Saturday, March 29, 2008

So What Are You Reading In March?

stack March has been a terrible month for me.  Having caught a nasty cold at the end of February that caused me to have to cancel some important engagements, I finally recuperated in time... to catch another nasty cold.  I spent the Easter weekend and much of this week either in bed or feeling like I shouldn't have gotten up.  So, my blogging has suffered in March as a result.  I do apologize.  Neither the quality or the quantity of my blogging has been up to par.

My reading has also suffered some this month, but I need manage to get a couple of books read in between coughing fits and blowing my nose.

1. Missions and Money: Revised and Expanded by Jonathan J. Bonk (Orbis, 2006).

Having read Bonk's original version shortly after it came out in 1991, I was interested to see how my former missions professor had furthered developed his thoughts in the years since.  This book is a significant rewrite of his original material, discussing the effects of western affluence on Christian mission.  Bonk continues to call for significant reflection on how our affluence impacts the way in which westerners do mission work.  How can rich young rulers be cross-bearing messengers is the question I am compelled to ask after reading this book.   Although he does a better job of helping answer this question than he did in his earlier edition, Bonk rightfully (though frustratingly) notes that no one can write a discipleship agenda for another.  Still, his new chapter on developing a missiology of the righteous rich provides much assistance. No one who is serious about working cross-culturally should ignore the challenge of this significant and convicting book.

2. In Procession Before the World: Martyrdom as Public Liturgy in Early Christianity by Robin Darling Young (Marquette University Press, 2001). 

One of the most important ministries of The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada is that of educating disciples who will be cross-bearing messengers of the cross-centred gospel, equipping church leadership in areas where believers need assistance in responding to persecution in a biblically appropriate manner, engaging in and supporting rigorous research and dialogue on the biblical theology of persecution and discipleship, and enriching the ministries of other Christian organizations and educational institutions through consultation and training in the practice and propagation of the biblical theology of persecution and discipleship.

Presently there are two primary ways in which we do this: 1) through the publication and translation of books and articles on the biblical theology of persecution and discipleship, and 2) through pastors/leaders/teachers seminars and courses in educational institutions on the biblical theology of persecution and discipleship.

Young's 66-page book provides evidence that this training for martyrdom has historical precedence in the first three centuries of church history.  The early Christians believed strongly that those who were facing persecution and possible martyrdom needed instruction on how to stand firm and provide faithful witness to each other and to the watching world.  This instruction included the teachings of scripture (Paul's letters in particular), the stories of the martyrs, and visible human examples.  These are all components of VOMC's "In the Shadow of the Cross" seminars which we are conducting around the world.  I found this book a tremendous encouragement to know that we are on the right track and an incentive to make sure that we conduct these seminars in such a way that they can be replicated easily by persecuted Christians.  More on that in future blogs.....

Friday, March 28, 2008

Fitna: What Do You Think?

Most of us will have heard of Fitna by now, the 15-minute film by Dutch politician Geert Wilders. Muslims around the world were protesting about it, Networks Solutions pulled their plug on its website, and debate raged on whether it should be banned before anyone had even seen it.

So, this is your opportunity to give an informed opinion on this controversial film. I would challenge you to watch this 15-minute English version of Fitna and then respond to our poll which asks if this film is hateful and should be banned. Please watch the video before you give your response.

1. Watch the film

2. Take our poll.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Just Curious, and Asking!

By Bernie Daniel

Yesterday, on March 24, 2008, I read an interesting story. Anwar Ashiqi, president of the Saudi centre for Middle East Strategic Studies, essentially stated that official negotiations to construct a church in Saudi Arabia can start only if "...all Christian churches recognize the prophet Mohammed", adding, "If they don't recognize him as a prophet, how can we have a church in the Saudi kingdom?" (Click here to read)

Obviously, Ashiqi's comment reflects that recognition of Mohammed as a prophet is an important aspect of Islam. This got me thinking. There are many mosques in London, Rome, New York, and Toronto. How many of them would have been built if a condition for their construction was for these Muslim mosques to recognize that Jesus Christ is the Lord and Saviour who came with love and grace to save the world? That happens to be an important ingredient of Christianity.

Just curious, and asking!

