it is clear that some liberal/progressive churches have socialistic influence in them, but they aren't the true church, or have believers in them. I will also say that some of us might say that history shows that back in the days of the civil rights movement in the U.S., there appears to have been funds from communist organizations funnelled into that movement, but that doesn't negate the faith of those who were believers who were involved in it. Some of my brothers and sisters in Jesus may, though, disagree with me on whether that is actually historical. If you have never visited the U.S., "communist" is a generalized perjorative. Due to having gone to a secular liberal arts college in the early 1970's, I have actually known four persons who publicly considered themselves to be communist, and two of them overtly couldn't stand each other. A communist couldn't get onto a library board in most of this country.

Therefore, "is that a slander?" cannot be answered, in my opinion, in that I have no clue who you are thinking of.

Your third question, "Who can give some teaching on humanism and socialism mixed with organic vision?" is also quite difficult. Humanism is a point of view in many of the social sciences. As a believer in Jesus, humanism is too low a view of man and most everything in comparison to the Christian view of man, God's work, and everything. Now, one problem is that, among us believers, there are persons who are highly educated and intellegent, and others gifted towards the opposite degree, and some of our brothers and sisters will confuse "humanism" with "humanitarianism". The believers view of caring for our neighbors includes humanitarianism and more. Socialism is a political philosophy, which, to my understanding, is different in different areas. A philosophy of religion professor looking at the west (which in this use would include Europe and the Americas) would say that Catholicism is more socialistic, and Protestantism is more capitalistic. In recent weeks, you have been criticizing some of my fellow believers in the U.S. for tying their faith to conservative politics, and, in general, I would agree. I will also say that here in the U.S., there is a full fledged Christian media, and, if you watched or listened to it, there would be no indication that organic church even exists, as it is dominated by music companies that release songs that reflect basic Christian beliefs, and preaching programs that are paid for out of institutional church funds, either to get more people to come to their organization, or, at the least, allow leaders to say to other leaders, "We have a media ministry" (whether anyone is listening is another story, as in my city, we have roughly 12 Christian radio stations available).

Those generalities said, there are assuredly some points of view on certain subjects that might be labeled "humanistic" or "socialistic" that one could argue narrowly would be congruent or similar to proper belief for followers of Jesus, but that doesn't prove anything. At times, we will be in agreement with someone that we vehemently disagree with in most things, even if it is within the trivial ("It feels cold today"). That doesn't mean that one has "sold out" on important subjects. Therefore, "Who can give teaching on humanism and socialism mixed with organic vision?" If you meant that question literally, probably a brother with experience dealing with one or both of these subjects in either the practical or theoretical, and with experience and gifting for teaching in the organic setting. The Holy Spirit would need to show me the reason for that, as I cannot picture any urgent topic where I live that demands that. If you meant that question in a rhetorical manner, such as that the two are so opposite as to be impossible, this is, again, a situation where attempting to say things in too few words brings about misunderstanding. Maybe such inference is clear to the fellow English-speaking/reading believers that you are around, but the nuance was unclear to me from where I live.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Book Review: Jesus: A Theography by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola

Book Review--Jesus: A Theography, by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola (Thomas Nelson, 2012)

For anyone unfamiliar, Leonard Sweet is a theology professor, best known for his two books which I understand to be an intellectual framework behind the megachurch flavor of Christian groups, Aquachurch and Soul Tsunami (I say that I believe in that, personally, not ever gotten around to reading Soul Tsunami). Frank Viola has written a group of books that could be described as an intellectual framework behind the housechurch flavor of Christian groups. When it comes to organizational structure, this appears to be going in opposite directions, but, over time, Sweet and Viola met, and wound up collaborating on Jesus Manifesto in 2010, with this being their second collaboration. The word "Theography" is a combination of "theos" the word that meant "God" in the Greek that the New Testament was written in, and "biography", emphasizing the idea of the attempt being to write a biography of Jesus from the perspective of Jesus as God come to earth, who has a history both before and after his days as a person on earth.

Now, I have to state that, over time, I have heard many Christian leaders say and do things that only seem correct when viewed from our cultural context, but do not fit the original cultural context of the writings of the Bible and actions of God's people of those days. Therefore, I have a fondness for all teaching that puts the original context in proper perspective. To that degree, possibly my favorite learning tool is the two volume, IVP Bible Background Commentary. I am willing to say that I would put this book next in line in speaking to this part of Christian knowledge.

