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The Radicals, not the Protestants, have won. From Michael Horton

16 Oct

Much of the hoopla surrounding the five hundredth anniversary of the Protestant Reformation has been blather. On October 31, 2016, at a joint service in Lund, Sweden, Pope Francis and the president of the World Lutheran Federation exchanged warm feelings. Rev. Martin Junge, general secretary of the mainline Lutheran body, said in a press release for the joint service, “I’m carried by the profound conviction that by working towards reconciliation between Lutherans and Catholics, we are working towards justice, peace and reconciliation in a world torn apart by conflict and violence.” Acknowledging Luther’s positive contributions, the pope spoke of how important Christian unity is to bring healing and reconciliation to a world divided by violence. “But,” he added, according to one report, “we have no intention of correcting what took place but to tell that history differently.”

Perhaps the most evident example of missing the point is the statement last year in Berlin by Christina Aus der Au, Swiss pastor and president of an ecumenical church convention: “Reformation means courageously seeking what is new and turning away from old, familiar customs.”  Right, that’s what the Reformation was all about: average laypeople and archbishops gave their bodies to be burned and the Western church was divided, because people became tired of the same old thing and were looking for nontraditional beliefs and ways of living—just like us!

The Wall Street Journal reports a Pew study in which 53 percent of US Protestants couldn’t identify Martin Luther as the one who started the Reformation. (“Oddly, Jews, atheists, and Mormons were more familiar with Luther.”) In fact, “Fewer than 3 in 10 white evangelicals correctly identified Protestantism as the faith that believes in the doctrine of sola fide, or justification by faith alone.”1

Many today who claim the Reformation as their heritage are more likely heirs of the Radical Anabaptists. In fact, I want to test the waters with an outlandish suggestion: Our modern world can be understood at least in part as the triumph of the Radicals. At first, this seems a nonstarter; after all, the Anabaptists were the most persecuted group of the era—persecuted not only by the pope, but also by Lutheran and Reformed magistrates. Furthermore, today’s Anabaptists are pacifists who generally eschew mingling with outsiders, rather than revolutionary firebrands such as Thomas Müntzer, who led insurrections in the attempt to establish end-time communist utopias (with themselves as messianic rulers).

I’m not talking about Amish communities in rural Pennsylvania. In fact, I don’t have in mind specific offshoots, like Arminian Baptists, as such. I’m thinking more of the Radical Anabaptists, especially the early ones, who were more an eruption of late medieval revolutionary mysticism than an offshoot of the Reformation. I have in mind a utopian, revolutionary, quasi-Gnostic religion of the “inner light” that came eventually to influence all branches of Christendom. It’s the sort of piety that the Reformers referred to as “enthusiasm.” But it has seeped like a fog into all of our traditions.

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Just another day as a Christian in the 10/40 window

10 Dec

1040persecution

From the Barnabas Fund:

Fire gutted a Christian TV station in Karachi, Pakistan on 24 November, leaving the three-room offices a smouldering wreck following a suspected arson attack.

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The blaze, which officials report took nearly two hours to extinguish, appeared to specifically target valuable broadcasting instruments that the station uses to spread the Gospel message to the nation.

Javed William, the brother of Pastor Sarfraz William who is the owner of the affected broadcasting station Gawahi TV, said that the fire seemed to be a deliberate attack aimed at thwarting the Christian work of the station, “This is not an attack on us; it is an attack on Christianity. Whoever did this does not want God’s work to happen.”

Whilst no one was hurt in the incident, the station’s equipment, including computers and cameras, was completely destroyed along with furniture and books. There was also evidence that the network’s security cameras had been tampered with prior to the incident, and some computer hard disks were stolen. Assistant manager of Gawahi TV, Irfan Daniel remarked, “Someone did this with a lot of thought.”

Gawahi Television was established in February 2013 through donations from the Christian community. The station broadcasts Bible readings, Christian hymns and videos with the intention of, “spread[ing] the Gospel of Jesus Christ to people of all religions who live in Pakistan”. The channel, which regularly airs to approximately 12 million people, was working on programming for the Christmas period at the time of the attack.

Previous threats from suspected militants, demanding the closure of the station, were reported to the police by Gawahi TV management, but they did not investigate the threats or give any advice or help to increase security.

A charred but intact Bible was found amongst the wreckage, a fitting reminder of the permanence of the Gospel, even in the face of such raids.

Christian persecution in Pakistan occurs frequently, whether it be through community oppression from the Muslim-majority, discrimination against Christians in the workplace or the unfair implementation of the country’s notorious “blasphemy laws”.

