Last night I watched the major cable news channels’ coverage of the deal to address the budget crisis within the United States of America. The President and the Speaker of the House both announced that a deal had been struck to keep the government from defaulting. This deal for many critics is too little and too late in terms of action. There is still a long way to go in terms of a longterm solution. Add to this that the dysfunctional division and extreme ideological politics of the two major parties continue to be a problem. Right now the Tea Party and the Congressional Black Caucus are two groups that could throw a monkey wrench in the whole process of a real solution. To try avoiding major cuts in expenses in the budget and the raising of taxes on the most wealthy of Americans is hard to understand. An ugly situation is going to take ugly answers that include major compromises. Looking at all this political division and dysfunction led me to some thoughts about the church. My thoughts began with questions.
Is this the right time for the church to do what government can’t? Is there a need for a reconciling church like never before? Here are the thoughts at the core of these questions. One, there is a need for Christian evangelicals and mainliners to do what Democrats and Republicans can’t or won’t. Evangelical and mainliners need to come together and forge a national faith-based agenda for life and community transformation. This agenda must remind our country that first and foremost that church is about life transformation. It also must show a connection between life transformation and community development. The community development portion of the agenda must have measurable outcomes addressing issues that are concerns in Scripture such as the poor, the lost, the stranger, and the marginalized. The church could become a major Kingdom force in America like never before thru such a move. Second, the increase of multi-ethnic and missional churches must become a top priority of every major Christian denomination as well as evangelistic organizations. The political division in this country is connected to historic racial and class divisions. The church has no credibility if it continues to be the most segregated institution in the nation.
There is a great window of opportunity for the church as both the government and economic institutions live in crisis and dysfunction. This move would also be the solution to the crisis that the church of the United States of America is currently in.
Now that I have read Dr. John MacArthur’s latest book, Slave, I can now provide more thoughts on the main thesis within it. His main purpose in the book is to show us that as controversial and counter-cultural as it may be, we must accept that the primary way we find identity in Christ is as a slave to God. He begins by providing information on an “English translation conspiracy” that has taken the word for slave in the Greek and changed it to mean servant. So throughout the New Testament the servant has really replaced the word slave. We are then to look at all the texts in the New Testament around servant (which there are many) and see the revelation of the Christian life being the life of the slave.
My thought on this point is simply this. If we are to believe that there is an English translation conspiracy that has caused us to miss the mark on the true role of the Christian in relationship to God, why are we not so sure that there are no Greek translation conspiracies? How many times in the New Testament is the Greek translation taking Hebrew words out of context? In the book, A Prayer to Our Father: Hebrew Origins of the LORD’s Prayer, authors Keith Johnson and Nehemia Gordon actually make this case. They show through the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, ways in which the Greek translation has taken some Hebrew words out of its original context and meaning. Conspiracy?
The point here is, Dr. MacArthur may be creating another conspiracy in trying to uncover one. Or another way of putting it would be, he’s continuing the conspiracy of a Euro-centric captivity on biblical interpretation.
The next thing MacArthur does in the book is move to the Old Testament. His point here is to present the Exodus story as God bringing the Israelites out of slavery to Egypt in order to bring them into slavery under Him. This provides a very limited view of the Old Testament story. His foundation is in the interpretation of the Hebrew word “eded” which means slave and servant. What he doesn’t bring up is that this Hebrew word is rooted in another Hebrew word, “abad” which means slave, servant, husbandman, worshipper, and worker. I have two takes on this point in the book.
One, in MacArthur’s drive to make slaves out of all Christians, he leaves out another picture of the New Testament story. What about the picture of a God who frees a people from slavery, makes a Covenant with them, and then calls them to extend his love and justice to the poor, widow, orphan, and immigrant? MacArthur is so focused on “slave texts” that he seems to not care about what the Old Testament has to say about freedom, justice, and Covenant. The question becomes then, does Covenant equate Captivity? MacArthur seem to believe so. The second point is if the Hebrew word “abad” means slave, servant, husbandman, and worshipper, why is the focus of the book only on the slave portion of the meaning of the word?
