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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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Am I a Product of My Time? What Church History Does to You

So I just finished reading Bruce L. Shelley’s Church History in Plain Language and thoroughly enjoyed it.

This is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to trace church history from the beginning until now, whereas previously I’d only look at certain periods separately.

Personally, I think church history should be something all Christians get round to looking at. Understanding our own background helps us understand our own context, and the context of others, and makes us look at the basics of our faith very differently.

How? As one looks at church history they may begin to realise how many Christians believed what they believed simply because of the time that they lived in. They were a product of the time. And in so many ways one has to realise that they are too. So much of what I claim as true is just the influence of my time. In years to come, people will look back at many of my beliefs and say, “What was he thinking?”

Is there anything we can rely on then? Or is all truth simply so subjective? I think Shelley ends off his book by getting to the real point of Christianity, the one thread that carries through all the ages, regardless of what people believe, and we can rely on again and again.

The thread is this: Not WHAT we believe, but WHO we believe? As Shelley says:

“Christians can hope because faith always reaches beyond earthly circumstances. Its confidence is in a person. And no other person in recorded history has influenced more people in as many conditions over so long a time as Jesus Christ. The shades and tones of his image seem to shift with the needs of men: the Jewish Messiah of the believing remnant, the Wisdom of the Greek apologist, the Cosmic King of the Imperial Church, the Heavenly Logos of the orthodox councils, the World Ruler of the papal courts, the monastic Model of apostolic poverty, the personal Savior of evangelical revivalists.

“Truly, he is a man for all time. In a day when many regard him as irrelevant, a relic of a quickly discarded past, church history provides a quiet testimony that Jesus Christ will not disappear from the scene. His title may change but his truth endures for all generations.”

What a great journey. While Shelley’s history covers the Western church, I think I’d like to pick up something next on the Eastern church. Should be fascinating.

PS: I think the period that fascinated me the most was the High Middle Ages, the Gothic era. Check out the two Gothic cathedrals below. Fascinating. The architecture itself shows you the prevalent thought of the day — that heaven and earth were intertwined in majestic and mysterious ways. Love it.

(Picture thanks to this guy)

(Picture thanks to

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The Forgiveness of Sins: It’s for Everyone

Picture courtesy of Andrew Errington -
(Picture courtesy of Andrew Errington)

I believe that non-Christians (please excuse the term) can receive forgiveness from God for sins and wrongdoings just by simply asking, if they want forgiveness because they’re sorry for those sins.

If you aren’t a Christian you may think that God only forgives people who lead a religious life, if they try hard enough. Consequently, you might think that God only forgives Christians, as they lead a religious life. This might not make sense to you – surely God can accept you for who you are?

Well, you’re right about that — he does. Christianity is not about leading a religious life in order to get God to forgive us for things we’ve done wrong. God does accept you for who you are, but sins are not necessarily who you are, and sins are sins — they do need to be forgiven. We know this in our own relationships with our parents.

Luke 24: 46, 47 says this (Jesus speaking):
“Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations…

The Christian Gospel is good news (“Gospel” means good news in ancient Greek). God forgives all who are sorry and ask for forgiveness.

But then it goes further than that. If you put all of your trust (faith) in Jesus you are given eternal life, effectively ‘saved’.

This is probably more for the theologians now, but anyway it’s worth a mention. I think God always forgives those who repent. That’s the first step. The next step is to put complete trust in Jesus for your ‘salvation’ — that you will have eternal life.

Non-Christians can ask God for forgiveness because of Jesus, and get it. But they only enter into eternal life when they believe in faith, which is when they become Christians.

Creating this difference between those that ask for forgiveness and those that believe is perhaps not necessary, and the Bible doesn’t always provide a clear distinction. Yet, at the same time, it can help us to simplify our message of good news.

Forgiveness is for non-Christians. We might complicate the message by adding “believe Jesus is Lord” to it at first, without saying to guys, “Look, you can be forgiven today for your past sins. Great! But what will you do about the future? Believe in Jesus as your saviour and the future is covered, you can enter eternal life and receive the rewards of God.”

