Saturday, August 8, 2020

Small Churches and Global Evangelization


C. Philip Slate

Perhaps no church can do all of the things listed here, but over time one church can contribute much to the evangelization of the world.
  1. Prayer. If you have a prayer list, put “global evangelizing” on it. Ask God to raise up workers for the harvest (Matt. 9:38). The Moravians had prayer for world evangelizing 24 X 7 for one hundred years, and their people went all over the world. William Carey’s sister wanted to go with him to India but could not because she was a bedfast invalid. She prayed for her brother forty years.
  2. World Bible School and World English Institute. (Check their Web sites for information and instructions.) God alone knows how many people have become Christians through paper and electronic correspondence courses. An extraordinary number of churches in East and West Africa were started from WBS students. This is an easy task and produces great fruit.
  3. Join a sister church in helping to support a missionary financially, spiritually, and emotionally.
  4. Contribute to the pool of new missionaries. Historically, a disproportionately large number of our missionary men and women have come from small churches, not our larger ones. There are several ways to plant missionary seeds in the lives of young Christians. See numbers 6,7,8,9,10,11,13,14,15,16,17 below.
  5. Communicate (letters, e-mail, Facebook, Skype, and others) encouragement to missionaries. Some missionaries have returned home prematurely because they were discouraged, feeling no one cared about them.
  6. Urge members to attend missions/evangelism workshops when they are conducted in your area. Get a group together to make the trip. For example, the church in Savannah, TN, hosts an Evangelism University annually for young and old alike.
  7. Join other churches in hosting an evangelism workshop.
  8. Have annual missions-emphasis Sundays, or world evangelism Sundays, on which you plan for the congregation to hear progress reports, conversion stories, and biblical lessons on God's will concerning worldwide evangelization. A church may conduct a workshop on domestic church planting as well.
  9. Preaching. Request or require whoever preaches to your congregation to address evangelism twice or so per year. One study of churches of Christ indicated that “the church’s missions involvement is directly related to the number of sermons preached on missions.” 1 This is a church responsibility, and joy!
  10. Show missions films on special occasions. Several good videos or DVDs are available on well known missionaries. Secure a Lifeway catalog for samples.
  11. Library. If your church has a lending library, put in it some good books on the world evangelism tasks of the church, biographies of our missionaries, and books on general principles of world evangelization. World Evangelism in Winona, MS, has produced a large number of very useful books on these subjects. If you do not have such a library, you will do people a favor by creating one. One can get Internet information on how to organize a church library.
  12. Put world evangelism in your Bible school curriculum, for both adults and young people. For teaching resources check with World Evangelism in Winona, MS, and Missions Resource Network of Bedford, TX (
  13. Should they develop an interest in doing so, help some of your young people to go on well-organized short-term missions trips or to serve as interns with missionaries on the field. These trips vary enormously in their effectiveness, chiefly because of the way they are organized and led. Consult good sources on short-term missions. The Sunset International Bible Institute of Lubbock, TX, has a very fine program for young interns, called AIM (Adventures in Missions).
  14. Invite missionaries to speak to your church, not to raise funds, but to tell how God is using them in world evangelizing. Research done several years ago by Dr. Joe Hacker of Harding College indicated that "hearing a missionary speak" or having contact with a missionary were among the big motivating factors in causing many of our people eventually to become missionaries. 2 The situation is likely the same today.
  15. Help to conduct Vacation Bible Schools or evangelistic endeavors (knocking on doors, distributing literature, etc. for a gospel meeting) in an American community where the church needs a boost. Plan carefully and appropriately. Request larger churches to invite you to participate when they plan such things.
  16. Teach people how to talk about their faith, to share the gospel with others. Teach it “in house,” urge members to attend personal evangelism workshops elsewhere, or have someone to come in and conduct such a workshop.
  17. Good missionaries usually come from among people with good faith. Therefore, to develop missionaries—as well as strong Christians who may never become missionaries—be sure to conduct classes for new Christians. I have a list of nearly twenty such lesson series or booklets on this subject. Check with a good brotherhood bookstore or contact me. 3


    1 Gailyn Van Rheenen and Bob Waldron, The Statues of Missions: A Nationwide Survey of Churches of Christ (Abilene, TX: ACU Press, 2002): 22.

    2 W. Joe Hacker, Mission Prepare – 1970 (Searcy, AR: Harding College, 1970): 14, 31.

    3 Dr. C. Philip Slate may be contacted by email at:

Friday, August 7, 2020

Love God and Love Your Neighbor

Love God and Love Your Neighbor:
The Comprehensiveness of the Greatest Commandments

Joel Stephen Williams

What matters the most in the Christian faith? What is most important for one’s Christian life? When Jesus was asked which commandment was first, he answered: “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29–31). We will analyze Jesus’ answer by Jewish teaching methods of his day and study the context of his quotations in hopes of better understanding what he was teaching.

Cullen I.K. Story explains, “Jewish scholars had often tried to distinguish between weighty and light precepts though they did not see how all could be brought under one umbrella, i.e., under a single principle since all were Divine precepts. After careful calculation, they found that there were 613 commandments and precepts in the Torah, 248 of them positive commands and 365 prohibitions” (“Marcan Love Commandment ‘The greatest of these is love.’ (1 Corinthians 13:13),” Lexington Theological Quarterly 34, no. 3 [September 1999]: 152). When a proselyte asked Rabbi Hillel to teach him the entire law while he was standing on one foot, Hillel summed it up in a negative form of the golden rule: “What is unlovely to you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the entire Torah, the other part is commentary. Go and learn this” (Story, “Marcan Love Commandment,” 152).

When Jesus was asked what the most important command was, he responded with two commands, the command to love God from Deuteronomy 6:5 and the command to love one’s neighbor from Leviticus 19:18. Jesus probably was not pointing merely to two brief commands to be considered in isolation from their contexts. Instead, each command was an epitome of a whole collection of commandments. The summary commandment stated the basic foundational principle upon which each individual command rested. The commandment to love God encompassed all of the commands between man and God, while the command to love one’s neighbor would be a synopsis statement for the commandments between man and fellow man (see Jay B. Stern, “Jesus’ Citation of Dt 6,5 and Lv 19,18 in the Light of Jewish Tradition,” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 28, no. 3 [July 1966]: 312–16).

If Stern is right, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deut. 6:5) and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18) should not be looked at as isolated statements, but instead must be connected with their contexts in surrounding chapters. As summary statements they are pointing to a way of life and an overall program. They are what one scholar called “unifying principles” (Richard A. Allbee, “Asymmetrical Continuity of Love and Law between the Old and New Testaments,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 31, no. 2 [December 2006]: 164).

Love the Lord your God

E.W. Nicholson said, “It is in a very real sense true to say that the entire book [of Deuteronomy] is a commentary on the command which stands at its beginning” (Deuteronomy and Tradition, 46; cited by P.C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, NICOT, Eerdmans, 169). What does Nicholson mean when he says that the command to love God stands at the “beginning” of the book of Deuteronomy, making what follows a commentary on the command to love God? Everything from Deuteronomy 1:1 to 4:43 is introduction, prologue, and historical background for the address of Moses that will give the law. Preliminaries in that address, including a reminder of the Ten Commandments, take up 4:44–5:33. The giving of the details of the law begin in Deuteronomy 6 with the greatest commandment and continue through chapter 26. This may be part of the reason why Jesus chose to cite the command to love God in Deuteronomy 6:5 as first in importance. His method of quotation strongly suggests that the command to love God is all-encompassing.

