I had the privilege of seeing David Bowden perform a couple of his poems recently; he really is quite impressive.
If you received this blog post by email and can’t see the video, you can find it online here.
From time to time I post something about my perception that Evangelicals, even Bible translators (or a talk here), don’t pay sufficient attention to the Old Testament. However, it isn’t often that I come across someone suggesting that we may not actually need the New Testament; but that is the excellent issue that John Goldingay raises in this excellent article.
Do we need the New Testament because the Old Testament focuses exclusively on Israel and we would not otherwise know that God was concerned for the whole world? Did God not reveal his concern for the nations before Jesus came? In fact, that concern for the nations goes back to the beginning. God created the whole world and was involved with the development of all the nations. The aim of God’s appearing to Abraham was not simply to bless him but to drive the nations to pray for blessing like Abraham’s. God’s judgment of the Egyptians and the Canaanites does not mean God is unconcerned about other nations, as God’s judgment of Israel and God’s judgment of the church does not mean God is unconcerned about Israel and about the church. Prophets look forward to a time when nations will flock to Jerusalem to get Yahweh to make decisions for them. Psalms repeatedly summon all the nations to acknowledge Yahweh with their praise. (Emphasis mine.)
Though he doesn’t actually say that we don’t need the New Testament, Goldingay successfully points out that there is less difference between the two testaments than we sometimes suppose and that some of the things which we see as being specific to the NT are actually shared by both. It’s a great read.
If you are a reader, then you might enjoy Goldingay’s web page which has a wealth of articles on the Old Testament as well as on a wider range of theological and biblical issues. If you are not a reader (and shame on you) then you can see him lecture on whether we need the New Testament in a video that I posted yesterday.
I don’t often post other peoples’ press releases, but this is important and I want to make sure it gets lots of exposure.
24 July 2013, CAMBRIDGE, UK Today the STEP development team of Tyndale House Cambridge launched the Beta-test version of a new free Bible study resource at www.StepBible.org.
STEP software is designed especially for teachers and preachers who don’t have access to resources such as Tyndale House Library, which specialises in the biblical text, interpretation, languages and biblical historical background and is a leading research institution for Biblical Studies.
The web-based program, which will soon also be downloadable for PCs and Macs, will aid users who lack resources, or who have to rely only on smartphones or outmoded computers.
The project began when STEP director Dr David Instone-Brewer created the Tyndale Toolbar for his own use. It became popular among researchers at Tyndale House and is now used by thousands of people across the globe. The Beta launch of STEP invites users to try out the new tools and give suggestions for improvement.
“STEP represents the most comprehensive yet user friendly tool for Bible Study I have seen in over 35 years of research,” said Dr Wesley B. Rose. Tim Bulkeley, a contributor to the project, said “I wish I was just starting to teach in Kinshasa now, with STEP and a smart phone. Students would find learning Hebrew and Greek, to read the Bible directly, so much easier.”
Almost a hundred volunteers worldwide have contributed to this work, including 75 who helped to align the ESV, used with the kind permission of Crossway, with the underlying Greek and Hebrew. All their work will now be freely available for other software projects. There are many exciting features in the pipeline for others to get involved with.
Try it out at www.StepBible.org.
The special problems of the Majority World have inspired some unique technical solutions. The whole database-driven program is designed to be downloaded onto computers as diverse as decade-old desktops and Android phones. This download, which is still being tested, enables it to continue working when internet access goes down.
Ten language interfaces are available and another 83 are ready for volunteers to work on. Bibles in many languages are already present and agreements are in place with the United Bible Societies and other organisations to add hundreds more. Someone using a Swahili browser can see buttons, menus and Bibles in their own mother-tongue.
Some of the features are unavailable on any other software, and the ease of use belies its extraordinary complexity. Even in Basic View you can get answers to questions like: Which other verses use the same original word found here? This works for every Bible in all the available languages without requiring knowledge of any Hebrew or Greek. In Advanced View one can see multiple interlinear texts with word-by-word alignment in English, Chinese, Hebrew and other languages. Information about grammar and dictionaries is also given at three levels so that someone wanting quick information isn’t overloaded with the complex details, which are also available.
Simon just posted this comment on FaceBook
I’m glad that people are excited about the Tyndale STEP project and all, but one of the things that STEP promised, hasn’t (yet) delivered, and the world badly needs, is freely available, permissively licensed, machine-readable Biblical studies data, so people can build their own tools for Bible study.
