Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Misunderstood God



BY ROMAN KOZAK

“The lies religion tells us about God” is the statement boldly written on the cover of the new book due to be out in October by the publishers of the New York Times Bestseller, The Shack. The Misunderstood God is an intriguing title, but does it truly reveal something our culture is in dire need of? Is there something major that Christians are missing?

Yes and no. Yes, Americanity has taken rise and encapsulated our culture as the new God. It is Christianity’s duty to rebuke the claims that Caesar (the state) is Lord. I believe there is one Lord, and his name is Jesus. He is the King from which any authority in heaven and on earth derives its power. The Misunderstood God asks some relevant questions, but the answers given are deplorable to the Christian paradigm.

Throughout the book, it is obvious that Mr. Hufford comes from a cliché fire and brimstone “mega-churchy” and “individualist-baptistic” upbringing. He is right that this type of “You can do nothing because you are scum; just have faith with no substance” preaching is crippling to humans, but his answers are wrong. The Misunderstood God focuses solely on the famous New Testament verse from 1 Corinthians 13: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”

He uses this verse as his lens for viewing the rest of the Bible, including all of God’s character. Completely ripping the verse from its context, this verse becomes the sole authority for who God is. His presuppositions determine what each characteristic really means. Darin goes above and beyond individualism, and even takes blasphemous steps to say that God’s will is not meant for Him but for us, and that we were not created to worship God. Somehow, that would be “prideful” of Him!

Hufford is obsessed with the end of life, the so called “getting to a heaven” platitude of Western Christianity. His basic presuppositions are flat-out bunk. The Bible is not a “how to” book, nor is it an explanation of God getting people to heaven. It is so much more. His reaction towards the Old Testament as if it is something that is not necessary for understanding God’s character is preposterous. Apparently, if it is not love the way Hufford describes it, he uses discontinuity to defend himself, claiming the ideal as too “Old Testamenty.” Mr. Hufford even takes the step of saying that only through creating us, could God truly express His love. This leads to the conclusion that God needs us. God does not need us. This is what is so beautiful about who He is. Rescuing a people from sin that He does not need is greater than love. It is a sacrifice beyond understanding.

Hufford also states that nothing we do can provoke God. Boy, isn’t that convenient! Though I use sardonic language, this composition scares the hell out of me, especially in the context that this could possibly be a best seller following The Shack. It truly makes me wonder if this man has ever read the Bible, or attempted to look at context. He seems so highly unqualified to be speaking on this pivotal subject. According to Hufford, quoting the Bible is an escape route. Sure, sometimes it can be when preachers take things out of context in order to support their view, but his statements regarding scripture are apparent when he fails to cite any other scripture besides his decontextualized love verse (sounds like the pot calling the kettle black here). His inerrant standard and framework is built on the back of the individual, not Christ.

My goal in reviewing is never to come off as an arrogant know-it-all. There is a fine line between arrogance and a righteous rebuke in Christianity. This notion that piety is always being quiet and gentle with a large smile in the back pew of the church is flawed. Sometimes, given that circumstances are situational, rebuke is necessary. This book is misleading. It has very little sense of the true character of God. The reactions are understandable considering the background from which Hufford came, but the answers never hit the point. Along with Hufford, my heart breaks for those whose preachers tell them every week that they can do absolutely nothing to please God. It not only has an affect on their view of God’s character, but also personally over time.

In The Misunderstood God, there is no mention of the story that God has revealed to us through a covenant with His people on the way to restoring all of creation. Not even a snippet of us being a people of God whom are required to be faithful and obedient to His commands. Hufford twists the definition of jealousy to give it sensitive syntax. God’s name is jealous (Exodus 34:14). He is also Love (1 John 4:16). The Love that is defined in the word of God. Love is much greater than “mushy” emotions. It disciplines, discerns, leads, listens and shows compassion for all who are lost. Jesus, both God and man, declares how we are to love Him. “He who hears my commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my father; and I will manifest myself to him” (John 14:21). If Jesus truly is Lord, we must do what he commands. That is a pivotal part of identifying real faith.

The Misunderstood God should not be followed with “by Darin Hufford.” His name should be put in front of the title with Misunderstood being replaced with Misunderstands.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

LATITUDE LATVIA... 5

After the wonderful and yet emotional ups and downs of Monday and Tuesday we decided to make Wednesday a quiet day, just hanging around Skangali, the SA conference centre we were staying in. Both Sven and I are very happy relaxing reading and writing and so we took this day for the luxury of that. I had finished my novel the night before, it had only taken me twelve months to read and believe it or not, it was very good! (I have read other things in the meantime) However, now I felt I wanted to read something for me and so I turned to Gerard Hughes book ‘God of Surprises’ and found myself only wanting to read bite size chunks of it so I could take time to reflect, question, examine and search my inner being. In one of my contemplative moments I decided to wander outside, to feel the breeze, the warmth of the sunshine and to see something of the beauty of God’s creation in that place.

I chose to sit on a bench at the back of the building where some of the women from the crisis centre sometimes sit and the children from the children’s home play. For a while I was alone and then joined by one of the Mum’s.

Again we couldn’t communicate with language but nevertheless I believe we communicated. She seemed to take great delight in showing me her new baby, who as all babies was beautiful and perfect. As I tried to express something of my pleasure in looking at her baby and him gripping tightly on to my finger, she passed him to me and I was blessed to hold him … Blessed by my ‘God of Suprises’ and as I held this three month old baby I blessed him and his Mum in Jesus’ Name as I prayed silently for them in my heart.

A few moments later I was joined by Cadet Liene
(there for part of her summer out training appointment) who fortunately speaks excellent English, and we shared wonderful, deep, rich, sincere converstation. And, I was blessed by my ‘God of Surprises’ through Liene.

That evening we took Sergei, Aizan and Liene out for a meal to our favourite restaurant in Valmiera where we shared good food, friendship and fellowship.

It turned out to be a supportive, encouraging and enabling evening which concluded with prayer and blessing. And again, I was blessed by my ‘God of Surprises’.

