The fourth in our series on the Grace priorities of the Baptist Union is: grace unleashed.

The explanation of the term is:

“Because the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all, we shall offer ourselves and our resources for the unleashing of that grace into every aspect of our local, national and global contexts through authentic grace-trained lives, courageous witness, and creative expressions of mission and community.”

One of the expressions of Christianity from the Middle Ages was the concept of monasticism, where the followers of Jesus closeted themselves away from the world behind high walls and only interacted with the world outside their walls through the barest necessities.

Another expression was that of the Desert Fathers, who went out in the desert away from all people so they could be close to God.

There is a modern equivalent which is the closed Christian societies even here in NZ.  But even in mainstream churches there has arisen a fortress mentality – the world is going bad, so we need to retreat into our safe place so we can get away from the world.

We forget that God made this world and then looked at his creation and said it was good. 

In the New Testament, John 3:16-17 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Note: Loved the WORLD

Many Christians do not like the greenie movement – the conservationists, Greenpeace and similar organisations and label them New Age.

But our mandate as Christians was to care for the world and to remain in the world. 

Genesis 1:26And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the heavens, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.

Later on this year, I will be talking about the Kingdom of God, and it may upset some to hear that heaven is not out there somewhere but that it will be here.  Revelation 21:And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

Jesus was not only concerned with saving souls for the hereafter, he was concerned about the well-being of the people.

Luke 4:18-19         The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

 

He not only healed individuals but also attacked the structures that caused those problems. In his day, it was the religious rulers – because they held the power over daily life.

Jesus said in Matthew 23:3-4

do whatever the scribes and the Pharisees teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.

and 23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe herbs and spices, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others.

And we know that he not only spoke of justice but enacted it when he found the money changers turning the temple into a den of thieves.

To use social work terms, he was concerned with the macro – the big picture, the meso – the local picture and the micro – the individual.

Society used to think there should be a division between secular and sacred. The stuff we do Monday to Saturday and the stuff we do on Sunday were separate and unrelated. We know that not to be the case.

We often hear that religion should keep its nose out of politics.  We also know that is not true.

Because God is concerned about the whole person and sometimes we need to tackle the structures that form the environment and thought patterns of a particular group or country or area in issues of justice or addiction or fairness

So often in church we focus on the evil that we do as individuals but we need to recognise that there is institutional evil as well – systems that are evil.

The George W Bush administration in the US capitalised on this theme with their labelling of Iran, Iraq and North Korea as “the axis of evil”.

I think the parable of the speck in the eye versus the plank in your own may apply to that case.

We do however need to be aware of institutional evil.

William Dembski in his book The End of Christianity: finding a good God in an evil world wrote: Humanity is a gatekeeper through which evil passes into the world. The fall becomes a failure of the gatekeeper to maintain proper control of the gate.[1]

 

We can highlight as examples the gatekeeping role of William Wilberforce in the tackling and overturning of institution of slavery through his work in the English Parliament.  We can think of Archbishop Desmond Tutu speaking up about the racist apartheid system in Africa.

 

We can think in this matter of Martin Luther challenging the Roman Catholic Church of its time of the evil institutional practices of selling indulgences (get of hell free cards)

 

We can think of the passive resistance of Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi at Parihaka in 1881 over the illegal Crown land confiscations in Taranaki.

 

Charles Colson, one time advisor to President Nixon and imprisoned for his part in the Watergate scandal, who became a Christian in prison wrote: Even though the church itself is shot through with an individualism that cripples its witness, even though the church today is made up of sinners like you and me, it is the one institution in society that still has the capability to challenge culture by bearing witness to God's transcendent standards of absolute justice and righteousness.[2]

 

This is not to say that we are to expect the world to become Christian in all its decision making. This is after all not Christendom, it is not a theocracy but we are allowed a voice to influence the power brokers of the world, whether they be international, national, local or individual.

 

Stanley Jones reminds us that It is not enough to possess abundant life; that abundant life must be witnessed to and lived out in the presence of some Pontius Pilate—something that stands to thwart this new life...We have to meet the equivalent of Pilate. [3]

 

We may not be liked for our standing up for the oppressed and marginalised. We may be ostracised by the powerbrokers whose vested interests are jeopardised by our actions.

 

Martin Luther King was beaten and arrested multiple times and eventually assassinated for this stance of racism in USA.

 

The voice we have is individual but it is also corporate.  I read with interest in the latest Baptist magazine that there has been a national group set up called the Justice Initiative Group, consisting of Ruby Duncan from Baptist Community Ministries, Josie te Kahu from Manatu Iriiri Maori and Peter Mihaere from Stand against slavery, among others.

 

There is a public voice called the NZ Council of Christian Social Services which speaks out regularly about injustice at a policy level.

 

Baptists are part of that and we have been outspoken on many issues in NZ over our history.

 

Our voice as an individual may be as small as a matchstick but when matches are brought together they get noticed.

 

Our matchbox is the church.

 

Eugene Peterson made this statement: Church is a core element of the strategy of the Holy Spirit for providing human witness and physical presence to the Jesus inaugurated kingdom of God in this world. It is not that kingdom complete, but it is that kingdom.[4]

 

But I am not talking about “them” as the church being that voice. I am talking about “us” as a church being that voice.

 

And for our voice to have credibility we need to ensure that we are walking the talk.  Hypocrisy shoots our stance in the foot and diminishes what we have to say. 

 

Marva Dawn emphasises that point: If we were more deliberate about our lifestyles, we might be more conscious ourselves of God’s grace, of who we are as God’s people, and of how discipleship involves careful choices. Paying such close attention to living a truly Christian lifestyle would give better witness to the world.[5]

 

We have never been shy at Eastside of advocating for individuals, nor tackling local government over issues affecting the people in our community.

 

It is in our mission statement that we want people to grow in wholeness and that that includes the whare tapa wha of their lives – the four walls of their lives, not just spiritual.

 

In order to build up people, we need to individually walk with them but also, we need to tackle the institutional evil that holds them in those places. 

Proverbs 31:8-9 says:

8     Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute.9 Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.

 

“Because the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all, we shall offer ourselves and our resources for the unleashing of that grace into every aspect of our local, national and global contexts through authentic grace-trained lives, courageous witness, and creative expressions of mission and community.”

 

 

 



[1] William Dembski The End of Christianity: finding a good God in an evil world9

[2] Charles Colson Against the night: living in the dark ages 134

[3]Abundant Living: 364 Daily Devotions (E. Stanley Jones) - Highlight Loc. 8899-8902 

 

[4]Eugene Peterson The Pastor; a memoir 110

 

[5] Marva Dawn Keeping the Sabbath Wholly: Ceasing, Resting, Embracing, Feasting 109