Monday, February 27, 2012

Ash Wednesday, murder, repentance and the mission of the church - the body of Christ

One of the many legacies of our colonial past, is the celebration of the start of Lent, Ash Wednesday, as a public holiday. Sadly, and one cannot help but wonder about this paradox, Ash Wednesday is no longer a public holiday in the UK. And perhaps in very few places in the world outside the Caribbean. Maybe, if this current trend continues in years to come, in the same way we are being challenged by forces within and certainly without by the same for former colonial masters, to modernize one of our " antiquated" laws, we may one day, in pursuit of greater productivity and production, be called upon to dispense with such an " archaic" practice. But thank God, for now, many of us (while others choose to go to the beach, or watch the Reggae Boyz play at the " office", or start the preparation for Carnival , or argue about the Biblical correctness of such a practice) welcomed the day to engage in serious introspection and repentance of things done and things left undone. And further, to use the time to prepare oneself for a period of fasting ( sacrifice of one sort or another) prayer and the giving of alms to those in need, and for the ultimate celebration, at the end of six weeks, of Good Friday and Easter. This then for me was the highlight of the week. But another event took place which was of significant moment also and clearly not unrelated to the purpose of Lent - the painful visit to my office by a father, mother and daughter who had just lost a twenty year old son and brother, brutally hacked to death by, so far, unknown assailants. So the tears flowed, especially from the broken father's eyes. And I wondered about the state of my country whilst calling on the name of Jesus for help. Lord have mercy! Christ have mercy! This past week also, committed to the discipline of reading a useful book during Lent, I took up one written by the late Rev. John Stott. An Evangelical Anglican, prolific writer and deep thinker, whose sphere of influence included the royal family, as he was the former Chaplain to the present Queen of England (and Jamaica also) but also extended across the globe through his involvement in the now powerful Lausanne movement - which hosted a hugely successful meeting involving over thousands od Evangelical Christians in South Africa last year ( Check them out on facebook). The title is " Decisive Issues facing Christians Today : Your Influence is vital in today's turbulent world", and the first edition came off the press in 1984. As I opened the first chapter entitled " Involvement: is it our concern", and read how one of the best known Christian leaders of all time, by his witness for Christ, effected so much change in then British society, I could not not help but notice how much 18th century Britain resembled the state of my own country. And thus I was moved by the Spirit of God to send the following note to some of the senior leaders in my church. .....I've been contemplating which book I should read for my Lenten discipline. Tonight, the Spirit led me to take up, again, John Stott's, " Decisive issues facing Christian today". And as I read I felt a powerful impulse to write. Why? Chapter 1: Involvement: Is it Our Concern It is exceedingly strange that any followers of Jesus Christ should ever have needed to ask whether social concern was their, and that controversy should have blown up over the relationship between evangelism and social responsibility. For it is evident that in his public ministry Jesus both " went about....teaching...and preaching". In consequence, " evangelism and social concern have been intimately related to one another throughout the history of the Church. The Evangelical Heritage of Social concern There were some remarkable examples of this in 18th Century Europe and America.. The Evangelical revival, which stirred both continents, is not to be thought of only in terms of the preaching of the gospel and the converting of sinners to Christ; it also led to widespread philanthropy and profoundly affected society on both sides of the Atlantic. John Wesley remains the most the striking instance..............Historians have attributed to Wesley's influence rather than to any other the fact that Britain was spared the horrors of a bloody revolution like France's. The change which came over Britain during this period was well documented in J. Wesley Bready's remarkable book, England Before and After Wesley.......... Bready described " the deep savagery of much of the 18th century, which was characterized by the " wanton torture of animals for sport, the bestial drunkenness of the populace, the inhuman traffic in African negroes, the kidnapping of fellow countrymen for exportation and sale as slaves, the mortality of parish children, the universal gambling obsession, the savagery of the penal code, the welter of immorality, the prostitution of the theater, the growing prevalence of lawlessness, superstition and lewdness; the political bribery and corruption, the ecclesiastical arrogance and truculence......... But then things began to change...slavery was abolished, the prison system humanized, conditions in factory and mine were improved, education became available to the poor, trades unions began..... " Whence, then this pronounced derived from a new social conscience. And of that social conscience admittedly was the offspring of more than one progenitor, it