During these few days in Latvia I found God waiting for me there in all sorts of different shapes and sizes and I recognized again, in the words of St. Augustine: ‘God is closer to me than I am to myself’. I have let God be the God of compassion to me and I pray through both me and Sven. As we journey back to Liverpool, I go refreshed, renewed, reinvigorated and ready to return to Latvia for my final week of furlough / holiday in time to give ‘our’ kids their Christmas gifts in late December.

I didn’t pray the prayer of Jabez at the beginning of this holiday but I believe it has been answered for me in these few days and I pray it will continue to be answered in and through both me and Sven.

In the Prayer of Jabez: 1 Chronicles 4:10, we read: Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request.

Now, all that is left for me to do is to leave you the reader with two questions. Firstly, do you want your holiday to make a difference??? Can you commit some time, energy and love and join Sven and me on ‘Mission to Latvia 2012’ if so please make contact with either of us for further details.

Finally, ‘It’s the longest, hardest, most satisfying job in the Army. Should you be a Salvation Army Officer?’

Oh … and yes, I have left something of my heart in Sakarni and Seda!

GBY real good!


Glad Ljungholm
North West DHQ
UKT

Sunday, August 28, 2011

LATITUDE LATVIA... 4

During our time together we observed how some of them are growing up quickly … one had pierced her lip … one was far less shy than she had been on previous visits … for some their little English is improving … some are growing spiritually … most of them are just longing to be loved and taken care of and we witness this love and care over and over again in the commitment and faithfulness of the hardworking Officers. Captains Sergei and Aizan who give and give and give. Give when they are tired and fit to drop. Give when they feel they have nothing left to give. Give without counting the cost. Give 24/7 to both this community and the village of Seda some 50 or so miles away.

When I was a youngster there was a poster advertising Salvation Army Officership and on it was written: ‘It’s the longest, hardest, most satisfying job in the Army. Could you be a Salvation Army Officer?’ I seem to recall it mentioned things like: ‘Plumber … Painter and Decorator … Builder … Carpenter … Chef … Nurse … Teacher … Cleaner … Taxi Driver … Ambulance Driver … Doctor … Mother … Father … Musician … Evangelist … Pastor … Preacher and much, much more … Salvation Army Officer?’ For most, if not all of us those days changed long ago in the UKT and such things are no longer expected of us. But for Sergei and Azan this is what I see, day in, day out, in their service as Salvation Army Officers.

Whilst there, even for a few days we too found ourselves happily slipping into those roles. Checking on one young boy and his new glasses donated by the ‘Wright Sisters’ from our summer team of 2011 …
Observing the healed arm of another who Sven and Sergei had dashed to the hospital after a fall and his mother strapping his broken arm to the best of her ability. Visiting a disabled young girl and making sure the donated computer Sven had installed was still working and connected to the internet for her. Noticing one young boy was struggling to walk and discovering he had a terrible open wound on his foot … and tenderly washing and dressing it for him. We gave the iodine and ointment we brought along to dress an open wound on Sven’s foot twice a day to the officers, only to find him running around a few hours later, through the grass, trees and stony ground of his village with no shoes or socks on and the dressing gone. And the very next day we saw his older sister with a similar wound. Any nurses out there wanting to make a difference and join us in summer 2012???!!!

Tuesday took us to Seda for another impromptu Shashlik Party and in lots of ways the same stories could be repeated but with different faces. However, for me there was one huge, significant difference. Earlier in the summer, during our mission week we had planned to do a ‘pamper ‘ afternoon for the ladies only it would have seemed God had other plans. Two of us found ourselves washing, creaming and massaging an old lady’s hands and feet. She wept as we did so telling us she was kept awake at night with so much pain in her legs, hands and feet that the night before she had prayed asking God to send someone to help her … we turned up and spent a long time ‘pampering’ her legs, hands and feet.

On Tuesday evening after our party had finished and everything was being cleared away this same old lady turned up. As soon as she saw me her face lit up, we embraced and as we did so she began to sob and repeatedly saying: ‘you promised to come back … my own children never do’.
We held each other, close to each other and she cried and cried and cried. Talking through her tears, in a language I don’t know and with her eyes pleading with me to understand and empathize. Sven was able to translate some for me without intrusion and I was able to gather she was repeating some of her story, the one she had already shared with me some weeks earlier; of how she had been robbed of everything and now she finds herself, old, penniless, alone in a nursing home, next-door to the Army, without family and desperate for God to take her ‘Home’. Amidst her obvious pain and tears there were moments when she would gift me with a radiant smile and then she would continue to cry in my arms.

As I held her I prayed, that in those moments I would really be as Jesus to her. A few things ran through my mind as I did. The words of St Francis of Assisi ‘Preach the Gospel. Use words if you must.’ I had no words for this old lady, we didn’t even speak the same language, but I knew I had to preach to her and remind her again of God’s deep, deep love for her. I found myself holding her face as she cried and wiping away her tears, picturing in my mind Jesus doing this for her in eternity and recalling the words from Revelation ‘And God will wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there will be no more crying or pain for the old order of things have passed away’. I prayed God’s peace over her and as I did so I physically witnessed her relax and her breathing settle down.

‘What can I give Him poor as I am
If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb.
If I were a wise man I would do my part
Yet, what can I give Him, Give my heart’.

I have nothing else. Heart wrenchingly and willingly I gave my heart again.

GBY real good!
Glad Ljungholm
North West DHQ
UKT

Friday, August 26, 2011

LATITUDE LATVIA... 3

About three years ago when Sven and I were on board of ship leaving Riga and heading for Sweden, as we stood on the deck as the boat pulled out Sven asked the question: ‘Are you leaving something of your heart there?’ My response was: ‘I don’t know’ but if I had been totally honest, my answer would have been ‘No’. Today, had he asked me the same question I would have had to give a very different answer: ‘Yes! I am leaving something of my heart in Sakarni and Seda … with the children, the adults and the Officers I have grown to love over our six visits.’

