Some Further Reflections On Sin

Seeing Sin as a power, rather than just things we do wrong has other implications and allows us to see things in the Bible differently. Writers from other cultures often see this more clearly than we do.

Vishal Mangalwadi, an Indian Christian writes

“Generally speaking, the “Sunday school Jesus” confines himself only to the changing of people’s hearts, but the Jesus of the Gospels aimed to change both human hearts and human society.”

His book, Truth and Transformation uses his experience of Indian society, his experience of the power of sin to try to wake up Western Christians to the need to impact society, not just individuals.

This is something that I am convinced is crucially important. We must impact society, see God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. We must transform human hearts and human society. See the defeat of Sin, Death and Satan outworked in the whole of society.

Andy McCullough is a friend. Originally, he was from Cyprus and has also spent years in both London and Turkey. He has recently written an excellent book called Global Humility: Attitudes for Mission.

Andy talks about an implication of seeing Sin as a power is that humanity then needs to be seen as a victim. He highlights this in the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman in John 4.

“Why condemn her? The reality of the ancient world, sadly, is that she could likely have been widowed several times (as older guys married younger girls and the life expectancy was not high), or she could have been divorced several times (divorce was extremely common in the ancient world, at the male prerogative). She most likely did not have children, or else they would have been collecting the water for her or with her, and perhaps her barrenness was the reason for her divorces. The man she is with now is not her husband; more likely to be his fault than hers! Nowhere in this story does Jesus call her immoral. Later on, the fact that the townsfolk so readily accept her testimony is evidence that she was not considered immoral by the community. Sin is at work in her story, yes. She has been sinned against. She is a victim! And Jesus shows her his mercy.

Of course, the Samaritan woman is a sinner – we all are! But the purpose of this story in its narrative context is grace for the marginalised, not grace for the guilty.”

This was a revelatory insight, I naturally see things through the exclusive eyes of people as sinners, rather than the victims of sin. Seeing things in this way changes so much.

Andy has other powerful things to say, I would strongly encourage you to read his book. Next week I will bring some further quotes and insights from “Global Humility”.

Written by Tony Thompson

Some Reflections On Sin

Over recent months the books that I have been reading have led to consider the nature of sin. Commonly it is understood as things we do wrong. This is well described in The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ by Fleming Rutledge.

“People magazine in America once undertook a part-serious, part-tongue-in-cheek survey of its readers on the subject of sin. The results were published as a “Sindex,” with each sin rated by a sin coefficient. The outcome is both amusing and instructive. Murder, rape, incest, child abuse, and spying against one’s country were rated the worst sins, in ascending order, with smoking, swearing, masturbation, and illegal videotaping far down the list. Parking in a handicapped spot was rated surprisingly high, whereas unmarried live-togethers got off lightly. Cutting in front of someone in line was deemed worse than divorce or capital punishment. Predictably, corporate sin was not mentioned, though it is at the top of the Hebrew prophets’ list.

Overall, readers said they commit about 4.64 sins a month. We may laugh at this, but clearly, our sense of sin as specific actions is deeply ingrained.”

Routledge brings the Biblical perspective that “Sin” is not something that we do, but a power that controls us. Sin is a power alongside death, both of which are defeated on the cross.

On sin as a power she says,

“Note that Paul does not say “Jesus never sinned” or “Jesus did not commit sin.” That is because Sin in Paul is not something that one commits; it is a Power by which one is held helplessly in thrall.”

“The Reformers reclaimed a radical sense of sin: “They saw that sin meant disobedience, rebellion, refusal, turning away. In short, they saw it as a relational term . . . the foundational relationship of human life — our relation with God — is broken; and this brokenness shows up in all our other relations. . . . Whether we should even speak of ‘sins’ (plural) is questionable; but if we do, we should understand that they are consequences of what is wrong, not its causes.””

“ sin is not so much naughty actions or even egregious wrongdoing; it is an infectious disease.”

The fact that sin is a power, rather than things we do wrong, has consequences. It means we need God to do something, we are powerless to overcome sin ourselves.

“ ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who commits sin is a slave to sin’ ” (John 8:34). This means that not even repentance can overcome sin and restore us to God.”

