Saturday, January 15, 2011

Encouraging One Another

Elder Terry Blanchard

To truly have a healthy functioning expression of a local church will depend on every member fulfilling their God-appointed role, desiring the edification of the body where we show our love for each other through sacrifice and service. Our Saviour illustrated this teaching by washing his disciples’ feet. Then He told them to do just what He had done:
“If I, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, so you must also wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14).
Listen again to the words of Jesus, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mk10:45). “For even the Son of M:45). The apostle Paul writes, “...each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” (Php 2:4-5).
It is hoped that through this article you might consider what you can do to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24). Serving one another is a reflection of the character of our Lord Jesus, and we are to be imitators of Him (Eph 5:1).
Yet, many feel we either don’t have the time to involve ourselves in ministry or know what our spiritual gift(s) are, or both. In regards to time or lack of, amazingly we find time to do the things we truly want to do. If we golf, we find time to spend four hours or more on the golf course, at least once a week, if we like hockey, baseball or football, we manage to get a couple of games in a week, or spends hours watching TV even if other things have to take a back seat. I don’t say this to make you feel guilty, but just to remind you that we all have time to get what needs to be done if it is made a priority.
In regards to church ministry, let us remember that a believer is indwelt and empowered by the Holy Spirit for the purpose of serving others. Yes, we all have spiritual gifts but we also have God given abilities that when used for his glory in service to others He transforms them from being merely natural to being much more through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Saviour wants to use you in a ministry that is essential to the body and while using your natural God given abilities you may discover your spiritual gift(s).
Richard Baxter noted, “Every man must render to God the things that are God’s, and that, let it be remembered, is all he is and all he possesses. How are all things sanctified to us, but in the separation and dedication of them to God? Are they not all his talents, and must be employed in his service?”
Ministry does depend on the use of spiritual gifts, not just the use of natural talents dedicated to God. Both are vital, and both will be present in the church. However, the church is not built on natural talent; service within the church involves the use of spiritual gifts.
We don’t necessarily have to have a spiritual gift to visit the sick in their home or the hospital, or the elderly, the widowed, the bereaved, to provide a meal or two if necessary. Hospitality is another way we can be of encouragement to others. Our homes should have open doors. Encouraging others could be something as simple as providing rides for those without vehicles, especially in the winter months. Every believer should have a concern for those in their sphere of influence (i.e. men’s and ladies ministries, Sunday school, youth or college and career groups) as to their needs and how you can meet it either personally or in notifying the pastor or elders.
Encouraging others may be through attending the care groups, church family functions, prayer meeting or having a small group Bible study in your home. Yes, the work of the ministry belongs to the entire body of believers.
Written in the context of spiritual gifts, Ephesians 4:16 emphasizes the importance of everybody doing their part in the “body of Christ.” “From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every support ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Eph 4:16). It would appear that by so doing it helps you identify your place in the church and play an important role in the growth of “the Body.”
Speaking to the church Paul writes, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Gal 6:10). In Hebrews, we read, “And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased” (Heb 13:16).
It must also be said that those who are mature in the faith are to not only encourage the younger or weaker brother/sister in the faith by being Christ-like examples but also make themselves available to encourage them in spiritual matters. The more mature believers are to support and encourage each other to continue to persevere in the race set before them by keeping their eyes on Christ, the Author and finisher of their faith.
Jesus commands us to love, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). This love is expressed in the work of ministry which belongs to the entire body of believers, serving those for whom Jesus died.