The rest of the book is spent on looking at how Jesus and the authors of the Epistles in the New Testament mainly describe the Christian life as the life of an obedient slave to a Master, which is God. One, I cannot argue that there aren’t a number of biblical texts that describe the Christian as servant and slave. The issue is that this isn’t the only way the Christian life is described in the New Testament. In MacArthur’s focus on God as Master, he ignores the number of places where God is described as Father. I would argue that Jesus spends more time talking about God as His Father than as His Master. The disciple John spends a lot of time describing the Christian as a “beloved child.” MacArthur seems to believe that the only way to get obedience out of a Christian it to make him or her a slave. I respectfully disagree. The more we focus on God as Father and Liberator, the more space we have to describe the Christian as the liberated, transformed, and beloved child, who ought to live in obedience to a loving and all-powerful God of justice.
Finally, I’m saddened by how MacArthur hardly shows any sensitivity to the history and impact of slavery upon African-Americans. He doesn’t acknowledge that he isn’t the first European-American to use an interpretation of slavery in the bible to develop a theology and influence the masses. This is how slavery was justified many years ago in the United States of America.
Last week I received the latest addition of Outreach Magazine. Attached, there was a notice that it was time for me to re-new my subscription in order to receive another full year of the magazine. A bonus gift comes if I take advantage of a special offer right now. This special gift is Dr. John MacArthur’s new book, “Slave.” The caption next to the book says, “Best-selling author and pastor Dr. John MacArthur reveals one crucial word that revolutionizes what it means to follow Jesus.” On the back of this advertisement it says, “What does it mean to be a Christian the way Jesus defined it? MacArthur says it all boils down to one word: Slave.”
Well, I respectfully have some issues with Dr. MacArthur. First of all the book is black, which I think is somewhat ironic. I realize this was probably more a publishing decision, not Dr. MacArthur’s. A black book with the word, “slave” on the cover written in white. I’m sure purely coincidental.
Second, and more important, is this question- Is slave the primary way Jesus defined the Christian life? What about this text-
“This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends, if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:12-15-NASB)
And what about this text-
“The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because he has anointed Me to preach the Gospel to the Poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.” (Luke 4:18-19-NASB)
Is the primary way Jesus defines the Christian life and His role in it deem us the slaves? Even if you believe this to be true, there is enough Scripture to provide other identifications for the Christian than just slave. What about the Christian as liberated, beloved, child, heir, and friend? Why does slave get to be in the driver’s seat of the car of Christian identification?
I have to say that I have not read this book yet, so I’m just commenting on the advertisement of the book. I realize what an influential theological figure Dr. MacArthur is, which is why I must challenge in love, the premise of the advertising of this book. Why is it hard for some European-American theologians to see the bible story as one of liberation, not enslavement?
In the Old Testament, we read of a God who releases a people out of slavery, makes a covenant with them, and calls them to bring justice to the poor, orphan, widow, and alien (immigrant). Humanity is enslaved to sin, so in the New Testament we read of a Savior who comes to set us free by bringing new life. Is the God story really about slavery or about liberation and empowerment? I guess to a degree it depends on the cultural slant from which it is read and interpreted. As one who can trace his heritage back to a slave girl on my mother’s side, I see the primary way Jesus defines the Christian life as a life of freedom, follower-ship, an friendship. But, is this just my heritage or is it a true interpretation of the meta-narrative of Scripture; love, new life, freedom, and a new Kingdom? This is not to take away from obedience, worship, and Lordship. Jesus didn’t come to put us on a plantation, but to fulfill a promise. Is the Christian as slave revolutionary? Release from slavery is a more true revolution.
I will renew my subscription to Outreach Magazine so that I can read this book and speak more specifically to the theology being presented.
In recent years I’ve heard some notable Christian leaders say things like this regarding the current political landscape in the United States-
“The conservatives have lost their hearts and the liberals have lost their minds.”
“One political side represents Socialism and the other, Empire.”
