an outlet of encouragement, explanation, and exhortation

Category: Missions

Remembering Andrew Walls

Andrew Walls has graduated on to that next level of existence that those of us who follow Jesus look forward to by faith. He was born in 1921! I never met him; but I heard him speak and read his books. He was quite a scholar of world Christianity, and I appreciated learning quite a lot from him. The Regent College Bookstore, where you can get audio of some classes that he taught there, shared a quote from him in its note on his passing. I think it is worth repeating, as an example of the orientation I found in his encouraging work.

“But since none of us can read the Scriptures without cultural blinkers of sorts, the great advantage, the crowning excitement which our own era of Church history has over all others, is the possibility that we may be able to read them together. Never before has the Church looked so much like the great multitude whom no man can number out of every nation and tribe and people and tongue. Never before, therefore, has there been so much potential for mutual enrichment and self-criticism, as God causes yet more light and truth to break forth from his word.” 

Andrew Walls, The Missionary Movement in Christian History (1996), pg.15

Rest in peace, Andrew Walls! Thank you for your excellent scholarship.

Women’s History Month articles at Barclay College

Barclay College has put out several short blog articles for Women’s History Month. Check them out!

The first one is a brief comment on women in pastoral and other forms of leadership in the church and in society. It opens with an introductory defense of women in leadership and closes with a call for the church to do better at supporting God’s call to women in leadership positions. It is confounding that there are a few churches today claiming to be Friends who do not allow women as elders or in senior pastoral positions, in spite of our Faith and Practice! What?

The second is a short article on Margaret Fell, one of the first Quakers and a great early leader whose writings on women preaching remain relevant today. She’s not called the “mother of Quakerism” for nothing!

And lastly, there is a very short article on Mary Fisher, a pioneering Quaker missionary who undertook a dangerous mission to travel overland to meet with the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire to tell him about Jesus. Even some of her supposed “helpers” tried to undermine her efforts! But she was faithful to her calling, met with the Sultan, and afterwards refused his offer of protection: she was already was under God’s protection!

Asking the Wrong Question: Can a person come to God through general revelation?

Often, theologians divide revelation into general and special, and mean by “general” what can be known of God through nature. By “special” they essentially mean biblical revelation or at least the explicit gospel. So the question comes down to “can a person turn to trust God through general revelation”?

I think that’s exactly the wrong question. Biblically, no one turns to Jesus unless God draws them through either general or special revelation (by these definitions). This is the beginning of the Calvinist idea no one comes to God on their own. In Calvin’s understanding, God chooses some to be saved and draws them irresistibly to Jesus (or himself). No one turns to God on their own. Quakers agree that no one turns to God on their own, but believe that God draws all people to his son (or himself) at some time or times in their lives. This draw is resistible; humans must choose to trust God as he draws them. If they believe and trust Him, they are saved by grace.

Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. That’s the biblical idea. So, instead of phrasing the question into whether or not general revelation can be sufficient in the absence of special revelation, we would say that general revelation is never enough for anything beyond making people “without excuse” (as Paul says in Romans 1) and that God reveals himself and one’s need for Him to each human being on one or more “days of visitation” in which he makes it clear that we are insufficient in ourselves and that he is calling us to trust Him for purpose and direction in our lives at some level of understanding appropriate for the context. Then, we submit to him or we do not. Salvation begins when we submit to Him and trust Him as He reveals Himself to us. The explicit gospel is powerful and intended by God to be used in drawing many to Himself, of course. It is his will that we know it and spread it. But like Abraham, we must respond with belief to a time when God makes himself known to us. That can take place in the absence of anything but a human in the world and God reaching out to that human. It often takes place in the spiritual realm when the gospel is presented through apparently human means.

Further, no one is saved on the strength of their own reasoning through the words of scripture or logical argument. Rather, God speaks to a person, perhaps while he or she is reading scripture (actually, very often while they are reading scripture – at least where it is available!) It is God speaking that is both necessary and sufficient to produce a context in which a human being can say “yes” in belief and it be credited to that human being as righteousness (or right relationship with God), and that human being be “saved”. It is God that must be present, gracious, and active, and nothing less.