“No human being has proven capable of breaking the grip of Sin and Death on the human race. Only God can do that.”

“The clear implication here is that there is no way for the human being to move from the domain of Sin to the domain of God’s righteousness unless there is an invasion of the kingdom of Sin from outside.”

“When Paul says “God made him to be sin,” he can be understood to say that in the tormented, crucified body of the Son, the entire universe of Sin and every kind of evil are concentrated and judged — not just forgiven, but definitively, finally, and permanently judged and separated from God and his creation.”

I saw a Facebook post over Easter from a Christian friend of some standing, she posted, Please, can you help? I was asked a wonderful question recently: “Why did Jesus die on the cross?” At the moment I confess struggled to give an answer… What would you say?”

Understanding sin (and death and Satan) as powers help us answer. God overcame the power of Sin, Death and Satan – defeating them on the cross and declaring his victory through the resurrection.

The fact that Sin is defeated, means we are empowered to overcome sin. Andy McCullough writes

“We must not forget that Sin as Tyrant is as big a theme in the biblical witness as Sin as Choice. The latter is still true, and the Christian formulation of sin includes both, but one of the things that makes Christianity unique as a world religion is the picture of sin as a power oppressing humankind and hence necessitating a Saviour. Islam, for instance, would teach Sin as Choice but not Sin as Tyrant. We, however, have a Saviour who came not to judge but to save the world!”

“God’s forgiveness is not hard to attain. I am clean, I get dirty, I am washed clean again. In the Christian narrative, however, humanity is fallen, sin is either something intrinsic to us (like cancer) or a power over us (like Pharaoh), and the mere washing of forgiveness is insufficient. Repentance means death.”

 

Written by Tony Thompson

Paul’s Discipleship Methods Revisited

posted in: Bible, Hope Church, Tony Thompson | 0

Missionary Methods: St Paul’s or Ours? (Roland Allen Library) (Allen, Roland)

I first read this book five years ago and found it very challenging and pertinent. It is hard to believe it was written over 100 years ago. Thinking and praying about the new believers we are having the privilege of caring for as a church I felt compelled to read it again. It is even more relevant to us and I feel we need to consider the biblical wisdom contained in the book.

Immediately after reading it for the first time I wrote a blog about the book, I feel it appropriate to publish it again.

 

This is a book I have seen quoted in numerous books on church planting but until the summer had not read. It was such a treat to finally read a book written over 100 years ago and to find to so relevant and challenging. It was probably the most relevant and challenging book I read all summer.

There were so many challenges. There was the general challenge to consider the effectiveness of our contemporary church planting.

“Is our progress commensurate with all the money and effort expended? Is that progress, if any, as rapid as the work of church-planting by the great Apostle? Are we actually planting new churches or merely perpetuating a mission?”

Then there were more specific challenges. For example my attitude towards new converts and how I approached their discipleship.

“We can more easily believe in His work in us and through us, than we can believe in His work in and through our converts: we cannot trust our converts to Him.”

“The facts are these: St Paul preached in a place for five or six months and then left behind him a church, not indeed free from the need of guidance, but capable of growth and expansion.”

“Nothing can alter or disguise the fact that St Paul did leave behind him at his first visit complete churches. Nothing can alter or disguise the fact that he succeeded in so training his converts that men who came to him absolutely ignorant of the Gospel were able to maintain their position with the help of occasional letters and visits at crises of special difficulty. “

He then talks about how Paul ensured these new converts were taught so that they were able to quickly be given responsibility. Paul taught them to teach themselves, not to rely on him.

“The meetings of the church were gatherings for mutual instruction. Anyone who had been reading the book and had discovered a passage which seemed to point to Christ, or an exhortation which seemed applicable to the circumstances of their life, or a promise which encouraged him with hope for this life or the next, produced it and explained it for the benefit of all. That was the secret, there lay the source of all the early Christian literature.”

“By teaching the simplest elements in the simplest form to the many, and by giving them the means by which they could for themselves gain further knowledge, by leaving them to meditate upon these few fundamental truths, and to teach one another what they could discover, St Paul ensured that his converts should really master the most important things.”