I guess I have always been something of a ‘home bird’ and have never felt the call or the pull to the mission field. However, as a child I loved reading books and hearing or watching the stories of Gladys Aylward, ‘The Inn of the Sixth Happiness’ serving God against all odds in China; and Dudley (?) Gardener ‘The Angel with the Bushy Beard’ a Salvation Army Officer ministering in India, and I day dreamed, maybe one day I will do something similar. I have always known my purpose in life is to serve God through the ranks of The Salvation Army as an Officer and in twenty seven years I have been very happy working through my calling in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. However, in some ways these last three years, since being married to Sven, I have been taken me out of my comfort zone, had my eyes opened, my horizons broadened and like in the prayer of Jabez, have found my territory increased as Sven has now taken me into Eastern Europe on numerous occasions.

For those of you who follow Sven’s blog or our antics on Facebook you will know that it is not that long since we returned from our ‘Mission to Latvia 2011’ trip with twelve others in our team.
When Sven suggested we returned just a few weeks later my inner response was: ‘We’ve just been …’ ‘I don’t need to see ‘our’ kids again just yet …’ ‘We’ve just moved house, I want to complete the unpacking and get settled and adjust to my new role …’ ‘I need a break … I’m tired … the last thing on earth I want to do is drive to Latvia and back, no matter how attractive the package is … or what the reason for going’ … But Sven is Sven and always on a mission! And now we find ourselves on our return trip and I am sooooooo glad we went, just for a few days, for very practical reasons towards our on-going mission.

The amazing smile and tight, tight hug of greeting from Azan, the female Officer as she responded to me knocking on her home door at 12.30am on Monday morning. The message of our coming for some reason had not reached her and her husband but she made me feel as if there was no-one in the world she would rather have seen. I’m sure that’s not true but she certainly appeared absolutely delighted to see me and Sven asking for help to get into our booked accommodation.

Next came the children. The little boy who now takes a running jump into my arms every time he sees me. His older sister who has taken a shining to Sven and cried as we were saying our goodbye’s last night, stating: ‘Please don’t go … please stay with us forever’.

Monday evening we organized an impromptu Shashlik Party (marinated pork on skewers, Russian style) for the children of Sakarni with the help and support of both the Officers and the Cadets. They invited us to have it in their new building that we had not yet seen. It was hard not to be deeply moved when we sensed something of the delight and pride the Officers had in this ‘new safe place’ for ‘their’ children. A property that is nothing short of a miracle, a very real answer to prayer. In this building, the best in the village, we found a large veranda, big enough for us all to eat under on a wet, cold and what could have been miserable night. Three shower rooms, a fitted kitchen, a worship / activity room, a computer room(with computers donated from some of our previous visits) a lounge / games area, rooms for storage and a second veranda at the back leading on to spare land that will in time be made into a suitable, safe area for the children to play football etc. Many people have and continue to make lighter work in the development of this property, including the children playing their part in helping to prepare the ground for the flooring. It’s theirs and they love it! We were very well blessed to discover that on such a fowl night every child in the village turned up to see us and to share in our celebrations. We were very well blessed to hear them pray again before we ate together. To be made aware that in their praying they asked God that next time we visit them Sven will not need his wheel-chair, some prayer (!), but we thank God for this expression of love towards us and something of their understanding and faith in our Healing Christ. We chatted together, with the help of the Officers and the Cadets translating for us. We laughed together … played together … shared stories of happy memories from our previous visits and as always we came away the richer.

Glad Ljungholm

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

LATITUDE LATVIA... 2

Against what seemed to be all odds we arrived at 12.20am to a house in darkness, a children’s home with lights on but with no response to me knocking loudly on the door. We were told they were expecting us at midnight and someone would be able to give us the key to our accommodation. Fortunately we knew where the Captains live and so we went and knocked on their door … still no answer … there was a light on next-door at the Cadet’s home and so I knocked there; much to their surprise they found a complete stranger, speaking English and asking for help. It reminded me of the story in Matthew’s Gospel of the man calling on his friend at midnight and asking for bread.

I am pleased to say our friends old and new helped. The greeting from Azain (the Captain’s wife) was wonderful as she gave me the most beautiful smile and one of the longest and strongest hugs in her delight to see me as the message of our coming had not got through to them. I found myself smiling as suddenly it was as if a whole host of people were up and awake, speaking very quickly in Russian and Latvian and running around trying to help us get into our room.

Eventually we got a response from the people in the SA children’s home who were expecting us and unfortunately we brought great excitement to some of the children who by this time were hanging out of the windows trying to see what was happening and who was calling at their home in the middle of the night. Very soon things settled down and we made plans to meet Sergei, the Captain, and his wife the next morning.

Again there was a joyful reunion no doubted added to by a sense of expectation and anticipation as they had seen the loaded car and knew the contents would be to help them in their mission.

More toys, games and gifts for the children in Sakarni and Seda for Christmas. A promised Yamaha Keyboard,

donated by Southport Citadel Corps, UKT and what appeared to be the most fun gift, donated by Brett and Chris Turvey, Exeter Temple, was a pogo stick … at this stage, not a child in sight but what screaching fun, laughter and delight was had as the adults attempted to display their skill, or lack of it.
Cadet Lena as Captain Sergei provides instructions...

