The Story of the (Dis)unity of the Church June 2016
The Story of the (Dis)unity of the Church
Chapter 1 The Origins of Church Unity and Disunity
Chapter 2 Persecution as an Ingredient of a Divine spiritual Recipe
Chapter 3 Internal Division as Demonic Strategy
Chapter 4 Some special Gospel Tools towards Unity
Chapter 5 Jews First!
Chapter 6 Honour for the Despised
Chapter 7 Obstacles to Unity
Chapter 8 Antidotes to Disunity
Chapter 9 The Word unites the true Church
Chapter 10 Uniting Dynamite
Chapter 11 False Alternatives
Chapter 12 The Herrnhut Moravians in Church Unity Endeavours
Chapter 13 Evolving International Prayer for Unity
Chapter 14 The Road to the Global Day of Prayer
Chapter 15 Challenges at the Cape in Recent Years
Appendix: Draft Declaration on Christian-Muslim Relations 2010
To unite people in any situation is as much part of the nature of God as is the opposite, namely that satan always wants to divide and destroy.
One of the most difficult pennies to drop in Church circles seems to be the fact that there is tremendous power in the unity of the body of Christ. (I endeavour to write ‘church’ with a capital C throughout when I refer to the body of Christ and not a local fellowship or the institution.) Why is it so difficult for followers of Jesus to unite in prayer and action? This is the case in spite of the history of the Church that was birthed on that memorable Pentecost in Jerusalem, after the 120 believers had been united in prayer in the upper room! The Holy Spirit joined the hearts together in love, which attracted people in its thousands. What is the cause of this malaise?
I still have to meet a pastor, any Christian for that matter, who does not agree that unity with believers with other spiritual persuasions is quite important. Why then is it so difficult to implement this? Why is it so difficult to get believers to come together for prayers outside the confines of their own comfort zone?
In the history of revivals united prayer can be discerned as a common denominator. It sometimes occurred after a season of serious strife and subsequent reconciliation, e.g. in the run-up to the momentous revival in Saxony’s Herrnhut on 13 August 1727.
One of the major issues is that the Church has not honoured its Jewish roots although Jesus was a Jew. For many centuries this fact was not even generally known. In respect of the ‘Old Testament’, Christians have been misled, to regard the Hebrew Scriptures as inferior and viewing the ‘NT’ as superior! The Bible is a unit. The Hebrew Scriptures and ‘NT’ belong together, even though possibly well over 90% of sermons in churches are still taken from the ‘NT’.
However, unity does not imply uniformity. Unity in diversity, one-ness through our faith in Christ demonstrates to the spiritual powers in the heavenlies ‘the manifold wisdom of God’ (Ephesians 3:10). The Church world-wide will possibly only really come into its own if the unity of the Body of Christ in all its diversity is restored across all man-made barriers. The next verses and the following chapters of Ephesians give us an extraordinary glimpse of the universal Body of Christ, the whole family in heaven and earth (3:14) as Paul prayed for the believers – together with all the saints - to be empowered by the four-dimensional love of Christ (3:14-19). In his epistle to the Ephesians Paul gives us powerful practical tips to implement unity in our walk with the Lord and in general interaction with other believers.
We want to remind believers that the Bible teaches us that foreigners and folk at the lowest side of our social spectrum can be a blessing to any nation if given the opportunity.
Cape Town, June 2016
Chapter 1 The Origins of Church Unity and Disunity
The unity of the body of true believers has been attacked already from Creation. The arch enemy - called in Scripture a murderer from the beginning, a father of lies and one whose native language is lying (John 8:44) – has been causing estrangement already in the Garden of Eden. He brought a rupture in the relationship between man and his Maker, between the first human beings. Friction between man and nature was caused simultaneously. God's original plan for the creation of man was intimate relationship - communion with mankind! Satan, the deceiver, the liar and diabolos (separator), robbed humanity in this way.
The Creator's reply to this onslaught was redemption. The Bible explains redemption by using pictures or models such as how God freed the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt. The Almighty thus became their redeemer. This exodus event was however only a forerunner of the great redemption still to come. Universally mankind needed redemption as well. The 'salvation' of the small nation of Israel was a demonstration of God's loving nature and care for man. What the arch enemy had stolen – sweet intimate communion with the Almighty - had to be redeemed.
Redemption has been defined as 'to recover possession or ownership'. To do this, God became flesh, coming to the earth in the form of His Son, Jesus Christ, who reconciled the World with himself (2 Corinthians 5:20). Jesus shed His precious blood to deliver mankind from the bondage of sin.
Pleading with the Corinthian believers to be reconciled to God, Paul, the missionary apostle and author of this statement, challenges followers of Jesus to consciously step into this tradition. As God’s ambassadors substituting for Christ, we are requested to invite men and women everywhere to get reconciled to God. In the extension of this, every believer in Jesus Christ is invited to be or to become an agent of reconciliation, consciously also addressing all visible and perceived rifts. On the basis of the Calvary event, where Jesus died for our sins, the 'dividing wall of hostility' between Jew and Gentile has been broken down (Ephesians 2:14). The Church now has to be a conduit and instrument for the breaking down of all man-made and demonically inspired barriers.
The Church has not fulfilled its biblical Role
The Church has unhappily not fulfilled its biblical role in this regard. All too often people from the ranks of churches did the opposite, causing rifts and separating themselves. Some Christians have consciously chosen to be partisan or biased, even in cases where the biblical message is clear enough. One of the most striking but tragic examples in this regard is the situation in the Middle East. Church leaders should be agents of reconciliation. Instead, some called Israel fallaciously an apartheid state and others supported the Jewish nation to the hilt uncritically, as if Israelis never make a mistake.
The Bible teaches that a special blessing was given to both Isaac and Ishmael separately. If there had been some rift between Abraham's two sons – which would have been natural after all that had transpired with Hagar and her son, this was probably amicably resolved in their life-time. At the funeral of Abraham both sons buried their father together (Genesis 25:9) - reconciled to all intents and purposes. The notion that the descendants of Isaac and Ishmael have been eternal enemies has only a very limited biblical basis. Instead of being an agent of reconciliation, e.g. by bringing together Jews and Muslims who got reconciled through common faith in Jesus and working with followers of Jesus Christ from those backgrounds, Church leaders have all too often jumped on the bandwagon of taking sides in the age-old tussle of Israel and ‘Palestine’.
Unity does not imply Uniformity
However, unity does not imply uniformity. Unity in diversity, one-ness through our faith in Jesus Christ demonstrates to the spiritual powers in the heavenlies ‘the manifold wisdom of God’ (Ephesians 3:10). William Barclay (New Testament Words, 1973:234) noted that the original Greek word for the adjective describing the divine wisdom, poikilos (meaning literally multi-coloured), 'describes anything which is intricate or complex.' The Church world-wide will possibly only really come into its own if the unity of the Body of Christ in all its diversity is restored across all man-made barriers. The next verses and the following chapters of Ephesians give us an extraordinary glimpse of the universal Body of Christ, the whole family in heaven and earth (3:14) as Paul prayed for the believers – together with all the saints - to be empowered by the four-dimensional love of Christ (3:14-19). In his epistle to the Ephesians Paul gives us powerful practical tips to implement unity in our walk with the Lord and in general interaction with other believers.
In the honeymoon days of he Church following the memorable Pentecost in Jerusalem described in Acts 2, the believers shared their lives with each other in harmony and unity. The fruit of Psalm 133 was visible, not only How good and how pleasant it is, but it was also evident that God commanded his blessing. Thousands were added to the Church that was truly on fire! Many of the new believers took the Gospel with them to the nations and places from where they had come. At this stage they were all from Jewish stock, Jews and proselytes from far and wide, having come from all directions to Jerusalem.
We may take for granted that the bulk of them returned in all directions to places like Rome in Italy and Libya in Africa, as all pilgrims did. They took the story of Pentecost along and what they had experienced, probably very much ablaze and with excitement.
Normality and Carnality returned
In Jerusalem there were not only wonders. In fact, normality and carnality returned. There was however soon enough also the exposure of the ‘white lie’ of Ananias and Sapphira to deceive the Church and its leaders. To the normality also belonged the opposition of the religious leaders which included the imprisonment of John and Peter. But even this did not stop the spreading of the Gospel. In fact, after the beatings they had received at their discharge, the apostles rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name’ (Acts 5;41).
Another aspect of normality or Church life returned there in Jerusalem, viz. discord and factionalism. The Greek contingent complained that their widows were being discriminated against (Acts 6)! The pristine Church learned through this event how to deal with discrimination and complaints. A problem is solved by discussing matters and putting structures in place that can lead to growth - without reduction of essential matters like the teaching of the Word. Seven spirit-filled deacons were chosen, including the one or other from Greek stock.
Stephen, one of the seven deacons, ‘a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people.’ The arch enemy could never remain dormant to see someone with those gifts operating in full flow. How could he allow the Church to just grow and grow? The heat was turned on!
The arch fiend used religious leaders to stop the expansion of the Gospel as he did in the days when the Master himself was still around. ‘Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Libertinians (as it was called) — Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia—who began to argue with Stephen. Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.”
We should not be surprised when opposition comes from a certain corner of the religious establishment. So-called Free thinkers (Libertinians) have been agents of the arch enemy to oppose the Gospel from the earliest days of the Church, often distorting the truth and inciting rank and file people! ‘So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. They produced false witnesses, who testified, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.”
