Bad Theology Kills: How We Justify Killing Arabs

By Jesse Wheeler

Bad theology kills.

For many, the subject of “theology” invokes the image of old white men with impressive beards and antiquated ideas sitting in ivory seminary towers writing really big books that nobody reads. Yet within everything we think, say, and do can be found a variety of implicit theologies, even if we are unconscious of them. For theology (along with its secular twin – ideology) encompasses our very core beliefs as to how the universe functions and how we function within it. It drives our very sense of purpose and provides us with the interpretive lenses through which we make sense of and find meaning in our daily lives.

And, some theologies are good. Others are bad.

Hermeneutical Fruit

So, in an age of deconstructed absolutes, how then is it possible for one to distinguish the good from bad?[1] For the follower of Jesus, the answer is amazingly simple:

Fruit.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us:

1“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.” (Matthew 7:15-17 NIV)

To distinguish the true from false prophet, or anyone claiming to represent the will of God, Jesus does not implement a doctrinal litmus test. Instead, he tells us this: “By their fruit you will recognize them.” Likewise, to distinguish between a true and false theological system, one must simply look at its fruit:

  • Does the fruit of that system lead us to LOVE God, neighbor and enemy as ourselves? Or, does it result in self-aggrandizement, or separationist and supremacist attitudes?
  • Does it seek God’s Kingdom come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven? Or, does it seek to promote the hegemony of some other Lord, Pharaoh, Führer, or flag?
  • Does it stand up for the poor, the orphan, the widow, and the refugee? Or, quite plainly, does it not?

Distinguishing good theology from bad theology theology - lovecomes down to this: Good theology brings life. Bad theology kills.

Rotten Fruit and Dead Arabs

I wish therefore to highlight three interrelated theologies which have been particularly destructive in the Middle Eastern context:

  • First, Colonialist Paternalism

From the “white man’s burden” and “mission civilisatriceof the 19th century to the modern American desire to “export freedom by force of arms” in the 21st century, the tragic history of Western imperialism in the Middle East is rife with examples of theological and ideological systems which have sought to promote, justify, downplay, and excuse that which in reality is little more than violent and deadly conquest, theft and exploitation.

With complete sincerity, yet degrading paternalism we colonialists have justified our aggression by convincing ourselves that we have been acting, often on behalf of God, for the betterment of the colonized peoples. Of this, Brian McLaren writes:

“[Colonial theology] would explain — historically or theologically — why the colonizers deserve to be in power — sustained in the position of hegemony; It would similarly explain why the colonized deserve to be dominated — maintained in the subaltern or subservient position; It would provide ethical justification for the phases and functions of colonization [and] it would camouflage or cosmetically enhance its ugly aspects and preempt attempts to expose them.”

Not only does bad theology kill, but it has justified the death of many Middle Eastern persons.

  • Second, “Henotheistic” Crusaderism

Henotheism, at its most basic, declares: “My God can beat up your God!” It is the “warrior tribe” theology which pits one’s own god against those of its neighbors. Of this, Joseph Cumming asks:

“If the Christian faith is primarily a tribal identity, where does that take us? It takes us to the belief that, ‘We must fight to defend the survival of Christian civilization. If necessary, we must kill the enemies of our civilization before they kill us. We must pray that our God gives us victory over their Allah-God.’”[2]

This mentality can be found throughout the history of human warfare, even among professed monotheists. In this way of thinking, one’s own “tribe” becomes the chosen of God fighting an epic struggle against the forces of darkness and their sub-human minions.[3] We see this in the crusades. We see this in the tragic massacres of the Lebanese Civil War and in Lebanon’s deeply sectarian politics. We have seen this in the religiously tinged language of the War on Terror.[4] And, we see it now in Syria. This is the theology of “God and Country.”

  •  Third, Manifest Destiny

Referencing the origin of the term manifest destiny, evangelical activist Jim Wallis writes: “The United States of America was established as a white society, founded upon the near genocide of another race and then the enslavement of yet another.” Likewise, the Afrikaner Calvinists of South Africa understood their settler-colonial project as a direct calling from God, “not unlike the people of Israel in the bible.”

At its most basic, manifest destiny seeks to conquer, cleanse and colonize.

In the MENA context, French colonization of Algeria was profoundly destructive for the native Algerians. Furthermore, the colonial Zionist project has been absolutely catastrophic to the lives, property, and psyche of the native Palestinians, sending shock waves throughout the entire region which reverberate to this day. “Christian Zionism,” a default position within western evangelicalism until recently, has provided theological justification, financial capital, and political cover for decades of land confiscation, ethnic cleansing, settlement activity, and apartheid-equivalent practices.

As Colin Chapman asserts, “Our very understanding of God, our witness to the gospel, and the credibility of the Christian church” are at stake when it comes to our theology of Israel-Palestine. [5]

Speaking as a western evangelical, there is far too much blood on our hands.

Precisely because bad theology kills.

Good Friday

So, as we prepare to remember the crucifixion of our Lord and Savior this Friday, may we always remember the true meaning of the cross. As Joseph Cumming writes:

“The cross is at the heart of the entire Christian faith, and for the Muslims and Jews of the world, what does the symbol of the cross now signify? The cross now signifies, ‘Christians hate you enough to kill you.’[6]

“What is the cross supposed to signify? It is supposed to signify, ‘God loves you enough to lay down his life for you, and I would love you enough that I would lay down my life for you.’ Satan succeeded in taking the very heart of the Christian faith and turning it around to mean not just something different, but to mean the exact opposite of what it’s supposed to mean.” [7]

This year, let us each carry our cross in everlasting service to a broken world in desperate need of God’s love, justice, and deliverance. Like the messiah, let us spend ourselves in self-sacrificial love.

_________________________

[1] Glenn Stassen, Living the Sermon on the Mount: A Practical Hope for Grace and Deliverance, (San Francisco: Jossey-Bassit, 2006) Kindle Edition.
[2]Joseph Cumming, “Toward Respectful Witness,” in From Seed to Fruit: Global Trends, Fruitful Practices and Emerging Issues among Muslims, J. Dudley Woodberry, ed. (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2008) 320  
[3] Simply watch “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” with this in mind. Clearly, I have been.
[4] Joseph Cummings reports the following: “Recently, a U.S. army general was speaking to a large evangelical Christian church, describing a battle with a [Muslim] warlord from northern Africa, and he said ‘I knew that I need not fear, because my God was the true God, and his God was a demon!’ That is henotheism!”
[5] Colin Chapman, “A Biblical Perspective on Israel/Palestine” in The Land Cries Out: Theology of the Land in the Israeli/Palestinian Context, ed. Salim J. Munayer et all. (Eugene: Wipft and Stock Publishers, 2012) 238
[6] The cross was emblazoned on the shields and banners of the crusaders and many Muslims still sense crusader tendencies in American economic expansionism and Zionism.
[7] Joseph Cumming, “Toward Respectful Witness,” 323.
Posted in Advocacy, Christian-Muslim Relations, Human Rights, Interfaith Understanding, Peace-Building, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Advocating Human Rights as Christian Witness

By Wissam al-Saliby*

Despite the significant role of evangelical churches and organizations in Lebanon in providing relief and aid to Syrian refugees, young committed Christians are still out of touch with the human rights challenges in Lebanon and how to address them. We are failing to stay informed, let alone take a stand or take action, on the many issues that make – or don’t make – news headlines.