Elder Kevin Littlewood

The purpose of evangelism is to pronounce the eternal truths of the gospel that Jesus Christ was crucified for the sins of all those who would ever turn and trust in Him for their forgiveness by faith alone and grace alone. Evangelism is the message that there is one God in three persons and that he has created the world and all that is in it and we are His creation, and all things exist for His glory and honour.
The Scriptures teach that we are sinful and in a state of separation and open rebellion against our Creator and as such are the objects of His wrath. Humans left in their sinful state and unrepentant in their hearts will upon death be separated from this holy and just God, justly condemned for their sinful lives; this is the “Bad News.”
But, there is “Good News!” God will forgive the sinner through faith in the meritorious works of Jesus Christ and as they turn from sin in repentance. God applies the righteousness of Christ and no longer sees our sin but the perfection and holiness of Christ giving eternal life, the gift of grace, all this through Christ to His glory.
Now, how to share this with others? First, do you have the desire to share the gospel, and if you do, that desire is from the Holy Spirit and is one of the many evidences that you are saved. You want to see people come to a saving knowledge of faith in Jesus and you pursue God in prayer on the behalf of others. Of course, now you have to know how to share the “Good News” in a way that is clear and precise in approximately 90 to 120 seconds.
The “Good News” has four essential parts.
  1. We were created in the image of God to know Him.
  2. We have sinned (missed the mark of God’s holiness) against our righteous and holy Creator. His wrath is being revealed from heaven against godlessness and wickedness.
  3. Jesus Christ lived the perfect holy life [was without sin], and satisfied the holy justice of God the Father as our sacrifice (substitute) dying in our place for our sin and in His resurrection demonstrated His sacrifice was accepted by the Father!
  4. By repentance (turning from our sin) and through faith alone in Christ, God now forgives us through Jesus’ merit and no longer sees our sin but the righteousness of Christ and applies it to us.
The message must be simple and clear and we realize only through the power of the Holy Spirit can a person come to a saving knowledge of faith in Jesus. Always begin with prayer and ask God for opportunities to share the gospel, and be prepared to share the gospel when God answers your prayer. Be creative in how you bring people together and be deliberate in wanting to share the message. You need to be convinced that the message that you have needs to be heard by everyone!
The best evangelistic tool is the testimony and evidence of a changed life; your conduct, language and the choices you make around others shows that you no longer think like the world. If you are unsure you are saved, pray unceasingly that God will give you the assurance you are and read the scriptures daily. Be prepared by knowing God’s Word and in knowing His Word you can know His will.
Jesus taught us “to have faith in God...believe and not doubt...that whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” “Seek first His kingdom and righteousness not the things of the world” and that “only through the Spirit can we say that Jesus is Lord.”
By filling our minds with the things of God, our thoughts and attitudes will change and we will long more and more for the things of God and want to put to death the things of the sinful nature. By constant re-examination, our focus will be on serving others and our Lord.
Evangelism arises as we: live to serve others, live to please God.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Taking Jesus Love To The Street.

Elder Terry Trotter

I met Tim Huff of YOUTH UNLIMITED* when he was speaking at an event for men. Tim has such a straightforward approach in speaking and writing that the audience was captivated as he shared with us his relationships with homeless street youth. (*YU is a Christian organization reaching out to youth through many varied ministries.)

Hours before coming to speak with us, Tim had met with some street youth. He told one of the very young girls hanging out behind city hall in Toronto where he was going and asked if there was anything she wanted to say to us as a group of men. She said “tell them I am sorry, I am sorry that I let my Dad down.” Tim went on to say that the price she was paying was surviving the streets of Toronto with the potential of prostitution. And drug and/or alcohol addictions. The all male audience sat in silence and shock as Tim so matter of factly described to us the realities of street life.

Tim, whom I am now privileged to call my friend, endeavours to intervene ahead of the pimps and pushers at the Greyhound station downtown. Girls from small towns arrive, easy targets, and the pimps are there to befriend them, eventually dragging them into their prostitution/drug ring. In some cases, they allow the girl to have a baby and use the baby as a hostage to assure that the girl behaves. One young man got off a bus from Manitoba. Tim thought he walked a little oddly, so he said hi. It turned out the boy had been beaten with a hammer by his alcoholic grandfather, with whom his addict parents had left him, and he had taken the first bus to wherever it was going, travelling over 24 hours with broken ribs and a badly broken arm.

LIGHT PATROL is the name of the ministry under YOUTH UNLIMITED started by Tim for the purpose of reaching out to street youth. They use a donated RV, converted so they can bring a hot drink, food, clothing and temporary shelter from the streets. The vehicle is large, painted red and a little ugly except to the street youth who spot it and know there is some light in their existence. The slogan on the RV is IT IS BETTER TO LIGHT A CANDLE THAN CURSE THE DARKNESS.

Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people has entertained angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:2 (New International Version)

On the basis of Tim’s testimony, I decided volunteer with YU and Light Patrol. Even after training, going out with the staff and other volunteers was very intimidating. What would I, a family man from the suburbs, say and do in an environment of street etiquette? On my first trip out I served coffee and socks and observed. While I was positive in my approach, the regulars among the youth wanted only to engage the familiar staff in conversation. Was I really contributing? It is a lot easier to minister at arms’ length by writing a cheque!