The heat was turned on more and more until Stephen became the first martyr of the Church – stoned to death. An adage was born, namely that ‘the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.’ North Africans from Alexandria and Cyrene were part of the ‘Synagogue of the Libertinians’, but it was also someone from our continent, Tertullian, who coined the profound dictum.
Chapter 2 Persecution as an Ingredient of a Divine spiritual Recipe
Chapter 8 of the book of the Acts of the apostles starts rather ominously: ‘And Saul approved of their killing him (Stephen). The death of Stephen was the start shot of satan’s renewed vicious attack on the Church. ‘On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria... Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.
This however had the opposite effect to what Saul and the religious leaders intended because ‘those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.’
Saul caused carnage, breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples/ He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. (Acts 9:1ff).
Persecution became an ingredient of the divine recipe for the spreading of the Gospel. The seed of the martyr Stephen started to germinate. Saul, the wicked persecutor of the Church, was not only supernaturally arrested but also powerfully converted. In due course he would become the prime missionary of the fledgling Church.
Some of the thousands that had been in Jerusalem for the Pentecost celebration – those from further afield might have been there already since Passover and its run-up just over seven weeks earlier - returned home, taking the Gospel with them.
The persecution gave wings to the dissemination of the Gospel. Philip, another one from the seven deacons of Acts 6, bore a Greek name and may have spoken Greek. Like the apostle Philip he was possibly functioned as a link to the Greek community. Philip, the evangelist, operated powerfully in Samaria where a revival was soon blazing. Rather suddenly, possibly supernaturally, he was taken to Gaza. When the Holy nudged him to run to catch up with the Finance Minister of Ethiopia – he obeyed to be at the perfect place and on the spot to disciple the eunuch of Queen Candice from the words of Isiah 53. Joyfully the new believer from East Africa took the Gospel with him, soon to be followed by Mark in Alexandria. The Church on fire from Baghdad, Babylon, Nineveh and other Assyrian places had emissaries in places as far as North West China by 61 AD.
In Antioch (Syria) the believers, who hailed from different nations and races, formed a dynamic congregation with the Cypriot Barnabas and North Africans as a significant part of the leadership (Acts 13). The Samaritans and the Assyrians, the ancestors of many Muslims, were possibly part and parcel of the teams spreading the Gospel from places in Assyria, the present-day Iraq, together with Jews. Thomas and Peter (1 Peter 5:13) were probably at the helm of the churches that took the Gospel to India and further afield.
This phenomenal outreach was hardly discerned, let alone acclaimed in (Western) Church History. The Assyrian-Nestorian Church that later had its centre in Baghdad, stemmed from believers who returned to Asia after the first Pentecost. John Stewart suggests that Jewish believers, of whom many ancestors had once been exiled to the rivers of Babylon, took the Gospel to Central Asia, for example to the Uyghur people of North West China already by 61 CE. Was it merely politically inexpedient to highlight that the ancestors of Jewish Christians and Muslims worked together to spread the Gospel? Or was the arch deceiver behind this move?
Some ancestors of the Uyghur, a Muslim tribe in North West China that is still regarded as unreached in respect of the Gospel, could thus have been among the first century followers of Jesus.
The Gospel Seed germinates
Christianity did not recognize the deities and guardians of Rome. This was regarded not only as an attack on public order and the pillars of Roman tradition, but as atheism to the vast majority. To most, Christianity blasphemed their gods – which they regarded as the protectors of homes, temples, and cities. Jews were known to be even more meticulous in their rejection of all idolatry.
Tertullian, a North African Church Father, was dubbed ‘a master of the art of how to turn the tables’ (Thiede, Jesus: Life or Legend (1990:117). This was especially the case with the adage, which stemmed from his pen, ‘The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.’ Tertullian referred pertinently to the sadder part of early Christianity: how Christians were hated, persecuted and martyred, though all they were offering was a message of kindness and neighbourly love.
The blood of the Martyrs during the first centuries indeed turned out to be the seed of the Church. Christians had fought hard for the right to practice their religion in peace. Although there were some persecutions in the in the first centuries AD, the worst persecutions against Christians occurred in the third century under emperors Decius, Valerian, Diocletian and Galerius. Somehow the persecution under Emperor Nero has been highlighted. However, the persecution of Christians in the first two centuries does not even approach the scope or ruthlessness of that of the third century.
Martyrdom of recent Decades
In recent decades the martyrdom of Philip James "Jim" Elliot (1927 –1956) who was one of five missionaries killed while participating in Operation Auca, an attempt to evangelize the Huaorani people of Ecuador. His journal entry for October 28, 1949, expresses his belief that work dedicated to Jesus was more important than his life (see Luke 9:24 in the Bible). "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose."
South Africa joined this club briefly in the pre-democratic era. The killing and maiming of believers of the St James Anglican Church of Kenilworth by terrorists in July 1993 were not only followed by explosive growth of the fellowship itself, but also by a wave of unprecedented countrywide prayer which helped to usher in the miracle elections of 27 April 1994.
One of the most spectacular examples of the Tertullian adage took place in a North African village in the 1980s where God ‘sovereignly descended upon this coastal township with gracious bounty... He did not rest till every member of the Muslim community was properly introduced to His only begotten Son, Jesus’ (Otis, The Last of the Giants:, 1991:157). A massive conversion involving some 400 to 450 villagers ensued. Stunned by this special divine visitation, mission workers sought for the reason. They discovered that this took place at the site where Raymond Lull, a Spanish missionary from Majorca, had been stoned to death in June 1315. Lull wrote in his book The tree of Love, that Islamic strongholds are best conquered by ‘love and prayers, and the pouring out of tears and blood’ (Cited in Tucker, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya, 2004:58).
Subsequently, thousands have been coming to faith in Jesus in Algeria. In 2006 the Algerian government promulgated a law that prohibited evangelism of any kind and commanded several churches to close down. The churches refused to obey the government and said “You had better build more prisons because we are not going to do what you are commanding.” Since 2006, because of the persecution of Christians, the church has grown faster than before and the Algerian government came to understand that they will never be able to stamp out the church.
The Church in China grew phenomenally as a result of the persecution under Chairman Mao Zedong. In a similar way the Ayatollah Khomeini can be titled the best ‘evangelist’ in Iran’s history. Of the first 150 Somalian believers only a few survived.
The Denial of the Cross in Church Tradition
Various aspects of the application of the Cross - for example the crucified life of believers - were cancelled by church traditions. The evasion of persecution because of one’s faith would be among the most important ones. Paul reprimanded the Galatian Christians who tried to lure new believers, by avoiding persecution and compelling new believers to be circumcised (Galatians 6:12).
In the 4th and 5th centuries, the Donatists of North Africa similarly despised Christians who had wilted under the pressures of persecution. The Donatists were the followers of Donatus and those Christian theologians who made suffering for Jesus' sake and for the cause of the Gospel such a virtue that nobody who had wilted once under persecution was allowed to take an office in the Church.
Nik Ripkin, a former missionary in East Africa among Somalians, as well as our fellow South Africans Mike Burnard and Keith Strugnell, are Western missionary leaders who have been used by God to teach the Church in recent times about the normality of suffering for the sake of the Gospel. They have been highlighting how followers of Jesus in Communist and Islamic countries have often had to pay the ultimate price for their convictions.
The name Salah Farah got known in news bulletins in many parts of the world in December, 2015. He was a passenger on a bus from Mandera to Nairobi and celebrated in the news reports as a Muslim who saved a group of Christians from being massacred by Al Shabaab terrorists who hijacked the bus. The terrorists wanted to separate the Christians from the Muslims to slaughter the Christians, but Salah told the passengers to stick together so that such a separation would not result in death for a single group of passengers. Through this courageous gesture he attempted to shield the Christians. Together with a few of the passengers Salah was caught in the crossfire. On 17 January he died tragically as a result of his injuries. It subsequently surfaced that he had actually been a secret Christian believer. Bursa, a fellow passenger, who listened to his discovery of the belief in Jesus as the Son of God and how he got to it via the book God’s Apprentice, subsequently also became a follower of Jesus. But also he was murdered. The seed of the martyrs is due to geminate big time among Somalians.
It is Somalia’s day, yesterday it was that for Iran! For China it was the day before yesterday. An MBB couple in the West have started teaching the new believers every Thursday via Skype. In a bulletin of March 2016 the couple wrote that around 25 people join them every week. We are very much aware that the devil does not appreciate the way that the Kingdom of God is gaining ground among the Somalis. Persecution is very severe, notably in East Africa.
Satan had to come up with something else to stop what his cohorts possibly perceived as the rot. He drew some of his prime weapons from his arsenal, lies and deception, competition and rivalry!
Chapter 3 Internal Division as Demonic Strategy
Lying and its accomplice dishonesty are main contributors to disunity, also in the Church. Satan often succeeds to add misunderstanding, rivalry and inappropriate ambition to the mixture. In the Garden of Eden the arch enemy tempted the first human beings by the wish to be like God.
Competition and rivalry among the disciples was very much around when the Master was still with them. The arch enemy attempted to cause division among the disciples of Jesus through unhealthy rivalry. James and John, two brothers, asked Jesus a question. Thinking that He would set a kingdom on earth soon, they wanted to sit one on each side of him. James and John wanted power for themselves. It was like a request for an important job in government. The other disciples were very angry. They also wanted these jobs! This was a struggle for power. They asked, 'Who would be greatest?' (See Matthew 18:1-3, Matthew 19:27-30, especially verse 27.)
