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What Should I Do To Become a Christian Teacher?

by John Oakes 

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I have been serving as a teacher in one way or another for more than thirty years.  It is my career, as a professor of chemistry and physics, and my avocation as well, as a teacher for churches. I have taught the hard sciences as several universities and colleges, as well as teaching for more than 150 churches in more than 70 countries.  One of my passions is to help to raise up teachers who can take on the unending task of helping both the saved and the lost to come to understand the Christian gospel.  In my travels and in my efforts to mentor teachers around the world, I have made a number of observations, both positive and negative, of what makes for an academically and spiritually well-qualified teacher which I would like to share.  I will make these comments, more or less in order as to relative importance as I see it.

1. Humility.

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I cannot count the number of times I have come across young believers who have passion to be Christian teachers but who have flamed out because of pride. I believe humility is the most important quality for anyone who aspires to be a teacher for God’s Church.  Generally, those who aspire to teaching in a Christian setting see themselves as smarter than the average person.  Hopefully, this is true about the expectant teacher, at least to some extent, as the gift of teaching certainly includes above-average intellectual skills!  However, the tragedy which I have seen repeatedly is that those who see themselves as smarter than others allow themselves to be know-it-alls.  Confidence becomes pride.  They wish that everyone were as smart as they and they cannot understand how the other believers could be so unwise and so uneducated in the basics of Christianity.  They cannot wait to enlighten everyone around them with regard to their ignorance.  How could anyone not realize that the teaching ministry is the most important aspect of the work of the Church?  Because I have such deep knowledge, what can these less-informed Christians teach me about anything?  I will hear what they have to say, but pass it through the filter of my superior wisdom.

The amazing thing is that these prideful prospective teachers do not realize that others can see these symptoms of pride from a mile away.  One reason I can list these examples of prideful teacher-thinking is that I have been sorely tempted with all of these many times.  I confess that one of the comments I have received in my student evaluations as a professor are statements such as, “he is a good teacher but arrogant when I talk to him in my office.  He makes me feel stupid.”  Ouch!  Double Ouch!!  I made a decision many years ago that I will go after defeating this kind of pride with unrelenting vigor. I will leave judgment about how successful I have been in this area to those who know me.

This prideful attitude will have two devastating results.  First of all, no one likes a know-it-all.  Certainly no one wants to be taught by a know-it-all.  More importantly, no church leader will give the “stage” to such a person.  And they should not.  The prideful teacher will cause more damage to the church than any help they can offer.  For a teacher, to not have the opportunity to use his or her gift is a great frustration.  It is also a sad waste of potential good for the Church.  Mark it down; if you have a prideful attitude about your wonderful knowledge, you will never be a respected and fruitful teacher.  You are like Nebuchadnezzar, who stood over his beloved Babylon and said to himself, “Is this not the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” (Daniel 4:30)  You have forgotten the admonition of Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:7, “What do you have that you did not receive, and if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you did not?”

Second, and perhaps more importantly, the candidate for teaching who is prideful will inevitably have a hard fall.  I have seen this pattern many times.  We all know that “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18)  We tell ourselves that no one appreciates our gift.  We are not respected.  This church does not deserve me.  I am going to find a place where my gift will be appreciated and used.  As a result the gift is either used toward non-Christian ends or the person will end up joining a church which does not hold to genuine Christianity.

 2. Having the spiritual gift of teaching.

Some are teachers, but do not have the gift of teaching.  As a stop-gap measure, in a church without gifted teachers or in a small ministry or new church, this expedient may be a necessity, and that is fine in such a case.  However, ideally, the evangelist will have the gift of evangelism, the elder will have the gift of shepherding, the church board member will have the gift of dealing wisely with money and the teacher will have the gift of teaching.  This principle can be found in 1 Peter 4:10-11, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms."

Of course, this raises the question.  Do I have the gift of teaching?  How would one know?  This is a really important question.  I do not have “the” answer to this question, but will suggest a few things to look for.  First of all, is this what you love to do?  Is this your passion (see below)?  In your attempts thus far to delve more deeply into the truths of Christianity, do you find yourself making greater strides than many others (not as a point of pride, but simply asking a realistic question)?  Is there reason to think that your intellectual gifts are well above average?  Do others agree with this assessment?

Certain skills are necessary; otherwise the gift cannot be used effectively. If it cannot be used effectively, then it is probably not a spiritual gift.  Intelligence alone is not sufficient.  Ideally, a teacher will be a strong public speaker.  If you cannot get across what you have learned, what good is it? There are other avenues of expressing this gift.  Not having skill as a public speaker is a deficit, but is not necessarily a sine qua non.  For example, perhaps you are a really good writer or a person who can reason effectively in a one-on-one encounter.  Bottom line, in order for a supposed gift of teaching to be genuine, the person holding this gift must have the ability to pass along knowledge in a persuasive way.  If not, then this is not your gift.

3. Having passion to teach.

I have taught on spiritual gifts dozens of times, and have published a book on this topic (Golden Rule Membership, Illumination Publishers).  My first advice on discovering one’s gifts is to ask what you love to do.  Your gift is the thing you will do even if no one appreciates it and even if you receive no encouragement for doing it.  Passion for teaching is an absolute essential for the one who wants to teach in God’s church.  There are at least two reasons this is true.  First of all, to become a well-trained and effective teacher will require a LOT of training.  I would argue that this role in the Church may require more training than any other.  Many hours of reading, studying and preparing, well above the call of duty, are absolutely required.  Without passion, few will be able to maintain this effort over time. Unlike the first two qualities mentioned above, this quality is relatively easy to “measure.”  By our twenties we know what we love to do.  You should ask yourself a simple question.  Am I truly passionate about teaching the gospel to both believers and non-believers?

4. Having the will and the opportunity to get the training.

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We cannot teach what we do not ourselves know.  Knowledge does not leap into our brains while we sleep.  The Holy Spirit will at times give us the words to speak when we are before rulers (Luke 12:12), but this cannot be counted on in every case. Desire alone is not enough.  Jesus did not have any degrees and he was the greatest Christian teacher who ever lived.  But we are not Jesus and almost certainly, advanced training, very likely including a post-graduate degree, will be required for the effective teacher in the twenty-first century.  It is unfortunate, but nevertheless true today, that the Christian teacher will need skill in English, because the great majority of useful resources are in English.  Knowledge of additional languages is not an absolute requirement, but it is very helpful.  Some training in history, philosophy, and the natural sciences is very helpful.  Some do not have these skills and will find difficulty acquiring them for various reasons.  Perhaps they come into the game at too advanced an age.  Perhaps they did not have access to education for cultural or other reasons.  If this is the case, then it is not likely that this person will become an effective teacher.

5. Being willing to work in a serving position.

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This point takes us back to the first on our list—the requirement of humility.  Here is the bottom line.  To teach is to serve.  Of course, this is true of all Christian ministry, as Jesus told us (Matthew 20:26, John 13:13-17).  But this is fundamentally true of teaching in the Church.  My experience tells me that teachers often do not see it this way.  I teach in a chemistry department.  In academia, chemistry is known as a service discipline.  What this means is that most taking my courses are there, not to be chemists but to be something else, such as a biologist or a pharmacist or a nurse or doctor.  I need to accept that nearly all of my students do not share my passion for chemistry.  I am there to serve other disciplines.

In Ephesians 4:11-12 we are told that the evangelists, shepherds and teachers are to prepare God’s people for works of service.  The way I like to put it, teaching is not the most important thing.  It is not the second most important thing in the church.  It is not even the third most important thing.  However, it certainly is in the top ten and might just possibly be in the top five.  If you want to do the “most important thing” then you need to recognize that teaching is not that thing.  Your role as a teacher is to provide something to others.  Yours is one of the parts in putting together the whole. Teaching actuates other abilities, but it is not that most essential ability and it will not normally be the thing which will be noticed first.  The purpose of the Christian life is to know God and to be known by him.  The Christian mission is to win as many as possible to Christ.  The teaching ministry does not take an up-front role in these things, although it is important to these things.  In fact it is essential to these things in the long run, but the teacher’s role is not the most essential one in helping people to have a relationship with God and to conversion of the lost.

Because one of my particular skills is in the area of Christian apologetics, I am blessed to have many experiences which are an exception to the rule I am stating above, but I still need to stress this fact about the teaching ministry.  Yours is a service role.  You will be tempted to think that it is the top priority, but it is not!  A church built out of people, all of whose skill is intellectual, will not be an effective church (effectiveness being defined as achieving the purpose and ministry of Christianity).  Evangelism and shepherding and taking care of the physical and spiritual needs of the lost and the saved are more essential.  They are higher up on the list.  If this is not okay with you, then perhaps you should pursue something other than teaching.

6. Able to take the long view and to hold our tongue—not having an agenda or an axe to grind.

The fifth quality I want to mention is a practical aspect of the humility which is the chief quality needed to be a fruit-bearing Christian teacher.  This quality can be encapsulated in one word—patience.  Anyone who is a teacher will have deeper than average insight into those qualities required for churches and individual members of churches to grow and be effective in their faith.  We notice the mistakes our preachers make.  We often cringe when we hear outlandish interpretation of the scripture, especially in public forums.  We know some church history and notice immediately why a decision is a bad one.  What will we do with this knowledge?

Here is the bad news for the teacher.  More than ninety percent of the time, we need to hold our tongue and keep our opinion to ourselves.  This is true, both because as I already stated, no one likes a know-it-all, and also because teaching is a serving role.  I made a decision many years ago and I must remind myself on a regular basis, that I must bide my time.  There are convictions I have that I must keep under my hat for a time.  When I am invited by a Christian group to teach them, I need to remember that my role is to do what was asked, not to come with a hidden personal agenda.  I do not visit churches in order to correct all their errors.  My role is to support what the leaders are doing, even when I do not completely agree with what they are doing.

I have seen other teachers forget this basic aspect of the teacher’s role.  They tend not to be invited back.  Their skill and their passion therefore find a reduced opportunity to be expressed.  My personal ministry as a Christian teacher is somewhat unique, as I do so much traveling and have taught for many different churches.  It makes this principle even more necessary to the effective use of my gift.  Whenever I am invited to teach for a ministry other than my own, I remind myself that I do not want to leave having created more problems than I have solved.  In almost every lesson I teach, I find myself asking whether I should make this or that point, no matter how valid.  If it will not help what the leaders in the local church are trying to do, whether or not what I am saying might be true, I must hold my tongue.  James tells us that the tongue is a fire and a world of evil that corrupts the whole body.  In the context, James is speaking this truth about teachers!

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One could use the excuse that the Holy Spirit put it on one’s heart to say such and such.  Maybe so, but would the Holy Spirit have you creating havoc in the local church or in the ministry to which you are speaking?  Perhaps one time in one hundred it is true that the Holy Spirit will influence us to create a big stir.  God’s prophets certainly did this at times.  There is a role sometimes for a teacher to stir the pot and upset the apple cart, but this is rare and should be done with extreme caution and only after purposeful thought.

One last thought on this point.  As teachers, one of the things we love is when others learn through us and grow in Christ.  Their life is changed forever. What a thrill.  This is a good thing and it is not, by itself, a sign of pride.  However, we need to take the long view here.  If you will pursue your teaching over time, you will gradually acquire a stronger voice.  What you cannot say and what cannot be heard by your audience now because you are a novice, you will be able to say in ten years.  I have been teaching for decades.  I have gained a significant amount of respect over time.  People can hear difficult teaching from me that they may not have received when I was a relatively new Christian.  Because I was willing to bide my time many years ago, I am now able to help people understand and learn from my conviction.

The next few qualities on my list are important ones, but perhaps not absolutely essential.  These qualities can be acquired over time.

7. Willingness to think broadly and cross-culturally.

One of the growing problems of our world culture is that, more and more, we tend to live in an ideological bubble.  The teacher needs to be able to break out of that bubble.  He or she will be teaching singles, marrieds, campus and teens.  The teacher will most likely be crossing church cultures and likely even human culture.  It is my experience that in order to use their gift, teachers will do some traveling and will eat strange food.  A greater than average ability to think outside of the box within which one was raised will be necessary.

8. Broad knowledge combined with one or more areas of specialized knowledge.

As a teacher, I generally must wait to be invited to teach.  Why would I be chosen for the task rather than another?  My advice to any prospective teacher is that you must acquire two kinds of knowledge.  First, you must make yourself the expert in one or two areas.  You should choose a topic you are particularly passionate about and dig as deeply into that topic as you can to make it your own.  You should nail this topic down so that anyone who needs a lesson on the topic, whether it is a biblical book you have mastered, or a character trait you have studied out or whatever it is, you will be the one they will call on.  Maybe you will even write a book on this topic.

The other kind of knowledge you must be prepared with is broad based.  You must have one or eventually two or three specialties, but you will also need a little knowledge in a vast array of topics.  You must be the Rennaisance man or woman who knows a little about everything.  For example, you must know the Book of Colossians backward and forward, but you must have a deeper than average knowledge of all sixty-six books in the Bible.  You must know a little history, a little Church history and a little theology.  The reason is that you will become the answer person to many and you need to be prepared to give that answer as often as possible.  Recently I was asked to do a lesson for a church in Bangladesh on the question of marriage and divorce.  I told them that this is not my expertise.  They asked me to do it anyway.  The fact is that I have studied this topic out quite a bit, actually, and it was a simple matter of taking a few hours to put my material together.  It went fairly well.  This kind of broad preparation is one thing you must move toward if you want to be a Christian teacher.

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I hope that those who have read their way all the way through this essay will find it useful.  Presumably, it is because you yourself are interested in teaching.  I want to encourage you to pursue this gift.  You will find it infinitely rewarding over time as you are able to contribute greatly to the maturing of the saints and to the winning of many more to shine like stars in the universe (Daniel 12:3).  If I can be of service to you, do not hesitate to contact me.

John Oakes

john.oakes@gcccd.edu

Reprinted with permission from Evidenceforchristianity.org

 

 

Photo Credits:

Jesus washes the disciples' feet. http://aathmeekaunnavu.blogspot.com/2012_09_14_archive.html

Chemist examining a beaker at a crude oil processing lab in Arusha, Tanzania. Photo Credit: Mitchell Maher / International Food Policy Research Institute

Graduation Hat Cartoon 

Holy Spirit Paraklete Dove, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AHoly_Paraclete_Dove.jpg

ESA/Hubble [CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

A Brief History of Christianity in China

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By Donald D. Downs --  Denver, Colorado, USA

 

Introduction

 

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Whereas the history of Christianity, from its Jewish inception to its current status in the western world, is well attested to and has been copiously documented, its Chinese[1] course, for reasons we will soon discuss, is much less transparent. With multiple starts and stops, while often suffering periods of disenfranchisement and even open persecution and censorship, the Church in China has left less of a discernible historic trail than has its Western counterpart. Periods of severe oppression and governmental interdiction resulted in the destruction of many Christian artifacts, Church buildings and Christian writings that would have, had they not been destroyed, provided ample evidence for and verification of the origins and growth of Chinese Christianity.[2] Thus, these archeological losses as well as the necessity that Christians in China often had to operate, as best they could, under-the-radar of the watchful eye of a wary government, has contributed to the muted voice of the Chinese Christian record. Perhaps partly in light of this paucity of historical attestation to the activity of Christians in China, as well as to the Western bias which has long underestimated and even undervalued the genuineness of Chinese Christianity, there has been, until recently, quite a dismal outlook towards the future of Chinese Christianity.[3]

My task, in the span of a few short pages, is a monumental one - in fact nearly an impossible one. I can, by no account, provide any more than a very rudimentary glance at such an enormous topic: the history of Chinese Christianity. It would be one thing simply to note or only list the historical events of such a vast subject, it is quite another to explore in any detail the cultural factors and socio-economic conditions that guided, influenced and even occasionally interrupted this story. My hope in this short paper must be by necessity, then, a very modest one: 1) to provide a very succinct sketch of the significant eras, events and prominent leaders of Christianity in China, and, 2) to consider in compendious form only a minority of the regulating elements that affected it and a few of the salient lessons and implications of its history.

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Bays, in his introduction to “A New History of Christianity in China” notes that he and other scholars have recognized that this important subject of Chinese Christianity has been a relatively understudied subject.[4] What Bays sought to do in his book was not only to document and explore what the foreign missionaries did in China but also to look more closely at the subsequent picture of the rise of the indigenous Chinese Christians as they endeavored to establish and nurture this new faith in their homeland.[5] Bays sees this process as “characterized by a persistent, overriding dynamic: the Chinese Christians were first participants, then subordinate partners of the foreign missionaries, then finally the inheritors or sole “owners” of the Chinese Church.”[6] I propose, in this paper, to provide a concise but coherent narrative that will not only acquaint the reader with the keystone elements of historical Chinese Christianity but will also point him towards some of the implications of its present outcome. It is hoped that this might not only help the reader better understand China and its Christianity, but also enhance his or her own Christian expression experience.

 

Some Perspective

            Before we embark on our survey, let’s first consider what we are up against. Though not intended to sound like a dossier of China population stats, the following data will help quantify, and perhaps thereby impress upon the reader just how important the subject of Chinese Christianity really is. Some perspective will prove invaluable.

China’s vast population, estimated to have been fifty-nine million during the Han dynasty interregnum (the beginning of the Christian era in the West), is today about one and one-third billion… China’s Christian population is five percent of the population, which places it among the top ten Christian countries of the world, with only the United States, Brazil, Mexico, Russia and the Philippines, and Nigeria having greater numbers. Each of those countries has between fifty and ninety-five percent of their populations identified as Christians.[7]

 

Lodwick cites further that presently some scholars estimate the number of Christians in China at sixty-seven million. She extrapolates that, therefore, a good guess would be that throughout the entire history of Christianity in China there have been at least 100 to 200 million Christians. In 1949, when the Chinese Communist Party pronounced victory, it was estimated that there were one million Protestants and three million Catholics in China -- but by 1976, at the death of Mao Zedong, those numbers had increased to three million Protestants and three million Catholics.[8] How those numbers climbed so precipitously in such a relatively short amount of time has been amazing, and will be touched upon in the following pages of this account. However:

To further complicate the question of how many Christians there are in China today, the Chinese government puts the number around 23 million, which Western scholars think is too low. Evangelical groups, who like to point to the growth of Christianity despite the Communist government, put the number at 100 million, which most scholars think is too high.[9]

 

In any case, scholars are predicting that China’s number of Christians, by the year 2030, will surpass America’s count of 243 million. Tellingly, “China is on Course to Become the World’s Most Christian Nation Within Fifteen Years,” was the title of the April 19, 2015 British periodical, The Telegraph.[10]

As for the number of missionaries in China, many estimates have been made comparing the missionary numbers of the past and those of the present. Even though it is believed that there have been more missionaries to China than to anywhere else in the world, fewer records have survived about China than have from most other destinations. Part of what has so radically shaped the overall landscape of the historical narrative of Christianity in China (the persecution and repression of personal liberties), is responsible also for this dearth of information and documentation. On four separate occasions missionaries were forced to flee China: at the Boxer Uprising (1900); at the time of the Northern Expedition (1927)[11]; during the early years of WW2 (1937-41); and at the time of the Communist victory in the civil war (1949). “When fleeing for one’s life, one does not think to carry along the records on the mission.”[12] Hence, Lodwick cautions that great prudence is warranted when attempting to estimate numbers such as these.[13]

            Of the major world religions to come to China, Christianity is generally held to be the second to arrive - after Buddhism and before Islam.[14]  As for the adherents of each, Stark gives the following numbers based on two large and reliable surveys[15]: Buddhism 18.1%, Christian 2.7% and Islam 0.5%.[16]  As for membership in the two other Chinese religions, expounded in all the comparative religion books as part of the major Chinese faiths, that of Taoism and Confucianists - only a combined 0.8% of Chinese belong to these two religions.[17] That leaves the remainder to be adherents of either the various Folk Religions or Atheists.

 

Six Waves of Christian Influence

As we move into an accounting of Chinese Christianity, to help digest such an expansive history, it may be helpful to conceive of seven different eras or “waves” during which the Chinese were converted to Christianity: 1.) Christian Infancy - soon after the death of Jesus and the following first few centuries, 2.) Nestorian missions - during the Tang dynasty of the 7th century, 3.) Mongol Rule and the Spread of Catholicism - during the Yuan dynasty (1206-1368), 4.) The Jesuits, Matteo Ricci, and the Spread of Catholicism - during the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1636–1911) dynasties, 5.) Protestantism and Evangelicalism – missionaries, mainly from Western Europe and America, arrive and evangelize during the 19th and early 20th centuries, and 6.) Indigenous Movements – like ‘The True Jesus Church”, “The Jesus Family”, “Little Flock”, and “Local Church” which, especially after the Cultural Revolution of the 1960’s and 70’s, began to grow.[18] Also in this period would be included the state sponsored/state sanctioned churches as well as the unregistered churches. Regarding this timeline of Chinese Christianity, Bays points out that it wasn’t until after “two false starts,” and not until the 16th century that the Christian presence in China finally took root and became permanent.[19] In this present work, the “true start” of Christianity in China would then coincide with my “wave four” as, understandably, he does not take into account the Apostle Thomas’s possible evangelistic sojourn into China.

 

Wave One – the Apostle Thomas and Christian Infancy in China

Frankly this can hardly be claimed as a definitive wave of Christianity since evidence for this is unclear and a matter of some debate, but as a possible explanation for the origin of the first Christian presence in China, it should at least be considered. Today, some historians are inclined to link the source of Christianity in China to the Apostle Thomas. Having gone to India and taken the gospel there, it is believed that he later turned to China, preaching and teaching there, until he finally returned again to India where he later died.[20] There are several indicators, though these are by no means conclusive, nor even necessarily persuasive, in support of the Thomas in China idea. First, in the 1980’s some interesting bas-relief sculptures were found on a rock face at Kongwangshan, in Jiangsu Province, near the city of Lianyungang. For many who came to China by sea this was the first port of entry and an important city in ancient times. Archaeologists have dated the sculpture to the Mingdi emperor (57-75) and the Later Han dynasty (25-220). Depicted on the sculpture are the images of three persons. Originally they were held to be Buddhists figures but over the last five to ten years this conclusion has been drawn into question. Others now claim these figures are more likely Christian and may even represent the Apostle Thomas, Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as “a variety of candidates for the third.”[21] Also the Mar Thomas Church in India, which claims to have been started by the Apostle Thomas himself, has never questioned the alleged visit of Thomas to China. Additionally, later, the great Jesuit missionary to China, Matteo Ricci, would also encounter references, albeit ambiguous ones, to the Apostle Thomas in China. Interestingly some scholars and historians of this persuasion (including authors of a 2008 book which advocated the Thomas-in-China thesis) also claim that “rather than Buddhism setting the bar for other religions, Christianity may have influenced Buddhism, which was just in its formative stages in China at the time.” [22] In the end the evidence is far from clear and certainly not persuasive, “but it is probably safe to assume that some form of Christianity made its way across the great Eurasian landmass in the early centuries of the Christian era, with the nomadic tribes who roamed along the Silk Route, stopping at the oasis towns to trade.”[23] In keeping with Jesus’ final words to his disciples, just after his miraculous resurrection and reappearance to them, to go into the entire world and proclaim his gospel, it is quite conceivable that they or their immediate successors would have indeed gone east into China with their life-changing message.

 

Wave Two - Nestorian Missions[24]

            Here, archaeology, through its discovery of a nine-foot high ancient stele unearthed in 1623 or 1625 in Xi’an, central China, has afforded us an amazing look back in time into the early history of Christianity’s story in China. This stele contains some 1,800 Chinese characters written by a Christian monk, Jingjing, who in 781, on this ancient slab, recorded the remarkable story of an earlier Nestorian monk named, Aluoben (or Alopen).[25] Aluoben, arrived in Chang’an (now modern Xi’an) in 635 with the message of Christianity. So, here on this massive stone, was “proof positive that Christianity had been firmly established in the early Tang [dynasty] more than six hundred years before the first European emissaries came in the thirteenth century.”[26] The Tang dynasty (618-907) was “young and vigorous in 635” and ruled a much larger territory than any previous Chinese authority. Peace had been re-established between Persia and China and thus international trade along the Old Silk Road, the terminus of which was Chang’an, was flourishing. Along this route, Aluoben made his way, garbed in white robes to the emperor, carrying his sacred Christian scriptures. Once translated, and after the emperor had familiarized himself with their teachings, he issued the following edict:

The way does not have a common name and the sacred does not have a common form. Aluoben, the man of great virtue from the Da Qin Empire, came from a far land…his message is mysterious and wonderful beyond our understanding. The message is lucid and clear; the teachings will benefit all; and they shall be practiced throughout the land.[27]

 

            As a result of the favorable disposition of Emperor Taizong towards Christianity, not only were the Old and New Testament scriptures translated into the local dialect, the first Christian Church was also founded there in 638 by this group of Nestorian monks. In all there were twenty-one Nestorian monks in China at this time.[28] Besides this stele thousands of manuscripts, including some Nestorian documents, were found in sealed grottos that effectively preserved them until their discovery in 1005. Scholars attest that these documents show “a clearly discernable Christian core” and “not any significant deterioration of the essential dogmas of Christianity.” There is, however, a “considerable admixture of Daoist and Buddhist terms and images.”[29]

Although we do not know a great deal about Tang Nestorian Christianity[30], we do know a broad outline of its fate. A massive internal rebellion nearly toppled the Tang dynasty in the 750’s such that native elements began to revive.[31] Confucianists and other cultural conservatives began to decry the foreign influence among them and, in turn, an anti-foreign-religion sentiment began to emerge. In 845 this culminated with an imperial edict limiting all foreign religion, including Christianity.[32] Emperor Wuzong (814-846) a zealous Taoist, decreed “all foreign religions be banned. The once accommodating court grew inward-looking and xenophobic.”[33] “The edict triggered a period of persecution, and, by the end of the Tang dynasty in 907, Christianity had all but disappeared from China.”[34] It would not be until the coming of the Mongols and their subsequent establishment of the Yuan dynasty that a significant presence of Christianity would reappear in China.[35]

 

Wave Three - Mongol Rule and the Spread of Catholicism

https://www.hexapolis.com/2014/10/09/14-intriguing-things-you-may-not-have-known-about-the-mongols/

            It was the Mongols who gave Christianity its next safe haven, at least for a time. Bays states that “just as the “pax Romana” during the first two centuries imposed sufficient security on the Mediterranean basin for the apostles to make missionary journeys far and wide, the “pax Mongolica” imposed by the Mongols made possible the first direct European Christian contacts with China.”[36] It was then that the Roman Church, in hopes of both avoiding future hostilities with the ever-advancing warring Mongols and in hopes of forming an alliance whereby they could oust the Islamic defilers of Jerusalem, began in earnest to send missionaries to China.[37] Upon their arrival, these European friars discovered among the Mongols many Nestorian Christians.[38] How is that? Prior to their arrival Nestorian Christianity had remained prevalent “in its core area of Persia and many Persian Christian merchants plied the trade routes of central Asia, where they had considerable contact with a Turko-Mongolian tribe called the Keraits.”[39] As a result, by the 13th century nearly all of the estimated 200,000 members of the Kerait tribe had converted to Nestorian Christianity. Importantly, the Keraits were an ally of the Mongol subclan, which would later produce the famous Genghis Khan (1162-1227). Genghis, through a carefully planned set of alliances, took three daughters of the Kerait royal family (each of them Christians) as wives, marrying one of them and providing wives for two of his sons with the others. It was the wife (a Kerait Christian princess) of his fourth son, who would become the mother of three emperors - one of whom in 1279 would become the founding emperor of the Yuan dynasty in China, Khubilai (1216-1294).[40]

“Under Kublai Khan, Dyophysite[41] Christians returned to the centre (sic) of power in China. After nearly three centuries in which their presence had been scarcely perceptible, they revealed themselves from generations of outward profession of other Chinese religions, which had official favour. (sic)”[42] MacCulloch goes on to describe how, in keeping with old patterns, history repeated itself when the Yuan rulers of China began to conform themselves to the “rich and ancient culture which they had seized; and, worse still, successive Yuan monarchs showed themselves steadily more incompetent to rule.”[43] Their overthrow then, by the Ming dynasty in 1368 was inevitable, though regrettable for other reasons. The Ming’s were a “fiercely xenophobic native…dynasty” and so this was a bad blow to Christianity in the empire.[44]

Prior to the Ming ascension the Mongol court was open to Christian missionaries and even turned over the administration of parts of northern China to Christian tribesmen from Central Asia. From Rome, as already mentioned, the pope also sent Franciscan and Dominican missionaries, in an effort to establish ties with Eastern Christians and to form an alliance with the Mongol empire. Additionally, Italian merchants founded Catholic communities in major trading centers; among them were two brothers from Venice, Niccolo and Maffeo Polo, who brought along Niccolo’s son, Marco.[45] It was Marco’s famous Description of the World, which he wrote after spending some sixteen years plus in China, to which we owe much of our knowledge concerning the distribution of Nestorian Christians in Yuan China.”[46] However, in spite of Nestorian Christianity’s impact on the Kerait tribes -- and, secondarily then, on the Mongols, upon the demise of the great Yuan dynasty --  once again, Christianity appeared to all but vanish in China.[47] Hence, China’s second period of Christian growth came to an end when the armies of the Ming dynasty expelled its protectors, the Mongols.