The Old Testament scholar Eichrodt seems to agree. He contends that the legal requirements in Deuteronomy “are directives for the execution of the one great commandment of love, by which God reclaims the whole man for himself; they are practical guides for the verification and exercise of the love of God in concrete cases. ... Each single commandment goes back to the great commandment of God's love” (Walther Eichrodt, trans. by Charles F. McRae, “The Law and the Gospel: The Meaning of the Ten Commandments in Israel and for Us,” Interpretation 11, no. 1 [January 1957]: 34). So, the command to “love God” acted like a unifying principle covering Israel’s relationship with God. It was inclusive of many things such as devotion and obedience to God (Deut. 5:6–11, 28–33; 6:1–3, 10–25), similar to Jesus’ appeal, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15; cf. John 14:24; 15:10; 1 John 2:5; 5:2–3).

Love Your Neighbor as Yourself

What is associated with loving one’s neighbor? Jesus related the requirements of the law with the command to love one’s neighbor when he answered the question, “What good deed must I do to have eternal life?” (Matt. 19:16). After listing the commandments linked to murder, adultery, stealing, bearing false witness, and honoring parents, Jesus added, “Also, you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). If the arguments above have merit, we should examine the context of Leviticus 19:18 to see if “love your neighbor” epitomizes the legal instruction in the Holiness Code (Lev. 17–26) where it is embedded. The section from which Jesus quoted begins: “The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (Lev. 19:1–2). Can ten chapters of the Holiness Code commanding Israel to be holy be summarized by a single command to love one’s neighbor? Robson answers in the affirmative: “From within divine holiness, rather than from a separate source, comes YHWH’s love, a love expressed in self-disclosure, in saving activity, in a desire-to-be-in-right-relationship….When this is fully understood, then the call ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’ is a call to be like YHWH in his holiness” (James E. Robson, “Forgotten Dimensions of Holiness,” Horizons in Biblical Theology 33, no. 2 [2011]: 146.).

If Robson is correct, we should find examples of how to love our neighbor in the context of Leviticus 19:18 in the Holiness Code (Lev. 17–26). Illustrating only from Leviticus 19, loving one’s neighbor included revering father and mother (19:1), not stealing (19:11), not swearing falsely (19:12), not defrauding or stealing from your neighbor (19:13, 35–36), neither exploiting nor oppressing others (19:13, 20–22, 29, 33–34), not oppressing the handicapped (19:14), being just and fair in judgments, in court, and in negotiations (19:15), not slandering other people (19:16), not hating your kin (19:17), correcting others when necessary (19:17), neither taking vengeance nor revenge (19:18), not bearing a grudge (19:18), and showing respect to the elderly (19:32). “Love your neighbor” was the unifying principle for all of them, binding them together in a holy lifestyle expected of God’s people.

The teachings of the apostle Paul confirm the above approach to understanding Jesus’ quotations from the Pentateuch regarding the greatest commandment. Paul declared, “For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Gal. 5:14). In even more detail, he wrote, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet’; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:8–10). According to Paul, the command to “love your neighbor as yourself” is a summary statement for a way of life.

Our final example comes from James, where he writes, “You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (James 2:8). In the near context, James was discussing a lifestyle quite similar to what was found in the Holiness Code in the context of Leviticus 19:18: a Christian should not show favoritism or partiality (2:1–6, 9), should not commit adultery (2:11), and should not commit murder (2:11); but rather should be benevolent (2:15–16) and have an active faith (2:17–26). Similar teaching about pure, righteous, humble, and wise living is found throughout the epistle of James.


In conclusion, what matters the most in the Christian faith? What is most important for one’s Christian life? It is to love God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. Be careful not to elevate a human tradition, a personal preference, or a subordinate matter to the level of these commandments. Remember that loving God involves our whole being – heart, soul, mind, and strength – thus, all of our lives. Finally, utilize the command to love your neighbor as a summary principle for living “lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly” (Titus 2:12).


This article originally appeared as Williams, Joel Stephen. “What Matters the Most.” Gospel Light 87, no. 6 (November/December 2017): 139, 142.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Being about Our Father's Business

Being about Our Father’s Business

(Luke 2:41–47)

Ted Burleson

At age twelve, the boy Jesus walked with His family on the trip from Nazareth to Jerusalem to observe the Passover (Luke 2:41). His family members were Israelites, and God commanded the Israelites through Moses: “Three times in the year all your males shall appear before the LORD God” (Ex. 23:17; NKJV).

Jesus at Age Twelve Goes to Jerusalem

The seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread followed the Passover (cf. Luke 22:1). The Passover was a memorial to the flight of the death angel over the houses in the land of Egypt while the Israelites were still in slavery (cf. Ex. 12:12–14). The first-born males of the Egyptians died while God spared the first-born sons of the Israelites. This feast helped the Israelites remember that God allowed them to escape from Egypt (cf. Ex. 23:15). For every ten people, Israelites offered a sacrificial lamb at Passover. At sundown, the families or group of relatives and friends gathered together for a meal of unleavened bread, bitter herbs, and lamb.

Women and children did not have to participate in the Passover pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The Bible indicates that some women made pilgrimages with their husbands for worship and the yearly sacrifice, including Hannah at Shiloh (cf. 1 Sam. 1:3, 7). Jesus’s parents fulfilled the requirement and stayed in Jerusalem at least the two days and may have stayed for the entire eight-day feast. Joseph and Mary’s strict observance of the Jewish feasts suggests that Jesus’s childhood home observed strict adherence to the Law.

According to Jewish regulations, a boy started observing the Law at age 13 in a ceremony similar to modern “bar mitzvah.” His twelfth year was the last the boy Jesus would make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem as a boy for the next year He would be considered a man with adult responsibilities.

In making the annual pilgrimages, families and friends would join together and form a large number of travelers. The traveling-party would reduce the demands on the individual. This method of travel would also be safer, since they would need to pass through the unfriendly Samaritan territory and to avoid attacks by robbers like the injured man in the story of the Good Samaritan.

Jesus in the Temple with the Teachers

It is easy to understand why Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. He was in the transition from boyhood to adulthood. The women and young children in a Jewish caravan returning from a feast would travel ahead of the men and older boys. Jesus’s parents likely assumed that He was going with friends or relatives from Nazareth. He was close enough to be still a child that Joseph probably assumed He was with Mary. He was so close to being a man that Mary probably thought He was with Joseph. Parents can sympathize with Joseph and Mary.

The traveling party traveled a “day’s journey” before they realized that Jesus was not with their relatives and friends. The length of a day’s journey would depend on the distance they had to travel to reach an excellent campsite with plenty of water. Twenty to twenty-five miles is a reasonable estimate of an average day’s journey with baggage, animals, women, and children.