We must recognise that division is the paramount strategy of satan. He masqueraded as a serpent in the Garden of Eden deceptively with distortion, causing disruption and disunity.
Restoration of the Harmony of the human Race
Restoration of the harmony and unity of the human race seems to be part of the Messianic vision that was passed on by the prophet Isaiah in chapter 2 of his book. But also in the here and now God commands his blessing where we live and operate in love and harmony (Psalm 133). The 'New Testament' offers a powerful potential equivalent through the unity of believers in Jesus Christ as the Messiah. Jesus regarded the unity of His followers as something of great importance. In the Gospel of John it is recorded that our Lord prayed for all those who would follow Him, to be one (John 17:21). He proceeded to intercede fervently that his followers 'may be brought to complete unity’ (John 17:23).
Networking as the biblical Counterpart of Division
According to the Hebrew Scriptures, the temple was constructed under King Solomon in an interesting model of networking. When Solomon became king, he enlisted the aid of his ally Hiram, the king of Tyre (980-946 BC), in the construction of the Temple. In return for wheat, oil, and wine, Hiram supplied Solomon with cedar and cypress wood, as well as gold. Hiram also sent Solomon artisans and craftsmen to aid him. During Solomon's reign, the Temple was the focal point of all Jewish rituals and pilgrims came to it from all the tribes of Israel. The worship of Yahweh was thus an important element of unity. It became problematic though when pride got into the mix and the Jews started to despise other nations that worshipped in different ways.
The biblical modus operandi of Church Unity is networking, uniting towards a common goal. One of the best biblical examples of the principle is the building of the Jerusalem wall under the leadership of Nehemiah. Two parallel 'NT' references are the 'networking' of the disciples of Jesus as recorded in Luke 5 and Paul's teaching on unity in Ephesians 3 and 4.
In Luke 5:6ff, Peter and the fishermen colleagues in his boat hauled in a great multitude of fish on the rhema, the word of the Lord. Their net threatened to break when they had the presence of mind to call their colleagues in the other boat to come and assist them. Had they carried on independently, they probably would have lost the catch. When they were ready to drop their independence, the big catch could be brought to the shore. In spite of this obvious lesson in 'networking', the bulk of pastors and churches still carry on building their own little kingdom, prodding on independently!
The words of Jesus just prior to his ascension, respectively recorded in Matthew 28:19-20 and Acts 1:8 he encouraged his disciples – and in extension also us as his followers – to network in the spreading of the Gospel, to make disciples far and wide. This could be concentric, gaining experience by starting locally with the own ‘Jerusalem’, but then moving further and further through barriers of culture, ethnicity and nationality - ultimately even to ‘the ends of the earth’.
In 1 Corinthians 3 Paul referred to different non-competitive functions of leaders and believers. The one plants, another waters but God gives the growth. Mutual love and respect, along with the acceptance of any differences in gifting and character, should be the bottom line. Thus Paul could put forward the challenge and teaching that the ‘NT’ Church radiates the manifold wisdom of God (Ephesians 3:10).
Jesus reconciled opposing Factions
Even within the close circle of the disciples Jesus had to reconcile opposing factions. We do not understand fully why John always referred to himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved. Was this because he was a relative as has been surmised? Or was John pushing himself to the front, like at the last supper? Even after the Lord’s resurrection, the rivalry between him and Peter continued. Thus John, the apostle, made a point of it to report in his gospel twice that he outstripped Peter in the ‘race’ to the grave (John 20:4 and 8). The few verses which are recorded about the meeting of Jesus with the eleven at Lake Tiberias likewise indicate the mutual dislike of Peter and John clearly enough (Acts 21:20-22). The two could have become bitter rivals for the leadership after the Lord’s ascension.
The Holy Spirit is powerful to reconcile people who would normally be at loggerheads with each other. This was evidently the case with disciples who were vastly different in temperament. In Acts 3:1ff it is reported how the two, John and Peter, operated as a team. This exposes the lie of using incompatibility as an excuse for separation - to suggest that it is utterly impossible to work together with a certain Christian. If both parties are open to the work of the Holy Spirit, reconciliation would be the eventual result and even teamwork is possible thereafter.
Peter and Paul as Rivals
In obedience to the nudging of the Holy Spirit, Philip had no qualms to speak to a seeking foreigner, an Ethiopian official, about his soul (Acts 8:26ff). But Peter had some difficulties to step down from his pedestal of pride and condescension towards Gentiles. A supernatural element is easily discerned as God used him to reach out to the family of Cornelius, whom the Spirit had already prepared. When Paul detected some hypocrisy with Peter, he criticized him to his face in the presence of others. Jesus did this also in a stinging attack on the religious establishment of his day, as we can read in Matthew 23. If the actions of fellow brothers and sisters confuse young believers, it might thus be necessary to do the unusual thing of reprimanding them publicly.
Amicable Parting of Ways
God can also use an amicable parting of ways - albeit that it is almost always painful - to multiply the evangelistic effort. That Paul and Barnabas parted ways because of the inclusion of John Mark is fairly well known, sometimes used as an example for amicable separation. I suggest that here was some carnality involved – in this case Paul's unforgiving attitude. (One of the very special examples of modern times along these lines was when Brother Andrew had to leave WEC International for health reasons, but pioneering Open Doors later.) All this is part and parcel of God's ‘mysterious ways’. How often He has over-ruled obvious human mistakes. Thus God used a donkey to reprimand Balaam; if needed. He can spank us quite well so to speak with a crooked rod.
Unintentional Division of the Body of Christ
Much of the fragmentation of the Body of Christ has possibly been unintentional. The first significant shift developed between Jewish Christians and other strands of first century Jews after James, the leader of the Church in Jerusalem and the brother of Jesus, had been executed by a group of Jews that acted on the instructions of the High Priest Ananus. The stoning of James, with the collaboration of the Sanhedrin and the High Priest, was a bitter pill to those contemporary Jewish and Gentile Christians who still attempted to engage in dialogue with the Synagogue.
On two occasions Paul refers to believers as infants/children in the context of petty bickering and a lack of unity (1 Corinthians 3:1-3; Ephesians 4:13-15). He did not mince his words, calling those believers who hero-worship strong personality’s babies in the faith (1 Corinthians 3:1-5). So often Christians quote the latter part of 1 Corinthians 11 in the context of the Lord’s Supper, completely ignoring or forgetting that Paul used those words within the framework of the disunity of the believers at Corinth and the discrimination of some of them (see 1 Corinthians 11:17ff).
The Pattern for doctrinal Bickering
The Samaritan woman of John 4 evidently tried to use the common ancestry subtly to digress, to get away from the topic of her life-style. Her intention was probably not to use the arch fathers as common ground, but rather to emphasize the difference in the location, hoping perhaps that Jesus would get trapped in a theological argument.
The reference to the local mountain set the pattern for a doctrinal argument. The possibility of a doctrinal quarrel about places of worship highlights an age-old problem. Soon after the apostles and other believers had spread the Gospel far and wide, the humanity of Jesus became a problem to some of those who believed that Jesus was only divine.
The humanity of Jesus as an Issue
Learned men argued that if Jesus were God, he could not have become an infant. Cerinthus, a first century Christian heretic, who had been trained in the Egyptian education, believed and taught that Jesus was the son of Mary and Joseph, but not by virgin birth. Consequently, he purportedly could not display human characteristics. This argument went so far that the Early Church soon ran into trouble about Jesus’ deity. Arius, a 4th century Church elder, deemed it necessary to state clearly that Jesus was made (i.e. created), not supernaturally begotten.
The misunderstanding with his bishop Alexander - who suggested that Arius propagated two gods - set the pattern for doctrinal quarrelling in the Middle East, which continued for centuries thereafter. Islam picked this tenet up, with the Qur’an stressing that Jesus was created divinely - like Adam – by the word ‘Be’ (Surah Imran 3:59). On the other hand, the Qur’an mentioned ambivalently in the same context of Surah Imran 3, that Mary gave birth to Jesus as a virgin.
Of course, Jesus had clearly taught ‘I and the Father are one’ (John 10:30). That He displayed human qualities does not make him less divine. In fact, Jesus invited His audience to get a glimpse of the Father by looking at him (John 14:9-11). It should have been clear - even from the oral traditions - that Jesus did things like forgiving sins, which only God can do. Uncovering the sinful life of the Samaritan woman was of course another divine quality - to look right into the inner precincts of the heart of man!
Two opposing Views of God
The Ebionites were a first century Christian Jewish sect with substantial influence. Unfortunately the Ebionite Jewish believers who took the Gospel to the Arabian Peninsula apparently also took with them the theological bickering. The essence of the biblical message, namely the grace of God and the loving Father became completely clouded. The synagogue theologians of the first century CE apparently overlooked that Yahweh is basically a loving parent, a Father who simultaneously displayed motherly characteristics. Somehow the pagan one-sided view of a punishing and aloof God prevailed. A religious variation came via the Greek philosopher Plato and the Saducees. Plato taught that God was unknowable and uninvolved in human affairs. As wealthy Jews the Saducees were educated in Greek Philosophy and possibly derived thoughts and beliefs like these from Plato.
