Saturday, 8 September 2018

The Fall and Rise of Wang Ming Dao by Georgina Giles



The year was 1949 and the first unified central government for forty years was in power in China. Christian believers were fearful.
At the Peking (Beijing) Christian Tabernacle, the congregation prepared itself for Communist rule. Wang Ming Dao, the pastor, continued to hold tenaciously to Scripture. The Christian, he affirmed, should obey the authorities (Romans 13:1-7). But if ordered to go against God’s inspired Word, the Bible, then it was God’s Word that must be observed.
The ‘Three Self’ Movement
Wang Ming Dao knew the greatest threat that confronted the church would come from within. A man called Wu Yaozong, a little known YMCA secretary having strong sympathies with Communism, seized his opportunity.
Over the years many had recognised a prophetic ring in Wang Ming Dao’s words. ‘From a man with a selfish heart’, he had written, ‘any terrible act can emerge. Anyone looking for selfish gain can lie, cheat, practise evil and plot for his self interest. The majority of sins in this world issue from people who are out for selfish gain’.
Wu Yaozong approached Zhou Enlai, the Chinese premier. With his and Mao-Tse Tung’s full support, Wu drew up a ‘Christian Manifesto’. This called for the church to sever all ties with Western imperialism and purge itself of everything connected with it. The church must be self-governing, self-supporting and self-propagating. Thus was born the government-sponsored Three Self Patriotic movement (‘TSPM’), and hundreds of thousands of Christians throughout China gave it their support. Wu Yaozong rose rapidly to power.
Adverse effects
Wang Ming Dao firmly believed in the separation of church and state. He recognised that the aim of the movement was to bring the church under state control.
Besides, the Christian Tabernacle had always been independent of Western aid or connection. There was no need for Wang to join. All his deepest convictions were in conflict with the beliefs propagated by Wu Yaozong and other leaders in the TSPM. Wu wrote in an article: ‘The incarnation, the virgin birth, resurrection, Trinity, last judgement, Second Coming etc., these are irrational and mysterious beliefs which cannot be understood or explained … no matter how hard I try, I cannot accept such beliefs’. Wang Ming Dao steadfastly refused to join the TSPM. He could act in no other way.
Meanwhile the churches that had joined the movement began to feel its adverse effects. The formidable ‘accusation meetings’, already a feature of the Communist secular world were introduced into the church. Pastors who had been linked with foreign missions were isolated, and their congregations encouraged to denounce them.
Another gospel
All over China, churches were torn apart. The Peking Christian Tabernacle was like an oasis in a spiritual desert, where pure biblical gospel preaching could still be heard.
Wang Ming Dao laboured night and day, setting up his own printing press to continue publication of the Spiritual Food Quarterly. His uncompromising stand on biblical truth strengthened Christians throughout the land.
Between 1951 and 1954, he published many books proclaiming the gospel and speaking out against the modernists. Those who preach the ‘social gospel’, he pointed out, ignore the essential atoning work of Christ for the individual’s eternal salvation and the purifying effect it has in this life. They seek to transform society and establish the ‘kingdom of heaven’ in this world.
But this, taught Wang, was ‘another gospel’ (Galatians 1:9). Such people have never put their own trust in Jesus. Men and women need to know the true gospel for their eternal safety and blessing.
Alarm bells
The TSPM ground its teeth. Its leaders deeply resented the man who was ‘an iron pillar against which the whole land could not prevail’. All they could do was to mount a personal attack on Wang.
In 1954 the TSPM ordered all churches in Beijing to send delegates to an ‘accusation meeting’ against Wang Ming Dao. Leslie Lyall (OMF) writes, ‘it would be difficult to find fault with him, for he practised what he preached: upright, disciplined living’.
Throughout the meeting, Wang did not speak a word. Imprisonment or the death sentence were called for. The congregation sat silent. Many wept. No penalty could be imposed.
So Ming Dao continued to preach. The crowds were larger than ever. The evangelistic meetings in January 1955, says Leslie Lyall, ‘were probably the most fruitful he had ever conducted’.
Then students, as students will, daringly started their ‘Oppose the persecution of Wang Ming Dao’ campaign. It received wide support all over China. Alarm bells began to ring in high places. Their plan to subjugate the church to Communist control was under threat.
Accusation meetings were arranged against Wang Ming Dao across the whole of China. Nevertheless, in two weeks of meetings in the Christian Tabernacle in July 1955, attendance broke all records. Wang’s important article, We, because of Faith, had been published. With powerful logic, he dealt with the arguments of the modernists. He explained how they overturned the Bible and the Christ of the Bible. Was he being uncharitable, he asked, if he called them ‘the party of unbelievers’?
Imprisoned
The Three-Self controlled magazine (the Tianfeng) branded Wang Ming Dao ‘a criminal of the Chinese people, a criminal in the church and a criminal in history’.
On 7 August 1955, Wang preached his last sermon in the church. For thirty years he had laboured tirelessly to show his country where her true hope lay, namely, in the atoning work of Christ and obedience to his Word. His final sermon showed that the TSPM church leaders had betrayed Christ in China.
At midnight the police arrived and Wang was thrown into prison without a conviction. He was parted from his wife and did not realise that she had been imprisoned too.
To the Communists, Wang Ming Dao’s refusal to join the TSPM was a counter-revolutionary act, the very worst of crimes. They could not, of course, understand that he was called by God to summon the church to chastity to Christ.
Wang shared a filthy cell with two other prisoners. From his daily interrogations, Wang was returned to his cell to be taunted with descriptions of torture reserved for preachers, and to be beaten and pressurised by his fellow prisoners to confess his ‘crimes’.
Freedom and rearrest
The authorities used every device to break down the resistance of this powerful opponent to their scheme. After a year of tremendous pressure, Wang was informed of a wave of arrests of Bible-believing Christians sympathetic to him. Then news came of Jing Wun’s plight. She, too, was in detention, unable to eat the coarse prison food because of her poor health. China’s ‘iron man’ began to weaken. He ‘confessed’ to crimes he had not committed, and agreed to join the TSPM and preach for them. He signed a document stating he was a counter-revolutionary, and he and Jing Wun were freed.
Then began the darkest six months in Wang Ming Dao’s life. The TSPM leaders were elated. They waited eagerly to claim the lifeless jewel that would crown their movement. But with a mind deranged with guilt and sorrow for the denial of his Lord, Wang never did join or preach for the TSPM. With the same tender love the Lord had shown to Peter, Wang was granted time to regain normality by a period of illness.
He informed the government he could not join, Jing Wun affording outstanding support to her husband. Exactly seven months after their release, Wang Ming Dao and Jing Wun were re-arrested.
Restored in spirit
By the 1960s, Mao Tse Tung’s disastrous policies, along with natural calamities, left millions starving in a terrible famine. All, except high government officers, were affected. Officials at the bottom level were blamed for Mao’s mistakes.
While some ‘counter-revolutionaries’ were released at this time, Wang Ming Dao received the sentence he most dreaded — life imprisonment. Earlier, the Beijing People’s Court had drawn up charges against him. The recorded evidence stated that Wang Ming Dao and his wife had undermined the TSPM set up by Chinese Christians, and had accused the TSPM of committing adultery with the world.
It was now that God met with Wang Ming Dao and restored him to his brightest hour. A scripture he had learned many years before was brought by the Holy Spirit to his remembrance: ‘When I fall I shall arise, when I sit in darkness the Lord will be a light unto me. I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against him until he pleads my cause and executes judgement for me’ (Micah 7:7).
One great prison
Through the next sixteen and a half years Ming Dao was to suffer solitary confinement, torture, and the horror of five months of daily meetings attempting to force confessions from him.
But the Lord stood by him and gave him the victory through his Word. Never again was he to fall. Though Wang Dao’s voice was silenced, his life still spoke throughout the land.
During this time all China had become one great prison from which there was no escape. The ‘little red book’ of Mao’s teachings was in everyone’s hands. As the Cultural Revolution flourished, everyone spied on his neighbour and almost every family suffered at least one death.
Preaching again
In Beijing, more than anywhere else, the youthful Red Guards were authorised to terrorise intellectuals. Had Wang Ming Dao still been there, he would have been targeted for death. The ancient city walls were demolished, as things old and beautiful were destroyed to make way for Mao’s new China. Even the TSPM ceased to function.
Gradually it became clear that Mao had failed the nation. His ‘little red book’ was laid aside. God had destroyed the wisdom of the wise (1 Corinthians 1:19). In 1976 Mao Tse Tung died, and his revolution died with him.
Prison doors opened, and seventy-nine-year-old Wang Ming Dao, now nearly blind and very deaf, was free again. In his little home in Shanghai, and always mindful of his fall, he began again to preach the Holy Scriptures which are able to make one ‘wise unto salvation’ (2 Timothy 3:15). He died in 1991, a radiant witness to his Saviour.
The healthy state of the vast house-church movement in China today, and the breathtaking increase of true Bible-believing Christians there, are not unrelated to the life and work of Wang Ming Dao. He has emerged as the greatest Chinese Christian leader of the twentieth century.

