Churches are divided by doctrine – Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, Lutheran, and Pentecostal – and by ethnicity – African, Korean, Chinese, Greek, and Ukrainian. We choose to segregate by age, by social status, and by politics. Enter a church, and chances are that a majority of members look alike, behave alike, think alike, and vote alike. Even when a church does enjoy diverse membership, young people may attend the contemporary hour while older members wait for the traditional service. We may claim to welcome everyone with open arms, but our actions speak louder than our words. The uncomfortable reality is that we embrace those who are like us and shun those who are different – singing songs from our favorite radio station, sharing polite conversations with friends, and frowning upon dissenting opinions. By taking the path of least resistance, we have splintered Christ’s church.
Many Christians in North America are convinced that it is right and proper to own guns as not only a form of self-defense but potentially as an effective way to challenge and protect against an overbearing government. Many who hold this opinion quote Jesus when he urged his disciples, if they didn’t have a sword, to “sell your cloak and buy one.” Chuck Baldwin, described as an American politician and founder-pastor of Crossroad Baptist Church in Pensacola, Florida, has expressed his opinion in no uncertain terms: Jesus plainly and emphatically told Simon Peter and the others to arm themselves. So emphatic was Jesus’ command that He told them if they could not afford to purchase a sword they were instructed to sell their clothes if necessary and buy one…The First Century Roman sword was the most efficient and lethal personal defense weapon in the world at the time. It is no hyperbole or injustice to language to say that the Roman sword was the First Century equivalent to a modern AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. It was designed to kill swiftly and efficiently. And Jesus commanded His disciples to buy and carry one!
In Singlish, Jiak Kantang literally means to eat potato. It is, however, a less than flattering way of referring to Chinese Singaporeans who aspire to be more Western than Asian. For those proud of Chinese culture and history, the motives of those ‘guilty’ of Jiak Kantang may be questioned and their words, opinions, and faith rejected on that basis alone. In the words of Kong Hee, pastor of City Harvest Church in Singapore, “when we [Chinese] become Christians, somehow we are made to feel like we have forsaken our Chinese roots, that we have abandoned our Chinese heritage and culture.” Western churches and missions have, for centuries, remained faithful to Jesus’ call to make disciples of all nations; however, by allowing culture, patriotism, and politics to infiltrate our faith, we are in danger of being perceived as purveyors of Western culture and not sharers of the gospel message.
Kim Hyun-hui was born in North Korea. Under orders from her country’s then leader, Kim Il-sung, she was one of two young agents who successfully blew up a South Korean passenger jet in 1987, killing all 115 people on board. She was later captured, taken to South Korea, sentenced to death, then granted a pardon by South Korean president Roe Tae-Woo. Today, Kim is a Christian who has received the forgiveness of many of the families of her victims. She regrets her past actions and wonders openly, “Why did I have to be born in North Korea?”
In an episode of the popular British detective series ‘Morse’ entitled Inspector Morse – Promised Land, the inspector muses on Pascal’s Wager (found in that writer’s famous work Pensées). Morse’s colleague, Sergeant Lewis, asks: “What do you think about God and that? Do you think there’s a God?” In his reply, Morse is intensely human: “I think there are times when I wish to God there was one. A just God. A God dispensing justice. I’d like to believe in that.” We must be careful what we wish for!
In his Foundation series, Isaac Asimov introduces the idea of a mentalic – a person with unusual psychic abilities. In Forward the Foundation (Foundation Novels), he describes how mentalics discover their peers in society: “Stettin, I believe you said that on certain occasions you’ve ‘felt’ another mind like yours but haven’t been able to identify it.” “Yes,” answered Palver, “I’ve had flashes, but each time I was in a crowd. And, in my twenty-four years, I can remember feeling such a flash just four or five times.” “But Stettin,” said Seldon, his voice low with intensity, “each flash was, potentially, the mind of another person like you and Wanda – another mentalic…We must find other mentalics.” As mentalics studied their world, they realized they were different from most of those around them. Certain events and chance encounters triggered that awareness, and by meeting and working in concert with fellow mentalics, they had the potential to change the world.
The Christian faith is all about a person: Jesus Christ. Faith is not an academic exercise; it’s a loving relationship with that person. At the very center of space and time, God himself inhabited a human body and walked this earth. It’s how we know what God is like, and he reveals to us what we could never have imagined: from weakness comes strength; from failure comes victory; from rejection comes acceptance; from service comes lordship; from humiliation comes glory; and from death comes life. Everything in this world, in its own way, points to Christ.
In recent weeks, considerable controversy has been sparked by the video trailer for a childish, amateurish production entitled Innocence of Muslims. In this almost spoof-like movie, the prophet Muhammad is pictured as a violent, unprincipled, pedophilic philanderer. Clearly, the intent of the movie was to provoke reaction, and indeed it has led to violent protests in many predominantly Muslim countries. A minister in the government of Pakistan offered a substantial financial reward to anyone who kills the film’s producer. In the words of one religious leader, the minister’s views “represent the true spirit of Islam” – while such a statement might be disputed by millions of more peace-loving Muslims.
The holiness, or ‘apartness’, of God is very evident in the Bible. His names tell of his eternal existence, his creative power, and his sovereignty. He is the God of compassion and mercy, slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. Yet, as pointed out by Arthur Pink in The Attributes of God, “a study of the concordance will show that there are more references in Scripture to the anger, fury, and wrath of God, than there are to His love and tenderness.” The holiness of God demands judgment against sin, because sin is, by definition, what God is not.
At London’s Heathrow airport, an interesting billboard message, sponsored by a major international bank, currently greets arriving visitors. Predicting how the world might be in the future, the bank suggests that “your DNA will be your identity.” In this unnerving vision of the future, our given name will no longer be our distinguishing mark; instead, we will be known by the mark of our internal beast – our genetic code.