When Jesus’s parents returned to Jerusalem, they found Him. He was “in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers” (Luke 2:46; NASB). The rabbis taught in the temple precincts or at a neighboring synagogue. Hearers sat on the ground at the feet of the teacher. Approximately eighteen years later, Jesus would teach daily in the temple (cf. Luke 19:47). These teachers did not know that the child was the very Messiah for whom they longed to see.

The method rabbis often used to teach was to answer the probing questions their pupils would ask. Picture Jesus, an eager student with zeal to learn and intelligence that amazed the teachers. What surprised them about His understanding and His answers? Although Jesus was not teaching the teachers, His observations concerning the Law were apparent in the questions He asked, astonishing those who heard Him.

No doubt, with agony Mary and Joseph searched for Jesus, fearing and grieving the worst. When they found Him in the temple listening to the rabbis, they were astonished. Mary asked, “Son, why have You treated us this way?” (Luke 2:48; NASB). Mary’s question to Jesus implies that an obedient or responsible son would not have acted in this way.

Jesus Reveals His Self-Consciousness

It is Jesus’s reply to Mary’s question that is the focus of this lesson. In Luke 2:49, we read the first recorded words of Jesus. He asked something very revealing as to His mindset, even at age twelve. Jesus’s question depends on the translation from which you are reading. There are two possible translations of Jesus’s question. The New King James Version that says Jesus’s question was, “Why did you seek Me,” illustrates the first translation of the question, “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” The other translation of Jesus’s question is illustrated by both the New International Version and the New American Standard Version, which translates Jesus’s question in a very similar way: “Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?” What did Jesus mean when He asked this question? Is there something in Jesus’s question that would help us please Father God in our daily lives? If there is, we need to know about it.

The apparent context of the verse is that at that moment, Jesus was in the temple, the house of the Heavenly Father. It is this translation that was accepted by the early church. Years later, as He was driving the moneychangers out of the temple, Jesus calls the temple, “My Father’s house” (John 2:16). The writer of Hebrews would record, “Christ is faithful as a son over God’s house” (Heb. 3:6; NIV). Jesus surely felt a deep-seated relationship with God and felt comfortable in His Heavenly Father’s house, the temple.

But if Jesus said that He had to be about His Father’s business, we would understand a little more about this twelve-year-olds understanding of His mission as the Son of God. “In My Father’s house” means that He must be doing the things of God. Luke shares with his readers the first of six “must” actions for Jesus. First, as we have just read, Jesus had to be about His Father’s business (Luke 2:49). Second, Jesus said that He had preached the kingdom of God (Luke 4:43). Luke tells us in one verse, Luke 9:22, about the next four things Jesus had to do. Jesus said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.”

Jesus spent His life doing the business of His Father. Doing the Father’s business was essential for Jesus. He once said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work” (John 4:34). He so devoted His life to His Father’s business that on the night before He died, He told the Father in prayer, “I have finished the work which You have given Me to do” (John 17:4).

Attending to the Father’s Business

If our goal is to be like Jesus, then we should be about our Heavenly Father’s business as well. But how do we go about doing our Father’s business? The New Testament gives us commands and examples of being about our Father’s business. Let us observe three of these precepts and patterns.

First, we can be about our Father’s business by setting our minds on God’s interests. In Mark 8:31, Jesus began to prepare His disciples for His suffering and crucifixion. The Scriptures say, “Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him” (Mark 8:32; NKJV). Jesus then rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind Me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s” (Mark 8:34; NASB).

It is easy to set our minds on human interests instead of what is essential to God. Seeking social benefits is not a new problem. Paul wrote to the Philippian Christians, “For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ” (Phil. 2:21; NKJV).

Second, we must be about our Father’s business in supporting the work of the Lord financially. To demonstrate this point, please consider Luke 20:20. The religious leaders of Jesus’s day hated Him so much they wanted to kill Him and eventually did. In one of their attempts to catch Him in some statement they could use against Him, they sent spies to ask Him whether or not it was lawful for a follower of Christ to pay taxes. He told them to show Him a denarius and asked whose likeness and inscription was on it. They said, “Caesar’s.” He then made the famous statement to which I just alluded. “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Luke 20:25, NKJV). We can be about our Father’s business by financially supporting His work.

Third, we can be about our Father’s business in the same way Paul encouraged Timothy to be about the Father’s business in 1 Timothy 4. Paul was advising Timothy to be a good servant of Jesus Christ. He wanted him to overcome the obstacles of being a young preacher and be an example to all believers. In 1 Timothy 4:13, Paul wrote, “Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching” (1 Tim. 4:13, NASB). He further explained, “Take pains with these things: be adsorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all” (1 Tim. 4:15; NASB). We need, like Timothy, to tell others about Jesus and what He is doing for us.

How will you be about your Heavenly Father’s business? There are a million and one ways to serve Him.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

"This is the Only Time in the Week I Get a Hug"

“This is the Only Time in the Week I Get a Hug”

C. Philip Slate

My wife and I were once members of a congregation in which a tall and tough brother who grew up in Mississippi routinely greeted people who came into our building. Generally, he hugged the older women, especially the widows. He once reported that one of our elderly sisters said, “This is the only time in the week I get a hug.” That comment was both wonderful and tragic. Here is the reason for my judgment.

Loneliness is a serious emotional condition that leads to many physical and mental problems. A recent Prime Minister of the UK, Teresa May, was so concerned about the high percentage of lonely people in the British Isles that she created a Ministry for Loneliness. In our country, the Center for Disease Control reports that the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) discovered that “more than one-third of adults aged 45 and older feel lonely, and nearly one-fourth of adults aged 65 and older are considered to be socially isolated” (CDC Website on “Loneliness”). Further, people who feel lonely, even when not socially isolated, tend to die earlier and have many more physical and mental illnesses than those who feel like they belong and have friends. To me, it seems regrettable that an elderly sister gets hugged only once per week. Surely her comment was a graphic way of describing her feeling alone most of the time. That was the bad, the tragic part of the sister’s comment.

The good side of her comment was that the hug she got, and clearly cherished, was at the assembly. I don’t know that the big man at the door was the only one who hugged her. Perhaps not. I hope not. The current fallout from the social distancing required to manage the spread of the coronavirus is causing a lot of church members to realize what usually takes place at assemblies without their commenting on it, without realizing its benefits. Christian greetings, smiling faces, cheerful comments, and words of encouragement are almost taken for granted; but they are a few of the ingredients of fellowship, of sharing life that occurs “when we come together.”

Currently, I am in a congregation where a widowed daughter is taking care of her widowed mother who has early stages of dementia. The mother cannot understand “why we can’t go to church now.” She doesn’t hear well enough to follow the sermons or public prayers, but she wants to be there. Why? Hearing people greet her and seeing their smiling faces communicate to her. She does not feel alone. Occasionally, younger people also feel lonely. Be sensitive to them as well.

It would be cheap and theologically indefensible to urge someone to become a Christian “so you can get a hug!” There are a lot of by-products of the Christian worldview that we don’t use on the front end of our teaching people. Having stated that, however, throughout church history it is clear that consistently lived Christian deportment has opened thousands of doors for people to hear the good-news message.