 

Wave Four - The Jesuits, Matteo Ricci, and the Spread of Catholicism

Here we begin to discuss the first implantation of a permanent Christian presence in China.[48] Finally, we will see Christianity begin to take root, becoming an enduring part of the Chinese religious landscape. This period will “constitute a key transition in the worldwide serial movement of the Christian faith to parts of the non-West.”[49] Even though it was Catholicism that found its start in this period, in some sense it was actually the Protestants who fueled, in a roundabout way, this influx of missionary presence in China. Back in Europe, at least in part as a response to the Protestant Reformation ignited by Martin Luther’s posting of his Ninety-five Theses, the Catholics had just recently mounted their Counter Reformation. Now, China was to become the benefactor of this movement. The Catholic Reformation facilitated an “unprecedented number of Christian missionaries coming to China in the late Ming and early Qing periods, and, more importantly, the creation within China, circa 1600-1900, of a surprising number of Christian communities; many of which proved quite resilient when the young Chinese Church was outlawed and persecuted in the eighteenth century.”[50] Here, Chinese Christianity starts to become part of the historical record, “visible in both Western and Chinese sources from 1600 onward.”[51]

It was the Jesuits that were tasked by the Papacy with this missionary calling. The Jesuits (The Society of Jesus), founded in 1540 by a zealous and inspirational young priest and theologian, Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), not only took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, but also promised, “…a special obedience to the sovereign pontiff in regard to the missions.” [52] It was Loyola’s zeal for missions that sparked a renewed European effort to bring Christianity to China. Francis Xavier, one of Loyola’s faithful disciples and a Jesuit cofounder, was assigned to the East Indies. Working first in Goa, India, he then pioneered missionary efforts into Malaysia and Japan, finally dying of disease on the small island of Shaungchuan, off the southern coast of China. It was there, frustrated by the Chinese refusal to permit permanent entry and long-term residence into Mainland China of its missionaries -- just off the coast of modern Guangzhou, that he waited in vain, and died, unable to gain passage inland.[53]

Though Xavier did not personally see his dream realized in China, notwithstanding his earlier work that spawned immensely successful evangelistic efforts in both India and Japan, it was his prodigious decade of Asian missions that opened the door for further evangelistic missions to follow in China. It was by no means, though, a wide-open door. Much challenge lay ahead for the Catholic missionaries. Up to this point their access to Mainland China was limited to Portuguese trading ports, such as Macau, on the south coast of China. Here, the traders and missionaries, unable to relocate inland, could reside year-round and were, at least, permitted travel access to Gaungzhou (Canton) for the trading season.[54] Try as they might, though, their evangelistic efforts remained coastland bound. For a while it seemed like China was a stonewall and the missionary effort of Christianity into China, a non-starter. The breakthrough did not come until 1582-1583 when the Italian Jesuit Michele Ruggieri finally gained permission to reside permanently in China. Once there he diligently set about the task of learning the Chinese language.[55] Ruggieri fortuitously chose as a partner, the now famous Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci, one of the most talented and effective missionaries in all Eastern missions’ history. Though much of the writing about Matteo appears hagiographic, that is not to say that he is not to be appreciated and admired for his hard work and great accomplishments on the mission field.[56] He was extremely successful. Ricci, the first prominent member of the Jesuits to have a place in China’s history, out of all the individual missionaries to have set foot there, is the one person whom many educated Chinese are today able to name.[57]

 Monument of Matteo Ricci in Macerata, Italy

 Monument of Matteo Ricci in Macerata, Italy

The early Jesuits who arrived in China came to a culture of which they knew very little and understood even less. There was a clash of cultures. “Traditional Chinese society was patriarchal, patrilineal, and patrilocal, and each person knew his or her place based on the traditional hierarchy of emperor to subject, father to son, elder brother to younger brother, husband to wife, and friend to friend, termed Confucian relationships by Western historians. Only the last relationship was based on equality, not bloodlines or marriage.”[58] Christianity, on the other hand, espoused a message of equality in relationships. Another challenge for the Chinese inquirers was the exclusivity that Christianity demanded. For the Chinese, it was common to practice whatever indigenous folk religion was common in a geographical region along with a syncretic blending-in of Buddhism and Taoism. Why couldn’t Christianity just be grafted onto the beliefs that they had been practicing for generations?[59]

Ricci’s approach, therefore, was to try to “tie Christianity to traditional Chinese beliefs and practices by pointing out the similarities between them.”[60] Ricci and his colleges even adopted native dress, unheard of among the missionaries of his time, in order to better relate to and gain the respect of the people. He learned rapidly and made adjustments as needed. Initially, upon his arrival he adopted the dress of a Buddhist monk (bonz), only to soon learn that the bonzes were despised among certain influential people.  When this mistake was pointed out he and his fellow Jesuits accommodated, and began dressing as Confucian scholars, complete with long beards.[61] With Ricci and others at this time, a new attitude emerged among the Jesuits (which in the not so distant future would become the impetus for a great altercation, the Rites Controversy, of which we will soon speak): namely, that other world faiths might have something of value to offer and may well reflect God’s purposes, too. So, in his mind and in the practice of the Jesuits, it was worth making the effort to understand those cultures better.[62] In keeping with that spirit, Ricci put into very effective operation the policies first articulated by Alessandro Valignano (1539-1606), a fellow Jesuit, who, early on, had authority over all of Asia missions.[63]  Concisely, these policies were:

·      Accommodation and adaptation to Chinese culture.

·      Evangelization from the top down, addressing the literate elite, even the emperor if possible.

·      Indirect evangelism by means of science and technology to convince the elite of the high level of European civilization.

·      Openness to and tolerance of Chinese moral values and some ritual practices.[64]

It was also Ricci who, early on, set his sights on Beijing and its imperial court, and who determined to gain permission to live there on a permanent basis. In 1602 he finally did so, the first missionary to accomplish this since the Mongols left China.[65] In the first few decades of their missions, the Jesuits overwhelmingly centered on urban missions, acquiring excellent language skills and striving to make converts from the elite class. This they did, converting the “three pillars” of the Church – Xu Guangqi (1562-1633), Li Zhizao (1565-1630) and Yang Tingyum (1562-1627) – all high degree-holders and officials of the late Ming dynasty.[66] It has been this work, focused on the missionary efforts of Beijing and its upper classes, as well as the elusive hope of an Emperor conversion that has been the focus of much, if not most, of historical scholarship on the Catholic mission.[67] Bays interjects, however, that though the attention of most scholars has remained fixed on the missionary activities at court, “the real action, and I would claim the real significance, was elsewhere.”[68] In the 1630’s, the Jesuit monopoly on China missions, having given way to the influx of other missionaries, including Spanish Franciscans, Dominicans and Augustinians, and especially those arriving as newcomers towards the later part of the seventeenth century, were no longer wedded to the now century-old strategies of Valignano and Ricci.[69] By 1700, not only were the Jesuits still working at the court and elsewhere in Beijing, but a “great many Jesuits, and virtually all of the mendicant friars, were scattered across the empire creating and maintaining local rural-based Christian communities.”[70] Soon, this harvest in the rural mission field produced a deficit of clergy leadership. More and more duties were handed over to Chinese catechists and other lay leaders as helpers. To help with this need, a few pious young Chinese men were trained overseas in Seminary and returned as priests to serve the burgeoning Church.[71]

 

The Rites Controversy

It was during this time that one of the most commonly discussed events in Chinese Christian history took place, the “rites controversy.”[72] When the Dominicans and Franciscans (among others) arrived in China, they were alarmed at what they found to be practices among the Jesuits that were not in accord with what they viewed as appropriate missionary policy and procedure. They were particularly dismayed by and violently disagreed with the Jesuits in “their attitude to the Chinese way of life, particularly traditional rites in honor of Confucius and the family; they even publically asserted that deceased emperors were burning in hell.”[73] Complaints about the “Chinese rites” were taken as far as Rome itself when a Dominican returned there from China and launched a vehement attack on Jesuit policy in the 1640’s.[74] For the next sixty years the tide of dispute would ebb and flow, favoring first one side and then the other, based on the reports of the most recent emissaries returning from China and reporting on the issue; whether this person was sympathetic to the Jesuits or their opponents.[75] After a long struggle, successive popes condemned the rites in 1704 and 1715.[76] This proved to be a “watershed in early Sino-foreign relations, not just because of the content of the decision, but also because of the Chinese emperor’s reaction to the highly counterproductive manner in which it was conveyed to China.”[77] The papal legate dispatched from Rome conveyed the decision to the missionaries, and, as it turned out, to the emperor as well. This man, the ambassador, Touron, behaved “highhandedly towards the missionaries and disrespectfully towards the emperor.”[78]

In response, the emperor Kangxi, in 1706, decreed that all missionaries would have to undergo an examination by which it would be determined if they were in accord with the policies of Matteo Ricci. If it was determined by their responses that they were in agreement, they would be allowed to remain; all others would be immediately deported. Likewise, any who refused to take the examination were extricated as well.[79] Additionally, the emperor banished Touron to Macau, “where he languished under house arrest until he died.”[80]

Though there were a number of missionaries deported at this time, there was nothing like a wholesale removal enacted. It was not until early in the reign of Kangxi’s son, the Yongzheng emperor, in 1724, that the legal status of Christianity was rescinded. Yongsheng, upon assuming the throne, began to tighten his control over both the state and society at large, being very alert to what he perceived as possible departures from, threats to, or disloyalty towards imperial Confucian ideology. He labeled Christianity a heterodox sect, “subversive of Chinese culture and values… and renewed the expulsion of missionaries outside Beijing, calling for all of them to be taken to Guangzhou and held under detention.”[81] Christianity would remain an “illicit religion” until the 1840’s. The rites controversy “was a deeply significant setback for Western Christianity’s first major effort to understand and accommodate itself to another culture. In light of the discourteous and even contemptuous behavior of the Church in this matter it was not surprising that the Yongzheng Emperor reacted so angrily in 1724.”[82]

As a result of this proscription of Christianity in China, which would last nearly 120 years, and in combination with the concurrent dissolution of the Jesuit order by the Pope in 1773, it became increasingly difficult for the foreign missionaries to effectively service the priestly needs of the Christians in China. Consequentially, various Christian “orders developed plans to increase the number of Chinese clergy.”[83] Nonetheless, in spite of its classification as a heterodox ideology, this period was not one of uniform Christian persecution. On the other hand, just as is the case today, Christians remained vulnerable to various persecutions, arrests and other forms of harassment, even though they were not forthrightly barred from practicing their faith. Understandably, the foreign priests remained more vulnerable to arrests and deportations, as it was more difficult for them to hide their identity. All told, these factors worked together, with the net result that indigenous Chinese Christians, by necessity of these conditions, began to take greater leadership in the functioning of the Church; albeit with more assimilation of native traditions and cultural influences than was known prior.[84]

Thus by the early decades of the nineteenth century the long history of Catholic missions had resulted in a small but resilient Chinese Church, which was forced by the circumstances of its illegality to do without hands-on European management. Not surprisingly, the Chinese Christian communities made their own way forward, reconciling Chinese culture with their Christian identity as instinct and practical experience lead them.[85]

 

 

Wave Five - Protestant Missionary Efforts of the 19th and early 20th Centuries

The rites controversy, though admittedly it had an overall negative impact on the immediate success of the growth of the Church in China, may have afforded some less than obvious benefits as well. On the negative side, strong, capable, biblically educated leadership was unexpectedly ousted and ill-will (ultimately persecution and censorship) was unnecessarily created by the response and poor handling of the whole affair by the papacy. However, on the positive side, this inadvertently called upon the indigenous Chinese to step up and take more active leadership roles in the day-to-day functioning of the Church. Additionally, the commitment of those who professed Christianity was tested and even steeled as their faith met resistance and opposition. In this way, the Chinese Church began to send spiritual roots deeper into their own culture, thus helping to ensure a more lasting spiritual legacy. Scholar and historian Lars Laamann comments on the “remarkable degree to which Christianity at the grass-roots level adapted itself to Chinese traditional culture.”[86] With the periodic expulsion of the dwindling numbers of European missionaries, “Chinese Christians more or less maintained their numbers, and developed several generations of loyalty to their Catholic communities.”[87] All over China, long standing groups of Christians, their faith “rooted in well over a century of loyalty to the Church and its marks of identity – especially baptism, marriage, and funeral rites – remained standing even without their European leadership and a small but resilient Chinese Church remained, thanks to this long history of Catholic missions.”[88]

            It was into this milieu that the first Protestant missionaries came, mostly European and American, over the first several decades of the nineteenth century. All of them, however, until after the Opium Wars[89] of 1839-42 (and 1856-60) and the treaties that subsequently followed, still remained limited in their activities, residing in Macau and utilizing the short trading season as an opportunity to travel and work in Guangzhou as well. Similar to the Catholic missionaries before them, like Ricci, they longed for the day when they would enjoy unrestricted access to all of China, but instead, in the first decades of the 1800’s, they remained cloistered in their small Macauan enclave.[90]

 

Robert Morrison

During this time and shortly thereafter, there were upwards of fifty Protestant missionaries to China. Here we will mention only a select few who played pivotal roles and had significant impact on the Protestant China mission enterprise as a whole. Scotsman Robert Morrison (1782 – 1834), sent by the London Missionary Society, arrived in Macau in 1807 and was the very first Protestant missionary to China -- and henceforth, for other good reasons as well, became one of the most well-known.

Scotsman Robert Morrison

Scotsman Robert Morrison

In 1803, he began his preparations, attending the Missionary Academy at Gasport, England, and then studying under the tutelage of a Chinese language instructor for two years in London. When he arrived in China his intentions were simple, though monumental[91]; to master the Chinese language, create a dictionary, and from there to make a translation of the Scriptures that would be of value and assistance to all future missionaries.[92]In his lifetime, Morrison “was a major, if not the foremost, Sinologist of his day, and the leading interpreter of China to Western nations. He compiled, first a “systematic grammar of the Chinese, then a three-volume Chinese-English dictionary, and the Bible in Chinese” as well as numerous other publications, including an English-language newspaper in Canton.[93] Morrison himself was not especially fruitful in terms of converting the Chinese - baptizing just a few - but his seminal work paved the way for future generations and served as a prodigious contribution to the missionary effort.[94] A fitting Epitaph of Morrison carved into his gravesite marker in the Old Protestant Cemetery in Macau reads:

 

Sacred to the memory of Robert Morrison DD.,

The first protestant missionary to China,
Where after a service of twenty-seven years,
cheerfully spent in extending the kingdom of the blessed Redeemer
during which period he compiled and published
a dictionary of the Chinese language,
founded the Anglo Chinese College at Malacca
and for several years laboured alone on a Chinese version of
The Holy Scriptures,
which he was spared to see complete and widely circulated
among those for whom it was destined,
he sweetly slept in Jesus.
He was born at Morpeth in Northumberland
5 January 1782
Was sent to China by the London Missionary Society in 1807
Was for twenty five years Chinese translator in the employ of
The East India Company
and died in Canton 1 August 1834.
Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth
Yea saith the Spirit
that they may rest from their labours,
and their works do follow them.[95]

 

Peter Parker, MD

Peter Parker (1804-1888) was the first medical doctor on the China mission field. Appointed by the ecumenical American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, he arrived in 1834. Parker established the Canton Ophthalmic Hospital, China’s first modern hospital.[96] Gaining his undergraduate degree at Yale University and his Medical Degree from Yale as well, Parker was trained as an ophthalmologist in diseases of the eye. However, it became impractical, due to the overwhelming need around him, to turn away so many Chinese who came to his hospital suffering from various other maladies. As a result, over 2,000 patients were admitted, treated and preached to in his hospital during its inaugural year alone. Parker, who used Western medical techniques completely new to China, introduced Western anesthesia (in the form of sulphuric ether) to the Qing dynasty and was said to have “opened China to the gospel at the point of a lancet.”[97]

All told, before the outbreak of the Opium War of 1839, altogether from 1807 on, a “total of about fifty Protestant missionaries had been assigned to China, but only a handful had stayed for any length of time.”[98] As for actual conversions, they were very few, totaling less than one hundred for the whole Protestant effort as of 1839. Suppressed by their status as an illicit religion, hampered by the significant challenge of learning and using the Chinese language, and restricted as they were to the Macau – Guangzhou axis, the Protestant missionaries “were certain that if they could only obtain access to the interior of China, conversions would increase dramatically.”[99] Fortunately, this opportunity was soon to come.

 

The Opium Wars

During the first few decades of the nineteenth century, the foreign trade interests of Britain and other like-minded Western powers became pitted against the national interests of the Qing government; at the crux of the matter was the opium trade.[100] Tensions grew over the increasing amount of illegal opium flowing into China from the West. This put the missionaries of China in a bit of a moral dilemma. “They recognized the immorality of the trade, but they were certain that the war was the hand of providence opening China to the gospel.”[101] After three years of struggle between 1839 and 1842, the first Opium War ended and a diplomatic settlement was reached. The Westerners called the outcome the “treaty system,” the Chinese, the “unequal treaty system” for it was in point-of-fact an inherently biased set of arrangements forced upon China by the superior military power of the Western nations, led by the British.[102] It was also the flow of opium by ship from the West that provided these missionaries with their sole form of transportation to China. Often times they travelled aboard cargo ships, which, beneath the decks in their holds, harbored huge stores of the illegal contraband. Its transport, for most of the missionaries, provided the only possible means by which they could hope to travel to China in order to evangelize them. It is quite unfortunate, to say the least, that these early missionaries, by virtue of this issue, were bound so tightly “to the nefarious opium that addicted many Chinese and made the foreigners fabulously rich.”[103]

The East India Company iron steam ship Nemesis, commanded by Lieutenant W. H. Hall, with boats from the Sulphur, Calliope, Larne and Starling, destroying the Chinese war junks in Anson's Bay, on 7 January 1841

The East India Company iron steam ship Nemesis, commanded by Lieutenant W. H. Hall, with boats from the SulphurCalliopeLarne and Starling, destroying the Chinese war junks in Anson's Bay, on 7 January 1841

However, with the first Opium War ended, the treaties were enacted. The most important provisions of the first set of treaties (those enacted at the end of the first Opium War – more were to come at the conclusion of the second) were: 1) extraterritoriality (foreign citizens coming under the authority of their own consular as opposed to Chinese jurisdiction), 2) Christianity would no longer to be legally outlawed, 3) the opening up of five coastal cities for trade and residence for all foreigners as well as the right to build churches, schools, missionary residences etc. in these cities, and 4) the return of all former Church buildings to the Christians, regardless of their present status.[104] Of course this provision benefited the Catholics only as there were no Protestants, and thus no Protestant properties, in China prior to the entry of these first Protestant missionaries at the turn of the nineteenth century. With the opening of these five “treaty port” cities of Guangzhou (Canton), Xiamen (Amoy), Fuzhou (Foochow), Ningbo, and Shanghai, as well as the ceding of Hong Kong in perpetuity to Britain as a crown colony, the protestant missionaries now enjoyed a wider scope for their activities. New denominations appeared on the list of Protestant missionary societies, most of them moving their headquarters to Shanghai.[105] The missionaries now began preaching to the urban populations, training helpers and Chinese evangelists as well as engaging in extensive written communications, chronicling their efforts and results.”[106] Still, though, the missionaries remained stymied in their efforts to move beyond these few cities.[107]

 

The Taiping Rebellion

China, the greatest Asian empire, ruled by the Qing dynasty at this time, seemed only to barely escape destruction and collapse at the hands of the interfering Western powers. “The arrival of Christianity and interference by European powers identified with the Christian faith contributed to a catastrophic rebellion, and almost a century would follow before Churches could free themselves from association with imperial humiliation. The Protestant penetration into China, riding on the coattails of Western colonialization, was made possible in large part by the treaties made with the European powers as they encroached on Chinese sovereignty without chagrin.[108] “It was a contradictory mixture of popular anger and fascination with Western culture that fueled the Taiping rebellion, which broke out in 1850.”[109]

Its first ideologue and leader, Hong Xiuquan, having failed his civil service entrance exams (indisputably essential in China for upward mobility), in a state of high anxiety and stress began reading Christian books, encouraged by a young American missionary.[110] Soon Xiuquan, convinced by visions that he had been chosen by God, as His son and Jesus’ brother, for great leadership, amassed a tremendous following among the disenfranchised of southwest China. His movement, fed by an incendiary combination of “nostalgia for the Ming dynasty, traditional rebellious zeal to end corruption,” and a concoction of various Christian concepts, especially those of an apocalyptic nature, united his followers with consequential results.[111] He eventually created his Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace creating an entire governmental structure with a sizeable army. Before it ended, the Taiping rebels controlled fifteen of the eighteen provinces of China below the Great Wall.[112] The rebellion eventually took over most of south central China, ruling over some 30 million people, and wreaked catastrophic results before it was finally subdued when imperial troops led by European officers stopped him at Shanghai.[113] It proved to be the most destructive civil war in all of history, dwarfing the contemporary American Civil War and nearly outstripping the mayhem caused by the Second World War a century later.[114] The Taiping Rebellion finally concluded having caused an estimated 20 to 30 million deaths, most of them civilians.[115]

Even while the Taiping war raged into the late 1850’s, the Qing court was confronted with yet another military action, this time by a British-French consortium. What seemed like a natural course at the time would be viewed now with disdain and rightly labeled “imperialism” with all the negative connotations conjured up by the term today. The intervening Occidental powers hoped here to settle once and for all the issues left unsolved to their satisfaction by the treaties of 1842-1844. This war, which lasted from 1856-1860, resulted once again in a round of unequal treaties favoring the Western victors. In the signing of these treaties the missionaries finally gained more of the freedoms they had so desperately wanted and needed to help propagate their evangelistic efforts.[116] The treaties contained provisions giving the missionaries the right to work in China, to own property and to travel beyond the treaty ports.[117] As a result the missionary societies escalated their efforts with a corresponding increase in both missionaries and converts. “By 1893 there were 1,243 Western Protestant missionaries [in China] with a claimed total of 55,093 active Chinese converts.”[118] Predominantly, Great Britain and America fueled the missionary efforts of the Protestants in China. In 1877 there was a combined twenty-five different denominations with missionaries there, but by 1910 that number had risen to forty-four American and nineteen British. A total of sixty-three denominations were then active in sending and supporting missionaries to China.[119]

During this time, from 1860 through the end of the nineteenth century, the young Chinese Protestant Church was putting down roots of community that constituted a solid foundation for the future. This period was marked by rapid growth of the foreign missionary establishment among Protestants, during which time they were becoming a more diverse spectrum of missionary establishments in China. “During these decades, several Protestant urban congregations served by Chinese pastors developed the capacity to support themselves financially and to operate on their own, without being under close missionary supervision. In fact, during these years Protestant Christianity became a true Sino-foreign endeavor, though the role of the Chinese was often in the shadows.”[120] Though Stark puts the number of Protestant converts by 1893 at approximately fifty-five thousand, Bays estimates that by 1900 there were one hundred thousand. There was growth among the Catholics as well, but due to their inherent allegiance to a foreign power, Rome, and the necessity of more strict clergy involvement, there were fewer cases of real Chinese and foreign cooperation. The airtight control of the Catholic Church also denied the Priests much of a real voice in managing their local affairs; despite the fact that their role in the growing Church was essential.[121]

 

John Talmage, Hudson Taylor and the Chinese Inland Mission

There was an immediate reaction from the west to the changes brought about by the latest treaties of 1858-1860, wherein the entire country was opened up to foreign travel as well as to the acquisition of property and subsequent erection of buildings upon these leased or owned lands. “Indeed in the years after 1860 all over China the number of Protestant Missionaries in China exploded, from barely 100 in 1860 to almost 3500 in 1905. It was an astounding increase, considering that it had taken more than 50 years from Morrison’s travel there in 1807 for the numbers to reach 100.”[122] The massive increase in Protestant missions of this time was due also, in great part, to the increasing efficiency and professionalism of the missionary societies of Europe and North America.[123] Even as the majority of missionaries continued to operate under more formalized and structured missionary society entities, there were those that took the opposite route.

JohnTalmage (1819-1892), an American Reformed Minister, stationed in the British occupied city of Amoy, sought to learn from the mistakes of earlier Catholic successes and failures by implementing strategy whereby he determined to make foreign missionaries redundant. He and a few other like-minded colleagues created one of the earliest fully fledged Chinese churches and erected the very first Protestant Church building in all of China. Beginning from Amoy, one of the treaty ports opened up by the Nanjing Treaty of 1847, “soon his congregations, fortified by a sensible amalgamation of American and English Presbyterian foundations, were electing Chinese elders in classic Presbyterian style, struggling towards self-support and taking on themselves the founding of new congregations.” [124]

Talmage’s strategy was put into effect on a grander and much more publicized scale by the Englishman, Hudson Taylor (1832-1905). Early on, Taylor, after thinking through various issues regarding missions-strategy, decided that a self-supporting entity, which would be beholden to no institutional powers or preferences, would best serve the purposes of evangelization among the Chinese. Subsequently he initiated a “faith based” mission in which all support would be garnered organically. Arriving earlier in Shanghai, in 1854, under the auspices of the Chinese Evangelization Society, he had experienced issues, concerns and setbacks that he was determined to circumvent in the future. After a brief return to England, he soon embarked again for China, this time as part of the largest party of missionaries ever sent to China. He returned this time as the founder and the first Chinese missionary of the China Inland Mission.[125] The CIM’s practices were both innovative and sometimes controversial:[126]

Hudson Taylor

Hudson Taylor

·      The CIM “sought no support except that of God himself,” all confidence was placed in divine provision. He was determined never to divert funds from other missions.

·      Taylor appointed laypersons, not clergy, as missionaries. In fact, even from the outset when he and twenty-one others arrived as the first contingency of the CIM, not one of them was ordained clergy. He did not even require any college training among his candidates.

·      Taylor adopted a non-urban strategy and so they developed relatively few supporting entities such as schools, hospitals, etc. Those schools that were developed were to educate their children in China and not send them back to Europe for their education, as was the universal norm.

·      In order to more effectively identify with the local peoples, the CIM was the first mission to adopt the practice of wearing traditional Chinese garb as a matter of policy.

·      The CIM was among the first missionary groups to allow large numbers of women to serve as missionaries – even to work in the countryside without male accompaniment. Many at the time saw this as scandalous.

·      “The power structure of the CIM evolved into the primacy of a China-based “council” or headquarters based in Shanghai, not in London or elsewhere in the West.”[127]

Taylor was charismatic and effective in his role as leader of the CIM. Back home in England he solicited the masses for support of his grand mission in China. Starting with just his original 22 missionaries in 1866, the CIM grew to 322 in 1888, and to 825 in 1905. By then the CIM had grown to be the largest missionary society, almost three times larger than the British Church Missionary Society (CMS), the next largest group.[128] Taylor’s success was additionally elevated by the highly publicized recruitment of the “Cambridge Seven,” seven aristocratic young Cambridge graduates. This event, “one of the grand heroic gestures in nineteenth-century missions, catapulted the CIM from comparative obscurity to an almost embarrassing prominence.”[129]  Taylor also worked closely with the YMCA and YWCA, utilizing as well, significant publicity wrought by his effective publications, prime among them: the “China’s Millions.” All of this helped to fuel the stunning growth and compelling impact of the China Inland Mission.[130]

 

The Boxer Uprising

            Even as the colonializational treaties opened doors for the spread of Christianity, and as the growing influx of more missionaries into China fueled the growth of the Church and its further integration into the social structure of the Chinese nation, so, too, did the imperialistic persona of the Western national and Church powers cast an ill shadow on the good work that was being accomplished. Bays elucidates the matter well:

 

In the late 1890’s, even as 1) some degree of “Christian influence” was seeping in through the walls of the imperial palace in Beijing to coalesce around the emperor; 2) newly politicized, urbanized elites became alarmed at China’s weaknesses and vulnerability; and 3) those same elites took the unprecedented steps of organizing themselves and expressing opinions on government policy – two other results came into being as a result of these developments. These were the seeds of modern nationalism…identified in the activism of these elites, and a related phenomenon, the emergence of a modern public opinion.[131]

 

Soon, nationalistic fever, as well as the smoldering frustration of repression among the Chinese, fomented into an uprising that came to be known as the Boxer Rebellion or the Boxer Uprising.[132] By the end of the nineteenth century the Western powers, via the Opium Wars, as well as Japan by way of the Sino-Japanese war, had enacted millions of casualties on the Chinese. In the late 1890’s this secret group, the Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists (the Boxers), had begun to carry out sporadic but regular attacks on foreigners and on Chinese Christians.[133] In 1898-1900 Christianity, foreign missionaries and Chinese converts alike became targets of mass and official violence on a scale that dwarfed that of the “Tianjin Massacre” just twenty years earlier.[134] What began as seemingly low-level activities of Boxer violence perpetrated upon both missionaries and Chinese Christians escalated in the spring of 1890 culminating in the now famous siege of the Legation Quarter in Beijing not far from the Forbidden City.[135]

Four hundred and nine poorly armed American and European embassy guards barricaded themselves in behind the Embassy walls. It was with the Empress Dowager, Cixi’s, support that imperial military forces joined the siege where, for forty-five days, the embassy guards stood firm against the onslaught of thousands of Boxers and thousands of imperial Chinese troops. The siege was broken by the arrival of a large, eight-nation expeditionary force in August of 1900.

Outside of Beijing, the Boxers killed all foreigners and Chinese Christians within their reach. Unfortunately, by the end of the uprising, some 30,000 Chinese Christians were killed as well as 47 Catholic priests and nuns, 136 Protestant missionaries and 53 of their children. Some of these were raped before death and were killed in gruesome manners. After its suppression, the Chinese were again forced to sign a treaty. In September 1901, the Protocol of Peking (Boxer Protocol), in which major reparations were stipulated, was affirmed in writing.[136]

The Boxer Rebellion is quite well known; the enterprise documented in lucid detail, as are the atrocities committed against the Western missionaries and Chinese Christians through its activities. What is often left out, or visited with little detail, is the ensuing sustained occupation of the foreign troops which remained in China for well over a year, as well as the vengeful retribution they enacted, making raids hundreds of miles away, sometimes destroying villages and summarily executing as many as a thousand Boxers and/or their alleged sympathizers. “However, much to the surprise of most observers, within two years of the Boxer events a new spirit of enthusiasm for reform was gripping the remodeled Manchu government…the elite class and officialdom was showing more respect for missionaries and Christian institutions than had ever been the case before.”[137] At last, felt the missionaries and Chinese Christians; China might be turning towards Christianity. In the aftermath of the Boxer Uprising tragedy we see the “beginnings of China’s “golden age” of Christian expansion and self-confidence.”[138]

Russian cannons firing at Beijing gates during the night. August, 14, 1900

Russian cannons firing at Beijing gates during the night. August, 14, 1900

Ironically, the great tragedy of the Boxer Uprising ushered in a period of more than two decades during which time the foreign mission enterprise in China, as well as the Chinese Christian communities at large, seemed to flourish. In fact, when the Republic of China came into power after the toppling of the Qing dynasty in 1912, China had its first Christian (Protestant) provisional president; Sun Yat-sen.[139] Measures of raw numbers similarly document the vitality of the Protestant missions of this period. “Protestant growth between 1900 and 1915 was impressive by all indices.”[140] The number of foreign missionaries increased from 3500 in 1905 and 5500 in 1915 to 8000 in the 1920’s. The numbers of Protestants grew as well: 100,000 in 1900, with 270,000 communicants (330,000 baptized) in 1915 and 500,000 in the 1920’s – “before the storm of mass nationalism hit.”[141] Sadly though, this storm of mass nationalism was soon to come.