nonetheless was mothered and nurtured by the Evangelical Revival of vital, practical Christianity..... The Evangelical Revival " did more to transfigure the moral character of the general populace, than any other movement British History can record". For Wesley was both a preacher of the gospel and a prophet of social righteousness. he was " the man who restored to a nation its soul.". The evangelical leaders of the next generation were with equal enthusiasm committed to evangelism and social action. The most famous among them were Granville Sharp, Thomas Clarkson, James Stephen, Zachary Macaulay....and of course their guiding light, William Wilberforce....they came to be known as the Clapham sect..... " This group of Clapham friends gradually became knit together in an astonishing intimacy and solidarity. They planned and laboured like a committee that was never dissolved.....they congregated by common impulse in what they choose to call " cabinet Councils" wherein they discussed the wrongs and injustices which were a reproach to their country, and the battles which would need to be fought to establish righteousness.......delegating to each man the work he could do best....... The same story can be told of the USA in the last century. Social involvement was both the child of evangelical religion and the twin sister of evangelism. This is clearly seen in Charles G. Finney, who is best known as the lawyer turned evangelist and the author of Lectures on Revivals of Religion(1835)........ It was hardly surprising to learn, therefore, that through Finney's evangelism God raised up " an army of young converts who became the troops of the reform movement of his age". In particular " the anti-slavery forces...were drawn largely from the converts of Finney's revivals The 19th century is known also for its expansion of Christian Missions which it witnessed. it must not be imagined, however, that the missionaries concentrated exclusively on preaching, or indeed that their social concerns were restricted to aid and relief....... The American missiologist Dr. R. Pierce Beaver has written: Social action in mission can be traced from the time of the apostles....Concern was never limited to relief. The itinerant missionary carried with him a bag of medicines, new or better seeds and plants, and improved livestock. Nevius introduced the modern orchard industry into Shantung. The Basel missionaries revolutionized the economy of Ghana by introducing coffee and cocoa grown by families and individuals on their own land. James McKean transformed the life of Northern Thailand by eliminating its three major curses - smallpox, malaria and leprosy. Wells and pure water often came through the help of missionaries. Industrial schools were stressed through the 19th century, and industries were established.......... ......... I am struck by the timing of these " revelations" in addition to those matters about which I have been writing to you, and others, of late. May I, then, suggest that .......................................... you consider the following. 1. Examine carefully whether or not the Anglican Church has become guilty of preaching a version of the gospel which St Paul labels, " emptying the Cross of its power" ( 1 Cor.1:17), and (3:4). As it is only a gospel which has at its foundation, not words of human wisdom, but God's power, which can lead to a revival in this blessed nation. At event which we must long for with all our heart. 2. Acknowledge that such an outpouring of the Spirit in a revival, should lead us, among other things, to follow in the footsteps of others like the Clapham sect, which bonded together in a common cause to "restore to a nation its soul". 3. If you examine the social commentary on British society in the 18th century as described in Stott's book, it is remarkable how much the present day Jamaican society bears close resemblance to that which existed over 200 years ago. And, therefore, the rescuing of such a society can happen again, despite the major challenges we face. But through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, inspired by believing Christians with a vision for their country, God can once again raise up a "mighty army of converts", willing and able to take up the struggle to fight to establish righteousness...and to sow the seeds of goodness and reform in every aspect of human life in this country and indeed the entire world. I would humbly suggest that ...............we seriously consider prayerfully, among other priroties, the establishment of such a " Council of like minded persons" committed to discussing the wrongs and injustices in our country and to define the battles which must be fought to " restore to this nation its soul". 