John the Baptist preached a message of repentance, and had a baptism of repentance. Jesus’ message is more than that, and his baptism is one that enters us into eternal life. John the Baptist was called to prepare the way. Repentance and forgiveness perhaps comes first, then people must decide if they want to go further — if they want to accept Jesus as saviour and enter eternal life.

I believe in once saved always saved, but I also believe that there could be a distinction with those who ‘believe’ and those who just want forgiveness. Perhaps this is why the early church seemed to have only allowed those who were baptised in the name of Jesus into their worship services, and only those were allowed to take part in the Eucharist (communion). The non-baptised weren’t allowed in to all these services, but were allowed in prayer services or other types.

Baptism is a sign of not just repentance but entering into the life of Jesus. That’s what Romans 6 indicates. (See also 1 Peter 3:21.) Effectively, it’s a sign of our acceptance of Jesus as saviour, Lord, and our decision to become a disciple, to follow The Way, amidst some other things.

This is just something I’m developing and thinking about at the moment.

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Historical Validity of Jesus’ Resurrection

Personally, I think that the historical validity of Jesus’ Resurrection builds the strongest case for Him being the Son of God, and all the basic stuff that Christians believe.

Over at (philosophy forums) I’ve heard a couple of atheists, agnostics, or non-believers (as some I’m not sure what they are) say the same things:

1) The Gospels and New Testament letters were written too far away from the original events, meaning they cannot be trusted (and are probably mythological).
2) The disciples made the whole thing up so they could have a following of some sort (usually forms into some conspiracy theory of how the apostles were power hungry).

Of course, I’m summarising the general views.

Most of these seem to get their ‘facts’ from popular media rather than studying it for themselves. One person actually thought that Jesus died in 0 AD, and that is why they thought that since the earliest letter in the New Testament (Corinthians) was written in 54AD it was too long from the original event.

But Jesus was crucified 29-32 AD, which means that the letter to the Corinthians was written only something like 22 or 24 years after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.

Why this is important is because Paul, in 1 Cor 15:6, claims that over 500 people saw the resurrected Jesus and that many of them were alive at the time of writing the letter. In other words, there were many people around to validate the event.

Myths don’t take 20 years to develop. Therefore only 20 or so years after Jesus’ death people believe He was raised again. Why didn’t the Jews produce a body or something?

When challenging an agnostic on the fact that they thought that Jesus was crucified in 0 AD I was told that ‘history cannot be verified’ and ‘historians argue all the time’. Only that I don’t think there is one historian in history, save perhaps David Ike (okay, not a historian, but you get my point) who says Jesus was crucified in 0 AD. So what real reason do they have to believe this?

The point is that i’m often told that the ‘historical evidence’ is laughable, but when I challenge this thought I’m told ‘oh, but all the historians argue about dates anyway.’ This is suspicious reasoning. If historical evidence is ‘laughable’ then it means the person is placing some stock in historical evidence (that which we do have). But, of course, because many actually haven’t really done any actual study on the subject they’ll eventually write it off to uncertainty, or keep speaking nonsense about how the Gospels were written in 120AD and Jesus crucified in year 0.

If you don’t believe that Jesus was actually risen from the dead in history then why do you believe that? Saying “history cannot be validated” is dubious, and going on about what some pseudo-historian said on Discovery Channel intellectually lazy.

If Jesus really was raised from the dead you are forced to take Him seriously as the Son of God. Ignoring the historical studies is convenient, but intellectually dishonest.

According to a bio I read of a guy called Gary Habermas, who lectures on the resurrection, he spent several years studying the subject before he realised that the resurrection of Jesus was a real historical event. He almost became a buddhist in this time, but was convinced when he studied the resurrection from a historical perspective (so he had no bias or reason to become a Christian). His site is very resourceful around this subject – see it at