Before we go on to look at the cataclysmic changes to come, wrought by the resurgence of Chinese nationalism, a comment is in order about the changing nature of the Chinese Church, which began to surface during these years of relatively unrestricted and unhindered growth. With this growth came new developments. During this time, the Chinese Protestant community was coming into its own, and developing more of a sense of autonomy, moving more and more towards independence from its foreign missionary leadership.[142] It was during this time too, reflective of this growing independence (if not divergence) that the last of the great missionary conferences, in which all groups were represented, in spite of their doctrinal differences, was to occur. Regrettably, this unity did not last much past the end of World War I. “The broadened spectrum of Christianities now available could not easily co-exist. The old consensus was already disintegrating even as preparations were being made…for the National Christians Conference of 1920.”[143] Doctrinal differences began to emerge such that genuine collaboration among the churches and among the missionary societies became increasingly difficult. Frankly, on some fronts, what began to transpire in China was representative of what would happen worldwide among Christians everywhere – the emergence of the “Fundamentalist-Modernist” controversy.[144] The divergence of theologies regarding this issue, as well as others to come, would lead in various ways to a greater diversification of the Chinese Church.

 

 

Wave Six – The Rise of Indigenous Movements

The True Jesus Church, The Jesus Family, Little Flock and Local Church

 

It was only a matter of time, and it was in fact the missionaries’ ultimate goal, before Christianity’s roots would mature and sprout new growth: growth native to the Chinese people. After 1927 and before 1949, when the Communists were purged from China and the Chinese Communists Party (CCP) driven underground by the authority of the Nationalists, the government adopted a much less radical attitude towards foreigners and Christianity than would be the case upon their coming ascension to power.[145] With the CCP out of the way and out of the field of vision, conditions for the operation of the missionaries were much less onerous. Most of the foreign missionaries who had fled as the Nationalist party turned on the Communist, effectively ousting them, fled the country in 1926-1927 in the wake of the conflict, unsure of what the final outcome might mean. Though many returned in 1928 -1929, only about 600,000 of the previous 800,000 did so. “They did have to abide by the new Guomindang (of Nationalist) government requirement that the chief officer of every Christian school must be Chinese, that religious instruction be optional for students, and that there be Chinese patriotic political instruction under the banner of Sun Yat-sen’s “three people’s principles. But missionaries still had extraterritorial privileges, and many government officials (including Sun Yat-sen himself who was baptized a Protestant Christian in 1930) were Christians, which facilitated the work of both missionaries and Chinese.”[146]

In the mid 1930’s, foreign and Chinese Christians were arrayed along a wide spectrum of varying types of missions, churches, Christian organizations and movements. On one end of the spectrum were the Church of Christ in China (CCC) and the National Christian Council (NCC) where nationalism and social conscience served as core motivators; further along the spectrum were the more distinctly conservative elements of mission groups and churches. This included the Chinese Inland Mission (CIM) of Hudson Taylor as well as other groups including Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists, the Church of the Nazarene and the Assemblies of God. And finally, there were many “one person” faith missions scattered among the others, all of these groups stressing more the conversion and regeneration of the individual than that of society at large.[147] Finally, along the opposite end of the gambit from that of the CCC and NCC, were scores of new churches, “wholly independent and without any foreign leadership whatsoever, although each of the founders of these movements was influenced by foreign Christians at times early in its development.”[148] These Churches are not only interesting to examine, they have also become an important subject of discussion among scholars investigating the Sino-Christian field of studies.[149] Following, I will look at three of these: The True Jesus Church, The Jesus Family and the Little Flock and Local Church.

 

The True Jesus Church[150]

            The True Jesus Church had its beginnings when, in 1916, founder Wei Enbo in Zhengding, Hebei Province, had hands laid on him by a Pentecostal preacher in order to heal his tuberculosis. Healed, as he thought, Wei became an impassioned Pentecostal with claims that he had received the Holy Spirit and the gift of Tongues. Soon thereafter he was “led by the Spirit” to a river outside Beijing where he heard the voice of God and was especially chosen and empowered to “kill the demons” (which he forthright did, right there at the river, chasing and destroying the demons in some otherworldly confrontation) and “correct” the Church, meaning all Christian churches.[151] Embarking on a 39-day fast, during which he encountered Jesus and the twelve Apostles and received his new name, Paul, Wei emerged ready to do God’s bidding. Soon he and his followers were visiting mission churches in and around Beijing, denouncing Western Christianity, and calling parishioners out of those churches.

            The True Jesus Church (TJC) “doctrines and practices are a unique eclectic combination of sabbatarianism…Pentecostalism…and a kind of Jesus only Unitarianism… all of this packaged in a radical egalitarianism.”[152] Additionally, Church workers were not to receive pay; worship services were to have no time constraint limits and all members must be given free rein to speak, pray and otherwise participate in the services.

            Unfortunately for Wie, he was not cured of his Tuberculosis, and so died of its complications in October 1919. His Church, though, continued to grow and even flourish. By the time of the Sino-Japanese war, the TJC was likely the second largest Protestant Church in China – second only to the Christian Church of China (CCC). It is still thriving today.

 

The Jesus Family[153]

            “The Jesus family was a product of the North China Plain in Shandong Province and its alternating cycle of flood and drought.”[154]  This was a land of peasantry, a people who were constantly besieged by both the ravages of their environment as well as the lawlessness of the tens of thousands of bandits and soldiers who roamed and frequented their lands. “A partial remedy in the eyes of many was the formation of mutual-aid societies for extending credit to farmers, marketing crops or local products, and generally filling in the gaps or weaknesses in the community’s solidarity. It was in this milieu that the Jesus Family was formed.” It was a “sectarian mutual-aid community independent of mission Christianity and bound together by Pentecostalism and an ascetic pursuit of end-time Salvationism.”[155]

The founder of the Jesus Family (JF), Jing Dianying (1890-1957), was himself not a peasant but was from a well-educated, fairly wealthy family. Bringing together a mix of experiences and teachings from Methodism, Confucian ethics, Daoist mysticism and Millenarianism, in 1921 he started a Christian silk-making cooperative, from whence would come The True Jesus Family, the name this group would soon adopt, in 1927. All who joined the JF were to give up and share all their possessions with the community, partake in productive work, and engage several times daily in periods of prayer and worship. Individual ecstatic experiences were not unusual and in fact were desired and prized among the participants. Soon more groups similar to this one sprouted up; each with a “family head” leader who exercised the same extensive control over its members as did Dianying. Though the JF had nowhere near the number of adherents as did the TJC, its egalitarian culture was attractive to many, and provided a life of simple subsistence, along with an intense religious experience for its members.

 

Watchman Nee

            Born in 1903, Ni Shu-Tsu was the son of a customs official and the grandson of a “gifted Anglican preacher.”[156] While attending the Anglican Trinity College in Fuzhou, Nee was converted during a revival meeting at just seventeen years old. Only five years later, in 1925, he would change his name to Ni To-sheng, or Bell-ringer, translated into English as Watchman Nee, and found his first Church in Sitiawan.[157] The following year, he opened his second Church and in 1928 he built a three-thousand-seat assembly hall in the center of Shanghai. While there in Shanghai, Nee gave himself to extensive reading of the mystic, Jessie Penn-Lewis, and subsequently produced the lengthiest book he ever authored, the three-volume, The Spiritual Man.

Watchman Nee, founder of 200 churches

Watchman Nee, founder of 200 churches

Just as most other independent Christian leaders were learning about and adopting Pentecostalism, Nee investigated it as well, “but chose a slightly different path to spiritual transcendence.”[158] Nee’s theology centered on “the mystery of the cross” or “the truth of the cross” - that is, “the realization for the Christian that, ‘I am dead with Christ,’ enabling the believer to live in victory over the world’s evils.”[159] Additionally, Nee enumerated an elaborate theology of Millenarian flavor, of an end-time cataclysm. Nee’s congregants were mostly of middle- and upper-class strata, and more urban than rural. He strongly rejected denominationalism and was adamant that he and his followers adopt no sectarian name. He refused to allow his followers to call themselves by any particular name. His emphasis on the “local Church” or ‘one Church in each city” lead to his groups being referred to as the Little Flock or the Local Church. By 1933, Nee claimed to have more than one hundred Churches spread all across China.

When the communists rose to power, Nee felt that the Little Flock was safe in that it was an entirely Chinese entity and had never had any foreign missionary element. Though that was true, it did not protect Nee from the concerns of the Communists, who, to a great degree, were uneasy, among other things, primarily about his visibility and popularity. In April 1952, after being arrested and charged with spying, he was incarcerated in a re-education camp only to, later, in 1956, be further charged with more serious crimes.  Ultimately, Nee was tortured and finally died in prison, his Little Flock driven underground after 1949. Stark asks, “But even though driven underground, the Little Flock Movement survived and grew. How? They kept a very low profile and organized cell groups and home meetings at the grassroots level, which later formed the backbone of the Chinese House Church Movements and sowed the seeds of religious revival.”[160]

 

A Brief Chronology

Before we move into the next step of our coverage of the history of Christianity in China, specifically the precipitous rise of Nationalism, a brief review of secular Chinese history may help the reader to gather context for a more coherent grasp of the events that follow. It may help the reader to occasionally reference this list as he reads on through the remainder of this paper. Here is a basic bullet list review:[161]

·      1912 - Demise of the Qing, the last of the Imperial dynasties.

·      1912 - Republic of China (ROC), a Nationalist party comes to power in Nanjing, ruling until 1949. Nationalists. In 1949 the ROC took control of Taiwan, which is now the modern-day ROC.

·      1921 – Founding of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as both a political party and a revolutionary movement in Shanghai, China.

·      1924 – the CCP joins with the Nationalist Party.

·      1927 – Nationalist party (ROC) turns violently against the CCP, which is driven underground.

·      1949 – CCP establishes the People’s Republic of China (PRC) formed after a 23-year civil war fought against the ROC (1927-1949). This communist government enacted sweeping changes in the socio-political order. A strong sense of independence and nationalism was fostered. Ties were established between state and Church in order for existing churches to remain active.

·      1954 – Organized in 1951 but granted official government sanction in 1954, The Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) announced to help ensure national loyalty and to help make the Church distinctly Chinese. Self-governance, self-support and self-propagation were the goals.

·      1966 - 1976 - The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution occurred. This was a socio-political movement enacted by Chairman Mao of the Communist party, aimed at purging remnants of capitalist and traditional elements from Chinese society and re-imposing Maoist thought as the dominant ideology. Between 1966 and 1968, the destruction of the Four Olds (Old Custom, Old Culture, Old Habits and Old Ideas) took place. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) (Red Army) targeted religious and educational institutions. Priests, nuns, monks, authors, professors and artists, as well as the educated elite in general, were persecuted by destruction of property, pubic humiliations, physical violence and even death.

·      1980 - After the chaos and destruction wrought by the Cultural Revolution, in 1980, the China Christian Council (CCC), an umbrella organization for all Chinese Protestant Churches, was established to help Chinese Churches by providing oversight as well as resources such as Bibles and other religious literature.

·      1982 - the Chinese Communist Party issued Document 19, a detailed description and explanation of government religious policy, essentially outlining that religious practices would be permitted, although subject to the oversight and regulation of the party-state.

 

The May Fourth Movement

Tiananmen Square and the rise of Nationalism

            Opposition to Christianity in China, at varying levels over the centuries, has been a staple part of the Christian existence there. Many traditional Chinese had protested Christianity as a foreign faith and one unsuited to Chinese culture. Then, beginning with the student protest movement that erupted in Beijing, on May 4, 1919, increasingly, the most modernized Chinese began to attack Christianity and its missionaries on multiple grounds.[162] Though the immediate concerns that prompted the protests -- that of the Chinese government’s weak response to the Treaty of Versailles, in which Japan received territories back from Germany that were supposed to be returned to China -- did not directly involve the Christians or the missionaries, it did give occasion for Chinese nationalism to vent itself more forcefully than any could have expected. “There was little or no indication that the rippling effects of those precipitating events would soon constitute a mortal challenge for the Protestant movement in China.”[163] There was, however, a growing tide of resentment that, within a year, would crystallize and “take dead aim at Christianity and its institutions, its believers and especially the missionary movement.”[164]

This movement, which began in Tiananmen Square with more than 3,000 students from Peking University shouting slogans of protest and defiance and even burning down a Chinese official’s residence, soon spread to students all across China. Additionally, these mass urban protests and demonstrations went well beyond just student involvement; urban merchants, white collar workers and factory workers revealed a simmering resentment through their involvement as well. Two issues have been recognized as the impetus for the intense opposition to, and subsequent persecution of Christianity at this time, 1) China’s intellectuals perceived Christianity as crass superstition “with outlandish beliefs in a virgin birth, raising of the dead”, etc. and 2) the charge against the West and its missionaries of cultural imperialism or cultural aggression.[165]

 

The People’s Republic of China – A Communist Regime

            “Early leaders in China’s Communist Party, including Mao Zedong, acknowledged the May Fourth Movement as leading directly to the founding of the party in 1921. As Marxists, the Communist leaders regarded all religion as an opium of the people, and that went double for Christianity since it was a foreign intruder.”[166] Before the Chinese Communist Party was to overcome the Nationalist party in the Chinese Civil War and declare itself victor, and China the new People’s Republic of China, the Japanese invasion of China in 1937 diverted the attention, focus and resources of both factions.[167] Together they turned their attention towards defeating their foreign aggressor.

During this time, as Japanese forces overran segments of China, the missionaries in their path, in the areas of Japanese occupation, suffered great loss. Missionary stations were destroyed, forcing many missionaries to go home. Additionally, once Pearl Harbor was bombed and America entered the war, all American and British missionaries were deemed foreign enemies and were thus placed, more than a thousand of them, into prison camps. It was in one such camp that the famous Olympian runner-come-missionary, Eric Liddell, died.[168] Once World War II ended, the Civil War in China recommenced. Ultimately, in 1949 the Chinese Communist Party won victory over the Nationalists and China was declared the People’s Republic of China – and was now under a communist regime.

Initially the communist regime seemed not to hinder the exit from the country of those who chose to do so, as many hastily did in light of the new state of affairs. However, in part because of the entry of China into the Korean War in 1950, foreign missionaries began to be arrested under the suspicion of espionage. Incidents arose in which some missionary families were given long prison sentences and others were even killed. The Catholics, because they acknowledged allegiance to the Pope, aroused the greatest suspicion and therefore the most fervent hostility. Even before they took over control of China, in areas where they had previously exercised dominion, the communists had killed ninety-six Catholic missionaries between August 1945 and April 1948.[169] Additionally, Catholic Church properties were seized and most of their churches were forcibly closed. “By 1951, most of the remaining missionaries, both Catholic and Protestant, were placed under house arrest, and by the end of 1953, all of them had been expelled.[170] Though this was a lamentable turn of events in the history of Chinese Christianity, much in the same way that the persecution suffered by the First Century Church spurred its growth (not to put it too blithely) so too these persecutions may have been just what the China Church needed at this time as well. As Stark says, “In terms of numbers, the story of Christianity in China really begins after the last missionaries left in 1953. Now, sixty years later, despite a period of intense government persecution and repression, millions of Chinese have been converted.”[171]

 

 

Creation of The TSPM and CCC

Persecution and Re-Emergence of (Unregistered) Churches

 

1951 - The Three-Self Patriotic Movement

For several years after coming to power in 1949, the communist party was somewhat tolerant of Christianity as long as it remained subservient to the regime and steadfastly supported its aims and principles. In spite of the fact that foreign missionaries were deported and/or imprisoned, the Protestant Churches were ostensibly ignored. Concurrent to the events of this time and in order to abate the hostility of the state towards the Church, Wu Yao-tsung, [172] a Protestant Christian leader born in Guangzhou, China, along with some other Christian leaders, formed the Three-Self Patriotic Movement in 1951.[173] (Colloquially it is known as the Three-Self Church.) It was these leaders’ publication of the Christian Manifesto, signed by 400,000 adherents, that launched the TSPM, which later, in 1954, was formally sanctioned by the Chinese government. Wu, a Congregationalist, baptized in 1918, spent some time working for the YMCA and later attended Union Theological Seminary in the United States, where he obtained a Master’s Degree in Philosophy. A proponent of the social gospel, Wu gained the reputation of a liberal-modernist among the more fundamental and conservative Christians.[174] By definition, the TSPM is not a denomination and knows no denominational distinctions within its framework. Though its statement of faith is quite orthodox in nature, its detractors charge that the TSPM serves as an instrument for the secular Chinese government.[175]

            Its “three selves” are: self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating. These three principals were meant to provide assurance to the government that it would be entirely free of, and independent from, any and all foreign influence, and that it would function in full support of the communist regime and its governmental regulations.[176] The TSPM, initiated in 1951 just as the withdrawal and deportation of Western missionaries had begun, was chartered in hopes that this development would lead to a non-contentious, if not amicable relationship, between Chinese Christianity and the state powers.

Obviously, this arrangement, though conceptually possible for the Protestants, by virtue of the Catholic Churches’ hierarchical structure and its professed allegiance to the Pope, could not feasibly come under such an arrangement. Some Catholics attempted to mirror this concordat with a corresponding Catholic organization (Church) called the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA). In many respects, this attempt failed miserably. For one, the Catholic Church of Rome was, theologically, outright opposed to this arrangement; as well as were many of the Catholic Clergy in China. Essentially what resulted in the Catholic Church, and still exists today in China, is the persistence of not one but two Catholic Churches: one allegiant to the Vatican that has consequently gone underground in China, and the other, this separate-but-part-of the Catholic Church, called the CPCA. In regard to the coming persecution, however, this distinction would grant no additional protection or safety in the years to come, as both bodies would be heavily persecuted.[177]

            As already noted, the TSPM turned out to be an unacceptable option for many (probably most) Chinese Protestant leaders. Their contentions were numerous but the most disagreeable of them were: 1) the requirement to register each new congregation with the government and thereby facilitate close supervision and regulation by the state, even including regularly submitting to the state, an updated membership roster. 2) Imposed restrictions by the government on the content of the messages preached in these churches. Restrictions were imposed on preaching from the book of Revelation and on topics concerning the Second Coming of Christ. 3) These churches were barred from proselytizing minors; hence there would be no Sunday Schools among these churches.[178] Because of these and other objections most Chinese Christian leaders condemned the TSPM agreement, and, along with the Chinese Christians at large, refused to join the TSPM. As it would turn out, the TSPM agreement afforded only a debatable measure of protection to the Protestant Churches who came under its auspices until 1966. “Then all hell broke loose.”[179]

 

1966-76 - The Cultural Revolution

“The only way to explain the period of the Cultural Revolution in China in the decade between 1966 and 1976 is to say that the society went mad. It might seem impossible for a billion people to go mad, simultaneously, but similar episodes have happened elsewhere: Germany under the Nazi’s, Cambodia under Pol Pot, Iran under the ayatollahs, [and] the United States during the McCarthy era…”[180]

 

            In May of 1966, Mao Zedong, after the catastrophic failure of his economic program, the Great Leap Forward,[181]decided to unleash a campaign that would, by overt violence, forcibly impose the Communist ideology on China and its people. His express intention was to erase and wipe away all traces of the “Four Olds.” These were identified as old customs, old culture, old habits and old ideas. According to Mao, these “had poisoned the minds of the people for thousands of years.”[182] Those called on to prosecute the order were millions of young people, especially college students, who organized themselves as the Red Guards (known formally as the People’s Liberation Army), “and with Mao’s blessing, the Red Guards ran wild.”[183]

            As these revolutionaries were unleashed upon the population, their attention turned not just towards wiping out the Four Olds, but eradicating anyone and anything that seemed “different.” Traditional Chinese values extolled being like others, being a part of the group or clan. Individualism or being different was harmful to the social order and was not tolerated.

If one had foreign books, knew a foreign language, or had been abroad, that was enough to prove the person was not totally Chinese – thus justifying an attack by the red Guards. If one was a landowner, one automatically exploited the lower classes and that was reason to attack the person. If one were a government official, or one’s father or grandfather had been one, that too was a good enough excuse to be denounced and attacked. If a member of one’s family was a Christian, or worse yet a Christian clergy, that was reason to attack them.[184]

A poster from the Cultural Revolution, featuring an image of Chairman Mao, and published by the government of the People's Republic of China.

A poster from the Cultural Revolution, featuring an image of Chairman Mao, and published by the government of the People's Republic of China.

 

            During this reign of terror, buildings were torn down, temples destroyed and traditional Chinese art was ravaged – even by breaking into homes to do so. Books, manuscripts and furniture were burned. Millions of people were persecuted and sent to “re-education” camps to be forced into slave labor. [185] Nearly two million inhabitants were murdered. Christians in particular though, it is believed, were not especially singled out, but were nonetheless easy targets. Because they followed what most Chinese considered to be a foreign religion and many spoke a foreign language or had been educated in foreign (mission) schools, they stood out quite noticeably. Most of the churches were burned down and the rest were converted for secular use. Regardless, all churches were closed and the public practice of any religion was forbidden in those years.[186] The Cultural Revolution raged for a devastatingly long decade until, finally, in 1967, upon the death of Mao Zedong, the Red Guards were dismissed.[187] “The decade of terror was over and the new party leaders relaxed their opposition to religion.”[188]

            In retrospect, Bays notes that “As cadres of student extremists, known as the Red Guards, swarmed across China, destroying all aspects of the “Four Olds” and persecuting millions, Christianity was forced into hiding, but not into hibernation.”[189] Even after the siege was lifted the majority of Christian groups were still unwilling to fully return “above ground” and register as part of the TSPM “and they still have not done so today.”[190] The decade of violent repression unleashed on them had not destroyed them; on the contrary, even while underground they continued to attract new converts and their numbers grew. Additionally, and quite ironically, as Bays says, this radical persecution of Christians may have been the single most beneficial event in the history of Chinese Christianity. By expelling the Western Missionaries, Mao and his regime “completed the transformation of Protestantism in China into an entirely Chinese movement.”[191]

            What really happened among the organic Catholic and Protestant Christian communities of those dark ten years is really a black hole in history. The details are quite scarce. There are almost no documentary sources, photographs or statistics to consult. We are left with not much more than the anecdotal stories of individual survivors of the period.[192] What we do know is that Protestants, more so than Catholics, emerged from the other side of the Cultural Revolution in a “dynamic mode, spreading rapidly and naturally.” Catholics were not so vigorous since as part of a worldwide organization (despite the CPA’s claim to the contrary that they were independent of Rome) they could not be as adaptable and creative as could the Protestants. Bays surmises “it was probably in the late 1970’s that the Protestants [even though the Catholics had at least a two- century head start] came to outnumber Catholics for the first time.”[193]

 

1980 - The China Christian Council

            In the wake of the Cultural Revolution, a thaw began to set in as the Chinese leaders began to relent. China’s new leader, Den Xiaoping, admitted to the people that the revolution’s leaders, recognizing mistakes, would embark on a new course, one that would involve less restrictions on religion (and freedoms in general) and one that would focus the country on economic growth. The government intended to interfere less in people’s lives, including in their cultural and social practices, as well as religion. It was believed that these reforms would be part of the changes necessary to help stimulate an economic upturn.[194] From this point on the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) expressed very little concern over the specific doctrines and theologies of the Christians – just that they respect the hegemony of the state and not work in any way to undermine or challenge it.[195]

As part of the post-Mao reforms, the government re-established the old control systems of the 1950’s. Although more freedoms were being granted in the religious sphere, the state had no intentions of not continuing to monitor and control, albeit in a more efficacious way, the activities of its populace. The resumption of these mechanisms included the reviving of the TSPM, the CPA and the Religious Affairs Bureau (RAB), all of which would now operate under the direction of China’s new United Front Work Department (UFWD).[196] Additionally, in an effort to help meet the various administrative needs of the Protestant churches, a new entity was created, also under the umbrella of the UFWD, the China Christian Council (CCC). Founded in 1980, the CCC is an umbrella organization for all Protestant churches in China. “The CCC serves to unite and provide services for churches in China by formulating Church Order, encouraging theological education through seminaries and Bible schools, such as Nanjing Union Theological Seminary, publishing Bibles and other Christian materials, and coordinating training programs for churches.”[197] The China Christian Council (CCC) and the National Committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant Churches in China (TSPM) together are often called the Lianghui (two organizations).[198]

Following soon after the creation of the CCC, another milestone was reached, significantly affecting the state of religious affairs in China. Document 19[199], a CCP directive, was released. It repudiated “as a leftist mistake” the excesses against religion in the Cultural Revolution. “The document called for churches to be rebuilt, clergy to be educated, and believers to be protected. It did not take long for officials in high positions to declare open sympathy for religion, and by 1986 the thaw had revealed a vigorous spate of official endorsements, including subsidies for Church reconstruction projects.”[200] Caution is warranted still, for imbued throughout the document is the clear avowal of China’s intent to maintain and strengthen its communist core. The document has been seen as “Xi Jinping’s recognition of the 'sacrosanct' nature of Communist Party rule over China.”[201]

 

 

The Church in China Today and its Future

Repression, Persecution and Control

            The picture of continuing Christian life in China and what the future will hold is an unsettled one. In regard to the Catholic Church, because the Chinese government still insists on inserting itself into the Churches’ relationship with the West, ever vigilant for possible subversive ideologies and practices, the Church remains somewhat fettered, restrained from the expression of its faith and therefore also from the growth in its numbers that otherwise might be possible were it fully unshackled. For the Catholics, the choice is twofold: join the CCPA, a registered Church, which remains under the watchful eye of the state, and thereby forego loyalty to the Vatican, or, join the underground Catholic Church, remaining unified with the Catholic Church of the West but necessarily placing itself in greater danger before the state.

            Protestants also face a similar decision: join the TSPM, the registered Protestant Church, or go underground and worship with an illicit, unregistered Church. With the Protestants, though, the threat of interference and molestation, while ever-present, is less of a danger than for the Catholics, though still not one to be ignored. In regard to the Protestant Churches of today, Bays says, “Although the government seems to ignore these groups, they remain in violation of the law and from time to time local officials do crack down. In 2008, for example, twenty-one pastors of house churches in Shandong Province were arrested and sentenced to labor camps.”[202] Then, speaking of the Catholic churches, he goes on to say, “Probably because of the long history of conflict between the two churches [the CCPA and the Vatican], the government continues to be more hostile toward underground Catholics than toward underground Protestants.”[203] [Additionally] underground Catholics must “assume that their ranks have been infiltrated by members of the secret police or informers employed by them.” “Nevertheless, there are signs of rapprochement between the two Catholicisms, [and] despite everything, the Vatican has wisely never declared the CCPA a heresy.”[204]

            So, the ever-present threat and occasional implementation of persecution persists. Yet historically, not that, nor even intense, sustained persecution, has been able to eradicate the Church. In fact, as we have already discovered, it may have even served to strengthen it. In any case, persecutions have undoubtedly functioned to help transition, by necessity of the loss of foreign leadership, the growing Church towards a needed indigenous leadership. As a result, the Chinese Church continues to grow.

 

An Optimistic Future for Christianity in China?

Reporting on recent developments in Chinese Christianity, David Aikman, a former Time magazine Beijing bureau chief[205], offers his opinion that “China is in the process of becoming Christianized -- largely from within.”[206] He further asserts that within a few decades Christians will likely compose 20 to 30 percent of the Chinese population. Aikman also speculates that a “Christianized China might also tip the balance in the Middle East in favor of Christianity, resulting in a realignment of world order. In the post-September-11th world, Aikman conjectures that China’s Christian worldview would also predispose it to join the West in combatting terrorism.”[207]

Bays also offers some telling statistics. He says that although only about 5% of Chinese were Christians in 2007 (60 million members), that number has undoubtedly, significantly increased today. Even still that is a huge number of Christians in China. In South Korea the number is 36%, Hong Kong, 22%, Singapore 18%, Taiwan 7% and Japan 3%. By any standard, Bays says the recent growth of Christianity in China has been meteoric. Even as a persecuted Church it grew rapidly, and by 2007 there were as many Christians in China as members of the Communist party, and by 2014 the Christians have come to far outnumber them.[208] Finally, Bays offers an estimation based on past and current growth trends (measuring the growth rate since 1980 at 7% per year during a 27-year period), that if these trends were to continue over the next fifteen years, by 2030 there would be 294.6 million Chinese Christians – more than any other nation in the world.

Unregistered Chinese church in Beijing; April 2017

Unregistered Chinese church in Beijing; April 2017

A Precarious Balance

            The Christian faith is indeed growing in China, and the prospect of a future world in which more Christians reside in China than anywhere else is a real one. But China is still a communist country ruled by Marxist and socialist ideals at its core. Christianity has made remarkable headway but only under the watchful eye and vicarious control of the state powers under which, for now, it must remain.

Following a century of violent anti-religious campaigns, China is now filled with temples, churches and mosques – as well as cults and sects, all of which the state continues to strive to contain and control. As opposed to the discarded, Maoist, heavy-handed approach of its previous administrations, since the assumption of Deng Ziaoping to the role of Paramount Leader of China, “in the field of religion and faith…the government has tried harder to co-opt groups than to crush them.”[209] In this way the government has sought to loosely harness the practice of religion towards its own economic ends.

