Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Insider Approaches

There has been much debate on insider movements on the web, in certain Western church movements and missions, and especially in the St Francis Magazine published by Interserve. Here is a brief statement on what the Insider Movements are, and some pros and cons of the approach.

What are Insider Movements?
These are movements that begin within a ‘cousin’ people group without much encouragement from ‘outsiders’, such that the movement continues without the adherents having to leave their socio-religious group. They have accepted Isa al Masih (Jesus the Messiah) as Lord and Saviour, but continue to call God ‘Allah’, pray five times a day, meet with others either in homes or in the usual religious meeting place, and read the holy books sent by God. They avoid using Christian terms such as baptize, church, Christian.

Bible translations that are ‘insider’ tend to translate the parts of the scriptures considered to be offensive using dynamic equivalents, while keeping the more literal versions in introductions and footnotes. They also take out most of the ‘language of Zion’ (Jew, Israel, temple, synagogue) and replace them with generic terms such as ‘meeting place’ for ‘synagogue’ or insider terms such as ‘Beytul Makdis’ for ‘temple’. One contentious issue is how to translate ‘Son of God’ in such translations. Arguably it mainly has the sense of chosen and beloved of God i.e. it is more Messianic in background than Trinitarian (for which ‘Son of Man’ with its Daniel 7 background is arguably much better evidence). Since our cousins think we believe that the Trinity consists of God, Mary (mother of God), and their son Jesus, as the result of a physical union between God and Mary, there are good arguments for translating the phrase dynamically, much as other biblical phrases are. The reason this is contentious is because many creeds take ‘Son of God’ as the starting point for defining who Jesus is as the 2nd person of the Trinity.

Another pioneering method is to use storying, especially a series of audio-visual media called ‘Lives of the Prophets’, which focuses on characters in the Bible already accepted by our cousins. The stories are excerpts, allowing potentially offensive passages to be left out. Sometimes substitutions are made e.g. ‘Abraham’s son’ for the same referent ‘Isaac’.

MBB M (cousin) background believer – someone who has left Islm and joined a church
Insider Someone who still calls themselves a Mslm (one who submits to Allah) but believers in Isa al Masih
Outsider Foreigner or ethnic ‘Christian’
C1-C6 scale A scale of contextualization starting from completely Western (un-contextualized) to secret meetings of believers that cannot, by definition, be counted. Not many ‘insider approach’ adherents like to use this scale, but if they do, C5 would normally be considered as insider – Christ-centred communities of ‘Messianic Mslms’ who have accepted Jesus as Lord and Saviour

Pros of this approach
* The believers are able to meet with others from a similar background rather than with foreigners of those of ‘Christian’ origins, and they have more opportunity to witness to others
* Avoidance of ‘extraction’ of new believers (though this is seen by some as a straw man – new believers are often excluded by their own families rather than extracted by those who shared the gospel with them)
* Avoidance of all the political issues to do with America and Israel vs. the Islmc world etc.
* Is highly sensitive to the cultural background of the believers and allows them to continue to respect God’s word, pray, and meet in ways they are used to
* Has worked fantastically in certain part of the world, where there are large movements of insiders
* Take account of the fact that ‘Son of God’ is a metaphor. Translations do keep the original sense in the footnotes
* Allows our cousins to begin to interact with the Word of God without them getting highly upset at some of the terminology or ideas
* Is arguably more in line with the teaching of the Bible that the Trinity is economic (to do with what Christ achieved and therefore who he must be) rather than immanent (ontological – who Christ is by definition). See: for more info

Cons of the approach
* Upsets MBBs and more traditional churches and mission groups by seeming to move away from classic 4th-century definitions of Christian orthodoxy
* Is considered to be ‘one step too far’ by many involved in contextualised mission to our cousins. These workers accuse these approaches of resulting in syncretism (though one person’s contextual approach is another person’s syncretistic approach or even heresy i.e. who defines what is ‘too far’?)
* Hasn’t worked (yet) in all contexts
* Some translations not only translate ‘Son of God’ dynamically, but take out all the Father-Son language in the gospels. The Father-Son metaphor may be one that is intrinsic to life and to our understanding of God
* Insiders tend to keep themselves to themselves and find it hard to relate to the wider body of Christ (the Messiah)
* Cousins can see what is going in and a) see it as a con b) use it as proof that we have ‘changed’ the text (as orthodox Islm teaches)

Insider approaches are to be commended for their cultural sensitivity and jettisoning of the colonialist mission paradigm. They are, however, rather experimental in that we will only see the results of such efforts in time. Will they lead to positive church growth or syncretistic groups of pseudo-believers/cousins?

