Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The Cost of Being a Disciple

I have been reading John Piper's book; "Spectacular Sins: And Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ" yesterday and I must confess I wasn't largely thrilled at first. Piper writes in his usual God-centred glory focus but also in his usual rather depressing eschatological outlook. Essentially he believes and quotes extensively from the Scriptures that the world is going to get worse and worse and that evil will continue to abound and that we will begin to suffer and die for our faith. My one caveat is that while yes I also believe this - I also believe the Scriptures point to the church ever-expanding and the Kingdom of God more than matching this advance of darkness. "The Spreading Flame" - F F Bruce called it.

But then I also happened to be reading through my most recent copy of Evangelicals Now that I get and was interested to read an article by E M Hicham on "Receiving Muslim Converts?". He is a Muslim evangelist and writes with that as his focus but some of his comments gripped me;

"There is perhaps no more baffling, unsolved problem than the care of the new convert ... our churches need to receive converts from Islam with open arms and to share in their trials ... many local churches are often unwilling to receive Muslim converts for fear of the consequences ...

Such cowardliness and faithlessness are inexcusable. Do we have any idea of what conversion may mean for a Muslim? Do we realise the cost for any Muslim who wants to be a disciple of Jesus? ... Shall we give them a cold shoulder because our own comfort and complacency may be threatened?

I cannot conceive of any justifiable circumstance where a local church could refuse to extend a warm hand of fellowship to a convert brother from Islam and I have little doubt that wherever this does occur, it will be nothing less than the church's concern about its own vested interests that will be the root cause of it.

For a local church to reject a brother or sister in order to protect it's own security is to surely anger God".

He then goes on to discuss his view that Muslim converts must make a complete break from Islam and join the local church but honestly admits he has no easy answers. For someone who lives in Birmingham with such a high cosmopolitan community I have often thought the same. The church has many evangelists looking to reach converts. But does the church have apostles and prophets who are building grace foundations in those churches to receive the converts and disciple them when they come?

A key Newfrontiers prophecy is "It is too small a thing for you to restore the house" and goes on to address that the heart must be reaching the lost and indeed that must be so. But the house must be still built properly at the same time! For a house built without proper foundations surely will never reach the heady heights it was meant to.

I found while I was reading the article in Evangelicals Now that my heart and my thoughts went to the issue of reaching people with same sex orientations with the Gospel of grace. Surely the very same issues face them! For instance;

1. Our churches need to receive converts with same sex attractions with open arms and share in their trials - most specifically we are asking them to live a life of celibacy.

2. Many local churches are unwilling to receive converts (maybe not for fear of consequences) but because of their own prejudices.

3. Such cowardliness and faithlessness surely is also just as inexcusable as not receiving Muslim converts.

4. Do we have any idea of what conversion may mean for someone with a same sex attraction?

5. Shall we give them a cold shoulder because our own comfort and complacency may be threatened?

It is rather sad that the very same issue of Evangelicals Now does indeed mention homosexuality but only to bemoan the fact that the new Equality Bill coming through Parliament will soon mean that churches must employ gay youth workers. I can't imagine many gay youth workers who would actually want to work in a lot of churches - but I wish that the same issues would be discussed and challenged for the many tens of thousands of gay men and women sitting on our doorstep who surely need to hear the same gospel of grace as Muslims.

How many church elders and pastors have sat down and discussed how best to care for - say two lesbians who are converted as a couple and come into the church and welcome them with open arms and see them discipled? If there are churches out there that do this - then praise God! But my experience of spending my entire known life in church is somewhat different and sadder.

The spreading flame of the gospel means that sooner or later all nations and all people groups will come - so this issue must be faced one day and one day soon. Maybe that is why the tidal wave of glory and revival hovers on the horizon still. Are we ready for what's coming?


Jon Sidnell said...

I've often thought of the same questions about a whole load of marginalised groups that wouldn't fit in the mainstream, largely middle-class culture of the UK church. LGBT, goths, chavs, ravers, working class men, immigrants and migrants, sorcerors and wicca practitioners, any other people you'd just not expect to see in church on a Sunday morning.

When I was searching for flats in Derby, I dropped into a pub for a pint and a breather, and slowly became aware that I was probably in a gay pub. Now, ten years ago, that would almost certainly have bothered me - these days apparently not so much! How's that for evidence of grace changing without even being aware of it?

Sure enough, when I'd finished my pint and left there was a rainbow flag on the roof of the pub that I hadn't noticed before I went in. And as I left, I saw an old school brethren assembly building literally across the road from the pub, and I couldn't help thinking and praying that the patrons of that pub were getting the true gospel message from that church. Not hatred, not condemnation, but appeals of reconciliation to God.

But of course, that is only half the battle as you say! If the mystery of the one new man in Christ that Paul talks about in Ephesians 2 means anything, we have to crack open our church cultures and make room for the minority and marginalised people to enter into His body as full members.

Paul clearly wrote to churches that had Jew and Gentile, slave and free people, parents and children. And these churches managed to live in unity and see the gospel continue to go out.

I'll pray that you get some insight into how this can work with the particular field and churches God has called you to, mate!

Peter Day said...

I agree with you 100%. I think many shy away from those who are "different". Some people are seen as too hard and they don't want to upset they're religious people by having anyone whose presence will rock the boat. The pharisees said Jesus was a friend of tax collectors and sinners. Sadly that challenge can't be made of most of the church today.

Dan Bowen said...

Spot on Jon!!

Interestingly enough one of my best friends is a pagan - and the naughty part of me is dying to take him into a church and watch the faces as they see his piercings and tattoos!! ;) Sorry - that's so bad.

But your point is so spot on and I don't think any of these people can be forgotten! They are all loved, loved so much that Christ died for them!!!

And yep - Pete, how absolutely right, today legalistic Christians and churches talk about "abstaining from every form of evil" which essentially means you shouldn't be going to nightclubs, or mixing with "those" sort of people. How is it that Jesus managed to be the friend of sinners and yet we can't?

Chris Welch - 07000INTUNE said...

Not only is it unfair in its present treatment of minority groups,but the church is also phony in this.

People like myself who though baptised in the Spirit got caught in serious serious sexual sin...well for us, like any other Bible character , be it Mary Magdalen or thieving rogue hated by others like the tax collector, there really is only one option open.....Learning about the third level...the complete replacement of our interiors on the Cross. in the Old testament, the place you fled to was a "City of Refuge". The third level church is to be such a place.

Churches are phony in singling out homosexuals, and other "troublesome minorities", Goths etc etc because of this:

The nearer anyone gets to the third level of understanding that Paul is talking about in Romans 6-8, the more you really see everybody, everybody,everybody
is when it comes down to it

as self-operated delusional beings

ABSOLUTE STINKING TRASH.That's the point of Romans 7.

It's just that hated people who are perceived as "greater sinners" are some of the quickest to break right through into Romans 8 life. While the rest of the church meanders along in some Romans 3-5 halflife, no earthly good to itself, and frequently laughed out of court by a discerning world.
Norman Grubb's phrase is
"People out at elbows with themself".Neither at home in the world, nor sufficiently clear yet in themselves who they are in Christ.

Every generation has its elder brothers who look on coldly while the Prodigal COMES HOME TO THE WARMTH OF THE FATHER HEART OF GOD!!!