Defending human rights is part of the Church’s integral mission, an expression of our love for our neighbor and our obedience to Jesus Christ. To act justly, love mercy, and to walk humbly with God is a biblical mandate (Micah 6:8).

If we are to be intentional in our witness, I would argue that advocating human rights creates shared platforms with thousands of people in Lebanon that we witness to as we give an account of the hope that is within us.” We need to advocate for human rights in Lebanon, not only because we believe that this is the right thing to do, but also because we need to create platforms for sharing God’s love with other human rights advocates, with those whose rights are being violated, and even with the perpetrators of abuse!

How do we go about this? The following ideas will help us make first steps in the field of human rights advocacy.

Join the Mobilization

Every day I hear of conferences, meetings and events to discuss or expose a particular human rights abuse. In recent weeks, the mistreatment of migrant domestic workers, workers’ rights, and the shortcomings of Lebanon’s criminal justice system were just a few of the issues that made the news. The march for women’s rights on March 8th was a loud and visible call for for justice, yet I only saw a handful of brothers and sisters from Evangelical churches in the mobilization. The church needs to be part of what is already happening.

Understanding and Having a Position on Many Issues

Domestic violence, asylum, torture, abortion, civil war, homosexuality, arms control, child soldiers, transitional justice, capital punishment… We need to keep abreast of international legal developments related to these issues and the challenges they present in Lebanon. It is time consuming to gain knowledge about all of these discussions and we are well-informed in only a few domains. However, it is imperative to take an informed stand on all of these issues if we are to join the debate and influence its outcome.

The other day, I stumbled upon a book entitled Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics, and the Body of Christ. I have personally lost friends in the past two years who were tortured to death in Syria, and I have Syrian friends who have lost loved ones to the same evil. It reminded me how much I felt the need to understand the infliction of suffering in light of God’s word!

TOC Torture

Part of the table of content of: Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics, and the Body of Christ”, by William T. Cavanaugh, published by Wiley-Blackwell, 1998

You can find many Christian blogs and books, and very few Arabic books including the recently translated Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context, discussing human rights and justice from a biblical perspective. Also, on a number of these issues, international Christian organizations are leading advocacy efforts at the United Nations and in many countries. International Justice Mission is one example.

Beyond reading, Christian witness requires mature Christian love, even in the face of deeply controversial issues. Two weeks ago, a homosexual representative of a human rights agency brought up with me the issue of how to best help Syrian homosexuals fleeing to Lebanon to avoid persecution. He explained to me that the organizer of gay tourism in Syria – prior to the conflict – is now in Lebanon and is trying to organize for the protection of Syrian men who used to work with him in Syria. Regardless of what one thinks of homosexuality, are we mature enough to formulate a Christ-centered response to the persecution and threats homosexuals face? Are we able to discern what justice is when sin and brokenness are ripping a society apart like in Syria?

Maintaining Identity and a Biblical Discourse

We need to speak Jesus – not necessarily about Jesus. When asked why we believe in human rights and the dignity of every human being, we need to affirm that we are created in the image of God. When asked why God allows so much suffering, we need to affirm that abuse and human rights violations are a direct product of sin – not of God.

We need to imitate Jesus. The radical message of Jesus should appear in our lives and in our commitment to living a sanctified lifestyle. In most human rights circles in Lebanon, sexual freedom is claimed and practiced as a bodily right. Without denying this right, we need to affirm and communicate our values and principles of sexual purity, and to answer everyone who asks us to give the reason for the hope that we have (1 Peter 3:15).

Be Engaging, Take Initiative

Knowledge must lead to action. We should seek to address wrongdoings by mounting campaigns and initiatives. Initiatives build relationships and credibility, and create platforms for Christian witness.

One such initiative was last year’s Middle East Conference, “Your Rights & My Responsibilities: Biblical and Islamic Perspectives on Human Rights.” It was an opportunity for connecting faithful followers of Jesus to human rights advocates, and for introducing the church to human rights challenges in Lebanon and the region. During this conference, I connected with an Ethiopian woman who works for a prison ministry and was able to find her Amharic bibles for the Ethiopian women with whom she ministers in prison.

Another such initiative is the organization Smart Kids with Individual Learning Differences (SKILD) – a ministry of the Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development (LSESD), the parent organization of ABTS (of which IMES is a department). To gain a better idea about their advocacy for the inclusion in schools of students with learning difficulties, please read LSESD’s April newsletter.

Repairing Misconceptions, Changing the ‘Christian’ Discourse

We need to admit that many in the activist community in Lebanon, regardless of their religious background, have distorted and therefore negative views of the Christian faith. The involvement of ‘Christians’ in civil war violence and massacres, and the politics of ‘Christian’ political parties in Lebanon are definitely counter-witness. Neither war nor Lebanon’s turbulent politics are platforms for demonstrating humility, love, and mercy. For example, Christian political parties have been approaching the plight of the Syrian refugees with a discourse of fear and stigmatization, as opposed to hospitality and love.

Additionally, many believe that all religious morality is a form of societal oppression of the individual, affirming male dominance, and contributing to the abuse of human rights of the vulnerable fringes of society. They fail to see that Jesus sought after society’s most vulnerable, the outcasts and the broken!

We need to promote a new Christian discourse grounded in the Bible that takes a stand for human rights and human dignity. On some issues, this discourse will go against Lebanese pseudo-Christian public opinion – i.e. the opinion of Lebanese who perceive themselves as Christians.

20140308-DSC_5020

I took this photo on March 8, 2014, during the march in Beirut demanding criminalization of domestic violence. Photos are available on my blog.

 

In 2013, as I finished a training for a group of moderate Islamic Syrian activists on international humanitarian law, one participant came to me expressing his appreciation that a Christian would care to give them training. It struck me that this workshop was one of the very few opportunities for these activists to dialogue and interact with a Christian! Today, with over one million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, most of them will be interacting with Christians for the first time.

Defending their rights as well as the rights of all vulnerable and abused men, women and children in our society must become part of our witness.

