Posts Tagged ‘Bible’

The Greater Commission: God’s Revelation and Our Response

Thursday 4 February 2010

When I applied to Wycliffe Bible Translators 7 years ago I was asked to write several doctrinal statements outlining my beliefs about various biblical themes, one of which was God’s mission. I was expected to discuss the basis on which church was involved in mission in the 21st Century.

In answering this question I relied heavily on a single verse from Matthew 28, often known as the “Great Commission”, where Jesus tells his disciples to “Go and make disciples of all nations”. I reasoned that if this was true for the disciples 2,000 years ago,  it must also be true for us today. If Jesus has given us this command, how can we claim to be his followers and not carry it out?

7 years on I would answer the question very differently. It’s not that what I said at the time isn’t true – I still believe that Jesus has commanded his church to make disciples of all nations. If this was the only verse in the Bible where God called his people to tell others about himself, I would still take Jesus’ commandment completely seriously.

My mistake was not in believing something that wasn’t true, but rather in believing something that was true, but ultimately missing out on the whole truth. Rather than just being a command tacked on as a panicked afterthought as Jesus realised he was leaving his disciples, God’s mission – his revelation of himself to all nations – is something that God started with the creation of the world, and has been doing ever since in and through that creation. For thousands of years God has been revealing himself to his people through the law, through prophets, through angels, visions, dreams, a donkey… and ultimately through his son.

Why is it important that we understand the whole truth about God’s mission to the nations? If we have one command from Jesus, surely that’s enough? 7 years ago that was my logic – if Jesus said something, who am I to even think about the matter any further? I should just take him at his word without question.

Our western culture likes to frame concepts abstractly and to reduce things to their logical extreme. If we believe Jesus is God, and God is truth, then Jesus always speaks the truth. If Jesus tells us to make disciples of all nations, why look any further for our mandate?

But actually we see in the Bible that God’s communication is much more holistic than we might at first think. The Bible isn’t a list of commands for us to follow like robots, but rather a collection of diverse writings – history, poetry, law, proverbs, prophecy, letters – which don’t just tell us how to live, but reveal to us the nature of God.

When God does give a command in the Bible it is always in the context of relationship. God reveals part of himself to his people, and then gives them a command which is their appropriate response.

In the verse in Matthew 28 Jesus says “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations…” (Matthew 28:18-20) If we look back to the ten commandments God says “I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery. You must not have any other god but me…” (Deuteronomy 5:6-7) And in the following chapter “Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:4) Repeatedly throughout the giving of the law, the commandments are framed as responses to the revelation of who God is.

My problem 7 years ago was that I understood and was willing to carry out God’s command, but I was generally ignorant of the revelation of God’s character that prompted the command. I knew that Jesus had commanded his church to make disciples of all nations, but I didn’t understand that the command was supposed to be my response to the revelation of the missional heart of God himself that we see throughout scripture. It was in fact an invitation to join in with what God had been doing since the beginning of the world.

What I believed was true, but it wasn’t the truth.

Understanding what God commands, but being ignorant of the revelation of God that prompts the command actually affects the way we carry out that command. If we hear Jesus’ call to make disciples of all nations, but don’t see the missional nature of God’s actions running through the Bible, we’ll be tempted to think that mission is our job – a task God has given us to complete alone. And so we’ll devise whatever strategies we can to accomplish that task as quickly and easily as possible. On the other hand if we understand that mission is at the heart of God’s character, and Jesus’ command is actually an invitation to be part of what God is doing, we’ll depend completely on him, in the knowledge that we are part of something so much bigger. We won’t be tempted to cut corners when we think God isn’t looking, or to achieve our goals in ways that are contrary to how God works.

Our culture values following instructions. As Christians we’re always tempted to reduce the Christian life to following rules, hoping that if we work hard enough at completing the tasks set before us, we’ll finally stand in front of God and hear him say “Well done good and faithful servant”. But I’m not sure that God defines obedience in this way.

The Bible teaches us that God cares deeply that we obey his commands, but that, despite what our reductionist culture teaches us, those commands can never be divorced from his relationship with us. We should obey God’s commands, but unless our obedience is a response to the revelation we see of him, and is a product of our relationship with him, we’re no better than the Pharisees in their hollow adherence to the rules.

Ultimately we need to have a whole-Bible understanding of God’s mission, not so that we can carry out the right commands and follow the right rules, but so that we can know the missional nature of our God, and through our relationship with him, respond by joining with him in sharing his nature with people from all nations.

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Tanzanian Pastor faces 6 months in prison after refusing to swear on Bible

Saturday 7 February 2009

I’d always wondered how Jesus’ instructions to his followers not to swear on any thing, but to let their “yes be yes, and no be no” applied to swearing on the Bible in court. So I was fascinated to hear this tale of a Tanzanian pastor. It’s told by Kenneth Mwazembe, and is in Swahili, so the quoted text below is my translation:

Pastor of the EAGT [Evangelical Assemblies of God in Tanzania – a large Pentecostal denomination] church on Ichenjezya street in the town of Vwawa, Mbozi District of Mbeya Region, Simon Kitwike (48), yesterday found himself with a 6 month jail sentence for contempt of court after refusing to swear the witness oath because of his religious faith.

