In part, this post was sparked by Phyllis Tickle and her post Christendom article. Over the years I have been struck, more than once, by the story of the Tower of Babel: Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As men 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”…… then they said, “Come let us build a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
As we know, God had grave concerns over this project and confused the one language of mankind and scattered us over the face of the earth. The NIV notes for this passage and most teaching I have heard, rightly sees this as an attempt by mankind to permanently freeze God out of our onward march through time. Back in my teens my friends and I speculated on the technological implications within those passages; electricity, cars, mega cities, space travel all before zero AD! Recently the ecological implications hit me; by now we would be surviving in a toxic waste land, if in fact we managed to survive! So, God rains on mankind’s parade and we are dispersed across the world. From the moment of dispersal the ancients set out to do what they planned in the first place – build cities. From these cities empires grew. From one of those early empires God calls Abram to go to a land He will show him.
We are all familiar with Abraham andIsrael’s history so there is no need to go into any detail, suffice to sayIsraelnever achieved empire. She was always pressured by, and conquered by, empires.Israelsuffered exile, rejoiced in restoration by God and returned to the Promised Land only to be conquered and colonised by Greeks. The Maccabee rebellion defeated the Greeks thenIsraelended up colonised byRome! I have come to the conclusion that God’s chosen people, as well as we gentile believers by virtue of our adoption into Gods’ family, have never been called by God to dominate the world. Abraham’s example is one of wandering with God, a stranger in a strange land living by faith.Israelwas challenged in its day over governance and rule; autocracy versus theocracy (an issue forIsrael, not the gentile nations then or now). Israelfaced the issue of one God over and above a Pantheon of gods; justice over religious observance. We continue in that ‘Way’, a pilgrim people constantly challenged by God to find His Heart and purpose for our day.
Into our world and at Just the right time came Jesus: God incarnate bringing good news, joy and healing, and all the things we know back to front and inside out. Imagine His message; life, death and resurrection, not theologically but allegorically. Imagine our star, a yellow dwarf, no longer following the usual arc of a stars life. Our sun does not follow the predictions and understandings of scientists; it goes supernova at yellow dwarf phase ending everything in an instant. The sun collapses into a black hole, sucking light and life, matter, our very substance, into itself. From a distance, scientists in another galaxy study this un-paralleled event. The nebula left behind is a mystery within a mystery, beyond exploration. Theorists come up with complex mathematical explanations, theories become fact. Time moves on. A new generation of scientists with more powerful telescopes and deep space probes make new discoveries, old orthodoxies give way to controversial new ideas including ‘the big idea’- the end is in fact the beginning, in death there is life.
Unknown to the scientists across the universe observing this event taking place billions of light years away, the actual event they are observing was totally different to anything they could conceive. We, the people in the cataclysmic event, and our planet, were sucked through and beyond the event horizon; into and out the other side of the black hole; into a new creation, a new rule, a new Kingdom. Except that, apart from a small group of men and women, no one anywhere on earth realised that something had happened. But this was the first new day of God’s Kingdom.
If for God a day is a thousand years, 48 hours plus a few minutes ago, Jesus died. Maybe 15 seconds later the Holy Spirit descended on men and women, and each nation gathered inJerusalemfor Pentecost. They heard of God’s goodness in their own language; their own language and not a restoration to one global tongue. Jesus begins, by the power of the Spirit, to reach out to the diverse nations of the world. One tongue would have suggested a monoculture, an empire of theocracy. From the beginning, the work of the Spirit towards the gentile nations was ‘culturally sensitive’. God was prepared to allow for greater freedom amongst the gentile nations, for instance to produce works of art, considered under Jewish law to be graven images. (I, like Moses Miamonides, considered all Christian art to be ‘blasphemous’ and pagan up until my early 40s; time has softened my view, but I still regret that most representations of Jesus are predominantly white European.) Equally the Holy Spirit allowed a distinctive Greco-Roman style of worship to spring up. This suggests to me a far greater desire by God to indwell our culture with His presence, as opposed to religious compliance, styles of worship or procedure, and methodologies.