 

* Wissam al-Saliby is the Partnerships Manager at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary. He has significant experience as a trainer and advocate for human rights and humanitarian law in Lebanon and the Middle East. His previous IMES blog posts can be viewed here.

Posted in Advocacy, Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World, Human Rights, Syria | Leave a comment

Overcoming Fear: Reflections on Intentional Interfaith Activities

By Arthur Brown

IMES is intentionally involved in a range of interfaith activities. Within Lebanon, this usually involves bringing together Evangelical Christians with both Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims in a variety of contexts. One such context is our annual Middle East Consultation, where during specific evening forums we invite well respected Muslim clerics and scholars to bring a different perspective to the particular theme we are discussing that year. Furthermore, within the last month, I helped lead an interfaith youth event involving six Sunni Muslims and six Evangelical Christians. Finally, I also recently attended the Doha International Conference on Interfaith Dialogue, which involved over 200 Christians, Muslims and Jews discussing interfaith initiatives among young people. Needless to say, it has been a busy but inspiring month.

However, I have also heard in this past month a number of comments questioning the wisdom and rational behind such activities, primarily it must be said from Evangelical Christians. It seems that many people are nervous about participating in any form of what might be called an ‘intentional interfaith activity’. The issue seems to be the ‘intentional’ discussion of faith, for within the Lebanese context it is more or less impossible not to have any interaction with those from a different faith background. Within this post I therefore want to address some of these specific concerns, as I understand them.

Accusations of liberalism…

Simply by being willing to talk honestly and intentionally about my faith, and listen to others talk honestly and intentionally about their [different] faith, does not make me theologically liberal [whatever that actually means!]. Since when did listening to someone with a different view require the ‘watering down’ of your own view? A humble willingness to listen, yes, but a watering down of your own faith, surely not! Maybe the fear is that some will be labeled as ‘liberal’ for simply participating in dialogue activities. I understand this fear, if interfaith dialogue is simply about trying to find some kind of mutually acceptable theological ‘middle ground,’ where we can all agree on matters of doctrine and practice, have a cup of tea together, and return home filled with warm fuzzy feelings. Unfortunately, and with some warrant it must be said, this has often been how interfaith dialogue has been perceived – an attempt to find the [lowest!] common denominator.

However, when dialogue is with people who are serious about their faith, even the religiously conservative, having the opportunity to share about how their faith inspires them towards the worship of God, love for others and the betterment of their communities is something we should all be seeking. I, for one, would much rather be at an interfaith activity with ‘conservative’ followers of different faiths who are willing and able, and with respect, to talk about their own beliefs and practices and learn from those of a different religious tradition.

What is there to be fearful of?

But it’s all too confusing…

Another fear I have heard recently, particularly when talking about young people [and those young in their faith] participating in intentional interfaith activities, is that it will confuse them. The fear is that by participating the young person’s faith will be damaged in some way. Again, this may be true if the purpose of any such interfaith activity is to either seek converts or to win a theological argument. It is also true that many teenagers still hold to a form of ‘inherited faith’ and have yet to ‘own’ their own theological beliefs and assertions.

For such young people, the prospect of ‘defending their faith against a would be challenger’ would understandably be threatening. This may be rooted in the fear that ‘other’ young people may know more about both their own faith, and the faith of ‘their adversary’. These concerns would likely also be held by parents and the young person’s religious youth leader. However, if interfaith activity becomes about sharing how your own faith inspires you to live in God honoring ways, and at the same time allows you to listen to others sharing about how their faith inspires them in the same way, then perhaps there is less to fear. The theologian Miroslav Volf suggests that,

One of the defining challenges of our time is to find workable ways for Christians and Muslims to be true to their convictions about God and God’s commands, while living peacefully and constructively together under the same political roof. [1]

Ahmed, a young Muslim involved in the pilot of The Feast, an interfaith initiative in which IMES and World Vision Lebanon are currently involved, further makes the point that,

Most conflicts arise from stereotyping, a lack of knowledge and miscommunication. When people communicate, they discover that they are all humans, that they seek for safety, health and they share an ambition for better life conditions. Dialogue promotes tolerance on the basis that we all respect our different paths to worship God, without having to eradicate one another or force one of us to look like the other.

But it’s not evangelism…

The final concern I want to address here is that interfaith activities should not be used for the purpose of evangelism. These are not appropriate moments for aggressive proselytization, for doing so often creates an environment of suspicion and division rather than trust. However, surely the way we speak to people of other faiths about our own faith has the potential to be a positive [or negative] witness. How we talk about our faith, and the faith of others, is as much a part of our witness as is what we say about our faith. In any such intentional interfaith activity we are essentially being given permission to model Christ to those who may not know him. These opportunities also tend to be with people who are more likely to be interested in Him, and in hearing about our experience of Him.

What an amazing opportunity!

Kenneth Leech suggests that,

Only a theology which is marked by the spirit of adventure, the urge to discovery and the practice of pilgrimage, rather than one which is static and propositional, can respond to people in transition and upheaval. [2]

It is clear that the MENA region is in a time of transition and upheaval, as is its church. If the church in the MENA region is going to be the missional church we are called to be, surely there is a need to explore how we intentionally engage with those from other faith traditions, within any possible setting. So the question then becomes: How will we witness to those of other faiths in ways that demonstrate the character of the hospitable and welcoming Christ, within an intentional interfaith setting?

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[1] Miroslav Volf, Allah: A Christian Response (New York: Harper Collins, 2011), p.13-14.

[2] Kenneth Leech, Doing Theology in Altab Ali Park (London: Darton Longman and Todd, 2006) p.25.

Posted in Christian-Muslim Relations, Education, Interfaith Understanding, Peace-Building, Uncategorized | 12 Comments

Unity, a Sore Spot…

Photo Source

By Mike Kuhn

I grew up in a place where my family drove past three or four churches to get to the one we attended. Unconsciously, I absorbed a type of pride in the way we did things in our church and sometimes made comparisons with kids in my school who attended those other churches.

“The Methodists do it this way or Baptists say this or Presbyterians don’t believe that or the Catholics are like this.”

Perhaps I was just a budding theologian. When I was a child, I thought as a child…but now that I’ve become a man, have I put away childish things?

Having spent most of my adult life in the Arab world, my reflections on the church—its distinctions, denominations—have changed. My sojourn in Egypt was the best ecclesial education I could have ever received. Not only was it the home of the ancient Coptic Orthodox Church established in the first Christian century through the apostolic ministry of Mark, but it also held an impressive array of Protestant denominations—Presbyterians, Baptists, Pentecostals, Brethren, Methodists, Church of God and I could go on. There was also a smattering of Anglican and Roman Catholic churches, all this in the mix of a society that is about 90% Muslim.

