Prophecies and Typhoons and Plagues (in no particular order), Part I

<I did a fuller grading of a longer version of the predictions in a follow-up post. Recommend looking at it. Click Here: Fuller Version.>

Had an acquaintance of mine asking about the prophecy by some Indian self-described prophet. He had apparently prophecied Typhoon Yolanda’s (Haiyan) destruction in Tacloban and Samar. Then I noticed a lot of search engine requests to my blogsite about prophecies for the Philippines.

Map of the Philippines with Pangasinan highlighted
Map of the Philippines with Pangasinan highlighted (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In truth, prophecies for the Philippines is a major industry, both local manufacture and foreign import. There is a strong market for it. One guy keeps running for president because a “prophet” said that he would be president one day (if he doesn’t give up). Another acquaintance of mine was planning to bring back a bunch of prophecies from Tennessee to give out upon his return here. Some American ministers I never heard of in my many years in the US are quite well-known over here because a major part of their labor is giving out prophecies here. <Note: When I am using the “prophecy” here, I am not using the Biblical concept of sharing God’s Word to inspire change, but in the common usage of divinely empowered (hopefully) future prediction.>

I am not one who likes to make judgments on these things. These “prophets” generally have a theology that is not particularly compatible with my own… and there is a tendency to overemphasize God’s abnormal behavior (the the miraculous) while underemphasizing God’s normal behavior (God’s creation and sacred history). I don’t like to judge because I don’t really want someone of a different flavor of Christianity trying to judge me or my faith. If I don’t seek such judgment, I should be cautious in making judgments.

Still, there is room for a skeptic in these things. A skeptic is one who does not believe (at the least, Descartian Doubt), but is open to having one’s mind changed. This is a very reasonable description of the term skeptic, but commonly not so used. Many seem to use it the way the magazine “American Skeptic” uses it… unwavering doubt of one paradigm and unwavering acceptance of another. It is tempting to go in that direction… and I suppose I am unlikely to buy into the prophetic movement that feeds on Christians here in the Philippines. But, while acknowledging my clear bias, I will try to be cautious in my assessments.

Still, let’s look at the prophecy:

This prophecy came from Sadhu Sundar Selvaraj. He is a former Hindu who had a dramatic conversion to Christianity. His ministry’s website is http://www.jesusministries.org/

A portion of the prophecy in question can be seen on this webpage:

http://www.gods-kingdom-ministries.net/daily-weblogs/2013/11-2013/prophecy-about-the-philippines/

Let’s look at the prophecy. The exposition of the prophecy in the blogpost linked above was done, to say the least, uncritically, so let’s dig in a bit deeper. A portion of the prophecy (at a speaking engagement in the Philippines in April 2013) said to the effect:

God is going to pour out His anointings in 7 cities of this nation like never done before anywhere else in the world. You will be the first nation and the first people in the world to receive that kind of an anointing.

 If you remember clearly… [another prophet] saw a huge menorah, and from the menorah the seven spirits of the Lord came forth, and the seven spirits of the Lord will be poured upon the Philippines, the first of its kind in the world. Because you receive like the firstfruits anointing, the punishment will also be the first of its kind in the world. Blessings first of its kind, and the punishment the first of its kind. So the plagues that will strike Pangasinan will be nothing that the world has ever seen. The skin, the flesh, and the bones will be corrupted. They melt and will rot away.

 Next, Cebu. Another peculiar disease, a plague will arise from Cebu and will spread all over the land and then spread all over the world. And Bohol. From Bohol another plague another disease will arise and spread all over the land and all over the world.

So the first is the destruction through winds. The second is the destruction through diseases. The third destruction through floods. You have experienced many floods in the history of your nation, but that which is to come has no precedent in the past… Specifically, the areas that will experience this flooding: Luzon, Samar, Leyte, and Cebu.

And some hundreds of places, small places, will experience flooding. These are destructions that will come upon your land….