Friday, 29 June 2018

Conclusions and Recommendations (Cont.) 3.

Placing Reconciliation at the Heart of Christian Mission in the 21st Century

 The alienation of divided peoples and the suffering of the afflicted cries out from our world’s brokenness, from both open, destructive conflicts and the more hidden conflicts.  These conditions call the church to listen to the pain and to God, to lament the divisions, to repent and forgive where necessary, and to be transformed as agents of healing, Christian witness and positive change.  Thus we invite Christians everywhere to carefully consider the following recommendations:
  1. To embrace biblically holistic reconciliation at the heart of the gospel and Christian life and mission in the 21st century, and as integral to evangelism and justice. This involves intentionally embedding this vision into the mission of our churches and institutions, and understanding reconciliation as a long and costly process, requiring hope from God.
  1. To humbly examine ourselves in the Christian community, seeking to identify and dismantle the escapist ideologies and practices which steer us away from reconciliation.This is grounded in the hard work of biblical study, social and theological analysis, corporate discernment, conversation with communities we have been divided from ,and prayer.
  1. To cross the difficult divisions, barriers, and borders to talk face to face with and listen to those we are separated from. This must involve seeking to talk and pray with Christians on the other side, listening to God and each other and praying for the unity Jesus prayed for (John 17:20-21).  Christian pastors and leaders should be at the forefront of these boundary-crossing efforts.
  1. To preach and teach radical discipleship with Christ and costly peacemaking as normative of Christian faith. This involves presenting discipleship as a journey with God and people which, over time, transforms our desires and opens up radical new ways of loving God, neighbour, and enemies.
  1. To refuse neutrality or silence in relationship to destructive conditions. We urge the church to be vigilant to discern conditions of escalating dehumanization and injustice (such as those the church worldwide failed to name in Rwanda leading to the 1994 genocide) and to engage church, civic and political leaders as advocates without compromising our biblical convictions.  It is a powerful form of protection for national voices of truth and justice when the church outside knows of them and speaks against threats to them, especially from countries of great international power.
  1. To intentionally shape pastors and congregations able to live the alternative and work toward These Christian leaders and communities will need to learn the practices of naming the conflicts and root causes for what they are; to serve, listen and bear witness across divisions and barriers; to comfort and bind up the afflicted; to seek and celebrate signs of hope through both small and large gestures and measures; to support peacemaking efforts in the larger community; and to bring former strangers and alienated peoples into common worship, friendship and mission under the lordship of Christ.
  1. To joyfully and publicly proclaim in our Christian preaching and life God’s victory and God’s future of reconciling “all things” in Christ. Amidst profound brokenness and pain, we must learn what it means to be bearers of hope, who faithfully bear witness to what is not seen, to the God who raised Jesus from the dead, defeating sin, evil, and the dark powers of this world.

The Hope for Reconciliation (cont.) 2.