Support and promote STEP by all means, but to avoid duplication of effort, it’s a great idea to also support people who are already working on this.
A few months ago, I was interviewed by the wonderful Jason Ramasani on the streets of London. The interview – about my attitude to the Bible – was great fun, but rather stretching. Jason wanted something that would be useful for teenagers in schools. I’ll leave you to judge whether I or not was successful.
If you’ve not seen Jason’s book, Life Changer, you really should
If truth be told, I wasn’t planning to read this book, but on balance, I’m glad I did. Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament by Peter Enns looks at three big questions related to the Old Testament.
There is a lot of similarity between some Old Testament stories and contemporary stories; for example the Genesis story of the flood bears a lot of resemblance to the Babylonian Gilgamesh epic. Does this mean that the Old Testament is no more inspired or sacred than related texts?
There are times when the Old Testament seems to disagree with itself. Some of the Proverbs are contradictory and at times the details of stories in Chronicles differ from the same stories in Samuel and Kings. What does this mean for our understanding of the nature of the Old Testament?
The New Testament sometimes quotes the Old Testament in ways that the original authors could never have envisaged. What does this have to say about the way in which we interpret Scripture?
I’ve seen treatments of these questions before, but to be honest, most of them just tend to explain the questions away which might feel comforting, but it is far from satisfactory.
Enns takes the questions very seriously and certainly doesn’t try to explain them away. He sees challenges like these as helping us to really understand the nature of the Bible as a book with both divine and human origins. It is the human side of the equation that means leads to the issues that Enns is dealing with. It is not that Scripture is flawed, but that it reflects the cultural contexts out of which it arises. A longish chapter is devoted to each of the questions and Enns demonstrates how the issues that we find difficult about the Bible actually arrive naturally out of the cultural milieu out of which it arises. It is good stuff.
If you have questions about the Old Testament or are interested in the nature and inspiration of Scripture, you could do far worse. This isn’t the easiest book to read; it takes a bit of concentration, but it is well worth the work involved.
For those who are interested there is a Kindle Edition.
I’m a great fan of Lord of the Rings. It’s a phenomenal book and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read right through it. I thoroughly enjoy dipping into Middle Earth, immersing myself in the world of elves, ents and hobbits. However, much I enjoy Tolkien’s creation, I never actually mistake it for reality. I sit by the fire and visit Middle Earth for a wee while, but when I put the book back I am quickly back into the reality of my life. Fiction is smaller than we are. It is a subset of our lives, something we can dip into and then quickly come out of it again. One of the reasons that fiction is so limited is that the stories are finished. Many people have wanted to write a follow up to Lord of the Rings, but in truth, the stories were finished forever when Tolkienn died. The story of the Bible is not like that, it isn’t finished yet. Don’t get me wrong, the Bible itself is written and can’t be added to, but the story it tells is still going on.
Imagine that you have gone to watch a Shakespeare play and have got really immersed in the story. Suddenly, about half an hour before the end, William Shakespeare himself strides onto the stage and tells the actors to stop. Then he addresses the audience, you, and says; “now it’s your turn. I want you to write and act out the next part of the play. When you have done that, the ending will be played out”. In many ways, this is what the Bible is like, because we are still living in the story. God hasn’t stopped doing the things he did in the Bible and as we get to grips with the story, the story grows. The Book of Acts ends Paul in prison in Rome but the growth of the church and the work of the Spirit didn’t stop there. We are still living in the Book of Acts. When you read The Lord of the Rings, you never actually get to meet Gandalf. However, when you read the Bible, you encounter the central character and you start to learn that the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob is also your God. The experiences that Abraham and Isaac and Jacob lived through are repeated in our lives as we grow to know, love and serve God. The Bible story goes on with us as participants.
Myths and Bible Translation
Dan Wallace has a list of Five More Myths about Bible translation. In the space of a short article, he manages to take on Dan Brown, Islamic views of textual transmission and those people who think that verses printed in red are Jesus’ exact words. Good stuff in a small space.
Meanwhile, in a post which will comfort some and frustrate others, Joel Hoffman talks about the Mythical Value of Reading the Bible in the Original languages.
More generally, the notion that studying Greek (or Hebrew) leads to a better understanding of the original texts is predicated on the idea that a student can do better than the professional translators. While, unfortunately, Bible translations tend to be of lower quality than other translations, they are still good enough that it’s pretty hard for all but the most expert students of Greek and Hebrew to find a true mistake.