Two almost diametrically opposing views of God developed in the course of time. The first one occurred quite early via Marcion, an intelligent theologian. Although he was quite early regarded as a heretic, Marcion contributed to confusion among the Gentile believers. In his view Yahweh – the supreme deity of the Hebrew Scriptures – was intrinsically evil. Quoting Isaiah 45:7 It is I who send evil, I the Lord does these things’, he opined that Christ came to set mankind free from Yahweh. Thus Marcion highlights how Elisha had children eaten by bears. Jesus, representing a loving God, said ‘little children come unto me’.
In the dark and early Middle Ages the former view - which filtered through to Islam – an unbiblical emphasis on a punishing God prevailed, viz. that he is harsh, unbending and arbitrary.
Disunity stifles spiritual Renewal
Disunity often stifles spiritual renewal and biblical revival. We cannot stress it enough: the spirit of separation and disunity is a demonic principality. Disunity wielded in few parts of the world such power as in South Africa. The apartheid practice was only one visible expression of this division. The denominational disunity, rivalry and mutual distrust of churches and pastors are two less visible ones. True unity is the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit, but if denominational and racial disunity proceed unchecked, a potential spiritual awakening will be given a major setback.
Disunity in the Church and competitiveness must never be regarded as minor flaws, but recognized for what it really is in the light of the Bible: sin! Not for nothing Jesus prayed for His disciples and for those who would believe in their message (i.e. we, the spiritual off-spring): ...That all of them may be one (John 17:20f) and ‘that they may be brought to complete unity’ (John 17:23).
Through the ages the enemy has succeeded to sow division in churches. The blessing, which God could have used to bring millions to the Cross, has sadly become a curse in many a case.
Chapter 4 Some special Gospel Tools towards Unity
Our Lord had his priorities perfectly in place. From His intimate relationship to his Father His behaviour flowed and followed. A life of commitment to Him, the light, automatically leads to conflict and confrontation with the forces of darkness. Because our Lord is the truth, the tempter - who is the father of the lie (John 8:44) - tried to catch Him out through a distortion of the Word. As the only person who did not die again after having been resurrected, Jesus is the way to eternal life – indeed the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6). He is the ladder on which angels go up and down, through whom we can have constant communion with the Father (John 1: 33,50, Genesis 28).
Getting the Priorities Straight
A good example of our Lord’s complete mastery of priorities is given in John 4 where it is reported how a rumour (instigated by Pharisees?) was brought to Him that He was baptising more converts than John the Baptist. The motive of those people who came with the rumour is not clear, but the explosive gun-powder contained in the question is quite evident. In verses 1and 2 of John 4 we discern at least three issues in the rumour which could have drawn a negative response from anybody else. There was the suggested number of people baptised, who performed it and there was the comparison with John the Baptist. Instead of allowing himself to be drawn into a petty, unproductive discussion, our Lord ‘left Judea’. A possible inference that he walked away cowardly, has to be rejected.
The remarkable verse 4 of that chapter squashes any idea that the Master dodged difficult issues: ‘He had to go through Samaria’. If our Lord had been the type of person to circumvent problematic matters, here was a good opportunity. Our Lord faced the issue of the despised Samaritans head-on. Not only did He go to the town of Sychar, but He went to sit next to the cultic explosive well of Jacob. Hardly any Jew of those days would have done a thing like that. That was tantamount to looking for trouble! And thereafter he and his disciples stayed with the Samaritans for two more days.
So many people got side-tracked from the centre of God’s will for their lives. To pray that one is at the right place at the right time is all important.
In the enfolding narrative of John 4 Jesus handled confrontation in such a skilful way that the Samaritan woman was completely turned around in the process. When she used religion as a cover-up after the Lord had cornered her on her lifestyle, He challenged her in a respectful way. To this day His reply challenges religious people everywhere: The Father seeks true worshippers... those who worship in Spirit and in truth. It is not so difficult to find Christians in our day and age who adore the act of worship instead of worshipping the triune God.
Another special lesson of our Lord is how He handled disputes. In almost classical style He could unmask wrong alternatives; more correctly, we should say He often radicalized false alternatives. When the Master was put on trial on the issue of the paying of taxes - when His questioners tried to put Him in a spot of bother - He coolly replied that both God and the Caesar had to get the due of their respective allegiance (Matthew 22:21). When His disciples became involved in petty bickering about rank, He challenged them with service as the qualification for rank: whosoever perceives himself to be the greatest, should be the servant of all (Luke 22:24ff).
How our Lord operated cross-culturally in a loving way, should be our model, not shying away from confrontation. The word tolerance has sometimes been abused in this regard. Whilst this is a virtue which should generally be the aim of every believer, we note from our Lord’s example that it is far from absolute. God hates sin but He loves the sinner. In the same context in which Jesus speaks about thieves who rob (John 10), He calls himself the door. Whereas there might be different avenues to get to God, Jesus made it clear to which highway these minor roads should lead to: ‘I am the way, the truth and the life, no man comes unto the Father but by me’ (John 14:6). This might sound intolerant to some ears, but this is nevertheless the only way, the only door. It thus becomes a matter of take it or leave it. It would be fruitless to debate about the matter.
Consultation with the Church Leadership
An issue which was forcefully demonstrated in the life of Paul, the apostle, was the relationship to the local church. Paul showed how valuable a healthy relationship to the church leadership can be. Even though God had already revealed it to him previously to bring the Gospel to the heathen nations, Paul did his missionary work in consultation with the church leaders (Galatians 2:2ff). Initially they did not share his vision and views. The result of the consultation was a doubling of the outreach: They agreed that Peter should concentrate on ministering to Jews while Paul would pioneer the work among the Gentiles (Galatians 2:8). Because he did not do his own thing unilaterally, Paul and Barnabas eventually received the right hand of fellowship. Finally they were commissioned and sent out by the body, the Church at Antioch (Acts 13:3).
With regard to ongoing consultation with the church leadership, this was part and parcel of life in Herrnhut in East Germany. There the revival of 13 August 1727 led to the flowering of the missionary endeavour of the Moravians; in fact, it was the laborious writing of diaries and reports, which have enabled later generations to get such a good picture of church life there and of Moravian missionary work in general.
The different Parts of the Body
Paul evidently deemed the unity of the body of Christ as of prime importance. He taught not only about the different parts of the body (Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12) but he also wrote ‘Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit’ (Ephesians 4:3). Paul knew that unity is something at which we must work unceasingly. Earnestly he appealed to the bickering believers in Corinth where factions had developed. He reprimanded not only the followers of Apollos and Peter, but also his own fans in the fellowship for hero-worshipping him. God alone must be worshipped because he alone can give growth. The flesh in us loves to get recognition, likes to build the own kingdom. Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church included a moving plea: ‘I appeal to you brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ... that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought (1 Corinthians 1:10-13 and 3:1-6). Paul’s plea was obviously an extension of the teaching of the Master himself: If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand (Mark 3:24-25).
The Importance of building good Relationships
Paul kept in touch with the churches he had planted with letters of encouragement. But he also had the courage to rebuke them where it was appropriate. He demonstrates in this way the importance of good communication in maintaining good relationships. In our day and age the ease of electronic communication can very easily lead to shallow relationships. It can deteriorate so easily if for instance people only communicate when there is a need of some sort. That is not good enough.
The Special Gifts of Women
The special gifts of women are still by and large not used properly and sufficiently. It is fortunately no big debate generally whether females should be in the pulpit or not. The discrimination of the 'weaker sex' in the Church, the Synagogue and the Mosque has a long sad history. Talmudic Jewish writers entrenched base discrimination against women. This even found its way into the prayer for a Jewish man - thanking God every morning that he was not ‘a Gentile, a slave or a woman.’ In Jewish law a woman became a thing. She had no legal rights whatsoever; she was absolutely in her husband’s possession. He could do with her as he willed. Islam seems to have drawn richly from this sad heritage, an aberration of the creation model. It is sad to have to note that the Church by and large disregarded the revolutionary teachings of Jesus and the ‘New Testament’ with regard to women (and youth). It was only in the Assyrian (later Nestorian) Church where women were treated with exemplary dignity for some length of time. Research in recent decades shows that widows had leadership roles in the first century or so in the Assyrian Church. But in the rest of the Church women were pushed into lesser roles of leadership and responsibility. Tertullian (and later Jerome) verbalised sentiments with regard to women, of which we as Christian men should be ashamed. Women have been silenced in the Church. Expression of regret and remorseful confession by Global Church leaders in this regard is long overdue.
Thumbs down to hierarchical Church Structures
Lording and domineering has been a big problem for new believers in Church structures. In the ‘NT' Church plural non-hierarchical leadership seems to have been the norm. Presbyters and deacons were not regarded as titles but valued and used respectively as a gesture of respectful oversight /honour and a function in serving respectively. Apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers and evangelists were in Paul's teaching functions as equals in the four- or five-fold ministries. He took for granted that each one in the church received grace (Ephesians 4:7), from which flows one or more of these functions. In his first letter to the Corinthians (14:26) Paul states as a given that in the ekklesia, the Church, each one should edify each other (oikodomeo, build each other up) whenever the believers congregate.
The only permissible 'NT' 'hierarchy' would be to see Jesus Christ as the capstone, the head of the Church. In various ways the image of a building is used in Scripture. In Matthew 16 Jesus himself said that he will build (oikodomeo is the verb) his church. Paul intended to operate like a master builder with Christ as the foundation stone. In another picture the Gentiles and Jews form together God's house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. The cornerstone is Christ himself (Ephesians 2:20) that holds together these two functions, the apostolic and the prophetic dimensions.