Biblical and Theological Foundations of Reconciliation

Amidst the world’s profound brokenness, God’s peace in the risen Christ is now powerfully at work, seeking to reconcile humanity to God’s intended purposes for union with God, one another, and the material creation, resulting in the flourishing of all.  From Genesis to Revelation, Scripture witnesses to God’s total mission “to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven” (Colossians 1:15-20).  The fullness of reconciliation is friendship with God in Jesus Christ, witnessed to in Christ’s two-fold command to love God and neighbour (Matthew 22:37-40).  Christ has prepared the way for reconciliation by abolishing the dividing wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile, making of the two one new humanity, establishing peace (Ephesians 2:11-18).  Reconciliation is a sign of God’s presence in the world, of the kingdom of God drawing near.   
The wholeness that God seeks to bring to all areas of brokenness is captured by the rich Scriptural notion of shalom.  This is shalom as rooted within the full biblical story and not in any nationalistic or politically partisan sense.  From the original wholeness of God’s creation, broken by the Fall, to God’s response to initiate restoration through covenant, to Christ tearing down the Jew-Gentile barrier, shalom proclaims peace as God’s peace in distinction to the world’s:
“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give it to you” (John 14:27).  Shalom as God’s peace envisions the wholeness, well-being and flourishing of all people and the rest of creation both individually and corporately in their interrelatedness with God and with each other.  Shalom as God’s peace encompasses all dimensions of human life, including the spiritual, physical, cognitive, emotional, social, societal and economic.  Shalompursues mercy, truth, justice and peacefulness through both personal conversion in Christ and social transformation.[4]
Because God created all persons in God’s image, reconciliation also proclaims God’s love for every human being.  One crucial implication is that Christians must stand against any destructive or dehumanizing barriers built up by one person or group of people against another, whether they are Christian or not.
One theological implication of the above three paragraphs is this: God’s mission of holistic reconciliation is the overall context for evangelism and making disciples.  Reconciliation with God is essential and Christians must be agents of that restoration.  However, to stress evangelism without also being agents of holistic reconciliation betrays the full truth of the gospel and the mission of God.
In view of all this, Christians are called to faithfully embody God’s total reconciling mission.  Through new life given in Christ, the Holy Spirit’s power, the church’s faithful teaching, and on-going Christian practices, people can be deeply transformed toward loving God, neighbour and enemies.  Only in this radical journey of conversion can Christians develop the skills to resist destructive conflicts and live out a way of being which, over time, can heal and reconcile.
The church’s ministry of reconciliation flows from a call to being a reconciled community.
Christ prayed for the visible unity of the church, and intimately connected Christian unity to Christ being known as the One sent from God: “I pray . . . that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.  May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20-23).
We are led by Christ crucified to fully engage painful historical conditions and by the risen Christ to explode walls and barriers and build new forms of common life.
The church’s ministry should also be profoundly shaped by the truth that Jesus is fully human and fully divine.  Christian discipleship is led by the crucified Christ to fully engage the painful historical conditions of separation, animosity, and destruction in the earthly realm, refusing “cheap grace” and  shallow resolutions.  Christian discipleship is also led by the risen Christ to live in ways which explode old walls and barriers and build hopeful new forms of Christian community and just society between divided peoples.
Reconciliation and the quest for justice go hand in hand.  There cannot be reconciliation if sin is not named, judged publicly and condemned.  In the face of oppression, to reject vengeance is a double injustice — to the afflicted and to God’s wrath against evil.  What is crucial is how we appropriate vengeance: “Do not take revenge…but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19).  In Jesus’ death, God judged all sins, abuses and atrocities.  God’s forgiveness in Christ “while we were yet sinners” guides our pursuit of justice toward healing.  One mark of holistic reconciliation is a commitment to pursuing justice that is primarily restorative rather than retributive, keeping open the hope for future common life between enemies and alienated peoples.
At the same time, we must heed Scripture’s exhortation that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood.”  It is crucial to recognize an unseen, heavenly dimension to the quest for reconciliation in the world, a struggle against certain destructive forces and their ideologies, against “rulers,” “powers of this dark world,” “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:10-18).  This calls for a deep life of prayer and discernment “in the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:18) at the centre of Christian ministry amidst destructive conflict and proclaims that reconciliation is ultimately a matter of God’s power and victory.
Difference itself, or differences, are not necessarily the problem calling for reconciliation.  In many ways, diversity of peoples and cultures is a gift, such as another language opening up a new world to us, or another culture as a gift to enrich us.  Often the problem is how the will to dominate exploits the differences.  While God’s mission of reconciliation does not obliterate human diversity, it does seek to bring friendship with God and neighbour in a way which transforms human cultures.  We must carefully and locally discern where the gospel affirms culture, where it opposes, and where it encourages transformation.  Christians are called to lives of hospitality, to open themselves to the stranger, the alien, the outcast, and the enemy.  Such openness radically changes one’s relationship to one’s culture, and how one engages cultures in transforming ways.  The pursuit of reconciliation is an ongoing struggle.  This quest should not be expected to end conflict in this world, but rather to transform it.  True reconciliation and shalom is only in the eschaton, when all things are reconciled in Christ.  While full reconciliation does not happen in this life, there is hope of substantial healing.