According to Johnson, author of The Souls of China, The Return of Religion After Mao, “When Mao died and moderates took over in the late 1970s, they tried to rebuild credibility among the population by loosening control. Their goal was to push economic development and let people do as they pleased as long as they did not challenge party rule.”[210] In a period of great optimism – the reform era (as Johnson terms it) – continued in fits and starts such that observers began to hope, perhaps for too much: that this governmental relaxation might continue indefinitely. Commentators and analysts dared to anticipate the emergence of an ever-freer society in China, and perhaps it is still not too late for such aspirations. “In the wake of the Cold War it seemed societies were moving inexorably toward freedom and democracy…[with] economic reforms and technology result[ing] in an opening of society. Indeed during much of this period society was increasingly free.”[211] It appeared that governmental leaders, learning from the collapse of the former Soviet Union, concluded that reforms and openness, greater freedom, not more suppression, could actually serve to “strengthen control by creating more prosperity and thus dampening opposition.”[212]

            “But then the government has changed course. Perhaps because leaders felt that further liberalizations would challenge their rule, policy changed. Moderate critics have been locked up, the Internet brought to heel, and social movements told to obey the government or face suppression. A period of stasis has taken hold.”[213] A short excerpt from Wikipedia, on an entry regarding Xi Jinping, sectioned under a heading titled “Censorship,” serves to depict well this tightening of control, particularly under this head, China’s current preeminent leader, the Paramount Leader of China:

 

Xi's administration has also overseen more Internet restrictions imposed in China, and is described as being "stricter across the board" on speech than previous administrations. Xi's term has resulted in a further suppression of dissent from civil society. Xi's term has seen the arrest and imprisonment of activists such as Xu Zhiyong, as well as numerous others who identified with the New Citizens' Movement. Prominent legal activist Pu Zhiqiang of the Weiquan movement was also arrested and detained. The situation for users of Weibo has been described as a change from fearing that individual posts would be deleted, or at worst one's account, to fear of arrest. A law enacted in September 2013 authorized a three-year prison term for bloggers who shared more than 500 times any content considered "defamatory". A group of influential bloggers were summoned by the State Internet Information Department to a seminar instructing them to avoid writing about politics, the Communist Party, or making statements contradicting official narratives. Many bloggers stopped writing about controversial topics, and Weibo went into decline, with much of its readership shifting to WeChat users speaking to very limited social circles.[214]

 

So it would appear that an unfettered religious climate is not yet on China’s horizon. Looking forward, Johnson sees a future in which China’s traditional religions (as opposed to those of Western origin), Daoism, Buddhism and folk religion, will be granted more relative religious space, seeing them as easier to manage. “Like the dynasties of the past, [China] will continue to push acceptable forms of faith as a way to strengthen its position as the arbiter of the nation’s moral and spiritual values.”[215] However, this growing state support, albeit contrived to guide and control the country’s moral life for its own purposes, now wrestles with a clash of trends. One trend finds the state favoring its burgeoning religious growth, as this affords it greater contact with peoples and nations overseas, thus enhancing its global influence and power. Juxtaposed, however, is its antagonistic bias towards religious suppression, aimed at reigning in and managing all movements, religious or otherwise. Therefore, China must work hard to strike a delicate balance in which it can steer religion without alienating its followers.[216]

Alone among China’s major religions, Protestant Christianity is growing quickly among the Chinese majority, and also has extensive foreign ties. This has led the government to try sporadic efforts at control. A key question is whether the government will allow it to continue to grow or if—in its hubris and newfound wealth—it will look to achieve complete control.[217]

 

            Johnson, though he doubts China will ever fully disencumber its religions, evidenced by its recent campaign from 2014 to 2016 to remove crosses from the tops of unregistered churches in Zhejang Province, still expects it to show a good measure of temperance.[218] Though “we can expect more feints and thrusts from the government and growing debate among officials about how to handle religion in the new era”, China has learned that to suppress with force the inclination of its people towards religious expression – the Cultural Revolution, for example – and other such oppressive actions, may actually undermine their goal and encourage real faith.[219]

The question that now remains is how long the devout and the party-state can maintain this precarious balance. The party has granted religions that play by the rules a considerable amount of leeway, but will that be enough to satisfy those in search of a fulfilling spiritual life? When hundreds of millions of people seek fulfillment in religion after failing to find it in economic growth and the material affluence it brings -- it could be that no number of documents will be enough to keep them under the party’s thumb.

If the population of believers in China continues to grow, will the ruling party remain content with the rules of engagement as set out in Document 19, or will it want to take a greater role in directing the interior lives of its citizens? In fact, will the day come when it will hardly have a say at all? No matter what its designs, great or small, will it have the ability to accomplish them? “The challenge to the state power comes from something subtler that it is helping to create: a reawakened national conscience. Religion provides a morality and frames of reference for universal aspirations – like justice, fairness, and decency – that are higher than any government’s agenda.”[220] Johnson encapsulates well both the arduous journey that religion in China has travelled and the lessons wrought for all of us through its victories and defeats. All of us, as individuals and as corporate groups, be they religious or secular, will go through challenges and struggle. That is a given. The greater tragedy, though, would be to survive them but not to learn from them.

Out of this is coming a China that is more than the hyper-mercantilist, fragile superpower that we know. It is a country engaging in a global conversation that affects all of us: how to restore solidarity and values to societies that have made economics the basis of most decisions. Perhaps because Chinese traditions were so savagely attacked over the past decades, and then replaced with such a naked form of capitalism, China might actually be at the forefront of this worldwide search for values. These are universal aspirations, and like people elsewhere in the world Chinese people feel that these hopes are supported by something more than a particular government or law. They are supported by heaven.[221]

 

 

Concluding Thoughts

May the Chinese people find that they do have a reason to hope and that there is a place in which those hopes can rest secure. It is not here, under heaven, where neither they nor we will find solace for our searching and for our deepest longings. It is in heaven. We are made for more. In fact, we are more – much more than we now know. This world is not our home. All of us reach for heaven though some of us may not know what our outstretched hands are really grasping for.

Reaching for heaven, reaching for God -- that innate desire has been in us from the beginning, for we were made in His image. We were made by Him and for Him. As Blasé Pascal said, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God the Creator, made known through Jesus Christ.”[222]

From within our God-shaped vacuum we reach for God, eyes clenched-closed in a sort of fearful anticipation, only to find, when we open our eyes, that he’s already reaching for us. Before we’ve been able to grab his hand he’s already caressed us in a deep embrace. Thankfully that deep embrace is not reserved for me or for you alone. Jesus is not for America, he’s not for the Middle East, and he's not for China – he's for everyone. Jesus is the answer to our deepest needs, no matter who we are or where or when we live. Whether we know it or not, He is what we were created for, He is what we are destined for. And one day, when our lives are over, when our nations have fallen and our world has breathed its last, we will stand before him; all of us, each of us. Is the fate of Christianity in China certain? No. Is Christianity’s fate anywhere certain? No. But is the message of Jesus what America needs, is it what China needs, is it what the world needs? Yes. Will that message work, does it apply, does it appease, does it satisfy, and does it fulfill? Yes, and more! All of us, one and all, are foreigners to the Christian message and the Christian heart…until we are converted. Then we find our real home, we find our souls’ ultimate rest.

For now, we each must satisfy ourselves with a brief and limited sojourn into Christianity. Our personal Christian history will be fraught with pain, weakness, sin, shortfalls and failures. But on into eternity our “Christianity” will be perfect; it will be flawless, impeccable. And our Christian history, individually and corporately, will be otherworldly. It will be a history created and sustained by Almighty God, and it will have no end.

Now that’s a history I don’t just want to read about -- I want to experience!

 

 

 

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Record, The Presbyterian. "A Very Brief History of Christianity in China." Presbyterian Record. September 20, 2009. Accessed May 11, 2017. http://www.presbyterianrecord.ca/2007/01/01/a-very-brief-history-of-Christianity-in-China/.

 

"Religion in China." Wikipedia. May 08, 2017. Accessed May 11, 2017. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_China.

 

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Stacey Bieler and Carol Lee Hamrin. "Christianity Fever." Christian History | Learn the History of Christianity & the Church. Accessed May 10, 2017. http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/issues/issue-98/Christianity-fever.html.

 

Stark, Rodney, and Xiuhua Wang. A Star in the East the Rise of Christianity in China. West Conshohocken. Pa.: Templeton Press, 2015.

 

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FOOTNOTES

[1] Although connotations of “Chinese Christianity” vs. “”Christianity in China” appear divergent, I intend to use these two terms interchangeably and by using one or the other designation I do not intend to infer a different shade of meaning.  “Chinese Christianity” might lead one to think more of Christianity as understood and practiced by people of Chinese national origin no matter where they reside whereas “Christianity in China” intimates Christianity as understood and practiced by anyone within the borders of the nation of China. This author has no such designs of distinction.

 

[2] Rodney Stark and Xiuhua Wang, A Star in the East the Rise of Christianity in China (West Conshohocken. Pa.: Templeton Press, 2015), 47. The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976 was one such period, among others, when regrettably, pointless, rampant, widespread destruction of valuable historical artifacts occurred.

 

[3] Stark and Wang, A Star in the East,1. Stark further states, “When, in 1934, Edgar Snow [An American journalist known for his books and articles on Communism in China and the Chinese Communist revolution. "Edgar Snow," Wikipedia, May 02, 2017, accessed May 11, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edgar_Snow.] quipped that ‘in Russia, religion is the opium of the people, but in China, opium is the religion of the people,’ many academic and media ‘experts’ chuckled in agreement and dismissed the several million Chinese claimed as converts by Christian missionaries as nothing but ‘rice Christians’ – cynical souls who had frequented the missions for the benefits they provided.”

 

[4] Daniel H. Bays, A New History of Christianity in China (Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), 1.

 

[5] Ibid.

 

[6] Ibid.

[7] Kathleen L. Lodwick, How Christianity Came to China: A Brief History (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2016), 9.

 

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., 10. Lodwick goes on to say, regarding her sources, “This author has visited more than twenty mission archives in the United States and Great Britain. Those that have been used most extensively are at the Presbyterian Historical Society, Philadelphia; Yale Divinity School, New Haven; at the Widener Library, Harvard University, Cambridge; and at the University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies Archives, London.” Ibid., 13.

 

[10] Ibid., 11.

 

[11] The Northern Expedition was a Kuomintang (KMT) military campaign, led by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, from 1926–28. Its main objective was to unify China under its own control by ending the rule of the Beiyang government as well as the local warlords. It led to the end of the Warlord Era, the reunification of China in 1928 and the establishment of the Nanjing government. "Northern Expedition," Wikipedia, May 16, 2017, section goes here, accessed May 21, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northern_Expedition.

 

[12] Ibid., 13.

 

[13] Ibid.,10.

 

[14] Annie Wu, "Christianity in China," China Highlights, September 5, 2015, accessed May 11, 2017, http://www.chinahighlights.com/travelguide/Christianity.htm. However, it must be noted that this assumption dismisses the possibility that the Apostle Thomas came to China and introduced Christianity to the mainland during his lifetime, the first century AD.

 

[15] Stark and Wang, A Star In The East, 3. Stark used two extensive surveys, the first was conducted by the Research Center for Contemporary China, Peking China in 2001 as part of the World Values Surveys. The data was gathered in face-to-face interviews of 1,000 persons between the ages of eighteen and sixty-five. The data is part of the public domain. The second survey, conducted by Horizon Lt., China’s largest and most respected polling firm was done in 2007. It too was conducted face-to-face and was comprised of a sample of 7,021 Chinese over the age of sixteen.

 

[16] Ibid., 7. According to Stark, very important to these estimates is the factor of underreporting by those surveyed. Stark believes, and with good indication, that because most Chinese seem to define religion as belonging to an organized religious group as opposed to consisting of practices and beliefs that one adheres to – some Chinese end up admitting they believe in Jesus Christ and yet deny that they are Christians even though they may practice their faith apart from an organized group. Stark also points to multiple other factors that may skew these numbers towards a lower count than what may reflect reality: 1) the reticence of those surveyed to speak openly about their faith to strangers, as well as 2) the somewhat antireligious stance of the government towards Christianity, influencing those polled to conceal their faith. Ibid., 4-9.

 

[17] Ibid., 7.

[18] These six categories were borrowed generally from Wu, Christianity in China, accessed May 11, 2017.

 

[19] The false starts were that of the Nestorians and that of the Mongol period. Bays does not include my “Wave 1” of Christian Infancy in his conclusion.

[20] Bays, A New History of Christianity in China, 5.

 

[21] Ibid.

 

[22] Ibid., 5-6.

[23] Lodwick, How Christianity Came to China, 1.

 

[24] Nestorius, in 428, was patriarch of Constantinople, capital of the Roman Byzantine Empire. Nestorian and his adherents declared that in Jesus there were “two natures and two persons” and from this came the first real lasting schism in the history of Christianity. Ultimately “some in the Church, mostly those in Syria and Persia, insisted on a clear distinction between the divine and the human in Christ, and were eventually called Nestorians.” Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity Volume 1 The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation (New York, NY: HarperOne/HarperCollins, 2010), 298-9, 302.

 

[25] Serene Fang, "A Brief History of Christianity in China," PBS, accessed May 11, 2017, http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/stories/China_705/history/China.html. Also, it should be noted that the Nestorians were condemned as heretics by the Church due to their unorthodox positions regarding the Trinity, particularly Jesus.

 

[26] Bays, A New History of Christianity in China, 7.

[27] Ibid.,9.

 

[28] Ibid.

 

[29] Ibid,.10.

 

[30] Marco Polo, in the last part of the 13th Century spent seventeen years in China. During this time he made observations attesting to the presence of the early Nestorian Christians. Wu, "Christianity in China," China Highlights, September 5, 2015, accessed May 11, 2017. Additionally, the ethnic heritage of the practitioners of Nestorianism is still not known with certainty. The Han Chinese, at this time in the eighth century, did not have permanent control of Central Asia and so rather than being comprised of indigenous peoples it may be that the Nestorians were “sojourners who came overland, in the case of the Jews who settled in Kaifeng, Henan, and by sea, in the case of the Muslims, who had a mosque at the southern city of Guangzhou, Guangdong.” Lodwick, How Christianity Came to China: A Brief History, 19.

 

[31] Ibid.

 

[32] Ibid.

 

[33] "History of Christianity in China," Christians In China, accessed May 11, 2017, http://www.christiansinchina.com/history-of-Christianity-in-China/.

 

[34] Fang, "A Brief History of Christianity in China."

 

[35] Ibid.

 

[36] Bayes, A New History of Christianity in China, 11.

[37] Ibid.,12,14.

 

[38] Ibid.,11.

 

[39] Ibid.

 

[40] Ibid.,12.

 

[41] Diarmaid MacCulloch, Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years (New York: Viking, 2010), 271.

Here Dyophysite, as used by MacCulloch, can be used interchangeable with Nestorian, used by Bays.

 

[42] MacCulloch, Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, 271.

[43] Ibid.

 

[44] Ibid.

 

[45] Fang, "A Brief History of Christianity in China."

 

[46] Bays, A New History of Christianity in China, 13.

 

[47] Ibid., 14. Part of this explanation appears to be that “the elements of Christianity present seem to have been so closely tied to the foreign prescience that there was almost no influence on indigenous persons and institutions”… and “though the demise of the Yuan dynasty in 1368 did not necessarily have to entail an end to the faith in China, though it did create severe restrictions on missionaries… as the Mongols were their primary source of protection and funding,” there were additional factors at play. Back home the Black Death in 1348, internal friction and strife among the Franciscans as well as the Papacy’s abandonment of its original strategic goal of a Mongol alliance – all contributed to the decline in China missions of this period. Ibid., 14-5.

 

[48] Because here we have the origins of a permanent Chinese Christian presence into which the next “wave” of Christianity, the Protestant missionaries, will be forced to contend, and from which will eventually rise the indigenous Chinese Church, we will detail these events a bit more closely than the previous sections. Again, however, this will be little more than a brief sketch of the events of this period.

 

[49] Ibid., 18.

 

[50] Ibid.,19.

 

[51] Ibid.

[52] Fang, "A Brief History of Christianity in China."

 

[53] Ibid.

 

[54] Bays., A New History of Christianity in China, 20.

[55] Ibid., 21.

 

[56] Ibid.

 

[57] Ibid.

 

[58] Lodwick, How Christianity Came To China, 25.

[59] Ibid.

 

[60] Ibid., 24.

 

[61] MacCulloch, Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, 706.

 

[62] Ibid., 705.

 

[63] Bays, A New History of Christianity in China, 21.

[64] Ibid., 21-22.

 

[65] Ibid., 22.

 

[66] Ibid.

 

[67] Ibid., 21.

 

[68] Ibid., 22.

[69] Ibid, 23.

 

[70] Ibid.

 

[71] Ibid.,24.

 

[72] Bays, 29, enumerates the specific issues encompassed by the rites controversy: “1) whether certain established Chinese terms, for example those that might be used to translate the name of God, the soul, and so forth, should be used or new ones coined… Ricci and the Jesuits had no problem in using thee terms. 2) The essentially civic or essentially religious nature of ceremonies performed…in honor of Confucius and their own families ancestors…Should these acts be considered religious observances or civic duty. And should Chinese Christians be permitted or forbidden to participate? The Jesuits considered them civic functions and permitted them. 3) Could mass be said for the souls of Christians’ non-Christian ancestors? The Jesuits…basically said yes…”

 

[73] McCulloch, Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, 707.

 

[74] Bays, 29.

 

[75] Ibid. Additionally Bays writes “In the 1960’s, ironically just after the Kangxi emperor’s 1962 toleration decree for all Christians, the Pope became increasingly involved, and both the critics’ attacks and the Jesuits’ defense became increasingly strident.”

 

[76] MacCulloch, Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, 707.

 

[77] Bays, A New History of Christianity, 29.

 

[78] Ibid.

[79] Ibid., 30.

 

[80] Ibid.

 

[81] Ibid.

 

[82] MacCulloch, Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, 707.

 

[83] Bays, A New History of Christianity, 31.

[84] Ibid, 35.

 

[85] Ibid, 36-7.

[86] Ibid, 32.

 

[87] Ibid, 35.

 

[88] Ibid, 36. Also, Stark, 13, calls the Catholic missionary efforts “remarkably successful” in the early 1700’s, resulting in as many as 200,000 or more Chinese converts.

 

[89] The Opium Wars were two armed conflicts in China in the mid-19th century between the forces of Western countries and of the Qing dynasty, which ruled China from 1644 to 1911/12. The first Opium War (1839–42) was fought between China and Britain. The second Opium War (1856–60), also known as the Arrow War or the Anglo-French War in China, was fought by Britain and France against China. In each case the foreign powers were victorious and gained commercial privileges and legal and territorial concessions in China. The conflicts marked the start of the era of unequal treaties and other inroads on Qing sovereignty that helped weaken and ultimately topple the dynasty in favor of republican China in the early 20th century. Kenneth Pletcher, "Opium Wars," Encyclopedia Britannica, March 09, 2017, accessed May 20, 2017, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Opium-Wars.

[90] Bays, A New History of Christianity in China, 37,41.

 

[91] Ibid., 43. Morrison was representative of the wave of Protestant missionaries that were to come to China. He was of the working-class and had only a modest education. This makes his contribution all the more astounding.

 

[92] Ibid., 43-4.

 

[93] Ibid., 44.

[94] Indeed, at this time open propagation of the Christian faith was still prohibited under Qing law. Ibid.

 

[95] "Robert Morrison (missionary)," Wikipedia, May 19, 2017, accessed May 20, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Morrison_(missionary).

[96] Bays, A New History of Christianity in China, 46.

 

[97] "Peter Parker (physician)," Wikipedia, April 12, 2017, accessed May 20, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Parker_(physician).

 

[98] Bays, A New History of Christianity in China, 46.

 

[99] Ibid.

[100] Although opium was declared illegal in China in 1727 for its profits there were always people willing to risk smuggling and selling it. Lodwick, 44, further states, “It is impossible to know when opium first reached China, but the fact that only Chinese smoked the drug, as opposed to Westerners who injected it in the form of morphine and Indians who ate it, the best guess is that it was introduced by traders in the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries, along with tobacco from the New World.”

 

[101] Bays, A New History of Christianity in China, 57.

 

[102] Ibid, 48.

 

[103] Lodwick, How Christianity Came to China, 43.

[104] Bays, A New History of Christianity in China, 48.

 

[105] Ibid.

 

[106] Ibid,49-50. As one of the major focuses of their writing tasks, it was during this time, 1842-1860 (before the second set of treaties enacted at the conclusion of the second Opium War), that the translation of the bible into English was renewed in earnest. Though Robert Morrison’s pioneer translation was monumental it was not scholarly. A translation project aimed at creating a version of the scriptures that would be easily accessible for the modestly educated but still acceptable to the better educated was begun in 1890. Through this effort the “Union Version” of the Bible was completed in 1919. This version, even today, is “the standard translation used by Christians in China and in overseas Chinese communities.” Ibid, 50.

 

[107] Ibid., 49. The treaties allowed the missionaries to travel in the immediate suburbs of these cities, just a half day’s journey as they had to return the same day. Ibid.

[108] MacCulloch, The First Three Thousand Years, 895-6.

 

[109] Ibid, 896.

 

[110] Interestingly, Lodwick, 34, states that Xiuquan was a Hakka (literally, guest), one of the five major ethnic groups living in China. The Hakka were the object of Chinese discrimination such that even in regards to the official examinations there were quotas set limiting the number of Hakka who could pass. It was at the examination grounds where Christians sometimes handed out Christians pamphlets hoping to converts scholars on their way home from the examinations. Xiuquan, having failed his civil examination four times, was indeed in great distress when after taking his exam for the fourth time was handed one of these Christian pamphlets.

 

[111] MacCulloch, The First Three Thousand Years, 896.

[112] Lodwick, How Christianity Came to China, 38.

 

[113] Stark, 17. Not only was there the immense cost of lost lives but also “The Qing dynasty was so weakened by the rebellion that it never again was able to establish an effective hold over the country. Both the Chinese communists and the Chinese Nationalists trace their origin to the Taipings.” The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica, "Taiping Rebellion," Encyclopedia Britannica, accessed May 20, 2017, https://www.britannica.com/event/Taiping-Rebellion.

 

[114] MacCulloch, The First Three Thousand Years, 897.

 

[115] Stark, A Star in the East,18. Lodwick, 38 sites a recent scholar, Cao Shuju, who puts the death toll at over 73 million. For perspective she reminds her reader, that the American Civil War, which occurred at about the same time, is estimated to have killed seven hundred fifty thousand people. This “pseudo-Christian uprising was the biggest rebellion in the history of the world that did not topple a government. One can also term it the largest misunderstanding of Christianity ever.”

[116] Bays, A New History of Christianity in China, 56.

 

[117] Lodwick, How Christianity Came to China, 38.

 

[118] Stark, A Star in the East,18.

 

[119] Ibid.

 

[120] Bays, A New History of Christianity in China, 67.

[121] Ibid. A long standing problem in the Catholic Church was twofold: The Chinese Catholic Church was often at odds with the Western Catholic Church to an extent that there was almost two entities. The Chinese Catholic Church, at times, appointed and ordained its own Priests, contrary to the designs of the Western Church back home. This apparent disregard for the authority of the papacy created significant friction between the two. Additionally, the Chinese Catholic Church had to operate much more underground than did the Protestant Church even during times of relative freedom due to their ties and allegiance to its “foreign interests” the Catholic Church hierarchical leadership structure of the West. Ibid.

 

[122] Ibid, 68.

 

[123] Ibid.

[124] MacCulloch, Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, 898.

 

[125] Tim Dowley, Introduction to the History of Christianity (Oxford: Lion, 2014), 574.

 

[126] These bullet points were graciously borrowed via a commixture of information from the following: Bays, A New History of Christianity in China, 68, MacCulloch, Christinaity : The First Three Thousand Years, 899 and Dowley, Introduction to the History of Christianity, 574.

[127] Bays, A New History of Christianity in China, 68.

[128] Ibid., 69.

 

[129] Ibid.

 

[130] Ibid.

[131] Ibid., 84.

 

[132] Lodwick, How Christianity Came to China, 40-1. The Boxers were practitioners of various martial art forms and from this style of training, along with their name, came the appellation, “The Boxers.” Interestingly the Boxers, early on embraced a supernatural belief that they were immune to the bullets of their enemies. They soon found that not to be true. Stark, A Star in the East, 22.

 

[133] History.com Staff, "Boxer Rebellion," History.com, 2009, accessed May 20, 2017, http://www.history.com/topics/boxer-rebellion.

 

[134] Bayer 84. The Tianjin Massacre was “one of the most important missionary incidents of the late Qing dynasty, involving attacks on French Catholic Priests and nuns… and armed foreign intervention. The riot only ended after a number of Catholic institutions and foreign buildings, including the Tientsin Cathedral and four British and American churches, were burned down. As well as the two French Consular officials, two Lazarist priests, and approximately 40 Chinese Christians were killed, as were three Russian traders assumed by the mob to be French. Ten nuns of the Daughters of Charity were raped and mutilated by the crowd before being killed. The final death toll of the riot was given at around 60.” "Tianjin Massacre," Wikipedia, April 30, 2017, accessed May 20, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tianjin_Massacre.

 

[135] Bays, A New History of Christianity in China, 85.

[136] Details of the Boxer Uprising were gratefully gleaned for this paper from both Stark, A Star in the East, 22-3 and Bays, A New History of Christianity in China, 85-6.

 

[137] Bays, A New History of Christianity in China, 87.

[138] Ibid. Of particular Historical importance is the traditional, widely held understanding that it was anti-Christian and xenophobic sentiments among the Chinese that instigated the events of the Boxer Uprising. Lodwick relates recent scholarship (and Bays, A New History of Christianity in China, 85, corroborates the same) that implicates the mass flooding-drought cycles and subsequent migration of peoples onto marginal uplands (creating famine and other social stresses) that were prime factors in setting the stage for such civil unrest. Lodwick says, “The Boxers were not anti-Qing or anti-foreign, but they became both as the occasion demanded…most of the Westerners living in China were missionaries, and they became the victim of violence because they were easy targets…” Lodwick, How Christianity Came to China, 44.

 

[139] Bays, A New History of Christianity in China, 95.

 

[140] Ibid, 94.

 

[141] Ibid., 94.

[142] Ibid., 96-7.

 

[143] Ibid, 106. Three previous National Christina Conferences such as this one had already taken place in 1877, 1890, and 1907.

 

[144] Bays reports that in China, as elsewhere, “acrimonious disputes over biblical authority, higher criticism, evolution, and the like” broke out among many of the missionaries. Some visiting theologians from the US came home appalled, reporting great dismay at the prevalence of “modernist” views of the Bible that they encountered there. Ibid.

[145] Ibid., 124.

 

[146] Ibid., 124-5.

[147] Ibid., 128.

 

[148] Ibid., 129.

 

[149] Ibid.

 

[150] Ibid., 129-30. Bays, A New History of Christianity in China provided in full my assemblage of this section.

[151] The reader will see in these beginnings, origins similar to that of the Taiping founder, Hong Xiuquan.

 

[152] Ibid., 130.

 

[153] Ibid., 130-2. Bays, A New History of Christianity in China provided in full my assemblage of this section.

 

[154] Ibid., 130.

[155] Ibid., 131.

 

[156] Stark, A Star in the East, 58.

[157] Bays, A New History of Christianity in China, 59.

 

[158] Ibid., 133.

 

[159] Ibid.

[160] Stark, A Star in the East, 59-60.

 

[161] These dates were variously gathered from Wikipedia.com, BritannicaOnline.com and Encyclopedia.com.

[162] Bays, A New History of Christianity in China, 28.

 

[163] Ibid., 107.

 

[164] Ibid.

 

[165] Hays, A New History of Christianity in China, 208.

 

[166] Stark, A Star in the East, 29.

 

[167] For a few years, from 1924 to 1927, the Nationalist party and the Communist party had joined together. However, in 1927 the Nationalist party turned on the Communist party and drove it underground. In 1937 the two parties joined forces for a united front to confront the invading Japanese. "Communist Party of China," Wikipedia, May 18, 2017, accessed May 20, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communist_Party_of_China.

 

[168] Bays, A New History of Christianity in China, 125.

 

[169] Stark, A Star in the East, 39.

 

[170] Ibid.

 

[171] Ibid., 41.

[172] "Y. T. Wu," Wikipedia, April 30, 2017, accessed May 20, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Y._T._Wu.

 

[173] "Three-Self Patriotic Movement," Wikipedia, May 16, 2017, accessed May 20, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three-Self_Patriotic_Movement.

 

[174] "Y. T. Wu," Wikipedia, April 30, 2017, accessed May 20, 2017.

 

[175] Here, to acquaint the reader with the tenets of faith as espoused by the TSPM, I have included the following Statement of Faith: “The Chinese Church takes the contents of the entire Bible, the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed as the foundation of our faith, the main points of which are as follows: 1.Ours is a Triune God, everlasting and eternal. 2. God is Spirit. God is loving, just, holy, and trustworthy. God is almighty Father, the Lord who creates and sustains the cosmos and all that is in it, who keeps and cares for the whole world. - Jesus Christ is the only Son of God, born of the Holy Spirit, the Word made flesh, wholly God and wholly human. He came into the world to save humankind, to witness to God the Father, to preach the gospel; he was crucified, died, and was buried. He rose again and ascended into heaven. He will come again to judge the world. 3. The Holy Spirit is the Comforter, who enables people to know their sinfulness and to repent, who bestows wisdom and ability and every grace, leading us to know God and to enter into the truth, enabling people to live holy lives, and to give beautiful witness to Christ. 4. The Church is the body of Christ and Christ is its Head. The Church is apostolic, one, holy, and catholic. The visible Church is called by God to be a fellowship of those who believe in Jesus Christ. The apostles established it as Jesus instructed them. The mission of the Church is to preach the gospel, to administer the Sacraments, to teach and nurture believers, to do good works, and to bear witness to the Lord. The Church is both universal and particular. The Chinese Church must build itself up in love and be one in Christ. 5. The Bible has been revealed by God and written down by human beings through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The Bible is the highest authority in matters of faith and the standard of life for believers. Through the leading of the Holy Spirit, people in different times have gained new light in the Bible. The Bible should be interpreted in accordance with the principle of rightly explaining the word of truth. It should not be interpreted arbitrarily or out of context. 6. Human beings are made in the image of God, but cannot become gods. God has given humanity dominion over all God's creation. Because of sin, human beings have diminished God's glory, yet through faith and the grace of Jesus Christ, human beings are redeemed and saved, and are granted resurrection and everlasting life. 7. Christ will come again. According to the teachings of the Bible, no one knows the day of his coming, and any method to determine when Christ will come again violates the teachings of the Bible. 8. A Christian's faith and works are one. Christians must live out Christ in the world, glorifying God and benefiting people. "Three-Self Patriotic Movement," Wikipedia, May 16, 2017.

