Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

A modern Easter story

In his time, Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin was one of the mightiest men alive on earth. With a name like that, he was obviously from Russian origin. He had been part of the 1917 Russian revolution. Later he was appointed editor of Russia’s most influential newspaper, Pravda (which, by the way, means “truth”) and was also a full member of the Russian Politburo. He was the author of books on economy and politics which is still popular up to today.
In 1930 he undertook a trip from Moscow to Kiev. His task was to address a large audience on the topic of atheism. It is reported that he spoke for more than an hour, in which time he made the Christian faith totally ridiculous. He insulted Christians and gave numerous proofs to indicate that God does not exist.
When he was through, he looked at the audience, convinced that nothing had remained of their faith, except perhaps some ash. Then an old man stood up and went forward. He looked at the audience and they stared at him, wondering what he was going to say. And then he greeted them with the traditional greeting of the Russian Orthodox Church: “Christ has risen!” And with one voice the audience responded in a sound that resembled that of a thunder flash: “He has risen indeed!”

Sunday, April 4, 2010 Posted by | Celebration, Eschatology, Mission, Russia, Theology | 2 Comments

How my eschatology influences my life

I am in White River at the moment, (or just outside, actually, not far from the Kruger National Park) at the Africa School of Mission (ASM). They are training mostly young people eager to get involved in mission in some part of the world and the present batch of students come from countries such as South Africa, Zimbabwe, England and Croatia. I’ve been asked to take the week’s lectures, speaking on eschatology and the book of Revelation.

I can still remember distinctly where and when I had one of the most mind-shattering moments in my life. I was in Ovamboland, in the desert of then South-West-Africa (now Namibia) in a tent, trying to survive the hottest days and the coldest nights I’ve ever experienced, doing compulsory army service in the South African war against Angola. I took some books with me for the four months that I was there that I hoped to read. I was busy with the thesis of one of my favourite South African theologians, Adrio König and was absolutely intrigued by the way in which he discussed eschatology. And then one sentence caught my imagination, something (and I have to quote from my memory) like: “The end times only have meaning as long as we are involved with mission.” That was the moment that I decided to start working on a PhD with the theme of mission and eschatology. (If you’re interested in the topic, you can try and get a copy of the book: The Eclipse of Christ in Eschatology: Toward a Christ-Centered Approach )

Later, as I started working on my PhD, David Bosch (I had the privilege to work closely with him, although not under him) referred me to an article he had written in which he said the following: “I wonder whether the real difference between “ecumenicals” and “evangelicals” (and, may I add, between different brands of “evangelicals”), does not lie in the area of eschatology… Until we clarify our convictions on eschatology, we will continue to talk at cross purposes.” Once again I had one of those “a-ha” moments, knowing that my thoughts on this topic was changed forever. (If you have access to an academic library, you can search for this article: Bosch, D J. 1982. How my mind has changed: Mission and the alternative community. Journal of Theology for Southern Africa. 41 (December) pp 6–10)

As I’m getting older (and hopefully more mature in my theological thinking), I still realise the truth of these words. As we are busy with the discussions in the lecture hall at ASM, I can absolutely see how these two topics are linked to each other. I started my lectures by making the remark that many people refuse to read the book of Revelation, because it makes them afraid. Immediately a number of students in the classroom confirmed this. What I’m hoping for is to give them a more balanced viewpoint on eschatology so that, by the end of the week, they will be able to read Revelation, not with fear, but with excitement, in the same way as the first Christians to whom this book was addressed, probably read it.

Yesterday I did a short introduction on eschatology in general and then started with Revelation 1 this morning. When we read Rev 1:7: “Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen”, I said that, for the early church, the return of Jesus was the ultimate hope they had. They were living in wicked times. Their friends and church leaders were being persecuted and often fed to the lions. They had little hope that a change in government would make things better. And therefore they kept their eyes focussed on the return of Jesus. Yet, these early Christians simultaneously kept their eyes focussed on the world in which they lived, becoming involved in social issues, feeding the poor and caring for the sick, better than the government could do.