The Scope of Reconciliation

Every act seeking reconciliation, no matter how small, matters greatly to God.  The scope of reconciliation runs from healing in one person’s life, to two individuals overcoming animosities, to nations and long-divided peoples seeking to do so.
This work of becoming peacemakers between divided peoples is not secondary or optional, but is central to Christian mission along with planting churches and making disciples.  Indeed, this costly work and the persecution it may bring bears witness to some who are otherwise unable to hear the gospel, and is at the core of making disciples who “obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20).
This peacemaking work must be theologically grounded.  In our emerging world, some are seeking a common ground of universality to provide meaning for “one world.”  Scripture testifies that God in Jesus Christ alone is the centre of hope for the world’s peace, and also that all of humanity is created in God’s image.  Following Jesus’ definition of our neighbour (Luke 10:25-37), Christians are called to seek truthful engagement, peacefulness and just community with all people — especially strangers, enemies, the poor and those considered outcasts both ethnically and religiously.
At the same time, there is a qualitative difference between how reconciliation can be pursued outside versus inside community with Christ.  The Lordship of Christ claims the whole lives of persons and alienated groups, something no other authority including the state can demand.  Christ offers forgiveness and healing which no legal effort or human attempt can effect and calls His disciples to a repentance and joy which is radical.  Christ calls for far more than admitting guilt, but deep contrition, and a costliness and depth to healing broken relationships that goes far beyond tolerance or peaceful coexistence.
This witness begins at home.  For the church to make peace, she herself must embody God’s peace as a living sign of God’s reconciled community.  Baptism identifies believers as one church family, the body of Christ.  Within their families, local churches, and the larger Christian family and our tragic divisions, Christians are called to a special witness of fidelity, sacrificial love, boundary crossing, and common prayer, seeking to heal conflicts following our Lord’s words in Matthew 18:15-20.  Wherever Christian leaders will not pray together and seek reconciliation, the church’s mission is seriously harmed.
Biblical reconciliation also leads Christians beyond church circles to vigorously analyze, engage and influence our local communities, nations and world as witnesses for reconciliation and just community.  Without sacrificing our Christian convictions, we should seek to partner creatively with people of good will to promote peace, including with people of other faiths.  At the heart of the church’s public engagement is a prophetic responsibility to call political authorities to account.  Governing authorities are subject to the sovereign Lord for their conduct in ensuring just order and peaceful relations.
Certain legal, governmental and national efforts can bring a cessation of hostilities and public pursuit of truth and just practices that the church alone cannot bring and for which the church should advocate.  Christian partnership with such efforts can even elevate their outcomes in profound ways (as with South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the 1990s).  Yet involvement with governmental efforts should not become the primary end or determinative sphere of the church’s reconciling mission.  They must be approached carefully, critically, and provisionally.  The church must never compromise its identity or prophetic voice.  

The Process of Reconciliation

Reconciliation is a long and costly process.  Reconciliation is not a one-time event, or a linear journey of progress, but addresses multiple causes and relations that intermingle.  Christians are called to be intentional and energetic in pursuing reconciliation, to go out of their way to love their neighbour who is difficult to love.
This costly journey requires hope, nurtured in practices where we listen to God in worship, Scripture reading, and prayer.  As we open to the pain of a broken world, we hear God’s word that ultimately, in the eschaton, all things will be reconciled in Christ.  In the meantime, we do our part.  It is this hope that keeps the process moving forward.
In biblical understanding, no one party in a historic conflict — whether majority or minority, powerful or powerless, aggressor or afflicted — has the greater burden to take the first step toward reconciliation.  The initiative for reconciliation begins wherever people find the courage to “lose themselves” and take ownership of pain: to no longer deny the conditions of trauma, to embrace the predicament of division, and to join the struggle for transformation by discovering the human face of the “other.”
Too often, we ask forgiveness of God without asking forgiveness of people.  Following the example of Jesus’ love for enemies and forgiveness for undeserving sinners, Christians are unconditionally called to seek within themselves for and to actively offer both heartfelt confession and genuine forgiveness.  We do this without promise that our action will be received or reciprocated, or that justice will occur.  Establishing a social atmosphere of relative safety and security is crucial for such actions to become widely possible, especially for those who have been marginalized.
While confession or forgiveness can come from one direction, reconciliation between divided peoples requires a risky, mutual journey of intentional relationship-building in which all groups are transformed and called to costly sacrifices.  Reconcilers may be seen as traitors by their own people, and often become a bridge painfully walked on by both sides.
Both perpetrators of destructive conflict and bystanders who remain safely silent and privileged are called to accept responsibility for the condition of those wounded and afflicted.  Their confession and sorrow opens a conversation about the conflict and its genuineness is often tested in a willingness to take actions of reparation to counter the consequences of harm.   One further barrier to reconciliation is the residue of unresolved bitterness toward people and groups who have offended us.  There is a need to face the residue and pain inflicted upon us as first steps toward reconciliation.  Such courage cannot be forced.  Yet many of history’s most powerful reconciliation movements have been birthed among Christians of the historically marginalized and afflicted who proclaim Christ’s triumph over evil, speak truth without demonizing the other side, pray for and engage their persecutors, seek forgiveness and work for a future of just community and common life across the lines of division.

 Indications of Reconciliation

 Only God knows what true reconciliation looks like, and the fullness when a countless multitude from every people and language will worship before the Lamb (Revelation 7:9-10).  Since reconciliation is an ongoing quest, the challenge is to point out where we are and to mark signs of hope.  As reconciliation efforts move forward, conflict and resistance may often increase.  Yet indications of reconciliation can become the very signs of God’s kingdom breaking into this world.  Christians should eagerly seek these indications of hope, from the church living the alternative, to practices of faithfulness, to changes in society.
The church itself ought to be a key indication of hope, a living alternative, infusing and challenging the social sphere with a more radical vision of God’s reconciliation.  Examples of the church visibly living the alternative include: across long-divided lines, Christians form holy friendships, offer hospitality, share meals, pray and read Scripture together, celebrate holy communion, mutually confess and forgive, and forge common mission; unlearn habits of superiority, inferiority and separation; celebrate together, and praise and worship God while engaging the world’s pain and working towards shalom; free Christian institutions of discrimination and unjust use of resources; show remarkable joy amidst difficult work; marry across ethnic boundaries and divided lines, with blended families becoming a sign of a new community.  At the heart of the church’s alternative witness is the birth and perseverance of blended congregations where historically separated peoples share deep, common life.
Christians understand faithfulness as shaped by the cross, as a costly discipleship that re-defines effectiveness.  Faithful practices of social engagement, even if they seem to result in no visible change, are also profound indications of hope amidst destructive conflicts.  Examples are when Christians forgive persecutors; prophetically challenge unjust situations; aid afflicted neighbours; absorb evil without passing it on; witness to Christ amidst hostilities; offer hospitality across divides; continue seeking peace even when called traitors; suffer, or even die, rather than participate in destruction.
The church should also eagerly work for indications of reconciliation in society.  These include: enemy leaders enter dialogue, violence stops, persecution is reduced, or hostilities cease; crimes and destruction by all sides are brought to light in a context of restorative justice; loved ones and the larger society learn the fate of victims; deeper truth around a painful shared history is appropriately and communally remembered; a state of tolerance is achieved where estranged groups agree to live peaceably; more just societal structures and practices emerge; children of hostile groups begin to go to school and play together; inter-marriage increases across historic lines of separation; neighbourhoods become blended communities of shared, peaceful life.