 

[176] Stark, A Star in the East, 44.

 

[177] Ibid., 44-6.

 

[178] Ibid., 46.

 

[179] Stark 47.

 

[180] Lodwick, How Christianity Came To China, 65.

[181] The Great Leap Forward was to be an economic stimulus by which both agricultural and industrial production would be prodigiously increased from its current levels. The implementation of this plan would lead to the deaths of twenty to forty-three million people, most of them by starvation. His plan was an utter failure and the Great Leap Forward, in the end, essentially constituted genocide. "Mao and The Great Leap Forward," Rutgers–Newark Colleges of Arts & Sciences, accessed May 20, 2017, https://www.ncas.rutgers.edu/mao-and-great-leap-forward.

[182] Stark, A Star in the East, 47.

 

[183] Stark, 47. The Red Guard was formally known as the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

 

[184] Lodwick, How Christianity Came To China, 66. Lodwick goes on to argue that Christians were not targeted necessarily more than anyone else, specifically because of their adherence to their religion, but rather that because they were easily distinguished as foreigners by virtue of the various expression and evidences of their faith, they were, in fact, quite heavily persecuted.

[185] Stark, A Star in the East, 47.

 

[186] Lodwick, How Christianity Came To China, 66.

 

[187] “Dismissing the Red Guards” is a bit of a misnomer as some of the most militant units required violent suppression by the regular army. Stark, A Star in the East, 48.

 

[188] Ibid.

 

[189] Ibid., 44.

 

[190] Ibid., 48.

[191] Bays, A New History of Christianity in China, 44.

 

[192] Ibid., 185.

 

[193] Ibid., 187.

 

[194] Ibid., 187-8.

 

[195] Ibid., 188.

 

[196] Ibid. Let the reader recall these organizations as discussed earlier: TSPM (Three Self Patriotic Movement), the CPA (or CPCA: Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, i.e. the Catholic Church of China).

 

[197] "China Christian Council," Wikipedia, May 05, 2017, accessed May 20, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/China_Christian_Council.

[198] "China Christian Council," Wikipedia, May 05, 2017, accessed May 20, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/China_Christian_Council.

 

[199] Taken from the Encyclopedia of Contemporary Chinese Culture, the following provides a précis of Document 19. “Document 19, a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) directive from the Central Committee to its CCP and government cadres promulgated in 1982, is a comprehensive religious policy that was part of Deng Xiaoping’s ‘reform and opening’ (gaige kaifang). Document 19 resulted in the revival of many religious traditions in China through the gradual rehabilitation or release of many religious specialists of recognized religions (Buddhism, Daoism, Islam, Catholicism and Protestant Christianity) from prisons, the return of seized property to recognized religious organizations, and the reopening of monasteries, convents and seminaries. Although it has been further refined and adjusted by succeeding CCP directives (such as Articles 144 and 145 from the PRC State Council, promulgated by Li Peng in 1994), it remains the most comprehensive official review of past CCP religious policy and the guiding strategy for contemporary CCP religious policy—the administrative cooptation of recognized religious organizations into various state structures, the role of religion in attaining CCP goals of modernization and the building of ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’, and the official ambivalence towards foreign religious organizations and leaders. "Encyclopedia of Contemporary Chinese Culture," Google Books, accessed May 20, 2017, https://books.google.com/books/about/Encyclopedia_of_Contemporary_Chinese_Cul.html?id=U2cO7tjYIK0C.

 

[200] Lamin Sanneh, "Prospects for Post-Western Christianity in Asia and Elsewhere," Brown Journal of World Affairs 12, no. 2 (2005): 122, accessed May 10, 2017, http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=21199435&site=ehost-live.

 

[201] Because of the importance of this document I have included the following short excerpt from Wikipedia, taken from the page on Xi Jinping, China’s current “Paramount Leader.” The "Document No. 9" is a confidential internal document widely circulated within the Communist Party of China in 2013 by the party's General Office. The document was first published in July 2012. The document warns of seven dangerous Western values: constitutional democracy, universal values of human rights, civil society, pro-market neo-liberalism, media independence, historical nihilism [criticisms of past errors], and questioning Reform and Opening. Coverage of these topics in educational materials is forbidden. The release of this internal document, which has introduced new topics that were previously not 'off-limits', was seen as Xi's recognition of the 'sacrosanct' nature of Communist Party rule over China. "Xi Jinping," Wikipedia, May 17, 2017, section goes here, accessed May 20, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xi_Jinping.

 

[202] Stark, A Star in the East, 70.

 

[203] Ibid., 70-1.

 

[204] Ibid.,71.

 

[205] Aikman graduated from Oxford University’s Worcester College in 1965 and gained a PhD from the University of Washington in Russian and Chinese history in 1979. "David Aikman," Wikipedia, May 11, 2017, section goes here, accessed May 20, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Aikman.

[206] Sanneh, "Prospects for Post-Western Christianity in Asia and Elsewhere," 125.

 

[207] Ibid., 126.

 

[208] Bays, A New History of Christianity in China, 113.

[209] Ian Johnson, The Souls of China: The Return of Religion after Mao (New York: Pantheon Books, 2017), 388.

 

[210] Ibid. Bays corroborates the economic focus of the Chinese leadership at that time when he says, “…Christianity re-entered the public arena beginning in 1979 and 1980 riding on the coattails of Deng Xiaoping’s package of economic reforms. Under Deng’s leadership the country’s entire focus was economic growth. To facilitate this aim of growth at all costs, people were given more freedom from government interference in may aspects of their lives”…including religious expression. Bays, A New History of Christianity in China,187.

[211] Johnson, The Souls of China: The Return of Religion after Mao, 388.

 

[212] Ibid.

 

[213] Ibid., 389.

[214] For readability the citation designations have been removed from the above quote but can be accessed directly from the article. "Xi Jinping," Wikipedia, May 17, 2017, accessed May 20, 2017.

 

[215] Johnson, The Souls of China: The Return of Religion after Mao, 389.

 

[216] Ibid., 390.

 

[217] Ibid.

[218] Ibid.

 

[219] Ibid., 391.

 

[220] Ibid.

[221] Ibid., 392.

 

[222] "9. Famous Thinkers – Mathematician Is a Creationist 1." Bible-Science Guy. February 06, 2014. Accessed May 20, 2017. https://biblescienceguy.wordpress.com/2012/09/12/mathematician-is-a-creationist/

 

Photo Credits

1. Map of Chinese Provinces by Toby Simkin,  https://c1.staticflickr.com/3/2545/3788116259_19d40d966e.jpg

2. The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio, Public Domain

3.  https://www.hexapolis.com/2014/10/09/14-intriguing-things-you-may-not-have-known-about-the-mongols/

4. Monument to Matteo Ricci, By Abraham Sobkowski OFM (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

5. Robert Morrison, from 1898, from a painting, credit: Eliza Morrison. http://chinachristiandaily.com/2017-03-05/culture/is-robert-morrison-the-first-protestant-missionary-to-china-_4260.html

6. The East India Company iron steam ship Nemesis, commanded by Lieutenant W. H. Hall, with boats from the SulphurCalliopeLarne and Starling, destroying the Chinese war junks in Anson's Bay, on 7 January 1841. Public Domain, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Opium_War#/media/File:Destroying_Chinese_war_junks,_by_E._Duncan_(1843).jpg

7. Hudson Taylor.  http://www.joethorn.net/blog/2012/02/27/bearded-gospel-men-hudson-taylor

8.Russian troops storming gates of Perking, 1900, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boxer_Rebellion#/media/File:Russian_troops_storming_Beijing_gates_1900.gif

9. https://www.clcpublications.com/authors/watchman-nee/

10. Chinese Cultural Revolution Poster; Fair Use Image; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_Revolution#/media/File:Cultural_Revolution_poster.jpg

11. Ian Johnson in The Atlantic, In China, Unregistered Churches are Driving a Religious Revolution, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/04/china-unregistered-churches-driving-religious-revolution/521544/, accessed July 31, 2017

Don Downs, a practicing Physician Assistant, enjoys deeper bible study and is currently pursuing a Masters Degree in Bible and Theology through the Rocky Mountain School of Ministry and Theology. Converted in Chicago in 1987, Don and his wife Vonda soon left for Seattle, WA as part of its original  Mission Team planting. In Seattle, Don entered the Full Time Ministry and later also served on the Ministry staff in San Francisco, CA and in Indianapolis IN. After coming out of the FT Ministry Don obtained his Physician Assistant degree in Chicago at Midwestern University. After graduating he and his family moved to Denver and is now part of the Denver Church of Christ. Don enjoys Marathon running, Hiking the Colorado 14'ers and spending time with his wonderful family. He has been married for 30 years, has a married 25yo old son, Caleb and daugher-in-law Shelby, a 20 yo daughter Marin and an 11yo daughter, LinZhi whom he and his wife adopted from China over 10 years ago.

 

Don and his family have a special interest in China after having adopted their daughter LinZhi from Guangzhou, China. Both of Don and Vonda's children have shown a great heart for China and the Church there. Caleb graduated from Colorado State University with a degree in International Studies and a Minor in Mandarin. He spent eight months in China and fell in love with the people and the church in Guangzhou. Marin has just concluded her Sophomore year of College and though she loves the Campus Ministry in Denver Colorado, she is excited to, In August of 2017, leave for a year in China to work with the Church in Guangzhou. In December of 2017, Don, Vonda and LinZhi will be making their first trip back to China since adopting LinZhi over 10 years ago. The Downs family hope to be able to help serve the church there in the future.

 

 

 

 

An Introduction to the Old Testament Text

Teachers' Corner BerkLOGO.jpeg [360x360] [288x288].ico

by Dave Pocta -- San Antonio, Texas, USA 

When we open our bibles, we often take for granted what is in front of us. For centuries, scribes and scholars have meticulously unearthed ancient texts.  They have preserved, catalogued, studied and compared them to accurately provide us with God’s Word.  This paper is a very brief introduction to the languages, textual traditions, early translations, and recent discoveries that laid the foundation for the blessing now known as the Old Testament. 

Biblical Languages

The Hebrew bible (Old Testament) was originally written by several authors ranging from roughly the 15th to fifth century B.C. in the Hebrew language with small segments in Aramaic.  (Primarily Daniel 2:4b-7:28 and Ezra 4:8-6:18, 7:12-26.) Aramaic was spoken by the Jews after the exile, which explains its appearance in these books with later dates. Documents in the original language are called manuscripts and copies of them are transmissions. Documents in other languages are called versions, as they are translations

Example of Aramaic papyrus

Example of Aramaic papyrus

Languages vary in communication style, flow, and structure. We would therefore prefer to possess the earliest manuscripts in the original language to ensure accuracy and avoid the translators’ interpretations. The two extremes in translation would be “word for word” translations which tend to be more literal but often can lose the exact meaning of the text, or “thought for thought” translations, which attempt to capture the meaning but lose the nuances of specific words. This makes evident the difficulty in translating a translation. For example, translating the Old Testament from Latin into English introduces the difficulties of moving across two language barriers instead of translating from Hebrew directly into English. The science of studying manuscripts to remove scribal copying errors and obtain the most likely original text is known as textual criticism. The intention of textual critics is to provide a precise original language text that can be used as a basis for translation into any language.

Textual Traditions

Ironically, the oldest manuscript of the complete Hebrew bible that we have is the Leningrad Codex (codex meaning ‘book’ as opposed to scroll), which is dated to 1008 A.D. Another important Hebrew codex is the Aleppo Codex, named after the city in Syria in which it was located. It was considered a model codex, used for Jewish high holidays and settling matters of dispute amongst scholars. Unfortunately, it was partially destroyed in a fire in 1947. Both of these come from a strong Jewish scribal tradition and are known as the Masoretic text. The Masoretes were a group of scholars that flourished between the 7th and 11th century A.D. They had meticulous practices of preserving the text and required the destruction of worn copies (They didn’t see the need for older copies because the text was firmly established.) They were also responsible for vowel pointing. The original Hebrew text was consonantal only. The Masoretes were concerned about the pronunciation of the language, as it wasn’t being spoken much anymore; and they added vowel pointing to preserve the proper way of reading the Hebrew. 

Other portions and fragments of the Hebrew text have been found which have significantly earlier dates, such as the Nash Papyrus. It contains parts of Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 and 6.  Scholars debate its date. Some believe it was pre-exilic while others give it a first or second century A.D. date. These fragments serve as a snapshot of the early text. They provide some confirmation and some potential conflicts with the Masoretic text. 

Early Translations

Even though we lack early complete Hebrew manuscripts, we have a number of early witnesses. These are translations that give us insight into the original text. 

The Samaritan Pentateuch – Sometime after the exile, the Samaritans became an independent faction from the Jews. Their scriptures were written in a script variant of the Hebrew (called the Paleo-Hebrew script) and are now called the Samaritan Pentateuch. The Samaritan Pentateuch serves as a second Hebrew text of the Pentateuch and carries some six thousand variations from the Masoretic text. Most of these are orthographic (spelling differences) and some are additions that were introduced by the Samaritans to preserve their cult. (I.e. the command to build a sanctuary on Mount Gerizim was inserted after Exodus 20:17).  It should be noted that about nineteen hundred variants agree with the Septuagint (see below) against the Masoretic text. 

The Septuagint – Hellenism spread the Greek language as universal in the Diaspora. An Alexandrian Jew named Aristeas writes to his brother in the Letter of Aristeas that Ptolemy II Philadelphus, while serving as King of Egypt (281 B.C. to 246 B.C.), desired that his library have a copy of the Jewish Law. He sent to Eleazar, the High Priest, in Jerusalem for translators. Eleazar selected six elders from each of the twelve tribes and sent them with Hebrew scrolls to Ptolemy II.  Supposedly, the seventy-two men translated the Pentateuch in seventy-two days on the island of Pharos; it was read to the Jews in Alexandria and approved as accurate. We aren’t sure how the rest of the Septuagint was translated, but we do know that it was done by multiple translators because parts of it tend to be literal (word for word) and other parts are more free (thought for thought). The Septuagint (abbreviated LXX, which means “according to the seventy”) is significant as it was widely recognized as the bible of the early church and many viewed the translation as inspired.  

Fragments from Deuteronomy,  manuscript of The Septuagint

Fragments from Deuteronomy,  manuscript of The Septuagint

Other Early Translations – Language influences necessitated other translations for the Jews and early Christians. As previously noted, many post-exilic Jews spoke Aramaic. The Aramaic translation is known as the Aramaic Targums. The Syriac Translation is known as the Peshitta.  The early Egyptian Christians read the Coptic Version. We also have the Ethiopic Version, the Armenian Version, and the Arabic Versions that bring perspective on the early text. Of special note is the Latin Vulgate. (Vulgate meaning “common language”) There were a number of Latin versions of the scriptures floating around the church by the fourth century A.D. Pope Damasus I commissioned Jerome, an eminently qualified scholar in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, to translate a uniform and reliable text. Jerome’s Vulgate was pronounced the “authentic Bible of the Catholic Church” at the Council of Trent on April 8, 1546.  

Recent Discoveries

With a basic understanding that the oldest complete Hebrew text we possess is from the early 11th century, we can now appreciate the significance of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Stumbled upon by a shepherd boy in 1947, the eleven caves of the ancient Qumran community have yielded hundreds of manuscripts and fragments. The most significant find was a complete scroll of Isaiah that dates to the second century B.C.! This answers the accusation that the Isaiah messianic prophecies could have been written after Jesus’ life, as it pre-dates his birth. Fragments from every book in the Old Testament except for Esther have been found in the Dead Sea Scrolls.  

Today’s Hebrew Bible

The Hebrew text that is primarily used today is the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS). It was edited from 1967 to 1977, published by the German Bible Society, and its text is based on the Leningrad Codex.  Its attached apparatus contains the notations of variants from different manuscript traditions. Many view the Aleppo Codex as the most authoritative codex of the Masoretic text. The Hebrew University in Jerusalem is in the process of producing an edition that will contain the exact reproduction of the Aleppo Codex as its foundational text and a significant apparatus with major variants from other sources. Thank God for the archeologists, linguists and scholars who have preserved the Holy Scriptures!

Bibliography

Bruce, F.F. The Canon of Scripture. Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 1988.

Geisler, Norman L., and William E. Nix. A General Introduction to the Bible. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986.

Jacoby, Douglas. How We Got the Bible (Audio Series). 2005.

Lightfoot, Neil R. How We Got the Bible. Third. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2003.

Soulen, Richard N., and R. Kendall Soulen. Handbook of Biblical Criticism. Third. Louisville, KY: 

Westminster John Knox Press, 2001.

Wurthwein, Ernst. The Text of the Old Testament. Translated by Erroll F. Rhodes. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995.

Photo Credits

1. Eduard Sachau, public domain; photo taken in 1909 of Aramaic papyrus containing a contract for a loan, dated to regnal year 5 of pharaoh Amyrtaios, in 400 BCE. From Elephantine (Upper Egypt), 28th Dynasty, Late Period. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAmyrtaios_aramaic_papyrus_Sachau.png

2. Manuscript of Septuagint with 8 fragments of the Book of Deuteronomy. From the 2nd Century B.C. Source: Papyrus Rylands 458. Public Domain, {{PD-UK-unknown}} {{PD-US}} https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AP._Rylands_458.jpg

 

The Sinner's Prayer

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A Brief History of a Novel Practice

by Steve Staten -- Chicago, Illinois, USA 

https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prayer#/media/File:Albrecht_Dürer_Betende_Hände.jpg

C.S. Lewis used the term “a great cataract of nonsense” to describe how people use a modern idea to construe Bible theology.  One such example, perhaps the best example, is a conversion method called the Sinner’s Prayer. It is more popularly known as the Four Spiritual Laws.

Lewis used this term to describe what happens when someone looks backward at the Bible based only on what he or she has known. Instead, an evangelical should first discern conversion practices from Scriptures and then consider the topic in light of two thousand years of other thinkers. As it is, a novel technique popularized through recent revivals has replaced the biblically sound practice. 

 

Today, hundreds of millions hold to a belief system and salvation practice that no one had ever held until relatively recently. The notions that one can pray Jesus into his or her heart and that baptism is merely an outward sign are actually late developments. The prayer itself dates to the Billy Sunday era; however, the basis for talking in prayer for salvation goes back a few hundred years.

Consider the following appeal:

“Just accept Christ into your heart through prayer and he’ll receive you. It doesn’t matter what church you belong to or if you ever do good works. You’ll be born again at the moment you receive Christ. He’s at the door knocking. You don’t even have to change bad habits, just trust Christ as Savior. God loves you and forgives you unconditionally. Anyone out there can be saved if they ... Accept Christ, now! Let us pray for Christ to now come into your heart.”

Sound familiar? This method of conversion has had far-reaching effects worldwide as many have claimed this as the basis for their salvation. Yet, what is the historical significance of this conversion? How did the process of rebirth, which Jesus spoke of in John 3, evolve into praying him into one’s heart? I believe it was an error germinating shortly after the Reformation, which eventually caused great ruin and dismay in Christendom. By supplying a brief documentation of its short, historical development, I hope to show how this error has served as “a great cataract of nonsense”.

The Reformation

Although things weren’t ideal after the Reformation, for the first time in over a thousand years the general populace was reading the Scriptures. By the early 1600s, one hundred years after the Reformation was initiated, there were various branches of European Christendom that followed national lines. For instance, Germans followed Martin Luther. There were also Calvinists (Presbyterian), the Church of England (Episcopalian), various branches of Anabaptists and, of course, the Roman church (Catholics). Most of these groups were trying to revive the waning faith of their already traditionalized denominations. However, a consensus had not been reached on issues like rebirth, baptism or salvation--even between Protestants.

The majority still held to the validity of infant baptism even though they disagreed on its significance. Preachers tended to minimize baptism because people hid their lack of commitment behind sayings like “I am a baptized Lutheran and that’s that.” The influence of the preachers eventually led to the popular notion that one was forgiven at infant baptism but not yet reborn. Most Protestants were confused or ambivalent about the connection between rebirth and forgiveness.

The Great Awakening

The Great Awakening was the result of fantastic preaching occurring in Europe and the eastern colonies during the early to mid 1700s. Though ambivalent on the practice of baptism, Great Awakening preachers created an environment that made man aware of his need for an adult confession experience. The experiences that people sought were varied. Jonathan Edwards, George Whitfield and John Wesley furthered ideas of radical repentance and revival. Although there is much to be learned from their messages, they did not solve the problems of the practices associated with baptism and conversion.

By http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/obf_images/32/1b/2cc571d981947dadf12de2ffd110.jpgGallery: http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/image/V0006868.html, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36424508

Eventually, the following biblical passage written to and inspired for lukewarm Christians became a popular tool for the conversion of non-Christians:

"To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation. ....Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:14-20 NIV)

This passage was written explicitly for lukewarm Christians. Now consider how a lecturer named John Webb misused this passage in the mid-1700s as a basis of evangelizing non-Christians: 

“Here is a promise of Union to Christ; in these words, I will come in to him. i.e. If any Sinner will but hear my Voice and open the Door, and receive me by Faith, I will come into his Soul, and unite him to me, and make him a living member of that my mystical body of which I am the Head.” (Christ’s Suit to the Sinner, 14)

Preachers heavily relied on Revelation 3:20. By using the first-person tense while looking into the sinner’s eyes, preachers began to speak for Jesus as they exhorted, “If you would just let me come in and dine with you, I would accept you.” Even heathens who had never been baptized responded with the same or even greater sorrow than churchgoers. As a result, more and more preachers of Christendom concluded that baptism was merely an external matter--only an outward sign of an inward grace. In fact, Huldreich Zwingli put this idea forth for the very first time. Nowhere in church history was such a belief recorded. It only appears in Scripture when one begins with a great cataract of nonsense. In other words, it only appears in the New Testament through the imagination of readers influenced by this phenomenon.

Mourner’s Seat

A method originated during the 1730s or ‘40s, which was practically forgotten for about a hundred years. It is documented that in 1741 a minister named Eleazar Wheelock had utilized a technique called the Mourner’s Seat. As far as one can tell, he would target sinners by having them sit in the front bench (pew). During the course of his sermon “salvation was looming over their heads.” Afterwards, the sinners were typically quite open to counsel and exhortation. In fact, as it turns out they were susceptible to whatever prescription the preaching doctor gave to them. According to eyewitnesses, false conversions were multiplied. Charles Wesley had some experience with this practice, but it took nearly a hundred years for this tactic to take hold. 

Cane Ridge

In 1801 there was a sensational revival in Cane Ridge, Kentucky, that lasted for weeks. Allegedly, people barked, rolled over in the aisles and became delirious because there were long periods without food in the intense heat. It resulted in the extreme use and abuse of emotions as thousands left Kentucky with wild notions about rebirth. Today it is generally viewed as a mockery to Christianity. 

The excesses in Cane Ridge produced expectations for preachers and those seeking religious experience.  A Second Great Awakening, inferior to the first, was beginning in America. Preachers were enamored with the idea that they could cause (manipulate) people into conversion. One who witnessed such nineteenth century hysteria was J. V. Coombs who complained of the technique:

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACane_Ridge_Meeting_House_P6200054.JPG

“The appeals, songs, prayers and the suggestion from the preacher drive many into the trance state. I can remember in my boyhood days seeing ten or twenty people laying unconscious upon the floor in the old country church. People called that conversion. Science knows it is mesmeric influence, self-hypnotism … It is sad that Christianity is compelled to bear the folly of such movements.” (J.V. Coombs, Religious Delusions, 92ff).

The Cane Ridge Meeting became the paradigm for revivalists for decades. A lawyer named Charles Finney came along a generation later to systemize the Cane Ridge experience through the use of Wheelock’s Mourner’s Seat and Scripture.

Charles Finney

It wasn’t until about 1835 that Charles Grandison Finney (1792-1875) emerged to champion the system utilized by Eleazar Wheelock. Shortly after his own conversion, he left his law practice and would become a minister, a lecturer, a professor, and a traveling revivalist. He took the Mourner’s Seat practice, which he called the Anxious Seat, and developed a theological system around it. Finney was straightforward about his purpose for this technique and wrote the following comment near the end of his life:

“The church has always felt it necessary to have something of this kind to answer this very purpose. In the days of the apostles, baptism answered this purpose. The gospel was preached to the people, and then all those who were willing to be on the side of Christ, were called out to be baptized. It held the place that the anxious seat does now as a public manifestation of their determination to be Christians”

Finney made many enemies because of this innovation. The Anxious Seat practice was considered to be a psychological technique that manipulated people to make a premature profession of faith. It was considered to be an emotional conversion influenced by some of the preachers’ animal magnetism. Certainly it was a precursor to the techniques used by many twentieth century televangelists.

In opposition to Finney’s movement, John Nevin, a Protestant minister, wrote a book called The Anxious Bench. He intended to protect the denominations from this novel deviation. He called Finney’s New Measures “heresy”, a “Babel of extravagance”,  “fanaticism”, and “quackery”. He also said, “With a whirlwind in full view, we may be exhorted reasonably to consider and stand back from its destructive path.” It turns out that Nevin was somewhat prophetic. The system that Finney admitted had replaced biblical baptism, is the vertebrae for the popular plan of salvation that was made normative in the twentieth century by the three Bills --- Billy Sunday, Billy Graham and Bill Bright.

Dwight Moody and R. A. Torrey

However, it wasn’t until the end of Finney’s life that it became evident to everyone and to Finney himself that the Anxious Bench approach led to a high fallout rate. By the 1860s Dwight Moody (1837-1899) was the new apostle in American evangelicalism. He took Finney’s system and modified it. Instead of calling for a public decision, which tended to be a response under pressure, he asked people to join him and his trained counselors in a room called the Inquiry Room. Though Moody’s approach avoided some of the errors encountered in Finneyism, it was still a derivative or stepchild of the Anxious Bench system.

In the Inquiry Room the counselors asked the possible convert some questions, taught him from Scripture and then prayed with him. The idea that prayer was at the end of the process had been loosely associated with conversion in the 1700s. By the late 1800s it was standard technique for ‘receiving Christ’ as Moody's influence spread across both the United States and the United Kingdom. This was where a systematic Sinner's Prayer began, but was not called as such until the time of Billy Sunday.

R. A. Torrey succeeded Moody’s Chicago-based ministry after his death in 1899. He modified Moody’s approach to include “on the spot” street conversions. Torrey popularized the idea of instant salvation with no strings attached, even though he never intended as much. Nonetheless, “Receive Christ, now, right here” became part of the norm. From that time on it became more common to think of salvation outside of church or a life of Lordship.

Billy Sunday and the Pacific Garden Mission

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Meanwhile in Chicago, Billy Sunday, a well-known baseball player from Iowa, had been converted in the Pacific Garden Mission. The Mission was Chicago's most successful implementation of Moody’s scheme. Eventually, Sunday left baseball to preach. He had great public charm and was one of the first to mix ideas of entertainment with ministry. By the early 1900s he had become a great well-known crusade leader. In his crusades he popularized the Finney-Moody method and included a bit of a circus touch. After fire and brimstone sermons, heavy moralistic messages with political overtones, and humorous if not outlandish behavior, salvation was offered. Often it was associated with a prayer, and at other times a person was told they were saved because they simply walked down his tabernacle’s "sawdust trail" to the front where he was standing. In time people were told they were saved because they publicly shook Sunday’s hand, acknowledging that they would follow Christ. 

Billy Sunday died in 1935 leaving behind hundreds of his imitators. More than anything else, Billy Sunday helped crusades become acceptable to all denominations, which eventually led to a change in their theology. Large religious bodies sold out on their reservations toward these new conversion practices to reap the benefits of potential converts from the crusades because of the allure of success. 

Both Dwight Moody and Billy Sunday admitted they were somewhat ignorant of church history by the time they had already latched on to their perspectives. This is highly significant because the Anxious Seat phenomenon and offshoot practices were not rooted in Scripture nor in the early church.

Billy Graham, Bill Bright

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Billy Graham and his crusades were the next step in the evolution of things. Billy Graham was converted in 1936 at a Sunday-styled crusade. By the late 1940s it was evident to many that Graham would be the champion of evangelicalism. His crusades summed up everything that had been done from the times of Charles Finney through Billy Sunday except that he added a respectability that some of the others lacked. In the 1950s, Graham’s crusade counselors were using a prayer that had been sporadically used for some time. It began with a prayer from his Four Steps to Peace with God. The original four-step formula came during Billy Sunday’s era in a tract called Four Things God Wants you to Know. The altar call system of Graham had been refined by a precise protocol of music, trained counselors and a speaking technique all geared to help people ‘accept Christ as Savior.’

In the late 1950s, Bill Bright came up with the exact form of the currently popular Four Spiritual Laws, so that the average believer could take the crusade experience into the living room of their neighbor. Of course, this method ended with the Sinner's Prayer. Those who responded to crusades and sermons could have the crusade experience at home when they prayed, "Lord Jesus, I need You. Thank You for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life and receive You as my Savior and Lord. Thank You for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Take control of the throne of my life. Make me the kind of person You want me to be."