These two functions have to complement each other with Jesus as the connecting link. To be an apostle means throughout the fulfilling of a function, those sent from the bosom of the church. From here the word missionary was derived (via the Latin missio). The ambassador of Rome is the model of the apostle/missionary. In a similar way every follower of Jesus is an ambassador and emissary/ missionary who has to attempt to represent the culture of the Kingdom of God (2 Corinthians 5:20).
Chapter 5 Jews First!
For centuries a scriptural exposition of Romans 1:16, that argues for a ‘missional priority’ for Jewish evangelism, has been almost non-existent. Evangelical Christianity used the first part of the verse a lot. That the Gospel is the power of God for salvation has been emphasised in evangelism and quoted in sermons. In many a Sunday School children memorised ‘For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believes…’ That the verse goes on with the words to the Jew first, and also to the Greek’, remained by and large unknown.
Concentration on the Jews
With regard to missionary strategy we note that Jesus concentrated on Israel and the Jews. Although he praised the faith of the Gentile Roman centurion of Matthew 8:10 (Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith,), the Lord also inferred in His reaction to the request of the Syro-Phoenician woman (Matthew 15:21f) where He saw a priority in His healing ministry: Let the children first be fed, since it isn't good to take bread out of children's mouths and throw it to the dogs! In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus constantly refers to His ministry as fulfilment of prophecy. In my view our Lord’s concentration on the Jews has hardly been taken seriously by theologians and the Church at large.
It is not clear why Jesus instructed the twelve disciples to stick to the house of Israel in Matthew 10:5f, omitting this specific instruction to the seventy (Matthew 11:20-24). Or is here already the expansion and spread of the Gospel - ultimately to the ends of the earth - implied? It is however very clear that Jesus concentrated on the Jews in his ministry.
Paul followed Him in this, by always starting his visits in a new town or city in the synagogue. This could be a pointer to our careful and sensitive use of the Hebrew Scriptures in interaction with Jews. In fact, the use of the Word of God as such is a powerful tool. Jesus demonstrated it in His life, by quoting from the Scriptures time and again. A deduction from our Lord’s last commission could be that the spreading of the Gospel should start in Jerusalem, in the case of the Jews among the Jewry (Acts 1:8, also Luke 24:47), and spread from there to the ends of the earth. This may however not be interpreted in absolute terms, i.e. that evangelistic outreach should occur in a concentric or spiralling way from your home town or city. It does put a question mark however to a practice whereby Christians are eager to engage in missionary outreach far from home but do nothing about reaching out lovingly with the Gospel to their neighbours and in their home town.
It could be argued that our Lord’s involvement with the Jews was not missionary, not border-crossing at all; that He concentrated on his home culture. The first disciples initially appeared very reluctant to obey the Great Commission, only staying in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1). Right from his very first public appearance in Nazareth, Jesus however showed the way to the acceptance of the other nations and the mission to them. In fact, this may have been one of the main reasons why the Nazareth congregation rejected Him (Luke 4:29).
The Gospel to the Jews first
Paul wrote already in the first century: ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God unto salvation to all who believe, to the Jew first and also to the Greek’ (Romans 1:16). Instead of recognizing the need to minister humbly and respectfully to the apple of God's eye (Deuteronomy 32:10; Zechariah 2:8), the Church in general neglected the loving and compassionate outreach to Jews completely. Starting with Justin Martyr in the second century, their rejection was emphasised, overlooking that Paul clearly taught that this was merely temporarily, that in the completion of God's perfect timing '...all Israel will be saved' (Romans 11:26; Jeremiah 31:1).
A few individuals down the centuries did stress the special eschatological role of the Jews, and the need of the Church to provoke them in a loving and positive way to fulfil their prophetic destiny, not surprisingly, Count Zinzendorf was prominent in this regard
Paul practised what he preached, including the notion that the Gospel should be brought to the Jews, his nation, first. That Paul fought for the right to bring the Good News also to the Gentiles, sometimes clouds this sense of priority. Paul advised in Romans 11:25 that the Gentiles should not be conceited, reminding the Roman followers of Jesus from Gentile stock that they are merely branches that had been grafted into the true olive, Israel.
A Choice between Jews and Muslims?
A notion has been circling in some Christian circles that if one wants to reach out lovingly to people from the two other Abrahamic religions, then one has to make a choice between Jews and Muslims; one can either support the Palestinians or the Jews in Israel! That Christians could have a reconciling role to play, does not feature in such thinking. Some Christians are even surprised to hear that the sons of Abraham buried him together (Genesis 25:9). We stress that the widely accepted notion - that the descendants of Isaac and Ishmael have been eternal enemies - has hardly any biblical basis. We regret that many a Church leader have all too often compounded the age-old problem of Israel and Palestine in an unreconciling way, instead of being an agent of reconciliation. While I concede that this is very personal and subjective, I contend that a good base for bringing together Jews and Muslims is when we include those from their ranks who got reconciled with God through faith in the atoning work of His Son. And yet, there are no quick fixes in such reconciliation. A lot of patient waiting on the Lord in prayer is required. Ultimately only He can really change hearts, prejudices and fixed mind-sets. Some dialogue would be perfectly in place, but cheap proselytism is outlawed in this field of outreach.
The Issue of Jews and Race
The issue of Jews and race was terribly abused by Adolph Hitler. It was and is essentially a spiritual issue, not a racial one. Only the twelve tribes stemming from the patriarch Isaac via Jacob are counted in the Bible as ‘proper’ Israelites. Thus one finds the Midianites mentioned as Ishmaelites (Judges 8:24, Genesis 37:28), although Midian was a son of Abraham with Ketura, not a son of Ishmael. Ishmaelite traders helped saving Joseph from certain death when they bought (Genesis 37:28) and sold him as a slave to Potiphar. Furthermore, Zipporah, the first wife of Moses, was the daughter of Reuel or Jethro, a Midianite priest (Exodus 2:21). To all intents and purposes Moses seems to have had a good relationship to his father-in-law, possibly also learning a thing or two from him. Later he readily accepted advice from Jethro to delegate his responsibility. Three female ancestors of King David, namely Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth, did not stem from one of the twelve tribes. Genesis 25:18 e.g. refers to hostility of Ishmael's sons to their brothers. However, Isaiah 60:7 mentions Ishmael's two eldest sons positively in a Messianic prophetic context. I propose that we should take that as our cue rather than the negative tradition of strife and enmity.
Major Problems of Judaism and Islam
The above does not address the major problems of Judaism and Islam, viz. to acknowledge the divinity of Jesus and to accept Him to be regarded as the Son of God. Basically only the Holy Spirit can illuminate to adherents of these religions the loving Father-heart of God. If we practise sensitivity in our dealings with the followers of Judaism and Islam, the Lord could use a loving approach to weaken or even remove some of their prejudice against ‘offensive’ Christian doctrine. To some of them it is only a matter of (mis)understanding. (Many Muslims e.g. still have a literal comprehension of Jesus as the physical son of God.) The sharpness of any hostility could be reduced or even removed by pointing out for instance that the words ‘only begotten’ Son comes from the Greek monogenos. This word is more accurately translated in the context of John 3 as the unique Son. A parallel is found in Genesis 22:1 where Isaac was to be sacrificed as such - a unique son. Furthermore, the use of son as a metaphor - in this case for the divine character of Jesus - is not completely unknown. 'Son of the Road' and similar expressions are well known in the Orient. Along the same lines a loving non-confrontational approach could assist to open up Jews (and Muslims) to discover why Yeshuah is indeed Ha Mashiach, the Messiah.
Chapter 6 Honour for the Despised
There is a tendency by fellowships in the more affluent parts of our country to look down condescendingly upon township congregations and even more so on to those churches from the refugee communities. I suggest a complete rethink on this, to come in line with the Word. We have such a lot to learn from those at the bottom end of our social scale.
A tenet that runs through the Bible is that God honours the lowly and despised who put their trust in Him. Jesus and Paul display the nature of God on this issue.
Biblical Misfits used by God
The Hebrew Scriptures are full of examples of how God used despised/rejected people. Joseph was initially rejected by his brothers; Moses was a fugitive and murderer when he was called by God. Gideon. He suffered from a serious inferiority complex, was raised by God to be a deliverer of his people (respectively in Judges 3 and 6).
Eli, the priest, was wise to discern that Samuel could be raised to become a divine tool already as a boy and David, the shepherd boy, was clearly regarded as an outsider of the family at first and overlooked as a potential future king of Israel. God had to teach Samuel in the process not to look at the outer looks and size, that God looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:1-12).
At a time when females counted for nothing, Deborah led the Israelite army (Judges 4 and 5). What distinguished the rejected and despised ones was their availability for God. Rahab and Ruth are specially mentioned in the lineage of Jesus, although they were originally a pagan prostitute and a despised Moabite respectively (Matthew 1:5).
Paul refers to his own unimpressive stature and lack of lustre in his public speaking (2 Corinthians 10:10). In His divine wisdom God deemed it fit to save those who believed through the preaching of the Cross, that was being regarded in the world as stupidity (1 Corinthians 1:21). Furthermore, Paul also stated clearly not only ‘when I am weak, I am strong’ (2 Corinthians 12:10), but also that the foolishness of the Cross is actually God’s wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:18). It looks as if this has generally been forgotten or overlooked. The jet-setting big names are as a rule some of the eloquent sought after speakers.