Let’s take it bit by bit. In the first paragraph, there are three basic predictions
Paragraph #1 Item 1: God will bless the Philippines with a special anointing (again using a term being used differently) of Spirit of God that is unlike anything before and will be a blessing to the Philippines… and presumably to the world. <No evidence of this prophecy so far, as far as I can tell… have to wait on that one.>
Paragraph #1 Item 2: God will curse the Philippines with a special set of curses (perhaps because they don’t embrace the blessing that is allegedly promised). <Seems strange. If there is meant to be causation here… rejecting the gift of the “anointing” seems to imply a prior receiving of the anointing. Hard to see why punishment would be given for rejecting something that hasn’t been given yet. Perhaps someone else can give a better explanation. Perhaps they would argue such an anointing has already occurred and the vast vast majority of the people have rejected it. But I can say there is no APPARENT anointing that is a first in an clear way. (Of course, since I would be considered a doubter and I live in the Philippines, presumably this prophecy would be against me. Thus I have a strong bias to reject this prophecy. Still, if  there should be some visible evidence of such an “anointing”. (Sorry, but I  hate the butchering of the Biblical concept of “anointing” as well… adding to my rejection).>
Paragraph #1 Item 3: There would be a plague in Pangasinan like has never been seen before. Some call it a “zombie plague” but the description given is not really consistent with that. It sounds more like flesh-eating bacteria or perhaps gangrene. <Not much one can say about this. I have heard a few people and a few websites trying to talk about such a disease already evident in Pangasinan. However, these sources tend to be ones with a vested interest to support the prophecy. I live just over an hour away from Northern Pangasinan and have lots of friends there. We drive through there periodically and our medical doctor has his office there. If the disease is true… it certainly hasn’t become anything remotely like a vast plague. There are some cases worldwide and to some extent in Southeast Asia of flesh-eating bacteria. I have an acquaintance in Central Asia that contracted that disease. I don’t know anyone in Pangasinan with it. I believe I read of a minor epidemic of an animal disease in Pangasinan and La Union that has drawn the attention of some, but this is completely unrelated to the prophecy, unless it jumps species and changes symptoms.  At best we should withhold judgment. We will just have to wait on that one.>
Paragraph #2 Item 1 and 2. Plagues from Cebu and Bohol will also spread all over the world. <No evidence of this so far. Perhaps these “plagues” are metaphoric or figurative. Unfortunately, if they are figurative, they are unprovable both positively and negatively.>
Paragraph #3 Item 1. Flooding all over Luzon, Samar, Leyte, and Cebu unlike ever seen before. <Okay, this is the one that keeps being referenced, but it is actually the weakest one. One characteristic of Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) was its relative LACK of flooding. That was because the issue was wind not rain. (Careful now, the reference to winds in the third paragraph appears to be tied to the anointing in the first paragraph, not to the typhoon). Only a few places had major flooding… most noticeably Tacloban, due to storm surge. Even there, this sort of flooding is not unique, but has happened in Tacloban before on more than one occasion. Flooding in general did not happen in the VAST majority of places listed. It seems to me that the best one could say about this part of this prophecy is “not yet fulfilled.”>
Okay, pretty much everything in this prophecy is either not fulfilled or unproven. Can someone look at it and find meaning and usefulness in it? Perhaps… but I believe there are two things you can’t honestly  draw from the prophecy:
A.  You can’t determine if Sadhu is a true or false prophet. Basically nothing in the prophecy has exactly been fulfilled, and almost nothing can be said to be fulfilled even in general terms. If one prophecy is proved false even if all the others are shown true, he is a false prophet (a good reason not to call yourself a prophet, really). Since there is no real timeframes given, and no good standards for testing the prophecies, it is hard to use them to show that Sadhu is a charlatan. But the same vagueness prevents us from identifying him as a true prophet. Unless things change, can’t say much.
B. It really can’t be used evangelistically. Anyone who takes the time to look at the prophecy will see its basic lack of fulfillment in either detail or in general. Perhaps it could be used to convince people who don’t bother to check your sources. To me, that is unethical (Like a mission group that was using the move “2012”, to convince Filipinos to convert to their version of Christianity because it showed that Jesus was about to come). Beyond unethical, those who take the time to check things out are likely to be more firmly rejecting of Christianity because of the use of false marketing. That may more than negate gains with the uncritical.
Okay, personally, I feel comfortable with rejecting this prophecy. The first NT indwelling of the Holy Spirit (in the disciples before Jesus ascended) was not marked with curses on others. The second indwelling (or at least empowering) of the Holy Spirit (at Pentecost) was not typified by curses on others. I am not a Pentecostal, Charismatic, or a “Third-Waver,” so I don’t take seriously these other so-called “anointings.” But for those that do accept them, it is pretty evident that curses were not associated with such an alleged arrival. It seems fair to question whether this “new” anointing being associated with curses on the people that it was meant to bless is Biblical. I apparently am one who would be under such a curse since I reject the message of this anointing. Perhaps that makes me a bad judge… but it does make me an interested party.
When the chaos settles, I just really have to suggest that people go back to the words of Jesus as their guidance. Jesus said that we are not to know the times, but are to be faithful in what we know we are supposed to do (worshiping God, loving our neighbor, and disciplining the world) until He comes. Why waste one’s time on the rest of this… trivia.?
Addendum:  There is another blogsite that has a “hardcopy” of the prophecy. It is quite different. Not sure what to make of the differences. The site is: http://kristelgarciano.wordpress.com/2013/11/27/terrible-judgments-over-the-philippines-if-the-nation-does-not-repent-and-turn-to-god/
Some of the ones in this one sound more accurate while others seem to be even more fanciful. Still most of it is vague… or else inaccurate. Why don’t you look it over yourself and go over them step by step and decide for yourself. This second one does, in my view, look a bit more contrived… a bit redacted (edited). It seems a bit broken up like bits and pieces were shoved together. However, it is possible that is how this particular “prophet” writes. Second, and continuing on the style thing, it has the style of someone who is trying to sound “prophetic” like mixing a bit of Daniel with Nostradamus. It happens. Joseph Smith, whose normal writings were pretty down-home vernacular English wrote the “Book of Mormon” in quasi-King James. Why? I suppose because it sounds more holy, prophetic, and authoritative. I don’t know. You decide for yourself.
Second Addendum: If you are interested, you could also look up Cindy Jacobs “prophecy” back in 2009, that essentially said that the Philippines would either get better or worse. Can’t argue with that. You can look that one up yourself and decide for yourself. Again, because the Bible also says that things will either get better or worse, I don’t see how this prediction adds to what we already know.