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Redeeming Blood and the Suffering Body

Elizabeth Kendal, a commissioner of the World Evangelical Alliance's Religious Liberty Commission and convenor of the Australian Evangelical Alliance's  Religious Liberty Commission wrote a most inspiring commentary in this week's Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin [No. 470]. I hope you find it as inspirational as I did:


Under the old covenant an animal without blemish would be offered as a sacrifice for atonement, and once a year the High Priest would take the blood of the sacrificed animal into the Most Holy Place and offer it to God, but the body was burned outside the gate as a sign that it had been defiled through the imputation of sin. (Leviticus 16)

In the same way, on the first Easter, our Great High Priest Jesus entered heaven's Most Holy Place by means of his own blood (Hebrews 9:11,12), but his body suffered outside the gate (outside Jerusalem), rejected and scorned, having been made sin for us. (Hebrews 13:11,12) 

Andrew Murray (1828-1917) comments on the roles the redeeming blood and the suffering body have in the life of a believer. He notes that Christ's redeeming blood, received in heaven, secures our place there, while his suffering body, rejected by the world, depicts our place here.  "Heaven received Him and us in Him; we belong there. The world has cast Him without the camp, and us with Him. We belong there. In heaven we share His honour; on earth, His reproach.  . . . There are two places appointed for the believer in the power of Christ's redemption -- within the veil, to worship, and without the gate, to witness." In both places, notes Murray, the believer is with Christ, and the deeper the believer goes into one place, the more she or he will realise the other. (The Holiest of All, by Andrew Murray, Whitaker House 1996

The more hostile a home, workplace, community or state is to the gospel, the more a believer or a church (members of Christ's body -- Ephesians 5:30) will suffer rejection and persecution. But as was seen in the cross, suffering can be a powerful thing. For on the cross Christ redeemed suffering, transforming the instrument of Satan into the means of God's saving grace. Christ graciously gives life by means of his death, and to those who by faith receive his life he says, 'Take up your cross and follow me.' 'Therefore let us

go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.' (Hebrews 13:13 ESV). In the cross, redemption and rejection, salvation and suffering are inseparable.

Dear God our Father,

We marvel at your great spiritual victory achieved on a cross outside the gate some 2000 years ago, and we pray that you will likewise redeem the sufferings of your persecuted Church so that the instruments of Satan may be transformed again into means of grace.

Lord, compel us by your Holy Spirit to go to you 'outside the camp', confessing the name of Jesus even though it may lead to rejection, persecution or even death. For we know that 'there is salvaton in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved'. (Acts 4:12)

And we pray that wherever the body of Christ is suffering rejection, reproach and violence today, there you would be at work by your ever-present Holy Spirit, sanctifying and building your Church to the glory of God, the amazement of the angels and the utter frustration of the evil one.


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Responding to China

Monday, March 17, 2008

Paul, Corinth...and Us

corinth It is widely acknowledged that the parallels between first century Corinth and twenty-first century Western society are remarkable.  Let me share with you a few thoughts that will likely appear in my next edition of "In the Shadow of the Cross".

First century Corinth was a relatively new city, having been founded as a Roman colony in 44 B.C after the old city of Corinth has been totally destroyed in an earthquake a century earlier.  A metropolitan seaport, Corinth was intellectually alert, materially prosperous, culturally varied and religiously diverse.  Individualism was greatly valued and fiercely defended.  It was primarily a freedman town, ex-slaves who were aggressive, hard-working, upwardly mobile, financially successful and proud of their accomplishment.  They tended to be exploitive, ruthless and willing to take great risks. There were no elite or nobility in the city.  No code of conduct on how to behave oneself with one's wealth or in pursuit of it.  Power, possessions and pride were valuable to these Corinthians.  To rise in society was the overall goal of the Corinthian; boasting and self-display was the means of achieving that goal, and personal glory and power the reward of having achieving it.

Paul's relationship with the Corinthians was a difficult one.  His letters to them are very personal.  Paul stayed in Corinth for approximately eighteen months (a remarkably long time for him to be in any one place).  His time there was one of relative peace and calm.  When the Jews in Corinth rejected the gospel and Paul refocused his ministry to the Gentiles they did not raise up a riot as their counterparts had in other cities.  The only one case of persecution in Acts 18:12-18 is so mild in comparison to others, that Paul did not even feel compelled to leave for the safety of others.  We read that "he stayed for many days afterwards" (Acts 18:19). 

While 2 Corinthians 1:6 does refer to the Corinthians patiently enduring suffering, it seems apparent to me that the persecution facing believers in Corinth was considerably less than in other places.   Perhaps this may be in part due to the multicultural nature of the city which would have worked against organizing religiously intolerant mobs.  There were some Jews in the Corinthian community but there is little in Paul's letters to the church there that suggests a Jewish background.  Since most of the converts seem to have been Gentiles, the Jewish religious leaders (whose counterparts had instigated much of the opposition to Paul in other cities) may have felt that Paul was little threat to them. Or perhaps the number of Jews in Corinth were insufficient to mount an effective resistance.  Whatever the reason, the church was established there with little effective resistance.