It was in Egypt that I first began to grapple with the missional implications of a fragmented church. I use this word “missional” not only in the narrow sense of evangelizing and establishing churches, but in the broader sense of a full-orbed ministry of the church including reconciliation, healing, education and development. In Egypt, I quickly realized that most Muslims would intuitively look to the Coptic Orthodox Church to understand what the Christian gospel was all about. After all, the Copts were about 8 million strong, compared to the ½ million Protestants scattered over a smorgasbord of small local churches. I became aware that the Copts viewed the newly arrived Protestants (mid-19th century) as “sheep stealers” given that the vast majority of Protestants had left the fold of the Coptic Church. This combative attitude was often reciprocated by the Protestants resulting in bewilderment of onlookers including those who desired to explore the Christian faith.

One chapter of Egypt’s history is revealing. It concerns the advent of Islam in Egypt. Until the seventh century, Egypt was virtually 100% Christian, but the Egyptian church’s view of the nature of Christ was outside the bounds of orthodoxy as defined by the Council of Chalcedon (451AD). Although the doctrinal issue was significant, it seems the real issue was one of church politics, complicated by semantic and linguistic differences. The Byzantine Church—the Church of the Roman Empire headquartered in Constantinople at that time—was flexing its muscles and had installed a non-Egyptian, puppet patriarch in Egypt named Cyrus (631AD). As a result, Benjamin (623-665AD) the beloved Egyptian Patriarch, was forced to flee to a desert monastery and remain there until the Muslim invaders expelled Cyrus in 641AD. Benjamin returned to the delight of the Egyptian people and all Byzantine churches were handed over to the Copts who initially viewed their new Muslim overlords as preferable to the oppressive Byzantines. [1] The church’s political and doctrinal divisions did not cause, but did facilitate the Islamic advance.

Lebanon, my current home, provides yet another vantage point from which to observe Christ’s body. Here we have an array of church diversity from Maronites loyal to Rome to Greek Orthodox to those pesky “sheep-stealing” Protestants (I am one, by the way) with our ability to endlessly spawn new denominations. The ancient churches look to Antioch where Jesus-followers were first called “Christians” (Acts 11:26) as their spiritual taproot. Antioch became the center from which Christianity radiated eastward.

At least two of the church branches flowing out of Antioch were again beyond the pale of orthodoxy as defined by the church councils. [2] Difference of language further complicated mutual understanding. We know little about these Eastern churches, [3] but we should at least know that at one point in time this eastern flank of the church represented more than one third of the global church, stretching from Jerusalem across Asia into China—lands that today are largely bereft of Christ’s church. [4] Were the so-called “heresies” of these churches real or just a failure to color within the lines of the ecclesial power-brokers? Those who have studied the situation most carefully see it as the latter.[5]

My childhood assessment of church denominations is not unlike what we have done historically in the global church. Our tragic tendency to divide over doctrinal formulations and our failure to overcome language barriers have wreaked havoc on our missional ministry the world over. While we church people may sit happily in our denominational bunkers, the damage is done beyond the borders of those divisions where real people look in and find it impossible to make sense of competing ecclesial affiliations. You might expect as much based on New Testament exhortations that the church be of “one mind” (1 Cor 1:10, Phil 2:1-2). Jesus prayed,

“That they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (Jn 17:21)

He tied the belief of the world to the oneness of His followers.

The sore spot of church division has become infected and spread throughout the whole body. No easy solutions here, but could we start by listening to each other…really listening? The Middle East, with all its denominational diversity, is a great place for that to start. Friends from Egypt tell me the scene is changing there. Political and social unrest has produced a desperation in the church that is generating a front of united prayer amongst Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox. It seems the church there is learning that it may not have to renounce its distinctives in order to simply join hands with others in humility. Perhaps it is not too late to learn that our mission of presenting Christ outside our walls is determined by our mission of reflecting Christ inside our walls.

MikePhoto2Mike Kuhn serves as Support Faculty for the MENA Christianity Module of IMES’s MRel in MENA Studies degree program. Mike and his family have spent over 22 years in France, North Africa and the Middle East working among Muslims and Christians.

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Cover Photo Source: http://www.christianpost.com/news/a-week-of-prayer-for-christian-unity-113054/

[1] Antonie Wessels, Arab and Christian: Christians in the Middle East, Kok Pharos Publishing House, the Netherlands, 1995, p. 131.

[2] I am speaking here of 1) the West Syrian church (referred to as the Jacobite Church) which rejected the Council of Chalcedon (451) preferring to refer to Christ’s one nature (human/divine) and 2) The Assyrian church of the East (often mistakenly referred to as the Nestorian Church) which rejected the Council of Ephesus (431AD) and holds to a dyophysite view of Christology.

[3] Eusebius is the historian to whom we are indebted for our knowledge of church history prior to Nicea (325 AD), but he wrote only of the churches in the Roman empire and subsequent historians have followed in his train.

[4] Jenkins, Philip. The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia–and How It Died.  HarperCollins, 2009.

[5] See Sebastian Brock: “The ‘Nestorian’ Church: A Lamentable Misnomer”  at http://www.noahbickart.fastmail.fm/Academic%20Papers/_Sebastian%20Brock/brock_Nestorian%20Unfortunate%20Minomer.pdf

Posted in Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World, Church, Education, Interfaith Understanding, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

When the State Starts Crumbling… A Theology of Staying

Image

Photograph by Wissam al-Saliby

By Martin Accad

Sometimes, Lebanon is charming! When you approach the Lebanese coast as your plane takes position for landing, the beautiful mountains gushing out so close to the glassy sea captivate your attention. When you drive up the windy mountain roads of the Qadisha valley, you are taken by surprise with striking natural beauty at every turn, as the valley below unfolds and reveals ancient churches and monasteries carved into the rock. Then as you take one more turn, the two-thousand-year-old cedar forest reserve appears before you like a mystic revelation in all its majesty, standing proudly as the only surviving vegetation at this altitude. As you keep driving up, you reach the top of the mountain range; and when suddenly the whole expansion of the Bekaa valley reveals itself beyond, the scenery nearly takes your breath away. Even at night, as I sit on my terrace overlooking the city lights of Beirut, guessing the dark and mysterious Mediterranean in the background, I can be entranced by the idyllic serenity of that sleeping city. Heck, according to most tourist books, you can even ski in the morning and take a swim in the sea in the afternoon of the same day! Not to mention, of course, our hummus and tabbouleh that have attained a mythical reputation!