Glad Ljungholm
Major DHQ Liverpool










Monday, August 22, 2011

FSAOF RETURNS TO LATVIA

Latvia – August, 2011

At present Sven and I are on board a ship, a Russian freighter, travelling from Travemundi, Germany to Venspels, Latvia. This is our third visit this year, our sixth in 3 years, having already come very early in the New Year heavy laden with Christmas gifts for ‘our kids’ in time for their Christmas celebrations on the 7th January, in accordance with the Russian Orthodox calendar. We then returned in June with a team of 14 merry and able co- helpers to accomplish what has now become our annual main ‘Mission to Latvia’ trip during which time we helped renovate SA property, conduct a daily children’s programme for the week, lead worship, and generally help improve the quality of life for the people we have learned to love over the years with practical gifts and practical love expressed in general health care too.
Sven and I now find ourselves returning on something of an unscheduled visit. Again, our car heaving under the weight of the resources we bring: a promised key board (typical Sven!) for the outpost at Seda for them to use week by week in their worship services and more gifts and toys, to make sure every child has a treasured one in time for Christmas, and not forgetting the rather large quantity of sweets to help replenish what was given earlier in the summer. We go too, very much looking forward to seeing the children again whom in some ways we have adopted as our own. Wanting to see …….. in his new glasses … to learn how ……..’s arm has mended … how far ……. is on with her pregnancy and how housebound Signe is getting on with her computer skills with the computer that was gifted her from our last mission trip.
So far, this journey seems to have taken forever. It started some weeks ago when we travelled from our then temporary accommodation in Coatbridge, near Glasgow, Scotland to Bourne, Lincolnshire with a car full of ‘stuff’ that was going to be shipped out free of charge this week. (10 hours) We then made a second trip to Bourne last Saturday with a second carload (8 hours) and then again on Thursday evening, only this time to retrieve some of the things we had dropped off as the Baptist Church’s plans to have “our” 40’ container in Latvia by tomorrow, our scheduled unloading date, had fallen through and the shipment is now to be at a later date.

With our ferry crossings booked and our plans made we still needed and wanted to make this journey and so here we find ourselves once again in the middle of the Baltic Sea, anticipating our 4 hour drive and midnight arrival in Sakarni later this evening and meeting with ‘our kids’ in the morning.

Glad Ljungholm
Active UKT
DHQ Liverpool

Monday, August 15, 2011

THE EYES OF JESUS -2-


John 2: 6-10

Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it had come from, the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first and then the inferior. But you have kept the best wine until now.”


Tedd Galloway
Former SA Officer
USA Central




THE EYES OF JESUS

Luke 7: 11-15

Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” The young man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother...



Tedd Galloway
Former SA Officer
USA Central



Saturday, August 13, 2011

Proposed law in Hungary could jeopardize small, new religions Part 2

Part TWO

International Human Rights Law.


Proselytism and accusations levied against TSA and others.

“Those who support greater restrictions on the activities of missionaries (particularly foreign missionaries) object to proselytizing for several reasons.
1. Proselytizing attacks other religious beliefs and practices in order to assert that its own way is the only way to salvation.
2. It is often supported by financial resources and marketing techniques that make local religious activity seem second-rate and shabby.
3. It is frequently successful.”

Orthodox Churches have long been opposed to proselytism and raised this issue during negotiations for admission into the World Council of Churches. In 1956 the Central Committee of the WCC met in Hungary and discussed a report on "proselytism and religious liberty." A final version of this report was approved in 1961 at the third assembly of the WCC. It defined proselytism as a corruption of Christian witness: "

“International law, however, does not make any distinction between religious witness and proselytism. It simply affirms that everyone has the right to freedom of religion or belief and the freedom, individually or in community with others, to manifest this religion or belief "in worship, observance, practice and teaching." The freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may only be limited by laws that are "necessary to protect public safety, order, health or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others."

It is no surprise that legal attempts in Central and Eastern Europe to limit proselytism have been heavy handed. The 1993 Amendment to the 1990 Russian Law on Freedom of Conscience and Freedom of Religion restricts the freedom of non-citizens in Russian to express their religious faith, a distinction which runs counter to the nature of religious freedom as a fundamental human right. Moreover, the Amendment attempts to impose burdensome registration and organizational requirements on foreign religious movements.

A more promising approach might be grounded on the following three principles.
• Such restrictions must reflect a compelling state purpose. That is, they must be necessary for the public welfare and not merely reasonable due to political pressure.
• However, restrictions on the "business" aspects of religious activity need only be reasonable and non-discriminatory.
• Restrictions on religious expression cannot be based on legal status but must be clearly defined in terms of behavior.

The first principle requires that restrictions on religious expression not simply reflect the convenience of government officials or the pressure of dominant religious organizations. Under international law, religious expression is given the benefit of the doubt, because - as a fundamental human right - freedom of religion or belief is deemed necessary for human dignity.

The second principle means that in carrying on its business, religious organizations must abide by the rules for all comparable organizations. Religious organizations may be required to file reports with state agencies, register to do business in a new location, identify their income, etc. — if comparable organizations are required to do so. Foreign visitors or employees may be required to obtain visas or work permits, according to procedures that are non-discriminatory. Furthermore, there is nothing in international law that prohibits taxing the income of religious organizations, so long as this taxation is carried out in a non-discriminatory manner.

The third principle suggests implementing legally the kind of understanding expressed by the World Council of Churches and Vatican II, rather than passing legislation which limits the rights of foreign missionaries in order to protect the rights of citizens. If certain activities expressing religious conviction violate the rights of others or threaten public safety, the state may legislate limitations on these behaviors concerning the time, manner, and place of such behavior. For example, a religious worship service cannot legally be prohibited, unless it may be shown to be a threat to public safety. But it need not be permitted on the sidewalk in front of the headquarters of another religious organization. Distributing religious literature cannot be denied, but can be restricted to certain behaviors in certain public places at certain times.

Under international law foreign missionaries cannot be excluded from a country, nor can they be subject to restrictions on their freedom of religious expression, which are not also imposed on the citizens of the country. However, if there are compelling reasons the behavior of both foreigners and citizens in expressing their religious convictions can be limited in a manner that does not discriminate against the foreigners.
Nationalism

Anger at proselytizing fuels nationalistic threats to religious freedom. For many in Central and Eastern Europe, religion is inextricably related to culture and national heritage. Most Orthodox Churches identify strongly with a particular ethnic and cultural history, which is represented concretely by a nation. Thus an Orthodox Church expects the state which governs "its" nation to represent and protect the interests of the Church.