Perhaps this relative lack of resistance to the gospel and its messengers is one of the reasons why the Corinthian Christians had such a difficulty understanding the role of suffering and persecution in the life of the follower of Jesus.

Given the Corinthian's pursuit of power, wealth and glory, it is inevitable that these would have been issues that the Christians there would have struggled with as well.  Humility was not viewed as a virtue; suffering and self-sacrifice were scorned.  Poverty would have been seen as a curse, even if done in the service of God.

To make matters worse, after Paul left Corinth, other preachers and teachers either arrived in the city or rose up from their own midst who had little regard for Paul and his teachings.  Indeed, what they taught agreed with Corinthian values completely; God's work is to be marked with power, prosperity, and pride.   Among other things, they maintained that Paul's sufferings were proof that he was not a true apostle or messenger of God.  To them, God's work was done in strength and power, not in weakness or suffering. 

The Corinthians were critical of Paul and his ministry in four areas:

1. His boasting: Boasting of one's accomplishments was of great value to the people of Corinth.   To project one's status was vital.  People paraded their wealth before others. Posted signs in public places declaring their latest accomplishments.  To be ignored or unknown was a great disgrace.  Personal glory became an ideal to be chased after.  When Paul denounced such boasting as taking the glory away from God and refuses to boast in any of his accomplishments but will only boast about those things which show how weak he is without the Lord, the Corinthians cannot understand this and they despise him for his weakness.  How can this man be great when he is so weak? Sacrificing for others is not noble, in their eyes. It is foolish.

2. His physical presence: Not only that, but they also disapproved of his physical presence.  He is weak (2 Cor. 10:10).  What is meant here is probably not so much his health or physical condition, but the way in which he treats the Corinthians; he is gentle, meek, rather than assertive and pushy.  He urges them to do the right thing, rather than bullies them.  This was not the way a true leader acts, according to Corinthian culture. A true leader is one who leads through intimidation and strength.  But Paul was committed to leading like Jesus; in servanthood, gentleness and meekness, not in power and force.

3. His speech: The Corinthians were also unimpressed with Paul's verbal skills.  In Corinthian society, public speakers were often not highly trained.  Speeches were not carefully thought through or reasoned, but geared for one purpose; to get an emotional response.  They were designed to appeal to popular tastes, to gain applause from the audience or a hearty "Bravo!" "Marvelous!" 

Some have mistakenly thought that Paul, when talking about wisdom in 1 & 2 Corinthians is speaking against worldly wisdom or intellectualism.  Not at all!  Intellectualism was not valued by the Corinthians!  That was part of the problem!  The content of a sermon meant very little just so long as it stirred the heart! People wanted to be amused by sermons, taken aback and overwhelmed by what was said.  Public preachers specialized in delivering sermons that shocked, speaking on sensational topics and powerful deliveries that would verbally assault the audience.  A good sermon was one that overwhelmed you with the power of its delivery more than with its content. How you said it became as or more important than what you said. There was little interest in doctrine in Corinth. People wanted to know about the power of the gods more than what they were like.

And so here comes Paul, presenting a well-reasoned, quiet message about the love of God and what God has done through the person of Jesus Christ.  He speaks from the wisdom of God rather than the wisdom of man which its emphasis on the sensational.  He relies on the power of the Spirit to change hearts rather than on the power of his words. Not very impressive - from a Corinthian perspective.

4. His support: The fourth way that Paul confounded the Corinthians was the way in which he had his financial needs met.  The Corinthians want to pay him for his services and Paul refuses to accept it.  He prefers to be self-supporting.  Paul knew that he was under divine constraint in relation to how he conducted his ministry.  In 1 Corinthians 9:15-18, he makes it clear that he would rather die than receive remuneration for his labour in the gospel.  To Paul, being self-sufficient was a matter of obedience of God.  If he could work, he needed to do so.  Otherwise, he was being disobedient to the Lord. This, however, bothers the Corinthians.  They see him as being poorer than they are and that reflects badly on them in society.  The stigma of a needy religious leader would have been impossible for them to appreciate, which is exactly why Paul does it.