But if you look closely from aboard that plane as you land, you will also notice the tiny illegal structures dotting the coastline far too close to the airport, and so close to the sea that from time to time one of them collapses over its inhabitants. If you were lucky enough to make your way across the city in less than two hours through the suffocating traffic, you might still be ready to enjoy the mountain scenery; if only those sand and rock quarries did not come and slap you in the face as you drove along devastated vegetation and landscape flanking the mountain sides. As you slip into real life if you are here longer term, or if simply you are a Lebanese who happened to be born here, it is the daily struggle for those small commodities like water and electricity, those double bills you have to pay, this state within the state, that micro safety net you have to construct around you, that wears you down… It is the slow internet, the ridiculously expensive mobile services, the crazy driving, the absence of the rule of law, the oblivion to any sense of a common good, the never-ending bickering of our politicians, the road-side bombs, the influx of over 1 million refugees, the daily injustices, and I’ve only begun my ranting and I’m stopping here, because there is also the great hummus

We do not choose where we are born. Many do not get the opportunity to leave. Most who do, have left. There are about three times more Lebanese immigrants around the world than there are inhabitants in Lebanon. There are two types of Lebanese living in Lebanon: those who have not (yet) gotten the opportunity to leave, and those who have decided to stay for a cause. If you could leave but do not, then you have chosen to stay. My family and I belong to that second category, at least for the time being… Well, my children don’t have the choice. One day they will have to make that decision for themselves. But I have discovered over the years that if the staying is to make any sense, it has to be supported by a ‘theology of staying.’

Now theology of presence is a theme that has been explored to some extent in Christian spirituality as well as ministry. The presence of God with us through his Spirit, in turn inspires our own incarnational ministry alongside other human beings. Such thoughts may be straightforward enough. They are directly inspired from the incarnational model of Jesus, who lived his life alongside the poor and the outcast of society. Jesus walked with the needy (read: those who recognized their own needs) as they journeyed towards inner freedom, freedom from sin, and moved closer to God. They discovered God’s Fatherhood as they experienced being his children. As the Apostle Paul put it, ‘in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself’ (2 Cor. 5:19). God, then, by his continual presence among us, powerfully manifested historically in Christ, is our great model of incarnational presence as we seek to serve our sisters and brothers in the world around us. But if thinking theologically about presence is fairly straightforward Biblically, what about a theology of staying? As important as it is to have a solid foundation to BE somewhere, it seems just as important as well to understand why we stay.

Staying is not a very exciting word when society seems to be collapsing around you. Who wants to stay when you cannot be sure you will not be one of the passers-by at the next roadside bomb? I am sure I could write a book on this, but at this point, I just want to share four ideas that come to mind, which may form the starting components of a ‘theology of staying.’ Before I do this, though, let me just add a quick disclaimer: this post in no way intends to be judgmental of those who feel that God is calling them to move on from a place of conflict or hardship, nor do I minimize the tragedy of being a refugee, which is often the alternative to staying. At the end of the day, staying or leaving will always be a subjective decision that no outsider can judge. But for anyone faced with the dilemma, here are a few thoughts that may help them as they seek God’s guidance.

First, a theology of staying is rooted in a fundamental trust in God. It reflects the recognition that God is Master of all, that my life first and last belongs to him; that I am primarily a steward of it. Of course I am invited to develop a healthy sense of ownership over my life, one that will motivate me to take care of it and put some reasonable structure and order into it, but I can never really ‘save it.’ Jesus put it like this: ‘Those who want to save their life will lose it, but those who lose their life for me will save it. What good is it for a person to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?’ (Luke 9:24-25). Risk is all around us, wherever we live. I incur risk when I cross a street in Switzerland, but I manage that risk because I know it is safer to cross on green than on red! We do not flee risk, we manage it.

Secondly, a theology of staying is founded on a fundamental belief in the equal value of all human life. I always find it slightly insulting when foreigners jump on the first flight out of the country every time the security situation gets rough in Lebanon. When well-meaning members of NGO’s and mission organizations, who have come on a mandate to offer physical and spiritual support to those in need, are only able or willing to do so in times of peace and stability, it becomes slightly demoralizing for those who stay back. At a deep level, leaving at times of greatest need communicates to those staying – no doubt unintentionally – a downright message of ‘my life is more valuable than yours.’ Therefore, a theology of staying affirms fundamentally: ‘my life is as valuable as every other life, not more and not less.’

Thirdly, a theology of staying is rooted in a mature acceptance of the mysterious nature of evil. Fleeing is a capitulation to the black and white worldview. It explains away the source of evil by avoiding asking the tough questions underlying the reasons for danger. ‘People around me are bad and they are doing bad things; therefore I must leave.’ Perhaps one of the cruelest lessons of the horrifying Syrian conflict is that it offers no clarity on who is the ‘good guy’ and who is the ‘bad guy.’ Who are Syrian refugees in Lebanon fleeing from, and which/who is the evil that has driven them out? Do I really have to stay in order to find out?

This leads me to my fourth principle that is closely related to the third: a theology of staying is realistic in recognizing the all-embracing nature of sin. If I were to leave, what would I be fleeing from, seeing as I am so hopelessly interwoven in the humanity that produces all this evil that so terrifies me? Someone recently said to me, seemingly seriously puzzled: ‘We know Bashar… He’s the bad guy! But who are the good guys? Who do we support in this conflict?’ But it is perhaps this simplistic ‘good guy/ bad buy’ worldview that fosters the evil that continues to grind at our humanity. In this view, we are always the ‘good guys’ of course. And the other guys who disagree with us must necessarily be the ‘bad guys.’ If we get rid of them, then good will prevail. And we will have done this all in the name of morality and the greater good. But aren’t such statements the stuff that constitutes the rhetoric of war?

Could it be that a more healthy and mature understanding of sin and evil will only be found on less certain and less beaten tracks? Or perhaps I am closest to understanding it when I look in the mirror. Where is my part in all of this? Am I just a spectator? A victim of bad people? My theology of staying tells me that I am an intrinsic part of the problem, and therefore that my only option is to stay and try and own up to my part of the responsibility. It stirs me relentlessly to search for a solution, along with all those that are willing to do so as well.

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Revisiting the Church’s Mission: Standing against Domestic Violence!

By Sara Obeid

The Problem

Last Saturday, March 8, while the world was celebrating the manifold achievements of women on International Women’s Day, many Lebanese women were demonstrating in the streets of Beirut to demand the ratification of a law to protect women from domestic violence. The draft of a law was created in 2010 but, tragically, it has caused much controversy and currently remains stuck in Parliament.

Two days before the demonstration, I was personally celebrating my engagement to a Godly man who takes Kingdom values to heart. Although I feel very safe marrying this man, I am deeply troubled for all the women in my country who are being abused, even murdered with impunity in their own homes.

kafa

The news is full of stories about women murdered by their own brothers for the sake of “family honor,” of men beating their wives to death, and of talk shows hosting “survivor women” who happened to “make it out of the hands of the beast” and into a shelter for abused women. According to Leila Awada, a lawyer working with the association KAFA–Enough Violence and Exploitation,

“Our tally [used to be] one woman killed each month as a result of domestic violence; today, we are talking about two women being killed each month.”