After a number of consecutive weeks (Thursday nights 6 pm – midnight), I began to understand what was happening. The youth rarely give their real names and some have “handles” (street names) like “Mad Dog”, but in spite of their anonymity, they see that ugly RV as a brief refuge from street life and an opportunity to relax and be themselves.

My heart went out to a number of the youth. The most poignant times were when the young girls came on the RV in winter. Some of them were malnourished and using drugs. As the father of two daughters, I just wanted to take them home and remove the threat from their lives and “make it better”.

Most of the young people I saw came from all over eastern Canada. Few of the kids on Toronto’s streets originate in the GTA. They come from small towns as well as cities without services, from affluent and average homes, from other provinces and even from the States. The common factor is that about 80% have left home because of some form of abuse.

The times for evangelism in a traditional sense are limited. But each night after our last stop we pulled the RV over to the side of the road to briefly share from our encounters and pray for the needs of each one we had met that night, lifting them up to the Lord for salvation and some specific needs.

After three years of volunteering every week, I stopped. The youth are still there and need to know someone cares.

God works in ways I don’t fully understand, although I trust Him. On the streets of Toronto, I saw God working through a small tract, a Bible and a dry pair of socks.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Using Sports For Outreach

Elder Bob Miles

My wife Faye and I have been involved with Bob Johnston and his sports ministry since about 1996 when Bob was with Athletes in Action. At that time we were involved with a couple of baseball camps in Pickering. This soon developed into over 20 camps around the province of Ontario including, baseball, soccer, basketball, and floor hockey.

Bob has been involved with Scripture Union since 2005, (hence the name SU Sportz), and the programs have expanded to include not only summer camps, but hockey programs throughout the winter and the Real Deal Leadership program in partnership with Durham Christian High School.

The goal of this ministry is first and foremost to reach souls for Christ. The method is by helping churches build relationships with children and their families through sports.

Faye and I love sports and have always been involved in sports of some sort, since leaving high school, (just a few years ago). When we saw what Bob was doing through AIA, we immediately realized that this was a great way for us to get involved in Christian outreach. There are few better ways to get to know people than through sports, especially when you have a program that is non-threatening and can only help their children. The motto for AIA was “Victory Beyond Competition”. The lead organization may have changed, but the philosophy has stayed the same, Christ first.

Faye and I have both helped out at the summer camps and have seen first hand how well Bob and his staff relate to the kids that get involved. We have seen transformations of young people that have gone from being the camp’s trouble maker in their first year, to becoming incredible leaders, working and teaching those who have followed behind them. This can only be attributed to the wonderful grace of God and we are thankful that God is using this ministry as a vehicle to facilitate these changes.

We have had the opportunity to have some of the summer staff stay in our home and it’s exciting to see how their lives have changed over the years and how they are taking their own ministry to different levels. As I think back, our part of this ministry has been very minor. In fact the joy that we have received far surpasses anything that we have put in.

I believe that it is critical for churches to come along side ministries like SU Sportz. We need to show the community around us that we are more than just a bunch of people that get together for church on Sunday. More importantly, we have an obligation to share “The Good News”, with the world. What better way to do that, than through organizations like SU Sportz that have already laid the ground work and have the vehicle in place to reach people and address their needs in a practical and enjoyable way?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Red-Letter Bibles and Inerrancy

Pastor John finished an inspiring message and people were abuzz about the sermon. Alice always filled in the sermon outline and took copious notes including some direct quotes from Pastor John that even included some Greek and Hebrew words he used in explaining the text. Frank didn't take notes but he listened intently and could recall the major points without difficulty. They both began sharing the message with others at home, with friends and with co-workers. Alice's mother lived with her and was old and unable to attend services but she enjoyed their special time at lunch as Alice recounted the sermon in detail to her in her native Polish tongue. Let's use this story to discuss the topic of red-letter Bibles and the doctrine of inerrancy.

