Gold Coast Bereans

Out of Ghana, West Africa; Christian hearts and critical minds seeking, speaking and writing the truth with love. This is a conversation of a group of friends, now living in the USA and the UK, who have known each other for more than 20 years.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Right Theology and Cold Hearts. Part 2, Gaius Columbus reflects further

I continue to think about this subject. The passage In Revelation 2 says, “you have lost your first love”, but does not specify an object. I think it is right to presume the writer means love for Christ. How are we to express our love for Christ? How are we to manifest that we care for Him? Well, John says in both his gospel and in the first epistle that it is through our love for each other. Is this the key to unlocking this passage and understanding it? Does the writer mean that the Ephesian Christians had stopped loving each other the way they used to at the beginning and in so doing showed that they had also lost their first love for Christ?

On the surface, it seems incomprehensible that Christians undergoing a common experience of persecution would lose their love for each other. Generally, acute grief tends to bring people together. But what about when acute grief becomes chronic or intractable grief, when sorrow appears to have no relief in sight? Does first love stay strong in these circumstances? What effect do the inescapable cares of this world, the chronic hardships and the continual hard knocks of life have in creating the fissures we see in relationships? I think the cares of this world—like the seed that fell among thorns—choke the love that first abided in abundance.As physicians we have all witnessed examples of grief that tears families apart. I know of cases where a child’s death in the ED results in the divorce of parents. I know of cases where the stress of a new long-lasting illness destroys a family.

It is conceivable then that chronic ongoing (as opposed to acute) grief arising from persecution can tear the fabric that held Christians together in the giddy early days of conversion. Perhaps it is because of the defections and betrayals that accompany such persecution. Remember Paul’s complaint that no one stood beside him during his time of trial. This passage may mean that even though brothers who remained in the fold continued to excel in their personal and corporate service to Christ, in their perseverance under torture, and in their intolerance of false teaching and wicked conduct, they perhaps had stopped caring as deeply for each other as they once did.

This could also explain why hearts go cold in times of wickedness. Mathew 24 v 12, Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold. If we live in a culture of heartlessness and selfishness in which people including those in the church stop manifesting love toward one another, preferring instead to take advantage of one other, or worse still, to be cruel, the strong exuberant love even brothers once felt for each other will grow cold. Unresolved hurt and the fear of being exploited will the compound matters. Perhaps this is what Christ is warning us against. He is saying is effect,

“Do not deceive yourselves, despite the stress these persecutions have placed on you, despite the fact that you hold on to correct theology and work hard and hate evil, if your love for one another has grown cold, so too has your love for me. Repent, therefore, and go back to the gestures of love you once shared—stay in touch with each other, care about each other and about each other’s welfare the way you once did. Pray for each other, express your love for each other, do the things for each other that you once did and fellowship as expectantly with each other as you once did”

In this respect, the admonition by the writer of Hebrews, not to “forget to meet together as is the habit of some” is a warning against following one pathway to a state of love grown cold. My love is definitely not as warm as I head for Church every Sunday as it ought to be; increasingly, I find myself going to Church out of a sense of obligation (or to assuage guilt, or because a Christian parent should take his kids to church) and not because I am looking forward to hanging out with friends and brothers that I genuinely love and like.

As I think more about this, I find I like Calorius’ analogy in his comment more and more. It is worth asking our wives (as marriage is one picture of our relationship with Christ) what means to them in practical terms to say one’s “first love has grown cold”. I suspect there are truths that such an approach will unearth that can be applied more generally to our walk with each other and consequently with the Lord. I continue to reflect on this subject and may return to it another time. - Gaius Columbus


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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Right Theology and Cold Hearts. Part 1, Gaius Columbus asks some questions

Some time ago, one of us asked the question: What are we to do when we find ourselves going cold spiritually? I don’t think we ever completely addressed this important query. Recently, however, this statement came back to as I read a commentary on the book of Revelations titled “Breaking the code: understanding the book of revelation” by the theologian Bruce M. Metzger. It is a short book and very good; I recommend it. In this book, reference is made to the well known charge that Christ addresses to the Church at Ephesus in Revelation chapter 2:

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lamp stands: I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He, who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.

Similarly in Mathew 24 v 12, Christ says, Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold.

What do these scriptures mean? Specifically, what does it mean to say one’s love has grown cold? Even more importantly, for me, is the obvious corollary: how do we fix this problem? What is the remedy? The passage from Revelations tells us what is wrong but only indirectly what to do about it, “Repent and do the things you did at first”. What are these things that they did first?

