Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage

Three years ago I wrote of my fear that the new Conservative-led coalition government in the UK would lead  to an erosion of religious freedom. This seemed odd at the time, but I saw that a failure to secure a majority would provide this oddly liberal Conservative leadership the opportunity to push forward legislation that would be contrary to fundamental Christian beliefs. Today, the House of Lords in the UK approved the government bill that gives marriage rights to same-sex couples - a significant piece of legislation that the Conservative Party did not include in its election manifesto. This is not the place to debate the merits of the legislation or the effects that the legislation may have (we are currently writing a position paper on homosexuality which we expect to have completed for Fall 2013). It does however warrant a few key observations:

First, the British government has earnestly sought a form of equality which has necessitated some groups being more equal than others. The government is pursuing a vision of tolerance, brilliantly understood by DA Carson in his book :"The Intolerance of Tolerance", where the truth claims of faith cannot be tolerated against the idol of new tolerance in which all ideas must be considered equal. Traditional Christian values are losing the equality battle in a terrible statement for western democracy and this trend is only likely to continue.

Second, a significant number of cases in which Christians have faced hostility are clearly linked to views on sexuality. The effects of this legislation must be monitored to see whether Christian freedom will be further eroded. I encourage you to occasionally visit "the Observatory" for an organization doing excellent work on monitoring religious freedom in Europe ( As we seek to monitor trends in the US, the EU may provide a warning of what could occur in the US.

Third, this legislation, despite government promises, will likely lead to clear conflicts between faith and obedience to the law of the land, placing Christians in a position not encountered in the West for hundreds of years - in which we must choose whether to obey Caesar or Christ. Expect to see an increasing polarization of the church between those liberalizing their faith and those who continue to follow evangelical teaching (and a small side-note here: expect the latter to grow).

But let me close with a renewed call to the church. We are the light and salt of the world. We are called to bring Jesus to the lost. While we may disagree with this legislation, it does nothing to alter the call on our lives. This call may indeed become harder, but we find comfort that this often was the case for the church. And perhaps the church is better when its mission is harder. Paul wrote in Colossians 1:9b-14.  

We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

You represent the Kingdom of Light. So do good works, bear fruit for the Kingdom and rely on the Father for strength and power.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

My Personal Hero

Archie Jafta is my new hero.
It is interesting to reflect on those people that grab our attention. At best we admire courageous exploits, selflessness or other noble acts. At worst we make heroes out of actors, the wealthy and the rebellious, without any reason other than their worldly success and popularity. Well Archie is a man who you will not have heard of, and if you passed him on the street would pay him no mind. Or maybe you would, because there is an authority, a calm demeanor, strength and a love that emanates from him.

I met Archie at a prison just outside the beautiful town of Franschhoek; a prison famous for being the last that held Nelson Mandela. This is a maximum security prison and we were taken to its juvenile section. The inmates were all found guilty of murder, rape or other serious crimes. We experienced four different areas of this prison, seeing not just the brokenness, but the healing power of this man’s work as he brings a Christ-focused love to these young men.

His heroism struck me. It hit me hard, in the gut, for in his heroism I instantly saw my own weakness. Archie stood in front of a huge iron gate, two dozen young inmates standing behind him, tattooed with gang slogans, angry, bitter, mocking; and Archie spoke of love. He spoke of the good in these young men. He spoke of how he sees only the potential in them, potential placed in them by a loving Father, whose design has been warped by the sinful and hard world into which these men were born. I looked from Archie to the men and was amazed. All I wanted was to be as far from them as possible. Love? I looked at these young men and was deeply disturbed. They were so hard, had done such evil things. Many looked broken beyond repair. Yet despite all the outward signs it was clear that these young men respected Archie. His was not a gentle, easily manipulated love. It was strong and would not bend!

Three further prison blocks awaited us, each showing stages of change in the inmates - in appearance and attitude and in the neatness of their cell blocks. In the fourth we saw a miracle. In this final block the jail’s choir and soccer group were housed. These cells were occupied by prisoners who were committed to schooling, closely adhered to the prison and club rules, showed incredible personal growth and a positive attitude. We met many of these men. Surely, I thought, these were lesser criminals. But no; the first we met talked of how he had killed his best friend; the next, of how he raped. And yet, in these men, I saw Archie’s love fulfilled. It was almost as if he had prophesied change and healing in that first cell – which appeared impossible - and yet in front of us was the irrefutable result; men that were quite literally transformed. We talked, laughed and worshiped with these young men and I cannot think of many times of worship that have meant more to me or where I have seen such genuine love for God.