Red-letter Bibles are designed to highlight those parts of the Bible where we find the “words of Jesus.” Yet, what does that really mean as we read an English Bible? When Alice and Frank shared about Pastor John's sermon with others, did they communicate the “words of Pastor John”? When Alice gave direct quotes from Pastor John, she was communicating his “exact words” while when Frank shared faithfully in his own words what Pastor John had said Frank was communicating Pastor John's “exact voice.”i When Alice translated Pastor John's message into Polish for her mother, Alice's mother had Pastor John's “exact voice” but when Alice quoted to her mother the Greek and Hebrew words Pastor John used in his sermon Alice's mother heard Pastor John's “exact words.”

Let's now consider Jesus' words. Scholars argue that Jesus likely spoke Aramaic as it was the common language used by Jews of his day (Mk 15:34 is in Aramaic). Hebrew as found in the OT would also have been know by most Jews and Jesus (Mt 27:46 is in Hebrew). Hellenistic influence from previous centuries meant Greek was also used in commerce and known by some in Palestine. Many scholars argue Jesus may have known Greek. The NT is written in Greek with a few Aramaic and Hebrew words found in the Gospels. As Jesus taught Jews such as his disciples and those in Jerusalem and Judea it is highly likely he taught them in their native tongue, Aramaic. When in more heavily populated Gentile regions it is possible some of Jesus' teaching may have been in Greek, but this is still hotly debated.

Thus, much of what we find in the Greek synoptic Gospels that records Jesus' teaching is likely a translation from Aramaic to Greek. In the longer teaching sections in the Gospels such as the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7) or Jesus' discourse in “the upper room” (Jn 14-17) we likely have a summation that condenses what Jesus said or otherwise these discourses only lasted a few minutes - the time it takes to read them!

This implies that most of the “words of Jesus” in the Gospels that are highlighted in red-letter Bibles provide Jesus' “exact voice” but only occasionally his “exact words.” Does this somehow undermine the trustworthiness or inerrancy of the Bible? Different views concerning “inerrancy” have been promoted but I will use D Dockery's definition from Doctrine Of The Bible (Nashville: Convention Press, p 80) who defines it as: “Inerrancy – the idea that when all the facts are known, the Bible (in its autographs, that is, the original documents), properly interpreted in light of the culture and the means of communication that had developed by the time of its composition, is completely true in all it affirms, to the degree of precision intended by the author's purpose, in all matters relating to God and His creation.”

Just as Frank could share in his own words a “true and faithful” account of Pastor John's sermon, so it can be argued that one can and should hold to the Bible's inerrancy while recognizing that one doesn't need to have the “exact words” of Jesus simply the “exact voice.” The “exact voice” is sufficient since according to the doctrine of inerrancy it “is completely true in all it affirms, to the degree of precision intended by the author's purpose.” The Gospel writers wrote in Greek and provided a faithful and true account of Jesus' life in all they wrote according to the degree of precision they intended.

Some argue that the Gospels [in the Greek texts] don't occasionally record Jesus' “exact words” but the majority of the time they record Jesus' “exact words”! Such a view is problematic in dealing with parallel accounts of the same incidents in the various Gospels. Recall that Mk 15:34 records Jesus' cry on the cross in Aramaic while Mt 27:46 records the same cry in Hebrew. One of them almost certainly contains the “exact words” of Jesus, but which one? Does it really matter? Both are “faithful” to what actually happened and was said. Some “solve” this “problem” of difference by arguing Jesus said both, and quoted Ps 22:1 once in Aramaic and once in Hebrew while on the cross! This “addition solution” in dealing with parallel Gospel accounts then resorts to suggesting Jesus said virtually the same thing several times with slight variations as they attempt to account for slight word differences found in the Greek texts of the synoptic Gospels. This “addition” approach can create unrealistic “solutions”ii and can't account for situations where Jesus' words are tied to healing events.iii

Jesus did not speak English so is there any value to having an English red-letter Bible? Maybe, but consider an interesting question. Is John 3:16 really Jesus' words or John's, as the Gospel writer? It doesn't matter! John 3:16 is still true whether Jesus said it or John wrote it. Jesus' words in the Bible are not “more” important than John's or Paul's. Why? We have in the Bible all the “words” that God inspired through his various writers (2 Tim 3:16, 2 Pet 1:21). So, the words found in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and the rest of the Bible are “God-breathed” meaning we have therefore the “exact words” of God in the inspired and inerrant Scriptures! So, while we usually have the “exact voice” of Jesus in the Gospels at the very same time we have the “exact words” of God through the inspired writers - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and this what we need and what God has provided!


i The technical expressions are ipsissima verba [“exact words” like a quote] and ipsissima vox [“exact voice” like a faithful paraphrase]

ii H. Lindsell, The Battle For The Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976) 174 argues Peter denied Jesus six times!

iii I argue this point in detail in my dissertation.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Voices In Cornfields: Hearing God Speak?

