It’s vital that we watch the first part of the ‘movie’ to get the whole picture, so for those who have not, would you glance at my previous blog, ZECHARIAH’S WINDOWS? Thank you.
Mankind loves to build buildings and erect walls. Witness the rise (and fall) of the Roman Empire, our present obsession with building the highest building on earth, etc. Think of the Berlin Wall. In South Africa, the white minority erected the walls of Apartheid. I recall our congregation doing a church-plant in the 1980’s in a township set apart for residents from Indian descent. They were prohibited from swimming at so-called ‘white beaches.’ Our members broke the rule regularly and laughed at Balan Chetty’s remark, ‘I’m Indian, but I’m not allowed to swim in the Indian Ocean!’
There are denominational walls, walls between church members (e.g. rich and poor, old and young), walls between believers and non-believers (I often witnessed believers not so subtly sliding along the pew when a smelly street bum joined them).
As noted in my earlier blog, the God of the Bible is in the business of breaking down walls.
- Recall the prophet Zechariah’s vision of ‘the man with the tape measure’ (Zech. 2:1-5) instructed not to measure Jerusalem because God would burst every wall with people and animals for the sake of his sovereign purposes. Sadly, 100 years later under Nehemiah and Ezra Jerusalem succumbed to fear and fell back into religious exclusiveness from which Judaism has never recovered. I’m currently reading the story of a South African Rabbi who for many years has pastored Jews in rural communities – a wonderful story, full of humour, but almost totally focussed on ‘the chosen.’
- Consider Jesus, the greatest wall-breaker of all. Think of his many clashes with the Pharisees (the clergy of the day) who in their self-righteousness wittingly/unwittingly made it nigh impossible for people to connect across divides, or even with God himself. Think of Jesus’ words in Mt. 11:18-19, “For John the Baptist didn’t drink wine, and he often fasted, and you say ‘He’s demon possessed.’ And I, the Son of Man, feast and drink, and you say ‘He’s a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of the worst sort of sinners!’ But wisdom is shown to be right by what results from it.” Think of his smashing of that great wall separating fallen mankind from their Creator, Jew from Gentile. Eph. 2:11ff and Col. 1:15ff are wonderful reads: e.g. Eph. 2:13-14, “But now you (Gentiles) belong to Christ Jesus. Though you once were far away from God, now you have been brought near to him because of the blood of Christ. For Christ himself has made peace between us Jews and you Gentiles by making us all one people. He has broken down the wall of hostility that used to separate us…”
- God called the early Church to be wall-breakers, which she (including some of the apostles) resisted for quite a while. In fact the daughter Church at Antioch (in Syria) had to teach the ‘mother church’ in Jerusalem a few lessons of note: Acts 11:19ff, “Meanwhile the believers who had fled from Jerusalem during the persecution after Stephen’s death travelled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch of Syria. They preached the Good News, but only to Jews. However, some of the believers who went to Antioch began preaching to the Gentiles about the Lord Jesus. The power of the Lord was upon them, and large numbers of these Gentiles believed and turned to the Lord.’ The end-results were the wonderful missionary journeys and church-plants of the Apostle Paul and his co-workers (Acts 13ff).
Witness the failure (largely) of denominational, institutional churches to obey the Great Commission (Mt. 28:16ff) and the Great Commandment (Mt. 22:34ff). Witness the failure, in many places, by life and lip to gossip ‘the Good News of the kingdom’ (both terms need fresh scrutiny). In close on 50 years of ministry I have observed churches of all kinds so busy with themselves, constitutions, laws, rules, traditions (yes, Charismatic churches have them too) and controls – to the extent that there is little time and energy left to actually live the Christian life and extend Christ’s kingdom among the poor and captive (Lk. 4:14-21). In fact around the world many sincere believers are leaving institutional churches for their spiritual survival.
Furthermore, the Church, because we haven’t properly grasped the kingship of Christ, continues to speak of two isolated worlds, i.e. ‘spiritual’ and ‘secular’ – as if our world does not belong to God or there are some parts where he’s never been! Thank God that many across the globe are seeing the value of incarnational Christian living in their neighbourhood, the market-place, and the many unreached ‘ethne’ of the world (including the Muslim nations – did Jesus not die for them also?). Living wisely and carefully, they are not succumbing to ‘the spirit of this world.’
Individually and corporately we are all called to be God’s ‘temples,’ carriers of the Presence (1 Cor. 3:9, 16; 6:19-20) – this includes you and me and our respective faith-communities. For many years I have been privileged to be a part of a ‘missions movement’ in our city, equipping very ordinary people to take Christ wherever they go, if needs be to the ends of the earth. Two examples stand out:
- A middle-aged Christian mother, working in a local Muslim pre-school. She is hugely popular among the children, staff and parents, who know about her faith. She impacts them daily by her character, life-style, wisdom and prayer-life.
- An eighty-year old granny, who for many years prayed that someone from Sudan would visit South Africa, be equipped, and return to his country to share the Good News. I have a photograph depicting her and a Sudanese teacher who visited our city with the desired result. In fact a few years ago he was our guest-speaker at our annual world missions conference!
G. Miller once said, ‘Peter and Paul changed the world by starting small churches in godless towns.’ Can you and I not do the same, starting in our home or someone else’s? Its being done by ‘ordinary people’ all over the world.
I really hope you have not found this blog discouraging! I hope not. I am not discouraged. God’s encouragement of Zerubbabel (one of the temple re-builders) is timeless: 4:6ff (MSG), “‘You can’t force these things. They only come about through my Spirit,’ says GOD-of-the-Angel-Armies. ‘So, big mountain, who do you think you are? Next to Zerubbabel you’re nothing but a molehill. He’ll proceed to put the Cornerstone in place, accompanied by cheers: Yes! Yes! Do it!’… Does anyone dare despise this day of small beginnings?'” When Jesus engaged with his disciples in Caesarea Philippi and had Peter identify him as ‘the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God,’ he boldly declared, ‘This is the rock on which I will put together my church, a church so expansive with energy that not even the gates of hell will be able to keep it out’ (Mt. 16:13ff, MSG). Despite the terrible persecutions of Chairman Mao and the withdrawal of all the missionaries, God has grown his Church in China in more recent times from a few million believers to the present-day 100+ million plus, most often through small ‘house churches’ without any clergy.
In this knowledge, be blessed!