The Bible and Cultural Challenges – Part 4: Individualism and you

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One major disadvantage of reading the Bible in English is that the English word you can be either singular or plural. Due to our inclination towards individualism we tend to assume that you is singular which often causes us to misread Scripture and over emphasises my relationship with God verses our relationship with God.

For example if you understand 1 Corinthians 6: 19 to mean: “your [singular] body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you [singular], whom you [singular] have received from God,” you might conclude a good application would be, “I need to quit smoking.” (That’s what I had always been told was an appropriate application of this Scripture.) If, however, you read “your [plural] body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you [plural], whom you [plural] have received from God,” you might conclude Paul’s concern has more to do with the community at large. In the context of 1 Corinthians 6, Paul is speaking about visiting temple prostitutes. If you read the passage individually, you think in terms of personal repercussions, but Paul was worried about how bad behaviour contaminated the entire congregation.

 

Written by Tony Thompson

I Have A Dream…

Is some ways my dream is not unlike that of Martin Luther King Jr’s from 1963. My dream is to see an end to prejudice and end to shame. My dream is to see people set free and able to live in the reality of their real identity in Christ, as sons and daughter of the living God, heirs of all the promises of Christ.

 

I wonder how long it took for the prodigal son to be able to live in the reality of the loving acceptance of his father, who really didn’t want his past life or mistakes to weigh on his future. I also wonder how long it took the elder son to realise he was living in the fullness of his fathers love but limiting it because of his own attitudes and restriction he had placed on himself?

 

God shows us he is an incredible loving and gracious Father and He asks that we will extend that love and grace to all, especially those who do not know about his love, so they might experience it. He asks us to be that outrageous Father who runs to meet his son, undignified and risking wagging tongues and the disapproving glances of the villagers.

 

There are many people inside our churches hurting and they are struggling to live in the freedom that Christ has for them because of the fear or shame. There are people who want to connect with the living God or who are searching for help or friendship but do not look where they can find true life because of fear or shame.

 

I have a dream… to see the church become more and more like the loving father and risk being misunderstood and talked about! As part of my journey in this Jesus has asked me and others to engage with a specific group of people who he cares about very much : Those women and their partners who are facing a crisis pregnancy: Women and their partners who have had an abortion: Women and their partners and families who have suffered a miscarriage, cot death or their child has died. He has called and commissioned me to start a work to help bring Isaiah 61 to Luton. In order to do this a small group of us are setting up a charity called Love For The Family.

 

Love for the Family has four areas that we would love you to pray for and think about getting involved with.

  1. Crisis pregnancy support.

A safe space for women and men to come and talk about their situation, reflect on their circumstances and feelings, and find out about their options.

2. Baby Basket.

Practical help for families in need. Including donated new and used clothes and items to help with the first year of life.

3. Post abortion recovery.

We have Christian and non religious, group or 1:1 courses that will help women and men connect with their experience and bring healing and hope into their lives.

4. Baby Loss.

Loosing a baby or child at any stage is traumatic. We are looking to partner with other agencies as well as using Infant Loss training to help and walk along side those experiencing loss.

 

If you have any further questions or would like to be involved in this exciting new project please get in touch jane@loveforthefamily.org.uk or come to our information evening on Monday 27th January 2020. 7.45pm @ Hope Church, Villa Road, Luton. More information will be available on our web site very soon.

 

Written by Jane Reynolds

The Bible and Cultural Challenges – Part 3: The role of ethnic divisions and prejudice

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From time immemorial, humans have held prejudices against others based on their ethnicity, the colour of their skin or factors such as where they’re from and how they speak. We are all guilty of it, it is best to recognise it so that we can do something about it, it impacts how we read the Bible.

 

An example of this is Numbers 12 v1, “Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite”. A Cushite was a Black African. I have read some comments on this where prejudice against Black Africans is recognised. However, this is probably us bringing our experience of prejudice to the Scripture, whilst Westerners may have once considered Africans a slave race, in the Nile River valley of ancient Egypt, the Hebrews were the slave race. It is more likely that Miriam and Aaron thought Moses was being presumptuous by marrying above himself. 

 

Paul describes divisions in the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 1 v10 – 12. As we tend to fall out along doctrinal lines or because we are drawn to one pastor over another, we can assume this is what was happening in Corinth. It is more likely, though, that the divisions among the churches in Corinth were not theological. We may be failing to note ethnic markers that Paul sprinkled all over the text. Apollos was noted as an Alexandrian (Egyptian) Jew (Acts 18: 24). They had their own reputation. Paul notes that Peter is called by his Aramaic name, Cephas, suggesting the group that followed him spoke Aramaic and were thus Palestinian Jews. Paul’s church had Diaspora Jews but also many ethnic Corinthians, who were quite proud of their status as residents of a Roman colony and who enjoyed using Latin. This may explain why Paul doesn’t address any theological differences. There weren’t any. The problem was ethnic division: Aramaic- speaking Jews, Greek- speaking Jews, Romans and Alexandrians.

 

Written by Tony Thompson

Catherine’s Living Seeds Trip 2019

As you may know I visited Sierra Leone in the summer to run a three week Summer School for the Primary-aged children of the students and of staff at Living Seeds.

Living Seeds, run by a Christian couple in Harpenden is a social enterprise based on their strong Christian commitment which takes young people from the poorest backgrounds and provides them with quality vocational training and a chance to work. Many of the students have had little or no schooling before joining Living Seeds.  The young people learn a professional trade, to develop and grow as a person, to gain some dignity, and to make a life for themselves. They are encouraged in the Christian faith and have the opportunity for Christian ministry to help discover their purpose and identity in Christ. Practically, Living Seeds makes and sells workplace uniforms made by the students who are trained to a high standard and are now diversifying into office wear and the beginnings of training in producing fashion wear.  They have been supplying major companies with their garment requirements since 2010 and have established an excellent reputation for quality and customer service. 