Church leaders will do well to keep their antennae up for members who might be lonely. People need not be in the hospital for us to be aware of some of their needs. It is a pity to have such a potent benefit for people as fellowship and then fail to use it. Be proactive in seeing to it that someone visits lonely or potentially lonely members on a periodic basis. Even phone calls are helpful, but to many people there is nothing like a hug! It is a part of shepherding; it is a way of loving one another. By the way, I’ve noticed that older men do not recoil when I put an arm around them and give them a hug.

Relational Evangelism

Relational Evangelism

Roger Shepherd

Evangelism that reaches the unchurched in a postmodern society is built on relationships. Relational is a word that means relationship, a partnership, to share a common life, a connection, association, or involvement between people such as the case was in the early church (Acts 2:44–47). The connection that people of all nations make with one another is in Christ (Gal 3:26–29). Believers share a common life called Christianity and enjoy the blessings of a spiritual relationship with God and one another. I ran a survey among thirty-eight congregations and one-thousand members of churches that gave the result stating 91% desired a relationship with someone other than a family member. Relationships are important in outreach evangelism to save the lost and keep the saved. The greatest need among the church is a revival of relationships. This will give us a renewed people! Evangelism is personal teaching the lost the message of salvation when the relationship is secured.

Connecting in Christ

Congregations in the past have used three main approaches to developing interest in the world for evangelism. First, controversy is the approach that includes such things as debate and answering controversial questions. While not many people are sharing their faith in today’s churches, some of those who are doing so do it by confronting lost people. This is more of the old hard sell approach that worked reasonably well in the 1940s and 1950s, when many lost people attended a church (Aubrey Malphurs, Planting Growing Churches for the 21st Century, 125). Second, confrontation is a presentation of the gospel to the lost who attended the worship assemblies as far back as the Restoration Movement. This approach seeks a Bible study directly on the scene without much knowledge of the prospect for conversion to Christ. Three, the relational approach is highly recommended which seeks to build a strong relationship with lost people. It seeks to build relationships with the never churched then evangelize with personal teaching. It also has a holding power to keep the converted saved. Christians can successfully share their faith in Christ in today’s churches by confronting people with the gospel after a relationship has been established.

God connects all people spiritually by the blood of Christ (Acts 17:26; Rom 5:8-10; Rev 1:5). It is an emotional (love) bridge or connection between people as friends (John 13:34–35). The bridge from our heart to the lost person is relationship or a connection of hearts. A healthy relationship with people is one of the most significant ingredients in successful and spontaneous church growth.

Spiritual Relationships in Christ

Strong relationships among Christians on the inside of the church and with unbelievers on the outside of the assembly accomplish the mission Jesus intended for the church, that is, making disciples (Matt 28:19). Everett Ferguson builds a strong case that building relationships with one another in the church maintains an important witness to those outside of the assembly by saying, “If the worship of the church reflects salvation as a response to God, and if the work of the church reflects salvation as a mission to outsiders, then the life in the church and the church’s fellowship express salvation principally in the relations of Christians with one another” (Everett Ferguson, The Church of Christ: A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today, 349).

Relationships with one another in the local church are manifested in the “sharing of a common life together . . . in the sense of community and brotherly communion” (Ferguson, Church of Christ, 371). The first church had common needs both physically and spiritually that was aforementioned above. This early congregation or community of Christ was benevolent in providing for one another’s needs by a “common property” (Acts 4:32). These early saints had a “common salvation” as they were instructed to “contend earnestly for the faith” (Jude 3). The crowning virtue of these early Christians was their “love feasts” that produced community and communion shared in Christ (Jude 12). Therefore, “There is a common life in Christ; fellowship does include association with fellow Christians” (Ferguson, Church of Christ, 371). The best actions expressed by the first Christians, as well as today, are associations built upon a true loving relationship. The result is saving the lost and keeping the saved.

Relational Evangelism Vision

A Great Commission vision is biblical (Matt 28:18–20). A strong servant-leadership starting with the pastors is effective in caring for the laity (Acts 6:1-7; 1 Cor. 11:1–3). A well-equipped/trained and mobilized membership is Christ focused in all areas of ministry (1 Cor. 12; Eph. 4:11–16). The laity is brought into the church with an attitude of involvement. A culturally relevant ministry is serving ministries that involve all the laity (1 Pet. 4:11f). An inspiring, uplifting, holistic and praising worship motivates the laity to serve God after the worship assembly is completed (Acts 2:14–47). Meeting the needs of community people without being controversial all the time is necessary to build an evangelistic relationship (Acts 2:47; 5:42; 20:20). A robust network of small group fellowship and service keeps the laity saved (Acts 2:42-47; 10:24, 33). It must be community centered ministries, not programs. How can we build relationships that connect people, not only in the assembly, but among the people of the community? The following ten biblical principles will keep you from taking advantage of people and seek to build strong relationships:

  1. The golden rule: “treat people the same way you want them to treat you” (Matt 7:12).
  2. In order to build a healthy personal relationship, show people that you really care (Matt 9:18-38).
  3. Live with people through the good times and the bad times of their lives (Rom 12:15; 1 Cor 12:18–26). The closest relationships with people are built during the bad times. Many strong relationships are also built during times of rejoicing such as the birth of a child, a wedding, and a business success.
  4. We build personal relationships with people with unconditional commitment, especially to help heal their many problems. This is the time that they need your unconditional love (1 Cor 13:1–8). Love works every time!
  5. Personal evangelists will seek to really know people with whom they are working in matters of salvation (John 10:24–30). They will know the prospect’s family, goals, abilities, spiritual needs, and dreams in live (1 Thess 5:12–15).
  6. The personal evangelists will always put lost people and their needs before themselves like Jesus (Phil 2:1–5).
  7. A good relationship is always built upon friendships (John 15:12–17). There are many people inside and outside of the church that long for one true friend. Will you be one?
  8. It is also helpful to look for things to praise people (Heb 10:24). Praise and encouragement are two very strong stimuli that work!
  9. Personal teaching includes a message that God cares for people (1 Pet 5:7).
  10. Relationships are built upon trust beginning with trusting God and then one another (Ps 56:4; Heb 13: 6).


In summary, the old adage “that people care less what you know until they know how much you truly care for them” is very much needed today in the community, the church, the family, and world at large. There are times when controversy and confrontation may be needed, but it will be accepted when it follows a true and loving relationship. People will allow you to approach them concerning their salvation when they know it is non-threatening. The key words in evangelism today are relationship, connection, and trust, especially among twenty-first century young people. How are you approaching people? Can it stand a good revision? The relationship that you build today may be the only opportunity that person has to receive eternal life in Christ.

Effective evangelism in our contemporary community will be most successful through relational teaching. Believers that are equipped and actively involved in evangelism will bring a new life in personal teaching outreach and permanent church growth. We are called to take the initiative to build strong relationships and proclaim the gospel of Christ to lost people in all nations. Evangelism is intentional and essential practice for the whole people of God in the whole world (Matt 13:38). The goal is making disciples of Christ in right relationship to God and one another.

