Tuesday, 9 April 2013

How do you read it?

TEAR Australia (Transformation, Empowerment, Advocacy, Relief) is a movement of Christians in Australia responding to the needs of poor communities around the world.
Recently TEAR invited the well known and loved international speaker, CB Samuel, to the TEAR Annual Conference, and afterwards for speaking engagements around Australia. With one spot left on his schedule, our Justice and Mercy team was contacted with an offer for CB to visit us at Menai.
CB Samuel with Matt Anslow (TEAR) and Dave Gaskell.

CB Samuel comes with a long track record of serving God as a pastor, Bible teacher, missiologist, evangelical leader, former head of a major Indian christian relief and development agency and a passionate advocate for the poor. He is also known as "the smiling assassin", we were yet to discover why.
CB chose to speak on Luke 10:25-37 - the parable of the good Samaritan - very familiar to most of us, but his focus was not on the part of the story we expected. He drew our attention to this:
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus, "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" "What is written in the Law," he replied, "How do you read it?"
He went on to explain that every character in the parable knew the Law to some extent, but they all read, and acted on it, differently.
  1. The priest knew the law and how to keep himself ritually pure, but allowed his own spiritual wellbeing to over-ride his obligation to the injured man. (The blessing reading)
  2. The Levite also knew the law, but was only willing to do what he was required to do in his job, which didn't include ministering to an injured man. (The job description reading)
  3. The robbers - knowledge of the law didn't carry through to how they lived. Their lives were in two different compartments. (The robber reading)
  4. The lawyer was only interested in asking an intellectual question, but not in obedience. (The intellectual stimulation reading)
  5. The Samaritan knew the law demanded to be obeyed, and acted on it. Jesus obviously approved this way of reading the Law. (The obedience reading)
  6. Jesus expects more than mere obedience. In Luke 4:14-21, Jesus said his ministry was announcing the kingdom of God and bringing good news to the poor, the oppressed and the suffering. He calls us to live the same way. Thus his teachings become "the script by which we live" - more than mere obedience, but living out the kingdom. (The fulfilment reading)
So far so good - but now "the smiling assassin" was preparing for his deadly attack.
CB drew our attention to the writings of sociologist Phil Jenkins, who in the 1990s predicted the demise of christianity in the 21st century. But by 2002 had completely changed his view, writing in his book The Next Christendom that christianity was indeed alive and well, but the centre of gravity had changed from the west (Europe and the USA) to the "global south" (Asia, Africa and Latin America). A hundred years ago most of world christians could be classified as white and rich, but now 90% are coloured and poor.
In his book The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South (2008) Jenkins maintains that the reason for this change and huge growth comes down to the way that they "read the Law" (the Bible).
CB Samuel continued with a story to illustrate his point:
"A Bible teaching missionary in Africa who established a church, appointed elders, and taught them the scriptures. One day a woman became sick, so the elders called the minister to join them in praying for her healing, as in James 5:14-15. He agreed, reluctantly, because he didn't expect her to get well. But surprisingly to him, she recovered, only to fall ill again.
The missionary awaited the call to pray again with some apprehension, but it never came. But a few days later, he saw the woman was in good health again. Upon asking the elders what had happened, they replied "after we prayed the first time, we looked among us for the one who had no faith in the Bible, and so we left you out."
It was then that the smiling assassin delivered his last lethal thrust, speaking to us very seriously, yet still with a smile, and challenging us with these words:
"It will depend on you christians and how you read the Bible and believe, obey and act upon it, as to whether or not the people of the west will see God."
A podcast of CB Samuel's talk is on the church website.

- Eric Hatfield, Justice and Mercy Team

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