These are women from all religious and social backgrounds. This is very sad, but unfortunately not surprising. When a woman is beaten up by her husband and manages to escape him, she often seeks help from her family. Yet, her family is likely to blame her for “provoking him” and send her back for the sake of “family honor.” “A good wife,” they say, “never sleeps outside the house.” Or, the family might send her back home out of fear that the husband might take the children away, yet another patriarchal absurdity in Lebanon.

Not finding shelter at her parents’ house, this aching woman might finally seek help from the nearest police station to only hear the officers reply, “This is a family matter. Go back home!”

The Solution

Compared to many of our neighbors, Lebanon may legitimately be viewed as more liberal and democratic than most. However, Lebanese civil society still struggles to develop a formula capable of convincing the ruling authorities (both political and religious) to pass the most basic of humanitarian laws.

For years, non-governmental organizations have been working to pass a law for the protection of women against domestic violence; the latest efforts include the Bill for the Protection of Women and Family Members against Domestic Violence.

The bill itself is perfectly logical, respectful of both men and women, and also very applicable in our Middle Eastern cultural context. However, the opposition always seems to find an excuse for not ratifying the law. To “the powers that be,” such apparent evils as marital rape and domestic abuse are considered “family matters” that take place behind closed doors and cannot therefore be regulated.

The worst part, however, is when religion is invoked as an excuse for maintaining this untenable status quo.

The Obstruction

patriarch

Abusive men are using religion as an excuse for their abuse of power and are misusing scripture to cover up their acts of murder and hate. The most popular statement against the law is the claim by Dar Al fatwa - the highest religious legislative authority of the Sunni community in Lebanon – that passing the law would give it the power to regulate family issues. But this is a realm that has traditionally been the domain of the religious courts, and they fear that such a law could cause women to revolt against their husbands, daughters to rebel against their fathers, and families to ultimately break apart. In reference to marital rape, the religious leader featured in the video linked above was saying,

“If a woman refuses to provide her husband with what he wants, she is considered sinful.”

It may be easy to look at the Dar al Fatwa response and to point my finger and say that Islam is the problem. But, this is not a “Muslim issue.” Far too many Christian men, in spite of the many Biblical injunctions for men to cherish theirs wives as does Christ His church, still manipulate and abuse scripture to terrorize their wives and cause them to feel sinful, especially when they happen to say no.

In my advocacy I do not seek to challenge religious authority and I, as an evangelical, am certainly not denying that heavenly values must remain central to our social ethics. But simply affirming this is not enough!

In my experience it is clear to me that all of us, indifferent and selfish human beings, are the problem. I used to think that sin was the result of doing evil, but reading the definition of sin in James 4:17 causes me to rethink this assumption:

“Anyone who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.”

In other words, as the Lebanese say,

“He who is silent before injustice is like a mute (akhras) devil.”

If the “true measure of any society is the way it treats the most vulnerable,” [1] then Lebanon must surely start taking the issue of violence against women seriously.

The Church

If we Christians claim to be “salt and light” and to have the “truth in us,” then why aren’t we crying out against such injustice? I have a friend who has been a social activist all her life, and who has continued to be an activist since following Christ. As we were getting ready for last weekend’s protest, we spoke of inviting our churches to join us. With a sorrowful tone in her voice, she said,

“I do not dare to invite them, for they will bash me.”

And the Spirit inside me cried “I wish Jesus was here!”

protest

Why are churches restricting their mission to “verbal” evangelism, yet failing to address the everyday needs of those very same people they seek to evangelize? Evangelism involves bringing the good news of Jesus to the world. But evangelism must be done in the way of Jesus. Is it acceptable for those “saved from the world” to leave behind others to suffer? Is verbal proclamation enough to save these women and protect their families? Jesus did not leave the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years by the side of the road to die of her illness after she became his follower. She’d go to heaven after all, right? So why bother?

But as scripture teaches, God’s wrath comes as a response to the cries of those most vulnerable: the widows, orphans, children…and women being raped by their own husbands!

We live in a broken world of broken relationships. But the Kingdom of God encompasses the restoration of our fragmented lives and communities, a restoration impossible without the redress of gross imbalances in power. Our mission, therefore, is to cry out against injustice and to be a voice for the voiceless. For as,

“The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed… creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:19-21).

This is our hope and that towards which we struggle.

_______________

[1] A popular saying commonly attributed to Gandhi. Though most likely apocryphal, it is still very much worth repeating.

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Can Theological Education Influence Society?

By Rupen Das

Last week, ABTS hosted a conference organized by Overseas Council where one of the questions asked was: “How can the effectiveness of a theological seminary be assessed?”

It has often been assumed that seminaries train pastors to preach, teach and counsel church members and manage church affairs. Their curriculum reflects this and the “success” of the seminary is measured by whether the students were trained to be pastors with these skills and had the required doctrinal and theological knowledge. Unfortunately, what is often not assessed is whether the graduates were effective in the churches where they served and whether what they had learnt in seminary was relevant to the contexts where the churches are located.

Events over the last few years in Egypt and Lebanon and the last few weeks in Ukraine have provided new images of where the church also ministers. In Egypt, Christians and their leaders, standing together with Muslims, prayed in Tahrir Square as the revolution unfolded. In Lebanon, local churches who had never addressed social issues opened their doors to Syrian refugees and demonstrated what forgiveness and love looks like. In Ukraine, not only were Orthodox priests in their robes and carrying crucifixes seen praying in Maidan Square, but this week, all the churches united together in a whole night of fasting and prayer to thwart foreign aggression. Do seminaries prepare their graduates to be effective and relevant in a world where the reality of the Kingdom of God needs to be demonstrated (and not just preached) and to walk alongside those who are fearful of what the events mean to their safety and the future?

For a long time theological education has focused on training students on the core and essence of the Christian faith, essentially Biblical and Systematic Theology. It was believed that this, along with the skills of preaching, teaching and counseling, is all that a pastor needed to know to be effective. However, Christians are struggling to understand the relevance of their faith and spirituality in an increasingly complex and pluralistic world where moral dilemmas are pushing against boundaries that had not previously existed.

Context does not determine what theology and Truth is. However God is perceived and understood through the lenses of one’s own culture, gender, social and economic status, life experiences, season of life, political ideology, and value system. Therefore theology has to translate the truth about God into specific cultural, social and political contexts.

Listen to the voices of some theologians.