4. But the first order of priority must be the revival of the preaching of a gospel, by the entire church, which has as its foundation, the power of the Cross of Christ. A gospel which over centuries has enabled the church to preserve a remnant which will always persevere and not turn away when the battle gets rough; will always believe that good will overcome evil, every-time and eventually; that the world is desperately awaiting, despite its conflicting signals, a Church that is willing and able to engage in a moral war for the souls of individuals and of nations and renewal of its structures. Peace. Lucien One of the things, I would suggest that the entire church, needs to use the period of Lent to repent of, is its inability in recent years, as the body of Christ, to impress upon all its members, the importance of combining social action with evangelism and the maintenance of "church life". It is an issue which should concentrate the minds of the leaders of the Traditional " mainstream" churches as well as the " Evangelical" churches and the increasingly powerful, at least in numbers, the Seventh Day Adventists. Because, unless matters of Justice and Righteousness which receive equal treatment in the Bible, both in the Old and New Covenant, as in the same way that Isaiah could declare that " Justice and Righteousness kiss each other", so too Jesus declares that He came not only to bring good news to the poor but also to set the captives free, so too must we as Christians, place an equal emphasis on Social Action and proclaiming the message of forgiveness of sins and everlasting life in and through Christ and Christ alone. And not through Christian Science movements, or other New Age groups as was the topic under discussion on a radio programme on RJR this evening ( one of more popular radio stations in Jamaica) hosted by Gerry D - or any group which claims to have access to a Holy God without going through a mediator, who died on the Cross for that very purpose. For God in Christ Jesus made Himself vulnerable and available to all mankind in the midst of all the brokenness of human life as is manifested in the many and various ills about which we are grappling here in Jamaica, and indeed all in other parts of the world. Drug addiction, pornography - I heard a statement by a pastor on another station whilst returning from church this morning, that pornography accounts for 40-50% of the use of the Internet... is that really true?) gambling, murder, poverty, teen-age mothers and absentee fathers, extra judicial police killings and other forms of atrocities, corruption in high places. This is really what the Bible calls "a corrupt generation" despite the veneer of sophistication and respectability which we would like to think is the pervasive social picture. Which leads me to another note which the Spirit of God inspired me to write to the same set of leaders in my church this week, on account of the church's seemingly lack of urgency in addressing frontally the many social ills on account of the " persecution" in how secular society has confronted the the disciples of Christ in recent times. And for which we need to spend a lot of time asking God for forgiveness during this Lenten period. Increasingly the language the church uses to describe our society is " pluralistic". Which is also the language of the non-believer. Last night the Lord woke me up and, beginning with Ezekiel seeing the " heavens torn open", akin to the message in the gospel reading for Sunday, and Stephen who saw the heavens opened and Jesus descending, as he was being persecuted and about to die, and the persecution which descended upon the disciples after and led them to spread the gospel far and wide to not only the Jews but now for the first time to the Greeks, He showed me a different perspective. And as I awoke this morning, the words of Jesus came into my mind....this corrupt generation. That's how He described the society, and he came that they might " escape from it". Similarly the disciples spoke of the impending judgment that the society would face if they were not " in Christ". We need to be careful lest our language downplays the urgency that the situation demands as people are in terrible danger. Yesterday among the folks who I saw early was a family, mother father and daughter who had lost a 20 year old son and brother. . Brutally chopped up and killed. A couple weeks before I had had reason to encourage the father to accept Christ. He remembered and so did I. If memory serves me correct he was at best lukewarm. But this was not a time to dwell on that, as he was a terribly broken man. But his wife, a small frail woman, but strong in the Lord was a tower of strength and though hurting was singing songs of praise. Our lack of persecution in these times perhaps accounts for our lack of urgency and for the difference in perspective. Something to consider during Lent. LWJ Something to think about indeed. And repent of. Finally I had reason to send a young man, the following text. And used the opportunity to send it to other young men and women for whom I have been praying. " How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. Psalm 119:9. You need start reading your Bible go to church and accept Christ. Otherwise you are going to destroy your life and those around you". What triggered this warning? A very public brawl in the middle of the town and for which reason he was in danger of spending time in the lock-up. Indeed, we have much to repent of during this much maligned, ill understood, almost alien, and quite irrelevant period to many, especially young people in my country and across the world. We could, however, learn much from its many disciplines, the chief of which is repentance before God and man, and then ask for mercy. For the times are evil. Very evil indeed. But God is not only able, but very willing to pour out on Jamaica and on the entire world the Spirit of His Son, the only mediator between God and man, so that we may be empowered to live a holy life and restore righteousness and justice to a nation . A nation greatly affected by murder and immorality, poverty and injustice. A nation in danger of losing not only hope but its very soul.