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In the World But Not of the World: Transformation

(Picture from here)

This is the last part on a series of posts that link to a sermon I recently did at my church, Church on the Square in Sandton, Johannesburg.

In the last post I mentioned that in this post I would talk about transformation, since the series has focused more on the separation of Church and State and how that means the following:

1) That the Church should never be the State and should never wield the sword. The State’s responsibility is to wield the sword. The Church is a people, not an institution.

2) Christians are transferred into a Kingdom which functions under a King named Jesus — ie. political opinions must be seen as separate to the Church. If you’re a socialist and I believe in democracy our core mission, the Kingdom, is the same — which is to love others sacrificially and unconditionally like Jesus did, and let the world know that they can find love, joy, peace, salvation, real eternal life, and much more in Jesus. We should make sure we understand that political opinions are not the same as theological opinions — democracy or socialism is not a theology, it’s merely just a political opinion. Sure, one might turn out to be better than the other, but that doesn’t mean it is necessary more Christian, because the only thing Christian in this world is essentially people.

3) That the Church (the people) should never mix world ideologies with Christian ones — ala thinking that democracy is of the Bible and the spread of democracy akin to the advancing of the Kingdom; living like capitalists with our money instead of Christians who give generously and don’t make upgrading their lifestyle their core mission in life; always exercising our rights over others and looking to have power over them rather than serve them as Jesus served/serves us; judging people according to their income, education; and so forth.

4) The Church should never run as the world does — ie. running a church like a democracy (pastors / elders are voted into their job); running a church like a socialist state; and so forth.

That summary shows how difficult it can be to understand how we are still to transform our world and make it into a better place. After all, Christians do pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is done in heaven. Plus, the Kingdom works its way through the whole dough, meaning that it is meant to permeate every aspect of society in every way.

‘In the world but not of the world’ is probably the best way to explain this. I think that the principle way transformation is done is through love first, which puts us on a relational level with others or those in power. Only then can we suggest (and only suggest) what might be good in a particular situation, or point politicians towards the basic principles espoused in the Bible, leaving it to them to work it out in detail, as that is, after all, their job.

Christians should also get involved with social causes as much as they can, as long as the social causes don’t become the core focus. We can bring as much food to poor people as we want, but until their hearts are changed (by Jesus himself as they believe in Him) they will not be able to truly break out of the systems of thought and spiritual entanglements that hold them in poverty.

Poverty is perhaps the easiest way to show what I mean. It seems pretty obvious that God has a big heart for the poor and so should we. This means that we should encourage our government(s) to look after the poor in various ways. But HOW that is done is a matter of political and economical opinion, not biblical opinion. It probably makes more sense to work in helping poor people be lifted out of the systems of thought that hold them captive rather than just give them hand-me-outs, but there is a time for hand-me-outs too. How that is worked out is not mentioned in the Scriptures — the Scriptures merely show us that we SHOULD care for the poor and for justice, but it’s up to us to work that out in the details, and to work with the State as best we can to work it out, but only as advisers never anything more.

Something like freeing people from slavery is an obvious evil to work against. But there are evils that are not so obvious, especially when it comes to things such as whether the State should allow homosexual couples to get married. (I realise this is controversial but it’s worth saying and it might stir up some conversation.)

After all, is it fair for a State to give benefits to heterosexual couples but not homosexual couples? Shouldn’t it view all people equally? Aren’t all viewed equal in the sight of God? The argument for or against it can be quite persuasive both ways.

I believe the Bible speaks against homosexuality as a lifestyle, but that’s something for Christians. Whether or not the State should allow such couples to get married is more a matter of political opinion than of anything else. Sure, I think a healthy country boils down to healthy families, but how this is all worked out in detail is a matter of opinion. What I do know, however, is that the State should never force the Church to marry homosexuals, as much as the Church should never enforce its morality through the State. Both have disastrous consequences.

People should come to Christ willingly. Our job is to love them sacrificially and unconditionally so that they would choose our God, enjoy the life He gives, and then choose His morality and lifestyle for themselves. The legalising of homosexual marriage I don’t think makes our job any harder than it already is. We love people just the same and counsel them just the same. Sometimes we have to love through difficult situations, but we ought to do it just the same.

Through the changing of hearts society itself will look more Christ-like, which is what we want, but that would be through people exercising a freedom to choose, rather than being under a compulsion — either socially or legally — by the Church. And it will come through us loving and living like Jesus.

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In the World But Not of the World: Ideologies Do Not Rule Us

(Picture sourced from here

Because the Church and State are two separate entities and serve two different functions — the State serving to keep justice in the land, the Church serving to love others sacrificially — Christians can hold different political / economical opinions and yet still work together in the same Kingdom, because the Kingdom is our primary concern.