You may recognize the reference in the title to the movie, Field of Dreams where a farmer, Ray Kinsella, hears a voice in his cornfield that says, “If you build it he will come.” He then takes the daring, risky, and completely illogical act of building a baseball field in his cornfield in Iowa. Later, Ray hears the voice again say, “Ease his pain” and this sets him off across country to find author Terrance Mann and take him to a game at Fenway Park where he soon discovers Terrance also saw a sign on the scoreboard that read, “Archibald 'Moonlight' Graham, Chisolm, Minn” and his major league stats: “One inning, zero at bats.” The voice says, “Go the distance” and Ray and Terrance go to Minnesota and discover “Doc Graham” died sixteen years earlier. On the way back to Iowa they pick up a young man looking to play baseball who happens to be Archie (Doc) Graham in his youth! I like the movie because I like baseball and the poignant theme of reconciliation to one's estranged father speaks powerfully to the father-son relationships of too many of us males! Yet, using its fictional genre, it promotes the concept of living by experiences - like listening to voices in cornfields and visions on scoreboards! Sadly, this actually appeals to many in our day who pursue the spiritual and mystical but not necessarily the God of Scripture.

Many Christians “live by experiences” and consider this the height of true spirituality and knowing God. As a new believer, I recall being interested in a young lady, who broke a bone in a basketball practice and that same evening around the same hour I suffered some pain. My young biblically illiterate mind considered a connection! So, I asked my Christian friend if he thought I may have suffered the pain “vicariously” or “in conjunction” with her! I'm sure he must have thought I was as crazy as the neighbors considered Ray Kinsella! He kindly said “no” and explained why he didn't think this was the proper interpretation of my experience. What a great lesson for me! It made me aware of the total subjectivity of “my interpretation” of my experience and our need to evaluate all experiences by biblical principles.

C J Mahaney in, Living The Cross Centered Life, in chapter two addresses the issue of “What You Feel vs. What Is Real” and makes many important observations but none more needed than, “Our feelings simply cannot be trusted.”i He writes, “It's a frightening experience to sit with individuals who actually insist that what they feel is ultimately more authoritative to them than what's written clearly in Scripture.”ii I sadly also have witnessed this in ministry. He reminds us that we either choose to live by listening to ourselves, that is, our constantly changing feelings about our circumstances, or we look outside ourselves to live by the objective, never-changing, completely true Word of God. We should have spiritual experiences and affections that arise from our relationship with Jesus but these should be the “inevitable effects of Scripture rightly understood and believed”iii and must never be allowed to take precedence over Scripture or be where we begin in our relationship with Christ.

So, you may ask, “What's the big deal?” The evangelical church is being inundated by a pursuit of “spiritual formation” courses, conferences, books etc that promote mysticism under the umbrella of “meditation or contemplation” as a means of drawing close to God and hearing God speak to oneself in “silence.” Well-known practices are “centering prayer” and “sacred reading” (lectio divina) and walking a labyrinth or prayer path. “Centering prayer” involves choosing a sacred word and silently focusing on the word as a means to draw God's presence into you for a period of about twenty minutes several times a day. This has obvious similarities to Transcendental Meditation!

“Sacred Reading” (lectio divina) is a slow meditative reading of Scripture that involves four stages of read/listen, meditate/reflect, pray/respond, and contemplate/rest. Sound good? Yet, P R Sterling notes, “The purpose of lectio divina is not to think about the meaning and application of a Bible verse or passage, but to gain an experience from it and even receive a personal word from God. There is a difference between reading the Bible to understand its meaning and apply it to our lives versus a method of focusing on a text to gain a mystical experience.”iv Many evangelicals promote mystic practices as a means to draw close to God including Rick Warren's The Purpose Driven Life, in chapter 11 where he encourages “breath prayers” and recommends Brother Lawrence a known Christian mystic writer. Mysticism promotes experience over Scripture in seeking to know God and can open one to spiritual deception, and produce physical, physiological and psychological symptoms.v