But Archie’s heroics do not end in the prison. Archie established a church; he founded an outreach center in the heart of the poorest community in Franschhoek which teaches basic skills, helps people find jobs, serves as a half-way house and even takes in poor families evicted from their homes. Archie is planning a second center 400 miles up the coast of South Africa. I have no idea how he does it all.

Archie is a hero, yet he would say that he is merely living the gospel of Jesus. His strength of love mocked my weakness. His capacity to see God in the most sinful people revealed judgment in my heart. But more than this he showed what a man or woman of God who truly lives the gospel can achieve. He doesn’t just believe in the power of God to transform. He lives it. His faith is expressed in action that knows, just knows, that God will work. Even God wants partners.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Responding to the US Presidential Election Results

In the wake of the US presidential elections, you may have received many emails from concerned Christian groups decrying the reelection of President Obama. At the heart of most of these messages are two issues. First is fear. This response is laden with an anticipation of the horrors of what is to come. Second is a bold declaration of standing against the erosion of our religious freedom. Now please understand that I too do anticipate the further erosion of religious freedoms and I too believe in standing against those that would remove the freedom to practice our faith in this great country. While defending ourselves in the land in which the constitution holds such moral and legal weight is important, I am concerned that this type of response does not reflect Christ. First, Christ did not fear the kingdoms of the world, nor did he attempt to isolate himself from them. In fact He pushed deeper into the sinful broken communities that existed around him. And while He did witness in the synagogues and engage the religious leaders, He did not challenge Roman politicians or soldiers to alter the political situation in Israel; for He brought a kingdom that was new and that was to be born and realized in the hearts of men.
I fully support calls to prayer. But calls for funding and a bold defense are at best only a portion of how we should respond.  Jesus called us to model our lives after Him, so at the heart of every response to this election result, to the feared lessening of our religious freedoms, is not to doggedly defend our “Christian nation” as if it is best but to actively enter the world and show that it is best. We must love those who hate us, we must serve those who persecute us, we must witness the Gospel in word and deed and we must bring Christ’s redemptive love to a world in need. This is what we are called to do. If we have “The Way” then let us prove it, not in the courts, in academic circles or merely from the pulpits or public square, but in the loving service that Christ called us to give to the broken all around us.

- Nicholas Kerton-Johnson, CEO, Ephesus Initiative

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Christ Among Men

Even as I wondered what the outcome of the UK election would be, I was more concerned at the implications for religious freedom. The erosion of freedom over the past few years was not just the result of the party in power but goes much deeper into the nature of politics and society. Many remain in authority who have ironically favoured equality enough to persecute dissent, and I am wary of the deals that will be made: what will be sacrificed on the altar of politics? Will religious freedom be a victim? Yet as I ponder the future of this country and religious freedom I am challenged by the words of a man who stood against one of the greatest evils ever known. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote “The Church is nothing but a section of humanity in which Christ has really taken form…What matters in the church is not religion but the form of Christ, and its taking form amidst a band of men”. This is our primary act – to be the vessel of Christ, to reflect Him to the world. Do we do this? Can we say that Christ has really taken form in us? Indeed, do we even know how to tell?

In response to hostility against Christians in the UK, we are seeing a particular focus on legislation and a defence of human rights. This is an important action that must be taken to defend those who are suffering for their faith. However, are we relying too much on a rights based defence of our faith, rights which can be given or taken away depending on the changing judgements of man? Does it speak to a lack of real Christian activity on the part of the church that this is our primary defence? Our gospel is one of freedom, but part of this freedom must be in allowing it to be rejected. It is not a heavy handed gospel and indeed a faith that is forced is not a faith at all. Men and women died at the stake so that we would have the right to choose whether to believe and it is this act of belief, of faith, that Christ calls for and rejoices in. As Bonhoeffer says, the church is not about religion, it is about Christ dwelling amongst men. We must be wary of making our faith about religion, about a set of rules to be guarded and protected. We are to be Christ among men. We cannot stand in our churches or in the public square and demand the superiority of our gospel if we are not prepared to demonstrate that this is still the case. There are many with historical amnesia who deny the foundations of our faith in establishing Western society and much that is good beyond. There are more who would take the benefits of the faith and secularise them, enjoying the benefit of the gospel without the ‘inconvenience’ of God, believing as so many previous failed projects have done so, that man can create a perfect society. Now, I firmly believe that Christians must be educated about the role of our faith in history. How many Christians know about the church’s role in: saving infants exposed to die in ancient Rome, establishing the first hospitals, liberating women, developing human rights and just conduct in war to name just a few? We must know this legacy and be proud of what our faith has given to the world. But we cannot rest on previous expressions and victories of faith for we are expected to win more victories. We are to bring Christ to the lost, the imprisoned and the wretched. We are not meant to defend a religion, but advance Christ among men.

