Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Modern Church's 'Jerusalem Council'

What went on with the early church in Acts 15 (following the remarkable events of Chapters 10 and 11) directly relates to the modern day debate among the Church about the validity of Hindu/Muslim/etc. 'followers of Jesus/Christ' who remain within their given religion but secretly worship Jesus alone. The question the modern Church (the majority of which have never faced any kind of persecution for their faith) is asking is: Can these 'followers of Jesus' who keep all their cultural norms and look no different on the outside than unbelievers within their culture be considered true believers?

What of when Jesus says to his disciples, "Anyone who would come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me"? I would say the cross not only represents Jesus doing what we couldn't do ourselves, but the very willingness to face persecution for His Names' sake. Would you not agree? What is to be said then of these believers who may continue to call themselves Muslims, go to the mosque, read from al-Qur'an (although adding the Psalms and Gospels now) and do not face any persecution for their faith in Jesus Christ (no longer Mohammed)?

One MBB (Muslim-background Believer) from Iraq who still goes by his Muslim named Muhammad al-Hallaaj, in his simple and powerful autobiography More Than a Dream: Life With Jesus Christ, puts a pleading invitation to those of similar backgrounds as his:
I am convinced that God has a special plan to glorify himself uniquely in each person. Do you want to see the God of glory at work in your life? Ask, my dear brother and sister! For the Lord of glory says, "Ask in faith!" Ask the Lord of glory to show you the right path! I am not asking you to change your religion. No, my dear brother and sister, let the Muslim stay a Muslim, and the Christian stay a Christian, and the Sikh a Sikh and the Jew a Jew. Don't concern yourself with changing your religion; instead, seek to grow in your relationship with God (p.44).

The following are some quotes and insightful thoughts from a "Muslim Follower of Jesus," the author Mazhar Mallouhi, originally from Syria [he does not attend an official church but meets regularly with Sufi(mystical) Muslims and discusses about Jesus and is seeing them come to Christ in spirit and in truth]:

“Instead of calling people to another religion, Jesus called them to himself. Following him and his way was what mattered to him. Jesus’ primary concern was the establishment of the new life of the Kingdom of God, not the founding of a new religion. It is not about changing one’s religion…Religion consists of affiliation with a group, culture, ethic, dogma and structure of authority—clergy, book, orthodoxy…It is possible to change all of them without knowing God. If we stress these we may give the impression that these are the Christian faith” (112).

Arab Evangelical and Western Christians need to avoid the dogmatic judgmentalism of the early [Jewish] church who could not see past God’s work in their own religion and culture, and insisted that Gentiles adopt Jewish religious customs and practices in their following of Christ

“Mazhar personally avoids all such terminology and all theories of categorization, believing that spirituality cannot be systemized [such as the ‘C1-C6 Spectrum’], as God works differently in each person’s life. However, he does point out that these ‘insider movements’ do not exist to hide the identities of followers of Christ, but instead to enable them to go spiritually deeper within their own Islamic community. Interestingly, as most of the ‘pillars’ of Islamic practice are all adaptations of previous Jewish and Christian forms, many Muslim followers of Christ are adapting the pillars of their Islamic faith to enhance their faith in Christ” (119).

“Christ changed my understanding of God. I love the story of the woman caught in adultery, as this totally changed my thinking about God. Dostoevsky planted the understanding for this in my mind. Christ did not look at her to accuse her, but looked at the ground so as not to shame her. He participated in her shame [huge for an ‘honor-shame culture’]. The experience of God through Christ gave me joy and peace—it covered me—the whole world changed for me. God is not an angry God, but a loving Father, suffering with his son on the cross and suffering with me in this world” (176).

“It is about following our beautiful Lord who loves all traditions and cultures. This is the problem with some large Arab evangelical churches. They bring young followers of Christ from a Muslim background into Christianity, more than to Christ. And this is tragic” (179).

Friday, October 21, 2011

Our October Update from Cape Town

Dear Partners in Christ,

This is just a "short" update to let you know we are now entering into the 5th week of the new Church Planting and Leadership School on our base after a powerful week where we merged with the School of Biblical Studies to go deeper into the book of Acts and the character of Paul through God's grace....for those with little time you can scroll down for some summary prayer points for Thandi and I...

After a great introductory week that gave us a freshperspective on the definition and goals of Discipleship, we have nowfinalized our students to seven. 7 Kingdom-minded students from 7different nations! We have our married couple from Germany and Norway, an American girl from Florida (who still works seasonally for Disney), and therest men from Nigeria, DRC-Congo, South Africa, and Brasil (who is married witha very clever 11-year old daughter who helps him with his English).