In Jesus’ day Simon was called a Zealot, which indicates that he held a certain political opinion. Basically, the zealots believed the Romans should be chased out of Israel by brute force.

On the other hand, Matthew was a tax collector, who effectively was working with the Romans and collecting tax for them. It’s easy to see that these two men held two vastly different political opinions, but Jesus calls them to the same Kingdom and they work together for the same end. That’s how the Kingdom works.

Likewise, you may be a socialist and I may be a capitalist. Or, rather, to prevent those ideologies from being our identity (calling you a socialist makes it your identity, which it isn’t) let’s rather say that you may believe a socialist form of government / economics will work, while I believe a capitalist economical system will work for the nation. We may hold extremely different viewpoints politically / economically, but we can work together because we agree on the same things in the Kingdom — we both agree we should love all sacrificially, that we should tell people that God loves them and wants them to know Him.

There are a couple of points that can be highlighted here.

First, neither capitalism or socialism is more biblical than the next, because the New Testament makes no comment on how a country should be run, but more on how a Christian should live. There are some basic principles that a country should do (uphold justice), but there are no detailed policies listed in the New Testament. As I said in my previous post, Christians are called to turn the other cheek, the State is not.

Because neither is more biblical we should never use the Bible to promote a political / economical ideology. Many pro-democracy people, especially some Americans to be honest (I’m not slamming Americans), think that Democracy comes from the Bible, and that the Bible supports democracy, so if they spread democracy they believe they are spreading the Kingdom. But if you check it out there are scriptures to support socialism in the Bible as well, and there are many. The point is that the Bible isn’t interested in these ideologies.

Second, in reference to this, our ideologies do not rule us. We are born into a Kingdom with a King, who is Jesus. HE rules us. He tells us what to do and we do it.

Third, we should never bring these ideologies into the church. Churches must not run like democracies or social governments. They run according to the Kingdom, under one Head, who is Jesus, and work through relationships between those in the church.

So when it comes to how we live we don’t apply the principles of capitalism on how we should handle money. We may believe capitalism is good for the country and good for our business, but it’s not good for our personal lives, and it’s not good for the Church. Jesus said we cannot serve two masters. We serve God and Him alone, and we don’t run our personal lives or the church by ideologies like democracy, capitalism, socialism, collectivism, or any other of these types of ideas.

So do you run your personal finances like a capitalist or a Christian? Do you approach your income like a capitalist or a Christian? That’s the challenge for us in South Africa, where capitalism is becoming the culture.

Sorry for the long post. The next post will cover transformation — so how should we affect government / society / politics / economics then? Do we have nothing to do with these? Or do we influence them in some way? And how could we influence them without getting sidetracked and with keeping our focus intact?

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Why Freedom of Speech and Politics is Spiritual

The Old Courthouse, courtesy of

In my #SpeakZA post from yesterday I mentioned that the topic of freedom of speech and press was, in my view, a ‘spiritual’ topic as much as any.

I thought I would make it clear why I believe that. Some people might find such a statement unusual, others will agree with me, so this is obviously for the former.

The idea of freedom of speech has, in its original form, to do with justice in this world — allowing people to air their opinions without the sword of the state coming down on them. Justice is, of course, a spiritual topic as much as a governmental or a political one, although ultimately it is a spiritual topic because government and politics are too.

Note what I am not saying. I am not saying it is a ‘religious’ topic. Religion and spirituality, although sometimes intertwined, are not really the same thing, at least not in the way I make my definitions.

Religion has more to do with doing things or acts that will somehow help someone to attain favour with God or attain salvation. I don’t believe that’s a healthy spirituality.

Tradition (worth a mention) is simply a way in which someone may live out their spirituality, so there is nothing wrong with tradition in my eyes, until tradition becomes a religion.

Spirituality is an all-encompassing term for living, in the way I like to use the term.

Let me put it another way. Many Christians prefer to live a faith and spirituality that’s about Jesus rather than the faith and spirituality of Jesus. The spirituality of Jesus is clear when one reads the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in the Bible. Here are some pointers about Jesus’ spirituality:

1) He was compassionate to all.
2) He had a strong sense of justice mixed with mercy. (No justice system is truly just unless it understands mercy– but mercy cannot be mercy without a proper justice system, either.)
3) He healed all who came to him. Both physically and emotionally.
4) He was a Hebrew man, which means that he never separated spirituality from living. (This is part of my point. The separating of spirituality from living is a Greek tradition, not a Hebrew tradition.)
5) He worshipped the God of the Hebrews, Yahweh.
6) He called himself the Son of Yahweh.

There’s more too, of course. This is only a small list to get to the jist of my point. From this list we can see where politics and government fit in — our government ought to be compassionate, just and merciful. But these are issues that primarily have to do with the heart of man. Hence, a spiritual issue as much as any.