But I wonder whether a substantial portion of the church even knows how to tell if it is representing Christ, and it is the rights based defence, the anger at the treatment of Christians which bothers me because of this. Considering Bonhoeffer’s words again, I wonder whether our reliance on legal rights is a sign of our own spiritual weakness and bankruptcy. I was recently told by a friend of a Chinese church leader who exclaimed to him (my paraphrase) “While you discussed the organisation of the church, we were raising the dead”. What a challenge! When was the last time a senior clergyman in the UK spoke of amazing displays of God’s power? If we focus on our rights and presumed superiority of our faith, then we fail to raise the dead. And this is not just the literal dead; for look around you. Have you noticed the hopelessness, the fear and the death in the eyes of those who walk past you every day? Jesus came to bring them freedom. But they cannot choose what they do not know. Jesus asked us to bring people to Him, not to take religion, not to form religious bands which happily tolerate a Christ-less church, but to be the band of men and women in which He dwells. Jesus’ freedom is not based on legal rights but on freedom of the soul which cannot be taken away by any policeman, magistrate, judge or king. A concern with our rights and freedom does not bring freedom to the lost, but it is displays of the gospel in acts of love and power that bring freedom.

One of the greatest threats to us as a church in the west is our level of comfort. The Chinese pastor prayed to raise the dead, prayers prayed out of necessity. We are comfortable but do we truly live? We have much to satisfy our hunger, much from what we seek to draw life – food, fashion, entertainment, cars, homes, holidays, sports. As Christians we know that only Christ satisfies, but we are not immune to the pull of the flesh, the temptation to seek the world before Christ and most particularly to control our lives rather than surrender them to Him. Scripture tells us that Jesus offers us a river of life, water that we can drink such that we never grow thirsty again. Even as we see the world try and feed its hunger without Him, have we too, in the church grown comfortable to the point that we have lost sight of our need for Him? Are we too used to discussion of church rights and politics and forgotten how to raise the dead?

Let us decide to live by seeking Christ. Sacrifice our comfort and control and then we will know Christ in a way that we cannot even imagine. Then we will truly live and the church will be the form of Christ among men.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Opening our Eyes - lessons from the Matrix

As God spoke to me through the Lord of the Rings, He reminded me too of the Matrix movies and hence my thoughts in this blog. I have heard that these movies were meant to be anti-Christian, but the message they present has spoken to many Christians that I know. Two key elements emerge in the Matrix. The first is that humanity is living a lie, thinking they are free but unaware that they are actually imprisoned in the most horrendous lie in which their very life feeds the enemy. They are blind to the false reality that surrounds them. The second element is that the hero of the movie shows what is capable when one is set free and able to see the reality of what opposes humanity. Even as he faces life-threatening opponents, he is always confident of winning. How many of us as Christians have forgotten that the bible teaches us that our lives are ones in which we face powers and principalities? How often do we forget to ask God what is going on when we face hostility and trials? Do we remember that He sees all things? I am tired of seeing people hopeless in life and especially tired of a church that offers a weak gospel. Jesus came to restore life, to grant salvation, not only after death, but now, in life. In losing sight of this we are in danger of allowing our faith to be infected with the leaven of the Pharisees and Caesar. We grow religious, expressing our faith in rules and laws, condemning those who contrast us, protecting our view of God, even God Himself, as if God relied on us. Our expression of worship is limited to what pleases us and we disdain others. Judgement, self-righteousness and passivity in the face of injustice start to work their way into our lives. We are numb to the reality of spiritual dullness that lurks over us and we are non-threatening to Satan who can leave us in our churches and communities confident that we will not advance in power against him.