In all four of these areas, Paul adopts a position entirely contrary to the prevailing culture in his desire to live out his ministry in a way that is consistent with his message of the cross.  In Corinth, we find a worldview in antithesis to the worldview of the cross and the suffering of Christ and His followers.  To the Corinthians, Paul must interpret his sufferings in such a way that they understand that God's methodology of the cross is to be the methodology of all who follow Christ.  This is how God wins His greatest victories; in weakness, not in demonstrations of power and strength.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Iraqi Archbishop Found Dead

rahho We at The Voice of the Martyrs were shocked, saddened, and angered today to learn of that the body of kidnapped Chaldean Catholic archbishop Paulus Faraj Rahho had been found just outside of Mosul earlier today.  The church in Mosul reportedly had received a phone call from the kidnappers on Wednesday telling them that the archbishop was dead and where they could find the body.  Church officials are saying that the body was in an early stage of decomposition, suggesting that the archbishop died a few days ago, and that it was found partially buried under a thin layer of dirt.  We will have to wait to find out if he died of natural causes or was killed.  There had been considerable concern for his health as he suffered from heart problems that required daily medical treatment. Nevertheless, the responsibility for this church leader's death must lie with those who kidnapped him on February 29.  We urge Iraqi officials to make every effort to catch and prosecute the guilty parties.

Join us in praying for his family and for his co-workers and congregants in Mosul.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Connie, What Are You Talking About?

Yesterday, at a reception in Washington to introduce America's first special envoy to the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that the appointment will help to promote principles that Muslims and non-Muslims alike "hold dear," such as human rights and human dignity, social justice and equal opportunity, liberty and the rule of law. She told the OIC ambassadors, "These are not American values or Western values. They are universal values, values that are lived and practiced by the majority of Muslims in the world, many of whom are citizens of democracies."

Ummmm...... Human rights, rule of law, liberty, social justice, equal opportunity?  What planet do you live on, Connie?  Of the 57 OIC members, only 14 qualify as "electoral democracies," according to Freedom House in its latest report on freedom in the world.  Only 6 of the 57 - Benin, Guyana, Indonesia, Mali, Senegal and Suriname - are deemed "free" in regards to political rights and civil liberties.  Let's look at religious liberty.  Hudson Institute's Centre of Religious Freedom stated in its 2007 report, "The Muslim majority countries comprise the religious areas with the largest current restrictions on religious freedom. This pattern parallels problems with democracy, civil liberties, and economic freedom, but the negative trend with respect to religious freedom is even stronger. Of the twenty ‘unfree' countries and territories surveyed, twelve are Muslim majority. Of the seven countries receiving the lowest possible score, four are Muslim majority. This is a phenomenon that goes beyond the Arab world or the Middle East."  There are exceptions, such as Mali and Senegal, but they are the exceptions, not the majority or many (contra. Secretary of State Rice).

Again, I just don't know how this reportedly intelligent woman could have made such ridiculous statements with a straight face or without her tongue being firmly planted in her cheek.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Freedom of Expression: When Rights and Responsibility Clash

I have been giving some thought over the past few days over recent struggles between Muslims who resent cartoons of Mohammed being published again in Denmark and are pushing to have a film in Holland banned for views which they believe denigrate the Quran and those who see these as rightful examples of freedom of expression.

As anyone who has read my blog knows, I advocate for freedom of expression rather strongly, without apology.  I am not an advocate of hate or blasphemy laws and am concerned that censorship legislation, while often well-intentioned, is often a double-edged sword that ends up cutting off legitimate opinion that may offensive to certain small but influential groups.  Do a search on this blog and you will get a pretty good idea of where I stand on the issue.

However, it is worth noting that just because someone has the right to say something, it does not follow that he/she should say it.  I am concerned when freedom of expression endangers the lives and security of innocents like religious minorities in countries like Pakistan, as militants take out their anger on local Christians whenever they perceive that Islam has been insulted.  Neither should freedom of expression deliberately seek to provoke acts of violence against an identifiable group.  However, in such cases, the burden should lie with the prosecution to prove that this was the purpose of such expression and not on the accused to prove that it was not (hence, my dislike of human rights commissions who typically reverse this). 

But having said all this, I am concerned that religiously motivated bullies are trying to coerce media outlets and authors into silence with threats of violence or lawsuits under the guise of being "offended."  I am also concerned that pressure is being put on the media to be "responsible" and not publish anything that might possibly affront religious beliefs or contribute to conflicts between religions and their members due to religious differences.  This is unrealistic and worrisome.  From the early days of the Christian faith, the exclusive message of Jesus has offended those of other religions, causing it to be outlawed and maligned and its members persecuted. If the early church had followed the guidelines that are recommended by some, most of the New Testament would likely never have been written.   It is also the responsibility of religious adherents to defend their faith when its beliefs, founder or followers are maligned but not with threats or force but with a reasoned argument, trusting that ultimately the truth will be made known.  Joash, the father of Gideon's, challenge to the followers of Baal in Judges 6:30-31 is worth considering: "Will you contend for Baal? Or will you save him? Whoever contends for him shall be put to death by morning. If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because his altar has been broken down."