  • Daniel Migliore, formerly of Princeton Theological Seminary:

Theology must be critical reflection on the community’s faith and practice. Theology is not simply reiteration of what has been or is currently believed and practiced by a community of faith…when this responsibility for critical reflection is neglected or relegated to a merely ornamental role, the faith of the community is invariably threatened by shallowness, arrogance and ossification.

  • Karl Barth, the doyen of 20th century Protestant Reformed theologians:

Theology is an act of repentant humility…This act exists in the fact that in theology the Church seeks again and again to examine itself critically as it asks itself what it means and implies to be a Church among men.

  • Alister McGrath at Kings College London:

Christian theology is not just a set of ideas: it is about making possible a new way of seeing ourselves, others, and the world, with implications for the way in which we behave.

  • Mennonite and Anabaptist theologian Thomas Finger:

Theology is always in dialogue with its cultural contexts…including the academic sphere. Theology tests the church’s current beliefs and often revises them through conversations with its culture. Anabaptist should not only celebrate their distinctives but also recognize how preoccupation with distinctives can encourage narrowness, exclusivity and a false sense of superiority.

If theology needs to be constantly in dialogue with cultural, social and political contexts to make relevant the truths about God and the world He created, then theological seminaries need to train their students to lead the churches they will serve to repeatedly ask what does it mean and imply to be a Church among a people and in society.

It is this kind of leader that IMES’ Master of Religion (MRel) in Middle Eastern and North African Studies program seeks to develop. IMES seeks to be in dialogue with the Arab and Islamic contexts to understand what would the Gospel (the Good News) mean to people who have a very different worldview. This kind of theological education will not only proclaim Christ in ways that He will be understood but will also have a profound impact on society.

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Discipleship Today: Following Jesus in the Middle East and North Africa (Middle East Consultation 2014) – UPDATE

MEC-heading

The Institute of Middle East Studies is pleased to announce the following contributors to this year’s Middle East Consultation (MEC 2014), taking place 16 – 20 June at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary, Beirut. These individuals will assist consultation participants to reflect upon and process the critical themes which emerge from the narratives being shared by local and regional voices, as well as provide a global perspective on key theological and missiological issues related to the practice of discipleship.

Dr. J. Dudley Woodberry, Dean Emeritus of the School of Intercultural Studies and Senior Professor of Islamic Studies, Fuller Theological Seminary.

Dr. Rosalee Velloso Ewell, Executive Director of the Theological Commission for the World Evangelical Alliance.

Dr. John A. Azumah, Associate Professor of World Christianity and Islam, Columbia Theological Seminary.

Dr. J. Andrew Kirk, Senior Research Fellow, International Baptist Theological Seminary, and Dean Emeritus of the School of Mission and World Christianity, Selly Oaks Colleges, Birmingham.

Dr. Louisa Cox, Consultant on Intercultural Relations.

At various points during the week, each will also be asked to present on a specific topic related to Christ-centered discipleship, including biblical and theological definitions of discipleship, identity formation, socio-cultural implications of discipleship, as well as past, present and future approaches to discipleship in the MENA context.

The core of MEC 2014 will consist of listening to narratives and stories emerging from within the MENA region in an effort to best identify the challenges and opportunities facing the regional church. MEC 2014 will provide an opportunity to reflect upon and analyze the diverse social and religious dynamics at hand, asking how the church might best assist individuals and communities to live as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.

Throughout MEC 2014 we will hear first-hand from those who have practiced and been influenced by various approaches to discipleship, with varying degrees of fruitfulness within the region. We will also hold daily ‘round-table discussions’, involving all MEC participants, regional presenters and global missiologists, in order to allow for personal engagement with the emerging themes of the consultation.

In keeping with the IMES ethos and MEC tradition, we will be inviting Muslim voices to contribute to this important conversation, during specific sessions. This provides us with the opportunity to listen to and interact with alternative perspectives that may challenge our current perceptions.

MEC 2014 promises to be a unique and fascinating consultation!

During the consultation, IMES will also be hosting a special event featuring Dr. Robert Woodberry, who will be giving a keynote lecture based on his research, and recently published article, “The Missionary Roots of Liberal Democracy.” Details of this unique opportunity will become available over the coming weeks and months.

The purpose of the Middle East Consultation [MEC] is to equip participants to respond in prophetic and Christ-like ways to the many challenges facing Christians and Muslims in and beyond the Middle East. MEC 2014 was developed to help practitioners, scholars, pastors, teachers, missionaries, and faith-based NGO workers explore what God has been doing throughout the Middle East & North Africa [MENA].

The Mandate of IMES is to bring about positive transformation in thinking and practice between Christians and Muslims in the Middle East and beyond, through education, advocacy, and peace-building initiatives. IMES is responding to the increasingly urgent need to dispel mutually false perceptions between peoples of different religions and cultures, which eventually result in inadequate practice in social, religious, political, and personal spheres. As such, IMES seeks to increase general awareness about MENA realities and to resource Evangelicals to serve specific needs in the Arab context and among Arab communities worldwide.

If you are interested in attending MEC 2014, please contact IMES@abtslebanon.org.

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Alternate Light: Christian Witness in Imitation of Christ

This is the fifth post in the ongoing series: Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World. Follow the links to read the first, second, third, and fourth posts.

By Jesse Wheeler

Principle 2 of the Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World: Recommendations for Conduct document states:

  • Imitating Jesus Christ. In all aspects of life, and especially in their witness, Christians are called to follow the example and teachings of Jesus Christ, sharing his love, giving glory and honor to God the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit.

With regard to Christian Witness, perhaps few other passages are as instrumental in shaping my personal understanding as are Christ’s own words in Matthew 5: 13-16:

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

14 “You are the light of the world. A city built upon a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.

16 “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:13-16).

Salt

This seemingly simple statement has long mystified readers. What does it actually mean to be the salt of the earth? Yet when you think about it at its most basic, salt has a powerful, distinctive and at times overwhelming taste to it.

In my research,[1] I came to discover that salt had long been a metaphor for covenant faithfulness. So, when God rescued the Hebrews from their slavery in Egypt, he made a covenant, a contract, setting them apart as his own holy people. They were to be distinct from the other nations. They were to act different, look different, and be different. They were to show the world that there was a different way to live, neither as slave nor slave driver, a way defined by love for God and love of neighbor.

And, this is exactly what Jesus is telling his disciples to be. Disciples of Christ are to offer an alternative, a new way to be human not conformed to the destructive, violent, and sinful patterns of this world. We are to be a community defined instead by self-sacrificial love. We are to be a community defined by the cross of our messiah.

We are to be salt. Yet, what happens when salt loses its saltiness? It loses its very purpose for being. It loses that which makes it distinct.

It becomes dirt.