We know what these things were not, because the passage indicates that these Ephesian brothers/sisters had continued to have the right theology, strong perseverance, and good work ethic. What then had they lost? By love, is the Lord asking them (and us) to have more of an emotional response to Him, to one another, or is He talking about something else? Is the malaise we occasionally feel, included? Or is it something else, something deeper or even something more straightforward? Incidentally, to many readers, the preamble in I Corinthians 13 to Paul’s extremely popular text on demonstrating love in our relationships with one another is equally perplexing.

When Paul states in verse 3, If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing, what is he saying? For an outside observer, it appears glaringly obvious that one who surrenders his body to the flames or gives all he possesses to the poor is showing love. Indeed is this not what James teaches when he writes about “practical” Christian love? Apparently not, if we accept that these letters although written by different apostles have coherence, because Paul does not equate these acts with love. Instead, his passage appears to indicate that it is possible to sacrifice oneself and have no love. It is possible to give all one possesses and not have love. So how about the converse?

Is it possible to have love, yet refuse to surrender one’s body to the flames? Is it possible to have love, yet refuse to give to the poor?I guess what I am asking, Brothers, is what does it mean to love Christ, if it does not mean ensuring one has right theology, or that one perseveres in the face of persecution for His name’s sake, or that one does not grow weary, or that one is careful not to tolerate of the acts/teachings of wicked men, or that one gives to the poor, and hates the things He hates (in the case of the Ephesians, the practices of the Nicolaitans)? This is an important question that we should ponder over. The Lord felt strongly enough about this issue that He called the Ephesians to repent. – Gaius Columbus

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Patriotism, Pledges and Partisan fervor. Part 2, Calorius reflects further

I think best in compartments, so I want to consider two separate things here.

The first is Allegiance. Even within allegiance there are several aspects. I owe all of my moral allegiance to God. Where morality is concerned, we don't have a choice but to do what God instructs. But there is also a civic allegiance- a certain responsibility to pay taxes, take jury duty, not dodge the draft if it existed, vote, complete national service, attend medical staff meetings, etc, etc. While the Bible encourages us to "render unto Caesar" these things, I don't think they are as binding as the moral code we serve.

Another reason we should fulfill our civic duties is "so that we do not offend them" (Matt 17:24; re the two-drachma tax, which by the way, Jesus had argued was an unjust law). And I agree that if there is ever a conflict between these obligations, we should serve the moral code first. I think when it comes to allegiance (closely linked to responsibility) there is a whole hierarchy of these things. Children owe a certain allegiance to their parents, husbands to their wives, wives to their husbands, etc.

And in so far as a pledge of allegiance is only stating these things, I find no problem with it. I remember the same thing came up in Ghana seventies when the pledge was introduced by the government. Jehovah's witnesses, who believe it is idolatry to sing the national anthem etc, refused. A good government will allow you to object in a civil manner, but sometimes a person can end up in prison for this kind of objection. Allegiance can therefore be compartmentalized, “hierarchized” etc and most things can live with others.

But there is a second major thing that often gets confused with allegiance but is actually distinct, and that is WORSHIP. Worship is the conscious or unconscious attribution of God's "Godness" to something. When it comes to worship, there can be no compartments and no hierarchy. The reason is that God directs that our worship of Him must be exclusive. So that commandment has two parts- a "do" and a "don't". The do part is to worship God above everything else. But the don't part is equally important, which is “don't worship any other thing”. Not money, not people, not governments, not religions, not philosophies, not parents and especially not inanimate objects. No compartments or hierarchies here.

During the temptation of Jesus he didn't make a counter-offer to Satan about the kingdoms of the earth and their glory. It's zero tolerance here. In my mind it's the difference between singing our High School song "we are brothers and our mother is our school" versus that other song to a school god "Glorious Kuzuinik...", the words of which I am glad to have forgotten.

In the Bible translations many words are used for emphasis various aspects of this worship, which cannot be shared. For example the word "love", as in "thou shall love the Lord your God with all your heart...” which emphasizes the aspect of devotion. And the word "serve" as in "and Him only shall thou serve" which emphasizes the aspect of obedience and commitment.

There are other differences between "allegiance" and "worship". For example, allegiance can be entirely outward. It's a form of obedience that has nothing to do with what you think and feel on the inside. I did National Service, but very reluctantly and angrily. You can't worship reluctantly, because it's an inside thing. So when we pledge allegiance to a flag, we are stating our willingness to obey the civic duties that it represents, and we should not be thinking devotion to the flag. This is where much of American Evangelical political thought has got it wrong.