Reconciliation as the Mission of God (an excerpt) 1.

This is an excerpt from Lausanne Occasional Paper 51:  Reconciliation as the Mission of God which was published in connection with the 2004 Forum on World Evangelization.

“For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [the Son], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1:19-20
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: The old has gone, the new has come!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.  And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” (2 Corinthians 5:17-20a
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20a
“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”  (Matthew 5:44-45)
“For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:27-28)

The Vision of Reconciliation

The mission of God in our fallen, broken world is reconciliation.  Sacred Scripture witnesses that God’s mission of reconciliation is holistic, including relationships with God, self, others, and creation.  This mission has never changed from the Fall to the new creation in Christ, to its fulfilment in the coming of Jesus in the eschaton.  God’s reconciling mission involves the very in-breaking of the Kingdom of God, as realized through Jesus’ incarnation, His life and ministry and preaching, and through His death and resurrection.
God’s initiative of reconciliation through Christ transforms believers into God’s new creation.  With all of creation, we await our final and perfect transformation in the end of time.  At that time, when Jesus returns, God’s mission will be complete.  People of every nation, tribe, and language, gathered as one, will worship the Lamb, the tree of life and its leaves shall be for the healing of the nations, and the new heavens and earth shall make the reign of God a reality with all things reconciled to God (Romans 8:18-39, Revelation 7:9-17; 21-22:5).
Reconciliation is God’s initiative, restoring a broken world to God’s intentions by reconciling “to himself all things” through Christ (Colossians 1:19) including the relationship between people and God, between people and with God’s created earth.  Christians participate with God’s mission by being transformed into ambassadors of reconciliation.
In response to all this, the believer is called to participate in God’s mission of reconciliation.  This includes obeying Jesus’ command to humbly make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20), teaching them to follow the example of Jesus who suffered for a suffering world.  The church is called to be a living sign of the one body of Christ, an agent of hope and holistic reconciliation in our broken and fragmented world.  
A serious impediment to God’s mission of reconciliation in our time is not only the reality of destructive divisions and conflicts around the world, but quite often the church being caught up in these conflicts — places where the blood of ethnicity, tribe, racialism, sexism, caste, social class, or nationalism seems to flow stronger than the waters of baptism and our confession of Christ.   
While the church’s suffering faith is evident in many conflicts, the guilt of Christians in intensifying the world’s brokenness is seriously damaging our witness to the gospel.  The church’s captivity is both direct and indirect, whether actively furthering destruction and division, remaining silent or neutral in the face of it, or promoting a defective gospel.  This is true of recent and current contexts including legalized apartheid (South Africa), “ethnic cleansing” (the Balkans), genocide (Rwanda), histories of racism and ethnocentrism (USA), terror and killing of civilian populations and bitter, unresolved social divisions (ranging from “sectarianism” in Northern Ireland, to Dalit “untouchables” and caste in India, to the plight of Aboriginal peoples in Australia, to the Korean peninsula, to Palestinians and Israelis).  Christians are often bitterly divided on both sides.  
This troubled situation calls for prayer, discernment, and repentance, and a critical reexamination of the very meaning of mission, evangelism, discipleship and even church in relation to God’s reconciling mission.  This is particularly urgent given cases where vast areas of revivals and church planting have become vast killing fields (such as Rwanda 1994), with Christians slaughtering neighbours and even other Christians.
Yet even in the worst conflicts, signs of the quest for reconciliation can be detected in the church.  Christians have shaped many of the world’s most hopeful breakthroughs for reconciliation.  In becoming agents of biblically holistic reconciliation, we must learn to name and confess the sins of the past and present and encourage others to do the same, be willing to forgiveand live in new ways of repentance and costly peacemaking.  Above all, Christians must be people of hope; hope in God’s victory in Christ and that, over time, reconciliation can break in, because this is God’s mission.

The Context of Reconciliation

The Social and Historical Context of Conflict

God created humanity in God’s image, for natural union and wholeness of life with God, one another, and God’s material creation.  The Fall shattered this union, resulting in the estrangement seen in Cain’s murder of Abel.  While destructive conflict is rooted in this rupture, it cannot be explained solely in terms of wicked human hearts.  Powerful historical and social forces, unjust systems, and “spiritual forces of evil” (Ephesians 6:12) are also part of the world’s brokenness.  The transmission of the gospel and the ministry of the church do not run in a pure, separate historical stream, but are carried on inside of and tainted by the world’s poisoned, muddy histories.  All the agents of brokenness must be discerned and confronted—personal, social, and spiritual.
In our shrinking and increasingly pluralistic and globalized world, manifestations of social division are intensifying.  Destructive conflicts crying out for reconciliation include both open conflict and “quieter” conditions of persistent injustice, division, and separation.  Four interrelated dimensions of historical social conflicts must be engaged: the past and its trauma; how that past is named and remembered; how the present is described and engaged; and how the future is imagined.    
In terms of the past and its trauma, destructive social conflicts and realities do not drop like meteors from the sky.  Behind each trauma are infective histories, particular social, economic, spiritual, institutional and political factors and powers, and the reality that the oppressed of yesterday often become the new oppressors, repeating cycles of destruction.[2]  Reconciliation is not forgetting the past.  Yet naming and remembering the past well is difficult.  Sharing a history in every social division are offenders and offended, passive bystanders and active peacemakers, with lines between them rarely agreed upon and alienated groups and the Christians within them holding tightly to conflicting versions of truth.  In response to God’s love and justice, however, Christians are called to fearlessly seek and name the truth of what has happened, guided by repentance and forgiveness.  This must involve seeking shared truth across divided lines.  Deformed ways of remembering the past include denial, social amnesia, a spirit of unforgiveness and uncritical affirmation of one’s own group and its history.   
In the present where we live, haunted memories, the unresolved past, and continuing trauma have a cumulative effect.  These forces can so pervade a culture, a people, that they are passed on from generation to generation — perpetuating distrust, fear, bitterness, exclusion, retribution, and the politics and economics which often exploits these realities.  Persistent unjust balances of societal power are also a consequence of the unresolved past and present.  In the face of all this, divided groups easily resign themselves to separate and alienated communities, jostling for power.  If militarism enters as an option of providing some with personal security while neglecting human security for all, conflicts rise to devastating levels.   
Against these forces of the past and present, alienated groups cannot even imagine a future of friendship, solidarity or common life.  Instead, they accept and live with permanent categories of another group as aliens, strangers or enemies: “black” and “white;” Hutu and Tutsi; clean and “untouchable;” South and North Korean; and “terrorist” and “terrorized.”  Fragmentation becomes normal, acceptable and even inevitable.   