The two books are extremely different, though. Bible Background Commentary is written like a dictionary, with the comments connected to specific Bible verses in order of book, chapter, and verse, with each comment disconnected from the previous and next comments. Jesus: A Theography covers specifically those facts having to do with Jesus, from before creation to the Final Judgement, understood in the widest form possible, and written in literary, as opposed to reference, form. Further, as with George Barna & Viola's Pagan Christianity, this is written in a language that an average adult can understand, but with copious footnotes, as would be done for a theological or other book written to the highest level of intellectuals. Unlike Pagan Christianity, which was written as a criticism of all kinds of status quo structures in the modern believing/evangelical Christian church and defense of very different ways of doing things in the early church as being what was taught by the apostles and in the Bible, which demanded copious footnotes of all kinds of historical and theological sources, most footnotes in Jesus: A Theography are just scripture references done in the style of an intellectual work, as opposed to being inserted in the text as is the case with most popular Christian books.

Therefore, this book, in literary form, connects a large amount of related statements, analogies, prophecies and literary illusions that appear in various parts of the Bible which look forward to Jesus from the Old (referred to in the book as First) Testament, or look back from the New (or Second) Testament's Acts to Revelation to the Gospels and previous. The basis for this is the standard Christian concept that Jesus, as God, was before creation and continues through eternity future in community with the Father and Spirit. Therefore, nothing He did on earth was an accident, but was connected to His communication to man in times past and future.

As such, to the unbelieving person who is not open to the leading of the Holy Spirit, the whole book probably would come across as the construction of an elaborate house of cards. To the believer, this will be extremely helpful in realizing how such a wide variety of situations throughout the Bible are interconnected together to communicate His truth to us. Further, it is done in a readable style for those who are more attuned to read things written like a story. Particularly, as various flavors of the church have come to realize over the past century that leadership is a function of gifting, not academic accreditation, this type of writing is highly useful to leaders who have not had the opportunity or received the direction to have buried themselves into just studying theology for a period of time.

Friday, November 23, 2012

An unintentional hiatus

I haven't written anything new for weeks, because I have been really busy with certain mundane details of life, and I have felt tired (I have been struggling with stamina for a while, as I have written before), and I was reading Sweet & Viola's new book, "Jesus: A Theography".  I will have my review of it on Sunday.  I will give a hint--it's exceptional!

A couple of weeks ago, I had to discontinue my radio program.  Even if, somehow, no one but myself realized that it existed, I believe that it was something the Spirit gave me as a goal, and I got to the end.  What's next, I don't know yet.  I may never know on this earth.  That's not the point.  The point is to follow the Spirit's leading, and leave the results to God.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Sunday--(program 2005)

Since recording the "Simple Church Minute" programs, I have realized that it is easier to repost the transcripts on the day of broadcast, so what is below is the same as the date stated at the end of the program.
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2005--Sunday

My name is Tom; this is Simple Church Minute.  Today, I wish to speak about the way we who are believers treat Sunday, as opposed to what the Bible teaches us about Sunday.  In Genesis 1, we are told that God rested on the seventh day.  We know that days, months, and years have an astronomical basis; weeks do not.  When God established the Old Covenant Law, there was a Sabbath day.  While it is now celebrated among the modern Jews from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, back then, the festival days were not counted among the days of the week, so relative to our calendar, the Sabbath floated through the week. 

            When Jesus came to earth and ministered to the people and taught his disciples, there was a continual clash between Him and the religious leaders over various aspects of the Law, including how to honor the Sabbath, to keep it holy.  The Roman Empire, which controlled Israel at the time, had the worship of the sun god, Mithras, on Sunday.  That’s where the word Sunday comes from.  When Jesus died on the cross, He fulfilled the Old Covenant and the Law.  Now, God knew that, and the few hundred people who came to believe on Jesus while he was on earth knew that, but the Jewish religious leaders didn’t know it, and Jesus’ death wasn’t even a blip on the news to the Romans, just one more person put to death on a disorderly edge of the Empire.

            When the Holy Spirit was sent on the 120 persons in the upper room in Jerusalem that we read about in Acts chapter 2, the God’s New and better Covenant began.  By the power of the Holy Spirit the people came from that room and spoke about Jesus in the street.  The church grew rapidly, and we are told that they met daily.  They didn’t all meet together daily*.  It tells us they met from house to house.  They may have met a little by the side of the Jewish temple, but that went away after a while.  Almost all of them were poor.  Some foreigners who heard about Jesus and believed dropped what they were doing and attached themselves to the believers.  Because they were poor, most of the believers assuredly worked long and odd hours.   They had no building, no ritual, but were connected by having seen Jesus in their spirits, and from that, desiring to live to honor Him.  Because of Roman Mithras worship, Sunday probably became a convenient time to meet, especially outside of Israel where Jews and Jewish worship was a minority belief. 