And this, it seems to me, is the key of a Biblical eschatology – keeping the balance between a real expectation of the second coming of Christ and being involved in the world in which God has placed us to live. As I spend a week in the lives of these young wannabe-missionaries, I hope that they will be able to keep this balance, wherever they may end up in the years to come.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009 Posted by | Africa, David Bosch, Eschatology, Hope, Mission, Social issues, Theology | Leave a comment

My conversation with the Jehovah’s Witnesses

We live in a small town in a quiet little road with few cars and even less pedestrians moving around on our street. Whether this is the reason, I don’t know, but the Jehovah’s Witnesses seem to target our area for their visits. When I was still at school, our pastor told us that you never allow a Jehovah’s Witness to enter your home, you never give them money and you try and get as much literature from them that you can, which you burn as soon as they had left. Among my friends there are only a few that would get into a conversation with a Jehovah’s Witness. We, on the other hand, have made a decision many years ago that we will invite them into our home and allow them to speak to us and that we will try and keep the conversation as civil as possible. What’s the use of saying that we are Christians, only to be known as someone who sets their dogs on the Jehovah’s Witnesses?
On Tuesday I had a visit from two Jehovah’s Witnesses again. Having trained a great number of people in personal evangelism, it was interesting to me to see these two men doing virtually every mistake in the book in their approach. I opened the door and greeted them (they were standing outside the security gate) and even before I could open the gate, the one man, who was obviously the leader, started speaking. I invited them in and he went on speaking. One thing I try not to reveal when speaking to them, is that I’m a pastor, because then they will definitely not be willing to speak to me if they knew that. I felt a bit trapped when the man mentioned that he was surprised that I was at home. Before I had time to think of a reason why I could be at home without telling a lie and without saying that I’m a pastor, he went on with the conversation, hardly ever allowing me to interrupt him.
His approach, as many before him, was to prove to me that we are living in the end times – something which they seem to be amazed at when I agree. The only difference is that I have good reason to believe that we had been living in the end times since the birth of Christ and not only since 1914, as the Jehovah’s Witnesses believe.
They base their argument on the following: The last king of Judah was dethroned in 607 BC (according to them). This happened at the start of the Babylonian exile. What I’m still wondering about is how they came to choose that date as the start of the exile, as all history sources show that it happened in 586 BC and not 607 BC. Dan 4:10-16 speaks of seven times. Revelation speaks of “a time, times and half a time” (12:14) which is equal to 1260 days (12:6). Seven times should therefore by 2 times 1260 which equals 2520. According to Num 14:34 the Israelites were punished one year for every day that they used to explore the promised land. So now the 2520 days becomes 2520 years!
607 + 1914 = 2520 – that is, if you believe, as they do, that the exile started in 607 BC and that there never was a year 0. And therefore, with the start of the First World War, the end times began. Thus saith the Jehovah’s Witnesses!
What does the Bible actually say about the end times: It tells us that Jesus had come in the end times (Heb 1:2; 1 Pet 1:20), that the Holy Spirit was given in the end times (Acts 2:16-17), that the apostles lived in the end times (1 Cor 10:11) and that Timothy also lived in the end times (2 Tim 3:1-5).
If I had to believe this guy, then we don’t have to worry that Jesus would come unexpectedly. According to him, the United Nations still have to collapse before Jesus can come again. Surprisingly, I had asked him a few minutes earlier whether he believed that Jesus could actually come today, to which he agreed. But then he later contradicted himself by saying that Jesus actually could not come before the United Nations had not collapsed.
Perhaps we should be thankful that their arguments are so totally illogical and that they do not have the faintest idea of how to approach someone whom they want to convince. No wonder people are chasing them away from their homes. But next time, when they come knocking at my door, I’ll invite them in once again. Perhaps the day will come when I will have the chance to share with them the gospel of God’s grace.

Thursday, July 9, 2009 Posted by | Church, Eschatology, Evangelism, Grace, Mission, Theology | 39 Comments

Should we still speak about hell?