A recent report by the International Commission of Jurists has called on the Pakistan government to, “repeal all blasphemy laws … or amend them substantially so that they are consistent with international standards on freedom of expression; freedom of thought, conscience or religion; and equal protection of the law”.

Is Europe in decline by taking up roots?

8 Dec

From Samuel Gregg:

In his Mémoires d’Espoir, the leader of Free France during World War II and the founder of the Fifth Republic, General Charles de Gaulle, wrote at length about a subject on many people’s minds today—Europe. Though often portrayed as passionately French to the point of incorrigibility, de Gaulle was, in his own way, quintessentially European.

For de Gaulle, however, Europe wasn’t primarily about supranational institutions like the European Commission or the European Central Bank, let alone what some European politicians vaguely call “democratic values.” To de Gaulle’s mind, Europe was essentially a spiritual and cultural heritage, one worthy of emulation by others. Europe’s nations, de Gaulle wrote, had “the same Christian origins and the same way of life, linked to one another since time immemorial by countless ties of thought, art, science, politics and trade.”

On this basis, de Gaulle considered it “natural” that these nations “should come together to form a whole, with its own character and organization in relation to the rest of the world.” However, de Gaulle also believed that without clear acknowledgment and a deep appreciation of these common civilizational foundations, any pan-European integration would run aground.

Today’s European crisis reflects the enduring relevance of de Gaulle’s insight. This is true not only regarding the quasi-religious faith that some Europeans place in the type of supranational bureaucracies that drew de Gaulle’s ire. It also applies to the inadequacies of the vision that informs their trust in such institutions. Until Europe’s leaders recognize this problem, it is difficult to see how the continent can avoid further decline, whether as a player on the global stage or as societies that offer something distinctly enriching to the rest of the world.

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The worldwide growth in evangelicalism (despite the secularization thesis)

11 Sep

Source

The miracle of Christianity in China

26 May
Original link
A group of youth from Wing Kwong Church in Hong Kong.
A group of youth from Wing Kwong Church in Hong Kong. (Photo courtesy of Lee Grady )

Last week I worshipped in Hong Kong with hundreds of believers at the Wing Kwong Church, a Pentecostal Holiness congregation that has grown from 28 members in 1978 to more than 13,000 today. The modern megachurch, which meets in a sleek six-story building completed in the year 2000, gives thousands of dollars every year to fund international missions work. Under the leadership of Pastor Donavan Ng, the church sent a missionary couple to Kenya in 2006 to reach Chinese immigrants who have moved to that African nation.

“God has entrusted to the Chinese church a special mandate for the 21st century,” declared James Hudson Taylor IV, a surprise guest in the Wing Kwong Church that evening. Taylor is the great-great-grandson of British missionary pioneer Hudson Taylor, who ventured to China in 1854 to evangelize the world’s most populous nation.

When Hudson Taylor sailed to China, there were no Christians there—yet the China Inland Mission that he established won 18,000 converts to Jesus Christ during his lifetime and became one of the greatest success stories in modern missions. Today, Taylor’s great-great-grandson has a front-row seat to witness the greatest miracle on planet earth.

Hudson Taylor’s beloved China is becoming a Christian country.

Many Americans today seem discouraged by evidence of spiritual decline in the West. Now would be the best time for us to heed Jesus’ words in John 4:35: “Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest.” Our pessimism has blinded us to what is happening in the East.

Consider these facts about the Chinese church:

1. China will likely become the largest Christian nation in the world by the year 2030. Fenggang Yang, a professor of sociology at Purdue University, notes that in the year 2010 there were more than 58 million Protestants in China, and he believes that number will swell to around 160 million by 2025 based on current growth trends. (The United States had 159 million Protestants in 2010.) By 2030, Yang predicts, China’s total Christian population, including Catholics, would exceed 247 million, placing it above Mexico, Brazil and the United States as the largest Christian population in the world.

2. More Christians attend church on Sundays in China today than in Europe.Some people attend government-sanctioned churches like the 5,000-member Liushi megachurch, located 200 miles south of Shanghai in Zhejiang province. This church was forced to close in the 1950s, but it reopened in 1978 and has grown ever since. Many other Chinese believers prefer to worship in more covert “house churches” so they can stay away from any government interference.

3. Spiritual hunger is exploding in China, even though the country is officially atheist. A recent study found that online searches for the words “Christian congregation” and “Jesus” are far more numerous than for “communist party.” And as more people have moved from rural areas to big cities, large numbers of young professionals have turned to Christ. Missiologists say between 10,000 and 25,000 people convert to Christianity every day in China.