The Jews were unhappy under Roman rule, and between attacks in 70 and 130 A.D., the people of Jerusalem were dispersed, which would have made the Sabbath as a holy day of even less effect on surrounding society.

            After the legalization of Christianity in the 4th century, many pagan ways got forced into the now legal, no longer underground church, and Sunday became entrenched as the day of worship.  The Reformation came, formal, ritualized worship changed, but the use of Sunday as the day of the services was not affected. 

            This is not the case everywhere.  I know of a man who is a leader of a small group of believers in a Buddhist dominated country.  The tradition in that land is that most of the people meet at sunup on Thursday mornings to give a ceremonial bowl of rice to the Buddhist monks.  In that area, it is only reasonable for the small group of Christians to meet at that same time, as the social tradition of the area will make it easiest for everyone to meet then.  This will be the case wherever a religion or dominant social organization has ruled that a certain regular time is an off time, whether for religious ritual, political indoctrination, or whatever.

            Why is this important?  Because, even though scripture doesn’t command a special off day, tradition can make it feel that way.  A couple of years ago, I had a job where I worked all day Saturday and Sunday, and I mean all day as in 16 hours on Saturday followed by 10 on Sunday,  what little I had to do the rest of the week was easily scheduled to my convenience.  It was impossible to “plug in” to what we in this culture see as a traditional church, as almost all are set up to revolve around a Sunday morning meeting.  In 1 Corinthians 11 verses 20 to 22, when Paul is warning persons in this city about their behavior about food during a shared meal among the believers, the underlying situation is that some believers got to the assembly at different times due to their work.  Is it because most of the believers there were poor and some were slaves that this church was expected by Paul to be flexible to lives of the various persons among the saved, but today, because churches are big business, with real estate, well paid officials, and neighborhood marketing plans, that they don’t have to be flexible to real needs in their midst?  Jesus told us that the poor we would always have with us, but never commanded buildings, salaries, or marketing plans.

            Every day is the Lord’s Day.  Church is where one gets spiritually fed, but that doesn’t have to be, and oftentimes isn’t, an intellectual thing, when the Holy Spirit is directing us.  He has commanded us to build up each other in faith, and serve those around us.  Almost all of what, in this society, looks like Christian ritual really doesn’t have a basis upon what Jesus taught the disciples, who taught the early believers. 

 I can be reached at simplechurchminute@yahoo.com or 757-735-3639.  To see what I just said written down, where you can read it at your own pace, visit my blog tevyebird.blogspot.com, where this is the entry for September 16, 2011.  For more information about simple church, visit www.hrscn.org.

*I mean, as in, all of the now thousands of believers in Jerusalem

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Book review: What Shall This Man Do? by Watchman Nee


Watchman Nee, “What Shall This Man Do?”  (Kingsway, 1961; Tyndale, 1978—I read the 1986 printing), 269 pages.

This book comes out of a number of sermons Nee delivered in China during the period 1938 to 1942, which was a tumultuous time due to World War II, Japan invading China, and Communist rebels acting in such a way that forced the government of Chaing-Kai Shek to Taiwan in 1949.  Additionally, in the previous decades, western missionaries had acted in a way with respect to the locals and the governments of the countries they came from such as to bring less than respect to things considered Christian.  It also serves as background behind the great coming to faith in Jesus that would occur during the time that Mao had most of the culture blocked off from the rest of the world.  Nee did not actually write this book.  It was edited into its form by Angus Kinnear from Nee’s sermons.  In the preface, as a note of caution, Kinnear quotes what Nee said after writing “The Spiritual Man”:  “The headings, the orderliness, the systematic way in which the subject is worked out, the logic of the argument—all are too perfect to be spiritual.”  I might suggest that this is the weakness of our “churches” in the U.S.—the music is practiced until perfect, then a speaker, depending upon tradition, presents something intellectually systematic or emotionally fervent, and everything is so under control no one can say the wrong thing, or even ask a question before others.

            There are 11 chapters to the book, and the order of presentation is the editor’s, not Nee’s.  The personal callings of Peter, Paul, and John represent the framework of the book, and represent the three main historic emphases of God to his people for all time—evangelism (fishers of men), building the church (tent making), and restoration (mending the nets) guiding/repairing us back. 