Jesus displayed the nature of God on this issue. The Lord entered Jerusalem on an inexperienced colt, the foal of a donkey – not on a horse or a camel, the more fancied transport animals of the day. Even today the animal is more known because of its obstinacy and stupidity than in any other way.
Our Lord praised the faith of the centurion who came from the ranks of the oppressing Romans. Groups usually looked down upon are refugees and vagrants. That Jesus was a refugee as a baby and homeless as an adult, should at least give us some food for thought.
The biblical Condition
With the Moabite Ruth, the biblical condition becomes clear: faith in the God of Israel is the criterion. Rahab, the prostitute, is a very special case. She must have had special revelation to declare to the spies: ‘I know that Yahweh has given you the land’ (Joshua 2:8) and in Joshua 2:11 ‘Yahweh, your God is God in heaven above and on the earth’ ... To use scarlet - the dye which was known for colouring flax, was known for its durability, a colour of permanence - was prophetic. A piece of scarlet cloth that turned white on the Day of Atonement gave a similar prophetic message. Centuries later the prophet Isaiah (1:18) would use that image for the divine cleansing and forgiving of sins. No sin is too big for God to forgive!
When Philip interacted with the influential eunuch from Ethiopia, the equivalent of a Finance Minister, this homosexual man was probably the vehicle to bring the Gospel to our continent, next to Mark who evangelised in Alexandria (Egypt) according to oral tradition. (Eunuchs were known to be 'gay', men who could be entrusted to the private chambers of highly ranked females like queens).
It is remarkable that God seems to have a special place for young people who are ready to go all out for him. In fact, it has been generally overlooked that Jesus drove out the religious establishment – with animals and all – so that there could be place for despised, for those coming from the nations,the lame, the blind and the children (Matthew 21:14). All too often the religious people need to be driven aside so that God can be worshiped in spirit and in truth.
The Messianic Stone initially rejected
Jesus is described as the capstone in the picture of a dome, that holds the building together. Simultaneously, Jesus is also the Messianic stone that was rejected by the builders. It became the cornerstone of the divine edifice. That the nation of Israel has been rejected – albeit as punishment for their non-recognition of Yeshuah (Jesus) as Messiah – contains some Messianic trait as a precursor variously cited by the Lord himself. This wisdom, appearing first in Psalm 118:22, recurs at Matthew 21:42, Mark 12:10, Luke 20:17, Acts 4:11 and 1 Peter 2:7. Of course, also the Messianic Isaiah 53:3 speaks about the same thing. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. The Gospel writer John summarised the phenomenon thus: He came to his own people, and even they rejected him (John 1:11).
Followers of Jesus are living stones, a chosen people, a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). To be a priest is to be consecrated to God and fellow-man. This is the calling of every Christian. If this functions well, the Church would automatically cease to be an institution chiefly concerned with maintaining forms and traditions. It would meet the world as a united, Spirit-empowered witnessing fellowship.
Fellowship also for the Despised
Jesus offered fellowship to people who were despised by their society. Seeing her deepest need, He spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4) who was probably so ashamed to be seen by others that she went to fetch water at a time when there was the least chance to meet other villagers or be seen by them. In meeting her deepest need, Jesus turned the social outcast into one of the first evangelists of the Messiah of all time, causing a people movement among the inhabitants of the little Samaritan town of Sychar. Breaking with all custom of the time, He spoke with the woman in public. The Western rationally-inclined mind would regard the speaking about ‘koeitjies en kalfies’ (trivialities) as wasting of time. Jesus demonstrated how the opening up of a conversation with a stranger about a mundane thing like water can break down walls of prejudice (John 4:10).
Inclusion of the Outsider and Fearful
Jesus led by example in His loving ministry to the doubting, the outsider and the fearful. This is a divine quality. The Master had an eye and a heart for the doubting Thomas. It seems as if Western theological tradition has overlooked that Thomas was prepared to go and die with Jesus (John 11:16). Many only see him as the ‘doubting Thomas’ or even ‘die ongelowige Thomas’ (the unbelieving Thomas). In general, it has hardly been recognized that Thomas was not the only one among the disciples to doubt. It has been reported that '...some doubted' (Matthew 28:17). We note that this happened just before the Ascension of our Lord, i.e. after some of them had been walking close to Him for many months. The Master took doubts seriously, reassuring the hovering disciple in this way. Jesus saw behind the impulsive Peter also his qualities as a potential leader. The Bible teaches that God specifically uses the fearful when they trust Him, even more so when they become completely dependent on Him. This is wonderfully depicted in the life of Gideon (Judges 6-8). He could easily be described as a coward with a serious inferiority complex. Coming from the poorest family of the half tribe of Manasse and youngest of all, he thought he had ample reason to shy away from an awesome task.
Foreigners and Strangers in the Bible
In the Hebrew Scriptures the Israelites are repeatedly admonished to be hospitable to strangers. About Abraham it is specifically mentioned that he was a stranger in various places (Genesis 12:10; 17:8; 20:1). Likewise were Isaac (Genesis 26:3), Jacob (Genesis 32:4), Joseph (Genesis 37ff), Moses (Exodus 2:15ff) and Nehemiah. In fact, it can be argued with some substance for David and Moses, that their years as a refugee served as training ground for later service. The Israelites were strangers in Egypt. Repeatedly they were reminded of this fact. Exactly because they had been oppressed there, they were commanded to refrain from oppressing foreigners. Leviticus 19:33,34 includes the astounding verse Love the stranger as you love yourself. In fact, the Law commands more than once to treat the stranger as an equal (for example Leviticus 24:16, 24). If the foreigner/stranger is destitute, he should be supported and afforded hospitality (Leviticus 25:35).
The Hebrew Scriptures furthermore depict clearly how foreigners became a blessing to the people of God. The prime example in this regard is Joseph who was an Egyptian in the eyes of his brothers when he reminded them of the God of their forefathers. The Ethiopian servant Ebed-Melech, an official in the royal palace, rescued Jeremiah (Jeremiah 38:7-10) after he had been lowered into a cistern, where the prophet would have died. Rahab, the prostitute (Joshua 2:1ff), is another example of quite a few ‘foreigners’ who are mentioned favourably in the Hebrew Scriptures. Both of them were rewarded when their lives were spared in the respective sacking of Jerusalem and Jericho. Tamar, the only other female mentioned among the impressive list of Jesus’ ancestors was the daughter of a Canaanite man. She had the courage to challenge Juda because of his promise to let his youngest son marry her. She proceeded with a rather strange action, masquerading like a prostitute (Genesis 38:11-30). Early in life Judah had been the one who proposed selling Joseph into slavery. But he matured. He was taught a lesson by his Canaanite daughter-in-law, Tamar. He confessed, “She is more righteous than I am.” Jewish sources suggest that this experience seems to have changed his life. (When the viceroy of Egypt -Joseph, not yet recognised by the brothers - threatens to hold Benjamin as a prisoner, Judah offered to spend his life as a slave so that his young brother could go free.)
The Italian Cornelius is mentioned positively as someone used by God to help Peter to recognize his religiously tainted prejudice and pride. This was part and parcel of the divine move to bring the Gospel to Gentiles, God's method to provoke the Jews.
But God also used other nations to chastise the ‘apple of His eye’, the Israelites, when they strayed from Him. God wanted His people to be a blessing to the nations. The idea of the ‘New Testament’ Church as a replacement, a spiritual Israel, is nowhere clearly taught in the Bible, but the inference is nevertheless correct that Israel is the example to the Church. The body of Christ - his Bride - should also bless the nations but there is a need for correction in its other role. Jesus nullified the tradition of the commandments, so that He could create the two, Jewish and non-Jewish, into One New Man, establishing peace (Ephesians 2:15). All followers of our Lord should willingly and gladly witness together with Messianic Jewish believers, and perhaps also be ready to be led by them.
An honoured Place for Refugees
The Bible assigns an honoured place to refugees. Moses became a refugee and fugitive because of his choice to stand with the Israelites. Acts 7:22 points to the fact that Moses enjoyed the best education of his day and age in Egypt. The letter to the Hebrews 11:25 highlights how Moses displayed the Spirit of our Lord to prefer suffering to share in the oppression of his people, instead of enjoying the conveniences of an Egyptian prince. He was in this way a pointer to Jesus who voluntarily left the Father's glory, not counting it robbery to become man and ultimately experience the death of a criminal on the cross (Philippians 2:5ff). That David roamed the country, staying in caves and at times living among the enemy with a bunch of rogues, makes him the equivalent of a modern-day gangster. More than once someone from the ranks of the despised and rejected groups - for example a gangster, drug lord or prostitute - was exactly the one God used to make others spiritually hungry, thirsty and inquisitive.
The refugee status of the baby Jesus should fill us with compassion towards all refugees. During his earthly life Jesus was so to speak homeless, only at home with his Father. In fact, already as a twelve year-old he referred to the temple as ‘my Father’s house’ (Luke 2:49). As an adult the Master replied to someone who wanted to follow him: ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’ (Luke 9:58). When traders defiled the Temple, Jesus jealously guarded the sanctity of its precincts. It had to be a house of prayer. He drove the traders out because ‘… you are making it a den of robbers’ (Matthew 21:13).