Regardless of if these quotes are true of the current political state in the U.S. of not, I have great concerns that political ideology has many Christians held captive. I’ve talked to Christians who religiously listen to political commentators who aren’t even Christians themselves. If someone critiques one of these commentators or disagrees with them, it’s as if they disagreed with Paul in the Scriptures or maybe even Jesus. I’m saddened by Christians that are set on fire by political shock jocks getting wealthy on the extreme edges of conservatism and liberalism. These same Christians don’t seem to be set on fire in the same manner by the Savior who proclaims that, “the Kingdom of God is now at hand.”
Now, I know that these Christians would passionately disagree with me, but that is because they see political conservatism and evangelical theological conservatism as the same thing. Others believe that biblical kingdom justice and political progressive ideology are the same thing.
We cannot allow fallen political ideologies and structures to limit the possibilities of true Kingdom advancement in the United States and beyond. The Kingdom of God as proclaimed in Scripture is supreme over and against any earthly government, including the one I like best. This means that though I believe democracy as worked out historically and currently in the United States is a better government model than others around the world, it doesn’t compare on any level to the truth, justice, compassion, transformation, reconciliation, and unity that comes forth from the Kingdom of God. And even though I believe what I do about democracy, I also believe that our government structure in the United States is currently broken, because every man-made structure in our world is fallen. Since all humans have fallen short, so are the ideologies and structures that we’ve created.
The Christian church is the vehicle which God has chosen to express the values, power, and outcomes of God’s Kingdom. The values of this Kingdom where communicated by our Savior Jesus Christ within Scripture. The church from this foundation ought to be presenting a Kingdom alternative and transforming solutions to the challenges we face today within the family, education, economics, community, health, and even tougher issues such as immigration.
But, because the church in many cases is being held hostage by extreme political ideologies from the edges, many outside the church don’t know the difference between God’s Kingdom and empire or God’s Kingdom and socialism. Now here is the challenging truth though; there are parts of the value system of God’s Kingdom that sound socialist on first listen and there are parts on first listen that sound like empire. But, when you look at all that is the Kingdom of God now and into eternity it is so much more than any earthly government could ever accomplish. Within the Kingdom of God value system there is the individual responsibility found within the necessity of new birth and the communal call to care for the poor. One must take ownership of their own spiritual development and be willing to share the first fruits of their resources to help the hurting thru the mission strategy of a local church.
No matter if you believe in big or small government, you can’t deny a big God who desires to love the lost, heal the broken, and bring justice to the oppressed thru the church.
The Bible is full of stories of God using young people to do incredible things. In 1 Samuel there is the story of a boy named David who defeats the giant, Goliath. None of the adults trained for battle were willing to take on this task. There is a whole book in the Old Testament named after a girl named, Esther. Even though she didn’t know her biological father or mother growing up, she became a Queen who was willing to risk her own life for her people. In one of the books of Kings in the Old Testament as well, we read about Josiah who becomes king at 8 years old.
In the book of Jeremiah, we read about a young prophet God uses to speak truth when the adult prophets were unwilling. In the New Testament, a teenager named, Timothy is mentored by Paul to become a church planter and leader. Throughout the Bible, God uses these young faith heroes to advance the Kingdom of God.
In our more contemporary history young people are found at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement and the movement to realize freedom in South Africa. Even now in Iran, it’s youth and young adults who are protesting an unjust political process.
Children and youth are not too young to make a difference for God. We must be willing to see children and youth the way God does. We must encourage them to know that they can make a Kingdom mark in the world. They can be Gods’ agents of truth, transformation, compassion, justice, mercy, and reconciliation. The church must be a training ground for the equipping and empowerment of young heroes for God.
I remember as a kid, going into my backyard in the summertime and pretending to be a superhero. Batman, Spiderman, Superman, and even the Hulk. I wanted to save the day with super powers. I thank God that when I became a Christian in high school, I had adults in my life, who believed I wasn’t too young to make a difference in the world. I know that this had a direct impact on the ministry call that I’m living out as an adult today. Consider the young people around you, do you see them as the young hero they can be? Do you pray that they realize this potential? Do you speak this into their lives? If you are a young person and reading this blog entry, I hope that you would allow God to use you in an amazing way. You can make a Kingdom difference in the world among the lost and the poor.
