Monday, August 22, 2005

Scott McKnight's Suggestions for Writers

Being that one of my web pages is a resource page for writers (which I haven't updated for a while), I always have my eye open for writing suggestions.

While I do a lot in the way of scholarly/teaching style of article, my favourite writing to do is fiction. Scott McKnight is more of a scholar type. However, many of his suggestions would apply to writers of fiction as well -- especially since some of his examples are authors like Hemmingway, and C.S.Lewis (who was also a bit of both, like me).

Anywayn click on the title of today's blog, and read Scott's 9 sugestions for writers.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Craig Morton reviews Alan Jamieson's A Churchless Faith

I found it via Len's blog, and his entry has already attracted an intersting comment.

The book, A Churchless Faith: Faith Journey’s Beyond the Churches, is about people who leave churches, not as in "oh, it's just the cold dead churches that are losing members", but the front line, cutting edge "EPC" (Evangelical, Pentecostal, Charismatic) churches. And they're not just those on the fringes. 90% of those interviewed were in leadership of some sort in their respective congregations, most of them had been members for 15 years or more, and many had been through some theological training. The number also includes full time ministers.

The bottom line is, according to the author, many of the leavers are growing spiritually in areas where their churches have stopped. Rather than blame the leavers, it would behoove us to examine ourselves and see where we might need to expand some of our concepts a bit.

Anyway, read Craig Morton's review to find out more.

Monday, August 08, 2005

lost tribes...?

I realise that when one drops the phrase, "lost tribes", it conjours up any one of a number of images, such as British Israelism, or it's more recent variation that seems to have hit some Messianic groups, the "Two Houses" idea. That is the belief that every European believer in Yeshua is potentially descended from Israelites who became thoroughly assimilated into European society.

I won't comment further on that theory, except to say that unless someone shows me some geneological records I was hitherto unaware of (which would delight me no end) I will remain what God made me: Irish. Also, the theories assume that the Northern tribes were not only lost (which some question), but also thoroughly assimilated into their adoptive cultures.

There is, however, evidence that they were neither lost nor assimilated... or maybe lost as far as Western popular history, but as the little boy found wandering about the shopping mall said, "I'm not lost, my parents are." (In the same way, we could say Columbus didn't discover America. The Native Americans knew about it all along.)

What follows is not a Christian/Messianic fad. It's something that many Orthodox rabbis in Israel are taking seriously (although opinion is a bit devided). All of my sources come from rabbinical sources, such as Moshiach Online, and the book: Across the Sabbath River: In Search of a Lost Tribe of Israel .
You can also do a Google advance search, entering the string "Lost Tribes" and either "Bnai Menashe" or "Pathan" to find much much more.

The Moshiach Online website has information on about a dozon groups, including the Pathan, who make up a major part of the population of Afghanistan, Kashmeris, and a group called Bnai Menashe, a group of people from the Mizo/Chin tribe of India and Burma.

If you look up these links and take it all in, there's actually very little that I could add to them, except to say that this probably represents a wide open opportunity for Messianics who are considering following the will of Adonai, to consider if it may mean relocating to a different part of the world, such as, say, Afghanistan, India or S.E. Asia.

This has been a very exciting discovery for me, as I happen to know a number of people of the Chin/Mizo tribe in Burma. They were evangelised some 100 years ago, and the tribe is about 95% Christian, at least nominally, but a great percent are Evangelical, with many Pentecostals and Charismatics. A relatively small group of them, numbering several thousand living on the Indian side of the border (where they are caled "Mizos") have concluded that they are, in fact, of the tribe of Menashe. What is surprising is there are rabbis who, after examining their culture and what they remember of their history, believe them.

As for the rest of the tribe, on both sides of the border, they are still 95% Christian. Unfortunately, those who originally took the Gospel to them, besides having no idea that these could be the tribe of Menashe (and would have probably resisted acknowledging the idea anyway), put very little emphesis on Old Testament foundational knowledge. It's easy to see how many of them, having only a minimal New Testament foundation to begin with, having become nominal after a few generations, could be influenced by something with more depth such as Rabbinical Judaism. They have, in effect, exchanged a religion that lost its foundation, for the foundation itself, but without the building that it was intended for.

I believe this represents a ministry opportunity for the Messianic movement -- if not to the Bnai Menashe who have already adopted Judaism, at least to the rest, who need their understanding of their faith deepened, both so as to know how to respond to the Bnai Menashe movement, but more importantly, to know how to respond to their calling as Israelites, if that is indeed what they are. If not, at least they could use a better foundation for their faith.

The Pathan and Kashmeris are followers of Islam, but still hold Israeli traditions that are even more obvious than those of the Bnai Menashe. There are both customs and place names that are readily recognisable from the Bible, but not inherited from Islam. Even British colonists and others in history have noted the fact. In light of that, it amazes me no end, how the idea still clung on, that the 10 Northern tribes are lost and, of all things, British! The Moshiach Online website also gives other examples of cultures far and wide that could have Israelite connections.