The Pastor who had had his house broken into at the end of last year and had some things stolen, arrived at Mbozi District court to give his witness but refused to swear, claiming that it would be wrong.

The District Judge Kajanja Nyasige commanded him to read the section of the Bible which tells him not to swear in court, so the Pastor opened the Bible and read Matthew 5:35, which is where his view comes from.

… Judge Nyasige continued to be patient with the Pastor in order that he have the chance to change his stance, by commanding him to read from the Bible again – from the letter of Paul to the Romans 13:1-5. The witness read this section in front of the court, but when he was asked if he had changed his stance, he replied that he was unable to change his stance from this verse, and insisted that his position was still the same.

Judge Nyasige was compelled to read him the judgement that he was guilty of contempt of court and so was sentenced to go to jail for 6 months, and also that he would be expected to give his testimony in the original case on March 2nd this year. read more

What would you have done were you the judge? The judge was quite right in saying that Paul tells the church in Romans 13:1-5 that they should submit to the government and those in authority, but what happens when the law of the country directly contradicts an instruction of Jesus?

It’s an interesting dilemma that could equally have happened in the UK (and maybe has done in the past?) and highlights the irony of laws that require witnesses to swear on a book which instructs people not to swear on anything but simply let their yes be yes and their no be no.

WFMW

Wednesday 3 September 2008

WFMW

WFMW

I was inspired to write a Works for Me Wednesday today because I just phoned a friend of mine the other day in the States (Hi Apie! : ) and we had the longest conversation in the world!  We kept talking about what I do around the house that helps it to be organised and creative and productive because she is soon going to be at home fulltime – with her first baby on the way.  So, even though I am not super organised, and I am eternally learning, I thought I’d share something! : )

I think the #1 thing that has been working for me is morning Bible reading.  As soon as I wake up I get out of bed (before I have time to wind up and think about my upcoming day…!) and go to ‘my chair’ in the living room and open the Word of God.  Praise the Lord that that He’s given me an amazing husband who is sooo my compliment and likes routine – not my favourite…!  So, for encouragement, we do it together, and talk about one of the passages we read together.  Its good!

We read through the Word in a year, a month and a day.  So, there’s three chapters to read each day and you always know what you’re going to read next!

I also normally read Oswald Chambers ‘My Utmost for His Highest’ before I dive into the word for that day – and the thing that amazes me most is how the Bible passages and Chambers intertwine each day.  There is never a day where I am like – well, that was good but it wasn’t for me.  If you expect God to speak to you, you will hear Him! Its totally exciting! : )

That’s what works for me, by God’s grace! : )

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Works for Me Wednesdays at http://rocksinmydryer.typepad.com/shannon/worksforme-wednesday-guid.html

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Unlocking the scriptures

Wednesday 26 March 2008

I was working in Tanzania with Wycliffe from 2004-2006, doing something called Language Survey. On one of our survey trips we went to Mara Region in the north of Tanzania, to see what languages were spoken there and what the need was for Bible translation.

One of the languages, Kuria, already had a New Testament translated by the Bible Society, so we looked into whether additional translations were needed for the various dialects of Kuria, and decided that the one translation should suffice. However, the translation wasn’t being used by the people – most of the copies were sitting in a storehouse.

Recently I read this story from colleagues in Tanzania, which is an encouragement that the scriptures are now just starting to be used! Pray that these men and thousands of others like them would learn to read and love the Kuria scriptures, and that God would use them to draw people into a closer relationship with him.

mustard seed: the dilemma of growth

Friday 21 March 2008

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Photo by mrjoro

This? This…is the glorious mustard seed? Not the magnificent and beautiful tree one imagines. Its a weed…!

Thanks to our Pastor at Calvary Petaluma, this isn’t as shocking to me as it could have been. The parable of the mustard seed in Matthew 13 is a little more rough around the edges than I’d ever given it credit for before.

He gave them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest garden plant and becomes a tree, so that the wild birds come and nest in its branches.” Matthew 13:31-32, the NET Bible.

Perhaps Jesus didn’t mean for the parable to only refer to the beautiful growth of the Kingdom of Heaven – which is still a facet of this image – but hoped to warn against false growth, as well. Isn’t it true that growth can allow things to go unnoticed and hidden from obvious view? In the two parables, the yeast and the mustard seed, something considered unwanted from the lens of the biblical culture – yeast (evil) and birds (enemy) – come to hide or lodge in the surroundings.

If this is true, what are the implications on the Kingdom of Heaven as we see it? What is true growth in the Kingdom of Heaven? What are the implications of physical growth in the church on this Earth?