About twenty years ago I was involved in some correspondence with one of South Africa’s foremost theologians (who has since been appointed as professor at a university in the Netherlands). He was my professor in Hebrew and was absolutely outstanding as lecturer. At that time he started writing articles on the devil and hell and was widely criticised for his viewpoints. In an attempt to try and get an understanding of his way of thinking, I wrote him a letter (that was long before email!) and asked him to explain what he meant. He was quite thankful that I was willing to enquire about his meaning before criticising him (which was an important lesson to learn).
Being mainly an Old Testament scholar, he maintained that the Old Testament does not really know of anything about hell and knows very little about the devil and he felt that these were concepts which were developed much later under influence of certain philosophical thoughts at the time when the New Testament was written.
In short, I disagree with him on this point. I do, however, believe that there had been a huge development in the way in which Satan is regarded in the Old Testament to the way in which he is described in the New Testament. In the Old Testament he is described, almost as a mischievous being, making trouble here and there (as in the story of Job), but not really causing much harm.
In the New Testament, on the other hand, Jesus considers Satan as His great adversary which has to be driven out of people. Paul sees Satan and the evil spirits as something we have to withstand and, of course, when you read the book of Revelation, it becomes clear, especially when reading the second part of the book (chapter 12 onwards) that, behind the scenes, there is a mighty war going on between Christ and Satan which ends when Satan is thrown into the lake of burning sulphur (20:10).
Having said all that, one of the lessons I did learn from my esteemed professor, was that one cannot get someone into heaven primarily because they don’t want to go to hell. For too long the church has made people afraid of hell and then, based on that fear, given them the alternative, which is to accept Christ and go to heaven.
And then Matt Stone recently asked the question on his blog: Why don’t we talk about hell anymore? And he included a video clip of N T Wright in which he says that this repulsion to speak about hell started after the First World War, when people had almost experienced hell on earth and then came to the conclusion that God would never allow anything like that to exist in the future. You can see the clip here:

As with so many other topics in theology and in missiology, we have made mistakes in the past: Focussing on evangelism at the cost of social involvement. Focussing on hell at the cost of God’s love. And then the pendulum swung to the other side. Then we spoke about social involvement and disregarded evangelism. And we spoke about God’s love and remained mute about hell.
And I can’t help wondering why we always have to go to extremes to make our point. Can’t we preach about God’s love while also mentioning the result of rejecting God (as Jesus, Paul and John did?) Can’t we preach about evangelism while also preaching about the consequences of following Christ for our social lives, ecology, etc? Do we always need to choose either the one or the other, or can we preach the one “without neglecting the other”, if I may misuse Luke 11:42 in this context?

Friday, April 17, 2009 Posted by | Church, Death, Demons, Dialogue, Ecology, Eschatology, Evangelicals, Evangelism, Hope, Mission, Social issues, Theology | Leave a comment