Remember Rwanda Genocide?



C. Philip Slate

Sometimes human failures and flaws can be seen more clearly in others than in ourselves, especially when events are viewed at the distances of time and space. Looking at others, however, can have a boomerang effect. I take the 1994–95 genocide in Rwanda as a case in point.

Rwanda is a small, landlocked country situated in the Great Rift Valley in East Africa. Two ethnic groups dominated the local population for many centuries. By the 20th century, the majority Hutus (81-85%) were Bantu people, while the Tutsis (18%), the ruling group, were Nilotic people. The country was a German colony from 1894 to 1916. Then it became a Belgium colony (1916–1962) until its independence. Later in the 20th century, the tensions between the two groups that had been building for forty years came to a peak in 1994. It took little to trigger a war of genocide that lasted 100 days. The minority Hutu extremist militia killed about 800,000 people, among them both their Tutsi enemies and moderates among the Hutus. A million or so people fled the country to survive. The situation was complex, and the effects of it are still felt in three or four surrounding African countries.

A major point of concern here is the relationship of that sordid era to Christian faith and life. Roman Catholic missionaries first went to Rwanda in 1900 and were followed by the Protestants in 1907. The 2001 edition of Operation World reported that 80.83% of the population, including both Hutus and Tutsis, were Christians of one kind or another; 42.5% were Roman Catholic and 18.76% Protestant, while the balance were Seventh-day Adventists, Jehovah Witnesses, and various independent groups. How, then, could people who call themselves Christians, even in that broad use of the word, engage in such brutal butchering of fellow-Christians, both in their own ethnic group and the other, all Africans? At one point a Roman Catholic Bishop asked the people, “What, is not the blood of Christ more important than tribal blood?” Their answer was, “I suppose not.”

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? People who grow up in such ethnic groups are taught, perhaps formally and certainly informally, about the evils or inferiority of the other African tribe. They don’t question it. Why should they? The venerable grandfather and the beloved great aunt hold those views. They hear the stories of those “bad” people.

It is now known that ethnic, racial, and religious prejudices are usually learned early in life and reinforced by the behavior of respected adults. The Hutu and Tutsi tribes are a good illustration. The deeply felt prejudices among them were learned from childhood, reinforced by respected elders, and made the subject of jokes and stories. Usually, people don’t question those prejudices until and unless there is some intervention, like the teachings of Jesus.

So, what happened in Rwanda? Eighty percent were “Christian”, and yet they butchered each other? Someone failed to do preaching and teaching that made a difference in behavior. Evangelicals eagerly “Got ‘em saved” and then failed to mature them. For hundreds of years the Roman Church has seemed content for many of their members to “pay and pray.” These behaviors lead to the common statement that Christianity is “a mile wide and a foot deep in Africa.” Can that be a useful mirror?

Consistent Christian behavior is both an honor to God (Eph. 1:6, 12, 14) and a door opener for many outsiders. Such behavior is a product of growth, a nurturing process for which the church is responsible. Such growth requires more than the anemic recommendation, “Y’all be good, now.” Biblical godliness is rooted in theology, in the principles of being godlike (Eph. 5:1), sharing His holiness (Heb. 12:10), partaking of His divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4). Preaching and teaching that matters will aim to produce godliness, the kind that stands up for King Jesus when the tide of culture flows in the opposite direction.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

The Power of Prevention

Pastoral Counseling: The Power of Prevention

by Bill Bagents

I so wish I could remember where I first saw the church described as “a kingdom of right relationships.” While incomplete, it’s so helpful and so accurate. It fits Jesus’s description of the first and second commandments (Matt 22:37–40). If we love God as fully as possible and love our neighbors as ourselves, all of life goes better.

Those of us who counsel regularly are exposed to a darker view of life. Hurting people—often severely damaged and hurting people—seek our help. It can seem that everybody is in major pain. It can come to appear that most people live in crisis. While every human both experiences harm and hurts others in this sin-damaged world, life isn’t always as dark as our wearied perception.

Paths to Dysfunction

We’d never deem ourselves wise enough to list, describe, and quantify every approach to emotional and relational pain. But there is value in remembering the most common paths. If we seek to decrease dysfunction, we need to know what we’re trying to prevent.

At the top of the list is trying to be our own gods. We are not the source of power, truth, or righteousness (Job 38–42; Prov 16:2, 25; Jer 10:23–24). We are not the standard by which all else is judged. We are not even close to all-knowing, and we don’t really understand all that we think we know.

Frequent and painful is trying to please everyone. Logically, people are exceedingly diverse. It’s literally impossible to please everyone since people have stunningly different needs, wants, and agendas. One wants rain for the garden while another wants maximum sun for her picnic. One wants one-on-one time with you while another wants a big gathering of family and friends.

Regrettable and self-punishing is failing to admit and learn from our errors. What’s wrong, dumb, or less than the best is wrong, dumb, and less than the best even if we do it. We all err and sin (Rom 3:23). Failing to admit our failings is stunningly damaging. It demands wasting energy by trying to defend the indefensible. It makes us look bad and feel bad. It distances us from God and from people who can help us. It ensures that we fail to grow through our errors.

Classically foolish is choosing the wrong advisers (Prov 13:20). Biblical examples include Amnon and Jonadab (2 Sam 13:1–22), Ahab and Jezebel (1 Kgs 21), and Ahab with his false prophets (1 Kgs 22:1–7).

Ever more common is choosing entitlement. It’s amazingly arrogant to think that the universe exists to meet my needs, that life should be as I prefer. To choose entitlement is to invite perpetual victimhood. Life will not always go as we prefer. Many of our expectations will go unfulfilled.

Tragically unwise is failing to differentiate true and false guilt. “Godly grief” that leads to repentance holds amazing power (2 Cor 7:10). But grinding sorrow over matters we did not cause and could not prevent causes only pain. Even the strongest feeling of sorrow holds no benefit unless it bears “fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matt 3:8).

Foolish to the core is choosing an unbiblical model of success or even meaningful existence. To the best of our knowledge, Abel never fathered a child, wrote a book, earned a degree, led a movement, or did any deed of renown. Yet he stands as an example of faithfulness (Heb 11:4). We don’t even know the name of the widow who gave the two small coins, but we expect to see her in heaven (Mark 12:41–44). We know that God sees far better than we do (1 Sam 16:7; Rev 2:8–9).

What Can Church Leaders Do to Prevent These Paths to Pain?

If the church is in any sense a kingdom of right relationships, we want to minimize pain and dysfunction. We want to stop patterns of neglect and abuse. We want to build love, joy, peace, trust, faith, and service. Part of doing this great work is accessing the power of prevention.

Prevention is strategic on several levels.

  • It follows the example of God (Gen 4:6–7; Deut 11:26–28).
  • It invites people to forego the scars and residual effects that often accompany even sin that has been forgiven (2 Sam 12:7–14).
  • It demonstrates the power of God’s word to bless, guide, and protect (Ps 119:97–104; 2 Tim 3:16–17).
  • It demonstrates biblical wisdom (Prov 22:3, 27:12).
  • It demonstrates excellent stewardship. Often the resources—time, tears, effort, and expertise—required for prevention are far less than those needed for reclamation (Prov 18:19).