Disaster Response Volunteer Guidelines

<div style=”margin-bottom:5px”> <strong> <a href=”https://www.slideshare.net/bmunson3/disaster-response-volunteer-guide&#8221; title=”Disaster Response Volunteer Guide” target=”_blank”>Disaster Response Volunteer Guide</a> </strong> from <strong><a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/bmunson3&#8243; target=”_blank”>Bob Munson</a></strong> </div>

Focus on Disaster Response Relilgious Care Volunteers in the Philippines. First version… changes likely.

Ambivalent Reflections on Miracles in Missions

Previously, I had done a post on “Ambivalent Reflections on Spiritual Warfare.” Although I am ambivalent on Spiritual Warfare, I tend to view it negatively as it relates to missions (because of its generally negative tone, and the tendency to be built on a syncretized animism). However, I have a more positive view of the miraculous. Some would argue that spiritual warfare and miracles are nearly synonymous. But I tend to make a functional distinction.

Jesus Moses Elijah
Jesus Moses Elijah (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For me, Spiritual Warfare is offensive (in multiple senses of the term). It is about tearing down the enemy. Personally, I believe God uses LOVE and TRUTH as spiritual offense more than miracles (again, generally, in my view). However, miracles (as I am using the term) is a positive sign or proclamation. I will develop this idea later.

But first, consider three very basic views on miracles today. These are CAN’T, MUST, and MIGHT.

CAN’T.  God can’t do miracles in this view. Historically, this could be a Deist viewpoint. or in some circles, a Pantheistic view. However, within Evangelical Christian circles, this is more likely a Cessationist view. That is, God stopped doing miracles after the first century of the church. (Miracles as I am referring to them here are limited to “big” stuff, not simply God interacting in the world.)  I don’t care for this view. I am not impressed with the Biblical argument for this view. Additionally, there seems to be some level of continuity of the miraculous through church history.

MUST. God must do miracles… or more particularly, the miracles we want Him to do. Some argue this from the verse that God is the same, yesterday, today, and for ever (Hebrews 13:8). Some take strong statements in the Bible of God promising to answer our prayers as supporting this viewpoint as well. The Hebrews 13:8 passage is a very weak argument. First, the passage seems to be more about character than action. Second, it is pretty obvious from the Bible that God’s actions DO vary at different times and places. Much of the rest of the book of Hebrews talks about how God has changed in actions in different times. Regarding prayer, a solid analysis of prayer from the Bible shows that God maintains His role as God. He does not hand that over to others. When we ask in Jesus’ name, we are acting on His behalf, acting according to His will. God does not subjugate His will to ours. So I don’t believe that God MUST do (showy) miracles.

MIGHT. I believe a balanced view is that God MIGHT do (showy) miracles. “Might” implies “Might not.” As such, God retains control. But why would God do showy miracles at times and not at others?

I have talked to evangelists and churchplanters who work in places where the church is NOT. Their experience is that God does showy miracles as one enters an unreached community or people. Once the community is effectively entered, the miraculous goes away. This suggests that miracles are primarily meant as  SIGNS. That is, they demonstrate the entry of God’s kingdom into a new community.

This seems consistent with the Bible. While there are times when showy miracles were done in the Bible when the idea of community entry (as a sign) does not apply that well (Elijah and Elisha are strong examples), miracles tend to be clustered in places where they act as a sign of God doing something new in a new place (miracles of Moses and of Jesus are strong examples of this). Other times, miracles were few and far between. Israel was often reminded to look back to the miracles of Moses as support for their love by God as His people.

This also seems to be consistent with early church history. The early church fathers (such as Ireneaus) note that miracles had not disappeared, but there is a strong indication that miracles had long since lost their “normalcy.”

So suppose miracles are primarily a SIGN that God uses to enter a new territory, what does that imply for missions and ministry?

1. Recognize that God seeks to have His church reach all peoples.

2.  Entering a new territory, I am not sure that we should EXPECT miracles, but we should be ready for them as God gives a positive sign of entry into the community.

3.  Where the church is established, showy miracles probably should not be expected, and certainly should not be “conjured” up, either through fakery or through over-hyping.

4.  Missions and Ministry is God’s work, not ours, and empowered/steered by Him, not us.

The Power of Weakness: Part 3

In the previous posts I have developed four categories of missions based on relation

Two priests demand a heretic to repent as he i...
Two priests demand a heretic to repent as he is tortured. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

to violence and power. Of course the categories are dependent on how the terms are defined.

For the purpose of the categories, violence has to do with acts that may be violent in a classic sense, but may also include methods that are harassing or abusive as well.