“If you will return O Israel, declares the LORD, Then you should return to Me. And if you will put away your detested things from My presence, And not waver, And you will swear, As the LORD lives, In truth, in justice, and in righteousness; The the nations will bless themselves in Him, And in Him they will glory.” (Jeremiah 4:1-2)
If the church is to be a force of both Kingdom Building and Kingdom Advancement, it must be willing to connect truth, justice, and righteousness. Let me first give a deeper understanding of these three important concepts. Truth in the Hebrew points to stability, certainty, and trustworthiness. God’s truth as revealed thru the Word of God brings stability to our lives when connected to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Truth ought to bring certainty by faith. It is thru faith that we believe in the certainty of Jesus as the Son of Man and the Son of God. We must allow faith to produce certainty about what is truth over strictly searching for truth in some academic ivory tower which cannot admit its own faith formula for truth. This is not to down education. I highly value the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom, I’m just stating that this pursuit without faith is meaningless for the Christian.
Justice in the Hebrew is connected to judgement, a formal decree, and determination. God is determined to bring about justice. You cannot talk God out of being a God of justice. The question becomes will you join God in Kingdom justice becoming manifest in the world? Will you join in the Kingdom cause of addressing the issues facing the poor, the immigrant, and at-risk, high-risk youth? The Scripture describes them as the poor, the alien, the orphan, and the widow. The church must be a force of truth and justice or we risk being a church in crisis functioning outside of His glory.
Righteousness in the Hebrew is about justice and virtue. Righteousness is about the character and integrity of God showing up in our lives. We cannot produce this character in our own power. This kind of Character comes thru the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and our willingness to give ourselves over to it.
We must understand and connect truth, justice, and righteousness in our lives and in the church. Historically in our nation we have separated truth, justice, and righteousness. Some churches preach truth by focusing on an individual approach to repentance and salvation. Or they only focus on sin issues such as fornication, murder, and adultery and leave racism, sexism, and oppression alone. On the other hand some churches focus on issues like racism and sexism and give no attention to the biblical truth of the authority of Scripture or the necessity of the new birth.
The church must connect truth, justice, and righteousness in order to advance the Kingdom of God in these days and live out ancient biblical mandates. The church must focus on evangelism and christian formation, as well as compassion, mercy, and justice. Here’s an example of what this looks like-
1.) Provide regular opportunities for people to accept Christ as Lord and Savior.
2.) Create and sustain initiatives which put a priority on Prayer and Scripture.
3.) Develop a racial righteousness and reconciliation ministry.
4.) Get involved locally and globally around issues of Biblical Economic Justice and Christian Community Development.
Wow, I can’t believe it been over a week since I posted a blog. That’s way too long and I’ll work to make sure that doesn’t happen again I was blessed and humbled to be able to speak last week at Willow Creek’s Arts and Worship Conference. I spoke on the title, The Wonder of Beloved Worship. Using 1 John 3 as my main text, I shared about, a leading worship from the identity of the beloved verses the broken.
As I prepared for this message, I reflected a lot on art, worship, identity, and transformation. Before I accepted a call into ministry, I had dreams of becoming an actor and a singer. I was in a performing arts program in high school and majored in theater in college at Saint John’s University in Central Minnesota. It was during my senior year in college that I sensed a call into ministry, which led to my going to Luther Seminary to receive a Master of Arts degree in Theology.
Today as a pastor, I still feel that I’m an artist. I use comedy, story-telling, and singing in my preaching. As an African-American, I’ve been raised that preaching is an art form as influenced by the Black Church tradition. Leading a multicultural congregation that desires to engage culture for Kingdom purposes, has allowed me to connect my passion as an artist with one for theology as well. I believe that it is important for the church to equip and empower artists within the experience of corporate worship. One of the ways we do this at Sanctuary Covenant Church is through a monthly Hip Hop worship experience. I’m excited about spoken-word artist, break-dancers, rappers, and deejays being apart of a church worship experience.
Many artists outside of the church are using their gifts out of brokenness. There is a great opportunity through the church to also equip artists through Christian formation to use their gifts out of the identity of being God’s beloved. Beloved worship is about artists using their gifts as an extension and expression of God’s love that lives might be transformed. Worship in this way can be a liberating and Kingdom advancing movement.