We may construct as many colossal monuments to our own sectarian self-importance upon as many hills as we like, but if we in no way stand distinct from the destructive patterns of this world then what’s the point? We might as well keep our mouths shut and our witness to ourselves, because our faith “is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”

Light

Yet at the time of Jesus, many contemporaneous religious groups began to take the idea of being salt to the extremes, with some groups completely withdrawing themselves from society. They were distinct. They were “holy.” But, as Jesus makes clear in Matthew 5:14, they were “holy” to the point of worthlessness.

So, Jesus tells us in verse 14:

14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.” 

Simply imagine the sublime power of a single candle piercing, shattering the darkness of a pitch-black room. Yet if you cover the candle up, it goes dim. What’s the point?

Sometimes we religious people get so focused on holiness, on separateness that we no longer have a viable, credible witness for our communities or the world. We become so fearful of that which is different, of that which doesn’t have a “Christian” label on it, or of that which isn’t securely within our “Christian” neighborhoods and behind our “Christian” walls. We construct defenses, both ideological and concrete, to safeguard us from God’s beautiful world and the beautiful people living within it, beautiful people we have conditioned ourselves to fear (and at times even hate).

As the followers of Jesus, we are to be the light of the world. So, we mustn’t fear “the dark.”

It is imperative for us to tear down the walls, to cross the barriers, and to be present and active in our neighborhoods and cities. Having been washed clean once and for all by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have no need to fear being “contaminated” by the so called “uncleanness” of our world. We are called to fully embrace the other, those not like us, in love.

To be the light of the world is not to condemn, withdraw or shy away from the world, but to actively pursue the dark places, to willingly enter into places of pain, poverty and injustice, of sickness, of violence, and of sin…in imitation of Christ himself…in order to bring the light, love, justice, and peace of God to those people and places where it is needed the most.

As followers of Jesus, this is our mission. This is our witness.

Deeds

So in verse 15, Jesus tells us:

16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Most simply, we are to hear the words of Jesus and put them into practice. We are to imitate Jesus, such that when we hear his words and put them into practice, people will see our good deeds and give glory to our Father in heaven.

Our salt, therefore, stays salty only so long as we practice the good deeds we do in imitation of Christ, shining the light of God in and amongst our community and before the watching world. For as the watching world watches us, it is our hope that they cannot help but be drawn to the overwhelming light, justice and love of our King and savior, Christ Jesus.


[1]Key exegetical insights found in: Glen Stassen and David P Gushee, Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Contexts, (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2003) 467-491, N.T. Wright, 12 Months of Sundays: Reflections on Bible Readings – Year C, (London: Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge, 2000) Kindle Edition, and Scot McKnight, Sermon on the Mount, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013) Kindle Edition.

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Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World: Recommendations for Conduct – Event Highlights

The Institute of Middle East Studies in collaboration with World Vision Lebanon was privileged to host an important discussion on the Arabic language version of the landmark document, Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World: Recommendations for Conduct [Arabic/English] this past Tuesday, February 11, 2014, at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary (ABTS) in Beirut, Lebanon.

Following an introduction by Rev. Charles Costa, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of ABTS, two of the key contributors to the document, John Baxter-Brown, former consultant on evangelism to the World Council of Churches, and Rosalee Velloso Ewell, executive director of the World Evangelical Alliance Theological Commission, presented the document, discussing both its content and the process by which it was developed. Of the document, Velloso Ewell affirmed:

“This document is unique and its necessity lies in its nature: it is genuinely a mission document, it is genuinely an ecumenical document, it is genuinely an inter-religious document, it is genuinely a biblical document, and it is a historic document. Despite its brevity and simplicity, it is necessary in that these things have never been said jointly, by these three bodies who represent about 95% of Christians worldwide.”

Published initially in Geneva in 2011, the document is the result of a collaboration between the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Vatican’s Pontifical Council on Inter-religious Dialogue (PCID), and the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), who together represent hundreds of Christian denominations, including Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican, Protestant, Evangelical, Pentecostal, and independent churches.

Following the initial presentations of the document itself was a significant forum discussion between representatives of Maronite-Catholic, Eastern-Orthodox, Arab-Baptist, and Sunni-Muslim traditions regarding the document’s potential significance for Lebanon and the broader Middle Eastern context. The forum discussion was moderated by television personality Dr. Imed Dabbour and the discussants included:

  • Bishop Dr. Paul Rouhana, Maronite Bishop of Sarba, Lebanon and former General Secretary of the Middle East Council of Churches.
  • Fr. Dr. George Massouh, Director of the Center for Christian-Muslim Studies at Balamand University and Priest of Aley Orthodox Parish, Lebanon.
  • Rev. Dr. Hikmat Kashouh, Research Faculty at ABTS and Senior Pastor at Hadath Baptist Church, Lebanon.
  • Sheikh Dr. Mohammed Nuqqari, Director of the Islamic-Christian Forum for Businessmen in Lebanon, head of the Sunni Court in Chtaura, former general director of Dar-al-Fatwa, and professor at St. Joseph University, Lebanon.

“This document is a road map for all Christian denominations to work and pray together for reconciliation in a very sensitive region” said Maronite Bishop Paul Rouhana, stating,

“Our role is to produce a Middle Eastern contextual text based upon this document, in order to move forward with it in Lebanon and the region. We need to acknowledge in one another the fundamental elements that make us the Church of Christ, and respect one another if we want to be witnesses of Christ and not our denomination.”

Orthodox Father George Massouh also contributed to the table discussion, emphasizing the importance of being a witness to Christ even if it results in martyrdom. He was followed by Baptist Rev. Dr. Hikmat Khasouh, who cautioned:

“The ecumenical work plays a vital role as long as it does not dampen the voice of evangelism. It is vital because it invites us to listen and engage with one another, to ask questions and answer others. It teaches us humility and openness. [T]he Gospel surpasses both the one evangelizing and the one being evangelized. We should not forget the Gospel precedes both. In Acts, we observe how the incident between Cornelius and Peter had as much of an impact on changing Peter’s perceptions as it did the faith of Cornelius.”

Adding a Sunni-Muslim voice to the discussion was Sheikh Dr. Mohamad Nuqqari, who made the observation that “the principles of the document are applicable to Muslims as much as they are applicable to Christians.”

In attendance were persons of a variety of Lebanese churches, denominations and backgrounds who posed a variety of challenging, yet enriching questions. In the end, all of the speakers encouraged not only intra-religious dialogue as much as inter-religious dialogue, but also envisioned and emphasized the need for solid steps to achieve this dialogue in the practice of daily life.

Leading up to this event, IMES has been reflecting upon each of the individual recommendations in an ongoing series. You may read the first three posts here and here and here and an interview with John Baxter-Brown and Rosalee Velloso Ewell here.

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