Have you ever witnessed to a Mormon? What makes it especially challenging is that Mormons place their experience above Scripture or logic when confronted with facts. Many evangelicals aren't much better and justify this with comments like, “I sense the Holy Spirit leading me.” Consider that people have argued that God “told them” to commit murder, a “logical” act if one's experience trumps Scripture's authority!vi There are only two references to being “led by the Spirit” (Rom 8:14, Gal 5:18) and when that is connected to a feeling, impression, prompting, or personal desire, the Holy Spirit is reduced from being a Person to a sensation.vii Paul isn't speaking of knowing God's will but rather of leading a godly life and of one's sanctification not God's “guidance.”

I was once told by a worship leader that God impressed upon that person that a certain song be sung and when I omitted it during the Sunday worship due to time factors I was queried whether God directed me to do so! Did I disobey God's will? I don't think so but this person was convinced God had indicated this song be sung!viii

Many popular authors promote experience in knowing God's will. Joyce Meyer says, “God delivers His word through signs, revelations, and internal confirmation. Ask God for the sensitivity to hear His voice.”ix K Hornok wisely asks, “If God’s revelation was cognitive, not emotive, then why should Christians think they can receive special revelation from God through their emotions or feelings today? Put another way, if God did not speak to Bible writers through their emotions before the completed Canon, why would He speak that way today when the Canon is complete? Therefore, in my opinion, since 'impressions' and 'inner promptings' cannot be proved as coming from God, it seems that they may be self-induced.”x We shouldn't put desires, impressions, promptings, and insights on an equal level with special revelation found in the Bible because our minds and motives are often flawed and affected by sin. Hornok cautions, “We are free to act on our impressions, ideas, or good desires if they do not violate Scripture. However, it must also be pointed out that we are never instructed or encouraged in the Bible to seek, listen to, or follow inner promptings or impressions" [his emphasis].xi

What is the biblical relationship between God's revelation in the Bible and our feelings and emotions? Hornok concurs with Mahaney that “Since all communication from God through the Bible is of a cognitive nature, it may well be that our feelings and emotions play a vital role in our response to that revelation. In other words, our intellect has the role of receiving and understanding revelation from God while our emotions have a role in responding to that revelation” [his emphasis].xii

Many either don't know, or ignore or don't understand the implication of Hebrews 4:12 “For the Word of God is living and active.” If we want to clearly hear God speak to us we need to listen to God speak to us through a proper understanding of the inspired, inerrant biblical texts. The writer of Hebrews teaches us that God continues to speak to mankind today, not in a cornfield but in the Bible! Are we listening?

Randy Mann

i (Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2006), 33.
ii Mahaney, Cross Centered, 34.
iii Mahaney, Cross Centered, 36.
iv “Christian Leadership And Mentoring: Contemplative Theology's Trojan Horse” JOTGES 20:39 (Autumn 2007), 33-34.
v Sterling, Trojan, 27-28.
vi Ken Hornok, “Does God Give Subjective Revelation Today? The Place Of Mysticism In Christian Decision Making” JOTGES 20:38 (Spring 2007), 18.
vii Hornok, Subjective, 26.
viii One can listen to a two-part series on “Knowing God's Will” on our website [Resources (Aug 26, Sept 2 2007)].
ix How to Hear From God: Learn to Know His Voice and Make Right Decisions, (Nashville: FaithWords, 2003).
x Hornok, Subjective, 23.
xi Hornok, Subjective, 24
xii Hornok, Subjective, 25.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Musings On Ethnicity

Growing up in rural Ontario, north of London, I had little exposure to ethnic concerns apart from what I saw or read in the news reports. I heard ethnic slurs as a young boy although I never used them but my first personal exposure to ethnic issues occurred as a young boy in 1967. In raising money for our baseball organization my coach promised to take whoever sold the most chocolate bars to a baseball game in Detroit. I'd never been to a major league baseball game and I was determined to win! My brother and I with the help of my father sold around $370 worth of bars at 50 cents a bar! My brother and I won and were promised we would be taken to a game but the ethnic based riots in July 1967 in Detroit led to postponing that promise until 1968.