Transforming Mission – Chapter 1

My oldest son, Cobus, together with some friends, have started a discussion group on David Bosch’s magnum opus, Transforming Mission. To top it, they are extremely privileged to have David’s wife, Annemie, as part of this discussion group. They are meeting from time to time to discuss a specific chapter from the book and then they blog about their findings. You can read more about this exciting venture here. I’ve asked Cobus to allow me (and I assume others would also be welcome) who do not have the privilege to meet with this group but who want to read the book on their own, to take part in this discussion by way of our blogs. So here goes:
Perhaps some personal background may be of interest. The first time I read Transforming Mission was before it was published. I was busy with my doctorate in Missiology and although Prof Bosch was not my promoter, I regularly visited him, sometimes at his office and sometimes at his home, to discuss certain issues with him. He had also done research on the topic of Mission and Eschatology (the theme of my thesis) and often told me about his own findings about this topic as he was busy writing his book. And each time I was there he would print out a few chapters of the manuscript so that I could use it for my own research. (I just find it incredible that he was so unselfish with his academic knowledge!)
Chapter 1 has as its title: Reflections on the New Testament and in this chapter Bosch touches on a number of issues, each of which one can blog about. I’ve decided to concentrate on two paragraphs, from page 28-31, where he writes about the all-inclusiveness of Jesus’ mission as well as His attitude towards the gentiles. I consider this important, mostly because a topic like this can lead to great misunderstanding. In 1988 I was part of a synod where the Bible Study was led by David Bosch and where I, for the first time, heard him speak about this topic. I actually urge you to read more about this remarkable time here.
When speaking about the all-inclusiveness of Jesus’ mission, it may be easy to think that this would mean that anyone, regardless of their faith or relationship with God, is automatically “saved”. This, however, is not what I heard him saying nor how he writes about the topic. Although, what Bosch is saying when he discusses the topic, could be considered as a universal truth, I think it is also important to understand the time-frame within which it was written (although, I am convinced that, had he been alive today, he would still have maintained virtually the same viewpoint.) In 1988, when he discussed the topic in the Bible Study mentioned above, and in the years leading up to the publishing of the book in 1991, South Africa was virtually caught up in a civil war. A state of emergency had been announced in 1985. The effects of the political turmoil was felt even in the church. In the same year the Kairos Document was published, which challenged the church in one paragraph to “demand that the oppressed stand up for their rights and wage a struggle against their oppressors.” In 1986 the Belhar Confession was accepted by a church consisting predominantly of coloured members in which it was stated, amongst other, “that God is on the side of those who suffer physically, those who are poor and those who have had injustice done to them.”
The situation in 1988 was thus one of great tension between the different race groups in South Africa. The Whites had previously considered themselves almost to be “God’s chosen people” (I know I’m generalizing when I say this) and the Blacks and coloured people who had been the victims of great oppression in the past, now started seeing themselves as being on the side of God (while God had obviously chosen against the White people who were seen as the oppressors.)
It was within this situation that David Bosch stood up and announced that God’s love is all-inclusive. Jesus did not only love one group of people, but specifically chose disciples from a variety of groups. And this is how I understand it when Bosch says that Jesus’ mission is all-inclusive. Jesus came for the rich and the poor, for Black and White (and whatever other race group there may be), for tax-collectors and other sinners. No group has the right to claim that Jesus only loves them. Because His love is all-inclusive, anybody who accepts the sacrificial death of Jesus unto salvation, will be saved – even the gentiles, as Bosch explains in the paragraph on pages 29-31.

Saturday, March 14, 2009 Posted by | Africa, Book Review, Church, Cross-cultural experiences, David Bosch, Eschatology, Grace, Meetings, Mission, Social issues, Theology | 1 Comment

Enjoying the ride on the way to our destination

One of my favourite authors is Philip Yancey. He recently wrote an article in Christianity Today with the title: On the Grand Canyon Bus. In this article he says that Christians in general “find it difficult to maintain a commitment to both this world and the next, to this life and the next.” He then uses the analogy (which he borrowed from a friend of his) of a bus en route to the Grand Canyon. Although the people on the bus may be travelling through some of the most glorious parts of America, they often keep the shades down, making it impossible for them to see and appreciate the landscape they’re travelling through, being content only to focus on the final destination. And he then makes the remark: “We should remember that the Bible has far more to say about how to live during the journey than about the ultimate destination.”
I like this! Except that I want to go one step further. Keeping to the analogy of the bus trip, you would also find people appreciating the scenery as they drive along, without in the least anticipating the final destination. And ultimately you would find these two groups arguing whether the bus trip or the final destination is the best. In Christian history we have found this in the tension between evangelicals and ecumenicals, between pre-millennialists and post-millennialists, between those who are mission-minded and those who are more focussed on unity and today you would find it between evangelicals and those who oppose the evangelicals.
But the fact is that both are correct. It’s not the one or the other. We are en route to a glorious destination. Just take the time, once again, to read Revelations 21 & 22 and try to picture the beauty of the destination. But Philip Yancey is also correct when he says that the Bible has more to say about the journey than the final destination.
As I read this, I was wondering whether this analogy could not be applied to evangelism in a post-modern world. When I read books by authors such as Brian McLaren (A New Kind of Christian and The Story we find Ourselves in) and many others, they seem to be inviting people along for the ride, without really focussing so much on the destination. And I believe that there is something to say for this. “We’re busy with a trip through some of the most beautiful parts of the country. Care to join us?” And as the trip continues and the scenery is appreciated, the time will come when the traveller will learn more about the destination.
But then, once again, there isn’t a hard and fast rule about this. Because many people (and I’m probably one of them) will want to know what the final destination is before getting on the bus. That’s how people differ and that’s how personalities differ. Those people need to be approached with the invitation: “We’re on our way to the Grand Canyon. Care to join us?” And as the trip continues the new traveller will have to be taught how to appreciate the scenery through which they are travelling.
It’s not one or the other. It’s one and the other.

