One of the things I most remember about Lord of the Rings is the need to get rid of the Ring! Seems to me to stand for Power, power over other people.

When Jesus said, “You will receive power” (Acts 1:8), I don’t think he meant the Ring. Rather he was releasing us from intimidation so we could bear witness to the Truth which is Jesus himself., even when the powers were opposing and persecuting us!

But today we are still locked into power struggles, even in churches. And this makes us religious rather than relational, if you can allow some alliteration. It drives people away from churches and often towards some kind of “new spirituality” (new age) where they feel free from control, church politics, abuse etc.

Abuse is a power act by one human being over another and many of us have been guilty of it.  We can see it clearly when someone is doing it to us (though not always, even then) or when someone else is doing it to another person we care about. But can we see it when we are doing the Power thing?

Power is inevitable, but how do we use it? The Bible calls for justice and mercy and a humble walk with God (Mic.6:8).  It speaks of God overturning the power relations in the world (Luke 1:51-53; Mary said that!!). God judges us by how we treat those who are dependent on us, those we have power over. Hence the blockages to prayer when we mistreat them (cf 1 Pet.3:7; Is.58:3). (sorry about all those Scriptures, but they’re good!)

God deliver us from church politics or, for that matter, family politics, school politics, company politics!

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Religion and Christianity

August 27, 2007

Is Christianity a religion? What is religion anyway? Did Jesus come to start a new religion? Is a Christian a religious person? Time I came back to these sorts of issues.

I think it’s pretty obvious Jesus didn’t come to start a new religion (and perhaps the same could be said of Buddha and even Mohammed).  According to John 10:10, he came that we might have abundant life, not abundant religion.

Unfortunately we ended up with “the Christian religion” doing much the same as any other religion: bonding societies, keeping everyone under control, providing meaning to life, celebrating the stages of life (birth-marriage-death), legitimizing the state or the church, providing a basis for law.

Nothing wrong with those things- we need some of them at least- but religion inevitably ends up getting mixed up with power, control, ideology, tradition and boundaries: i.e. us v them, as we can see with the current Islamophobia in the west. So it starts to function like the 2nd beast in Rev.13, supporting the big beast of the imperial state.

How can we get free from this? Here’s a few thoughts.

1. See religion as an infected area, part of the “elementary principles” of the world system (cf Gal.4:3,9; Col.2:8) that Jesus came to set us free from.  Do read those passages, by the way!!

2. Get a new idea of “conversion”. It’s not changing my religion but  turning back to God and being changed by Jesus Christ, becoming his disciple. This applies equally to “Christians” and “Muslims”, “Buddhists”, etc.

3. Refuse to draw unnecessary boundaries around non-Christians. They don’t need to join something called Christianity to be accepted by God. More radically, they need to fall in love with Jesus and follow him 100%.  And so do you and I. Maybe the very word “Christian” is past its use by date.

Last night I watched a great doco on Tehran. All these wonderful people, not my enemy, just people God loves, who are looking for their way in life, but locked into Religion! May they find Life instead.

Faith and Politics

August 20, 2007

Two things have sparked this blog off: the movie “Amazing Grace” and Kevin Rudd’s “fall from grace” with the exposure of his night club adventure. Both Wilberforce and Rudd were politicians, ambitious, professing Christians, good speakers, imperfect but committed. The difference (so far; Kevin’s story isn’t finished yet) is that Wilberforce’s campaign was born out of his conversion and his membership of a group of committed Christians called the “Clapham sect”.  The key emphasis of the evangelical revival in 18th century England (spearheaded by Wesley, Whitefield and others like John Newton) was on personal conversion or the new birth.  Their political campaigns on a number of fronts were born out of a strong emphasis on personal faith in Jesus. And arguably Wilberforce gave up his ambitions of cabinet rank to follow the slave trade campaign.

Christians should be involved in politics if they feel so called. I have friends on all sides of politics whose faith moves them on: Greens, Family First, Liberal, non-party. But I think we should be wary of anyone using Christianity to promote themselves. It’s great to see Christians of varying allegiances praying with each other in parliament but too often party allegiance and ambition come first, it seems.  Yet it’s hard for us outside parliament to judge as we are not experiencing the pressure MPs face. They need our prayers.

Unfortunately the new birth has itself become a religious party slogan in many places. Many talk about being “born again” who seem to show no evidence of having experienced it.  We need to recapture the fervour and clarity expressed in Newton’s hymn.

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me, I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.