Friday, March 07, 2008

Is Fitna Fit to be Shown?

The Council of Churches in Indonesia has asked the Protestant Church in the Netherlands to lobby the Dutch prime minister, Jan-Peter Balkenende, to intervene to stop the showing of a 15-minute film made by politician Geert Wilders entitled Fitna. The film reportedly shows how the Quran is "an inspiration for intolerance, murder and terror". The Council made the appeal in hopes that such a ban would prevent "very great problems." They fear that the film will fan religious tensions, resulting in harm to Christians in Indonesia. Several Muslim leaders have called for the film to be banned and a number of Islamic countries have expressed their anger to the Dutch government and have threatened an economic boycott of the Netherlands if the film is shown

At stake is the issue of the limitations of freedom of expression. Is violence or the threat of violence sufficient reason to restrict freedom of expression? Can we allow freedom of expression to be held hostage to those who threaten violence? Does freedom of expression include the freedom to be offensive? If responsible journalism is journalism that offends no one, aren’t we advocating for a Fahrenheit 451 scenario; burn the books so that no one will be offended?

What do you think? Should the Dutch government act to prevent the showing of Fitna?

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Please Pray for Kidnapped Iraqi Archbishop

rahho The following is an update received today on kidnapped Iraqi Archbishop Paulus Faraj Rahho from Compass Direct:

Kidnappers have set today as the ransom deadline for the release of an Iraqi Archbishop abducted last week, a church leader said. The unidentified captors also added new conditions for the release of Archbishop Paulus Faraj Rahho, said Kirkuk Chaldean Archbishop Luis Sako. He declined to give further details in the interest of Rahho's safety. A church source close to the negotiations described the new conditions to Compass as "impossible to fulfill," requiring Iraq's Christians to carry out violent acts and actively support a particular political agenda. He said that the ransom sum had been raised to $2.5 million. Rahho, 65, was kidnapped last Friday (February 29) at approximately 5:30 p.m. while leaving the Holy Spirit parish in Mosul. The assailants gunned down his two bodyguards and driver and took him by force. The extravagant nature of the kidnappers' demands appears to indicate that their motives are political and religious, rather than only financial.

Please pray for the release of Archbishop Rahho today.

Monday, March 03, 2008

The Other Side of Persecution

So often the only testimonies that organizations like The Voice of the Martyrs publicize are the ones were Christians willingly endure torture, imprisonment and even death rather than deny Christ.  But what about those who fail in the face of persecution? What about those who do deny?

I was reminded of this today as I read a story out of Himachal Pradesh, India where a pastor and his wife were pressured to reconvert to Hinduism from Christianity.  Offered at first a bribe to give up his faith, he refused.  When threatened with arrest and possible death, however, he reluctantly underwent a Hindu reconversion ceremony. 

Now, according to the Christian Legal Association, he deeply regrets his decision.  "It is better for me to die then to leave Jesus but I was under so much pressure (from the local villagers)," he told them.  He now intends to return to his village where he is will again preach Christ.

How to deal with those who deny their faith in the face of persecution was one of the hardest issues that early Christians had to face.  It is one that we don't like to talk about either, if reporting on persecution is any indication; this is one side of persecution we would rather sweep under the rug.  We like the stories of victory and courage; not failure and fear.  This emphasis, however, has left us with a truncated view of the persecuted.  I have had to convince some that the persecuted church really needs teaching on what the Bible teaches about persecution as they reason, based on all of the success stories, that persecuted Christians obviously know how to stand faithfully without the biblical admonitions.  If such were the case, then there would have been little reason for the New Testament writers to have written most of what they wrote.   

I, for one, certainly would not want to minimize the importance of steadfastness in the face of trials and tribulations.  The Bible speaks to this in no uncertain terms and promises all the grace necessary to stand faithfully.  But the Scriptures also offer hope for those who fail to stand firm.  The gospel of Mark, in particular, speaks into such situations.  If we fail to mention this, we do not teach the entire council of God who not only offers a strong arm in times of weakness but open arms in times of failure.