“There is something in the presence of a great teacher that sometimes tends to prevent smaller men from realizing themselves.”

“he scarcely ever lays down the law, preferring doubt and strife to an enforced obedience to a rule.”

As Allen says….

“It would be better, far better, that our converts should make many mistakes, and fall into many errors, and commit many offences, than that their sense of responsibility should be undermined.”

I have so much to learn about developing and releasing new converts. I came away realising I need to take far more risks, I need to be much less fearful of failure.

He speaks with a contemporary relevance and challenge regarding reaching whole provinces with the gospel by initially focusing on the main city.

“ St Paul’s theory of evangelizing a province was not to preach in every place in it himself, but to establish centres of Christian life in two or three important places from which the knowledge might spread into the country round.”

But then the challenge………….

“great cities are great prisons as well as great railway stations.” And

“We are sometimes so enamoured with the strategic beauty of a place that we spend our time in fortifying it whilst the opportunity for a great campaign passes by unheeded or neglected.”

To what extent are we locking up the people in our cities rather than sending them out? Have I got the right perspective regarding training people to go?

I found the balance, insight and depth of understanding in his treatment of the miraculous astounding considering when it was written.

He observes

“At Antioch, Derbe, Thessalonica, Beroea and Corinth no mention is made in the Acts of miracles in connection with the preaching of the Gospel. Thus it would appear that the importance of miracles in the work of St Paul may be easily exaggerated. They were not a necessary part of his mission preaching: nor was their influence in attracting converts as great as we often suppose.”

However he also observes that “His miracles attracted hearers” and “miracles prepared the way for the preaching”.

He goes further recognising

“Miracles were universally accepted as proofs of the Divine approval of the message and work of him through whom they were wrought.”

And “Miracles were illustrations of the character of the new religion. They were sermons in act. ……. St Paul’s miracles illustrated the doctrine of release, of salvation.”

I am challenged to keep this biblical perspective regarding the miraculous, not to place too high an expectation on their impact but also not to underestimate their importance either. We need to be expecting them in the same way that Paul did, and as Allen encourages to.

These insights from 100 years ago regarding our attitude towards new converts and how we help them grow; our willingness to see our church as a railway station rather than a prison and the import place of the miraculous all speak to me and I believe the 21 Century church.

 

Written by Tony Thompson

An inspiring European Leaders Conference

posted in: Events, Tony Thompson | 0

Recently I had the privilege of spending 5 days with leaders from churches representing 28 different nations across Europe. It took place in Lisbon, Portugal. Before you ask, let me tell you, the weather was dreadful, it rained most of the time and was very stormy. I was there due to my contact with churches in Spain. Despite the weather, it was an inspiring time, hearing about what God is doing across our continent, as well as being realistic about the challenges we face.

Amongst the highlights for me were –

Meeting two church leaders from Poland who are willing to come to Luton to help us reach out to Polish people in our town. I have also been invited to support hem in Poland.

Hearing a powerful sermon on mission and prejudice, based on how Samaritans are represented in Luke and Acts. (I’m even considering turning this into a series of sermons, it was so powerful and relevant to us.)

Talking to a church leader from Greenland, there are only 36,000 people living on the island and they are spread out across the coast, people travel mostly by boat. There are no foreign missionaries left and the church is totally indigenous. It was inspiring to hear what the church is doing, including working with the many abused people on the island.

A church leader from the North Caucuses area of Russia shared about the work they have been doing amongst addicts for decades, over 3,000 have been through their programmes and 10 are now leading churches.

I listened to an Italian church leader who had been involved in joint meetings with the current Pope. He talked very positively about what God is doing within the Catholic Church generally and in Italy in particular. He said this wasn’t without its difficulties. He shared a letter he had received from the Pope supporting the work that is being done by Pentecostals and evangelicals in Italy.

A church leader from Serbia brought a powerful call to build churches that don’t just gather existing Christians but seek to grow through conversion growth. He humbly brought his observation that in his experience of the UK much church growth wasn’t through conversions!

Another church leader from the Ukraine spoke about how all his expansion plans were stopped by the war that drove him and many others from their homes and forced churches to close. He talked about the anguish of this but how several years later God has done much more than the original plans. The persecution has resulted in many more churches planted not just in the Ukraine but across the world.