To practice prevention of sin, self-will, and broken relationships, help people trust God. Teach people that God is good, gracious, merciful, and loving—even when life seems to say otherwise (Job 13:15; Rom 8:31–39; 2 Cor 4:7–16). The stories of Abraham, Joseph, Daniel, and Paul all powerfully document this truth. Please don’t assume that hearers have already grasped this fact.

Help people align their view of reality with God’s. We are “sojourners and exiles” in this world (1 Pet 2:11–12). While we live here, we will have trouble (Job 14:1; John 16:1–4). The Bible offers no example of a godly person who experienced no challenges.

Help people treat others right/lovingly always (Matt 5–7; Rom 12:3–21; 1 John 3:18). Through your personal example, classes, sermons, and conversations, help people apply biblical principles of right conduct. Challenge what needs to be challenged; commend what merits commendation. Don’t miss an opportunity to teach.

Help people face truth. While we can offer the gospel, we can’t make anyone choose faith (Mark 10:17–22; Matt 23:37–39; John 1:11–13). To quote the great philosopher Clint Eastwood, “A man’s got to know his limitations.” Reality does not bend to our will. The gospel calls, but people can refuse it. Even though God is perfect and all-powerful, bad things still happen. And it remains far wiser to face pain and evil with God’s help rather than without it.

Provide forums for shared wisdom and supportive healing. Consider a Bible class on “The Christian and Emotions.” Begin with a pertinent text. Offer a few questions to promote thinking and application. Prepare to be amazed at how much people help one another in that setting. For example, offer 1 Corinthians 13 on love. Ask, “Why does the Holy Spirit offer us a behavioral description of love?” “What impresses you most about this description?” “What biblical characters best model each aspect of love as described in 1 Corinthians 13?” You’ll be amazed at the level of insight and impact that flows from such Bible-based discussion.

Support those who “get up and go on” with God. Even very strong people get knocked down by life. Think of David in Psalm 51. Think of Elijah in 1 Kings 19. Think of Peter’s denial (Matt 26:31–35, 69–75). Think of Barnabas (Gal 2:13). When people hit rough patches, they need such examples. They need to be reminded that God is fiercely loyal and loving.

We must stay spiritually healthy ourselves. If people hear us say one thing but model another, they will believe their eyes! Virtually everyone hates hypocrisy (Matt 23:1–14). Oppositely, we’re blessed to love the consistency and congruence of Jesus. Luke emphasized his attention on “all that Jesus began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1). His actions and teachings always corresponded; they always honored God (John 8:29). May the same be true of us!


Within the realm of church leadership and pastoral counseling, prevention is non-glamorous. It almost never brings “ah ha” moments when people tell us, “Thank you. This has helped me so much! I feel like I can move forward with God now.”

While the benefits of preventing unhealthy living will be quieter and less obvious, God will not let them remain invisible. In a sense, it’s like parenting. We teach and model “the discipline and instruction of the Lord” without seeing daily results or rewards (Eph 6:4). But eventually, we’re blessed to learn that God’s truth has changed hearts to be like Jesus (Eph 4:11–16; Prov 23:24). Sweet!

Friday, July 10, 2020

Helping People Face Fear

Pastoral Counseling: Helping People Face Fear

by Bill Bagents

How do we deal with fear? Some Christians know the biblical answer, and it’s simple. They cite book, chapter, and verse.

  • “Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear” (Ps 27:3).
  • “Do not fear, only believe” (Mark 9:36).
  • “…for God gave us a spirit not of fear, but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim 1:7).
  • “The Lord is my helper. I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Heb 13:7; Ps 118:6).
  • “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).

They add Revelation 1:17 and 21:8 for good measure. For these bold and confident Christians, fear is failure to take God at His word. To them, fear is sin, weakness, and lack of faith. Fear is always an unwise, unworthy, and unbiblical choice.

Thinking More Broadly

While these assertions may be true in some cases, we’re blessed to know that facing fear isn’t that simple. Fear as an emotion is not sinful. To use an extreme example, there’s no sin in fearing snakes or in being startled and distressed when we see one. There would, however, be sin in letting our fear of snakes keep us from rescuing a child who was about to be struck by one.

On the other hand, we see good judgment in Israel’s fear before the Lord at Sinai (Exod 19:16). Esther’s slight delay and prayer request reflected her understanding of the life-and-death situation she was about to face before the king (Esth 4:13–17). While we’re amazed at the courage of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, we would not claim that they had no feelings of fear in the face of the fiery furnace (Dan 3:16–18). Scripture does not describe their emotions, only their faith and commitment to God. How much more courageous their choice if they felt great fear and acted faithfully instead of protecting their lives.

We do not think poorly of the Philippian jailer who, after earthquake and rescue, “trembling with fear…fell down before Paul and Silas” (Acts 16:29). In twin acts of healthy transparency, Paul shared his fears with the Corinthian Christians in both 1 Corinthians 2:3 and 2 Corinthians 7:5.

While fear is sometimes warranted, we dare not let it move us to cowardice. John 12:42–43, read with John 7:13 and 9:22, lead many to believe “because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him” must have included an element of fear. If so, this fear certainly set the stage for sin. By not confessing Jesus, they denied Him. Failing to confess Jesus, regardless of the reason, can’t be right. Fear—even great fear—offers no excuse for sin (Matt 25:14–30).

How Do We Help People Struggling with Fear?

In the broadest of terms, it helps to sort fears by category. Some fears are merely inconvenient while others are debilitating. Fear of frogs, clowns, or spiders, for example, may be emotionally troubling, but present no moral danger. Extreme fear of germs or crowds will be life-limiting. Assisting in overcoming phobias may lie outside our skill set, but there are three needed reminders.

  1. Please don’t dismiss or make light of phobias. To do so sends a terrible and discouraging message to the victim. Even when we can’t offer specific help, we can offer powerful assistance by being caring and respectful.
  2. The irrational fear may create an opportunity to teach critical thinking skills.
  3. Finally, we may discover what counselors call “the presenting problem.” It may be that the hurting person sought your help and began with mentioning a phobia as a test. The phobia was a safe place to begin. The hurting person felt a need to gauge your level of compassion and wisdom before sharing a deeper and more troubling issue. If it proves to be a test of wisdom and compassion, we’re blessed to pass it.

Some fears are rational and others irrational. For irrational fears, those flowing from extremely unlikely events—being struck by a meteor or eaten by piranha, our role may be to listen without laughing or labeling. The need of the moment may be confirmation that we don’t judge unbiblically and God doesn’t condemn people just because they struggle.

For rational fears, one of the biggest needs is maintaining truthfulness. Many church leaders feel a strong pull to reassure: “Now, now, everything’s going to be okay. God wouldn’t let this happen to you or yours.” We must avoid false reassurance. Terrible things happened to Abel, Job, Joseph, Jeremiah, Daniel, Naboth, John the Baptizer, and Jesus. When we speak where God has not, we err grievously.

