Is sin contaminating your gospel?

I have heard some Evangelicals say that an essential aspect of evangelism is raising unbelievers awareness of their sin. I consider this potentially erroneous for a few reasons.

Firstly, it is a mistake to presume that the sins you are most concerned about are the sins they need to be most concerned about. Newsflash, sometimes what you don’t see is more important to their life situation than what you do.

Second, it is a mistake to presume that they unaware of their sins. This may not be the case at all. They may not call it sin per se, but most people are aware there are ways in which they fall short, even if only by their own standards.

Third, it is a mistake to presume their sins are the only sins that need acknowledging. This is a big mistake. If you focus exclusively on their sin you are likely coming across as judgmental and self righteous. Far better to quickly acknowledge your own sin and the fact that only God is righteousness. Make sure you’re holding God up rather than yourself.

Fourth, it is a mistake to presume that the unbeliever is unaware of any of your sins. If you focus on their sins and downplay your own, don’t be surprised if you get called a hypocrite, just as the Pharisees were by Jesus. And know this: the accusation will probably be justified.

So, I am not saying we should sweep sin under the rug and downplay the problem. On the contrary, I am saying sin is more pervasive than we realise and we should be wary of the sins of judgmentalism and hypocrisy weaving their way into what should be good news.

On criticising our political opponents

I think we need to return to the gospel. Jesus is our advocate in the court of opinion that matters most. And he’s the same for our political enemies as well for the most part. I have found that the left and the right can both be legalistic when it comes to what others are doing and licentious when it comes to what they themselves are doing. We need to break the cycle and move beyond legalism and licence and towards grace. That does not mean ignoring their injustices but it does suggest we should confess our own even as we point out theirs and put Jesus on the pedestal rather than ourselves. I find if my critiques are tempered with self confession the conversations tend to be more charitable.

Why did Paul say women should be silent in gatherings?

1 Corinthians 14 is often used as a prooftext against women in Christian leadership, but consider this: Paul does not accuse the women of TEACHING PRESUMPTIVELY, rather, he accuses the women of ENQUIRING DISRUPTIVELY. His desire seems to be for speakers to be able to speak without unnecessary interruption. This is the same concern he voices immediately prior with respect to those prophesying or speaking in tongues. One at a time! And at this point it should be noted that he has no problem with women prophesying just a little way back in 1 Corinthians 11. No, back there his only concern is head coverings. As long as it’s orderly he doesn’t seem to have a problem with it. Common thread: talking over the top of one another is not consistent with loving one another. And you know that loving one another is the key theme of this entire letter.

What did Jesus achieve?

What did Jesus achieve? Jews at the time of Jesus expected the messiah to achieve a number to things: to defeat the enemies of Israel; to restore the Temple; to gather the exiles of Israel; and to teach the Torah to the nations.

The earliest Christians, who were Jewish by and large, saw Jesus as fulfilling these expectations, but in unexpected ways. Jesus had taught that Satan was their true enemy, not Rome; that he would rebuild the Temple on the third day; that he had come for the lost sheep of Israel; and that his word would never fade. His disciples saw Jesus as fulfilling these messianic expectations through his life, death, and resurrection.

Throughout the ages, Christians have tended to drill down into different aspects of this. Some have tended to emphasise Jesus as warrior, defeating Satan and freeing God’s people; some have tended to emphasise Jesus as prophet, teaching God’s wisdom and modelling God’s ways; some have tended to emphasise Jesus as priest, offering himself as a sacrifice for our injustices. Each of these ways explains an aspect of his achievement, of the different ways in which the Messiah, Jesus, mediates between divinity and humanity.

The Lady chosen by our Lord

mother-of-jesus-christI have been considering the ways in which Christianity can legitimately be said to have both a Lady and a Lord. The Second Epistle of John opens with an address to “To the lady chosen by God and to her children, whom I love in the truth”. From the context it would seem that the Lady in question is the Church; that John sees us her as our Holy Mother. This echoes other allusions in scripture to the Church as the bride of Christ and to Israel as the wife of God. It is following such allusions that the prophets spoke of Israel’s idolatry as covenant adultery and that Isaiah could declare, “as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you”. In truth this is not so far removed from Jewish mystical speculation about Malkuth and Shekinah. And it’s not so hard to see how the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Mother Church and the presence of Christ in the womb or arms of Mary could become conflated in Christian iconography.