By the beginning of Week 2 (after we had inaugural prayer hike to thetop of Muizenberg Mountain--see pic w/somestudents missing) we had all the students together in class, and it was a weeknot to be missed. It was amazing to have an Afrikaaner South Africanshare about Church Planting principles him and his family learned while workingamong the previously unreached Yao people ofnorthern Mozambique. What I loved most was that he didn't point to all their eventual successes andsay, "Do it like we did," but pointed us to infinitely creativeSpirit of God to "adoptBiblical principles and adaptmethods" for the specific people group God calls you to. As he putit from the beginning, "We went up to Mozambique to find out we didn'tknow much of anything at all." He also emphasized that when we speakof Church Planting Movements and Simple Church fellowships (often in the home),this does not mean we go and try to change established churches to make surethey are more interactive and planting other churches. It is all aboutseeing churches planted where they are not. Then last week we were blessedwith another South African who spoke powerfully on the critical connectionbetween living and pursuing the Kingdom of God and understandinga Biblical Worldview, especially in an African context.

It has been such a blessing to interact with and pose challenges to thefaith of these students who are so hungry to get out to the unengaged peoplesof our world. We can see God having them wrestle with truths they thoughtthey had previously "covered" and taking them deeper into their understandingof what His vision for the Church is and how they can draw more people from alldifferent nations into this. Already on our local outreaches to OvercomeHeights community of ever-growing shacks, we have been invited into anotherhome (other than that of Mama Mudi's) of a Xhosa couple who openly share abouttheir struggle to live as a "good Christian" while keeping theirtraditional customs alive. I know some of the students look forward totaking them through the teaching on "The 3 Levels of Authority" we wentover in class, and how this opens up so much freedom for the Church tooperate without compromising the fundamental truths of God's Word to us [I haveattached a short document for those interested from the non-negotiable (1)"Commands of NT (Christ)", (2) Apostolic Practices and (3) HumanCustoms and Traditions. It is quite amazing to see how so many of modernchurches place the greatest emphasis on Human Traditions in running theirservices, and should be challenging to us all...When we plant churches of anykind, we must make sure we are not planting our own cultures with it.]

One of the students that has been most challenged but also mostresponsive to the teaching and new environment is our brother from eastern Congo, PastorJack (pictured solo in the pink shirt). Coming straight from missionarywork in Tanzania for fiveyears, he came down to Cape Townto work with a close friend of his who also has been trained at YWAMMuizenberg. However, his friend realized the Church Planting school wasbeginning and felt it best for him to come for more training. Though heis not entirely confident in his English yet, we have a staff member who is his1-on-1 from Burkina Fasowho also speaks French, and he also speaks some Kiswahili with me, a beautifullanguage:) And it hasn't stopped him from sharing how much God ischallenging his view of church as well as reaching people of traditionalAfrican religions who often live in fear of the spirits. Please join usin praying for this dear pastor, so humble and hungry to learn more, ingathering a support team around him for the long-term apostolic calling theLord has on his life.


-- In our next all-staff meeting (now well over 100 staff spreadout over the southern peninsula of Cape Town) thisweek, our YWAM Muizenberg community will have the privilege to take partin a traditional Nigerian baby-naming ceremony, exactly 8 days after the birthof the couple's boy....

PRAY we would continue tobuild a staff community that truly embraces different cultural traditions and glorifies our Lord Jesus to the lost around us as well.

-- Last Thursday night we had base worship like we do every Thursdaynight, but it was truly unique to have a Somali believer in ourmidst for the very first time! I have tried building r/ships with Somalissince coming to Cape Town(many run small shops in the townships), but often they remained veryclosed. Only recently I have been seeing increasing openness inthe Somali people,both men and women (esp. one family), in the Sundaymarket in Muizenberg. Just last week the family bought Thandi and Icokes, chips+candy for Busi (which I later ate:), and gave a winter cap to Busias a gift. The sister also offered to bring me her book of Somali-englishPhrases, since she saw me working on my Somali greetings. I came wantingto bless them and show the love of Christ, but we went away so blessed!

PRAY for increasing opportunities to share Christ within their traditionally Muslim culture...esp.Mohammed and Miriam

-- PRAY forthe students of CPL school, especially for finances to start coming in forlecture fees. Each student needs at least equivalent of $1000, and somestill have none. PRAY also for finalization of local outreach locationthat will be other option from the South Sudanoutreach Thandi and I will lead

-- PRAY forcontinued openness in Overcome outreach every Monday and Friday among a peopleliving amongst a lot of violence and addiction...also for wisdom among us staffleaders on how to be most strategic and keeping students safe (we have some DTSstudents joining us)

-- PRAY for my preparation in each for a week on Animism and Reaching God's People from an Anthropological Approach at end of November


Bryan and Thandeka Whitlock