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Apart from me you can do nothing

(John 15:1-16)

• We need Jesus:
Like the branches need the vine
Like an infant needs its mother
Like plants need the sun
Like a plane needs its wings

• We need Jesus!
We often think we can do without Him
We live in our own strength
We rebel—one of the OT words for ‘sin’ (‘transgression’) has ‘rebellion’ as one of its primary meanings
When we rebel, we fall into self-doubt and begin to doubt God’s love for us, and His grace—like the prodigal son we say “I am no longer worthy to be called his son” - yet God, like a caring father, is waiting and longing for us to return:
"18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.' 20 So he got up and went to his father. "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him." (Luk 15, NIV)

• Jesus is our model—his dependence on His Father was complete:
John 5:19 19 Jesus gave them this answer: "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.
The Son has the Father’s approval (Jhn 6:27), ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’ (Mat 3:17). We are also sons (Gal 4:6) and have that same approval from the Father. We need to rest in that relationship

• What does it mean to ‘remain in Him’? Two disciplines of prayer and obedience.
Prayer—We need to learn to ‘wait on the Lord’
The Psalmist pictures a person in prayer as like a watchman waiting for the morning:
Psalm 130:5-6 5 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope. 6 My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.
When we pray, we need to pray in expectation:
Psalm 5:3 3 In the morning, O LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.
Not like those praying for Peter’s release—they obviously didn’t have much expectation—when Peter knocked at the door and the servant girl rushed to tell the others who were fervently praying for his release, they didn’t believe her! Acts 12:15 You're out of your mind," they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, "It must be his angel."
This is related to hope:
Isaiah 40:31 31 but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

• Obedience—we need to obey his commands to love one another, and to bear fruit.

• We need Jesus:
Like the branches need the vine
Like an infant needs its mother
Like plants need the sun
Like a plane needs its wings

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Mega Church?

We have friends who run a church of 20 or so members on a tough housing estate. They must at times feel threatened by the idea of Megachurch (churches of 2000-3000). Yet there are many such churches in the States, and a few in Britain too. One thing I have heard said is that if about three thousand people turned to the Lord at Pentecost (Acts 2:41), why shouldn’t the same happen today? Well why not, indeed! But we do need to remember that the context was very different. Jesus had just risen from the dead, ascended, and sent the Holy Spirit for the first time (in the new age, at least). Those listening to Peter preach were Jews and God-fearers:

5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews [Greek: Jews, devout men] from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: "Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome; 11 both Jews and converts to Judaism; Cretans and Arabs-- we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!" Acts 2:5-11 (NIV)

God-fearers weren’t just people who fear God, but rather Gentiles (from Greek: ho ethnos – the people or nation) who had turned to Judaism, but because of their ethnic background were unable to convert fully to become ‘Jews’. They followed the Jewish religion as much as possible, but there was no point in being circumcised, since that was a mark of being a Jew, rather than a way of becoming one (contra. Baptism, which is a sign of having become a believer in Jesus). Since Jews were now spread all over the civilised world* – and even to some regions not conquered by the Romans (such as Parthia, part of what is now known as Central Asia). Despite the fact that most of them would have known Greek, the lingua franca and language of education, they heard the disciples speaking to them in their various mother-tongues. This will warm the heart of any Wycliffe members out there who believe strongly that God speaks to us in the language of our hearts. I remember asking a Dutch friend why she didn’t fill in her doctrinal statements in English, since that was the language she was using to study Theology. She replied, ‘You don’t understand, I believe in God in Dutch!’ ‘Told!’, as my son would say. The fact that the Holy Spirit was leading the disciples (a bunch of Aramaic-speaking fishermen from Gallilee) to tell the wonders of God in their own mother tongues proved to them that God cared for them, and so they turned and became believers in Jesus the Messiah. But they were already open to the things of God before Pentecost.