4. Persecution of Christians is still rampant in China, but it does not seem to be slowing church growth. A 2015 report by China Aid says leaders of the Chinese Communist Party remain worried about the popularity of Christianity, and this is the reason they have instigated recent crackdowns on churches and arrested house church pastors. President Xi Jinping is considered the most authoritarian leader in China since Mao Zedong. Communist leaders have also been known to bankrupt churches in an effort to stop their work.

5. The growth of Chinese Christianity is linked to its economic growth.Economists announced that China overtook the United States as the world’s largest economy in late 2014. China, with its population of 1.3 billion, now accounts for 16.5 percent of the global economy, compared with 16.3 percent for the U.S. A recent study by Qunyong Wang of Nankai University and Xinyu Lin of Renmin University of China discovered there was robust economic growth in areas of China where Christian congregations are growing.

Could it be that God will use the vast financial resources of China to pay for the next great thrust of world evangelism before Christ’s return?

China’s church is truly a marvel. The gospel seed that was planted by missionaries such as Hudson Taylor in the 1800s died in the ground after Mao Zedong unleashed his infamous Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s. During that era, Mao tried to completely eliminate religion and foreign influence in China by forcing 10,000 missionaries to leave the country.

Mao also sent thousands of Christians to their deaths, but the blood of those martyrs has produced an unprecedented harvest today. No one on this planet will be able to ignore the full impact of China’s miracle.

J. Lee Grady is the former editor of Charisma and the director of The Mordecai Project. You can follow him on Twitter @leegrady. His work to protect women from abuse was featured in the March issue of Charisma. Check out his ministry atthemordecaiproject.org.

“Lord, take their children and smash their heads against the rocks.” Ps. 137; praying against the violent and wicked

31 Mar

From his grace (Cranmer blog):

Psalm 137: “God, I wish you’d take the children of my enemies and smash their heads against the rocks”

There is perhaps no greater empathy aroused in times of war and strife than when we see the intolerable suffering of children; the desperate eyes of the innocent; the tears of orphaned babies, frightened, hungry, sapped of all hope and devoid of love. Their little mangled bodies lie on crimson sheets, spliced by shrapnel, traumatised by nightmares, soaked in the stench of their own urine. These images leave a wound far deeper than any weapon of mass destruction.

The newly-installed Bishop of Leeds the Rt Rev’d Nick Bains delivered yesterday’s ‘Thought For The Day’ on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. He tells us on his blog – Musings of a Restless Bishop – that it was “written in the face of the horrors of Gaza, Syria, Ukraine and all the other bloody conflicts filling the news screens, and with a strict word limit”. His subject was Psalm 137 – the well-known lament which begins “By the Rivers of Babylon”. He takes us from Boney M’s jaunty disco dance hit to the psalm’s final line, which is a disturbing imprecation. He writes:

Now, Psalm 137 is not a comfortable song; nor is it a song for the comfortable. It ends with a shrill cry of pain and hatred: “God, I wish you’d take the children of my enemies and smash their heads against the rocks.” But, it isn’t there to justify an ethic. It isn’t there to suggest it is right to think such awful things of other people’s children. It is there for two reasons: first, to confront us with the reality of how deep our own human hatred can go, and, secondly, to tell us not to lie to God (thinking he can’t handle that reality or the depths of human despair).

Christians tend to focus on the messianic blessings and sing about the glories of Zion: we love the psalms of thanksgiving, kingship and confidence, and meditate on those of remembrance and wisdom. About a third of the Old Testament quotations in the New Testament are drawn from the Psalms, which highlights their theological significance and liturgical importance to the Early Church.

But the Psalter is also full of bitter imprecations which offend modern sensibilities. Curses against enemies abound, often in otherwise sublime settings of supreme sacrifice, humility and brokenness. The Christian will naturally feel that that the spirit of anger and hatred reflected in these sections falls well below Jesus’ teaching and moral standards: it’s hardly an expression of love for one’s enemies to pray that God would take their children and smash their heads against the rocks.

But the intense suffering of the Jews in exile naturally aroused the desire for such horror: we want to hate our enemies, and rather enjoy wishing upon them all manner of suffering and strife. The parents of Gaza are teaching their children that Jews are lower than pigs; the Jews of Israel are teaching their children that Palestinians are all terrorists; the Sunni ‘Islamic State’ in Iraq are beheading the cultic Shia and slaughtering infidel Christians; the Shia are fighting back where they can. The dismembered Christians might be forgiven as they pray in their bombed-out churches for their enemies to die and rot in hell.