We can also turn to our intellects; this great gift from God in which He delights. We can lay claim to great understanding and truths and yet, like the Pharisees, can have the King stand in front of us, offering us life and completely miss him. Elijah did not invite the prophets of Baal to a debate, nor did Paul threaten the Corinthian leaders with an intellectual discussion. Both these men knew God intimately and both relied on the power of God to verify them and their God-inspired message. I do not claim that displays of God’s power are proof of His approval, but a complete lack of His power, a totality of intellect, does not reflect the biblical example set before us. We can of course also turn to social justice, working our faith out in service to the poor, a great witness to the love of Christ. But here too we can slip so easily, losing sight of the spiritual reality that surrounds us and forgetting to match physical acts with spiritual power and bring people into everlasting salvation.

In my last blog I commented that the second aspect that had emerged from my research into acts of hostility and hatred against Christians is my concern for Christians’ blindness at what is occurring around them. This is perhaps the church’s greatest weakness and I was again reminded of it in my March meetings in Washington. I have spoken to leading barristers and religious liberty advocates who cry out about the church’s blindness. We are not only blind to subtle and open attacks on our faith, but also to the spiritual foundation of these attacks. We forget that we are soldiers in enemy territory, called to take this territory for our King. I see four key choices that Christians face in terms of how we respond to the world and hostility. We can huddle in churches, hiding from the world, trying to keep ourselves apart. Or we can adapt ourselves to the world, prostituting ourselves and losing sight of God in the process. Third, we turn to religion, not hiding, but openly declaring that we stand apart and judging all who fall outside our definition of what is Christian, revealing God’s law but doing little to bring people into knowing and meeting Jesus. The fourth option is to step outside our churches, seek God’s will and then act out this will as Jesus did, with acts of love and power, transforming people and bringing them life. We are called to re-present Jesus to the world, bringing people into relationship with the Father and only this fourth option can achieve this.

If we do not step out into the world then we cannot be light where it is dark; and only the forces of darkness gain in this. If the world withdraws from God’s guidelines it will suffer judgement, not from a wrathful God, but because sin begets suffering. Less of God will always bring more of suffering. The church which adapts to the world will be “safe” but will allow the world to suffer. The church which judges and the church which huddles will not be secure but will still allow the world to suffer. The church that steps out will also suffer, but if we are to face persecution, let it be because the light shines from us, let it be because we love so greatly. Let us be able to say, as Jesus did ‘I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me’? (John 10:32).


Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Shaving by iPod

One of the joys of writing is coming up with titles! For the past week I have been at The Falls Church in Washington DC, with a group of emerging Christian leaders exploring faith, culture and vocation. This was a very challenging time and I was greatly blessed by the presence of wise men of God, but also by the young men and women who represent India, China, the Middle-East, Africa, US and UK and whose work ranges from leading growing churches to translating and publishing Christian books in China!

A key theme that we kept coming back to was that of “story”. What is our story? Where do we fit into the life that surrounds us? What are the eternal consequences of our story? The more we discussed these matters the more I realised again how important the gospel is to our society. We know it has moral strength, is a guide to our behaviour and is the basis to much of our law. Yet the bible offers something far greater than this, it gives us all a story that we can be a part of. It is something to which we all belong, and in it we all find a narrative for our lives: that we were designed by the Father since before creation; that He knows us and has set our days before us; that we can live in relationship with Him and have purpose. We are part of the story of failure, grace and redemption. We are part of the story of restoration of the world around us by a loving God. I began to see that the hopelessness that we see around us in far deeper and more tragic than I imagined; that the secular, relativistic post-modern descriptions of life and truth only enable this lack of story, lack of belonging, lack of hope and again the gospel stands as the answer. And we must answer, for the lost will look for hope: in the New age, in religions of tight legal prescription, in drugs, acts of hatred – anything that can either offer a story or dull the hopelessness that lurks in their spirits.