The point of Acts 2, therefore, is not that God likes Megachurches (though I’m sure He does), but that the Holy Spirit was doing a new thing in now moving amongst those from all over the world. This was to fulfil the prophecy in Isaiah 2:3 ‘Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” Israel was always supposed to be a ‘light to the nations’ (51:4; 61:3). What we have here, is a lesson in centrifugal (or is it centripetal?) mission, not megachurch.

* ‘The preaching of the gospel was preceded and prepared for by the dispersion of the Jews, and a world-wide propagandism of Judaism. In the 5th century BC the Jews had a temple of their own at Syene. Alexander the Great settled 8,000 Jews in the Thebais, and Jews formed a third of the population of Alexandria. Large numbers were brought from Palestine by Ptolemy I (320 BC), and they gradually spread from Egypt along the whole Mediterranean coast of Africa. After the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes (170 BC) they scattered themselves in every direction, and, in the words of the Sibylline Oracles (circa 160 BC), "crowded with their numbers every ocean and country." There was hardly a seaport or a commercial center in Asia Minor, Macedonia, Greece, or the Islands of the AEgean, in which Jewish communities were not to be found. Josephus (Ant., XIV, vii, 2) quotes Strabo as saying: "It is hard to find a place in the habitable earth that hath not admitted this tribe of men, and is not possessed by them."’ ISBE

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

A Messiah Figure

We all need a Messiah-figure to lean on!

1. Many claim to be Messiahs (fulfilling the prophecy in Mat 24:4)
2. Many are made to be Messiahs after their death e.g. Moh. (PBOH), by some sects of Islm
3. Many stories contain a messiah-figure

The film the matrix had some parallels with Jesus as Messiah:

* The Matrix is the Gospel of Neo, the coming of age of the postmodern messiah, his death, and his resurrection.
* The Matrix Reloaded perhaps corresponds to the Acts of the new messiah and his disciples, chronicling the next stage of their struggle with the machines.
* The Matrix Revolutions concludes the trilogy with the Apocalypse According to St. Neo, where during the apocalyptic final battle between humanity and the machines, Neo ends the war and brings the final realization of the messianic age of peace between humanity and machines.1

The Matrix, despite all its philosophising, is a story. Matthew clearly saw Jesus as fulfilling OT prophecy for a Messiah, the Son of David, the Son of God, (and most strongly) the Son of Man – the figure in Daniel 7, who is given authority over all nations – hence the end of Matthew (‘All authority has been given to me, therefore go and make disciples of all nations…’). One of the questions that comes up is, ‘What now do we make of the law and the prophets, now that Jesus the Messiah has come?’ Notice that the question is not, ‘What do we make of Jesus, in the light of the law and prophets?’, but, ‘How do the law and the prophets apply, now that Jesus has come?’ In fact, Jesus taught his own version of Moses’ law, in the Sermon on the Mount.

Often we focus too much on carrying out Jesus’ command to go to all nations, without realising who Jesus is, and the authority He has been given. Without Him, and his authority, we are nothing, and can do nothing.

Also, when we do go, the message we take is often to do with a set of faith doctrines, a philosophy (almost), that people have to sign up to. We forget to tell them the story of the Old Testament, the need for a Messiah, and Jesus coming to fulfil that expectation. We also forget to tell the ultimate happy ending of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, focussing too much on our guilt and its need for forgiveness, or some other me-centred gospel (that can sound like a spiritual insurance policy or alternative spirituality). The good news about Jesus is that he is ‘the One’, the one who came to make us the human beings God wanted us to be, and to bring into being the Kingdom of God focussed around a new community of followers of Jesus, no matter what their background or past. Good news indeed!

1 accessed 12th January 2010