Monday, September 29, 2008 Posted by | Church, Eschatology, Evangelism, Millennianism, Mission, Theology | Leave a comment

The Role of the Church in an Unjust Society

Those who have been reading my blog regularly will know that I grew up in Apartheid South Africa. As was the case with most Afrikaans-speaking people of my parents’ age, they also supported the policy of Apartheid, not because they were intentionally racist, but because they believed, as so many others, that Apartheid was the only workable solution in a multi-racist country like South Africa. Although I never considered myself to be racist, it was only while busy with my PhD that I really looked at the system in a critical way and realised how absolutely bad and sinful this policy was. My PhD promoter and I spent hours in discussing these issues. He was a supporter of the African National Congress (ANC) while the party was still banned and Nelson Mandela was still in prison.
One of the issues we often discussed was the role of the church in an unjust society. Was the church allowed to support an armed struggle? (We differed on that issue.) Was the church supposed to speak prophetically against injustice? (We agreed on this.)
One of the people he often referred to was Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was imprisoned during the Second World War and accused of being part of a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. And the question was raised: If a person or system is so corrupt that millions are suffering or dying because of one person or one system, does the church have the right to keep quiet? Many clergy, including such prominent people as Bishop Desmond Tutu and Dr Beyers Naudé put their lives and their occupations on the line because they believed that they could not refrain from doing something to change the situation in South Africa.
Yesterday I received an email from a friend in Florida, FL, in which he asked, on the grounds of the atrocities taking place in Zimbabwe at the moment – of which you can read more on http://www.sokwanele.com“It’s such a shame. Why can’t anyone just take Mugabe out? I guess they said the same about Hitler.” This morning I received a message on my mobile phone from a Christian: “Robert Mugabe has challenged God by saying that only God can take him out of office. Please pray that God will do this.”
There is, of course, another side to the argument. In my research on the book of Revelation, it is accepted by most New Testament scholars that John, the author of the book, wrote the book in the time when Domitianus was the emperor of Rome. He not only challenged God. He openly declared that he is God! Although Revelation is full of promises that the Roman government will eventually come to a fall, the church is nowhere called to bring about this fall.
The specific task of the church within an unjust society is still not quite clear to me. Perhaps someone would like to add to this discussion. What is the task of the church when confronted with injustice, such as that experienced by the people in Zimbabwe? What can we do to bring about change?

Friday, June 27, 2008 Posted by | Church, Eschatology, Hope, Mission, Partnership, Theology | 6 Comments

I’m off to Russia again!

Within 24 hours, if everything goes according to plan, I’ll be on my way to Russia again. Since 2001 I’ve had the opportunity, once a year, to visit Samara, a city about 600 miles south-east from Moscow. After the Iron Curtain fell in Russia, many church organisations from various places in the world flocked to this country to preach the gospel. In 1999 God also called a young, unmarried, female science teacher from South Africa to start a Bible School. In 2001, after she visited South Africa, I received an invitation to go to Samara, at that time to assist in training people in evangelism and then, since 2003, to teach on the topics of eschatology as well as the book of Revelations. And now this will be the eighth time that I go to Samara.
Despite Russia being open to religion, Protestant Christians are not always popular. During that first year, while we were busy spending time in the parks (it was during summer), speaking to people about the Christian faith, one old woman made the remark that, when she was a little girl of about five, a soldier ripped a crucifix from her neck, threw it on the ground and stamped on it with his heave boot, telling her that God was dead. For more than seventy years she believed what he had said. Suddenly we appear on the scene telling her that God is not dead! One can understand how difficult it is to believe this.
Many missionaries in Russia are making serious mistakes, being focussed more on their own ideals of rapid church growth rather than being there to serve the people. In many ways mission in Russia is the same as in Africa. It takes a long time for people to really trust the missionary and this trust will have to be deserved, not through money or good sermons, but by the way in which the local people are respected and served.
I will be spending two days in Cairo with some local Christians and then on Saturday I will be flying to Moscow and then to Samara.
For those who diligently follow this blog. I will be posting the next few days. This is the miracle of blogging sites where posts can even be scheduled for the future. Tomorrow I will be posting something on A Multifaceted Gospel and on Thursday I will post something on the “Sinner’s Prayer”. If time allows, I still want to write something on tithing which I will post on Friday. I will hopefully be “on the air” again on Sunday and will probably share something of my experiences in Russia this year.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008 Posted by | Africa, Building relations, Church, Cross-cultural experiences, Eschatology, Evangelism, Evangelism Explosion, Mission, Russia, Short-term outreaches | 8 Comments