Power within this context is based on utilizing the position of governmental, legal, economic or social power or authority.

Some missions methods that fall into these categories:

Violent and Power: Crusades, Inquisition (at times), “Gunboat evangelism” and other forms of govermentally-mandated conversions.

Non-violent and Power: Inquisition (at other times), Colonial regulation of faith and conduct, Blue laws, “Rice Christian”  and other dependency ministries. Desecration power encounter. I called this “Duragraha” from Mohatma Gandhi… though I don’t promise to be using the term exactly like he did.

Violent without power: “abortion clinic bombings” and other forms of religious terrorism, Desecration of other’s faith artifacts, religious harassment

Non-violent without power: empowering (rather than dependency-generating) social ministry, training, missions encounters (power, truth, allegiance, and love) when done respectfully and without coersion, dialogue. I called this “Satyagraha” from Mahatma Gandhi… again, not promising to be using the term exactly like he did.

I believe, in general, Christian missions is non-violent and acting without human power or authority. There are exceptions.

For example, I believe that Christian Community Development or Social Ministry is acceptable, however, a primary goal is to go from a position of power to empowering others towards a position of interdependence. The same is true in the case of training. Training begins, in a sense, from a position of authority of one over another, but should be empowering, rather than maintaining that position of power, of one over another.

Much of missions has tended toward the teleological. I am not against the teleological… if something truly doesn’t work, why use it? But we should start from a deontological (and contextual) view. If Christ is our example in missions (and I believe He is), we have a good starting point, as well as healthy limits, on how to do missions. It seems like one should start from a position of non-violence since this appears to be a primary limitation on His methodology. The overturning of the tables in the Court of the Gentiles might be an exception, but I am not convinced that this was a missions method on the part of Christ. Additionally, Jesus did not position Himself utilizing governmental or societal authority. Rather, He came in poverty as a servant. As a teacher, He took on some level of authority, and yet did so in a transitional form… giving His disciples authority to serve and train others in His place.

The Power of Weakness: Part 1

I am teaching a History of Missions class at Philippine Baptist Theological Seminary. Again, I have been struck at two streams of missions work. The first might be called “Power Missions.” The other might be called “Weakness Missions.” Others have written on this (at least one that I know of), but I feel that not enough has been focused on this issue.

English: Medieval miniature painting of the Si...
English: Medieval miniature painting of the Siege of Antioch (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today, I am teaching on the Crusades. Most don’t consider it a missions activity. However, it did spring, in part, from a missional zeal, motivated in part by the desire, and missional activities of  pilgrimages (peregrination pro Christo (“wandering for the sake of Christ”)) and martyrdom. It  also was guided by doubtful missional innovations of Charlemagne centuries earlier. These include “the cross and sword” missions method, and missions work as an arm of the State. The Crusades were, in part, a method for the Church and ‘Christendom” to deal with people outside the faith (be they “infidels” or “heretics” or pagans).

I am also talking about St. Francis of Assisi and his attempt to reach out to those not of the faith. He was not hugely successful, but arguably far more successful in overall missionary impact than the Crusades. He was carrying out missions from a position of weakness.

When I speak of Weakness missions… I am directly referring to the following:

  • Missions carried out without military or governmental support.
  • Missions carried out in places where the missionary is exposed to danger rather than being a source of danger.

Less directly, I would include::

  • Missions is done “incarnationally.” In this, the missionary joins the people as a fellow citizen and fellow struggler.
  • Missions is focused on loving encounters more than power encounters.

I think I will do a couple of more posts on this topic. It is not fully developed in my mind yet… but that is part of the reason for writing it down.

Religion and Problems of POWER and CONTROL

2nd_Crusade_council_at_Jerusalem, Conrad III, ...
2nd_Crusade_council_at_Jerusalem, Conrad III, Louis VII and Baldwin III (Photo credit: Wikipedia) I was looking at my Slideshare account. There I have three presentations on Spiritual or Religious abuse. They have been there 9 months or less and they have had over 1600 hits, and are continuing to build fairly rapidly. I know that for some of you 1600 hits is not a lot. But these are not posts for having chiseled abs. These presentations are not pictures of flowers and small furry animals with inspiration saying overlays. These are presentations about people who have been abused in their spiritual setting by spiritual leaders/mentors who were supposed to be interested in doing God’s work, which includes Christlike caring for these people. Kind of a bummer of a topic. I get a few hits on topics on religocentrism or historical methodology of missions (and other topics that lack that certain pizazz) and get nothing like 1600 hits.

I am left with a belief that these numbers on poorly advertised presentations from an (admittedly) obscure compiler suggests that this topic is a BIG concern. Oh sure, it could be that the hits are from fully secularized individuals who, to feel good about their god-free life choices, like to look up pages on people who have made different choices and suffered for them. I believe that most of the hits are from people that are people of faith (or people who were of faith) who have been hurt by those who were called to help.