See John 6:44 (No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them) in addition to the many instances of Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. To be justified is to be in right relationship with God. That is the issue. Are we in right relationship to God? God initiates the relationship. We hear him, change our thinking (repent) to trust and to agree with what he says, or we do not. God calls us to trust, enables us to trust, and empowers us to believe and change without overpowering our will. Once we have moved in trust, he calls us to move some more – again and again, toward maturity, for the rest of our natural lives. It is God’s plan that this takes place in and through serving Him and representing Him in Christian community. We are a part of a body – not the body by ourselves.

Why did Israel seem so separate if God intended to bless all people?

The question, from Sitha, is, “Why did Israel seem so separate if God intended to bless all people?”

Update January 9, 2021…. I’ve recently listened to the Bible Project podcast series called The Family of God. They cover this issue in a more helpful way, I think, than my treatment below. I recommend this podcast series as a better and deeper treatment of this question. Frankly, all of the Bible Project podcast series are excellent. I mean really excellent! I’ve listened to them all, many more than once. [That’s the update; but if you want to read my old thoughts, they remain below.]

There are several ways to approach this question. One is to consider how the separation of the Israelites was as God intended versus their being separate out of their own sense of nationalism or pride. Both factors seem to be a part of the picture. From the law of Moses, we can see that aspects of the law were intended to keep Israel separated from the surrounding people. That is, God was unhappy with the actions and attitudes of humans and intended for the Israelites to be different. The lack of care for the poor and unfortunate, the violation of hospitality, the sexual licentiousness, idolatry, and violence of many cultures were evils. God intended Israel to be separate in these matters.

We can read from the prophet Ezekiel how God viewed the Canaanite people and how the Israelites became just like them in Ezekiel 16:49-51. It would be fair to say, from the perspective of Jesus and Paul in the New Testament, that the Israelites lost much of the separation that God wanted and instead adopted a prideful nationalistic sense of separation from Gentiles that was far from God’s heart.

There are many passages in the five books of Moses that indicate God’s intention to bless all people through the descendants of Abraham. If we are to take these books at face value, they present themselves as coming from the time of the Exodus. Genesis makes a lot of sense when interpreted in light of Israel coming out of Egypt into a new land where God will live in their midst. Much of Genesis can be makes sense in this light. For purposes of this question, though, allow me to consider just a few passages from Genesis.

What is coming to be seen by many as a key passage for understanding the mission of Israel is Genesis 9:18-27. This passage related a “fall” after Noah and his family are saved from the flood. Noah’s son Ham disrespectfully sees Noah naked. Shem and Japheth cover Noah. Then Canaan, the youngest son of Ham, is cursed. (Note the interesting structural and detail parallels with Genesis 2 and 3!)

I always wondered why, if Ham was the disrespectful one, that Canaan, his youngest son, was cursed instead of Ham. I don’t think I really know the answer to that question, but perhaps the text isn’t really trying to answer that question so much as to position the Canaanites as cursed. God is about to dispossess the Canaanites of their land, for cause! Some speculate that since Ham was Noah’s youngest son, that as Ham’s youngest son Canaan received the curse. It certainly doesn’t fit with our sense of justice if the curse on Canaan is seen as cause rather than part of a story describing a people cursed because of their sin. I have to fall back on the genre of ancient mythology, where past events are often symbolically related to explain a reality in the present.

In any case, Canaan, the son of Ham, is cursed. God is said to be the God of Shem, from whom the Israelites of Moses’ time are descended. And then there is this interesting little nugget: “may Japheth live in the tents of Shem”. What’s that about? The explanation that I have landed on is that Canaan is a type for those who have rejected God and are pursuing their own autonomy. Shem is a type of those who have accepted that they are God’s people with a mission to bless the nations. They are to lead others into a right relationship to God. And Japheth is a type of those non-Abrahamic people whom the people of God are restoring.

Consider that may scholars believe that a great many of the multitude leaving Egypt with the Israelites were not Abraham’s descendants, but rather others who took advantage of the opportunity to leave Egypt. Thus, “May Japheth live in the tents of Shem” could be seen as an instruction for how the Semitic descendants of Jacob, Abraham, and Shem should take in those who came out of Egypt with them – blessing the peoples of all nations.

In support of this interpretation we could think of Rahab of Jericho and Ruth of the Moabites – even the Gibeonites. The Gibeonites deceptively made a treaty with Joshua, but became a part of Israel! Perhaps this parallels the story of many who come to God’s people for personal advantage and then find a home through God’s grace as they come into truth.