            Chapter 2 concerns itself with some situations involving Peter in which Jesus or the Spirit intervened to teach Peter and others beyond where Peter would have on his own.

            In Chapter 3, Nee’s message is about what an unsaved person needs to have to be saved, and what the Christian worker needs to be a vessel God can use in a situation.  Nee’s presentation on this idea is different from the other things I have heard and read on this topic.

            Chapter 4 goes back to the introductory analogy of Paul and the tent making ministry of helping build the church.  In the latter part of the chapter, Nee deals with the phrase “Be angry but sin not” and how so many of us will not rebuke and why.  I do not remember if I have ever read or heard someone teach on what this practically means.  If you read this and come to disagree with Nee’s conclusions, one will have to think hard on this matter to know exactly why.

            Chapter 5 is on the idea that we are both individuals who are servants of God’s will and parts of the Body of Christ at the same time.  He also speaks on the initial general vision of God’s will for us—salvation and a specific vision, with the believer moving through times of greater consecration.

            In Chapter 6, Nee deals with the relationship between specific calling and a person’s, a generation’s, and the Church’s character.  Much of the chapter is built around comments on Ephesians 1, 2, and 5.

            It is of note for those of us involved in simple/organic/house church here in North America that we implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) look at the revival of faith in China during the Mao years as an example of simple church working properly (rightly or wrongly).  From that, we see the work and writings of Nee as a precursor to that explosion of faith, especially in his discouragement towards denominations or groups that divide believers from working together.  In this book, it is clear Nee personally, at the time of these speeches, spoke in a mode that saw “preachers and workers” in a different class, or if he did not, it appears that way from the way certain ideas are phrased.

            Possibly because this book was developed out of transcripts of speeches, and possibly because Chinese language and culture is so different from ours, on a number of sentences, one might easily disagree with an idea stated.  This may be because it is an accessory thought to a main point being discussed, and it would not fit to develop the details of the point in a speech setting, as opposed to in a book where one might be able to struggle with the fine points of a written teaching.  On the other hand, this is somewhat easier reading than Nee’s intentional books exactly because a speech, in and of itself (as opposed to a college lecture which is given, in part, to supplement texts) is less in depth than a writing.

            Chapter 7 examines 1 Corinthians 12:15-25, on Paul’s body analogy to the variety of giftedness in the church and, therefore, in we who are members of the Body.  One thing he speaks on is how we need to function as God has chosen to gift us, and not how we might prefer to be gifted, as that is a part of submitting to God’s direction for each of us in ministry.  Personally, I found that, beginning in this chapter, the reading gets slower as the teaching begins to present practical conclusions that I needed to stop and consider before moving on.

            Chapter 8 is titled, “Ministering Life” and moves on to 1 Corinthians 13.  God’s strength through a believer remains God’s, but love is for the long term building up of the church.  From this, he discusses the difference between ministering through gifts, as opposed to ministering through one’s life of serving God through what he calls “the formation of Christ” within.  At this point, the book begins to move from being a series of teachings to the presentation of practical points for the believer to apply in being God’s called person in the situations we walk through.

            Chapter 9 begins with the difference in the use of the word “church” versus the word “churches” in scripture, and continues with the role of all believers in restoring another to right relationship with the church, i.e. other believers, and brings insight from verses not normally seen in our part of the world as concerning this matter.

            Then comes what seems to be a jump to the subject of prayer, God’s self limitations, and the role of the believers as a group in minimizing those self limitations.  What is said here is different in attitude, but excellent.  He finishes the chapter with an exhortation for one to see the Church as more than those caught in the evangelistic net, but that all believers together, as the Church, have a fuller purpose that we are to grow into.  One can see in it a precursor to what more current writers have written on eternal purpose.

            Chapter 10 is about the connection of John’s writings:  the last gospel, the last letters, and Revelation—the last book, and the common theme of restoration and God’s view of time, eternity, and divine reality.

            The last chapter begins by discussing what the scriptures mean by “overcomer” and its connection to spiritual warfare.  The book concludes with a section that addresses the question of the book’s title, “What Shall This Man Do?”  Upon reading the last 15 pages, it is clear that the whole preceding part of the book was edited to prepare the reader for the conclusions there.  I believe that any normal person can look back on one’s life and feel that, at times, one did not do the optimal thing.  The final conclusion is both motivating and comforting that even our self-perceived failures are a part of what is in us, for the purpose of walking in God’s call upon one’s life, provided that one is willing.

            I wish I had read this forty years ago, but possibly I would have been too immersed in the traditionalism I had grown up with to have caught on to what Nee was saying.