Later, in 1977, Billy Graham published a now-famous work, entitled, How to Be Born Again. For all the Scripture he used, he never once uses the hallmark rebirth event in the second chapter of the book of Acts. The cataract (blind spot) kept him away from the most powerful conversion event in all Scripture. It is my guess that its emphasis on baptism and repentance for the forgiveness of sins was incompatible with his approach.

The Living Bible and Beyond

By the late 1960s it seemed that nearly every evangelical was printing some form of the Four Spiritual Laws in the last chapter of their books. Even a Bible was printed with this theology inserted into God’s Word. Thus, beginning in the early 1960s, as portions of the Living Bible were being released, this paraphrase was becoming the translation of choice for the crusades. The New Testament was released in 1967 and the entire New Living Bible in 1971. A favorite Scripture often quoted in those crusades is found in the Gospel of John:

“Even in his own land and among his own people, the Jews, he was not accepted. Only a few welcome and received him. But to all who received him, he gave the right to become children of God. All they needed to do was to trust him to save them. All those who believe this are reborn! --not a physical rebirth resulting from human passion or plan--but from the will of God.”(John 1:11-13, Living Bible, italics mine)

The italicized words have no support at all in the original Greek. They are a blatant insertion placed by presuppositions of the translator, Kenneth Taylor. I’m not sure that even the Jehovah’s Witnesses have authored such a barefaced insertion in their corrupt Scriptures. In defense of Taylor’s original motives, the Living Bible was created primarily with children in mind. However, the publishers should have corrected the misleading verse in the 1960s. They somewhat cleared it up in the newer LB in the 1990s, only after the damage has been done. For decades mainstream evangelicals were using the LB and circular reasoning to justify such a strong ‘trusting moment’ as salvation, never knowing their Bible was corrupted.

A whole international enterprise of publishers, universities and evangelistic associations were captivated by this method. The phrases, “Receive Christ,” and “Trust Jesus as your personal savior,” filled airwaves, sermons, and books. James Kennedy’s Evangelism Explosion counselor-training program helped make this concept of conversion an international success. Missionaries everywhere were trained with Sinner’s Prayer theology. Evangelicalism had the numbers, the money, the television personas of Graham and Kennedy and any attempt to purport a different plan of salvation would be decried as cultic and “heresy.”

Most evangelicals are ignorant of where their practice came from or how Christians from other periods viewed biblical conversion. C.S. Lewis regarded it as chronological snobbery when we don’t review our beliefs against the conclusions of others:

“Most of all, perhaps, we need intimate knowledge of the past. Not that the past has any magic about it, but because we cannot study the future, and yet need something to set against the present, to remind us that the basic assumptions have been quite different in different periods and that much which seems certain to the uneducated is merely temporary fashion. A man who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village; the scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of his own age.” (Learning in Wartime, 1939)

While most do this unknowingly, evangelicals are skewing church auditoriums all over the world from a clear picture of conversion with a nonsensical practice.

Stephen Francis Staten

stephenfstaten@gmail.com

This article is an overview of an ongoing research project.

 

Concise Bibliography

Murray, Iain, The Invitation System, Great Britian, Hunt Barnard & Co, booklet.

Nevin, John W., The Anxious Bench (upd), New York: Garland, 1892, 1977.

Gritsch, Eric, Born Againism: Perspectives on a Movement, Philadelphia: Fortress, 1982.

Torrey, R.A., How To Bring Men to Christ. New York: Fleming H. Revell. 1893-1910.

Toon, Peter, Born Again: A Biblical & Theological Study of Regeneration, Grand Rapids, Baker, 1987.

McLendom, H. R., The Mourner’s Bench, Southern Baptists Theological Seminary, 1902.

Flavel, John, Christ Knocking At The Door of Sinner’s Hearts, New York: American Tract Society, 1689.

Brooks, Oscar S., The Drama of Decision, Hendrickson: Peabody, 1987.

Graham, Billy, How to Be Born Again, Waco: Word, 1977.

Webb, John, Christ’s Suit To The Sinner, Early American Imprint Series. 

Morris, George E., The Mystery and Meaning of Christian Conversion, Nashville: World Methodist Council, 1981.

Photo Credits

Praying Hands by Albrecht Dürer, public domain

John Wesley open-air preaching by http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/obf_images/32/1b/2cc571d981947dadf12de2ffd110.jpgGallery: http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/image/V0006868.html, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36424508;

Cane Ridge Meeting House, By Chris Light (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACane_Ridge_Meeting_House_P6200054.JPG

Billy Sunday, 1908, "Who Will Lead The Way?" By C. U. Williams (Joyce Images) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Billy Graham, April 11, 1966, By Warren K. Leffler [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Billy Graham crusade crowd in Duisburg, Germany, 21 June 1954, Bundesarchiv, Bild 194-0798-24 / Lachmann, Hans / CC-BY-SA 3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons from Wikimedia Commons

Teachers' Subcommittee Report on "Love Your Enemies"

During a church builders’ workshop in Boston in early 2010 one of the presenting elders made some comments about Christians and the military. This led one of the teachers into a discussion with this elder. Following a number of developments, the teachers’ service team reviewed a paper on the subject, had a subsequent discussion with the elder, and then asked a subcommittee to study the matter and make a proposal. As a result of reading numerous emails and articles and conducting nine WebEx meetings totaling about twenty hours, our subcommittee, with unanimity, came to the following conclusion, which we later confirmed by the entire committee: 

1.    The issue of loving our enemies is one of Jesus’ most revolutionary teachings occupying a prominent place in the Sermon on the Mount and in the Kingdom ethos to be shown to the world (Matthew 5:44-48). Thus, the implications of it need to be thought through very carefully. 

2.    A Christian must act as a disciple of Jesus at all times in all circumstances (meaning in this context, that he must show love to his enemies at all times). The classic argument going back to Augustine and Luther that a Christian has a private self and a public self and can do things in his public self that he would not do in his private self is not biblical. The Scriptures know of no such division within the Christian. “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17 NIV). 

3.    Every Christian needs to be taught to obey Jesus’ commands to love our enemies, pray for them, do good to them, lend to them, be merciful to them and do to them as we would have done to us (Matthew 5:44-48 and Luke 6:27-35). For this to be obeyed, disciples must be encouraged and helped to think through the implications and applications of this teaching. However, in this matter, we do not believe it is best just to tell our members what to practice, but rather teach them how to make wise judgments, remembering, “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14 ESV).

4.    Romans 12:2 (NIV) reads, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.“ However, on this issue, our respective cultures’ emphases on patriotism and nationalism often has influenced how we view the treatment of enemies more than have the Scriptures—particularly, the teachings of Jesus. This must be changed and our minds must be renewed by God’s wisdom. Whatever decisions we make must be made from consciences informed and shaped by the Word of God.

5.    Although the implications of this teaching (love your enemies) may be difficult, all faithful disciples must study and pray about these matters. This is not an option. We must all seek God’s will, for that is the nature of the Kingdom life. 

6.    The examples of soldiers’ interactions with John the Baptist (Luke 3:14), Jesus (Mark 8:5-13), Peter (Acts 10) should be examined, and consideration should be given to what these situations say and do not say. Whatever conclusions we come to should address these situations, as well as the material at the end of Romans 12 and the beginning of Romans 13.  

7.    A deeper consideration of our teaching on this subject of loving our enemies will almost certainly lead to some significant shepherding issues in which we help disciples make decisions based on the Bible rather than on culture.  These will likely include: (1) Counseling a disciple who wants to enlist in the military (or in some countries is being drafted into the military) about the implications of the military oath; objectives of military training and consequences of travel away from the fellowship. (2) Counseling a disciple currently serving in the military regarding the possibility of serving without violating one’s conscience, as well as what options are available if one’s conscience is violated. (3) Supporting and nurturing individual disciples as they wrestle with and make these difficult decisions. 

8.    While we believe this area needs to be taught on and explored, we also believe that discussions and collaboration are needed with elders and evangelists in order to handle this in the best way in our congregations, so the church might be unified, built up and grow into maturity (Ephesians 4:11-16).  

9.    Our belief is that we must be a people who are very willing to examine difficult issues and hear different perspectives represented, even as we encourage each other with the greatest of love and respect to keep seeking and asking and knocking (Matthew 7:7) for the will of God. It is our hope that the process we have followed with this matter may be a model for handling other difficult issues or addressing needed changes in our teaching.  [To that end, we invited and included representatives from both the evangelists’ service team and the elders’ service team to join us on the discussion of this project, and we were grateful for their input.]

Finally, while those of us on the subcommittee do not agree on every implication and practice that should come from Jesus’ teaching on this matter, we are in complete unity that the command to “love your enemies,” in all its counter-cultural quality, must be studied and implemented by every disciple and practiced in all phases of life. This is a crucial mark of the Kingdom, for in this context Jesus said: "If you greet [show love to] only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:47-48 NASB). 

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Two Position Papers

The previous appeal was written for the evangelists’ service team and elders’ service team to summarize what the teachers’ subcommittee discussed concerning "love your enemy."  The following papers represent two different views on this topic.  These papers are given to help disciples think through this topic.  The papers are not written to tell anyone what to think, but to help each person work through the issue.  We want to develop a culture in our churches where diverse perspectives on complex issues can be discussed and respected.  In the case of these particular papers, we acknowledge that the majority of the authors are citizens or residents of the United States of America. Those who live in other countries may have a very different perspective from these authors. 

 

I. Disciples and Enemies: A Kingdom Perspective

Michael Izbicki graduated from the United States Naval Academy near the top of his class in 2008. The next year he took a psychological exam on which he found this question: If given the order, would he launch a missile carrying a nuclear warhead? He answered that he would not.1

For the next two years the Navy fought hard against his request to become a conscientious objector. In finally receiving that status, only after taking his case to federal court, Izbicki became one of 300 over a nine-year period who received an honorable discharge as a CO. Another 300 applicants were denied. 

During his junior year he had taken required courses studying the just war theory, mainly as argued by Thomas Aquinas, but he became increasingly uneasy with “the frankness with which people talked about killing.” In his application he wrote:  “We calculated the extent of civilian casualties and whether these numbers were politically acceptable.” 

Eventually, he studied the Gospels, read widely about the early history of the church, took up Hebrew so he could read the Old Testament in the original, and started to measure his faith according to the question: What would Jesus do? He concluded, “I could not be responsible for killing anyone.” This led to his unexpected answer on his psychological test and triggered a long series of interrogations.

Izbicki’s story illustrates a crucial issue often faced by the disciple of Jesus who lives in a post-Constantinian culture where Christian military service has been taken for granted by most Christian groups for 1800 years. Disciples follow Jesus, who said, “Love your enemies.” But killing enemies is widely accepted and sometimes even expected as a part of Christian obligation.

A variety of arguments can be made against Christian involvement in war,  but the point of this paper is that it is inconsistent with Jesus’ main message, namely,  the way of the Kingdom of God—a radical new way of living in this present age: living by the principles of the age to come.. With that premise, I would put forth the following points:

1.    Jesus was the embodiment of the Kingdom. In his person and work the Kingdom of God was breaking in. To the disappointment of many,  including his own followers, Jesus' approach did not involve any embrace of nationalism or support for the violent overthrow of ungodly pagan tyrants. As a naval officer, Izbicki asked, "What would Jesus do?" He certainly would have found nothing in the Gospel accounts that would indicate that Jesus would have supported war or lethal force in any way, unless we are talking about spiritual warfare fought with spiritual weapons.

2.    When Jesus taught his disciples what it meant to live the Kingdom in this present age, that is, to allow God to be in charge of their lives, he spoke to them of a radically different ethic in which you would not resist the evil man; would turn the other cheek, go the second mile, love your enemies, pray for them, and do good to them. Jesus not only taught this, but lived it right down to his final breath.  Certainly,  what officer Izbicki was taught at the Naval Academy regarding enemies could not have been more starkly in contrast to the teachings of Jesus about the Kingdom life. The goal in war is to destroy and obliterate the enemy,  not to show love, compassion, kindness, mercy, and concern. The nuclear warhead that the naval officer might be asked to launch, the grenade the soldier may throw, or the bombs dropped by a pilot would certainly accomplish the first of these objectives, without being mistaken in any way for the second.

3.    This brings us to the behavior that we observe among the disciples as they were taught to live this Kingdom life. We have no examples of Jesus’ disciples killing anyone. The last time we see a follower of his taking up a weapon is one where there is an effort to defend an innocent and unarmed man. And, yet, in this case, Peter is told by Jesus, “Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52 NIV). This view of a culture of force and Jesus’ rationale is expressed even more clearly in his statement to Pilate, where Jesus said, "My Kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my Kingdom is from another place"  (John 18:36). Precisely because this is the Kingdom of God, fighting in the normal way against one's enemies is not an option.  Quite in line with the in-breaking Kingdom, Jesus will set the example for his disciples when he utters these words from the cross, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34 NIV). Then, later, when one of them, Stephen, was stoned and was dying for his faith, he demonstrated that same heart, saying, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them" (Acts 7:60 NIV). 

As already noted, Jesus lived this new way, but the disciples understood that his life was also to be a pattern they followed. Peter initially struggled mightily with this concept. But he eventually turned and strengthened his brothers (Luke 22:32) with these words:

"To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example,  that you should follow in his steps. 'He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.'  When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.(1 Peter 2:21-23 NIV)

This non-violent, non-resistance was not just for the redeemer in a great redemptive moment. It is for all disciples. While such a decision looks foolish to most people, it is a deliberate choice made because one is “conscious of God,” (see the wider context) and far from being a decision to do nothing, it is a decision to “entrust” one’s self “to him who judges justly.” It is a decision to affirm that God is indeed King and his ways will be vindicated. 

4.    In each of these points we are seeing the development of a Kingdom culture. In the Kingdom of God things are done dramatically differently from the way they are done according to the patterns of this world. The Kingdom is characterized by humility, mercy, compassion, peacemaking, forgiveness, honesty, unselfishness, sacrifice, and love for friends, strangers and even those people who wish to do us harm. The Kingdom is at odds with any system where there is a culture of force, self-defense, deception, retaliation, intimidation and disregard for the other especially those who wish you harm. 

In Ephesians 5, Paul speaks of the Kingdom culture and how certain things, like sexual immorality, are “out of place.”  As we try to lay learning war and killing enemies alongside humility, forgiveness, meekness, and mercy, and love for enemies, it glaringly belongs to a different world and way of living life.

As the community of Jesus, we are to proclaim the gospel of the Kingdom in word and in deed. We must demonstrate a life of the age to come in this present age; we are to do God's will on Earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10). If we do harm to our enemies, we show the world the typical religion they have come to expect and give them cause to doubt the reality of the Kingdom. When the crusaders placed the cross on their breastplates and shields, and then in the first crusade left their Muslim enemies knee-deep in blood within the walls of Jerusalem, they were engaged in the most oxymoronic, contradictory activity possible, and a thousand years later their actions are still doing great harm. 

We must seriously consider a real possibility. It may just be that those who believe the only safe course is to rely on arms, force and violence, need to hear the very same words Jesus spoke to Peter. “Get behind me, Satan, you don’t have in mind the things of God but the things of men.” How can the church show the Kingdom of God to the world if it does not fully embrace the qualities of the Kingdom?

5.    In order to train for war, then, a disciple must decide that there is a time and place to no longer imitate Jesus and to no longer demonstrate the distinctive Kingdom way of life. Even though he has stated that God is King, he must believe that there is a time and a place to put a cause, a commander or a country above his King. This, of course, completely contradicts the idea the absolute reign of God.

In Jesus, we do see the Prince of peace, the one who taught us to love our enemies – that is, to treat them well. In his disciples we see those who followed the way of the cross and learned from him to show love and forgiveness, and trust him who judges justly. Again and again, we hear Jesus announce the gospel of the Kingdom, and we see that the rule of God has broken in, bringing a way of living life that is in sharp contrast with that of the world, and the amazing, loving treatment of enemies is a part of that life.

Does Jesus’ teaching raise questions for us?  Certainly. So do his teachings on lust, divorce and remarriage, lawsuits, justice and possessions. But with an attitude of wanting to do what is most like Jesus, what most fits with the Kingdom and what most fulfills righteousness, our questions can be answered. 

This brings us to a final point. The world's view of things is deeply embedded in our culture and equally embedded in most of us. This means that we are often profoundly emotional about this issue—far more than we even realize. We have grandfathers, fathers, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles and cousins who have served in the military. Nationalism and patriotism run deep. Our countries usually celebrate and honor the armed forces. In the United States, conservative evangelicals –-those most known for their belief in the Bible--- compose the most pro-military element in society, even favoring the use of torture in interrogation more than those with liberal views of Scripture. Militarism is in the American culture, especially its self-professed Bible-believing religious culture. Consequently, Kingdom-thinking (on this and other subjects) will not be found among God's people unless it is vigorously taught and then reinforced with some regularity.  We have seen how this must work with other deeply embedded cultural ideas (racism certainly comes to mind). Such thinking is not dislodged easily. 

Because the reality is that disciples have not immediately been of one mind on this issue, vigorous and respectful dialogue should be encouraged. Each Christian should listen, study and pray with a heart to “find out what pleases the Lord” (Ephesians 5:10). Michael Izbicki asked a good question—what would Jesus do?  Each of us should another good question—what does Jesus want me to do?


1. Izbicki's story has been published in a number of newspapers, for example, see this story in the New York Times

 

II. Love Your Enemies—The Dilemma

An ethical dilemma arises when one faces an apparent conflict between two moral imperatives. To obey one command would result in transgressing the other. Jesus purposefully orchestrated conflicts (and resolved them) to highlight a new teaching or challenge a worldview. For example, on the Sabbath,  just before he delivers his sermon on the plain, Jesus asked a man with a withered hand to come forward (Luke 6:6-11).  The crowd of biblical experts fixed their eyes on Jesus to see whether he would heal on theSabbath (thereby transgressing their interpretation of the Law). Two moral imperatives were about to clash before their eyes. The tension climaxed as Jesus presented the clarity of the dilemma, 

Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do harm, to save life or destroy it?” (NIV)

Jesus chose to do good, to save, to heal the man. But how would he have chosen to do evil, to destroy life? By doing nothing when he had the opportunity to do good -- even on a Sabbath. 

Soon after this incident, Jesus presents some of his most revolutionary teaching (Luke 6:20-49). A most provocative section commands us to “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who persecute you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also.” (Luke 6:27-29 NIV)

Considering this teaching, our subcommittee has wrestled with the potential ethical dilemmas that arise from our citizenship in the kingdom of heaven with its moral imperatives to both love your brother/family/neighbor (e.g. 1John 3:16) and to love your enemy (Matthew 5:44). 

Which is lawful when confronted with an enemy seeking to harm your family: to love your family/brother or love your enemy? And given the number of disciples who serve in militaries, many of our fellowship must wrestle with the dilemma on a more public level. Which is lawful when confronted with an enemy nation seeking to harm your nation: to love your family/brothers or love your enemies?

Jesus’ sermon on the mount/plain brilliantly stretches us to live beyond the cultural pressures of this present age. He strips away our small-minded self-focused entitlements. No more revenge, no more lex talionis1, no more “that’s not fair,” and no more self defense (Matthew 5:39 -- plus Rom 12:19-21, 2Cor 11:20, 1Thess 5:15). Rather, we are to love, lend to, and pray for our enemies, and so we do on our better days. But does this preclude us from protecting the innocents? Jesus makes self defense indefensible for us, but what about selfless defense? I’ve concluded that selfless defense of the innocent is not only defensible, it’s morally mandated. To do nothing when I have the power to protect (1Cor 13:7) allows an innocent to be harmed or even destroyed. Loving my enemy does not mean that I allow him to harm my innocent wife/child/brother/neighbor. If even my dearest friend were seeking to harm my wife/child/brother/neighbor I would deploy all necessary means to stop him (not for revenge or even for justice but for the selfless protection of an innocent). While my friend would thank me for preventing his malice, my enemy may not. Nonetheless, I choose to do good through selfless action and not by doing nothing. Classic pacifists argue that doing nothing is not really nothing; rather, they assert that they are doing something of immense power — they are praying. Such faith is remarkable. However, even the Pharisees would argue that they were more trusting of God by doing nothing other than praying for the afflicted man on the Sabbath in the introductory dilemma.

When the dilemma to love moves from the private to the public life of a disciple, the question of military service comes into focus (as does police work). Can a disciple square military service with the ethical demands of New Testament? The same principle applies. Selfless defense of the innocents trumps doing nothing in the name of loving one’s enemy. There should be no inconsistency between our private and public ethics. If military service always violates kingdom ethics, then it would be strange for the NT to consistently highlight positive military metaphors and positive military personnel, for example:

“Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.” (2 Timothy 2:3–4 NIV)

“Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink the milk?” (1 Cor 9:7 NIV)

“also to Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier...” (Philemon 2 NIV)

“But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier...” (Philippians 2:25a NIV)

"The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” (Matthew 8:8–10 NIV)

“And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”” (Mark 15:39 NIV)

“At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.” (Acts 10:1–2 NIV)

“When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants.” (Acts 10:7 NIV)

“He at once took some officers and soldiers and ran down to the crowd. When the rioters saw the commander and his soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.” (Acts 21:32 NIV)

“But the centurion wanted to spare Paul’s life and kept them from carrying out their plan.” (Acts 27:43a NIV)

 In addition to these references, we meet soldiers on a path to repentance that runs right into John the Baptist in Matthew 3 and Luke 3. John came preaching of a new kingdom and thus prepared the people for a radically new way of life to prepare for this new kingdom of God.  His charge to “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 3:2) is the same message that Jesus preached (Matthew 4:17) as he began his public ministry. Within this context of preparation for the new kingdom, soldiers approach John to gain clarity on what they should do in order to produce fruit that proves their repentance. He charges them to stop their extortion and rather be content with their soldier’s wage.  No “resign your post” or“put away your sword.” An argument from silence? If so, then John was ignoring the elephant in the Jordan — not his style. 

 While the examples of metaphors and soldiers in the New Testament don’t settle any issues, they do keep us from overstating the pacifist’s case. A soldier who repents and is baptized into Christ does not need to resign his post if he is not violating his conscience. If his country is engaged in a selfless defense of innocents, then he may not have occasion for moral conflict. However — and this is important to note — such righteous military action is extremely rare indeed. If his country engages in unrighteous military initiatives, then he is forbidden to kill. A professional soldier is expected to use his discretion even on the field of battle. If he is called to violate his conscience then he should seek reassignment or resign. 

<a style="background-color:black;color:white;text-decoration:none;padding:4px 6px;font-family:-apple-system, BlinkMacSystemFont, &quot;San Francisco&quot;, &quot;Helvetica Neue&quot;, Helvetica, Ubuntu, Roboto, Noto, &quot;Segoe UI&quot;, Arial, sans-serif;font-size:12px;font-weight:bold;line-height:1.2;display:inline-block;border-radius:3px;" href="http://unsplash.com/@zonde?utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=photographer-credit&amp;utm_content=creditBadge" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" title="Download free do whatever you want high-resolution photos from Zoran Zonde Stojanovski"><span style="display:inline-block;padding:2px 3px;"><svg xmlns="http://www.w3.org/2000/svg" style="height:12px;width:auto;position:relative;vertical-align:middle;top:-1px;fill:white;" viewBox="0 0 32 32"><title></title><path d="M20.8 18.1c0 2.7-2.2 4.8-4.8 4.8s-4.8-2.1-4.8-4.8c0-2.7 2.2-4.8 4.8-4.8 2.7.1 4.8 2.2 4.8 4.8zm11.2-7.4v14.9c0 2.3-1.9 4.3-4.3 4.3h-23.4c-2.4 0-4.3-1.9-4.3-4.3v-15c0-2.3 1.9-4.3 4.3-4.3h3.7l.8-2.3c.4-1.1 1.7-2 2.9-2h8.6c1.2 0 2.5.9 2.9 2l.8 2.4h3.7c2.4 0 4.3 1.9 4.3 4.3zm-8.6 7.5c0-4.1-3.3-7.5-7.5-7.5-4.1 0-7.5 3.4-7.5 7.5s3.3 7.5 7.5 7.5c4.2-.1 7.5-3.4 7.5-7.5z"></path></svg></span><span style="display:inline-block;padding:2px 3px;">Zoran Zonde Stojanovski</span></a>

 This is not a theoretical issue. I am in daily fellowship with many Christian soldiers. They are currently on career paths that steer them well clear of direct combat. Their contribution to potentially unrighteous combat is not totally different than mine as I pay taxes to fund the same effort. I have not counseled them to resign their posts. Most have been very effective at helping the kingdom break into their bases, forts, ships, and barracks as they have spread the gospel. However, if a disciple contemplates military service after baptism, I strongly counsel against enlistment as they will face compromising oaths, desensitizing conditioning, and there is no guarantee that he or she will not be assigned to a position that violates the demands of life in the kingdom.

 Which is lawful when confronted with an enemy seeking to harm your family: to love your family/brother or love your enemy? Which is lawful when confronted with an enemy nation seeking to harm your nation: to love your family/brothers or love your enemies?  We’ve failed once by allowing the world to inform our consciences on these vital concerns. That was also a failure of doing relatively nothing. The world’s propagandists shouted loudly about patriotism while the kingdom’s preachers spoke sparingly on the implications of loving our enemies. Many of us left our brothers and sisters to discern God’s will without the full counsel of God on this matter.  Let’s not fail again through overreaction. Well-informed spiritual brothers disagree on these questions. These ethical dilemmas sharpen our discernment as we strive to live out His kingdom in a fallen world. Let them also strengthen our unity through cooperation but without compromise on His moral imperatives.


1. the principle or law of retaliation that a punishment inflicted should correspond in degree and kind to the offense of the wrongdoer, as an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth; retributive justice. www.dictionary.com/browse/lex-talionis

 

Photo Credits: Thanks to Carl Bloch [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons from Wikimedia Commons for the photo of Jesus preaching the Sermon on the Mount; Thanks to Alpha2412 for the Swiss Soldier via Wikimedia Commons;  The much-decorated elderly Soviet military man is the father of Natasha Samonina of the St. Petersburg, Russia, church of Christ, who was baptized into Christ in his retirement and died a faithful disciple of Jesus;   thanks to Zoran Zonde Stojanovski for the British soldier at www.unsplash.com;

YADA': The Unique Heart of True Christianity

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By Dr. Glenn Giles -- Denver, Colorado, USA

For many years I have been contemplating the special-ness of our movement in the area of the heart –-  what I believe to be a very special relational aspect of true Christianity. I have called it the “heart” ever since I studied the Bible to become a Christian in Milwaukee. What I experienced at that time was different than what I had experienced in any religious group before. It was, in fact, the difference between being a person who knew about God and had some association with him, and being a person who truly knows God through a true personal relationship with him.

https://pixabay.com/en/heart-red-shiny-design-love-jesus-1218006/

The challenges our movement experienced over a decade ago caused me to search the Scriptures to better understand that which I had been calling “heart”. Over a period of several months, I came to understand that the “heart” is what is involved in the OT concept of yada’, the Hebrew word for “know”. In this article I will attempt to explain that concept, a concept that I think distinguishes us from nearly all other movements of today that I am aware of1, a concept that I would urge everyone to hold on to and never surrender; a concept, which, when experienced, is basically the watershed of spiritual life and death.

      Matthew 7:21-23 states:
      "Not everyone who says to me, `Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he        who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, `I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers’” (emphasis mine).
For a long time I had felt this passage was talking about a personal relationship with God but did not understand the depth of what it meant until I studied out the Hebrew word yada’. The big question is, “What does it mean to be known by God and to know God”? 

The Greek word here in Matthew 7:23 is ginosko. Of the 946 times yada’ is found in the Hebrew OT 2 , over 490 times it is translated by _ginosko_in the LXX (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) 3 . Hence, ginosko is the major Greek word used for yada’. The Greeks, however, did not have a word that translates yada’ with its full meaning. The closest term the Greeks had was ginosko. The Greek term ginosko designates predominately an intellectual concept which is not the predominate concept involved in yada’. The major emphasis of yada' includes subjective dimensions of knowing, not just the objective.4 Groome states,
“. . . in Greek philosophy ginoskein has a predominant meaning of ‘intellectual looking at’ an object of scrutiny and strongly connotes objectivity . . . For the Hebrews yada’ is more by the heart than by the mind, and the knowing arises not by standing back from in order to look at, but by active and intentional engagement in lived experience . . . the Hebrews had no word that corresponds exactly to our words mind or intellect.5 “Yada’” has the basic meaning of “to perceive, know”6. Its semantic range is broad and also embraces definitions such as “find out”, “know by experience”, “recognize”, “acknowledge”, “know a person, be acquainted with”, “be skillful”, “teach”, “make known”7, as well as “to notice”, “learn”, “to know sexually, have intercourse with, copulate”, “to have experience”, and “to take care of someone” 8. This word for the most part involves knowledge gained through experience.9 It thus basically indicates experiential knowledge.10 This is contrary to much of our modern day understanding of “knowledge” and its acquisition which largely involves pure thought by one’s own contemplation or mere verbal transmission of information from teacher to student in a classroom setting. That is not to say that yada’ does not include these types of knowledge and teaching but that it has as its major dimension experientially gained or relationally gained knowledge.