What usually happens instead is that a professional translation takes a variety of factors into account while the student misses some of the nuances. Most people, unless they intend to become an expert, will understand the Bible better in translation. Worse, because of their limited knowledge, they’ll think their own reading is better than the accepted translations. This is a case of the clichéd way in which a little knowledge is dangerous.
Simon, meanwhile has reveals the shocking truth that the Bible isn’t new to him in any language:
I have heard many pastors and preachers tell of how much they love reading the Bible, how it’s a living word to them, and how every time they read it, it comes alive to them and they get something new and fresh from it. I have a dirty secret; that doesn’t happen for me. Yes, I love reading the Bible, but what generally happens is that I pick it up, and I go: I know this. I’ve read it, many many times, forward and backwards, in English and Japanese, Greek and Hebrew. This is not new information for me.
But I’m not sure that I actually need a fresh revelation right now. And I’m not sure that’s what God wants for me either. I don’t think God wants me to come up with a new, creative interpretation of the parable of the Good Samaritan; he just wants me to love my neighbour. I don’t think I need to notice something new about going into the world and making disciples of all nations; I just need to go, and do it.
Finally in this section, Mark and Laura Ward reveal the fallacy that lies behind some of the arguments used by proponents of the King James Only movement.
A Faith to Live By gives us the extraordinary words with which Adoniram Judson asked his future father in law for his daughter’s hand in marriage. In rather more colourful language, Jamie gives her advice to anyone who is thinking about becoming a missionary (advice, I heartily endorse). Basically, Jamie says, start off by getting a real job:
A real job will teach you to live on a real budget. Because if you say to your real boss, “Hey, can I have some more money for a new car this week?” They’ll say “Um…No.” And then you’ll have to save your money, like a normal person, and buy the car later. Or not buy the car. … I know. It’s cRaZy!
A real job will help you learn not to be an entitled, self-righteous bunghole. Because if you act like that at a real job, they will kick your ass to the curb.
A real job will help you understand time management. Because, your real schedule will not likely allow you to spend three hours every Friday afternoon with your friends or your kids, – even if you call it “discipleship” on Facebook. Actually, that reminds me, your real job won’t let you call any time you spend on Facebook “work”. Not “support development”, not “communication”, not “team building”… Nope. No matter how you say it, Real Job does not approve.
A Bit of Controversy
Mark Woodward has some interesting thoughts on the subject of the Good News for the Poor.
What is the good news for the Bajaj driver, who works long hours to earn more than the $60 a month he pays to rent his vehicle, so he can make ends meet? What about the porter working in an electronics store, earning $50 a month carrying equipment around? What is the good news for the young men at the bus terminal, making small change packing bags into buses and selling phone credit?
Ben Tredaway, a recent University Graduate has some challenging things to say about evangelism. I don’t agree with all he has to say, but it’s well worth a read.
I’ll finish off with this great picture from Exploring Our Matrix.
My post yesterday about the two natures of Bible translation caused me to reflect on the way that the Bible itself has, in a sense, two natures. I’ve probably written about this in earlier blog posts, but it is worth revisiting.
Christians believe that the text of the Bible is inspired (2 Tim 3:16). There are various ways of describing what this means, but essentially it means that in some way, God has had input into Scripture, ensuring that it reliably conveys the message that he wants to pass on to his creation. Obviously there is more to it than that, but this will do for now.
On the other hand, we know that the Bible was written by human beings. There are clear
differences in style and methodology in the way different sections are written. The human authors were much more than divine dictation machines; they put their personalities and experiences into the words they wrote.
We don’t know how this worked out in practice for the authors, but in the Bible we have an amazing amalgam of divine and human communication.
The point of bringing this up is not simply to rehash a bit of basic theology, but to ask why the Bible is the way it is? The answer to that question lies in the nature of God. As I’ve said numerous times, the Triune God of the Bible is a God of relationships. Father, Son and Spirit are joined in an eternal, loving union. Amazingly, God wants to draw us into relationship with him. He could have brought about the Bible by simply dictating to a passive human secretary (which is close to how Muslims view the Koran) or he could have given us a book already written in letters of gold on the finest parchment. But he didn’t.
The Triune, relational God gave us the Bible through relationship. He loved the meticulous way that Luke gathered his material, sifted the accounts and compared sources, so he worked in and through Luke to produce an inspired Gospel which reflects Luke’s character. God enjoyed the way that Paul’s forensic mind got to grips with the theological conundrums posed by the relationship to the death and resurrection of Jesus and Jewish law and history. So he inspired Paul as he thought through these complex issues, shaping his thinking so that Paul could write inspired, but authentically Pauline letters.