So, a second perspective is to consider just how separated the Israelites were. Perhaps there was more accommodation made for the “sons of Japheth” than we often imagine. Certainly Israel is considered in the biblical text as being God’s people. But they are never God’s only people. In Jeremiah 2:3, Israel is portrayed as set apart for God’s own use, “the firstfruits of his harvest.” Many places in scripture Israel is called the “firstborn son” of God, beginning in Exodus. (Consider Exodus 4:22, for example.) The very term firstborn implies that other children will follow!

Yet we must regard carefully that God intended to give birth to a people who were different, and separate, in order to embody his ways and his redemptive purpose culminating in Jesus. In some ways, the Israelite separation is a necessary distinction through which God communicates. He has another way to live. He has a purpose and direction in history. The world is going somewhere! These are communicated through the people and culture and religion of Israel until, at just the right time, Jesus comes – God incarnate – as the Christ. He comes not only as Messiah, but as the perfect sacrifice for sin, the scapegoat, the great new high priest, the king in the line of David… all concepts developed through time as God formed Israel and the Israelite culture, story, and religion.

By New Testament times, the Jewish people of Israel have been scattered across much of the world. We read in Acts how the early church was to respect Jewish sensibilities “For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.” (Acts 15:21) So it seems that the Jews – Israel – was not as separate in the diaspora as we might suppose. There had been other people incorporated – Japheth sheltering in Shem’s tent. And there were many God-fearing Gentiles just waiting, primed for the good news of Jesus through contact with the Jews. Jews who accepted Jesus, along with many of these God-fearing Gentiles, formed the core of the early Church!

Consider the Jewish context of the Christian scriptures. The narratives of Jesus in the gospels take a structural form that parallels the Jewish Exodus story, and through which the identity of Jesus as Yahweh incarnate is communicated. All of the original apostles who formed the early church and from whom we received the books in the New Testament were Jewish followers of Jesus. Then there is Jesus, our Lord, the consummate Jew. The blessings that have come to those of us who are Gentiles have come to us through Israel.

Finally, I’ve not even mentioned the reconstitution of Israel as the church – the wild olive branches grafted onto the root of Israel! Just how separate are we, in God’s eyes?

Fair Trade Friends

A few years ago, I was involved in early discussions with some friends from various Friends churches who were interested in using their business acumen as ministry to do economic development in areas of serious economic need where we were planting churches. Out of those discussions with the EFCSW Mission Board, these friends started a new ministry initiative called “Marketplace Ministries” and began looking for ways to do business as ministry. I just received [July 8, 2010] an email announcing their first venture, called “Fair Trade Friends, Inc. – Coffee for a Cause”. Here’s a link to their brand new website where you can buy coffee that benefits various ministries.

They sell coffee that is connected to Christian mission in some form. I would particularly direct your attention to the coffee from the Leiva family, whose story is told here.

Note that Ruth Esther Smith, who is mentioned in the story, went to Guatemala after pastoring Long Beach Friends Church. Also, the lady who was traveling with her may have been her partner Cora Wildman, a member of LBFC who went with Ruth Esther Smith to Guatemala in 1906. (One of our members was named after Ruth Esther, I think… Can you guess who?)

Another coffee sold on the website is grown in a village in the Thai highlands where missionaries discovered a way to bring some economic prosperity to a remote village. Read about it here.

I’m about to place my first order. Wait just a minute….

There. I just ordered some Abuela Reina’s Blend Guatemala Regular Roast and Chanita Thai Select – Full City (Medium). I’ll probably be drinking some of it in the office once it arrives; come join me!

The prices are pretty good for this kind of coffee. I’d say the shipping charge – about $10 – was a bit steep compared to what other coffee sites charge. On the other hand, I just bought coffee from a family in Guatemala who first heard the gospel from missionaries sent by our church, and from a village in the Thai highlands that provides employment for local villages who support their church with the income they receive. Cool. From idea to pressing the “Place Order” button on the web. This same group is currently recruiting a national coordinator to develop marketplace ministry in Cambodia. Michelle Murray’s father is one of the leaders getting this ministry going. God is good. Have some coffee!