It is perfectly understandable that those, who were oppressed under Communist rule, now seek through representative government to create laws that will assist the recovery of their religious tradition. They will not easily be persuaded that a neutral state, which does nothing either to help or to hinder religious life, is a better alternative than a state that identifies with the dominant religious heritage. Yet in these newly independent nations there are one or more minority religious communities. How are their rights to be protected, if the dominant religious tradition receives privileged support by the state?

International human rights law does not explicitly require a "secular" state. It does not contain a provision similar to the first amendment of the constitution of the United States, which prohibits the establishment of religion. International law requires states to "prevent and eliminate discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief" and to "combat intolerance on the grounds of religion or other beliefs". International law leaves open the issue of "establishment" because special "church-state" relationships are deeply embedded in many cultures of the world, as in Europe.

International law names the evil as "intolerance" rather than as "establishment", implying that some sort of "tolerant establishment" of religion is possible. Put more precisely, it leaves open the question of special relationships between the state and one or more religious traditions to an evaluation of the effects of such relationships on religious freedom, rather than asserting in principle that any support for religion by a government will necessarily be discriminatory.


Robert Traer served as the executive director of the International Association for Religious Freedom from 1990-2000, and in that capacity represented the work of the IARF on religious freedom at the United Nations. Dr. Traer now teaches courses on ethics at the Dominican University of California in San Rafael. In 2002 he was a Resident Scholar at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute for Theological Studies in Israel. In the spring of 2005 he served with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Israel/Palestine, which is sponsored by the World Council of Churches, and in June 2005 he participated in the Critical Moment Conference in Geneva convened by the World Council of Churches and also drafted the conference report. He is a retired minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and a member of the Bar of the State of Colorado. His writings on human rights are available at http://religionhumanrights.net, and his writings on environmental ethics are at http://doingethics.com. His work on Christian faith, ethics and interfaith dialogue are at http://christian-bible.com.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Proposed law in Hungary could jeopardize small, new religions Part 1

While Hungary slept during the early morning hours of July 12, Hungary's parliament adopted the "Law on the Right to Freedom of Conscience and Religion, and on Churches, Religions and Religious Communities." The law is poised to "de-register" numerous currently registered faith groups, including The Salvation Army, that count fewer than 1,000 members and grants the country's parliament the right to recognize future religious organizations by a two-thirds vote.

SA Childrens Meeting in Budapest

The move is reminiscent of what we experienced in Russia in the early 1990s when we re-opened the SA work there.

In Russia the 1990 constitution created a secular state and laws concerning religious freedom which permitted missionaries of all religions to operate in the country with few restrictions. In 1993, however, an Amendment was proposed to limit the activities of missionaries and to re-establish the Orthodox Church. The Duma passed the Amendment, but President Yeltsin vetoed it. Desperate for financial help, he accepted the arguments of Western Europeans and Americans in support of a secular state. The issue remained a political ball and was expected to be raised again in the next elected Duma, and perhaps the next president will conclude that political expediency dictates a different outcome.

Similarly, constitutional provisions passed in Hungary in 1989 and in Romania in 1991 contain international human rights standards concerning freedom of religion or belief. In Hungary attempts to legislate restrictions on foreign missionaries in order to protect the historic religious traditions have not so far been successful.

TSA had registered legally and been officially recognized in Leningrad (St. Petersburg) Russia albeit, not without the process being mired in red tape. The registration effort, overseen by more than a dozen expert consultants (SA, Orthodox Church opponents, City Council and IHQ) was further frustrated by ever revolving doors pushing out and bringing in new politicos and with it, the tweaking of the registration restrictions. Finally, following months of wrangling and “compromising” the integrity of the legal requirement TSA was granted the status of a humanitarian/social service organization. Registration as a religious organization followed many months later.

In Moscow, a year subsequent to the Leningrad registration, I decided, with the strong support of many senior members of the Moscow City Duma and the Kremlin, to move forward and register TSA as a religious organization operating in Moscow. We received invaluable input and practical support from the Baptist church authorities. Our own SA officer legal counsel was less than helpful.

It was only a short time later that a new law was enacted adding both city and nationwide requirements, guided by the Orthodox Church, whose open and aggressive opposition to the ever increase in missionary groups was well known and officially registered. What followed for TSA and others was a renewed application process that included the filing of a lawsuit by TSA in the European courts. I was involved, unofficially, by maintaining contact with high level Russian Government officials, at their initiative offering assistance, with whom I’d had regular contact while stationed in Moscow, including Madame Ella Pomfilova (MINISTER OF SOCIAL PROTECTION) President Boris Yeltsin (retired). My efforts were made privately and without the knowledge of TSA Russia- some at IHQ were made aware.

Religious Freedom in Central and Eastern Europe

New governments in states formerly under Communist control have in many cases incorporated into their constitutions international human rights law concerning freedom of religion or belief. In several instances, however, this opening of societies to preaching in the various religions traditions of our modern world has angered those who hope to recover and reassert the cultural and religious heritage which was devastated by Communist rule.

Nationalist restrictions, which violate the human right to freedom of religious expression, deserve condemnation. But, in some cases, missionaries as well as nationalists are undermining religious freedom in Central and Eastern Europe today. Both assert their rights in absolute terms. Missionaries assert their individual right to promote their religion without any government interference. They demand strict equality in government policy. Nationalists assert the right of the state to protect the general welfare of the people. They demand policies that give preference to their historic religious tradition or traditions and which restrict the activities of foreign missionaries and minority religious communities. (Robert Traer)

Leningrad, Russia 1991


Dr. Sven Ljungholm
Former SA officer (Russia, Ukraine, Moldova)
Liverpool

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Why Christians Don't Attend Church


A new study by the Barna organization shows that church attendance among self-identified Christians has declined by nine percentage points since 1991. Not that that's news to anyone. Everybody who does attend church understands that fewer and fewer people are attending larger and larger congregations. So while many local congregations are growing in size, overall church attendance is declining—even among Christians.

Still, it begs the question: Why don't more Christians attend church?

Over the same two decades that Barna studied, two standard answers emerged in our thinking. People don't attend church because—

1. The music is outdated and not in keeping with current styles, and
2. The preaching is dull and not relevant to daily life.

