Between Marx and Christ

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Karl Marx derided religion as myth. He described it as an opiate which is taken to help us cope with our oppressions and social injustice. And he attempted a better solution: He offered the hope of a classless society based on the belief that the problem with humanity is the acceptance of private property. The possession of property placed the owners in a class distinct from those who lacked property. The Bourgeois versus the Proletariat. The solution, therefore, is to abolish this thing called ‘private property and the animosity would vanish. All mankind would eventually work together to build a better world where there is neither lack nor surplus.

However, as the experience of several decades later would show, he only succeeded in replacing a ‘myth’ with another myth. The communist ideal actually produces in the societies that adopt it two classes: the dictator and his subjects. It replaces the supposed oppression of the capitalists with the tyranny of the despot, bringing along a whole sackload of torture, misery, and fear. Far from being a solution, the attempt to abolish classes only worsens the problem.

So, we need to look more closely at the ‘myth’ he attempted to replace.

There is little doubt that religion can indeed be (and often is) no more than an opiate for many. It relieves them from the harshness of their present lives. In fact, many scholars argue that this is why people believe in God in the first place: they desire someone who will resolve all the problems and inequities in human life and identify this being as ‘God’.

This is a distortion of religion, however. True religion, as the apostle wrote, is to care for widows and orphans in their affliction (James 1:27). Far from being an escape from the problems of life, true religion (which is biblical Christianity) is an encounter with the problems of life.

The Christian religion, when correctly understood, believed and practised, does not lead to oppression (whether via class, race, or gender). This is because it is centred on love: God’s loving us and us loving our neighbours without regard to their status or position. The central symbol of the Christian faith is the cross and the empty tomb. We find the holy God, who created all things, man inclusive, stripping down to take up our human nature with all its limitations and entering into our world with all its miseries. And he took upon himself all that was evil in our world (pain, misery, death), destroying them on the cross. Furthermore, he rose from the dead to herald the restoration of all things, a task to be fully consummated in the future when Christ returns.

So, we see that religion, true religion, is not escapist but transformative. God loves his world, broken though it is, and has come to renew it. When he entered into our universe, he held the hand of the weak, cured the pain of the wounded, healed the disease of the leper, and wiped away the tears of the sorrowful. And he leaves to all who follow him to follow in his steps.

Contrary to Marx, the problem with our world goes beyond class or private property; it reaches much deeper. It stems from the condition of the human heart. In the words of Charles Colson, “The world is not divided into white hats and black hats; it is not divided into good people and evil people. Rather, good and evil coexist in every human heart.”

And it takes religion, true religion, to deal with it. Christ did not abolish class because he knew that was not the problem. Neither did he condemn private property, for both concepts are parts of God’s good creation which have merely been distorted by sin. Renewal, and not elimination, is what our world needs.

False theories of salvation, like Marxism, will attribute the human problem to some aspect of God’s creation (such as class, money, sex, etc) and seek to eliminate that thing. The biblical Gospel, which is synonymous with true religion, correctly sees that all creation is corrupt and in need of redemption. And this is what God has both accomplished and is working out through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Who is the Church?

Much of the church suffers from an identity crisis. We don’t know who we really are. Are we just a group of people who meet on Sundays? A Jesus’ fan club? Or a  gathering of holy people who do not wish to be soiled by their sinful neighbours? This interesting paragraph from Rich Lusk is a stirring reminder of who believers are.

*”The church is the first fruits of God’s saving work in the world. Thus the church models, in principle, human life the way God intended it to be lived. We are God’s renewed humanity. We live the life of the future in the present, the life of the kingdom in the midst of the world. As the church, we are a new city, set upon a hill, and therefore distinct, yet existing within the cities of the world. We are an alternative society, rivaling and subverting the idolatrous societies of the world. We ae a counter-culture, called to reform and transform the cultures of the peoples around us. We are a kingdom, transcending the kingdoms of earth. And we are a new Israel, a new nation dwelling amidst the nations of the earth, with our own defining story, rituals, songs, celebrations, and way of life marking us out as a unique people. We are a contrast society – specifically contrasting the light of a gospel-shaped life with the darkness of the old fallen order.”