With respect to “knowing” God, the Old Testament use of this term is enlightening. Consider the following verses:

  • Jer. 16:21 states,
    "Therefore I will teach (yada’) them--this time I will teach (yada’) them my power and might. Then they will know (yada’) that my name is the LORD”. Here knowing God comes from him causing them to experience his power and might.
  • Ezek. 30:8 states “Then they will know (yada’) that I am the LORD, when I set fire to Egypt and all her helpers are crushed”. Here, knowledge of God comes through experiencing his character of justice and wrath. This concept of “knowing that I am the LORD” occurs over 65 times in Ezekiel alone, indicating relational knowledge coming through experiencing his judgments.
  • Hosea 2:19-20 states: "And I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice, in loving kindness and in compassion, And I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness. Then you will know (yada’) the Lord” (NASB). Here one sees that knowing the Lord is a result of experiencing his righteousness, justice, loving kindness, compassion, and faithfulness.
  • Hosea 6:2-3 states, “He will revive us after two days; He will raise us up on the third day that we may live before Him. So let us know (yada’), let us press on to know (yada’) the Lord. His going forth is as certain as the dawn; And He will come to us like the rain, like the spring rain watering the earth” (NASB). Here, knowledge of God is obtained through experiencing His reviving them and giving them rain. They would not know God, however, if they did not press on in faithfulness to experience his character. Knowing God comes from experiencing God’s faithfulness, mercy, and provision.
  • One of the most important passages in the OT is Jer. 31:34. It reads, "No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know (yada') the LORD,' because they will all know (yada') me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the LORD. "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." (emphasis mine). The word "For" here indicates that knowing the LORD comes about as a result of a person experiencing the LORD's forgiveness and his forgetting their sins. Knowing God thus comes by experiencing his grace.11

All of these passages indicate that knowing God involves interpersonal experience with his character. God is allowing people to know him through experiencing his character. Knowing God, however, also involves our response to him. It is associated with one’s obedience to him (I Sam. 2:12; Job. 18:21), fear of him (I Ki. 8:43; II Chron. 6:33), serving him (I Chron.28: 9), belief in him (Is. 43:10), trust in him (Ps. 9:10; Prov. 3:5-6)12 confession of one’s sin (Ps. 32:5), and knowledge of the Torah or his Word (Ps. 119:79)13. It thus “involves not just theoretical knowledge but acceptance of the divine will for one’s own life”14.

 Knowing God can be summarized as coming from one’s personal life experience of the relational blessings or discipline of God as a result of one’s trusting in and following him.  Knowing God involves experiencing his character and willingly submitting to him as LORD. 

So we see that when used in the New Testament, in a Hebrew context (Matthew was written to a Jewish audience), the word “know”  (ginosko in Greek) takes on more than an intellectual concept. It takes on an experiential interpersonal relational meaning.
So when we see the statement in Matt. 7:23,  “I never knew you”, it is not talking about intellectual knowledge but character or relational knowledge. This fits perfectly into the context of Matt. 7:15-23 which states:

"Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize (epiginosko, an intensive form of ginosko)15 them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize (epiginosko) them. "Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew (ginosko) you. Away from me, you evildoers!'"

Our knowledge, our yada’ of people, occurs when we experience their character (verses 15-20). You can be sure that people are false prophets if they do not produce good fruit. God’s knowing of us also occurs by his experiencing our character (verses 21-23). Even though one might do things, things which are good, there can be an interpersonal relationship, a heart knowing, which is lacking. As is typical of Matthew, relationship with God was more than outward show or actions, it must involve the heart (e.g., Matt. 15:8-9). 
    
God tests us to see what is in our heart to “know” us. Consider Deuteronomy 8:1-2:

"Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land that the LORD promised on oath to your forefathers. Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know (yada’) what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his command" (emphases mine).

Note the use of the word “know” here. Surely an all-knowing God “knew” what was in their hearts from an intellectual perspective!  So what does this mean? Our study of yada’ would indicate that God wanted to experience what was in their hearts through experiencing their obedience. This is how God knows them and can know us! It is not just about raw works but about relationship, experienced through our actions toward God and his toward us. He wants to know us personally and wants us to know him personally. He wants to experience our character. He wants to live out life with us, it seems. Just as his love for us would not be real unless his heart and actions worked together to allow us to experience his character, so our love for him is not real unless our heart and actions work together to allow him to experience us.  No wonder James 2 states that faith without works is dead and that works complete our faith! Works complete our personal relationship with God! They do not make us merit that relationship (that is a totally erroneous perspective). Obedience is our allowing God to experience us. This is how God knows us.

When I reflect back on what I have experienced in our movement, it brings me great joy to see how those who studied the Bible with me prepared me to meet my God, prepared me to experience (yada’) Him, and prepared me to allow him to know (yada’) me! I am so glad they helped me dig deeply into what sin16 I had so I could really experience His character of forgiveness, grace, and love. No wonder Jesus said, “. . . he who has been forgiven little loves little." (Luke 7:47). The more we admit our sin, the more we will be able to love God, and know him, and God know us! I am so glad people helped me to come to a place of brokenness over my sin. God’s love became so real when that happened, as I experienced his offer of grace in an incredible way.

I am so glad that people helped me to understand that experiencing God involves listening to him through the reading of his word and that God experiencing me involves my praying and crying out to Him. No wonder David was a man after God’s own heart. I can see it in the Psalms where he opens up his heart to God and God experiences what is in his heart. I am so grateful that my leaders were hard on sin. They were protecting my yada’ with God. I am so thankful that many of my disciplers in the past insisted on my obedience to God!17 They were (whether or not they knew it) helping me with my yada’ with God and others. I am so grateful that people who discipled me helped me to learn what total openness is and urged me to express it! Relationships do not exist without it, whether they are relationships with others or with God. No wonder John 3:20-21 states:

“Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”

Living by the truth means you are open with your life. Your deeds are seen plainly, you are an open book to allow God (and others) to test your character and actions and work through you. Yada’ helps make sense of this! Loving the light, loving Jesus, means being open and allowing others and God to experience your character.


It is no wonder Jesus could say in John 8:31-32, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know (ginosko) the truth, and the truth will set you free”.  It is experiential knowledge that is spoken of here. Truth is to be experienced. Jesus is the truth and Jesus is to be experienced. Experiencing this truth will set one free. Holding to Jesus’ teachings is the first step. It is a way of loving him! It is a way of having an interpersonal experiential relationship with God. Holding to his teachings makes you his disciple and this actively engages you in yada’!


Yada’ helps me understand that loving God means obeying him. He indeed knows (yada’) us relationally when he is loved. He experiences our character when we love him. I Jn. 5:3 states, “This is love for God: to obey his commands”. Love is connected with actions and heart and one’s being. Mark 12:28-31 states, 

“One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, 'Of all the commandments, which is the most important?' 'The most important one,' answered Jesus, 'is this: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength." The second is this: "Love your neighbor as yourself." There is no commandment greater than these.'"

The love God wants is not intellectual assent but love that comes from all your heart, all your soul (person), all your mind, and all your strength. In other words, the love God wants to experience from us involves our whole being (including our body and its actions). To love someone else will also mean that your heart, mind, soul, and body are all involved, just as when a person loves himself. Loving someone is the act of allowing them to know you. Receiving love from them is an act of your experiencing or knowing them. 

Are you engaged in yada’? Is God knowing you? Are you knowing God? What will God say to you on that judgment day? Will he say “I never knew you” or “I don’t know you” or will he say “Well done, good and faithful servant! . . . Come and share your master's happiness!”?  Are you letting God experience the real you? Are you allowing yourself to experience the real God?
    
Brothers and Sisters, this is, I believe, the greatest blessing I experienced as a result of those in our movement who discipled me and studied the Bible with me. It helped me to know God and God to know me. It helped me to become a true disciple, a true son of God.  It helped God to become my true father. I owe them my life. I owe God my life. I hope you have also experienced this blessing, this salvation. Let us never give up yada’!

1That does not mean there are not those out there who have experienced what we (or I) have but that generally I am just unaware of them in my experience.

2The information on Hebrew words occurrences in this paper are from John R. Kohlenberger III and James A. Swanson, The Hebrew-English Concordance to the Old Testament With the New International Version (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 120, hereafter designated as HECOT. This reference in on page 617.

3Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, G. Johannes Botterweck and Helmer Ringgren, eds, translated by J. T. Willis (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), vol. 5, 453, hereafter designated by TDOT. Cf., Edwin Hatch and Henry Redpath, A Concordance to the Septuagint, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983), vol 1, 267-70.

4Thomas H. Groome, Christian Religious Education (San Francisco: Harper & Roe, 1980), 141.

5 Groome, 141. W. Schottroff (TLOT, vol. 2, 514) concurs stating: . . . the meaning of yada’ in Hebr. would be insufficiently stated if one were to limit it strictly to the cognitive aspect . . . without simultaneously taking into account the contractual aspect of the meaning, e.g., the fact that yada’ does not merely indicate a theoretical relation, a pure act of thought, but that knowledge, as yada’ intends it, is realized through practical involvement with the obj. of knowledge. The New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis , 5 vols., edited by Willem A. VanGemeren (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997), vol. 2, 410, (hereafter designated as NIDOTT) also concurs stating, “The fundamentally relational character of knowing (over against a narrow intellectual sense) can be discerned, not the least in that both God and human beings can be subject and object of the vb.”

6 The Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament, by Ernst Jenni and Claus Westermann, translated by Mark E. Biddle (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1997), vol. 2, 508, hereafter designated as TLOT.

7Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and C. A. Briggs in A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Oxford: Clarendon, 1976), 393-94, hereafter noted as BDB.

8 TLOT, vol. 2, 390-92.

9 Lawrence O. Richards, Christian Education: Seeking to Become Like Jesus Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975), 33.

10 There are only a relatively few times it means “intellectual” knowledge.

11To know God is, as Terence E. Fretheim states, “is to be in a right relationship with him, with characteristics of love, trust, respect, and open communication”, NIDOTTE, vol. 2, 413.

12 TLOT, vol. 2. 518.

13 NIDOTTE, vol. 2, 413.

14 TDOT, vol. 5, 478.

15 This word is also, the majority of the time, the Greek translation of yada’ in the LXX.

16Most religious groups today do not do this and do not prepare people to yada’ God, nor him to yada’ them.

17I admit the way it was done was not always correct or for the right reasons as one tended to obey just because some one said to and not because it came from the heart, nor was there always an understanding of experiential/relational knowing of God. I do believe, however, that many began their Christian walk with yada’ but gradually gave it up for serving and following men. I believe and pray that they can re-establish their yada’ and if we can now look to the future through the concept of yada’ and urge people to obey God as a way of knowing him and being known by him, we will save many from death and cover a multitude of sins (James 5:20).

Photo Credits: heart courtesy of www.pixabay.com; Torah Scroll by Lawrie Cate (Flickr: DSC03551) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Teaching the Importance of Women Teaching Women

The following transcription is part of a lesson entitled, "Maturing Our Churches -- Lord, Teach Us," taught on Thursday, July 7, 2016, at the Reach Summit in St. Louis, Missouri, USA. You can listen to the audio recording of this lesson here. (Please note that a small subscription fee to DTV is required to access the lesson.)

Kay McKean -- Sterling, Virginia, USA 

 

I’m so thankful for this opportunity to speak because women need to teach, too; and women need to hear women teach.
There is a big difference between men and women. There’s a difference in how we hear things, in what we want to hear about. Women understand each other. Women understand, (for example) that crying can be fun. Women understand -- going to the bathroom in groups. Women understand --  sometimes you just have to drive to another gas station because this one is just "too icky!"
Women need a little bit of help to be happy. It’s kind of easy for men to be happy: they have one mood, all the time. For men, wrinkles add character; a five-day vacation requires only one suitcase. Men can do their nails with a pocket knife; and men have freedom of choice concerning growing a moustache.
Women know that any conversation with women will eventually lead to something about menopause, childbirth, or the monthlies – it will just go there. 
So we need to hear from women; and women need to teach.
Teaching others is the greatest act of optimism that we can do. When you teach, you learn twice.
I am grateful for the men in our fellowship who are providing opportunities for women to teach women. I am grateful for the brothers on the Teachers Service Team who have welcomed the women’s input, who want to hear the women’s voices, want to hear the female perspective. I am thankful for my husband, Randy McKean, who always wants to provide an opportunity for the women to teach. He’s always saying, "the women need to teach the women."  I hope that brothers across the fellowship will realize that it takes planning, creativity, sometimes it takes money, to allow the women to teach.  
Jesus knew that women want to be taught. In Luke, chapter ten, when Jesus is teaching Mary, it says, “Mary sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.” She took a disciple’s posture to the rabbi, sitting at his feet, I’m sure in that conversation Jesus wasn’t just talking about female topics, he was talking about devotion to God, how to live their lives. 
In John 4,  Jesus engaged in a religious debate with the Samaritan woman, and then that woman went off and she asked a question, which I think sometimes we overlook.  She told the people in the village, “Could this be the Christ?” That indicates to me that she had an understanding, a learning, of what the Messiah was going to be like, and she wanted to talk to other people about it.
In Luke 24 at the resurrection, when the angels said to the women, “Remember how he told you that he would be killed;” if you look at the context of when Jesus had said that,  it was in the context of teaching a lot of things. I think it’s important to understand that women teaching other women shouldn’t just be about female-oriented things; it’s deeper, it’s theological. We want to learn, we want to study. 
It helps us to learn from other women. We love hearing the men, we’ll never stop loving hearing the men; we also need to hear from one of our own.
1 Peter 4:8 reads, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” I am not sharing this scripture for this reason, but since I just read it, Randy and I just wrote a book called Radical Love. You can find out more about it here. 
In this scripture, 1 Peter 4:8 (NIV), it goes on to say, “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” The point I want to talk about today is the fact that when we teach, the women who do teach, we need to give it our very best, give it our very heart, we need to know that we are teaching something so wonderful, we have this opportunity to share the best news in the world and we need to do it well.
We need to speak it clearly: Colossians 4:4. We often talk about speaking boldly,  but Paul also said “clearly,” and that requires planning and foresight, study and research, looking things up and really digging deep, so that we can provide for the women something more than a clever little three-point alliteration of something. Women want something deep, they need it, they’re hungry for it and they want it.
There was a period of time when I was in a particular church,  attending midweeks. I wasn’t in the full-time ministry at the time, I was working (a secular job),  attending midweeks.  You go home, you try to fix dinner, you go to midweek,  and it’s -- blah. Somebody threw something together at the last minute. And I remember feeling: I wanna be fed! I need something, I need God’s word tonight, I’ve been beat up by the world, I need to be built up by God’s  word! And I thought, if I ever get the opportunity to teach again, I’m gonna learn from this. I’m going to know that, in my little church, when the  women come together, they have been fighting traffic, they have been working at a hard job, they run home, they feed their kids, they grab them into the car, they get to church — I don’t want them to come and not be fed and given to, I want them to know it’s worth it!
I also want to expect a little bit of them too: I want them to learn something. My own personal opinion:I love the fact that we have technology. I love seeing the scriptures up on the screen, but I love seeing people say, “Oh, he said 1 Timothy, let me turn there.” It can be a paper Bible, an electronic Bible, an iPad, iPod or whatever, but people need to look at it, they need to turn to it, they need to know where in the world is 1st Timothy. They don’t do that if we just flash scriptures up on the screen and don’t give them time. I want to follow along, that’s what really appealed to me as a young Christian.  I was thinking, “I can learn this.” We used to sit there with our Bibles and our notebooks, we were engaged!” Just my opinion. 
There’s a song I love: “I love to tell the story of unseen things above, of Jesus and his glory, of Jesus and his love; I love to tell the story, for those who know it best seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest.” I love to tell the story. Can I just ask that we remember, when we tell the story, it’s good news? Sometimes the way we tell the story is -- blaaaahhhhh! We need to lift people up when we speak to them, and help them to know it’s good news. 
Here are some examples of a few of the curriculum pieces that I’ve developed over the years.  I’ve done studies on:

  • Genesis , chapter by chapter 
  • Esther 
  • Questions that Jesus asked. a whole year of studying the questions that Jesus asked people, and talking about how those are questions to us as well 
  • I’ve done studies on women of the Bible (It would be really great for the men one day to do a study on the women of the Bible) 
  • For a whole year in our church we had a theme of “Believe;” and so for the women’s classes we spelled our the word “Believer.”  B was for Beginning; E was Enmity; L was for Land, I was for Instruction; E was for Entrance; V (we did several classes) on villains and heroes (the books of Judges and Kings); E stood for Exile and R for return, we went through the whole Old Testament in a year. It was a great deeper study. 
  • I’m doing a series on “I’m Possible” right now.

I hope that you agree and appreciate the need for women to teach, to find the opportunities, to make it good. 
I love teaching.  I don’t think I’m the most scholarly or anything; I always say I go to the Teachers’ meetings —  I don’t have any letters after my name.   I’ve just been reading the Bible a long time, that’s all I can say.
There’s a legendary cellist named Pablo Casals, who was asked, when he was 90 years old,  why do you keep practicing day after day, you’re 90 years old! His response was, “because I think I’m making progress.” And that’s how I feel about teaching. I keep doing it, I think I’m making progress, but I have a long way to go.   
Thanks. 

Including the Context of Redemptive Grace in our Teaching and Preaching

The following transcription is part of a lesson entitled, "Maturing Our Churches -- Lord, Teach Us," taught on Thursday, July 7, 2016, at the Reach Summit in St. Louis, Missouri, USA. You can listen to the audio recording of this lesson here. (Please note that a small subscription fee to DTV is required to access the lesson.)

Ed Anton -- Hampton Roads, Virginia, USA 

Ed and Deb Anton

Ed and Deb Anton


I come to you from a perspective, really, chiefly, as an evangelist, as a church leader. A lot of times I find myself incidentally in the Teaching Ministry. We all teach, whether we’re leading a Bible talk or putting on an MTA (Ministry Training Academy) or similar event.  We all do teach in some way or another.
More importantly than just teaching, the big picture is that we want to see the church grow up into the full stature of Christ. This is massive, and we have an amazing opportunity to take the church from an adolescent phase, in some cases, to a bullet-proof, rock-solid maturity where we can stand, and not just stand, but make a stand, to really change the world. 
In Colossians 1: 3 (ESV) Paul writes, “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints,  because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel…”
We can hear the word “gospel” and it can kind of just fall off of us, with familiarity, and the contempt that comes from familiarity. But every time we hear “gospel,” we should be blown away that we get to have the gospel! It’s the most counterintuitive construct of religion that has ever existed under heaven, and we’ve got it! There is no other approach to man and God that is an approach of a covenant of grace, and that’s the good news, that’s the gospel: that we’re saved not by works, we’re saved by love. Because God loved us, and intervened and disrupted and interrupted, before anything that we could have done that was wondrous or Spirit-filled, we, in our depravity, were saved by love. And not only that, he arranged time and space so that our eyes could be flung open and we could even see how it is that he saved us by love, and ultimately be brought to a place where we surrender over completely to that, and live forever in that covenant.


We’re pretty good as a movement – as a matter of fact, I would say that we are phenomenal as a movement -- at being able to help people appreciate how big grace is, as they come to the waters of baptism. Nobody, nobody can touch it. Do you think that somebody who has this kind of little-surfacey-altar-call has actually instilled the beauty of love and the beauty of grace and the beauty of debt-free living by just -- “Come forward??” Thoughtlessly, in some cases, or only with emotion? But we, unlike any other great pursuit of Christianity right now, we really do understand, as the woman in Luke 7 understood: she who has been forgiven little loves little, but she or he who has been forgiven much loves much. And when we are forgiven, my goodness, we get it!
I was having a discussion with a group of  very mature brothers the other morning, and we were in Hebrews 9, where there is this beautiful passage that talks about how, in the Old Covenant, the blood of bulls and heifers could not cleanse the conscience; but it did actually cleanse from the outward manifestation of sin. But in the New Covenant, we are cleansed not only from unintentional sin, but from sins that lead to death. That’s the difference in Hebrews 9 there: not only does it cleanse our debt, but also cleanses us from sins that lead to death. By the way, in the Old Covenant, do you know what the recourse was, if you committed an intentional sin? Death. Or Goodbye from Community.
But we actually have the mechanism through grace, by which, not only is our debt forgiven, but our consciences are clean. Why? It says, so that we may serve the living God. So we grow up in that kind of maturity, we head into baptism with that kind of maturity, realizing we have been saved by love -- and boy, have we been saved, and how much it is that we have been saved by!
I asked the brothers at this breakfast, “Do you have any conscious issues that hold you back from serving God from sins that you committed prior to your baptism?” And one after another with an honest take, they said, I do not. I said, that’s terrific. How about sins that you committed after baptism? and everyone said,  “Oh I do. Over the top. I even wonder if I should even be at this breakfast right now having a discussion with you guys.” 
So something is happening with our maturity. My goodness, we come out of the gate great! Our “K-through-Eight” education in the Kingdom of God, we got it going on! But when you get to the secondary school level, then something happens, the wheels fall off the cart. We have not been able to appreciate the power of grace after baptism.
I think one of the things that’s helpful for us to realize too, If we’re going to be brought from “Immature” to “I Mature,” is the idea that Christ died for my sins (Romans 4:25) but he was raised -- for what? 
He was raised for my justification.
He died for my sins, but was raised for my justification. 
There’s two really amazing things that happen (among many others) when you are regenerated in Christ. When you are baptized, not only are your sins credited to Christ, but his righteousness is then credited to you. Not just credited to you, but then, through the Holy Spirit, the ability to attain to that righteousness, and not just to claim it as a legal standard, but actually to grow into and live out that righteousness, is given to you as well. You come out of that baptism not just-as-if-I’d-never-sinned, but you come out of that baptism, really regarded in the heavenly realms, just-as-if-I’d healed the leper; fed the 4000; fed the 5000; raised the widow of Nain’s son, so she could have life and family again; just-as-if -I’d brought Lazarus back; just-as-if-I’d lifted the woman bent over for all of those years; just-as-if-I’d…!
Jesus came as a man and lived an entire life of street-cred righteousness, not for no reason -- he was even baptized – why? To fulfill all righteousness. Why? Because he was bundling all of that up and giving it to you. As you rise up. But most of us, we walk out of our baptism thinking: “Yes! I’m a blank slate! I’m a vacuum! Yes! I have nothing on my record whatsoever!” 
But you do. You have the righteous record of Jesus and the Spirit that will only accelerate that in your life. But when we don’t recognize the addition portion of grace and only the subtraction portion of grace, it’s very easy to remain rather immature. So what we’ve been trying to do is, in this past year, really help in everything we do, whether it’s a quiet time or a discipleship time, a devotional, or in some public discourse of preaching and teaching, to bring home the gospel of grace. Going on here in Col 1:6, it says, this gospel  “which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth.” (ESV)
Now I know we say this all the time, “Oh I don’t get grace, in the church we don’t get grace.” I really think we can nail this thing. I think that we are in such a great position as a body of Christ to be able to take grace and to see it turbo-charged, not only for the benefit of our maturity but also our spread of the good news as well. 
Why?  because other churches, or families of churches,  that may go after grace, they’ve never actually gotten obedience. We already have that down: “What’s the Bible say? I’m getting after it, halleluia, amen, I love it, it’s clear, I’m getting it, and I’m fired up about it, 
And yeah, on some bad days I may feel dutiful;  but if it’s obedience, I’m getting after it.”

Do you realize how rare that is?? But that is our culture! Yes! the blessings of obedience! Yes, the clarity of what we need to do with the word of God! Now what if we poured gasoline on that, and created a fire with the grace of God burning within us?

Here’s, sadly, what I’ve neglected in all of my Biblical exegesis teaching, expository preaching, and teaching.  I have completely neglected the redemptive or the grace context of the Bible. What do I mean by that:  Do we not believe that this whole Bible is orchestrated together, just right, by God? Do we not? Do we not realize that all of it is fitting together and all of it tells a vital story? And that story is: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back and they live happily ever after. There is an epic narrative that is the story of God and you. Creation, fall, redemption, restoration. Fall, redemption, restoration – restoration, of course, being the consummation of all things. 
Here is what I have neglected as I have tried to teach the Bible in probably the last 15 to 18 years: as I teach context, context, context, over and over again, as I teach, how to read the Bible, context, context, context, and my context is historical: what was the historical setting, who was writing to whom, where did they live, what was going on, was there idolatry, was there pagan religion, what was the situation that was there? Learn it,  bring it to life, make it memorable, let the movie of your mind play as you hear what it was that they heard, as they listened to Jesus at his feet, or as they received the letter from Paul in their fellowship -- what must that have been like? I felt like I was pretty good at that.  I knew where to go and to get the resources and really bring it to life. 
And then the literary context as well: why this, why here, how does it flow in the bigger story, what is going on, how does it connect, to see some of the really cool connections within the flow of that book or argument or psalm, or song,  how does this help us to understand the greater whole? 
But that’s where it stopped. And for anyone who would then go and walk back and try to look at the redemptive context, I was critical of those people. I was thinking they were freewheeling it a little bit too much. Just get in the text, stay in the text, trust the text, and that’ll do the trick. 
But that was my own definition of what it meant to “be in the text, stay in the text.” To “be in the text and stay in the text” is to look at the full text. It’s to look at the whole story, the full story of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back and ultimately they live happily ever after. 
There may be things in the Old Testament that may not look at all like grace or like “boy gets girl back” or “they live happily every after.” You may not see any of that there. But when you watch a romantic comedy and you watch it a couple of times, and then you see the bone-headed move by that guy, and how he pocket-dialed the girl --  all it is showing is the fallen nature of that relationship. Knowing what’s going to happen later, it helps you appreciate, despite that bone-head move, that there’s still going to be the white picket fence, the happily ever after. Despite that call that he made and left on her answering machine. That’s what the Bible is for us, it’s not just a one-act play. We need to look at it in its totality. If we take our eyes off that, we’re going to stop marveling. We’ll end up looking at the little story, and you know what we’ll have? All we’ll have is: “You need to be careful that you don’t dial somebody in the middle of the night.”  And then the lesson becomes a moralizing lesson. “You need to put up better boundaries, you need to fix your phone, You need to be more diligent about not calling in the middle of the night.” But that’s not the gospel of grace. And if that’s all that we preach – “Don’t call in the middle of the night, be like Joseph, be like David,” wihout looking at the full context, then all we’re doing is what’s called “moralizing.” We’re putting together a moral tale, and what we’re saying, is, if you try harder, if you do better, then I’m going to approve of you better, and so is Jesus. 
“Ding!” 
And subtly, when we do it, then I do it in my quiet times as well, and in my discipleship times. I think, here’s a great scripture. Now try harder. Here’s another great scripture, now try harder. If that’s what it’s going to be, we’re going to be forever young. And that’s not a good thing. We’re going to be the Peter Pan church of Christ. But I believe, as we can start to be able to appreciate the fullness of the redemptive context, we can move from a gospel of grit -- “if I do good, then I’ll be worthy” – to a gospel of grace: “I am worthy, therefore I do good.”

Even the way Paul does it: if we’re looking at Ephesians, in Ephesians 1, 2, and 3, there is not a single command in all those chapters. No imperatives, almost all indicatives, and it’s all amazing. You’re chosen, you’re predestined, you’re Spirit-filled, you’re marked, you are adopted, you are redeemed, you’re his sons, you’re the ones he loves, you are his workmanship, you are his masterpiece; therefore -- and in Chapter Four is the pivot point -- therefore live a life worthy of the calling by which you’ve been called. “Live a life worthy of the calling to which you’ve been called” is in the context of,  “look at who you are, you have been redeemed, this is who you are in Christ.” Identity drives duty, duty doesn’t develop identity; and with that identity given to us, the more we can recognize this, we think, oh my goodness, this is who I am, what wouldn’t I do for Jesus? Oh my goodness, I want to run through a wall for Jesus! Knowing who I am right now, come on! Bring on the commands, bring on the clarity, I can’t wait to see it, I wanna go after it and live the life that I was always meant to live, knowing what it is that I have been made in Christ! And when that fire begins to burn, and we preach the gospel to ourselves, over and over and over again, every quiet time, every discipleship time, not leaving out the greater redemptive context in all that we do…[we will become mature].
One last thing I want to mention here: grace is an interesting concept, because you may think that there is much of Christendom that is better than you are at preaching grace. But let me level it. I don’t really think they are. And it’s not because I am chauvanistic in this, but because I really have tried to study this. And basically, the best that most of Christendom has done, to try to make grace more of a motivator, is to make grace a credit card with a higher limit. I think you can go ahead and test that – whatever sermon, book, whatever you want to look at. It is kind of a simplistic way of putting it, what it comes down to. In the first century, the people that would have heard “charis,” grace, they would have understood it as something very different [that what most of Christendom understands today]. As a matter of fact, “charis” – it’s like, today we say money makes the world go around. In the first century you would probably say, “charis” makes the world go around. Because “charis” is the idea that grace -- (when you get a chance, read through 2 Corinthians 8 and you’ll see all aspects of this) -- “charis” is not only the free gift, given from a benefactor to a beneficiary, but it’s more. 
This is the way it would have been understood through the ears of someone living in Corinth or Athens or Berea or wherever; it would not only be the gift given, but when you use the word grace, it would have been applied to the welling up in your heart of gratitude. That was also called “charis.” The reception of it and the gratitude was grace. 
But that’s not where it ended, there was another aspect of grace that was immediately part of the equation and could not be ripped away, and it was the immediate overwhelming desire, even beautiful obligation, to give in return. How can I give back in return, someway, somehow? How is it that can I do that? It creates a tighter and tighter bond of intimacy that gets ever deeper and strengthens the relationship between the two parties. It is, in the first century, in an honor-and-shame society, one of the great shames, to break that cycle of grace. And likewise for us. 
So grace actually has teeth, beautiful teeth – teeth that bring you -- or hooks, even -- that bring you to a place where you always wanted to be. It creates a wonderful obligation of intimacy and excitement. 
I recently had this as an experience. Deb and I had a van. It had 331,000 miles, it died, it was too bad, we were going to go down to one car. But then we had a brother in our ministry come to us and say that he was going to trade in a really nice car that he had, a big car (and we needed a big car) and he said, you know, instead of trading it in, I’m going to give it to you guys. We’re like, Aaaah! You know, you feel weird in those situations, you get weird, you get proud; but we decided: we’re going to kind of swallow deep and receive this gift. You know what it did to our relationship? It didn’t weird it out. My ears were always open to what encourages that family: Yes!! we found something that encourages them! Not like, ‘Ohhh, we gotta make the donuts…” It was like, Yes! We found something! Let’s do this! Let’s go by! Let’s do this! Let’s share! Let’s mention! And then to see the joy in their eyes as well; and then it created that dance of grace that only strengthens things again and again and again. If we can understand this, I think this is a component of grace that we’ll look forward to developing more over time. 
Let me just close with this idea, that if we’re going to go on to maturity, I’m not suggesting that we throw out any old hermeneutics or any old exegesis, I’m just saying let’s do the extra work, not just the historical or literary context. Do the extra work and really look at the redemptive context. Maybe this makes it more profound, how boy lost girl, and it makes you appreciate it what’s going to happen later when boy gets girl back. Or maybe it is actually a picture of them living happily ever after, and we paint that beautiful picture of Jesus’ return and what that’s going to be like for us, and with that identity, my goodness, what wouldn’t we want to do to be able to serve this great God! But if we don’t make this our culture, every quiet time, every discipleship time, every public discourse, then we are going to so easily fall into a pattern of performance. Not because it’s our church’s issue, but because it’s everybody’s issue. This is not unique to us. You didn’t get an A in Physics from your teacher on Day One, and then he said,  “Wow, I bet now that you know that that’s your identity, you’re really going to live up to it.” Nothing happens that way in the world! This is a rare, counter-intuitive thing, we have to really fight to be able to get to this place.