It's time to admit that those answers are not correct. Contemporary music is now the dominant model in the North American church, and life-issue sermons ("How to Have a Happy Marriage," "Six Tips for Reducing Stress") salted with video clips are standard fare in the pulpit. The church couldn't possibly be more contemporary, yet attendance is still falling.

The real reason Christians don't attend church is that they find the whole thing irrelevant to their lives—not their ordinary lives but their spiritual life and well being. They find no power in church, not authentic connection to God, no life change. As long as church is a pleasant hour of adult contemporary music followed by an uplifting talk, it will never compete with soccer practice or a trip to the mall as a weekend activity for families.

Church has to offer something more. It must provide a real connection to God every time people walk through the door. They must come with the realistic expectation that they will experience the Holy Spirit, hear God speak, and experience life transformation or see it in someone else.

In the next post, I'll offer five things church leaders can do to help that happen.

Why do you think Christians don't attend church?

–Lawrence W. Wilson is senior pastor at Fall Creek Wesleyan Church in Fishers, Indiana.

WESLEYAN LIFE

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Salvation Army Flag Flies in Togo

THE first Salvation Army officers appointed to the west African country of Togo have arrived, bringing with them their three children and the new Togolese Salvation Army flag. Captains Hervé Michel and Naty Dorcas Ahouyanganga, originally from the Congo (Brazzaville) Territory, travelled by road to their new appointment from Accra in Ghana, where they had been preparing for their pioneering ministry. The work in Togo – officially known as the Togolese Republic – is overseen by the Ghana Territory.

The Salvation Army began work in Togo in April, initially under the oversight of Major Rockson Oduro, Divisional Commander of Ghana's Volta Division. While in Accra, Captains Ahouanganga had opportunity to spend time with Major Oduro as well as staff from Ghana Territorial Headquarters.

A quarters in the town of Atakpamé has been renovated and prepared for the incoming officers. Their main task will be to coordinate and assimilate several current expressions of Salvation Army worship. These comprise some existing independent congregations with no previous denominational affiliation, and some which have been established by Salvationists who became soldiers while living in Ghana before returning to their home in Togo. There are also outposts established through initiatives from the neighbouring Volta Division in Ghana. Other opportunities to expand the Army's mission are emerging in Lomé, the capital city of Togo.

Currently these various expressions are widely spread across the country – north, south, east and west, with Atakpamé in the centre. One of the initial challenges facing the captains is to bring cohesion and unity within

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

THE CHRISTIAN MIND Part Two

PART TWO
The Marks of the Christian Mind

What does it mean, then, to think Christianly? What are the distinctives of the Christian mind? There are many, of course, but five are most significant.

1. An acknowledgment of the supernatural. As has already been pointed out, a fundamental characteristic of the Christian mind is the perspective of eternity—not just life after death, but the understanding that there exists a reality beyond this world and this life. In other words:

The Christian mind sees human life and human history held in the hands of God. It sees the whole universe sustained by his power and his love. It sees the natural order as dependent upon the supernatural order, time as contained within eternity. It sees this life as an inconclusive experience, preparing us for another; this world as a temporary place of refuge, not our true and final home.

Thinking Christianly means viewing life and labor, politics and pleasure, from the perspective of the supernatural.

2. A holistic view of self and service. “Most conservative Christians today,” says Gary Sweeten, “operate with a dualistic view of life and the universe, a view that is rooted in Gnosticism and Eastern thought. They separate their thinking into sacred and secular, spiritual versus material.” But the Christian view is that of Romans 12:1-2, in which Paul urges Christians to offer their bodies “as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God”—which, he says, is their spiritual worship, and to be transformed by the renewing of their minds. Moreland adds, “Following Christ is not just a little compartment of my whole life, and as long as that compartment called piety or ‘spirituality’ is in line, I’m doing a good job; following Christ affects every part of my life, including my mind,my intellect. There is no room for a sacred/secular separation in the life of Jesus’ followers.”

3. An affirmation of truth. The secular mind asserts the individual as the judge of truth; “you must decide what’s right for you,” it says, “and I must decide what’s right for me.” The Christian mind affirms the nature and character of God himself as the measure of truth; “I am the way and the truth and the life,” Jesus said (John 14:6, NIV). Harry Blamires wrote:

The marks of truth as christianly conceived, then, are that it is supernaturally grounded, not developed within nature; that it is objective and not subjective; that it is a revelation and not a construction; that it is discovered by inquiry and not elected by a majority vote; that it is authoritative and not a matter of personal choice.


4. An awareness of evil. The Christian mind is aware of evil in the world. The man or woman who is thinking Christianly will consciously acknowledge the fall of the human race, and the continuing battle between good and evil, right and wrong, remembering (in the words of Aleksander Solzhenitsyn) that “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being”—including ourselves. To quote Blamires again:

The Church would have us turn to the world in judgement, with the utmost clarity and power in our identification of evil, yet in full acceptance of our common guilt—and, finally, with a deeply moving message of hope. For the Christian mind cannot separate from its judgement upon the world and its judgement upon the self, its realization that the world and its inhabitants are nevertheless God’s, by him created and by him redeemed.

5. A high regard for the person.The person who is thinking Christianly will not fail to consider the human element in every equation. In contrast to the claims of Darwinism, human beings are not animals, to be exploited or engineered. In contrast to secularism, human beings are not cogs in a social machine. They are immortal souls, fashioned in the image of God. “Thus,” writes Blamires, “the Christian’s conception of the human person is a high one, his sense of the sacredness of human personality being deeply grounded in revealed theological truth.” This concept, of course, will necessarily influence a thinking Christian’s view of issues regarding life and death, science and health, and race and ethnicity (among others).

These hallmarks of the Christian mind—an acknowledgment of the supernatural, a holistic view of self and service, an awareness of evil, an affirmation of truth, and a high regard for the person—are by no means exhaustive. But they do sketch the basic outlines of the Christian mind.