A very valuable week, inspiring and helpful far beyond my original expectations. I was able to spend time with the guys I work with in Spain but was also benefited in so many other ways.

I came home feeling strengthened and encouraged.

God is doing good things, praise Him!

 

Written by Tony Thompson

Prophetic Word – The River & Bags of Gold (February 2018)

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Prophetic word given to Hope Church Luton by Tim Williams from New Life Church Milton Keynes in February 2018.

 

LISTEN TO THE AUDIO OF THE PROPHETIC WORD BELOW:

 

He said he felt he had a word for a church with a river running past it/by it. We felt that was Hope Church. His word was:
“A couple of things I felt the Lord would want to say to you guys.
The first thing I saw – deposits of bags of gold popping up all around the river. I just picture you guys coming across these things and I felt like, just in my spirit, that these things had been there for a long time. So I am just trying to ask the Lord what that’s about – I don’t know if there are people who want to give you money to steward, they might be people who are known to you, that have just not made themselves known in that way to you. But I feel like there are bags of gold and as you are opening them up you are seeing that there’s gold pieces in them and I felt God saying very clearly that this is for mercy ministries. This is for the poor and actually just hearing what your question about the poor, I felt like it almost like a Robin Hood type thing, I know he stole from the rich to give to the poor, you guys wouldn’t be stealing but people are going to give you these deposits of money to say we don’t know what to do with this but we want you to invest it into a good cause. And they are almost going to give you the freedom to…it was like, God was going to make you stewards of other people’s money.

The next thing I saw was linked to the river, was the river in Ezekiel. Just the further it went out the further the river went, the deeper it got. And on either sides there was life springing up all around. Obviously, there is stuff in there with salvation but also bringing healing to the land and fruit and prosperity to the land.  And I feel that this is all tied in with what God was asking you to steward and the gifts that He was going to bring to you. I just saw that I don’t know the way that that is the people that are around or any that you know that wanted to give you these deposits or people that come your way that say that I’ve got some money, I want it to go somewhere can you do something with it.”

Our calling as a church

At the very beginning of the Bible, in Genesis chapter 1, we are told that God created humans in his image. This was the climax and pinnacle of his creation.

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

The narrative continues describing the fall of man and its consequences. At the heart of the fall was a desire to be like God. Part of the consequences of the fall was a change was that the relationship between man and God changed and the relationships between people changed. The relationship between men and women was not how God original intended, similarly the relationship between different cultures.  This is described in chapters 3 to 11 of Genesis. A few key verses are shown below.

From Genesis 3

16 To the woman he said,

“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
    with painful labour you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
    and he will rule over you.”

From Genesis 11

Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.

They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

The rest of the Bible, starting with the story of Abraham, describes how God is brining about a new creation, restoring of relationship between humans and God and between humans. The climax of this is the death and resurrection of Jesus which ushers in the new creation that will be fully realised at the end of the age.

Revelation 7

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.

In the meantime, we seek to see the new creation breaking into the present age.

Paul summarises the restoration of relationships between humans in his letter to the Galatians chapter 3.

28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

In the body of Christ, we are all one, all equal. Regardless of race; social position or gender. Don’t have to become all the same race, social position or gender. Don’t have to change – become like others – white middle class or whatever. White is not superior to black; male is not superior to female; cleaner is not superior to bank manager. Just as it was before the fall.

Equal doesn’t mean the same. We should not be colour blind. We should not be unaware of peoples cultural and educational backgrounds. We don’t ignore differences, we say they no longer create barriers to fellowship. We recognise each other as equals.

The focus in Scripture is on caring for the vulnerable. The powerful ignores differences – say we are all the same, ignoring the fact that we are not but that we should have equal opportunities and value.

In the light of these truths we want to be –

A growing community of people – from different backgrounds, stages of life and experiences, including the vulnerable – who are one family in Christ Jesus

Over the last few months I have preached several sermons which describe this in more detail. You can listen to these sermons on line.

An initial sermon describing that we are ALL one in Christ based on Galatians 3v28.

A sermon on racism.

A sermon on Men, Women and God.

 

Written by Tony Thompson

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