For 24 hours Christendom ruled as the agency for knowledge and orthodoxy, the arbiter of right and wrong. Within this first 24 hour period much damage has been done; firstly and most severely to God’s chosen people. The Holocaust is rooted in the very foundations of Christendom. One aspect of Christendom has implications forBritainand to a large extentAmericaas well. We have taken on the mantle of ‘God’s most favoured nation’ status, something never intended for us ‘grafted in’ Gentile believers. Only the nation ofIsraelcan lay claim to being God’s chosen people. (Regardless of one’s opinions of the current issues surroundingIsraelandPalestine).* Christendom, casting itself as the newIsrael, can be seen today in the co-option of the promise in Chronicles byBritainandAmerica: ‘Let my people pray… and I will heal their nation’. This isIsrael’s promise, not ours. Paul rightly re-casts this passage for a pilgrim people. He tells us to pray for peace, and for leaders to have wisdom so that we might preach the gospel. Our identity is with The Kingdom, not a worldly kingdom or country, we are pilgrims travelling through. In Britain this kind of praying**casts blame on certain segments of society, focusing on whoever is considered a cause of moral decline (single mums) and desperately asking God not to fall in ‘judgement’ on our country. It fails to realise that judgement is for the time of Christ’s return. As a result of Jesus Christ’s resurrection (zero hour), when God looks at wrong on the planet He sees the work of grace in Christ as the solution, not a thunderbolt or hurricane.
Over the centuries, and every bit as bad as Christendom’s treatment of the Jews, has been the march, by the Church and European nations, into Africa andAmerica. We never allowed the rightful owners of those countries the opportunity to find Jesus on their own terms, or in their own way. God allowed us to develop a European faith. We sadly never returned the favour to any other nation; instead we destroyed and suppressed indigenous culture. I wonder if there are enough ‘old ways’ for these peoples to re-imagine God entwined in their culture, creating with them something uniquely their own. As a white European I ask Father for forgiveness for what we have done in His name. If this seems a bit gloomy, remember we are only 2 days into God’s redemptive work; more than enough time remains for us to allow His work to flourish on our third rock from the sun!
During those early moments of new beginnings, mere seconds into His new creation, in the white heat of resurrection power a diamond formed; multi faceted, multi tonal and very beautiful. Each of us is a facet shining uniquely. Each of us is called to walk for the most part in obscurity through life; loving ourselves, our partners and children, fellow believers, our colleagues and all who cross our path, this is a walk of salvic*** grace salting our cultures and shining light, diverse and full of difference. We all, regardless of ‘brand’, need, in the words of Lesslie Newbiggin, to: “Maintain our place in the public square” when it comes to the good news. We also need to work out with one another what we consider regarding faith and church practice to be truly important (Incarnate Christ, the Trinity, for example) as opposed to merely church culture or tradition, without destroying one another. I realised whilst looking at the Church of England debate on Women Bishops that I had begun to take a partisan view (pro-women, anti-Fundamentalist). How easy it is to lose sight of Christ and pick a fight instead, rather than focusing on the Gospel, the good news of Jesus.
*It would be easy to take this statement as critical of the beliefs of a large proportion of churches. This is not my intention. I hold the opinion that we as gentiles have adopted wholesale certain Biblical promises that apply to Israel specifically and we should be more considered in our interpretation of promises. More often than not Jesus or the Epistle writers re-interpret them for our era. I consider intercession an important facet of prayer, but I do not target the ‘other’ as needing to change but myself to be transformed and for forgiveness, grace and reconciliation to flow.
**This post started 3 weeks ago. Time pressure has delayed uploading; the current events in Israel/Palestine had not occurred at time of writing.
***Ron Cole: The fatality of truth..