Washing each other’s feet

The past two days I had been plucked entirely out of my comfort zone. I have so often spoken about the importance of leaving your comfort zone in order to become more useful to God and certainly I have been in situations which other people would just turn around and walk away from. But I still have a lot to learn.
In 2006 I attended the graduation of some students at the Africa School of Missions in South Africa. Among the students was a Russian girl, Svetlana Kutusheva, whom I had met in Samara in Russia on previous visits to this country and who had also been in my class while I was teaching there on the topic of eschatology. She then decided to go to South Africa for two years to further her studies in theology, obtain a degree and then to become a missionary in Cambodia. During this graduation function I witnessed a remarkable ceremony. After their degrees had been handed out, each of the potential missionaries lined up before the audience and each then received a towel, symbolic of the fact that they had been called to wash other people’s feet. Seldom in my life had I seen anything which spoke so strongly to me and I made the decision that I was going to duplicate this ceremony in Swaziland with the one home-based caring group which we had at that time at Dwaleni. It was close to Christmas and we were already planning something for around 250 orphans living around our church in the area. I decided to combine the two functions and when we handed the orphans a small gift I called all the care-givers forward and presented each one with a towel, explaining to them the symbolic meaning of the towel.
As we trained five extra groups of care-givers during 2007 this became part of the final day of training where I stressed the fact that the greatest leaders in God’s eyes are not those who can manage millions or who make decisions about a country’s future, but that Jesus considered those who serve the most to be the greatest leaders. This has always been a very special occasion for me. But during the last week or two I felt that God was trying to convince me of something more. I became increasingly convinced that God was expecting me to set an example. Now, I fully realise that the washing of other people’s feet had become something of a custom amongst certain Christians. But as I thought about this issue (not without some fear) I also realised that, in our case, this would be much more than a mere symbol. This would mean that I, as a white man, the pastor of the church (held in high esteem in Swaziland), the project manager of the Shiselweni Reformed Home-Based Care Project, would have to go on my knees before a Swazi woman to wash her feet. I was not comfortable with this idea. Not at all! I’m not a very “touching” person. A bear-hug is fine (male or female – as long as it’s not too long or too close) and a hand on the shoulder or the upper arm is also acceptable. But washing another person’s feet was just way out of my comfort zone. That’s not me! And yet, I felt convinced that I had to do it.
Then on Wednesday I received a phone call from a recently married woman living in our town. She had been praying to God about greater unity amongst Christians and churches in the town where we live and she felt that God was telling her to visit each of the pastors in the town and to wash their and their wives’ feet. So she called on Wednesday, told me what she believed God wanted her to do and made an appointment to visit us in Thursday evening. And I didn’t look forward to this. (Refer to my previous paragraph!) The only reason why I consented was because I felt that it would be wrong of me to discourage this woman from doing what she felt God was telling her to do. But I wouldn’t even be comfortable if my wife was bowing down before me to wash my feet – let alone another woman!
Well, she came. She went down on her knees before me, washed my feet and prayed for me, then washed my wife’s feet and prayed for her and then I also prayed for her. After this she left. This was a first for me. I survived! But the big test would be the next day when I had to wash other people’s feet. So yesterday I drove through to Nsalitje, encouraged the people, handed out the customary towels and explained to them the symbolic meaning of the towels. And then I called the newly chosen chairperson and coordinator to come forward, asked them to sit on a bench and, after explaining to them what I had in mind, I started washing their feet with soap and water, afterwards drying their feet with a towel.
As I was doing this, the craziest thought came into my mind. In Biblical times people were mostly expected to wash their own feet. In extreme circumstances a slave could be used for this purpose but there was an explicit law that prevented Jewish slaves from doing this. Slaves could be asked to do anything, but washing another’s feet was considered to be so degrading, that there was a specific law against Jewish slaves doing this. (Only heathen slaves could be forced to do this.) And this was the thought that came into my mind while washing their feet – that I had probably never been in such a degrading position in my life.
I survived! I’m glad I did it. I think that I will do something similar in the future when we train new groups, as the symbolic meaning of the washing of feet was emphasised in a way that the mere handing out of a towel could never accomplish.
Never again will I speak lightly of people having to leave their comfort zones. But then again, if I could survive this uncomfortable situation then others can also survive getting out of their own comfort zones.