The Bible is the way it is because God is the God he is. He loves us and he is not ashamed to see his message wrapped up in the thoughts and writings of fallen human beings. Just as he was not ashamed to take on frail human flesh and dwell amongst us.
The best thing about Twitter is that it has brought me into contact with some remarkable people. A couple of months ago, I spent a day an hour or so with Jason Ramosami, whom I first came into contact with on twitter. Jason is an RE teacher, who is an illustrator in his spare time. He has just published an excellent illustrated guide to the life of Jesus called, Life Changer. This is well worth getting your hands on (and it’s not expensive, so you can afford to give it away).
If you’d like to see more of Jason’s work, he did the illustrations for my booklet The Great Commission (pdf) (2185).
It’s been a while since I did my last round up of interesting Bibley and missiony things that I’ve discovered on the web.
Tim pointed me to a new online journal, which will be of interest to those who are involved in Scripture Engagement.
Orality Journal is the journal of the International Orality Network. It is published online semi-annually and aims to provide a platform for scholarly discourse on the issues of orality, discoveries of innovations in orality, and praxis of e!ectiveness across multiple domains in society. This online journal is international and interdisciplinary, serving the interests of the orality movement through research articles, documentation, book reviews, and academic news. Occasionally, print editions will be created. Submission of items that could contribute to the furtherance of the orality movement are welcomed.
Tim has also shared some links to books on missional hermeneutics. I wish I had an excuse to get hold of these.
Ed Stetzer has contributed a chapter to a new book, edited by John Piper and David Mathis, called Finishing the Mission. Ed’s chapter is by far the best thing in what is an indifferent book and he has been blogging his way through it.
I read the book last weekend and intend to get round to writing a review in the not too distant future. Let me just say that if you are tempted to get hold of it, you would do better to get the free pdf download than make the mistake I did and pay for it.
Bill Mounce and eminent scholar who served on the translation committees for both the NIV and ESV has a great story about the Bible translator he admires the most. It isn’t an American academic living in an ivory tower, as you might expect, but a Nepali pastor. It’s a wonderful tale, make sure you read it.
Having a Bible translator in your church Bible study group can be a real advantage. Philip Hewer shares his experiences of looking at a familiar passage with a small group.
On Saturday we had an excellent 3-hour session at church on “Reading the Bible in a way that grips your heart”. As part of this we were exploring in a small group the passage Mark 4:35-41, Jesus calms the storm. While this account was familiar to us, by entering into the dramatic situation and exploring some of the details we all gained new insights.
One little phrase which we puzzled over was “just as he was” in verse 36:
Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. (New International Version) …
Simon Cozens’ thoughts are always worth reading and his comprehensive post on the need for a new Bible translation in Japanese are excellent. He manages to cover issues related to Japanese writing, translation theory and sociology and in the process demonstrates the complexity of Bible translation work. This post should be required reading for all trainee Bible translators, wherever they are working.
Reading about the translation of Jn 3:16 in the Japanese Sign Language Bible reminded me of something that’s been sitting on my ever-expanding “wild ideas” list for quite some time now: we need a new translation of the Bible into Japanese. Or possibly two.
I’ve been thinking about this because of the way we tend to use the Bible in the work that we’re doing. Japan is a highly literate society—something like a 99% literacy rate—and the Bible is, well, a book. It’s a written thing. But we’re using it in the context of interactive Bible reading, storytelling and so on, so we’re using it in a very oral way. And if you think about it, it’s not just the crazy house church people, but all liturgical use of the Bible is oral. Yet current Japanese Bible translations are reader-friendly and not particularly listener-friendly.
Unexpected Mission Thoughts
Ed Lauber, an American who works in Ghana, has some interesting observations on the growth of a mission movement in Russia. While Mark, an Anglican clergyman who works in London has posted an aural soundscape of life in Uganda; go on, give your ears a treat.
In a short, but thought provoking post, Ross Hastings points out the need to re-evangelise the West.
The truth is that 70% of the world’s Christians live not in the West, but in the East and South. In the majority of the countries of Europe and in Canada, which has secularized at a rate similar to Holland, as well as in many regions of the U.S., the church is not growing and the influence of the church in the public square has diminished rapidly.
Picking up on that theme, Jamie the VWM tells a beautiful, but sad, story about the aching empty void in the lives of so many in our rich part of the world.