If the fear being addressed is rational, part of our role may lie in risk reduction. Faith does not preclude common sense and good judgment. Can we offer suggestions that minimize the danger? Ideas to explore could include buying a home security system, getting a dog, moving to a safer neighborhood, walking home from work with a friend, or changing shifts at work. We can rightly suggest and offer prayers for protection.

We can recommend comforting biblical passages, including those that document the ability of personal courage to help others overcome fear (Ps 23; John 14; 2 Cor 4–5; Judg 4:4–9; 1 Sam 14:1–14; Phil 1:12–14). And we can share the great biblical truth that the person who fears God ultimately has nothing else to fear (Matt 10:25–33; especially v. 28). We’re wise to offer this truth with foundation and compassion rather than as a dismissive platitude. All truth is God’s, but some hurting people don’t yet have the reservoir of faith and knowledge to hear and grasp His more challenging teachings.

Always, we’re wise to listen and learn before forming opinions or offering suggestions. It’s possible that a fearful sister has already faced her fear, and like Esther has made a godly choice. It’s possible the devil is attacking her through false guilt. “Yes, you did right—eventually. But you felt fear first. You failed to trust God. You’re just as guilty as if you’d never done right.” We know this is a lie, but we also know how tenderhearted some people are. A person in this situation needs clarity of thought, compassion, and commendation. A suggested reply: “Bless your tender heart. Being human, you felt fear. Being Christian, you trusted God more than you trusted even your own heart. You chose to honor God by doing what you knew to be right. Your example is so encouraging to me!”

Other scenarios are possible. It could be that our sister has not yet decided to face her fear and do right. She may need help in recognizing that she is not destined to be controlled by her fear. She can act better than she feels. She can do right no matter how she feels. Or, she may already know this, but need help in choosing to do what she knows to be best. As counselors, we often lend moral, biblical, and intellectual support to good people. We encourage them to step up to God’s will.

Of course, it’s possible that our sister has given in to fear and wants help to feel less bad because of her bad decision. “If I can get a church leader to tell me that this is okay, then I won’t have to hurt over it anymore.” This is help that we can’t offer (2 Tim 4:3–4). Doing bad should feel bad. Godly sorry over sin needs to hold sway and move us to repentance (2 Cor 7:8–12).

First, we listen and learn. Then, we teach. It’s so dangerous to assume that everyone knows that the mere feeling of fear, no matter how intense, is not inherently sinful. The devil won’t waste effort. If he can persuade a person, “You’ve already sinned by feeling fear. Since you’re already defeated, what you do next doesn’t matter,” he will take the victory. We’re wise to know that our feelings are not fully and immediately under our control. Our actions are. Feelings often flash; they appear from nowhere. Our actions are different; we can always choose to do right.

Knowing that we can and should control our actions is essential, but incomplete. Some people battling fear will need help in identifying options, choosing the best one, and moving from choice to action. When godly action is identified, we strongly recommend taking it as soon as is feasible. While we support prayer and sound thinking, we do not support delay. Fear often grows through delay. Unhealthy delay blesses no one.

Two Caveats

As with most of life, expect progress in overcoming fear to be zigzag. It’s far more likely to be a process complete with setbacks rather than a monumental breakthrough when all fear disappears entirely and forever. We don’t deny that God is capable of those monumental moments, but we seldom have the capacity to receive that level of blessing.

Secondly, “progress” is a very broad word in the context of dealing with fear. In the best of cases, the fear is overcome never to return. Sometimes the fear is largely overcome, but ongoing battles ensue. As the fear tries to return, we battle it with prayer, biblical teaching, sound thinking, and the support of trusted friends.

A Reminder about Progress

Sometimes, the fear is not overcome, but it is managed to an effective degree. For Christians this is in no way a denial of Psalm 27:3; Mark 9:36; John 14:27; 2 Timothy 1:7; or Hebrews 13:7. Rather, it’s a realistic admission of human frailty in this sin-damaged world. Satan will deny this nuanced view. He will assert that dealing with fear is either/or: “You claim to believe the Bible. Either you trust God by ‘casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you’ (1 Pet 5:7), or you don’t. God doesn’t tolerate halfhearted faith.” Please note that we present the devil quoting scripture just as he did to Jesus (Matt 4:6). Nothing is sacred to Satan.

Do we see the errors in Satan’s statements above? He presents a classic false dichotomy. He presents a situation as either/or when it’s far more complex. He omits grace. He subtly denies the great truth taught in Mark 9:14–29. In our better moments, all of us can identify with the desperate father’s plea, “I believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24)! We know that we are works in progress. Our faith always needs to grow (2 Cor 10:15; 2 Thess 1:3; 2 Pet 1:5–11). God doesn’t bless halfhearted faith, but He has an outstanding history of faith development. He has an outstandingly gracious record of working with those who want His help and blessing (Luke 17:5–6; 22:31–32; John 20:24–31).

Two Recommendations

When you are blessed to help a fellow Christian overcome any fear, please don’t forget commendation and celebration. Tell the overcomer, “I’m so happy for you. I love the victory that God has given you!” And please don’t forget to ask, “How do you feel now that God has given you this victory?” We do not imply that our feelings are God’s standard, but we love to celebrate with those who open the door of God’s deliverance (Rom 12:15; Phil 2:3–4). We want them to use the energy and encouragement of the “win” for even greater spiritual service.

If the victory over fear comes in the form of faithful endurance, please don’t forget 2 Corinthians 12:7–10. God didn’t remove Paul’s thorn, but He changed Paul’s perspective. He gave Paul—and us—a lesson in grace, trust, strength, wisdom, power, perspective, and humility. The longer we live, the more we appreciate those deep and quiet souls who face great fear and trust God anyway.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Dealing with Prejudice


C. Philip Slate

Gordon W. Allport’s The Nature of Prejudice (1954), though now sixty-six years old, still sets the agenda for scholarly research on prejudice and discrimination. Fifty years after its initial publication a group of forty-four scholars provided essays that celebrated and affirmed Allport’s work.

I read Allport’s work in the late 1960s, to my great benefit. By that time, I had lived in England for nearly a decade. I had learned that prejudice takes all kinds of shapes. Within the UK there were ethnic, regional, religious, and national prejudices, both major and minor. On the European Continent the same phenomena could be observed. I did not need to read Allport to learn that biases, prejudices, and resulting discrimination occur all over the world. The biases of Jews toward Samaritans (John 4:9), and Gentiles in general, lies back of many problems mentioned in the New Testament. What Allport’s work helped me to understand was the way prejudice develops and the difficulties encountered in managing or ridding one’s self of specific unwanted biases.

Allport’s research revealed that prejudices—whether African tribalism, Oriental nationalism, or European regionalism—regardless of their origins, are learned from older people and reinforced by actions, jokes, stories, and the “blessing” of respected family members. They are developed over long periods of time, generation after generation, and people often raise no questions about their validity. For that reason, it is difficult for people to overcome their prejudices quickly and easily. That piece of information helped me to think through my biases and to be understanding with others who, for example, grow up with various prejudices, become serious Christians, and realize a conflict between their biases and their faith. Conquering unwanted biases requires time and usually the intervention of a different ideology. Making laws can render certain behaviors criminal, but legislation does not change prejudicial attitudes, a lesson learned from prohibition laws. Tearing down statues and looting stores are counter-productive, since they likely harden attitudes in some cases.