There was no real ethnic diversity in the schools or churches I attended as I grew up. In the mid-1970's I attended seminary in Philadelphia and this was my first exposure to ethnic diversity. I lived in the dorms which were really only two floors of single rooms with a common kitchen and washroom facilities for all the men on each floor. We ranged in age from those still in their teens [like myself] to older men in their forties or fifties and we came from all parts of North America as was obvious by the various accents! There was also ethnic diversity and I thought nothing at the time of using the same common kitchen cutlery and dishes or washroom facilities. Strangely, I first noticed ethnic diversity driving home from church services on a Sunday morning. As the congregations gathered outside after their services I saw several different ethnic churches but none that were ethnically diverse! I knew even as a young Christian this wasn't God's intention and as churches we weren't fulfilling God's redemptive plan to unite all nations in Christ! My final two years at the seminary I worshiped in the small church that met in the chapel at the seminary. This church was ethnically diverse and eventually the pastor married a lovely young lady from that congregation uniting in marital communion their ethnic diversity.

As an avid sports fan, I was aware of the bigotry in major league baseball that arose in the late nineteenth century that Jackie Robinson became famous for challenging when he played for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. As a Boston Celtics fan I was aware they had been instrumental in challenging the monolithic ethnic nature of the NBA. A recent book, Rebound! Basketball, Busing, Larry Bird, And The Rebirth Of Boston (MVP Books, 2008) even argues for the role of the Celtics in helping address ethnic issues in Boston. As a sports fan I've often viewed these ethnic issues through sports lenses.

In recent years, several sports movies have attempted to portray the ethnic tensions and prejudice that prevailed in North American society in the 1960's and 1970's. Glory Road recalls the struggle of the Texas Western College [now University of Texas at El Paso] basketball team to integrate their team and its impact on the small town of El Paso, Texas in the mid-1960's. The ethnic significance was that Texas Western started the first completely African American lineup and won the NCAA championship in 1966! In the movie, some of the controversial scenes of ethnic prejudice were Disney's “creative liberty” to enhance the theme of ethnic tensions. These “creative liberties” by Disney also are found in the movie, Remember The Titans the story of the 1971 T C Williams High School football team from Alexandria, VA who won the state championship. In 1971, three high schools in Alexandria were combined to form two junior high schools and one senior high school of junior and senior students at T C Williams. This required players from the previously ethnically segregated schools to now play together and compete for starting positions on the football team. Yet, T C Williams was previously integrated. As portrayed in the movie, African American Coach Herman Boone did get the head coaching job at T C Williams unexpectedly over Coach Bill Yoast and Boone did integrate the team by having them train at Gettysburg College. The success of the team did have a positive effect on the ethnic tensions in Alexandria.

In Acts 8:1 we read that persecution of the Christians in Jerusalem led them to scatter throughout Judea and Samaria and in this way the gospel spread. God can accomplish his redemptive purposes in many ways! I wonder if God is actively integrating churches in North America that have been slow to see His vision. A recent study indicates that churches are beginning to reflect more ethnic diversity. “We're far from a color-blind society, in religion or anything else, but there is some movement in churches as well as elsewhere,” said Mark Chaves, professor of sociology, religion and divinity at Duke University and lead researcher on the project. The study found that some congregations that were previously all-white now have a couple of minority families as members. Chaves said mostly black churches did not report a comparable change (Adelle M. Banks, “Churches More Diverse, Informal Than 8 Years Ago” Dec 26, 2008).

We are now witnessing greater ethnic diversity particularly in the major metropolitan centers of the world. D A Carson notes, “In some cities the pace of this change has been stunning. A bare three decades ago, Toronto was still largely white and at least substantially WASP. Now the United Nations says it is the most ethnically and culturally diverse city on the continent — and that includes Los Angeles” (“Challenges for 21st-Century Preaching”). While this stat has been disputed, Toronto is certainly one of the more ethnic diverse cities in North America and this has implications for churches and the gospel.

This provides for us in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) an opportunity to take the gospel to the “nations” that are literally in our neighborhoods! It also means our churches should reflect God's intent of unity in Christ with ethnic diversity as we seek to testify to the God who loved the world in all its ethnic diversity so much that he sent His Son, Jesus into the world to die to save sinners from every ethnic group (Jn 3:16). May our churches reflect God's eternal plan to gather people of “every tribe and language and people and nation” around His throne to worship Jesus (Rev 5:9)!

Randy Mann