An Eye for Down and Outs
Few groups in history had an eye for the potential of down and outs, the outcasts like the homeless, refugees and exiles as the compassion displayed by Count Zinzendorf and his Herrnhut Moravians in the 18th century.
Abraham, Moses, Jacob, Joseph, and David, as well as many prominent figures in Church History like Amos Comenius had all been out of their home country against their will for one or another reason. The Herrnhut congregation was banned from Saxony. The jealousy of other traders in the Wetteravia region of Germany, caused them to be also driven from there. We should be quite aware that God can turn seemingly difficult circumstances around, to His end. I suggest that the presence of refugees should be regarded as a challenge and a chance. At any rate, they should definitely not be seen as a threat to our jobs and livelihood.
A special Place for Inexperience, for Women and Youth
The divine creation gender model was equality between male and female. The Hebrew Scriptures swam against the stream of ancient Oriental culture when they depicted how individual women like Jochebed, the mother of Moses and complete outsiders like Rahab, a pagan and a prostitute, played a special role in Jewish history. At a time when females counted for nothing, Deborah led the Israelite army (Judges 4 and 5). The teenagers Esther and Mary, the mother of Jesus, are very special in God's wisdom. This goes against the grain of our human ideas. At the same time, the wisdom of experience and age should be appreciated and highly valued.
The Lord entered Jerusalem on an inexperienced colt, the foal of a donkey – not on a horse or a camel, the more fancied transport animals of the day. It is remarkable that God seems to have a special place for young people who are ready to go all out for him.
Engaging so-called non-Entities in Mission
After the 18th century Moravians and Methodists, the next spiritual giants who engaged so-called non-entities in missionary work significantly were William Carey and Hudson Taylor, a British Protestant missionary to China, and the founder of the China Inland Mission (CIM, now OMF International). James Hudson Taylor (21 May 1832 – 3 June 1905) spent 51 years in China. The agency that he founded was responsible for bringing over 800 missionaries into the country. He started 125 schools and his ministry resulted in 18,000 Christian conversions. More than 300 stations of work were established with more than 500 local helpers in all eighteen provinces of China.
Hudson Taylor was known for his sensitivity to Chinese culture and zeal for evangelism. He wore native Chinese clothing even though this was rare among missionaries of that time. Under his leadership, the China Inland Mission (CIM) was exemplary non-denominational in practice, accepting members from all Protestant groups, including individuals from the working class and single women, as well as multi-national recruits. Primarily because of the CIM's campaign against the opium trade, Hudson Taylor has been referred to as one of the most significant Europeans to have lived in China in the 19th century. Historian Ruth Tucker (2004:186) summarises his influence as follows: 'Few missionaries in the nineteen centuries since the Apostle Paul has had a wider vision and has carried out a more systematised plan of evangelising a broad geographical area than Hudson Taylor'.
Foreigners as a Blessing
A phenomenon is highlighted in the Scriptures, viz. that foreigners can be a blessing to any nation if given the opportunity.
The persecuted French Huguenots of the late 17th century and the Moravian-Bohemian refugees of the early 18th century are well-documented examples of this phenomenon. God can turn around tragedy into a massive blessing to those who give refuge to followers of Jesus who had been persecuted for their faith. The Cape profited in a big way from the French Protestants who came here from 1688. The Moravian-Bohemian refugees were divinely used to usher in the modern missionary movement after Count Zinzendorf gave them refuge on his estate in 1721. That became the village of Herrnhut.
In recent decades this also happened in the Netherlands. In the 1970s Holland was heading for a spiritual precipice. The country was deteriorating from a biblical point of view, fast resembling a spiritual desert because of liberal teachings at their theological institutions. God used foreigners like the Switzerland-based American national Francis Schaeffer (via the TV) and Floyd McClung, the well-known American Youth with a Mission leader who started ministering there in the 1970s. McClung linked up with a fringe minority of Dutch evangelicals. A national impact followed the Campus Crusade-inspired Er is Hoop (There is Hope) campaign of the early 1980s. The big conferences for evangelists in Amsterdam of 1983, 1986 and 2000 - sponsored by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association – had a world-wide influence. Evangelists from all parts of the globe converged on the Dutch capital. In some cases indigenous evangelists came from remote villages which one would not even find on a map.
The converse also happened simultaneously. God used Hein Postma, a local Dutchman, whom I met when he was the principal of the Moravian primary school in Zeist. He challenged me when I was still very much a disgruntled anti-apartheid activist and embittered exile in Holland. That laid the foundation for the start of a local evangelistic agency, the Goed Nieuws Karavaan and the Regiogebed, in which we would play leading roles. This in turn had a blessed effect on South Africa via a prayer meeting on 4 October 1989. The impact of Hein Postma on me also served as a model to start Friends from Abroad at the Cape in 2006/7, a ministry to impact and equip foreigners who have been coming to our shores.
Chapter 7 Obstacles to Unity
The apostle Paul advised: "Every Scripture is ... useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16). In the first letter to the Corinthians he wrote about the wisdom of the world, which they should definitely not strive after. In the same context (1 Corinthians 1:18-21) Paul applies Isaiah 29:14, to stress how futile philosophy is: 'Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.' God would ultimately baffle and destroy the useless learning and wisdom of the Greeks.
Interaction between Jews and Samaritans
The rivalry between the Jews and Samaritans is found throughout the Bible. The oppression of Samaritans by the Jews has a long history, which could have been sparked or exacerbated by the refusal of Ezra, the priest, when their leaders wanted to help build the second temple. Some negative reaction would have been almost natural for any Samaritan in interaction with their oppressors, the Jews.
One can take for granted that there were also Samaritans among the new post-Pentecost believers. Some haughtiness developed among the Gentile believers in respect of Judaism. The supposed rejection of Jews by God – because of the crucifixion of Jesus - was spread in due course. Paul, the apostle, deemed it necessary to react, admonishing the Gentile believers in Rome 11 and highlighting that this ‘rejection’ was only temporary.
Simon Magus, mentioned in Acts 8, was a Samaritan. He was disappointed when the apostles rebuked him. He hoped to get monetary gain via the abuse of Jesus’ name. He became what has been described as a heresiarch, the founder of the heretic Simonians. (The Simonians worshipped Simon Magus like Zeus. He was a sort of god to them.) Simon Magus' successor, said to have been a certain Menander, was also a Samaritan. The Gospel of Luke in particular highlights how Jesus attempted to put things in perspective, giving the despised and rejected Samaritans a special place in the sun, advocating in this way for their inclusion.
Justin Martyr, a great Apologist?
Second century Justin, also called the Martyr (100-165 AD), has generally been hailed in Christian circles as a great apologist. Few would regard him as heretical. However, his attitude towards Jews possibly contributed to the gradual side-lining of the nation that the Bible calls the apple of God’s eye. He is on record as the one who contributed significantly – albeit probably unintentionally - to what became known as 'Replacement Theology'. The learned Samaritan Justin Martyr possibly did not have their side-lining in mind when he highlighted that the Church had replaced Israel.
Justin was very much a child of his day when he went overboard in his haughty intellectual arrogance. He taught that the Greek philosophers and the ‘barbarians’ such as Abraham... all who at any time ‘obeyed the same guidance, were really Christians’ (Walker, 1976:47). Paul, the epistle writer addressed the arrogance and haughtiness of Gentiles in his letter to the Romans when he stressed that they were only grafted into the true Olive Tree, Israel. In due course the Church was nevertheless quite widely but fallaciously seen as the new Israel that replaced the Jewish nation.
The Early Church Fathers unfortunately did not always latch onto this advice. In fact, a few of them went overboard in futile debate and discussion. Tertullian, a jurist who joined the Christians of North Africa in 207 A.D., discerned very wisely that philosophy was a major culprit: ‘heresies are themselves prompted by philosophy ... After Christ Jesus we desire no subtle theories, no acute enquiries after the Gospel...’ Against the advice of Paul not to get involved in futile philosophical arguments, the very same Tertullian however brought the element of polemic bickering into the equation like few others before or after him. In this chapter we will touch on issues which divide the three Abrahamic religions. Theological squabbling has been a major culprit in this regard.
Semantics as a Disservice to the Church
Tertullian rendered the Church a disservice when he introduced the terms ‘trinitas’, ‘substantia’ and ‘personae’. These semantics, playing with words, was his effort to describe the Trinity, the nature of Christ and the different manifestations of God in the Son and the Holy Spirit. His terse descriptions ‘one substance but three persons’ and ‘two natures, one person’ were nice-sounding, but they basically ushered in theological polemics. It is clear that the early Christians professed both Christ and the Spirit to be Lord and there are indications of the equating of the three ‘persons’ in the ‘NT’. Tertullian’s philosophical theologising was not helpful however. After the heretic Marcion – who was clearly outlawed by the Church – the lion’s share of the bickering that led to the Arian controversy and later to the unfortunate quarrels around the formulation of the Holy Trinity, has possibly to be attributed to Tertullian.
In contrast to other leaders of the first century Christian church, Marcion declared that Christianity was in complete discontinuity with Judaism and entirely opposed to the Tanach (Hebrew Bible). According to Marcion, the god of the Greek Old Testament, whom he called the Demiurge, was - the creator of the material universe - is a jealous tribal deity of the Jews. The Jewish law represents legalistic reciprocal justice, punishing mankind for its sins through suffering and death. Contrastingly, the god that Jesus professed is an altogether different being, a universal god of compassion and love who looks upon humanity with benevolence and mercy. Marcion also produced his Antitheses - contrasting the Demiurge of the Old Testament with the Heavenly Father of the New Testament.