‘Twas grace that caused my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved, how precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed.”

Not belonging to the right church or believing the right things but believing in the Saviour!

So who’s right then?

August 14, 2007

The second episode of Compass on Fundamentalists was chilling. Here we have Muslims, Jews, Christians all saying we’ve got the truth that everyone must follow- just because we say so? Or because we’re prepared to die or kill for it? No wonder secular people are saying, there’s something wrong here. After all, they (followers of religions) can’t all be right when they oppose and deny each other. Maybe a kind of postmodern relativist tolerance is called for. Trouble is, that’s in danger of going under in the face of militant Islam.

Somehow or other, as a Christian I’ve got to find a way to affirm the uniqueness of Christ as the Saviour of the whole world (Muslims, Buddhists, whoever) while reaching out to and accepting everyone in His name. After all, Jesus loves Muslims, Jews, Hindus, even atheists; He’s not interested in “control” or forcing absolute truth on them. Too often in the past Christian evangelism has been over-aggressive, intolerant, arrogant and very unChristlike. not at all like Paul who said “the love of Christ controls us..” (2 Cor.5:14).

Jesus is the answer but too often Christians have been the problem.

Am I a Fundamentalist?

August 6, 2007

Sunday night’s Compass program on Fundamentalism (1st of 2) was quite balanced and illuminating. It showed that religious militancy is not restricted to Muslims and Christians by showing examples of Indian Hindus and Sri Lankan Buddhist monks getting very intolerant and violent. In contrast the US Christians interviewed were only violent by proxy, i.e. supporting the Iraq war.

The presenter, an English Catholic,  correctly explained the roots of the word “fundamentalism”: it came out of the publication (early twentieth century) of a series of booklets outlining the “fundamentals” of Christianity that are non-negotiable, in response to higher criticism and liberal theology: doctrines such as the bodily resurrection of Jesus and the virgin birth.  This was an honest and forthright attempt to concentrate the argument on the key areas that really matter, rather than getting lost on arguments between Christians about (say) predestination or baptism. In terms of the original debate, I would be a fundamentalist (just).

Unfortunately the term has been repeatedly hi-jacked. First, by the more extreme “fundamentalists” who insisted on narrowing the definition so that, for instance, you had to support  a “seven day young earth creation” position on Genesis and a dispensationalist view of eschatology to be accepted as a true fundamentalist.  Then, by the media, who found “fundamentalism” to be a useful “catch all” phrase to cover all kinds of militant religion, especially the so-called “Christian right” who were emerging as a political force to be reckoned with. Now it has even worse connotations, as Islamist violent militants become seen as the paradigmatic “fundamentalists”.

Certainly in all these terms, I am not a fundamentalist.

The issue raises again the question of boundaries, which I discussed in an earlier blog. This is an important question. How “black and white” should we be about issues? My answer to that would be, as black-and-white as the issue demands but no more.

So, for example, I believe the second coming is a non-negotiable belief. Jesus is coming again literally and we will all see it. But the details that surround this are very ambiguous and grey! People get all shook up about a pre-trib rapture, for example, or the mark of the beast. These are issues we should not be dogmatic about.

So let’s not be Fundamentalist but by all means hold to the fundamentals!

A Pentecostal Mind?

August 4, 2007

Interesting article in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph today about Tanya Levin, who has recently written a book critical of Hillsong church. She is now calling herself an atheist rejecting Christian faith as such. Judging by the article (I haven’t read her book) one of key things that put her off was being discouraged from asking questions, either about the church or the Bible.

Whatever the rights or wrongs of her case and Hillsong, this does raise an important issue for Pentecostals in general. Most Pentecostal churches in Australia have grown by a combination of strong leadership and contemporary music. Nothing wrong with that: it has helped them be relatable and unified where some other churches are old-fashioned and divided. But we are still inclined to suggest to people that they check their brains at the door!

In postmodern times, discouraging questions instead of engaging them and giving thoughtful answers is not a good long-term strategy. Christians should question things, including their own leaders and their faith. The truth is strong enough to stand this.

I’m not advocating a kind of endless questioning that never comes to a commitment, that uses questioning to avoid commitment. Jesus challenged people to follow him even when they didn’t understand it all and we never have all our questions answered (not in this life anyway). But authoritarianism and emotionalism are no substitutes for honest engagement with real issues.

A few years ago, Mark Noll wrote about “the scandal of the evangelical mind”.  Someone else remarked that we are still looking for a Pentecostal mind. Don’t be afraid to think.