But we must bear in mind the fact that for most of the psalmists there was no meaningful afterlife, and so no vindication of the righteous or judgment of the wicked. Rather like today, when notions of heaven and hell are routinely dismissed with the goblins and fairies of Neverland, we prefer judgment to be seen to be done in this world. The final lines of Psalm 137 cannot really be understood without considering that the psalmist was passionate about and impatient for justice:

Remember, O LORD, the children of Edom
in the day of Jerusalem;
who said, Rase it, rase it,
even to the foundation thereof.
O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed;
happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us.
Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth
thy little ones against the stones.

Such laments take us to the depths of helplessness and forsakenness. They are cries of distress when there is nowhere to turn: God has abandoned us and our enemies mock and scorn – or terrorise, persecute and murder. Impulsively but genuinely we want their children to be fatherless and their wives to become widows (Psalm 109:8f). And we hope to God that their bastard offspring don’t grow up to be another generation of murderous devils.

But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven (Mt 19:14).

Those who are taught resentment and loathing will not easily find Jesus or enter the kingdom. Violence breeds violence and hate engenders hate. The way of Christ is peace. In our secularpolis this may seem like sheer folly. But it is a choice we make in the hope and anticipation that God’s love will finally prevail through the way of the cross, despite our inability to see how this may be possible when warring hearts are filled with grievances and pain.

There is nothing at all to be gained from smashing the heads of babies against the rocks. No, that way lies a world wracked by revenge and ever more violence.

Graham Wood’s article, What ISIS really wants, should be the ‘go-to’ piece of journalism on this issue.

26 Feb

From the Atlantic:

What is the Islamic State?  Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.

The group seized Mosul, Iraq, last June, and already rules an area larger than the United Kingdom. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been its leader since May 2010, but until last summer, his most recent known appearance on film was a grainy mug shot from a stay in U.S. captivity at Camp Bucca during the occupation of Iraq. Then, on July 5 of last year, he stepped into the pulpit of the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul, to deliver a Ramadan sermon as the first caliph in generations—upgrading his resolution from grainy to high-definition, and his position from hunted guerrilla to commander of all Muslims. The inflow of jihadists that followed, from around the world, was unprecedented in its pace and volume, and is continuing.

Our ignorance of the Islamic State is in some ways understandable: It is a hermit kingdom; few have gone there and returned. Baghdadi has spoken on camera only once. But his address, and the Islamic State’s countless other propaganda videos and encyclicals, are online, and the caliphate’s supporters have toiled mightily to make their project knowable. We can gather that their state rejects peace as a matter of principle; that it hungers for genocide; that its religious views make it constitutionally incapable of certain types of change, even if that change might ensure its survival; and that it considers itself a harbinger of—and headline player in—the imminent end of the world.

The Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), follows a distinctive variety of Islam whose beliefs about the path to the Day of Judgment matter to its strategy, and can help the West know its enemy and predict its behavior. Its rise to power is less like the triumph of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (a group whose leaders the Islamic State considers apostates) than like the realization of a dystopian alternate reality in which David Koresh or Jim Jones survived to wield absolute power over not just a few hundred people, but some 8 million.

We have misunderstood the nature of the Islamic State in at least two ways. First, we tend to see jihadism as monolithic, and to apply the logic of al‑Qaeda to an organization that has decisively eclipsed it. The Islamic State supporters I spoke with still refer to Osama bin Laden as “Sheikh Osama,” a title of honor. But jihadism has evolved since al-Qaeda’s heyday, from about 1998 to 2003, and many jihadists disdain the group’s priorities and current leadership.

Bin Laden viewed his terrorism as a prologue to a caliphate he did not expect to see in his lifetime. His organization was flexible, operating as a geographically diffuse network of autonomous cells. The Islamic State, by contrast, requires territory to remain legitimate, and a top-down structure to rule it. (Its bureaucracy is divided into civil and military arms, and its territory into provinces.)

We are misled in a second way, by a well-intentioned but dishonest campaign to deny the Islamic State’s medieval religious nature. Peter Bergen, who produced the first interview with bin Laden in 1997, titled his first book Holy War, Inc. in part to acknowledge bin Laden as a creature of the modern secular world. Bin Laden corporatized terror and franchised it out. He requested specific political concessions, such as the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Saudi Arabia. His foot soldiers navigated the modern world confidently. On Mohammad Atta’s last full day of life, he shopped at Walmart and ate dinner at Pizza Hut.

Read the whole thing, no seriously, read it.

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