The challange of course is obvious, but I do believe that Messianic Judaism, mixed with a bit of cross cultural adaptation and wisdom, is in the best possition to take it up. Our mandate may be bigger than we had thought. It's still about sharing Ha Mochiach with the Jewish community, and helping the Christian community find their Jewish roots, but now it's not just on a local level. Each one should pray about what it means for him/herself.

If you begin to have the feeling that there's not much more that can be said and done in your own community that the locals (both Jewish and Christian) haven't seen and heard already, maybe it's time to move on. If we truly believe we have a mandate, and that we are approaching the end times when Israel will be gathered to her home, it's something we need to take seriously.

It's not an easy decision in every case, just as it wasn't for Avraham when G-d told him to leave his country. It also doesn't pay to be rash, but for sure, take it seriously and seek G-d about it, and talk about it with the believers in your fellowship.

Then, prepare.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Why did G-d create the world?

From Rabbi David Fohrman, Jewish World Review

It's not just an idle, philosophical question. From a religious standpoint, this innocent, child-like query packs a big theological wallop. For if G-d is a perfect Being, a being who has no needs, then why would He bother creating a universe? What could a universe possibly give to a Being who doesn't need anything at all?

In the beginning of the 18th century, a Jewish thinker by the name of Rabbi Moshe Chayim Luzzatto proposed what has become a classic answer to this dilemma. His answer is deceptively simple. Luzzatto says that G-d created the world in order to be capable of love.

The words seem like a cliché, sort of like the "G-d is Love" bumper sticker you might see plastered to the back of someone's rusting VW Beatle; but rest assured that Luzzatto lived long before the beatniks, and he meant what he said seriously. His argument goes as follows:

One of the axioms that most religions, Judaism included, accepts about G-d is that He is good. But those are just words. What does it actually mean to be good? One of the things it means, Luzzatto says, is that one acts to benefit others. If there is no world, though, then there are no others that G-d can benefit; He exists alone in numinous solitude. G-d acted to create a world so that there would be other beings existing besides Himself, beings upon whom He could bestow goodness.

In short, G-d created the world because goodness demanded it. more...

Friday, August 05, 2005

what baruch calls poetry

I write poetry sometimes. However, don't ever expect anything deeply spiritual from it. Poetry, for me, serves as a form of comic relief. To give you an idea, my favourite poets are Ogden Nash and Shel Silverstien:

Anyway, here's one I just made up ...

the grand old duke of york
he had a rock-n-roll band
he hyped them to the top of the charts
though they sounded rather bland
when they were hot they were hot
when they were not they were not
when they were only half way hot
they were neither hot nor not

for more like this, go to my poetry page. There are a few crude cartoons there as well.

What makes Church? 7 - Foundations

Foundational teaching is among the most important things that make up the stability and vitality of church. It can make the difference between a handful of cheery believers who think this idea of Emerging Church (or Messianic, or whatever) is a cool idea and get on for the ride; and a committed taskforce that all know who they are, what they are, and where they're going. Both groups, by our definition, are "church", but the second one will stay together much longer.

The true foundation is Yeshua. All foundational teaching will focus on Him, and will plant us firmly on who He is. In one way, it's a simple concept -- simple enough for new believers to know which direction to begin going without complicating the issue.

However, if we consider that the entire Bible, both Old and New Testaments also focuses on Yeshua, we realise that there's more to it than meets the eye. If we further realise that to understand the Old Testament helps us to understand the New, and thus roots us all the more deeply in Yeshua, we realise that we may have a ways to go to being firmly built on the Foundation.

The Messianic movement has done a valuable job in returning us to our foundations. By highlighting the Jewish source of our faith, we can now see a few things in perspective. Some may feel that they are among those complicating the issue. However, the issue became complicated long before they arrived on the scene. If anything, they're helping to un-complicate things.

We have to understand that the writers of the Gospels and the Epistles were Jewish. As revolutionary as their message was, it was rooted in Jewish culture, and in a Jewish understanding of divine revelation. But somehow, we've lost that. We no longer look at biblical revelation with a Jewish mind, but with a Greek philosopher's mind. How did this happen?

I'll answer with a short history:

To the rabbis, what Yeshua and His apostles had to say was quite radical -- radical enough for many of them to reject it outright as heresy. The early believers knew that their message was radical. The idea of Gentiles being accepted as equals without them having to become Torah observant, was extreme!

The Gentile believers knew that their new found faith was radical for their Jewish brethren. In fact, they were warned, by Paul et al, to be on guard for some of their Jewish brethren of the old school who would try to make them Torah observant. So they were. They knew they were radical.