The Church & Mission Context

When Christians are passive bystanders and refuse to become constructive agents of reconciliation amidst such divisions and destructive conflicts, we are guilty of withholding love to a neighbour, the love of God is not manifested in our lives, and we give life to a defective gospel.
Numerous ideologies of escape steer Christians away from reconciliation and must be named and rejected by the church.  These include:  
  • Dualistic theologies which are silent about social problems, name enemies as solely non-human evil spirits, preach the sufficiency of individual salvation without social transformation, or the sufficiency of social involvement without personal conversion in Christ;
  • Ethnocentrismracialism, sexism or nationalism that promote the fallacy of any ethnic, cultural, gender or national group’s self-sufficiency, and promote loyalty to and the self-interest of one’s group as an end in itself. Ultimate loyalty is intended for Jesus alone, who calls us to love our neighbour as well as our enemies, and not only “our own”;
  • A false belief in God’s creation of essentially different people groups, justifying permanent boundaries between them. This includes the Hamitic ideology, that teaches that God has cursed the descendents of Ham, Noah’s son, creating separate orders of peoples—some inferior and some superior.  This is a heresy.  Rooted in this ideology was racial segregation in the USA, apartheid in South Africa and genocide in Rwanda, which many Christians supported, along with believing in their underlying ideology;
  • A spirit of individualism seen in Christian disunity, competitiveness, or deplorable schisms and splits which infect many denominations, churches, Christian institutions and ministries. This disunity and egoism blinds our ability to discern the world’s need for reconciliation and seriously harms the church’s ministry;
  • Adopting numbers of conversions or church plants as a primary measure of Christianity’s growth, allowing churches or ministries to grow with superficial discipleship, homogeneously, or in ways that perpetuate histories and systems of separation and alienation. This tacit approval of permanent boundaries and segregated lives limited to ”people like us” falsely blesses the chasm between alienated groups and disables our ability to be self-critical;[3]
  • An underlying message of cheap grace that encourages shallow resolutions, a superficial discipleship powerless to engage social pain, and reconciliation without repentance. A biblical theology of the cross and suffering is needed to renew the church’s thinking and life.
Against these ideologies of escape, the church must formulate theological alternatives that encourage authentic reconciliation.
Regarding other situations, when sweeping revivals and rapid church growth occur, Christians must restrain from triumphalism.  In too many cases, Christians have been implicated in destructive conflict which has overtaken vast areas of revival and church planting.  The church has failed to be self-critical or discerning enough, or to adequately answer “How did this happen, and where did Christians fail?”
In addition, Christians cannot be neutral in a time of social crisis.  Too often we are silent about destructive conditions occurring around us, or in our world.  Any dichotomy between the evangelistic and the prophetic is false.  Along with leading believers into personal holiness, the church is charged to have a prophetic social presence.  The church must learn to speak the truth to powers.  This calls us to “discern the will of God” concerning societal powers and governing authorities that have immense influence over the lives of Christians, over our nonChristian neighbours and over destructive conflicts and societal realities.   
The capacity to be a prophetic church is being seriously eroded by three stances.  A religious pluralist stance promotes social transformation without personal conversion, losing the uniqueness and lordship of Christ.  A quietist stance ignores social evil, is silent when people suffer persecution, and preaches the sufficiency of individual salvation without social transformation, losing public social witness.  An assimilationist stance misuses the Bible to support the status quo of social or political exclusion, or weds Christian interests with particular governing authorities, losing all prophetic distance. 
In addition, the church often shares in the sin of comfortable neutrality, the complacency of those who find themselves on the side of social privilege and fail to work vigorously to transform the status quo.  This is at least true of those who tend to preside over the levers of theological power and influence.  Thus the theology of the church is often in support of the status quo, or asks very few critical questions, losing all prophetic voice and domesticating the gospel.
Yet God’s forgiveness in Christ makes possible the church’s faithful confrontation of past and present trauma and injustices.  As communities of Christians learn to model confession, forgiveness and costly peacemaking in lives marked by joy, we proclaim a new future and offer a vision of hope to a broken world.   

Thursday, 1 March 2018

'What Will Be My legacy?' with reference to Billy Graham by Jim Rea

The article below is a tribute to Billy Graham, written originally for radio in November 2016 by my friend Rev Jim Rea, and entitled:
'What Will Be My Legacy?'
My earliest memories of November is my childhood days of the early 1950s when our teacher in Mayo St. Primary School explained the meaning of the poppy. Yet unlike today the First World War was hardly mentioned. We heard little or nothing about the Battle the Somme. In the early 1950s the results of World War 2 were visible everywhere. It was the evil deeds of Adolf Hitler that dominated the memories of Belfast people. The waste grounds caused by bombing and the deaths of the over one thousand people killed in Belfast in the air raids of 1941 dominated the memory.
When I watch old film footage what I often note was the amazing power Adolf Hitler had over others. Today the German people find the very sound of his name excruciatingly. The legacy he has left behind means we need to be watchful of extremists/ who while appearing to be convincing are highly dangerous.
However in stark contrast this month offers me another memory. Born on the 7th November 98 years ago this person came from humble farming stock in Charlotte, North Carolina. He was named/ William Franklin Graham . In 1989 I had the momentary pleasure of meeting the man better known as Billy Graham. He appeared shy but courteous. More significant was the night I heard him preach at Windsor Park Belfast to 50,000 people in 1961. I was sixteen at the time but will ever remember his text, probably the most well known verse in the Bible, John 3:16. He emphasised  how God truly loved the world by sending Jesus. No race, religion or, ethnicity was excluded. When he made his appeal thousands stood on the pitch to surrender their lives to Christ.
Fifty five years on I still meet people and have heard endless first hand stories about the man whose message transformed their lives. When asked recently about the legacy he hopes to leave, he answered. "I want the world to remember Billy Graham as a man who dedicated his life to the Lord and never looked back"
Billy Graham too had a presence but it was diametrically opposite to that of Adolf Hitler. He was a force for good, unlike Hitler's legacy of destruction and evil. While many of us listening may not gain notoriety by fame or infamy. we will all leave a legacy of some sort. In this period after a week of remembrance it is good to ask ourselves the question, "What legacy will I leave ?"