I think contemporary usage of the word "worship", as in the thing we do for 15 minutes at the beginning of church service, or the hundreds of Christian CD's which are titled "Praise and Worship", has limited us to a very minor aspect of that activity. It is interesting how that word crept into our vocabulary and now how we trivialize it. We need instead to remember the use of the word worship in the context in which Jonah said "I worship the Lord", as in a statement of who we serve. Like the word "Som" in the Twi language. Nowadays people simply ask "what is your faith" or "what is your denomination" or "what Church do you go to" or "are u a Christian" or "are you born again". The more important question is, "Whom do you worship?" The answer should be, as in the manner of Jonah, "I am a worshipper of God, the father of our Lord Jesus Christ"

For the time is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship Him in Spirit and in Truth. John Chapter 4, verse 23.

By the way, it's heating up around here. We've trapped our first scorpion of the year and recorded above 90 degrees already. And did any of you see the Suns -Mavericks game last week? Rematch on the 16th, in Phoenix! - Calorius

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Patriotism, Pledges and Partisan fervor

Gaius Columbus asked this question, “Should Christians be pledging allegiance to any country or flag or national symbol? Is there a hint of idolatry in such pledges? When does healthy nationalism and benign cultural 'pride' cross over to national worship or idolatry?”

Here is my response:

I think there is a longing for an (utopian) motherland or fatherland that exists in every single human being. It is a longing for a perfect comradeship or kinship, and for mutual affirmation of each other in some kind of community. It is a desire for a sense of belonging and for a common identity with soul companions, the friend that sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24)

In the purest form, it is the longing of the sons (and daughters) of God described in Romans 8:23 " ....we ourselves who have the firstfruits of the Spirit groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies". Hence for the believer in Christ the ultimate patriotism is his or her citizenship in Heaven and his comradeship on earth is with fellow believers. This goes along with the Great High Priestly Prayer of Christ in John 17, when our Lord prays that His followers may be united in the Holy Spirit in this world.

I think the patriotic fervor that people display on this earth, on this side of eternity, is simply a poor shadow of the ideal I describe above. All Ghanaians, even neighbors who are at loggerheads at Kotobabi(1) and will draw a line in the sand over the two great local soccer clubs Hearts of Oak and Great Olympics(Dadey Mashie), suddenly find kinship and unity when we trounce Nigeria at soccer. And most of Africa unites behind the exploits of Cameroon at the Soccer World Cup when under different circumstances we will gladly punch them in the nose.

This is the benign form of worldly patriotism which, I repeat, is a shadow of the heavenly and it is a sad situation if we find ourselves more passionate about the Cleveland Browns or the Wichita Falls Tigers (ice hockey?) than we are about the Church of Christ scattered around the world awaiting its consummation.

I should state here that it should not just be with our narrow group of like-minded clones that we should feel this kinship. It includes the Apostolic Church lady in Nkawkaw(2) who prays all night, sometimes in different languages, and in the morning sings a new song to the Lord. Ever wondered where all those praise songs like "Yesu Christo yeh kunim di franca" (Jesus Christ is our victory flag) came from? We should remember that anytime we sing them in our modern Accra churches accompanied by modern drum sets, 600 dollar bass guitars and Korg Synthesizers.

It also includes all true followers of Christ found in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and in Iraq, Syria, Papua New Guinea, Canada and Israel. It includes some internet neo-theologians who appear to have discovered and often diss anything that doesn't follow their brand of the gospel. I bumped into one recently, but that is another story.

There is however a malignant form of this worldly patriotism. Like all things good that God has created in mankind, the corrupted and even dangerous form of this patriotism and loyalty to one's people or nation can be a cause of great harm in society. Throughout history, the examples are endless. Probably the most glaring example is Hitler in Germany but more subtle examples abound today where you can be termed a traitor simple for questioning the wisdom of a leader's actions.

My conclusion; let us reserve our greatest emotional fervor for the City with foundations, whose Builder and Architect is the Lord". How I love that description of the New Jerusalem. Having said that, I find nothing wrong with experiencing the kind of euphoria we had when Ghana beat the Czech Republic at the World Cup or that goosy feeling I get when the Star Spangled Banner is sang authentically in the key of G-Major at an event - not the stylish rendition with minor-key-razzmatazz that Beyonce and others of her ilk deliver on occasion. - Robbo

notes. 1) - a suburb of Accra. 2)- a town in Ghana

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