But how radical? some of them wondered. Can we be this radical? Can we dump everything that Judaism ever taught and base our understanding on Greek style logic? By the time they were asking loud enough to be heard, the original writers of the New Testament had already passed from the scene. The majority of the Messianic population was now Gentile. So, they began to interpret the whole of the New Testament and as much of the Old Testament as they could using mathematical logic learned from Plato and Aristotle (in fact, they even began forcing Jewish believers to become Gentiles!). Because Paul sounded more Greek than the rest, and was, after all, the one who told the Gentile believers to avoid being forced into Torah observance, his epistles were understood as being foundational to Christian belief. The Gospels, because they made Yeshua sound Jewish, was understood to being targetted to Old Testament Judaism, and not to New Testament Christians. They were only good for historical value. But the real meat was the Pauline epistles.

Unfortunately, this was the theological equivalent of mistaking the window and door frames, the drywall and the roofing material for the foundation of a building, and using the foundational material for decoration.

Consider that when the New Testament writers talked about the scripture, they were referring to the Torah and the Prophets and other Old Testament writings. Only Peter, shortly before he and the other New Testament writers passed from the scene, referred to Paul's epistles as "scripture", but also said they were easy to misunderstand, and that many had twisted them out of context to their own destruction (II Peter 3:15,16). This means that one has to have a good foundational knowledge of God's revelation in Yeshua before they can understand Paul's epistles.

Yeshua said in Matthew 7, "He who hears these words of mine (i.e. the Gospels), and does them is like a man building on the foundation". Hebrews 6 gives us a list of what the foundations are, referring to them as the "elementary principals of Messiah": Repentance, faith, baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection and eternal judgement. The Gospels open up with repentance and faith. The General Epistles, James, Peter's and John's epistles, and Jude also deal directly with faith and repentance and the other foundations.

For example, they give us a good definition of faith. The Pauline epistles talk about faith, but they don't supply a definition.

If we were to go straight to Ephesians chapter 2, and forget James 3, we would read, "By grace you are saved through faith...not of works." Later on, if we read James, who says, "Faith without works is dead," we'd think the two passages were contradictory.

In the mean time, our faith might not amount to very much. We would think, "Yeah, I believe. I said the sinner's prayer, so I'm saved. I can claim every spiritual blessing in Messiah," while living a very carnal life. Anytime someone pointed out our carnality, we'd retort, "Salvation isn't of works! I'm saved by faith!"

However, if we established our definition of what faith is by understanding the message of James, then we'd know what kind of faith Paul is talking about when he says we're saved by faith.

We're not saved by works, but real faith that saves will produce works. A life based on true faith will be readily distinguishable from a life that isn't. James and I John is full of that.

When many pollsters today tell us that the life of the average "born again" Christian looks no different from that of an average non-Christian, that tells us that we've got our foundation all wrong.

p.s. I've got a project underway, writing series of study outlines that cover foundational truth. It begins in the Old Testament, and takes us into the New. It's not complete yet, but I'm sure you could learn a lot. Click here...

This is the last in the What Makes Church? series. I haven't covered the subheading Worship yet, but there's so much good material out there on that already, and I don't feel I have anything to add to it. However, I'm sure we'll discuss issues related to this and the othe subheadings, and more besides, in future posts.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

What Makes Church? 6 - leadership, authority, ministry, giftings, etc.

Just a short one today, with a few links to some useful articles regarding church.

Two are by Rick Joyner, who believes that one of the priorities that churches generally fail in is equipping the believers for ministry. Usually, only 2% of church members take any part in ministry. At Morningstar Fellowship, at the time he wrote the articles below, 15 to 20 % are involved, and he feels they have a long way to go. The two articles are:

Megatrends in the New Millennium (on Next Reformation website)

Shepherd's Astray (from Morningstar website)

Another one who has a lot to say is Andrew Strom, who believes that the next revival will be a street revival. Even calling it "house church" would be incorrect, as it will be on the streets. His website is called, Revival School. He has written an e-book called The Nine Lies of Today’s Church, available in PDF format from the website. He comes on very strong, and many won't agree with everything he says. However, the last chapter qualifies the overall message by saying that to expect a church to immediately adopt all of his points (ie. selling their church building, changing the pastor's roll, trashing all programs, etc) may be impossible, and perhaps unwise to attempt. To be honest, there's nothing in it that I can say I disagree with -- though I may not come on as strongly as he -- but I would agree that the church described as the antithesis to the "9 lies" may be impossible in most places (at least in the free world) until after a major shaking has happened to Western society. We may discuss some of his points at another time in this blog.