Rich Lusk, When Church Bells Stopped Ringing: Towards a Public Ecclesiology for the 21st Century American Church.

You can read the entire article here 

The Lord’s Song

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“By the waters of Babylon,
there we sat down and wept,
when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
we hung up our lyres.
For there our captors
required of us songs,
and our tormentors, mirth, saying,
‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’
How shall we sing the LORD’S song
in a foreign land?”

(Psalm 137:1-4 ESV)

You can feel the sorrow, the anguish, and the pathos. This is the cry of the captive Jew taken from his homeland down to Babylon. ‘On the willows there/we hung up our lyres.’ How do you make music in captivity? How can you rejoice in the land of the oppressor? Jerusalem was the location of the temple, signifying the throne of God on earth. It was the privilege of the Israelites to be the chosen people of God among whom He dwells. The songs of Zion were songs of worship sung in the temple; they were unique to the people of God.

Jeremiah would go on to deliver a message to these captives, encouraging them to seek the good of the city, in spite of their captivity:

“But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jer. 29:7)

Yes, they were captives. And, yes, they were forcibly removed from their homeland. Yet, God was using their presence as a means of blessing their captors. Here was the Jewish community, God’s chosen people, bringing God’s blessings to the gentiles. Here was the seed of Abraham blessing the families of the earth (Gen. 12:3). This was the Gospel in infancy. Prior to this time, God’s saving grace was largely confined to the Israelites. Now it was flowing out to the nations.  As Paul would later write in Romans 11, the gentiles were being grafted into the tree of the original Jewish church. And as that happens, we cannot help bursting into praise alongside Paul:

“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and his ways past finding out!” (Rom. 11:33)

The songs of Zion were becoming the songs of the nations.

Isaiah wrote of a future time when the captive Jews will return to their homeland and be able to sing the song of Zion once more:

“And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” (Isa. 35:10)

But the very context of this passage indicates that this passage points beyond the return of the Jewish captives to their homeland in 538/539 BC. It looked forward to a time when ‘the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped’ (v. 5), a reference to the ministry of Jesus. It also speaks of when ‘waters shall burst forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert’ (v. 6), a picture of the era initiated by the coming of Christ and to be completed at his return (cf. Isa. 43: 19; 44:3-5; Joel 2:28).

What was confined to the Jew has been made available to all nations. The dwelling place of God is no longer just with Israel, it is being extended to all – to all humanity who place their faith in the Redeemer. And eventually, all humanity shall come together to sing that song of Zion. As John observed in his vision of the end of history:

“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and he will be their God.” (Rev. 21:3)

God’s revelation leads us to look forward to that time when the Lord’s song will be sung by a great multitude, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” (Rev. 7:9)

And what song would they sing?

“Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (v.10)

May we, through faith in Christ, be found a part of that joyful choir.

Biblical Principles, Biblical Story

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Ethics is crucial, and the Bible has a lot to say about it. Marriage, Trade, Parenting, and Politics are just some of the areas for which we can find some scriptural guidance. Nevertheless, these principles are communicated within the unfolding of the story of redemption – the narrative of God restoring his kingdom on earth after humanity’s rebellion. Therefore, every moral principle should be understood and taught in light of this grand story. If we fail to do this, we debase the Bible into a mere collection of rules and principles, and we transform Christianity into Moralism.

God’s Plan for Unity

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World unity is no longer a distant goal; it is already an unfolding reality. If only the nations and leaders of the world would embrace the Christ and his Church in which this unity is being realized.

According to Paul, the working out of God’s redemption in Christ brings about a unity between God’s erstwhile people (the Jews) and Gentile believers. Once the Gentiles were, as a whole, an unfavoured lot. Salvation was of the Jews, Jesus said (John 4:22). To become a member of God’s people and partake of their blessings and promises, one had to become a Jew. He or she had to be circumcised and literally become ‘one of them’.