The Case of Grandma Sones

In 1963 a 75-year-old woman became a Christian in a suburb of London, England. She lived two happy and fruitful years before her death. She took seriously her new faith. Life has been tough for her. She endured two World Wars, had an alcoholic husband (by then deceased) and children who did not speak to each other and rarely visited their mother. During WWII she had a son who was a prisoner of war in Japan. Many years later, when I read Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken, I thought about her son. When the war was over, her son, sickly and weak, perhaps even wounded from prison abuse, was put aboard a ship for the UK. Grandma Sones, as we all called her, took a plane out to Egypt to see him when the ship was in the Suez Canal. She was glad she did that, because her son died aboard the ship between Egypt and England. Whom would she blame for her sadness?

Less than two decades later she became a Christian. Our congregation was international; at that time, some eight nations and three races were represented. Additionally, we had many visitors since London was one of the crossroads of the world. Once when I was in her home, with great earnestness she confessed a problem she had. “Brother Philip, I have fears that if Japanese people were to visit us, I would not act right toward them.” I understood, in a measure, how she felt. My home congregation now is in Germantown, TN, but during WWII the name was changed for a period to “Neshoba,” an Indian word meaning “wolf.” Things German were out! Things Japanese were also out. Grandma Sones’s boy had been starved by the “Japanese.” No individual Japanese person, just “Japanese.” That was the only way she could frame the situation. It was corporate dislike. How could she deal with it?

I listened patiently to her and assured her that I understand how she could feel that way. I sought to intervene by re-framing the situation. “Grandma, if any Japanese people visit us, they would almost certainly be Christians who were learning to think like Jesus wants them to think, just as you are. Their lives have been changed, like yours has been. Additionally, unless they are quite old, it is unlikely that they would have been in the military during World War II.” She stated that those perspectives helped her thinking. In retrospect, it was easy to understand her deeply felt prejudice, the hurt that had developed over no less than fourteen years. She had been emotionally abused by “Japanese people’s” behavior. On the other hand, though she never had to deal with the situation, I think she came to terms with the situation because of the intervention of information that helped her to feel better about her perceived ability to deal with the unlikely situation.

My point is that when we preachers and teachers find ourselves dealing with brothers and sisters, and others, whose prejudices are clearly unchristian, we must recognize that those attitudes have likely been developing and reinforced for many years. We must be part of the intervention that helps people to reframe the situation. When the NIV translation came out I was impressed with its acceptable rendering of 2 Tim. 4:2, “Preach the word. ... with great patience and careful instruction.” That is generally what it takes when working with former pagans who begin to grow in Christ, and that is what it takes in helping to cope with their long-held prejudices.

There are many useful steps one can take to help people manage their biases. Yes, manage them. Everyone has biases—the physicist, the rabid atheist, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Quakers, and you. It just is not possible to rid ourselves of all biases, nor should we; but it is possible to manage the undesirable ones by self-awareness. It is helpful when we can read a good book, as I did with Allport’s, or meet someone who can help us work through undesirable biases and prejudices. So, the first step in helping people to manage their racial, national, and ethnic prejudices is to understand how they were likely developed and be prepared to take time to help people manage them.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Nonviolent Action: Can It Work?

Nonviolent Action: Can It Work?

by Joel Stephen Williams

We live in a violent world where human life seems cheap, and the use of violence appears to be increasing. The bloodshed of the past century and the inhumanity of man is shocking. We are now so increasingly capable in our ability to destroy human life with powerful weapons of warfare that most people mock the very idea of nonviolent action. Sider begins his book Nonviolent Action by asking: “What good would it do for three kayaks, three canoes, and a rubber dinghy to paddle into the path of a Pakistani steamship? For a tiny fishing boat with unarmed, praying Americans aboard to sail toward an American battleship threatening Nicaragua? For an eighty-year old woman in a wheelchair to stop in front of advancing Filipino tanks?” Ineffective? Worthless? Delusional efforts of naïve people? Nevertheless, “The tanks stopped, and a nonviolent revolution succeeded. The American battleship left, and the threat of invasion faded. And the US shipment of arms to Pakistan stopped” (xiii).

All of us know of Mahatma Gandhi’s and Martin Luther King Jr.’s success with nonviolent action. Sider contends and gives evidence that there are scores and scores of other instances of nonviolent victories over dictatorships and oppression in the last century. Sider quotes Leonidas Pranao: “There are only two invincible forces in the twentieth century—the atom bomb and nonviolence.” So, in light of the increasing violence, bloodshed, genocide, and destruction in our world today, Sider urges every Christian, whether a pacifist or not, to explore the possibilities of nonviolent action as a way to pursue peace and justice.

Part I is devoted to proving that nonviolent action works. Sider reviews some of the early history of nonviolence, the efforts of Gandhi to bring independence to India, the nonviolent civil rights campaign of Martin Luther King, Jr., the Witness for Peace movement’s influence for good in Nicaragua, and nonviolent revolution in the Philippines. Part II examines the role that nonviolent action played in defeating the Soviet Empire with separate chapters on Cardinal Wojtyla and the Solidarity movement in Poland and on Christian Führer along with other Christians who prayed and protested nonviolently in East Germany.

Part III covers more recent victories for nonviolent action with separate chapters on the women of Liberia helping overthrow the dictator, Charles Taylor, the major role of nonviolence movements in the Arab spring where two countries formerly ruled by dictators held the first free elections in their history, and the creation of numerous new peacemaker teams that have emerged “to expand the use of nonviolent ways to reduce conflict in violent situations” (141). Sider makes no claims for this to be a full history of nonviolent action, of course, but it is sufficient evidence that nonviolent action can and does often work.

Part IV is where Sider calls Christians to action. He declares that the Christian community has never tested the full range of possibilities of nonviolent resistance to injustice and oppression in a sustained, carefully organized, and solidly financed way (157). Neither has any other community. He gives compelling reasons why Christians should explore nonviolent alternatives. He stakes out common ground for pacifists and non-pacifists. The final chapter is the most sobering of all. He reminds us that nonviolent struggle against war will be a long and costly battle. Sider’s work is a clarion call. May it arouse the church out of its lethargy and turn us from false means of reformation.

This review originally appeared in Stone-Campbell Journal 19, no. 2 (Fall 2016). It is reproduced in Christian Ministry and Missions blog with the kind permission of Dr. William R. Baker, editor of Stone-Campbell Journal. Many thanks to Baker Publishing Group for making the following book, which I recommend highly, available for review: Sider, Ronald J. Nonviolent Action: What Christian Ethics Demands But Most Christians Have Never Really Tried. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2015. 208pp. $22.00.

The above image of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and other leaders of the Civil Rights Movement at the third Selma Civil Rights March is used under the Fair Use doctrine of United States copyright law.