The Great Polycarp: Hero and Martyr (ca. 69-ca. 155)

“86 years have I have served him, and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?”

The Martyrdom of Polycarp.

Introduction
The early church was hated by the society and government of the Roman Empire for various reasons, such as the refusal of Christians to sacrifice to the gods. The Empire went through many phases of demanding that the Christians sacrifice — which meant denying their faith — or be killed. The earliest attacks claimed the lives of many of the apostles.
This text is the story, from around 160 AD, of the martyrdom of Polycarp, the Bishop of the church in Smyrna, a city in Asia Minor (modern Izmir in Turkey) devoted to Roman worship. The account is in the form of a letter from eye-witnesses to other churches in the area. It is the earliest chronicle of a martyrdom outside the New Testament.
Polycarp was an old man, at least 86 (see part 10), and probably the last surviving person to have known an apostle, having been a disciple of St. John. This was one reason he was greatly revered as a teacher and church leader. One interesting feature of the letter is that the writer is very conscious of how Polycarp’s death followed the pattern of Christ’s. As you read it, look for parallels between this story and the Easter story in the gospels.
The numbers below refer to segments in the document.
1. Smyrna’s Introduction
We are writing to you, brothers, with an account of the martyrs, especially the blessed Polycarp, whose death brought to the persecution to a close. Almost all the events that led up to it reveal it to be another martyrdom in the divine pattern that we see in the Gospel. For he waited for his betrayal, just like the Lord did, so that we might follow him, in looking out for the needs of others as well as ourselves. True love desires not only one’s own salvation, but the salvation of all our brothers.
2. Earlier Martyrs
All the martyrdoms which God allowed to happen (remember that the devout will ascribe all things to his sovereignty) were blessed and noble. Who could not admire their honor, their patience, their love for the Lord? They were whipped to shreds till their veins and arteries were exposed, and still endured patiently, while even those that stood by cried for them. They had such courage that none of them let out a sigh or a groan, proving when they suffered such torments they were absent from their bodies – or rather that the Lord then stood by them and talked with them. By the grace of Christ they despised all the cruelties of this world, redeeming themselves from eternal punishment by the suffering of a single hour. The fire of their savage executioners appeared cool to them, because they fixed their eyes on their escape from the eternal unquenchable fire and the good things promised to those who endure – things ‘which ear has not heard, nor eye seen, nor the human heart imagined’ but were revealed to them by the Lord. They were no longer men, but had already become angels. In the same way, those who were condemned to the wild beasts endured dreadful torture. Some were stretched out on beds of spikes. Others were subjected to all kinds of torments, all in the Devil’s attempt to make them deny Christ.
3. The Death of Germanicus
In all that the Devil attempted he failed, thanks be to God. The heroic Germanicus encouraged the weak by his own endurance, and fought bravely with the wild animals: when the Proconsul tried to persuade him to cooperate for the sake of his own youth, he drew the wild beast towards himself and provoked it, in order to escape more quickly from this wicked world. Seeing all this, the amazed crowd of spectators cried out, “Down with the atheists! [i.e. those who do not believe in the Roman gods] Get Polycarp!”
4. Why we don’t encourage voluntary martyrdom
By the way, when Quintus the Phrygian handed himself over for martyrdom with some others, the Proconsul persuaded them to take the oath and sacrifice. This is why we do not approve of voluntary martyrdom, something the Gospel does not teach us to do.
5. Polycarp’s Vision
When he heard about this, the redoubtable Polycarp was not in the least upset, and was happy to stay in the city, but eventually he was persuaded to leave. He went to friends in the nearby country, where as usual he spent the whole time, day and night, in prayer for all people and for the churches throughout the world. Three days before he was arrested, while he was praying, he had a vision of the pillow under his head in flames. He said prophetically to those who were with him, ” I will be burnt alive.”
6. The Betrayal
Those who were looking for him were coming near, so he left for another house. They immediately followed him, and when they could not find him, they seized two young men from his own household and tortured them into confession. The sheriff, called Herod, was impatient to bring Polycarp to the stadium, so that he might fulfill his special role, to share the sufferings of Christ, while those who betrayed him would be punished like Judas.
7. The Arrest
The police and horsemen came with the young man at suppertime on the Friday with their usual weapons, as if coming out against a robber. That evening, they found him lying down in the upper room of a cottage. He could have escaped but he refused saying, “God’s will be done.” When he heard that they had come, he went down and spoke with them. They were amazed at his age and steadfastness, and some of them said. “Why did we go to so much trouble to capture a man like this?” Immediately he called for food and drink for them, and asked for an hour to pray uninterrupted. They agreed, and he stood and prayed, so full of the grace of God, that he could not stop for two hours. The men were astounded and many of them regretted coming to arrest such a godly and venerable an old man.
8. Entering the City
When he finished praying… they put him on a donkey, and took him into the city….
9. Polycarp Refuses to Deny Jesus
As Polycarp was being taken into the arena, a voice came to him from heaven: “Be strong, Polycarp and play the man!” No one saw who had spoken, but our brothers who were there heard the voice. When the crowd heard that Polycarp had been captured, there was an uproar. The Proconsul asked him whether he was Polycarp. On hearing that he was, he tried to persuade him to apostatize, saying, “Have respect for your old age, swear by the fortune of Caesar. Repent, and say, ‘Down with the Atheists!’” Polycarp looked grimly at the wicked heathen multitude in the stadium, and gesturing towards them, he said, “Down with the Atheists!” “Swear,” urged the Proconsul, “reproach Christ, and I will set you free.” “86 years have I have served him,” Polycarp declared, “and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?”
11. More Attempts to Make Him Submit