The Making of the Christian Mind

The development of a Christian mind cannot be accomplished merely by reading an article, or even a series of articles. Nor is it accomplished by reading an entire book, or enrolling in a course. “A mind that is learning to function well,” writes J.P. Moreland, “is both part of and made possible by an overall life that is skillfully lived. . . . You must order your general lifestyle in such a way that a maturing intellect emerges as part of that lifestyle. If you want to develop a Christian mind, you must intend to order your overall form of life to make this possible.”

The first step in the learning to think Christianly is prayer. Make the development of a Christian mind a matter of regular, focused prayer. Enlist the prayers of others in your efforts, and pray for the development of a Christian mind in those around you—your spouse, your children, your friends, your pastor.

Second, try to approach Scripture with “unfamiliar eyes.” Wade Bradshaw suggests, “pray for a new sense of unfamiliarity whenever you open God’s Word. Ask him to let you read it, not for what you think is there, but to read it with unfamiliar eyes, to catch the surprising perspective, the new insight that might challenge your worldview.”

Third, acquire the habit of examining your own life. “The life which is unexamined,” said Plato, “is not worth living.” And Paul wrote, “Examine yourselves. . . . test yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5, NIV). Regularly examine your thought and behavior, your opinions and statements, in the light of Romans 12:1-2, and in the light of the five marks of the Christian mind above.

Fourth, cultivate new habits that encourage the development of a Christian mind. J.P. Moreland suggests the following:

Often, when our energy is low. . . we go into a passive mode and turn on the television. I believe that an intellectual life is easier to develop if a person learns to limit television watching and spends more time getting physical exercise. . . Learn to use low-energy times, or moments like after work or dinner, as occasions to engage in physical exercise. Try something. After dinner go for a walk instead of turning on the TV. When you get back, sit down for thirty minutes to an hour and read an intellectually challenging book. The important thing here is to get out of passive ruts, especially those passive couch potato moments, and replace old habits with new ones that create energy to read, reflect, and be more proactive.

This will take effort, of course, but it will quickly become energizing, not draining. Active lifestyles encourage active minds.

Finally, set some goals that will encourage the development of a Christian mind, such as reading a book like The Christian Mind or Love Your God With All Your Mind every six months. Team up with a friend from church and hold each other accountable to read and discuss challenging books and periodicals, tackle specific issues, and develop new habits. Be alert for conferences, seminars, and classes that will stimulate your intellect and help you to think Christianly on various topics. Discover some of the recommended resources that accompany this article, and discuss them with your friends and coworkers.

“If we are going to be wise, spiritual people prepared to meet the crises of our age,” writes J.P. Moreland, “we must be a studying, learning community that values the life of the mind.” We must be transformed by the renewing of our minds. We must reflect the mind of Christ to our families, our friends, our churches, and our world. We must pray, in the words of the hymnwriter Francis Ridley Havergal:

“Take my intellect and use every power as thou shalt choose.”



BOB HOSTETLER
Former SA officer
USA East & USA Nat’l HQ

Copyright © 2005, Bob Hostetler, use only with permission.

_____________________________

THE CHRISTIAN MIND Part One

THE CHRISTIAN MIND

A white building stands near my home. Heavy oak doors guard the entrance. Stained glass windows adorn each side. A cross rises from a single bell tower at its front, and the cornerstone still declares the date this particular structure was dedicated, over a hundred years ago, “to the glory of God.”

But it’s not a church. Not anymore. It’s called “The Choir Loft,” and it houses a business that sells fabrics and craft items. The structure looks like a church, but it is no longer Christian because it no longer functions Christianly.

That building symbolizes what has happened among Christians in the past century. Most of us still look, act, and speak like Christians, but inside—in our minds—we function no differently from our non-Christian colleagues and coworkers, acquaintances and antagonists. “There is no longer a Christian mind,” wrote Harry Blamires over thirty years ago in his classic, The Christian Mind. In other words, we may think as Americans or Canadians, Kenyan or Laotian. We may have a Midwestern or southern frame of reference. Our thinking may be colored by our race, ethnicity, or gender. Our perspective may be Republican or Democrat, Liberal or Conservative. But with few exceptions, we do not think Christianly; we approach issues from a thoroughly secular perspective.

“To think secularly,” Blamires wrote, “is to think within a frame of reference bounded by the limits of our life on earth. . . . To think christianly is to accept all things with the mind as related, directly or indirectly, to man’s eternal destiny as the redeemed and chosen child of God.” Yet, for the most part, we form opinions on politics, economics, commerce, history, art, literature, entertainment, sports, family, law, technology, philosophy, and science without a thought for how the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16) should inform our conclusions. We sometimes choose and (especially) pursue our vocations in much the same way as do our non-Christian colleagues. We treat fortune and misfortune, authority and celebrity in ways that are indistinguishable from those around us.

In doing so, however, we cheat the world and ourselves.

The Rewards of the Christian Mind

“The spiritual man,” Paul the Apostle wrote, “makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment: ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:15, 16, NIV).

The man or woman who learns to think Christianly is empowered, in a way the secular-thinking Christian is not, to “understand what God has freely given us” (1 Corinthians 2:12, NIV). This occurs because thinking Christianly is obedience to God and his Word. God will reward those who love him with heart and soul and mind (Matthew 22:37), who are transformed by the renewing of their minds (Romans 12:2). These rewards will take several forms, among which are:

1. An antidote for confusion. Gary Sweeten, author of Rational Christian Thinking and director of the Lifeway family of ministries, says, “There is enormous confusion in our culture these days, and it looks impossible to make any sense of today’s cultural, ethical, and moral climate. Thinking Christianly can prevent that overwhelming sense of confusion by giving us a set of lenses for the mind.” A man or woman who has never seen a chess game may watch the game being played for hour after hour, and may even form opinions regarding certain pieces, players, and strategies; but imagine if that same person were to sit down next to a true master who explains the invisible rules, strategies, and purpose behind every move. Now imagine the change of expression that would appear on the novice’s face as confusion disappeared, replaced with insight and informed judgment. That is what can happen for a man or woman who begins to perceive the world around him or her with the mind of Christ.