All that changed, however, with the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Those who had been ‘alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of  promise’ have now been ‘brought near by the blood of Christ’ (Eph. 2:12-13). Christ has removed the antagonism between both groups and made them one in himself. Through Christ, both the Jew and the Gentile now have equal access to God (chapter 2:18).

This unity is  not between Jew and Gentile alone. There is equally a unity across gender, ethnicity, and class. In 1 Cor. 12:13, Paul points out that class distinction between slaves and freemen has been muted in Christ. And in Col. 3:11, he reinforces this by stating that differences in culture no longer apply; both the barbarian and the Scythian were now one with the Greek. ‘Barbarian’ refers to the uncivilized peoples who did not speak Greek, while ‘Scythian’ was a reference to someone from the local tribes around the Black Sea. They were often a subject of jest and mockery because of their uncouth manners. Yet these are now on the same footing with the sophisticated and cultured Greeks. Furthermore, the universal distinction between male and female, that ancient division (and oftentimes oppression) found in every culture between the sexes, is gone. As he wrote in Gal. 3:27, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

God’s plan of redemption, starting immediately after the fall, was for humanity as a whole. The covenant with Abraham bore this out. Through him (Abraham) all the families of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 12:3). So while humanity was broken into diverse tongues and nationalities on account of their sin and rebellion (Gen. 11), and while the entrance of sin has often made the natural (and good) distinction between the male and female gender an avenue  for oppression, the unfolding of God’s redemption restores unity. Of course, the differences are not eliminated. The Jew remains a Jew, the female is not transmuted into a man, and neither is the slave automatically set free because of his faith in Christ. No. Unity is realized in spite of the differences, thus rendering the distinctions irrelevant. Paul teaches us how to view these differences when he wrote: “For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise, he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ.” (1 Cor. 7:22). In other words, it does not really matter in what group you belong. Are you free or a slave? Are you cultured or uneducated? Are you male or female? Before God and in Christ you are the same with others – on equal footing! Do not be anxious or worried as though you are less accepted by God because of your ethnicity, gender, or social position; it simply doesn’t count.

World unity is a presently unfolding reality, but it lies within the community of God’s people. All that the nations and her governments need to do is submit to Christ, who is the head of this redeemed humanity, and enter into the communion of the saints where all socio-ethnic distinctions lose their significance. In this body, only Christ really matters. This is why they are called Christians.

Christ our Mediator

A photo by Sujan Sundareswaran. unsplash.com/photos/TBQXwj3DEOY

 

Who is a Mediator?

A mediator is one who stands between two aggrieved parties. He works to reconcile them and establish peace.

 

Why do we need a mediator? Why can’t we just relate with God directly?

Well, the scriptures reveal that relating with God directly is actually the state in which God made us. After man was created, and the woman formed, God related directly with them.

There was no need for a mediator then because there was no rift between them. Humanity was exactly the way God had made them. Our first parents’ disobedience, however, disrupted this harmony. Humanity became estranged from their Maker[1]. And for this relationship to be restored, someone had to step in. According to scripture, this Person, Jesus Christ, is no other than God taking on human nature.

 

And how does Christ fulfil this task?

He does so by occupying 3 different but important roles. He acts as a Prophet, a Priest, and a King. The Westminster Shorter Catechism[2], a very popular teaching manual, highlights what each role involves. And we follow its basic outline below.

 

Christ our Prophet

As Prophet, Jesus reveals to us by his word and his spirit the will of God for our salvation. Like the Old Testament prophets who lived before him, Jesus communicates what God desires from humanity. This role is indicated in bible passages like Luke 4:18-19, 21; John 15:26-27;  Acts 1:1-2,8;   Hebrews 2:3; 1 Peter 1:11

 

Christ our Priest

As Priest, Jesus offered himself to God as a sacrifice in order to satisfy divine justice and reconcile us to God, and he continues to intercede for believers before God. Through his death, Christ fulfilled what the Old Testament sacrifices pointed to. He became the ‘Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29). Other passages which speak of this aspect of Christ’s work include Isaiah 53:1-12; Acts 8:32-35; Romans 5:10-11; Hebrews 9:26-28; and Hebrews 10:12.