I always think it’s interesting when people pat us on the back for being missionaries to Costa Rica. Perhaps they think we were doing something difficult because they don’t know that in Costa Rica there’s a bleeding-Jesus-in-a-crown-of-thorns bumper sticker on every bus, taxi, and pizza delivery scooter. You can easily engage nearly every person you cross paths with in a conversation about God or Jesus or Faith or whatever. It’s really not hard. Every town has grown up around a church, faith is taught in public school, and there’s pretty much a missionary on every corner. In Costa Rica, “Jesus” is generally a familiar and comfortable word – not an instant conversation killer.
We’ve been back in the NorCal suburbs for a whole three months now, and all I can say is that ministry is way harder here than it ever was in Costa Rica. Being an agent for Love and Grace in a place where people truly don’t recognize their own need is really tough. Watching a married woman angle for an affair with a younger, hotter man while her daughter looks on is gut-wrenching. …And sorta hilarious…. But seriously? Gut-wrenching.
I believe Jesus has competition in the American suburbs like no place else on Earth. Everyone here is surrounded by so much shiny new stuff, it’s hard to see the Light. Here, depravity is hidden behind tall double doors, and the things that separate us from God often come gleaming, right out of the box. The contrast between Dark and Light has been cleverly obscured by the polish of materialism and vanity.]#
Lastly, I can’t resist referring to this post by Tim in which he reflects on the move of Wycliffe’s training programme to Redcliffe college.
Along with Bible Society, Wycliffe have been instrumental partners in the development and delivery of the MA in Bible and Mission here at Redcliffe and the wider initiative that is the Centre for the Study of Bible and Mission. For this and many other reasons the joining together of Redcliffe and Wycliffe’s training makes such a lot of joyful sense. Partnership works when it is driven by a shared commitment to the Kingdom; mutual trust and humility; an imagination for what could be; and a sense of what needs to happen to get there. The more I have worked with friends at Wycliffe the more humbled and inspired I am by the ministry and the people engaged in it. As I have learnt more about Bible Translation, Scripture Engagement, Orality, and the many other aspects of Wycliffe’s work I have found myself deeply challenged in my own engagement with the Bible and the complexities and joys of sharing it with others. I believe the experience has enriched my view of God, of his Word, of his Church and of his mission, and I hope this comes across in my teaching as well.
Yesterday, I highlighted a post from Onesimus Redivivus entitled, When Missions Becomes Toxic; or, Um, They Don’t Need Us Anymore. As the title suggests, this is makes challenging reading for anyone in the missionary business and I hope to work through some of the issues that it raises, in the near future.
Let me kick off by saying that while I agree with a lot of what Onesimus says, I disagree with his conclusion that the majority world Church no longer needs missionaries from the West. I agree, that business as usual should not be an option, but the rest of the world needs the West and, crucially, the West needs the rest of the world. However, it’s going to take a few posts before I get there. For now, I’d just like to look briefly at the issue of ‘change’ which Onesimus mentions more or less in passing.
When I first came as a short-termer to Kenya thirty years ago this summer, there was no telephone in the community where I lived. It took two weeks for a letter to my mother to reach home, and another two weeks for her reply to catch up with me. Tonight, I will probably video skype via wireless internet from our back patio from our suburb of Nairobi with my daughters who are in their end-of-year exams at university in Virginia. Thirty years ago, international travel was exotic and rare. This past year, various family emergencies have meant that I have traveled back and forth between Kenya and the US three different times. When we lived in Ethiopia, it was possible to have an early breakfast in Addis Ababa, Lunch in London and a late dinner in Washington, DC, all in the same day.
It is very true that communications have changed dramatically. We once had to drive 450km to make a five minute international telephone call when we lived in Gouabafla. These days, there is good cell-phone reception in the village. Some of my colleagues are such inveterate users of FaceBook, that I know more about what they are doing and thinking on a day to day basis half way round the world, than I do about others who live within a few miles of me.
However, some of these changes are pointing to new ways forward for mission. Skype, which allows Onesimus to talk to his daughters at home in the US, also allows Bible translation consultants in the UK to work with teams across the world, without actually leaving their office. This doesn’t touch the central theme of Onesimus’ piece, but it does illustrate that there are new ways of conceptualising the nature of missionary work.
Used to be us Western missionaries came out for life. Now ‘long term’ averages about eight years, with the majority of people coming for ‘short-term’ assignments from two years to two weeks.