 

 

This is the second Summer School I have run at Living Seeds. This year they purchased a set of school tables and benches which really helped to motivate the children to be focussed in their learning. Living Seeds recent newsletter referred to my Summer School: 

‘The school was a great success and all the children loved it!  They wept bitterly when she left and complained that life was boring without her. Catherine also has a great gift of relating to people and all our factory staff loved having her around.

 

Thank you for all your financial support which contributed to resources in the classroom and my travelling.  Also, prayers for me during my trip. It was a privilege to teach the children lessons based on their curriculum which will help them to progress at school.  I am in contact with the couple who run Living Seeds and some of the people in Sierra Leone. I hope to be able to go out again to do further work.    

 

Written by Catherine Simons

The Bible and Cultural Challenges – Part 2

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In my previous blog I challenged the church culture that elevates marriage over singleness in a way that the bible doesn’t. In this blog I want to challenge a Western perspective on money which is at odds with a non-Western, Biblical viewpoint.

Outside the West wealth is often viewed as a limited resource. There is only so much money to be had, so if one person has a lot of it, then everyone else has less to divide among themselves. If you make your slice of pie larger, then my slice is now smaller. In those cultures, folks are more likely to consider the accumulation of wealth to be immoral, since you can only become wealthy if other people become poor. This is contrasted to the Western view that there is unlimited wealth and so everyone can accumulate as much as they want without impacting anyone else.

 

Wealth as a limited resource underpins the way biblical authors viewed the world, for example in Psalm 52: 7 where it describes the wicked man who “trusted in his great wealth and grew strong by destroying others!” In our Western mind, this man demonstrated his wickedness in two ways: he trusted in wealth and he destroyed others. Yet the psalmist considers these to be one action. This is a type of Hebrew poetry scholars call synonymous parallelism, in which the two clauses say the same idea with different wording. In other words, hoarding and trusting in wealth was destroying others. 

 

This is a powerful challenge to our perspective on individuals and nations accumulating wealth.

 

Another challenge to mine and the Western churches perspective is regarding the encouragements we find in the bible to “dress modestly”.

 

Westerners routinely misread instructions about modesty in the Bible by assuming sexual modesty is of greater concern than economic modesty. Where sex and money collide, we see which is more important to us, sex. We therefore understand Paul’s exhortation that women should dress modestly to mean only that their clothes should not be sexually revealing. If we recognize that his concern might instead be economic, then the exhortation is timely for most Western churches, in which everyone keeps their shirts on but in which some dress in ways that say, “We have more money than you.” This is the way to understand 1 Corinthians 11 where what we wear in worship and how we celebrate the Lord’s supper as addressed. In both cases the issue is that rich people were flaunting their wealth in the context of worship.

 

The costly challenge to cultural ways of thinking is brought out when Peter is told to eat “unclean” animals in Acts 10.

Peter’s reaction to the vision is probably not simply righteous indignation; maybe it is nausea. No doubt Peter would have been disgusted by the very idea of eating the animals presented in the sheet. Restrictions against eating pork and shellfish are legalities to us. But for first- century Jews, they were deeply entrenched dietary (cultural) ways of life. Peter would have felt as we would if we were confronted with a sheet full of puppies and bats and cockroaches and “Kill and eat,” says the Lord. Like Peter, we would almost certainly reply, “Surely not, Lord!” 

 

It is reasonable to assume that the faithful Jews who were Jesus’ first followers felt much the same way to Peter. That means deciding whether Gentile converts to Christianity should follow Jewish dietary laws wasn’t simply a theological debate. How were Jewish Christians to share a table of fellowship with people whose breaths stank of pig fat? 

 

This is all very challenging to us, to allow the Bible to properly challenge us and to be willing break some cultural practices that are barriers to the gospel.

 

Written by Tony Thompson

The Bible and Cultural Challenges – Part 1

I love the Bible, as I study it, I find God reveals himself to me. I learn more about Him and consequently more about myself. However, I have become increasingly aware that I read the words of Scripture with certain cultural preconceived ideas which limits my understanding or even causes me to misunderstand. Being surrounded by fellow believers from different cultural backgrounds is an important help, especially if I spend time listening to their perspectives.

I have just finished a book that seeks to identify ways that western Christians have consistently misread the Bible. I found it insightful. Some of the areas it identified were not new to me, but many were. I therefore intend to share some of the thoughts in case you too find them helpful. The book, in case you want to read it for your self is “Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes by Richards and O’Brien.”

 

An area that I had already seen as being an unhelpful Western perspective on Scripture is the focusing on those parts of the Bible that encourage marriage and to ignore the parts of Scripture that encourage celibacy. This has caused major damage within the church and caused unmarried people to feel and to be treated as second class citizens. This is at odds with the New Testament where celibacy and remaining unmarried was promoted and honoured as a Christian challenge to the prevailing culture. 

In Roman Society the expectation was that everyone should get married, in fact there were no alternatives. Young women were given by their parents into marriage and childbearing as soon as they entered puberty. Roman men were practically expected to commit adultery. Into this context Paul offers women an opportunity for ministry outside of the home and he commands Christian men to limit sex lives within their marriages. See 1 Corinthians 7.

We need to regain this counter cultural perspective within our churches, bringing to the fore the high calling of singleness.

 

Written by Tony Thompson

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