 

Teaching the Old Testament Genres

Rolan Monje -- Manila, Philippines

Taught as part of a lesson entitled, "Maturing Our Churches -- Lord, Teach Us," on Thursday, July 7, 2016, at the Reach Summit in St. Louis, Missouri, USA. You can listen to the audio recording of this lesson here. (Please note that a small subscription fee to DTV is required to access the lesson.)

Rolan Monje teaching at the Reach Summit, July 7, 2010

Rolan Monje teaching at the Reach Summit, July 7, 2010

I. THE IMPORTANCE OF THE OLD TESTAMENT

I remember asking a congregation of fairly mature Christians, “Who among us has read the entire Bible?” Only about half raised their hands. Later on in fellowship, many confessed: “Bro, bro -- I got bored, or bogged down with the Old Testament!”
Viewed as distant, difficult, antiquated, the Old Testament is frequently neglected in preaching and teaching in the church. It is sometimes rarely studied in quiet times: even those who make the noble resolution to read the Bible in a year can start “fired up” in Genesis; still be okay in Exodus; then get confused in Leviticus;  get discouraged in Numbers; and give up in Deuteronomy. 
Many Christians feel familiar with parts of the Old Testament, or grow up hearing the stories, but these are just stored in their memory banks without much significance. 
As we address the hunger for spiritual meat in our churches, let’s be reminded that
teaching the Bible should engage the whole Bible. Three-quarters of the Bible is the Old Testament -- 929 chapters as compared to 260 in the New. 
Contrary to prevailing attitude, we as leaders need to show that the Old Testament contains much relevant and meaningful application for today as the New. 


Think about Jesus and Paul: what did they have to say about the Old Testament? 
In 1 Corinthians chapter 10, the apostle Paul warns Christians --  how? by referring to Old Testament scriptures, using history. He draws from the Exodus, he recounts things from Numbers,  he puts them all together, and what is his hermeneutic conclusion? “Now these things happened to them as an examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come.” (v.11, NIV) Clearly, Paul valued teaching from the Old Testament. 
Jesus’ fundamental statement in Luke 24 is even more pointed. In verse 44, he says that everything written about him in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.  Here, the Old Testament points to Jesus -- his person, his nature, his purpose, his character. During his ministry, Jesus constantly appealed to the Old Testament as a source of authority,  including stating that he was to fulfill it; it was all about him. All these examples should point us to the importance of the Old Testament. 
The challenge for us, therefore would be similar to the storehouse analogy in Matt 13:52: “Therefore, every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”  Jesus is telling them that the truths they were to teach included both the new treasures of Jesus’ teaching and the old truths from Jewish teaching. In other words, a trained teacher should be able to draw spiritual truths from various places and all kinds of contexts. 


II. OLD TESTAMENT GENRES  

The Bible is one book but it’s also a library of books,  so it’s filled with various literary types or genres. One important key to the proper interpretation of scripture is recognition of genre. This is vital to Old Testament teaching. From the get-go, our members need to be made aware of the great number of genres we can learn from, even from the Old Testament alone. 
Think about  it! There are so many types of narratives:  you’ve got epic; short story; sayings or aphorisms; riddles; ironies; taunts;  wisdom passages of different kinds; blessings, curses, imprecations; law; different types of law; apocalyptic literature; poetry --  multiple types (I identified fifteen types of Psalms in my book); prophecy; histories, reports, genealogies, and even romance! All of these I’ve mentioned are just Old Testament genres.  
The New Testament adds two basic genres to this list: gospel, epistle, or perhaps a sermonic letter in Hebrews.
There’s so much to learn and draw from, in the Old Testament alone! 


Next, I’d like to make a case for the genre of Biblical narrative. Although you find stories in the New Testament,  there’s a lot to teach from in the stories of the Old Testament: the parting of the Red Sea; Daniel in the Lion’s Den;  David and Goliath. These were written for adults to read and reflect on, not just children. 
Teaching through story is one of the most effective ways devised by human beings since the beginning of time. Older generations know this. I know for a fact that if I ask my grandfather for some cash, he’s going to say, “Rolan, let me tell you about World War Two.”
“Wow, Grandpa, I just need some cash,”  and he’s gonna tell me a story!
But to guide, instruct, to inform and to change minds, we need stories. Story is a powerful vehicle  - everybody likes a good story. People crave stories. That’s why people watch movies, read novels, they devour the latest scoop in magazines.  In your sermons, people will listen more to a story than to an abstract lesson. The sheer number of stories in the Old Testament gives preachers an automatic edge. Thirty to forty per cent of the Old Testament is story -- so let’s leverage the stories to catch people’s attention and change their hearts!

PRACTICAL TIPS FOR TEACHING THE OLD TESTAMENT GENRES 

1)    Familiarize. 
It’s important that we become fully acquainted and comfortable with all the Biblical genres of the Old Testament.  This takes work and it starts in our quiet times. For some, this entails learning more about Old Testament history, geography, culture. With certain passages, for example, you need to increase your knowledge of ancient Hebrew manners and customs. I believe the extra time is worth it. We must learn how to summarize things well, too, because there’s a lot of learning in the Old Testament. When we pick out points of history, geography,  etc.,  we need to give enough information without drowning our audience in detail.
2)    Demonstrate.
We need to show the people in our preaching and teaching how to approach each genre. When you preach, you’ve got to vary your genres. Show people that interpreting poetry is different than interpreting prose. Much education comes before we get to edification. It’s probably best to start with familiar stories and passages, because that will demand less background and information. Don’t go home right after this class, for example,  and shock your people with something apocalyptic from Ezekiel right away! The more you practice the Old Testament, preaching the Old Testament, segments from the Old Testament,  you will develop a feel for it, so that your preaching becomes what it’s supposed to be: interesting and profound, fluid and artistic.
3)    Challenge people. 
We have to exhort people to study out genres outside their comfort zone.
People appreciate it when you as a leader exert extra effort to teach lesser known books and difficult passages. As you generate interest, it encourages people to dig deeper in their quiet times, and learn to allow extra time for Bible study. Not everyone will respond immediately, but you then create a culture of becoming better students of scripture.
4)    Amplify.
Lift up from each genre some big ideas for Bible-wide themes. Big ideas allow your sermons to stick. Big ideas also build interest in further study. How about teaching "covenant" from the Prophets, or "righteousness" from the Patriarchal narratives? I love teaching humility from the book of Psalms. How about using those avoided genealogies & family registers to teach on purity? These are things we usually skip,  but they make a good case for purity. When it comes to evangelism,  many times we think,  “I want to preach on evangelism, how can I make it stick in another way?”  Teach the Prophets, highlighting their strong desire for all nations to worship Yahweh. The prophets were adamant that it’s not just Israel that should praise the Lord -- his word should reach the ends of the world. The prophets were passionate about this. 
5)    Connect.  
Call people to action by building significance and relevance. This is where you make a bridge from the “then” to the “now.”  Some areas to explore: 
-    What does this passage teach about God’s attributes?  
-    What can we learn about God, who he , what makes him tick, what makes him sick?
-    What can we learn about God’s actions?
-    What does this teach about how our minds, convictions, actions should be?
-    How can this teaching develop the church and impact seekers?

To conclude: the Old Testament has a great deal to offer us in both individual learning and congregational teaching. In exploring the genres of Old Testament literature,  we find much potential for creative and effective Bible teaching. Admittedly, many leaders find it easier to preach on the New Testament rather than the Old, but while the majority choose to plow the well-worn fields of the newer canon, I pray that many of us today will find a renewed passion and confidence for teaching the older – so let’s teach both testaments and impact people for God! Amen! 

Resources
Steven Mathewson (2002). The Art of Preaching Old Testament Narrative. Baker Academic.
Walter Kaiser (2007). The Majesty of God in the Old Testament: A Guide for Preaching and Teaching. Baker Academic.
Ellen Davis (2005). Wondrous Depth: Preaching the Old Testament. Westminster John Knox Press.

From Rolan Monje: www.addtoyourlearning.com (website); www.ipibooks.net (books) 

Salt

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Part 1 of 2
By Kay S. McKean -- Sterling, Virginia, USA


“The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears, or the sea.”
Isak Denison

salt-hand-food-white


     An old French folktale tells of a mighty king who adored his only daughter. The princess returned his love, and one day as they were dining together in the great hall, the princess declared: “I love you like salt!” The king was confused, and then angered by this statement. Salt is just a useless rock, he thought. It’s nothing important!  He felt so slighted by this statement that he banished the princess from his kingdom. She tearfully ran away, never to be seen again. Years later, the king was at war with the surrounding kingdoms, and his castle was besieged. He could not receive the supplies that he was reliant on, even the things that he did not know he needed, and one of those things was salt. Without it, the livestock and the people were sick and dying. Only then did he realize the value and depth of his daughter’s love. 
     When Jesus said, “Salt is good,” (Mark 9:50 NIV), he knew what he was talking about. Although we are bombarded with warnings about too much salt in our diet, it’s a mistake to assume that salt is bad. In fact, almost every part of the human body contains salt. Salt is a necessary component in the functioning of our cells. Without both water and salt, our cells cannot get nourishment and we would die of dehydration. Salt is sodium chloride (NaCl); chloride is essential for digestion and respiration, and sodium, which the body cannot manufacture by itself, causes the body to transport nutrients and oxygen. We lose salt from our bodies constantly through bodily functions, and it must be replaced in order for us to be in good health. Salt has been needed from ancient times to preserve foods, to provide flavor, and as an antiseptic to cleanse wounds. Throughout history, salt has played an important role in economics, politics, and medicine.
     Of course, in modern times so many of our processed foods contain too much sodium, and therefore salt has been given such a bad reputation. But from ancient times, both animals and humans knew they needed it. Many of the first trails that humans followed were made by animals looking for a “salt lick”. How they knew they needed it is a mystery. If a person is starving, they experience hunger and understand the need for food. But if someone is salt-deficient, they will get a headache and feel dizzy, while never really experiencing a “craving” for salt. 
     Today, salt is something that is so easy to obtain, so inexpensive and so common. We can easily forget that in Jesus’ time, it was one of the most sought after commodities. Unfortunately, like salt today, Christianity is often portrayed as common and cheap. But true Christianity is valuable, needed, and crucial for survival. Some people are yearning for that salt, but they don’t know why. They can’t figure out what’s causing that empty, longing feeling. If they don’t discover what they need, they will die. 
   

  “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” (Matthew 5:13 NIV) Knowing what we now know about salt in Jesus’ day, this scripture takes on greater significance. Christians are the salt of the earth. Salt is used as a preservative. So Christians have the same role: we are to protect ourselves and others from corruption that comes about by sinful forces in this world. Salt is used in flavoring. So Christians “spice things up” in this world, bringing flavor and savor to the world. Salt also produces thirst. Our presence in this world should make others thirst for Jesus. Without devotion to Jesus and dedication to live according to his word, we lose that saltiness. 
     In the context of Jesus’ approving statement about salt, we understand that he is not giving dietary advice. He is warning us about losing something so valuable that life can’t exist without it. While salt itself doesn’t change its character, it can be diluted and lose its saltiness. Satan works hard to dilute the knowledge and reverence for God, His son Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. It is our faith in Jesus, our devotion to Him and to His will that demonstrates the nature of God to our families and friends. WE ARE the salt of the earth. WE ARE what will change the world for the better. We must not lose that quality by diluting our saltiness! What good are we if we blend in to the world?
      “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Colossians 4:6 NIV) Can you imagine what life would be like if this was the goal of every conversation? Our speech should be full of grace, which implies that we are merciful and generous to each person we meet, and when we talk about others we haven’t met. But we also are told to “throw a little salt” into our talk. I take that to mean that I must say something that will make people just a little bit thirsty for something more. And of course, that something more is God.
     Interestingly, the Bible doesn’t say to make sure our conversations are seasoned with sugar. We are not on this earth just to be good, nice people, although of course we must be good and nice! We aren’t called to be the sugar of the world, but the salt of the earth!

 

 

References:
http://time.com/3957460/a-brief-history-of-salt/
https://www.britannica.com/science/salt
Mark Kurlansky, “Salt: A World History” Published by Penguin Books, 2003

Photos courtesy of www. pixabay.com. All pictures are released under Creative Commons CC0 into the public domain

Falling in Love with the Old Testament

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            I remember asking a congregation of fairly mature Christians, “Who among us has read the entire Bible?” A meager half or so raised their hands. Later during fellowship, many confessed they got bogged down or bored with the Old Testament—bizarre images, debatable practices, unintelligible laws, and names you won’t even try to pronounce.

            Viewed as difficult and antiquated, the Old Testament (OT) is frequently neglected in many Christian circles. Rarely do we hear sermons from the OT. It’s seldom studied in Quiet Times. Remove Psalms and Proverbs, and Christians’ engagement in reading the OT can be virtually nil. Even those who make the noble resolution to read-the-Bible-in-a-year may start pumped up in Genesis but lose interest before they get very far.

            Contrary to prevailing attitudes, the Old Testament contains much relevant and meaningful application for today. Here’s some motivation to fall in love with the other three-quarters of our Bibles.

1. The Old Testament reveals Jesus Christ.

            The Old Testament was the Bible Jesus read and cherished. Indeed, it was Scripture for him. During his earthly ministry, Jesus constantly appealed to the OT as a source of authority. He used it to defeat temptation, teach about God and his kingdom, instruct his followers, and challenge the norms of society. Significantly, he used OT passages to reveal who he was. He even stated that he was to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17).

            After his resurrection, Jesus made this fundamental statement: “...everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” -- Luke 24:44, (ESV). A vital teaching! Speaking of the OT, Jesus asserts that the text points to him—his person, his nature, his purpose, his character. Want to know Jesus in a deeper way? Read the OT as it reveals J.C.

2. The Old Testament undergirds Christianity.

            Remember when Paul described the “Holy Scriptures” as able to “make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus,”  -- 2 Timothy 3:15 (NIV)? He was referring to the Old Testament, which provides the necessary background to the New Testament. It’s impossible to fully appreciate the New without a good grasp of the Old. How can we come to apprehend more fully valuable concepts like salvation, sacrifice, and a redeemer? The OT provides the vocabulary.

            Those who study the Old Testament make discoveries that bring them to appreciate the New Testament more. Reading Deuteronomy illuminates the gospels. Pore over the Psalms and you’ll see Hebrews come alive. Want to unlock Revelation? Try the keys from Zechariah, Daniel, and Ezekiel! The New Testament assumes knowledge of the Old Testament and builds upon its foundations.

3. The Old Testament story is our story as well.

            Israel’s historical account is one of redemptive history. It’s an epic story of how God worked in antiquity to raise up a holy nation, a people dedicated to himself (Exodus 19:5-6). Apostle Peter notes the parallels with believers, claiming that the purpose of God’s people is the same in both testaments (1 Peter 2:1-10). Similar to Israel back then, the church is God’s holy people today.

            In 1 Corinthians 10, Apostle Paul warns Christians by referring to Israelite history. He recounts Exodus and Numbers. And his hermeneutic conclusion? “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come," -- 1 Corinthians 10:11 (ESV). Clearly, Paul not only valued teaching from the OT; he understood, like Peter, that Israel’s story is ours too.

            Elsewhere, Paul maintains that the OT is God’s word for righteous living (2 Timothy 3:14-17). He adds that this word must be proclaimed (2 Timothy 4:1-2). That’s because the average Christian can totally relate to the ancient Israelites’ temptations, sins, struggles, and victories. Their vicissitudes represent what all believers go through today. Our journey reflects theirs.

            So there you have it. If you haven’t been reading the Old Testament, you’re missing a lot! This is not to say that reading the OT is always easy and simple. Is it a bit of a challenge even for more mature believers? Admittedly, yes. Can it sometimes be boring? I suppose so. Yet when we consider the immense benefits of studying the OT, it’s totally worth the time and effort. It’s just like falling in love.

            May you someday also share about your love story with the Old Testament.

 

 

 

 

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Introducing the Teachers' Corner

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The Teachers Service Team of the ICOC is excited to launch The Teachers' Corner, featuring bi-weekly publication of articles authored by men and women who serve as teachers in our fellowship of churches. You can find these articles highlighted on both www.disciplestoday.org and here, at the Teachers Service Team website,  www.teachicoc.org. Our first series of articles,  entitled “Jesus and the Poor,” were written by Dr. G. Steve Kinnard, Evangelist/Teacher of the New York City Church of Christ.  As you scroll down this page, you will find more material from other recognized ICOC Teachers.

As we prayerfully launch this endeavor,  here in the  first week of November, 2016, for the strengthening and encouragement of disciples everywhere, we hope that you find this growing collection of articles both inspirational and informational.

Shalom,

The Teachers Service Team

Jesus and the Poor, Part One

Part One of a Three-Part Series 

Part One of a Three-Part Series 

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             Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you...” -- Matthew 26:11 (NIV).  Also in Deut. 15:11 we read, “There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore, I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.”

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            Therefore, it is a given that there will always be impoverished people in the world. A study from the Southern Baptist Convention states, “Nearly one billion people, almost one out of every four persons on earth live in a state of 'absolute poverty.' They are trapped in conditions so limited by illiteracy, malnutrition, disease, high infant mortality and low life expectancy as to be denied the very potential with which they are born. Almost 20 million people die each year of starvation or hunger related illnesses.”[1]

            But, why should we care? Why should we respond to the needs of the poor?

            There are many social movements around the world that respond to the needs of the poor. But we are Christians. We aren’t a social movement. So, why must we as Christians respond to the needs of the poor?

The question is not, “Why are there so many impoverished people?” (Although that’s a good question.) The question isn’t, “Why are the poor poor?” (Although that is a question worth considering.) The key to proper motivation is answering the question “Why?” Why should I respond to the needs of the poor in the world?

The short answer is—as Christians, we are to live as Jesus lived. In his life, Jesus responded to the needs of the poor. Therefore, we must “Go and do likewise.”

Where do the steps of Jesus lead?  They lead many places.  They lead to a lost world that needs saving.  They lead to young or weak Christians that need discipling.  They lead to families that need strengthening.  But there is one place where the steps of Jesus always lead—to the poor.  He stepped forward, stepped toward, and stepped up to meet the needs of the poor.  He stepped toward the sick, the hungry, the naked, those in prison and the dispossessed, the blind, the deaf, the demon-possessed, and those suffering from leprosy.  Jesus stepped toward the poor because he had a compassionate heart.  His heart shows us the heart of God.  He was a living picture of who God is—a compassionate and loving Father. 

Jerry Shirley, a Baptist minister, tells this story:  One day a little girl was drawing a picture, and even skipped recess because she was so focused upon it. Her teacher asked what she was doing and she said she was drawing a picture of God. “Oh honey, you can’t do that...no one knows what God looks like.” The little girl held up the picture and said, “They do now!”[2]

            That’s what Jesus does for us.  He draws us a picture of what God looks like.  He shows us who God is.  God is compassionate.  Jesus is compassionate.  Jesus ministered to the needs of people.  If we are following in his steps, we will minister to the needs of people as well.  That’s who Jesus was.  It’s who his people ought to be. 

 

             Let’s look at the beginning of the ministry of Jesus to get a picture of what his life and ministry were like.  Let’s read Matthew 4:12-25.   Verse 23 summarizes the ministry of Jesus.  Matthew writes, “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.”  The ministry of Jesus can be thought of as having three tiers or layers—teaching, preaching, and healing.  Think of it as a triangle.  Look again at Matthew 4:12-25, where all these elements are present:

"When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee.  Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali—  to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:

'Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,

the way to the sea, along the Jordan,

Galilee of the Gentiles—

the people living in darkness

have seen a great light;

on those living in the land of the shadow of death

a light has dawned.'

 From that time on Jesus began to preach, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.'

 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.  'Come, follow me,' Jesus said, 'and I will make you fishers of men.'  At once they left their nets and followed him.

Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them,  and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.  News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them.  Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him." -- Matthew 4:12-25 (NIV)

 

            Jesus took care of the whole person.  In the words of Matthew, Jesus met the needs of  “all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed.”  Jesus healed the hurts of people.  That was who he was.  He was compassionate and loving.  He touched lepers, restored sight to the blind, caused the lame to walk, brought the sick back to health, freed the demon-possessed, allowed the deaf to hear. Whole towns showed up at his doorstep.  People came from miles and miles to know and experience his compassionate touch.  The hurting cried out when Jesus walked by to make sure they got his attention.  He healed hurts.  Jesus is known as the great Physician for a reason. 

            Jesus went out “teaching, preaching, and healing.”  These were the three aspects to his ministry.  We can’t neglect any one of these aspects of the ministry of Jesus today. 


[1] “Issues and Answers: Hunger” (Nashville: The Christian Life Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, n.d.), p.1

[2]  “How Big Is Your God?” Jerry Shirley,  accessed October 12, 2016, http://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/how-big-is-your-god-jerry-shirley-sermon-on-commandments-idols-124460.asp

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Jesus and the Poor, Part Two

Part Two of a Three-Part Series 

Part Two of a Three-Part Series 

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            What does Jesus have to say about our response to the poor? Consider the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37.  Please take a moment and read the parable.

            This is one of my favorite stories in the Bible.  It has influenced the world so much that when you say someone is a “Good Samaritan,” everyone knows what you mean.  That’s a person who goes out of his or her way to help someone they don’t even know.  Wouldn’t it be great if the word “Christian” were held in such high esteem as the phrase “Good Samaritan!”  Christians and “Good Samaritan” should be synonymous because both should mean, “we love our neighbor as ourselves.” 

            This old Jericho road still exists today.  One day, my wife Leigh and I took the kids and another couple and we had a devotional there, reenacting the story of the Good Samaritan.  My kids wanted to be the robbers and not the Good Samaritan.  I should have known we were in for trouble at that point.  Thanks to God’s grace, they are both trying to be Good Samaritans today.    

            Jesus commands us to love our neighbor.  That is a direct command.  To justify himself, the lawyer in the parable asks, “Okay, Jesus, but who is my neighbor?”  Does it sound a bit like some of us who ask, “Now who exactly are the poor?  Are they the poor in the church or those outside it?  Who am I obligated to help?”  Jesus shows what it means to love our neighbor.  To love our neighbor means to help those who are in need and to step outside nationalistic, religious, ethnic, social, cultural borders to do so.  To love your neighbor means you step up to meet needs. 

            The priest and the Levite are callous to the needs of the injured man.  They step back, step around, and step away from him.  They don’t step where Jesus would have stepped.  Here’s the “Aha” moment of the story—a Samaritan loves his neighbor.  Someone outside the covenant community demonstrates the love of Jesus, while those in the covenant community are hard-hearted and callous. 

            The priest and the Levite literally turned away from their own flesh and blood.  They stepped back, stepped around, and stepped away from the man who was hurting.  A Samaritan was the neighbor who loved.  And at the end of the discussion is the directive of Jesus.  “Go and do likewise.”

            The priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan each had the capacity and means to help the needy man. Each had the opportunity to help.  What was the difference between the religious leaders and the Samaritan?  Heart and action.   On the one side we have callousness, apathy, and coldness.  On the other, compassion, care, and concern. On the one side, inaction. Stepping back, stepping away, stepping over, and stepping around. On the other side, action. Stepping toward, stepping forward, and stepping up.  Stepping in the steps of Jesus.  Jesus extols the Good Samaritan and commands his disciples to imitate him saying, "Go and do likewise."

            “Go and do likewise.”  That is the teaching of Jesus on meeting the needs of the needy.  “Go and do.”  Which will you be -- the priest, the Levite, or the Good Samaritan?  Which will we be as the church -- the priest, the Levite, or the Good Samaritan?  Will we step back, step away, step around, and step over the poor, the needy, and the hurting?  Or, will we step up, step forward, step toward those who need our help?  Will we walk in the steps of Jesus?  The steps of Jesus lead to the sick, the blind, the crippled, the leprous, the demon-possessed, and the poor.  Jesus stepped up, stepped forward, and stepped toward those in poverty. 

            We must evangelize the world. We must strengthen, teach, and disciple our churches.  We must minister to the needs of the poor.  None of these are optional.

            Allow the words of Jesus at the conclusion of the Good Samaritan to ring in your ears, “Go and do likewise.”  “Go and do likewise.”

 

 

 


Jesus and the Poor, Part Three

Final Installment of a Three-part Series 

Final Installment of a Three-part Series 

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            Some have stated that they fear that if we emphasize the healing ministry of Jesus too much, then we will lose our focus on evangelism.  If we give too much of our resources to help the poor, then we won’t have enough to evangelize the world.  But Jesus did both.  He is our model.  We are to walk in his steps.  God has the resources for us to evangelize the world and to help the poor.  Psalm 50:11 says the whole world is God’s and everything in it. 

            I have a different fear.  I fear the greed and materialism of our Western world crushing our compassion for the poor and the lost.  I fear us becoming a big, fat, greedy, materialistic institutionalized denomination that has stopped practicing the compassion and love of Jesus because we are disconnected from the poor, the starving, the sick, the naked, the uneducated, and the dying, hundreds of thousands of people on this planet that we step over, step away from, and step around each day, instead of allowing our hearts to be moved by their situation and stepping up to help them.  That’s what I fear.

            I fear the “American Dream,” that says we are entitled to enjoy our wealth while others fight to survive on nothing.  The “American Dream” might be our worst nightmare.  I fear us getting so enamored with nice things that we lose sight of the millions and millions of people who have no-thing.  Jesus never challenged us to fear helping the poor, but he did challenge us to be aware the deceitfulness of wealth.  Perhaps if we would get back into the Bible and be a people of the Book then we would learn what we ought to be afraid of -- namely, materialism, the love of money, the deceitfulness of wealth, the hoarding up of possessions, and greed, which is idolatry.  Helping the poor, seeing the faces of the poor, caring for the poor, will remind us of those materialistic evils that can destroy our hearts and cost us our souls.   

            There is always the potential to drift away from the teaching of Scripture. I get that.  That’s why we have to constantly go back to the Word and check what we are doing with the Word.  It’s always safe to take it back to the Bible.  It’s always safe to take it back to Jesus.  What would Jesus do?  Where do the steps of Jesus lead?  As I get older, all I want to do is to learn more and more to be and act like Jesus.  I want to sit at his feet and learn from him.  I love the gospels and spend most of my time in the gospels.  I want to be with Jesus, not just in the hereafter, but in the here and now. 

            If I want to walk in the steps of Jesus, his steps lead to the poor. His steps don’t lead around the poor or away from poor. They lead directly to the poor. Jesus went preaching, teaching, and healing. We need to embrace the healing ministry of Jesus and do our part to go and live as Jesus lived.

 

 

Huldah: the Woman Who Inspired a Nation to Repent

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            Josiah’s reign and Huldah’s prophecy are recounted in 2 Kings 22-23 and 2 Chronicles 34-35. Josiah became king of Judah when he was eight years old (2 Kings 22:1; 2 Chr 34:1), and reigned for 31 years. As a teenager, he became serious about following the Lord and by the age of twenty, he had begun cleansing Jerusalem and Judah of idols. In his mid-twenties he sent Shaphan, the royal secretary, to repair the Temple using the money entrusted to Hilkiah, the High Priest. In the process, Hilkiah found “the book of the law of the LORD written by the hand of Moses,” which he gave to Shaphan who took it to Josiah and read to the king from the book.

            As the king heard the words of the Lord (most likely from Deuteronomy), he became agitated because he realized that his people were guilty of breaking the covenant they had made with God as recorded in the book, and that God’s judgement was imminent. Josiah sent a delegation of royal officials to seek out Yahweh’s will and they went to find Huldah, a prophetess in Jerusalem. Huldah told them to tell the king that God would indeed bring disaster to Judah in judgement against them for their idolatry and rebellion against the Lord. Josiah himself, however, would be spared seeing the destruction in his lifetime because he had responded with tenderness, obedience and repentance when he heard the words of the Lord being read to him.

            Huldah’s prophesying to Josiah caused him to increase and greatly expand his religious and political reform. Josiah responded to Huldah’s prophecy by gathering all the leaders and all the people of Judah, reading the book of the Law to them and having them renew their covenant with the Lord, which they kept as long as he was alive. He instigated a far-reaching program of tearing down idols in Judah and Samaria and brought the people back to the sole worship of Yahweh. Josiah was killed in battle with the Egyptians and was buried in peace, fulfilling Huldah’s prophecy. After his death, the Babylonians invaded and destroyed Judah and took many of the prominent inhabitants into Exile.

            Rabbinical literature lists Huldah among the seven legitimate female prophets along with Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, and Esther (Megillah 14:a-b).  The Rabbis speculated that Josiah went to Huldah rather than to Jeremiah, who was also a prophet to Josiah, because he thought that a woman might be more compassionate and likely to positively intercede for Jerusalem to the Lord. Also, according to Jewish tradition, Huldah and Jeremiah (like Jesus!) descended from Rahab, and Jeremiah didn’t mind that the king went to his relative, Huldah. The Biblical text shows nothing unusual about the king consulting Huldah, even over Jeremiah. When she confirmed that Hilkiah had found the long-lost Torah, Huldah became the first person to confirm a written book as Scripture. 

 

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