There are also many other websites and blogs, some of which you'll find in the sidebar, that are good resources for doing church the organic or emergent way. Some of them simply offer a window into various local fellowiships. Others also offer valuable resources, as well as links to yet more.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

What Makes Church? 5 - leadership, authority, ministry, giftings

In many ways, the two subheadings Leadership and Authority, and Ministry and Giftings, overlap. That's because good leadership is not only a gift, but it facilitates gifts and ministry among the members to the extant where it could be hard to tell the difference between the "full time ministers" and what we previously thought were "laity".

A few years ago, at a church conference in Thailand, I was asked to interpret for one of the speakers. He was the pastor of a Baptist church in New Zealand, who had led his church through a very interesting transition. It began as he was pondering and praying about how the church could fulfil its mandate of reaching the world, then realising that it wouldn't happen unless some drastic changes were made. The transition he took the church through was difficult, he lost many valuable members, but was worth it in the end.

Not only did the process change the structure of the church, but it redefined their concept of ministry. Under the new structure, more of the responsibilities lay with the group of elders. Some were the same who originally served on the board, but they were had a calling in one of the five-fold ministries listed in Ephesians 4. Their role wasn't so much to minister, but to lead and enable the members to minister in the five areas. The pastor reduced his own role to that of a fellow elder, albeit a leader among equals. They were only ministers in so much as they ministered. It was no longer a job that came with a title. Moreover, anyone could be a minister. It wasn't so much a matter of being chosen for a position, but simply doing what they saw needed to be done. In doing that, they had the support and mentoring of whichever elder was called to that gifting.

The whole idea of a separation between clergy and laity was obsolete. Furthermore, as a minister in this sense, it's so much easier to be humble -- no title to maintain.

As I was translating for him from English into Thai, I was becoming more and more excited by what I was hearing. I had just recently started following the Emergent conversation, and pondering what exactly is church, and what would it look like if reduced to its bare essentials. Some of the aspects, such as the definition of ministry, had been in my head and heart for many years. But now, here was someone who was actually doing it. Now, I know it's possible.

What Makes Church? 4 - Leadership and Authority...continued

I believe that Matthew 18 is key to understanding what the church and leadership in it is all about. It is very significant that this discourse begins with the following:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me..."
First, we must understand that the concept of "church" didn't exist in the understanding of Yeshua's disciples. While the word appears in some English translations later in chapter 18, quoted in yesterday's blog entry, the word should be understood as "congregation", or "minyan", a concept understood in Judaism.

Judaism also understood the concept of "kingdom of God", or "kingdom of heaven" (which are synonymous terms), used in the above passage. They might not have understood exactly what Yeshua meant by it. What Yeshua meant, includes what the Pauline epistles later refer to as "church". I realise that this is something that could take up more space in explaining than I intend to do here. Instead, I'll refer you to Scot McKnight's recent blogs on the subject. I'll just say here that too often, we've separated the concepts of Kingdom and Church.

What Yeshua is referring to here isn't just the way things will be in the sweet bye 'n bye. To be sure, our life in heaven will reflect this, but what we need to grasp is that what Yeshua is saying is, leaders in the church are to be those who are the most humble, and accessible -- like children. Later in the chapter, we see, in the parable of the lost sheep, what Yeshua expects in leaders in the way of compassion, and priorities. All of this is something we, who think we're leadership material, ought to be considering very seriously.

Again, you'll find all of this discussed in more detail in chapter 12 of my online book, Culture Shock.

Monday, August 01, 2005

What Makes Church? 3 - Leadership and Authority

Continuing our discussion on Church, leading into our second subheading on leadership and authority, compare the following two passages, one from Matthew 18, and the other from the Talmud tractate, Berachot 6a:

Matthew 18:15-20:
"If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church (or "the congregation"), treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
"I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
"Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them."
Talmud, Berachot 6a (remember the Jewish concept of a congregation being a minimum of 10 attendants):
Whence is it that when ten assemble for prayer the Shechinah is in their midst? As it is said, "God standeth in the godly congregation" (Ps. lxxxii. 1). And whence is it that when three sit and judge, the Shechinah is in their midst? As it is said, "In the midst of the judges He judgeth" (ibid). And whence is it that when two sit and occupy themselves with the study of the Torah, the Shechinah is in their midst? As it is said, "Then they that feared the Lord spoke one with another, and the Lord hearkened and heard" (Mal iii. 16). And whence is it that even if an individual sits and occupies himself with the study of the Torah the Shechinah is with him? As it is said, "In every place where I cause My name to be remembered I will come unto thee and will bless thee" (Exod. xx. 24).
Notice the reference in both passages to the numbers two, three, and the congregation. As an aside, it's also interesting to note that Yeshua identifies Himself as the Shechinah -- which could be a clue to how the concept of the Trinity can be made to fit into Judaism.

When we look at it in the light of the two passages above, it seems clear that in Matthew 18, Yeshua was outlining the authority structure in the church along lines familiar to Jewish understanding.

For a more in depth study on this, read this ...