2. A new sense of empowerment. J.P. Moreland, professor of philosophy at Talbot School of Theology and author of Love Your God With All Your Mind, says that many of us as Christians have a sense “that society’s going crazy, and we don’t know what to do about it. We watch the news and see our values trashed . . . and we end up feeling disempowered and frustrated.” But learning to think Christianly can change that, he says. “I’ll never forget a man named Bob who came up to me after a twelve-week class I taught on Christian apologetics. With tears running down his cheeks, he thanked me for treating him like an adult, and said that he had always been embarrassed and afraid to speak up in his workplace, but the previous week had shared his faith with three coworkers because for the first time he felt he had some answers, some insight.”

3. An increased sense of meaning and enjoyment in life. “It’s obvious,” says Dr. Wade Bradshaw, former director of the Francis Schaeffer Institute at Covenant Theological Seminary, “that our culture knows very little about meaning and enjoyment. Our society has very little grasp of true sexual enjoyment, for example. People live only for the weekend, but the weekend leaves them feeling empty and unfulfilled. Thinking Christianly is an antidote to the boredom, depression, and cynicism that pervades the world around us, because enjoyment increases as understanding grows.” The more you understand a movie, for example, and what it is trying to say, the deeper will be your appreciation of it. The more you understand the world, and everything that’s in it, from a Christian perspective, the richer and fuller will be your enjoyment of it.

4. A greater sense of fulfillment in friendships. J.P. Moreland points out that Aristotle described three levels of friendship: friendships based on usefulness, those based on pleasure, and the highest level, when people band together around a conception of the good life, and their friendship involves mutual stimulation and encouragement in the pursuit of wisdom, character, knowledge, and virtue. “That’s New Testament koinonia, as far as I can see,” Moreland says. “Friendship should involve being fully informed and fully Christian. If I want to be a good friend, I need to bring all that I can to my fellowship with others, and the more stimulating I become, the more fulfillment I’ll be able to get—and give—in my relationships.”

5. A deeper sense of meaning in vocation. Dr. Bradshaw, currently on staff at L’Abri Fellowship, a residential Christian study center in England, relates the experience of a Chinese scientist who came to L’Abri believing that the Gospel was true, but that his scientific pursuits were somehow separate from his Christian beliefs. One day, in the middle of a conversation, his eyes opened wide, and he said, “Oh, but you mean it is true,” meaning the Christian message was not just a “religious”message but that the truth of Christianity could actually inform his pursuit of scientific knowledge. He returned to China with a new enthusiasm for his faith and his vocation. While some fields present greater challenges than others to someone working to integrate his or her Christian discipleship into a career, there is no area of life and no vocation in which the truth and reality of the Gospel doesn’t have some application.

6. An enhanced ability to deal with hardship. Thinking Christianly will also give a new perspective to life’s struggles and misfortunes. For example, the woman who has the mind of Christ will be better equipped to endure physical affliction with a sense of worth and dignity, knowing that her significance is not rooted in her appearance or her health, but in an understanding of what it means to be a human being created in the image of God. A man who loses his job will certainly struggle with the difficulties of his situation, but if he is thinking Christianly, he will be aided by a perspective that is rooted not in temporal ease or pleasure but in the priorities of eternity.

BOB HOSTETLER
Former SA officer
USA East & USA Nat’l HQ

Copyright © 2005, Bob Hostetler, use only with permission.

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Monday, August 1, 2011

Homosexuality and the Bible Conclusion- Part 4

An Appeal for Tolerance


What most saddens me in this whole raucous debate in the churches is how sub-Christian most of it has been. It is characteristic of our time that the issues most difficult to assess, and which have generated the greatest degree of animosity, are issues on which the Bible can be interpreted as supporting either side. I am referring to abortion and homosexuality.
We need to take a few steps back and be honest with ourselves. I am deeply convinced of the rightness of what I have said in this essay. But I must acknowledge that it is not an air-tight case. You can find weaknesses in it, just as I can in others'. The truth is, we are not given unequivocal guidance in either area, abortion or homosexuality.
Rather than tearing at each other’s throats, therefore, we should humbly admit our limitations. How do I know I am correctly interpreting God's word for us today? How do you? Wouldn't it be wiser for Christians to lower the decibels by 95 percent and quietly present our beliefs, knowing full well that we might be wrong?
I know of a couple, both well-known Christian authors in their own right, who have both spoken out on the issue of homosexuality. She supports gays, passionately; he opposes their behavior, strenuously. So far as I can tell, this couple still enjoy each other's company, eat at the same table, and, for all I know, sleep in the same bed.
We in the church need to get our priorities straight. We have not reached a consensus about who is right on the issue of homosexuality. But what is clear, utterly clear, is that we are commanded to love one another. Love not just our gay sisters and brothers who are often sitting beside us, unacknowledged, in church, but all of us who are involved in this debate. These are issues about which we should amiably agree to disagree. We don't have to tear whole denominations to shreds in order to air our differences on this point. If that couple I mentioned can continue to embrace across this divide, surely we can do so as well.

About the Author

Walter Wink, is Professor of Biblical Interpretation at Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City. He has also taught at Union Theological Seminary and Hartford Seminary, and has been a visiting professor at Columbia and Drew universities. In 1989-1990 he was a Peace Fellow at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, DC.
His published works include a trilogy on the Powers: Naming the Powers (1984), Unmasking the Powers (1986), and Engaging the Powers (1992), all from Fortress Press. Engaging the Powers received three "Religious Book of the Year" awards in 1993. Doubleday Books will publish a condensed version of the Powers trilogy in 1997 under the title, The Powers That Be.
He is also the author of The Bible in Human Transform ation (Fortress, 1973), Transforming Bible Study (Abingdon, second edition, 1990), and other works, including 134 articles.
Dr. Wink is a United Methodist minister, works for a Presbyterian seminary, and attends Quaker meeting. For five years he served as pastor of a church in southeast Texas.