Many of these abusers were created not born. That is, they did not start out as abusers, or abusive. They may have even started out as sincere individuals. But they became part of a flawed structure or hierarchy. The hierarchy may have been of their own creation, but the initial intent of the structure was not to abuse.

Saying the problem is “sin” is too simplistic. Not that it would be wrong to say the problem is sin. But sin is always with us, so we aren’t addressing the problem in a meaningful way.

It seems to me that we lack a good theology and methodology for dealing with the issues of Power and Control.

1.  Theology

Many Christians I have talked to seem to have a 16th century perspective of power and control. If one has the power to control, and the right to control, one must control without limit. I have come across this in terms of God. If God is all powerful, and God has the right to control all things, then it is logical, to some, that he MUST CONTROL all things. Of course, this is a complete fallacy. The power to control and the right to control does not necessitate the desire to control.

In Ecclesiology we see it as well. We see the Apostles (the Twelve) given power and authority. Commonly, we draw the somewhat logical(?) conclusion that the Apostles did in fact control the church. This does not appear to be true. The apostles set up the Church of Jerusalem, but did not appear to rule it. James the half-brother of Jesus appeared to be an early (the first?) senior elder/ bishop/ overseer/ presbyter/ pastor of the church of Jerusalem. Even the one time the Twelve seem to exercise extensive ecclesiastical control in the Universal church (the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15) they appear to merely be senior voices of a common developing consensus. Paul, despite his acerbic moments, appeared to rarely if ever control and only occasionally emphasized his authority. His focus was almost always to persuade with words and encourage churches to be guided by the Spirit of God. On the other hand, it does appear to me, at least, that St. Ignatius in the early 2nd century did have a view of church leaders as being those who should exercise a high level of control in their churches. However, even there, the fact that Ignatius kept writing letters to this effect to churches suggests that this was not the common attitude and/or belief and/or practice in the churches at the time.

2. Methodology

There is often the presumption that “too many cooks spoil the soup.” One needs one creative vision to make things happen. There are certain examples where this has been true. Yet it seems to me that evidence points to more failures than successes of this philosophy. Even organizations where a strong controlling visionary leader was faithful to the end often are ill-equipped to handle the chaos of transfer of such control and power after the leader is gone. The Bible notes the value of having many counselors, noting the limits of a king to rule wisely without such help. Samuel cautioned even the very idea of .having a king. In church this cautious note is often interpreted as Human Monarchy versus Theocracy (a battle between two autocratic systems). But, in fact, the system of government before the ascendancy of kings was fairly decentralized.  Moses was fairly autocratic (though even here, the story with Jethro provides a caution to the wisdom of not having some some decentralization of control) . Joshua was also fairly autocratic, but after this such control went away. We like to look at the book of Judges as a time of chaos (when there was no king and everyone did what is right in their own eyes) but I see little evidence to suggest one should take this period of time to evidence the benefits of centralizing of power and control. The words of the major and minor prophets seem to reject such a simplistic view.

Today, some churches combine power and control within the same person or persons. This often breeds abusive situations. Often the argument is that it increases effectivity. The vision of one (presumably getting his or her vision from God) is given the control to effect that vision. Again, I believe we see the problems in many churches where alleged effectivity is given priority in decision-making. In healthy secular organizations and in healthy governmental systems, checks and balances are put into place to limit the accumulation of an inordinate power and control in one location or person. The Caesars (Julius through Trajan and Hadrian) may have made Rome great(er) but they also set up governing precedents that weakened the empire in the long-term.

In missions, there are a growing number of books (such as by Glenn Schwartz in “When Charity Destroys Dignity: Overcoming Unhealthy Dependency in the Christian Movement”) that provide caution of missions exercising a considerable amount of power and control in the mission field. They provide many examples of the problems that come from that. The biggest one tends to be Dependency.

So what to do?

A.  Separate power and control. In public corporations, the power is in the hands of the shareholders. They dole out power and authority to the Board of Trustees. These, in turn, dole out power and authority to those who actually control the organization on a day to day basis. This separation of power/authority and control provides a check/balance to those who run things. Government does this as well. In representative democracies, the power is in the hands of the people and they dole out such power to representatives. These representatives (in the legislative side) dole out power (commonly money) and authority (legislation) to the executive (control) part of government. In congregational churches a representative democracy also exists where the power is in the hands of the people, while the control is in the hands of a council or board. The members of the church empower the leaders but also provide a check for their control.

B. Change our attitude about power. Jesus spoke a great deal (especially in the Sermon on the Mount) about effecting change while eschewing traditional forms of power and authority. The Sermon on Mount is counterintuitive. One can understand the triumphalism of Eusebius of Antioch at the conversion of Emperor Constantine to Christianity (and the legal power and prestige gained for the church from this event) after centuries of degradation and powerlessness. Yet with hindsight we can see that it was a mixed blessing. The Cross and the Sword, or the Church and the Sceptor have issues that we as a church STILL have not fully come to terms with.