 

Christ our King

Jesus is not only our prophet and priest; he is also our king. He stands as the fulfilment of the great defenders of God’s people in earlier ages such as King David. And what does he do as a king? He makes us his willing subjects, he rules and defends us, and he restrains and conquers his and our enemies. So under him, believers are safe for they know he will defend and protect them from any harm. We find this role in passages like Psalm 2:6-9; Matthew 28:18-20;   John 17:2; and Colossians 1:13.

God’s plan tends toward re-establishing the kind of relationship which existed between God and humanity at the beginning. Just as humanity fellowshipped with God in the garden, God will dwell with us forever in a renewed universe (John 14:23; Revelation 22:3-5). And Christ’s role as mediator will be concluded after the resurrection when he submits his kingdom to God the Father. As Paul wrote,

 

“Then comes the end, when he [Christ] delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:24-28).

Through the work of Christ as Mediator, therefore, God restores the harmony which existed between Him and humanity. Praise be to God for His wisdom and grace!


[1] The account of humanity’s fall into sin is found in the third chapter of the book of Genesis

[2] You can find this document online at http://www.ccel.org

Does your past still haunt you?

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Everyone has a past – moral failings which blot our life histories like blue ink on a white shirt. Outbursts of rage, episodes of immoral behaviour, illicit relationships, lifestyles of violence and aggression, and dark secrets shut out from the prying ears of friends and neighbours. These hang around our necks and minds, pulling our consciences below the earth.

Our sinful past sometimes stands as an obstacle from receiving God’s love and forgiveness. We wonder, ‘Can God really forgive that?’ ‘Surely, I have sinned away hope and mercy.’ But it is precisely in this seemingly hopeless situation that God’s grace shines fairest. As Paul wrote,

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:6-8, ESV)

God’s grace is directed at the guilty. Redemption presupposes a sinful past; without a past you don’t even qualify!  And Christ clearly stated: “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). It is no surprise that the greatest of his apostles, and the author of almost half of the books which make up the New Testament, was a man who described his past as ‘chief of sinners’ (1 Timothy 1:15, KJV).

If there was someone who should have nothing to do with someone with a past, it was Jesus. The eternal Word, who had been with the Father (John 1:1-2), and in whom there is no sin (Hebrews 4:15). Yet among his disciples was Matthew, a tax collector. Tax collectors didn’t just have a past; they had a distasteful present. They were viewed as traitors to the commonwealth of Israel. They were instruments of an oppressive foreign government, exploiting their own kinsmen for personal gain. Yet Jesus not only met with him in his home, he enlisted him in the hallowed circle of disciples. His past was evil but forgiven. That is what Jesus does; he forgives our past and opens a new chapter in our history.

The so-called ‘Hall of Faith’ in Hebrews chapter 11 is another illustration of how God relates to our past. We would expect such an illustrious list to include the holiest of people, the Mother Theresas of the ancient world. But whom do we find? We see Jacob the schemer and deceiver; Rahab, a prostitute from the idol worshipping tribes of Canaan; Samson, the Jewish judge who was so captivated by his lust for women that it eventually cost him both his sight and his life. We also find David the great King of Isreal who had sexual relations with one of his poor subjects and killed her husband in order to conceal his sin. These were God’s heroes of faith.

What made the difference for them was the fact that their past was but a record which their faith in God had overcome (1 John 4:4). Yes, the record was there, but it was now irrelevant. They trusted in God their redeemer, and by faith, they had received forgiveness. And the same is true for us today. The Saviour of the world has shed his blood for all who believe. And their sins he will remember no more, provided they come to him in faith. If we have trusted in Jesus as Saviour, this is our privilege. ‘Though our sins are as red as crimson, they shall become like wool’ (Isaiah 1:18). Thus is the assurance of the gospel.