But let me return to the title. Arriving at Heathrow at 7:00 am, waiting here for the day to fly out again, I showered at terminal 4 and discovered that an iPod touch’s mirrored back is a wonderful shaving mirror. And while in transition in Heathrow, I encountered the hate. Relaxed after my shower, sitting to drink a coffee, a man sat down at the nearby table and became angry at the political news detailing the latest comments by the major UK parties in the run-up to the UK elections. He began to swear prolifically. After a while I asked if he would mind not swearing, for the sake of all those around him. This provoked a fierce reaction and I spent the next ten minutes being harangued as a foreigner in his country, being blamed for Apartheid, Mandela’s imprisonment and a host of historical events. If he hadn’t been so angry the hypocrisy and appalling historical record would have been amusing. But this exchange raised two key issues for me. What was this man’s story? He was English, proud of this fact, but his story was one dominated by hatred, aimed at every foreigner that had come into and ruined “his” land. His story had a beginning (if somewhat mythic) but it was its end that worried me. I had spoken during the past week that a key part of Ephesus’ vision is to encourage the Christian community to help bring God’s love to the West, and in so doing, to deny efforts to use our faith and England’s Christian heritage as part of patriotic hatred against the “others” in the UK as well as other Western states. The Christian message of love, hope and redemption must be told in acts of service and encounters with God that bring people back into the eternal story to which they all have a right to belong. If we do not work to bring people into encounters with God, then we must not be surprised if our God is taken up by others who will fiercely misrepresent Him.

Interestingly, when I realised that this was not a man that could be reasoned with, I spoke gently and softly to him of honour, decency and courtesy – not for me, but for his shocked woman companion. He barked abuse again, but this appeared to rock him significantly as he very soon became quiet and left the restaurant. People came to me afterwards and apologised, saying “we are not all like him”. This was reassuring, but why were they so quiet, backs turned away, as he spurted forth his hatred? Do we as Christians do the same to the lost and hopeless all around us?

Thursday, 11 March 2010

"What can we do against such reckless hate?"

Last week I spent several hours researching hostility against Christians in western countries. It is not a pleasant subject. Two things in particular concern me. One is the hatred that emerges, the other Christians’ blindness (I will write on the second later this week). The hatred that is aimed at Christians who stand for traditional Christian values is worrying and we see in this the successful result of a strategy to intimidate and enforce intolerant values against Christians. We must realise that many changes in society are not accidents but the result of orchestrated campaigns, campaigns which have a goal of misrepresenting Christians, re-branding them as bigots, fundamentalists etc even as they themselves are the victims of hatred and abuse, verbal and physical violence. At Ephesus we have a specific goal of not trading on fear - this is not my point in writing. My point is to ask, “what do we do against such hatred”?

I asked God about this on the train yesterday and was reminded of a line from “The Lord of the Rings”, when the king of Rohan asks something similar “what can man do against such reckless hate?” The hatred of others alarms me, not only for what it means for Christians but because we know that the more society pushes Christ away the more it will suffer – in this sense it is truly reckless. How do we stand against it? Given this line I watched to hear Aragorn’s response. He says “ride out with me, ride out to meet them”. A simple response, but it is a bold one. Not foolish bravado, but an awakening of something great. The odds are heavily against them, but this is a king in waiting that will fight and not cower as he steps towards his destiny. Gimli then notes the sun rising, reminding Aragorn of Gandalf’s words “look to my coming” a promise of help to be fulfilled at this time. I do not equate Gandalf with Christ, but is this not a wonderful reminder that as we advance for Christ against hatred and evil, that He is with us?

Matthew 10:21 is instructive to us here: "When people realize it is the living God you are presenting and not some idol that makes them feel good, they are going to turn on you, even people in your own family. There is a great irony here: proclaiming so much love, experiencing so much hate! But don't quit. Don't cave in. It is all well worth it in the end. It is not success you are after in such times but survival. Be survivors! Before you've run out of options, the Son of Man will have arrive” (Mat 10:21) (The Message)

The Son does rise over us, but not if we sit on our hands unwilling to advance. While we have Christ we have hope. While we have Christ we have power. Never forget the battle is against the spirit of this world and fight, fight with all our might. Do not be content to let people coast through this life. Do not let people live unloved and unmoved by Christ. How do we deal with hatred? We show the greater way. We show love. Love manifests in the miracles of service and self-sacrifice, healing and friendship, deliverance and help in need. Do not get caught in arguments of doctrine if you cannot first point to Christ, in your works and in your faith. Let us like Aragorn see our destiny, see our potential in Christ and step out against hatred and meet it with love.

Related Posts with Thumbnails