Many churches find “Power” a popular topic. Some have the entertaining trait of the overemphasis of the word in prayers and sermons (POWWWW-errrrrrrr!). Power encounter is a popularized method of missions. But history (most recently confirmed in the growth of the disempowered underground church movements in China) seems to show that the church that Jesus set up has been most effective dwelling and acting from a position of weakness.

I doubt this is the final thoughts on this topic… but it is a start (and one has to start somewhere).

“Prophecy” and a Confession, of Sorts

I was talking to my son about a logical glitch I have in a couple of my blog posts from a few months ago. He suggested that, instead of fixing them, I put a blog post about them.

English: Baptism of Christ
English: Baptism of Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In one post, I was complaining about a self-styled “prophet” from America, who had made a “prophecy” that the Philippines would be a great nation and a beacon of God’s light to the world. I am purposely not choosing the exact words but you get the idea. I complained that this is not real prophecy. ALMOST ALWAYS, prophets exhort in the Bible. That is, they encourage people to good action. Even the book of Revelation is primarily exhortational. It was written to those suffering to warn them of more dangerous times, and to encourage them to remain faithful to the end (very much like the message of the Epistle to the Hebrews). The details are not unimportant, but not of primary importance. To give a “prophecy” regarding the future without exhortation is simply “tickling the ears.” It is akin to the fortune teller giving feel good information to a client. Here in the Philippines, people are much like those in the US (along with a number of warm-blooded animal species) in that they like their ears tickled. It adds to the popularity (and pockets) of the said “prophet.”

In a second post, I was complaining about a self-styled “prophet” from America (they all get over here to the Philippines eventually) who stated that a leader of a large religious movement here would be President of the Philippines… if the people would be faithful to God. Now, personally, having no interest in that individual ever running any particular organization… least of all government presidency, the prophetic exhortation encouraged me to want to be “unfaithful.” Still, I was annoyed by the message since it wasn’t testable… the “prophet” (“prophetess”) gave herself an out. If the person becomes president (hasn’t so far) she must be a true prophet of God. He the person does not become president… she wasn’t wrong, the people just weren’t faithful enough.

You will note, I placed these “prophets” in a no-win position. If there is no message of exhortation, I question that it could be a true message from God. If there is one, I question the individual’s unwillingness to truly be tested to see if what they have to say is from God.  That’s not really fair. I have to admit it.

Part of the trouble I have is with term “prophecy” itself. I would rather not see it used. Most times “prophecy” is used in the Bible, the term “exhortation” would appear to be more appropriate. Prophecies are usually not the fortuneteller type… but the word of exhortation or encouragement to be faithful and true to God. When the self-styled “prophets” (sorry… I just have to use quotation marks… can’t help it) go into fortuneteller mode… perhaps it would be better to utilize a different term. Maybe we could call it “apocalypsis.” The term is from the Latin for the revealing of what was covered or hidden. The reason for the different term would be to release us from the messy baggage of the world prophecy or prophet.

A prophet in the New Testament (and in the first century church) seemed to primarily be one who goes from church to church and preaches, encourages, and exhorts the membership to be faithful and holy. It is curious that in the Didache (apparently a first century work) prophecy was not to be questioned… but the prophet was to be tested. That seems to make no sense. Perhaps others would understand this better. To me it suggests the ambiguity of the role. Prophets were to be from God and to be received as if they were speaking God’s truth to us. Yet their message was not supposed to be innovative… but point people back to the words and life of Christ.

One passage that means a lot to me is John 15:26 – 16:4. In this, the Helper/Spirit of Truth will be sent from God the Father to testify regarding the Son. And the disciples are also to testify regarding Christ based on what they have seen and lived. There is more in the passage. A few findings from it seem to be:

  • The Disciples are to point people back to Jesus, His words, His example.
  • The Spirit of God also points back to Jesus.
  • In doesn’t seem to be a primary role of God’s disciples or the Spirit of God to be innovative but restoring people to the key truth in Christ.

Additionally notes from the passage:

  • Being a theist doesn’t mean one is better than an atheist. Atheists claim that theists can be really really evil since they can use their “god” as justification for nearly any heinous act. Jesus appears to agree with the charge of atheists here.
  • A healthy theism only exists with a true understanding of who God the Father is, and who Christ is.

I feel we need more people point people back to Christ… back to God… and less innovative speakers who start calling themselves prophets so as to be listened to. (I have made the argument among evangelicals here in the Philippines before that when pastors are not listened to, they change their title to bishop. When bishops don’t get listened to, they change their title to apostle. When apostles don’t listened to, they change their title to the “Appointed Son of God” or “Emperor of the Universe.”

So, there is my confession. I rejected prophecies because they have caveats and because they do not have caveats. Annoyingly, both arguments seem to be sound. Perhaps it is best not to think of them as prophecies at all (apocalypsis or otherwise) … but the opinions of people who want to be listened to.

Instead of using titles to try to get adherents, I believe we should focus more on pointing people to Christ… as witnessed and testified to by the Twelve, and confirmed in the Spirit of Truth.