Here, Onesimus highlights a key change. It is simply not possible to learn enough about a language or culture to build solid relationships in a new culture in just a couple of years. There is undoubtedly a place for short term mission work, but there are some serious downsides, too (here are some posts which touch on the subject).
Though Onesimus touches on some interesting aspects of change in the mission world, it seems to me that he has actually ignored the most important one, the shift in the centre of gravity of the church. I’ve written an essay on this subject which you can find here.
The different experiences of the Church in the West and elsewhere have led to a change in the profile of Christians around the world. In 1800, well over 90% of Christians lived in Europe and North America, whereas in 1990 over 60% lived in Africa, South America, Asia and the Pacific, with that proportion increasing each year.
This is the single most important issue when considering the future of missionary work. Simply put, the majority of Christians in the world now live in what we once called mission fields. It is ludicrous today to think of Nairobi or Accra as pagan cities and London or Las Vegas as Christian ones. Our notion of mission, the mission field and missionary work needs to be turned upside down. Onesimus catches a part of this when he says:
The Christian world has moved along, and our multi-billion dollar ‘Christian’ media and music and publishing and conference and education industries, um, ‘ministries’ are all busy generating the sorts of things that they have always generated, but with less and less relevance to the rest of the world.
However, I don’t think he goes far enough. A numerical shift has happened and the church in the West is no longer in the majority, and now a slow shift in leadership, influence and authority is taking place. It is increasingly the churches of the South and East who are providing leadership to the world mission movement and who are setting the agenda for the future of the Church. We aren’t there, yet, but change is under way.
This shift will have a profound effect on the future of the world mission movement. At first glance, it might seem to support Onesimus’ conclusions. However, I think things are more nuanced than that. More in a later post…
People are forever making claims about doing mission in a biblical way. The problem is that the Bible offers us lots of different examples of how to do mission and some of them are not altogether positive. There is a case to be made that says that Jonah is the first cross-cultural missionary in the Bible, but I don’t think many people would recommend his methods or his attitudes. In this post, I’m going to compare a couple of examples from the early Church to see what we can learn for our current context.
For the first thirty or more years of the Christian era, Jerusalem was the centre of the life of the church. It was there that Jesus had taught, died and risen again. The apostles were, for the most part, based there and it was to Jerusalem that the growing church looked for advice and guidance on issues of belief and practice. The Jerusalem church was the mother church, the mature church, the place to go for sound theology and good church practice. Away from Jerusalem in Asia Minor, North Africa and Europe the church was expanding rapidly and as it expanded, people started trying new things and breaking with the established traditions.
For example, in Acts 11:20 Christians in Antioch start to preach to Gentiles, not just to Jews. Up until this point, Christianity had essentially been a Jewish faith. The only Gentiles who had come to Christ were special cases such as the Ethiopian eunuch or Cornelius. It just wasn’t done to preach willy-nilly to any old Gentiles – but that’s what the Christians in Antioch did. So, the mother church sent out a missionary to check out what was going on:
News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord. (Acts 11:22-24)
Barnabas went out to Antioch, he saw the way in which people were breaking with tradition, realised that God was with them and got stuck in! He didn’t come over all heavy handed and explain to them how things were done in Jerusalem, he didn’t insist that people do things in the time-honoured fashion and he didn’t claim any sort of authority over the local believers. He worked along side them and God blessed them all. Within a short while, the Church in Antioch even took up a collection to help the believers in Jerusalem.
Compare Barnabas’ attitude with that of the men who came from James (in Jerusalem) that we read about in Galatians 2:
When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.
These guys came from Jerusalem, found that Gentile Christians in the Galatian church were not being circumcised in traditional way, and immediately started to throw their weight about. They came from Jerusalem, they knew how things aught to be done and all Christian males had to be circumcised. They didn’t ask about the local situation, they didn’t seek to understand Paul’s point of view, they just insisted that their way was the right way and that everyone should follow them. They were so insistent that even Peter and Barnabas were swayed by their arguments; but they were wrong!
Today, the Church in Europe and North America has a long history, we have a strong sense of who we are, we have a brilliant theological and doctrinal heritage and we send out missionaries to the rest of the world. But, it is in the majority world that the Church is growing the quickest. How do we go about doing mission in this context. Do we in the Western church use our heritage, our sense of authority or our financial muscle to impose our views and programmes on the rest of the world? Or do we, like Barnabas, see God at work and humbly join in alongside our more creative and adventurous brothers and sisters?