Expanded Horizons

This new experience – this opening of the heavens and the expansion of the horizon – is one of the most beautiful experiences that a person can have.  From then on, the character of our life is changed.  From then on, we soar through the sky on wings. Provided we want to.  Because there’s always the chance that, in our soaring flight, a treacherous, critical moment might come when we remember our self and prefer it over everything else.  All things are indeed ours.  But all things will turn against us like a bitter enemy if once again we become confined within ourselves.

But the moment we reject such narrowness and enter into the breadth and know the depth of the love of Christ (Eph 3.19), we discover that the whole world is ours: the earth, the sea, and the sky are all for us; so too the angels, the saints, and all the sacraments of the Church.  And God Himself – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit – is wholly ours, for He gives to us His fullness.  Do you see?  You renounced yourself, and in return received God.

Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra

Alexei Ospipov on the limits of experience and the knowledge of God

Is it really possible to deny God only because everyday experience does not give Him to us? But we know that “everyday experience” is in no way absolute, that it encompasses only some superficial sides of events and phenomena, that plain common sense is limited, and that there are many irrefutable facts which do not fit into what would seem to be unshakable, self-evident truth. Everyday experience gives us almost none of the things modern scientists talk about, but we believe their experience; we believe them without even knowing them or having the remotest possibility of testing the larger part of their assumptions and conclusion. On what grounds do we disbelieve the innumerably greater quantity of religious experiences, the testimony of people who are pure as crystal?

The experience of these experts in the “science of sciences” does not speak of unsubstantiated faith, nor of opinion, nor of an accepted hypothesis, nor even simple tradition, but of the fact of their knowledge of God.

The main experience of religion – a meeting with God – possesses (at least in its highest points) such a victorious power and fiery conviction, that it leaves any other obviousness far behind. It can be forgotten or lost, but not denied…. If people of faith began to tell about themselves, about what they have seen and learned with final certainty, then a whole mountain would form under which the mound of sceptical rationalism would be buried and hidden from sight.

Knowledge of God is an exact science, and not a chaos of mystical ecstasies and unhealthy exultations caused by inflamed nerves. Knowledge of God has its own systems, conditions, and criteria. How can we attain the knowledge of God? It begins with a selfless search for the truth, for the meaning of life and moral purity, and by forcing oneself towards goodness. Without such a beginning, the “experiment” of knowing God cannot be successful. These conditions are expressed in the Gospels briefly and clearly: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”.(Mt 5:8).

Alexei Ospipov

How missional can a church be?

My experience is that it’s unrealistic to expect everyone in a church to be equally missional, just the same as it’s unrealistic to expect everyone in a church to be equally pastoral.

What then should the focus of a local church be? Should it be sending or inviting? I think churches are called to do both. That they are called to invite people who are within their reach and send ambassadors to those who are beyond their reach.

Here is the sending process as I see it:

  1. Recognise that your church is NOT culturally inclusive for everyone
  2. Send ambassadors to neighbours beyond the cultural reach of your church
  3. Seed the gospel in a way that makes sense to culturally distant neighbours
  4. Plant churches around persons of peace who respond to the gospel
  5. Invite people from their culture into this new church, not the sending church
  6. Repeat the process, for both the mother church and the daughter church

This does not mean sending churches cease inviting people. That’s unsustainable. But it does mean recognising the limits of an invitational strategy, and letting go of expectations that the missionaries in your midst should be inviting everyone they engage with back into the sending church. For if the great commission is to be fulfilled in your city, it will only be through equipping and sending cross cultural workers to go to where they are needed, to the culturally marginalised, and expecting nothing in return except partnership in the gospel.