<Bracketing my article with two VERY different perspectives below.>

Better Bad Choices

I have a couple of acquaintances (truthfully, not close to me). One of them is an Evangelical Christian who is dabbling in a neo-pagan religion. The other, also an Evangelical Christian, is already decided to join a classic doomsday-type authoritarian cult.

Youth Culture - Punk 1980s-1990s
Youth Culture – Punk 1980s-1990s (Photo credit: brizzle born and bred)

Christian Missions is, of course, more focused on bringing those outside of the fold to choose to follow Christ. But it is simply reality that there is a backdoor in the church. This is not a theological discussion about eternal security (it’s not really THAT type of blog). From a human perspective… people change religions. It happens.

As Christians, we (hopefully) seek to ensure that those who follow Christ stay faithful in that. The book of Hebrews, for example, is written to Jewish Christians, encouraging them to stay faithful to the path they chose, and not return to their old lives.

Still, it makes me wonder. Are we responsible as a church not only to:

  • Bring people into the church                                                    and
  • Nurture/disciple those in the church                                   and
  • Encourage those in the church to stay in the church

BUT, recognizing that we simply do not have control over people’s decisions, are we responsible to ensure that those who leave the church do not go in a direction that is self-destructive. 

In the examples at the beginning, both cases ARE problems… but the authoritarian cult is more self-destructive than the neo-pagan group. Additionally the neo-pagan group is easier to leave than the authoritarian cult.

Is the church responsible to help those in church to not only make good choices, but even to make better bad choices?

On the Theme “Walking With” : A Missions Theology. Part 6

Do You See Yonder Wicket-Gate The Pilgrim's Pr...
Do You See Yonder Wicket-Gate The Pilgrim’s Progress Macgregor PubJack 1907 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This last section looks at Missions from the standpoint of Missions practice. As such, it is not, strictly speaking, drawn from the theme “Walking With.” Rather it is dialogue between practice and principle. I believe that the basic principles flow from the Biblical understanding of “walking with.”

Reviewing:

God (as drawn from the OT) relates to His own in terms of walking with. In this we are to be close to Him relationally, guided by Him, based on humility and love. Failure to walk with God in this sense is what we call “sin.”

Christ relates to us in line with God’s relationship with us as described in the Old Testament. The addition is that Jesus modeled this abstract concept with the incarnation. The call of Christ is to follow Him. We have the obligation to choose to follow Christ or follow the path of the world.

The Church is called upon to love the world… but rejecting the path that the world is on. Rather, the church is to follow the path of truth, righteousness, and peace while in the world. Our call is to proclaim the message of God, and prepare the way for Christ. 

How can we relate this to missions?

1.  God leads. This may be obvious. But God leads us in the paths of righteousness and the way we should go. God is on mission (refer to Blackaby and Willis in “On Mission with God.”).

2.  We follow. As a disciple, we follow Christ. In joining God on His mission, we are sent out by Him… still being led by Him. 

3.  We go. We live led by God in the ways of righteousness, but in the world. As such, we follow the model of Christ in dwelling and interacting with those who are on the wrong path. We prepare the way for Christ in this world by inviting people to join us in following God… the straight path. As John Perkins notes with regards to Christian Community Development, relocation (as in moving into the community in which transformation is sought). It seems like this principle should be applied beyond the narrow bounds of community development.

4.  We model. Invitation is not enough. The path of God is characterized by Righteousness, Love, Peace, and Truth. As we share truth, promote peace, practice love, and seek righteousness, we decorate the Gospel.

5.  They choose. Regardless of one’s opinion about freewill and God’s election, from a human perspective… people choose. They choose the path that they desire. Ideally, as they see the path, process, and life Christians are on, they desire it, and follow you as you follow Christ. Hopefully soon they will understand that they are following Christ and you are only assisting them in that path.

Okay… this is pretty simple set of items… some might describe them as self-evident. But in missions nothing seems to be self-evident. I would like to suggest there are some aspects of missions that don’t fit into this set of principles.

A.  Distance missions. Just send money is not missions. I am in missions so I certainly don’t mind if people send money.  But missions is incarnational. It involves face-to-face and heart-to-heart experiences.

B.  Propositional evangelism. It is okay to memorize the Romans Road or Evangelism Explosion or the Wordless Book. But truth is not enough. Christian missions is based on living out God’s path in a process. Propositional evangelism is of value only within the context of godly living in interactive relationships with others.

C.  Futurist focus. Christianity is a hear and now religion. The path we were given is in this world. We can, rightly, be comforted in a confident future. But that in no way means we should minimize the importance of where we are, who we are, and what we are doing… here. Faithfully walking the path God has placed for us is more important than setting dates for His imminent (or perhaps delayed) return.

D.  Militant focus. We may be justified in singing “Onward Christian Soldiers” and I was in the military and believe that there is good in the military and in militaristic symbols. However, our relationship with the world should be more characterized by love, peace, and righteousness, than by militaristic (both offensive and defensive) metaphors.