I mention Yahweh to show that if I follow the spirituality of Jesus I think it is necessary to also worship Yahweh. This, and the fact that Jesus called himself Yahweh’s Son, shows that spirituality is ultimately a relational thing — a relationship with God and our fellow man. I believe Jesus is the one who can bridge the gap in our relationship between both God and man, if we believe in him.

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Saying Goodbye to the God of the Ideal

In my own life I’m going through a new phase, a new era… I’m getting married. Next week Friday, to be exact, and in this process leading up to the marriage I’ve been reminded again that God is not the God if the ideal. In fact, God isn’t interested in the ideal– he seems interested in something else, entirely.

Both me and my wife-to-be have made certain prayers during this phase, most of them to do with our financial matters and such; and today I found myself quite disappointed, as I was hoping for a particular financial matter to be sorted out (in some form of miraculous way, as that was really my only option left) and at the eleventh hour… nothing… at 11:45… nothing. At 12? Still nothing. So the only way I was able to sort it out was to borrow money (from the bank, as in… a credit card) and then had to wrestle with God with a ton of questions.

“God, don’t you say that debt is a bad thing? Why have you allowed me to get into debt?”

“God, don’t you say you will supply my needs? Well, this was a need, and you haven’t seemed to have come through…”

“God, don’t the psalms say that if we trust in You we will never be disappointed?”

Yes, probably in the next week I’ll be able to pay off the credit card, so God hasn’t truly let me down – He has supplied me enough business so that I can meet the need eventually. But why didn’t He sort it out so that I didn’t have to get into debt in the first place? Would it not have been ideal if I got paid the money I’m owed from various people today, as I was promised, so that I could pay for the thing we needed to have done? Why didn’t He do something? Why didn’t He produce the miracle I’ve heard other people talk about – you know, the cheque under the door, the surprise deposit, the something? Do I need to make excuses for Him – write this off with some excuse about me not praying hard enough? Or not planned wisely enough? Or not done something that somehow I was supposed to know to do even though I didn’t?

Then I’m reminded, again and again, that somewhere in my mind I still struggle to get rid of the lie that had been pumped into me from our culture, both inside and outside the church: life is supposed to be ideal. Life is meant to be what you need NOW. Life is Woolworths. You know, it’s nutritious (so they say) and it’s quick – just pop it in the Microwave. All you need in only a few minutes…

It's the happy Jesus... yes, I couldn't afford to buy it from iStockPhoto... didn't you read the entry?

It's the happy Jesus... yes, I couldn't afford to buy it from iStockPhoto... didn't you read the entry?

Faith is largely a journey of disappointments that end in surprises of joy. But it is not the journey of the ideal… yet, has not the modern church insisted that it should be? Haven’t we all heard the formula before? You know, the do x and y happens formula?

The live righteously and God will come through… miss it, and He won’t formula?

So, if God is not coming through, you’ve missed it buddy. You didn’t believe hard enough… you didn’t pray hard enough… you didn’t say the right thing to your mom this morning… you messed up, and so God didn’t come through. Had you not messed up, then He would have come through.

In disappointment there’s two people we can blame – either ourselves, or God. But neither of them are actually the problem… perhaps what we’ve been taught is the problem. Perhaps our culture is the problem.

We believe in the god of the ideal. Well, that’s not the true Living God. If it was, He wouldn’t have sent His Son to die for us… He would have probably just appeared and forgotten the whole thing.

Why a bloody crucifixion?

Why a mystery?

Why not fit into a box, God?

Why not do the ideal? What’s wrong with you?

What is God doing? Would the ideal not be to come down and sort out all the injustices of the world, right now? Why

Obama's got the Colgate smile... if Obama's got it, shouldn't Jesus?

Obama's got the Colgate smile... if Obama's got it, shouldn't Jesus?

put it in the hands of Christians to do (with Him, but nevertheless make it our responsibility)? Why is He not interested in the ideal? Why doesn’t He just do what makes sense?

On the journey of faith, we must let go of the God of the Ideal and latch onto the God who gets His hands dirty, who spits into the eyes of the blind, who writes in the sand. The God that doesn’t have a Colgate smile, but rather a dirty cloak and messed up hair. Maybe His breath even stinks. The God that died naked on a cross – dirty, ugly, smelly, disgusting… yet a sweet and beautiful fragrance. A picture of glory, of true joy! This is the tension of faith, the life on the edge, the beautiful view at the end of the cliff – where we’re on the knife-edge of danger and peril.

Let’s let go of the God of the Ideal, who we can formulise, theologise, scientifogise. It’s time to embrace the mystery… to embrace the dirt… to let our breath stink…

to die naked on a cross…

And perhaps not even know why…

But still know that He is good.