“I have wild animals here,” the Proconsul said. “I will throw you to them if you do not repent.” “Call them,” Polycarp replied. “It is unthinkable for me to repent from what is good to turn to what is evil. I will be glad though to be changed from evil to righteousness.” “If you despise the animals, I will have you burned.” “You threaten me with fire which burns for an hour, and is then extinguished, but you know nothing of the fire of the coming judgment and eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. Why are you waiting? Bring on whatever you want.”
13. The Fire is Prepared
It was all done in the time it takes to tell. The crowd collected wood and bundles of sticks from the shops and public baths. The Jews , as usual, were keen to help. When the pile was ready, Polycarp took off his outer clothes, undid his belt, and tried to take off his sandals – something he was not used to, as the faithful always raced to do it for him, each wanting to be the one to touch his skin – this is how good his life was. But when they went to fix him with nails, he said, “Leave me as I am, for he that gives me strength to endure the fire, will enable me not to struggle, without the help of your nails.”
14. Polycarp Prays
So they simply bound him with his hands behind him like a distinguished ram chosen from a great flock for sacrifice. Ready to be an acceptable burnt-offering to God, he looked up to heaven, and said, “O Lord God Almighty, the Father of your beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the knowledge of you, the God of angels, powers and every creature, and of all the righteous who live before you, I give you thanks that you count me worthy to be numbered among your martyrs, sharing the cup of Christ and the resurrection to eternal life, both of soul and body, through the immortality of the Holy Spirit. May I be received this day as an acceptable sacrifice, as you, the true God, have predestined, revealed to me, and now fulfilled. I praise you for all these things, I bless you and glorify you, along with the everlasting Jesus Christ, your beloved Son. To you, with him, through the Holy Ghost, be glory both now and forever. Amen.”
15. A Miracle
Then the fire was lit, and the flame blazed furiously. We who were privileged to witness it saw a great miracle, and this is why we have been preserved, to tell the story. The fire shaped itself into the form of an arch, like the sail of a ship when filled with the wind, and formed a circle around the body of the martyr. Inside it, he looked not like flesh that is burnt, but like bread that is baked, or gold and silver glowing in a furnace. And we smelt a sweet scent, like frankincense or some such precious spices.
16. The Death of Polycarp
Eventually, when those wicked men saw that his body could not be consumed by the fire, they commanded an executioner to pierce him with a dagger. When he did this [a dove flew out and] [*this may well be a later interpolation or transcription error] such a great quantity of blood flowed that the fire was extinguished. The crowd were amazed at the difference between the unbelievers and the elect – of whom the great Polycarp was surely one, having in our own times been an apostolic and prophetic teacher, and bishop of the Catholic Church in Smyrna. For every word he spoke either has been or shall be accomplished.
17. The Body
When the Enemy saw the wonder of his martyrdom, his blameless life and now his crowning with immortality, he did his utmost to stop us keeping any memorial of him or taking possession of his holy body. He inspired Nicetes, the father of Herod, along with the Jews to ask the governor not to hand over his body for burial. “They might turn from worshipping the crucified one,” he said, “only to start worshipping this one.” They did not realize that it is impossible for us to abandon Christ who suffered for the salvation of the world, or to worship any other….
18. Celebrations
The centurion then, seeing the disturbance caused by the Jews, took the body and publicly burnt it. Later, we collected up his bones, more precious than jewels and better purified than gold, and put them in an appropriate place where, the Lord willing, we shall celebrate the birthday of his martyrdom each year with joy and rejoicing, both to remember those who have run their race and to prepare those yet to walk in their steps.
19. Polycarp’s Reward
This is the story of the blessed Polycarp, the twelfth martyr in Smyrna, though he has a unique place memory of all people, being remembered even by all the heathen. He was not merely an illustrious teacher, but also a pre-eminent martyr, whose death all desire to imitate, being altogether consistent with the Gospel of Christ. Having overcome the unjust governor with patience and acquired the crown of immortality, he now, with the apostles and all the righteous, glorifies God the Father with joy, and blesses our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of our souls, the Ruler of our bodies, and the Shepherd of the Catholic Church throughout the world. Translated by J.B. Lightfoot. Abridged and modernized by Stephen Tomkins.
Bible verses:
Daniel 3:8-30
Matthew 10:16-39
Acts 7:54-8:4
Romans 8:18-25
Hebrews 12:1-3
Study Questions
“Almost all the events that led up to it reveal it to be another martyrdom in the divine pattern that we see in the Gospel.” What are the parallels this story and the gospel accounts of the Passion? How much do you think this can be put down to the creativity of the writer?
“By the grace of Christ they despised all the cruelties of this world, redeeming themselves from eternal punishment by the suffering of a single hour.” The martyrologies of the Early Church often stress how the martyr saves his or her soul by this suffering. Is it true that a special reward is promised to those who make this sacrifice? Is theirs a surer salvation?
The writer disapproves of Quintus handing himself over for voluntary martyrdom. Polycarp actively runs from the soldiers – though only after persuasion (5). Many in the early church disapproved of such self-preservation. What do you think the Christian attitude should be to death in such circumstances?
“Have respect for your old age, swear by the fortune of Caesar. Repent, and say, ‘Down with the Atheists!’” By “Atheists,” the Proconsul means those who don’t believe in gods. Imagine being one of the pagans who witnessed Polycarp’s suffering – all because he wouldn’t give a sacrifice. What kind impression do you think it would make on you?
There are a number of miraculous elements in the account. Do you think it is a case of the story growing in the telling, or do you think the writer is reliable in such details? What affects your opinion?
“We collected up his bones, more precious than jewels and better purified than gold, and put them in an appropriate place where, the Lord willing, we shall celebrate the birthday of his martyrdom each year with joy and rejoicing.” This is the first record of such practices, and the annual “graveside birthday” services soon developed into saints’ days, the veneration of relics and prayers to the saints. Do you think this was a beneficial development for the church?
What can Christians learn today from the example of Polycarp?