E.  Signs and Wonders, and Power Encounter. Christian missions is described best in day by day faithful living that relates to the world around us with truth, love, peace, and righteousness. This sort of living provides a considerable challenge to others when they compare it to the lies, selfishness, conflict, and sinfulness that surrounds them. Miracles certainly may have their place… but there “non-ordinariness” suggests that they are not part of the normal Christian ministry. In fact, sadly, sometimes miracles are done (whether actual works of God or works of chicanery) in place of  truth, truth, peace, and righteousness.

F.  Narrow definition of missions. Missions is following Christ and living out the path He has given. In certain circumstances it may be useful to define missions in terms of profession, in terms of cultural bridging, in terms of finance, or in terms of calling. But ultimately, we indeed are meant to be on missions and as long as we are alive on earth we are in the mission field.

This ends my 6 part (it was going to be 5 part) series seeking to look at missions theology through the theme of “walking with.” I hope it has some value to some.

Cleansing the Church’s “Court of the Gentiles”?

English: Wailing Wall from the Tankizyya
English: Wailing Wall from the Tankizyya (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I would like to pull together three fairly unrelated things. Layers of Culture, the Layout of the Temple in Jerusalem, and Christian outreach.

First.  Layers of Culture.  Linwood Barney showed layers of culture. Inmost is ideology, cosmology, and worldview. The figure for this is below. These are the least visible cultural characteristics.

Levels of culture
Levels of culture

Out from that is values. Outward from that are institutions. On the outside is Material artifacts and observable behavior.

I find it a useful model. When we see a culture. We see the artifacts and observable behavior.  It takes greater digging to get to the deeper layers.

I guess, however, I would like to separate the outermost layer into two levels. The two levels would be:

  • Outside-accessible artifacts and behavior (outer skin)
  • Other artifacts and behavior (inner skin)

2.  Temple in Jerusalem. Let me take the example of the Old Testament temple. The temple mount had four courtyards:

  • Court of Gentiles
  • Court of (Jewish) Women
  • Court of Israel (Jewish Men)
  • Court of Priests

The outermost court was the court of the Gentiles. So if you were not a Jewish believer, that was as far as you could come into the temple mount. Observation of the practices of the temple was limited to that level. To an outsider the Court of the Gentiles provided the access and the limitations of access for material artifacts and observable behavior of the temple culture. That is where outsider-accessible material artifacts and observable behavior ends. Other artifacts and observable behavior exist but are not directly accessible to an outsider.

Now consider the story in Matthew 21 where Jesus “cleansed the temple.” It described His strong reaction to the moneychangers and selling stalls in the temple. There are a lot of views regarding why Jesus did this. Was it righteous anger over profiteering? Was it demonstrating His authority? Was He fulfilling Scripture?

I am not going to hazard a definitive answer. Instead let me give my own reaction. The moneychangers and the selling stalls were in the court of the Gentiles. While Isaiah 56:7 said that the house of God (in this case referring to the temple in Jerusalem) would be a house of prayer for all nations. In theory, a curious non-Jew could go the temple mount, and go as far as court of the Gentiles. What would be the accessible artifacts and behavior? Coins, animals, noisy buying and selling. It certainly was not a place of prayer for all nations. It seems doubtful that a Gentile coming to the temple mount would gain a positive view of what is going on in the temple. And that is a shame. It is as if a group puts up signs on the edge of their property telling people to go away… nothing worthwhile to see here.

I recall back in 1991 visiting Jerusalem. It was a bit like a Christian Disneyland. Take a tram/bus from one ride to the next, with little stalls selling various religious products (commonly of olive wood). Actually, the moneychangers along the Via Dolorosa were probably the least offensive, and offered rates of exchange better than the banks. The best part of that trip was the Wailing Wall. Its simplicity and its availability for all people to come and quietly pray to God was inspirational. One could imagine that was the original purpose of the Gentile Court.

3.  Christian Outreach. Okay, what about us? What is the “Court of the Gentile” for Christianity? It is where non-Christians have ready access to observing Christianity. Where is this? Typically it is on TV, billboards, church signs, bumperstickers, and the Internet. ISN’T THAT A SCARY THOUGHT? If I wasn’t raised up in a Christian home, I would have learned about Christianity by what I saw on religious programming on TV and bumperstickers. I can’t imagine myself ever choosing to become a Christian based on the inanity that Christians put on TV, on the Internet, and on the road and roadside. Sure, there is great joy and wonder and community in the church… but what outsider would ever see that? And what non-Christian would even want to find out more based on what is outsider-accessible?

We can’t force people to change what they put on the Web or anywhere else. But as Christians, I pray we will take more time recognizing that the foolish-greedy-noisy mess we put into the media is what the rest of the world really sees. If a few will clean up our own outer court, maybe this will start a trend.

Thankfully, there is something else we can do. We can live Christlike ourselves. Getting Christians to behave well as a group is like herding cats. (It is of little comfort to know that this seems to be a characteristic of humanity and all religious an ideological groups have similar problems.) As the song sung by Steve Green states,

Cause You’re the only Jesus some will ever see
You’re the only words of life, some will ever read
So let them see in you the One in whom is all they’ll ever need
You’re the only Jesus, some will ever see