Saturday, February 23, 2008 Posted by | Celebration, Comfort Zone, Cross-cultural experiences, Eschatology, Home-based Caring, Mission, Prayer, Swaziland, Theology, Women | 3 Comments

Are we overemphasising life after death?

While at university, one of my Old Testament professors used to refer to our traditional view on eternal life as “a pie in the sky, bye and bye, when you die.” I still find too many people focussing mainly on life after death instead of focussing also on life on earth. Obviously there is tremendous comfort in the knowledge that there is a life after death. This seems to be the focus of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15 and especially verse 19 where he says: If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. And what other comfort can we give the family of a Christian who had died than to assure them that the deceased is living with Christ. When my father died in 2000, this was really the only comfort which I myself had.
Towards the end of last year Brian McLaren published a book with the title Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope. I haven’t read it yet, but I did read a review in Christianity Today about the book which you can access here. In Ron Martoia’s book, Static, which I have just finished reading he touches on the same topic which Brian McLaren also writes about, and this is (in my own words) that Jesus did not come to save souls, but that He came to save the world.
There is a huge difference between these two viewpoints. How often have you heard people saying that Jesus came to earth in order for our souls to be saved? But according to John 3:16 God sent His Son to earth out of love for the world. And it is clear, when studying the book of Revelations, that God’s interest in us doesn’t stop at the point that our souls are saved, but that He has much more in mind than this – just think of the wonderful description of the new heaven and the new earth in Revelations 21.
From my own background I know that, during the Apartheid years in South Africa, those who were discriminated against were often comforted with the words that they had to accept the hardship which faced them here on earth, knowing that in the next life things will be different! During the times of the Tsars in Russia, the peasants were also told to accept the hardship which befell them because they could look forward to life after death when things would be better.
One of the reasons why I believe the church has lost a lot of its credibility on earth is exactly because of this attitude. God, through Christ, has given us life in abundance here on earth and I believe that we have the calling from God to ensure that other people can also share in this wonderful life on earth. Contrary to many people who feel that we as Christians should not really speak about life after death, I do believe that we could and should speak about it. This theme occurs often in the New Testament. But it should not be done at the cost of keeping quiet about God’s will for people today. In short, our mission task is not solely focussed on the saving of souls but is also focussed on the saving of people and the earth on which we were placed. The church will have to regain credibility but will only be able to do it if we unashamedly stand up for the rights of people, reaching out to help the helpless, bringing health back to the sick, proclaiming peace where there is war, speaking out when the earth is being misused, etc.
I am uncomfortable when people seem to swing the pendulum to the side of only being involved in social and ecological issues, as if we may not speak about life after death. But I also understand this reaction against many Christians and churches which proclaim an unbalanced message of overemphasising life after death.

Monday, January 28, 2008 Posted by | Church, Death, Eschatology, Evangelism, Hope, Mission, Poverty, Racism, Russia, Social issues, Theology | 1 Comment