Development of the Concept of the Trinity
Judaism has a problem to regard a human being to be the Lamb of God. All the more it is interesting how the concept of the Trinity developed in the Middle East. The oral tradition of the audible voice at the baptism of Jesus and the dove descending on Jesus circulated very widely. This could have contributed greatly to the tenet of the Holy Trinity which has no clear proof in Scripture as such. God, the Father, is generally taken to be the voice speaking at Jesus' baptism. This was widely regarded as the crowning occasion of Jesus as the Son of God and the Messiah. All four Gospels refer to the dove as the visible demonstration of the Holy Spirit descending on the Son. In the fourth Gospel we read how John the Baptist pointed to Jesus in the same context as the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29,36). Attributes of multiple manifestations and functions of God like truth (John 7:28, Revelation 3:7 and 1 John 5:6) and goodness (Romans 2:4, Nehemiah 9:20) can be found throughout the Bible. These attributes and traits can also be traced in the behaviour of our Lord and the manifestations of people under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. All of this may have contributed to the concept of the Trinity. On the other hand, the stressing of the number three in the Trinity has less to some limitation of the infinite nature of God. He is able to reveal himself in many more ways.
Limited scriptural Backing for the Trinity
Taken from a position of faith, the Trinitarian formulae have much clout, but they have limited scriptural backing. Ephesians 4: 4-6 speaks of ‘one Spirit… one Lord …one God and Father of all.’ In 1 Corinthians 12: 4-6 Paul writes of the same Spirit, the same Lord and the same God. Peter, another apostle, chips in with his words ‘the foreknowledge of God, the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ’ (1 Peter 1:2). A little bit more substance we find in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 as evidence of the granting of spiritual gifts, different kinds of service and different kinds of expression and manifestation, noting that 'to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good' (1 Corinthians 12:7). 'There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work'. Yet, that is rather meagre as a basis upon which to build the doctrine of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit will reveal to those people searching after truth that there are so many characteristics of the triune God in which He has revealed or manifested himself when we read and study the Holy Scriptures.
It is surely true that the Holy Spirit is much more than merely a force like electricity or the wind. In my view it is completely redundant to debate about its nature. Count Zinzendorf described all this as odium theologicum, the bad smell of theology. He suggested rather hyperbolically that ‘all the essential theology can be written with large characters on one octavo sheet’ (Cited in Lewis, 1962:15), i.e. on the half of an A4 page.
The Use of Latin
Another unwitting problematic contribution of Tertullian was his use of Latin, moving away from the prevalent practice in theological circles of using Coptic and Greek. Cyprian followed in the footsteps of his master Tertullian. Their prior training in Law may have played an important role, in contrast to the Church leaders of Egypt who wrote in Coptic, thus indigenising the national expression of the body of Christ. The Berber Augustine also treaded the same treacherous path of Tertullian and Cyprian, weakening the North African Church tremendously. The Church Father Tertullian apparently had little vision for the unity of the Body. Chadwick (1967:91) notes that Tertullian’s Apology does not merely include apologetic defence of the Christian doctrine, but also ‘militant and trenchant attack on the corruption, irrationality and political injustice of polytheistic society.’ This statement could still get wide approval, but Chadwick goes on to highlight that every page of Tertullian’s work ‘is written with the joy of inflicting discomfort on his adversaries for their error and unreasonableness, but in such a manner as to embarrass his own friends and supporters.’ The doctrinal bickering of the leading North African theologians had catastrophic long term results.
The uncompromising attitude of Cyprian and Augustine led to the break with the Donatist believers. These Church Fathers can be said to have introduced denominationalism and foreign cultural elements to the Church on the African continent.
Introduction of Greek Thought Patterns
The Church Father Tertullian was not the only one guilty of the introduction of Greek thought patterns which divided the Church. Origen (184 -254 AD) was a giant amongst the early Christian thinkers. He tried to interpret Christian concepts in language familiar to the Platonic tradition, 'mingling philosophical discussion with expositions of biblical cruxes' (Chadwick, 1969:100). Possibly unwittingly, he undermined the Hebrew thought pattern in this way. Hebrew thinking is more inclusive, wary of false alternatives. A typical example of Origen's attempt is how he would play down the dissention between Peter and Paul at Antioch, suggesting that is was merely 'edifying play-acting' (Chadwick, 1969:100). In Galatians 2:11 (Amplified version) Paul recorded a different story: ‘Now when Cephas (Peter) came to Antioch, I opposed him face to face [about his conduct there], because he stood condemned [by his own actions].
A strong Difference of Opinion between Paul and Barnabas
The NT has no problem in mentioning a strong difference of opinion between two other role players, Paul and Barnabas that ultimately led to a doubling of the missionary effort. But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. And there occurred such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and left, being committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord.… (Acts 15:38-40).
Rivalry between Alexandria and Antioch
There was apparently an unhealthy rivalry in the Early Church between Alexandria and Antioch. This is most evident in the oldest Bible manuscripts. Tracing the biblical manuscripts back to their origins, there are two geographical sources - Antioch and Alexandria. Text types that represent a time period or location are traceable back to one of two families of manuscripts - the majority text and the minority text - the majority text originating in Antioch (Syria) and the minority text originating in Alexandria (Egypt).
The majority text from a literal point of view includes approximately 99% of the 5,000+ extant manuscripts (meaning manuscripts that are in existence today). These manuscripts have a high level of agreement with each other. The minority text includes the remaining less than 1% of extant manuscripts. These manuscripts have a high level of disagreement between each other (Thus Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, the two principal Alexandrian manuscripts by far, disagree with each other in many places in the four gospels).
Keeping in mind the rule of first mention, a principle wherein the first mention of anything in the Bible generally sets the tone for the use of that word throughout the whole Bible, one sees a significant difference. There are four occurrences of Alexandria, all with a negative connotation: From Alexandria came one who had received substandard Bible teaching. Apollos was learned in the scriptures but he knew only the baptism of John. Aquilla and Priscilla had to explain basics of the gospel to him - that Jesus was the Christ – correcting his inferior theology (Acts 18:24).
By contrast, Antioch in Syria is a city only mentioned with a positive connotation in the ‘New Testament’. It is a place from which a man of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom came, and who was appointed over church business (Acts 6:3-5). At Antioch, they preached to the Grecians and a great number believed and turned unto the Lord (Acts 11:19-21). The Cypriot Barnabas was sent to Antioch and positive things resulted (Acts 11:22-24). In Antioch the headquarters of the New Testament Church was established. Barnabas looked for Saul and brought him back to Antioch (Acts 11:25,26).
Religious Arrogance spread
Upon seeing Gentiles enjoying a relationship with God, there aroused a sanctified envy among the Jews. On the other hand, religious arrogance was spread by Justin Martyr in the second century. He stressed that the nation of Israel had been ‘rejected’ by God because of their disobedience. In Romans 11, Paul clearly stated that God did not reject the Jews totally and finally. Their limited temporary time of 'rejection' was also intended to bring the Gentiles to the Father. Although the first day of the week was called ‘the Lord’s Day’, specially honoured as a day of special celebration of His Resurrection, there was still real dialogue between Christians and Jews in the second century. Justin’s record of his interaction with Trypho, a Jew, testifies to this. Another major schismatic group displaying religious arrogance was those Christians who allied themselves with the doctrines of Novatian. He was a Roman priest who elevated himself into a rival pope, one of the first antipopes. He held that lapsed Christians, who had not maintained their confession of faith under persecution, may not be received again into communion with the Church. The Novatians went so far as to re-baptise their converts. They were labelled by Rome as schismatics. Novatian was an advocate of the traditional view that to those guilty of murder, adultery and apostasy the Church had no power to grant remission, but only to intercede for divine mercy at the Last Judgement.
Theologians cause Confusion
The attempt to explain the deity of Jesus spread confusion. In 431 AD, the Council of Ephesus condemned Nestorianism, proclaiming the pregnant Mary as theotokos, the bearer of God. After the birth of Jesus she became the ‘Mother of God’. The Council of Chalcedon's dismissal of Monophysitism emphasised the dual nature of Jesus – human and divine -in 451 AD. Simultaneously this effort to try and explain the Holy Trinity disseminated the blasphemous idea that the Mother of God was the third person the Trinity. Mary and her baby Jesus was equated with the goddess Isis and her son Horus.
The theological in-fighting of the 5th century continued right into the present era. The semantic doctrinal bickering prepared the way for Islamic expansion in in North Africa. The peoples in Greece and Turkey have been in conflict for millennia. About 1,500 years ago, the rivalry had a doctrinal dimension.
At these councils, the chief defenders of these theological offshoots represented churches in the East, ranging from Assyria and Persia (Nestorians) to North Africa and Armenia (Monophysites). The situation only worsened when the Greeks attempted to subjugate the Eastern churches by seizing their monasteries and churches.
The theological bickering of the Eastern churches coincided with ongoing ethnic infighting. The Persians warred with the Aramaeans, Egyptians, Armenians, and Greeks, greatly destabilizing the Christian territories' frontier with the newly Muslim land on the Arabian Peninsula. A struggle in the Byzantine capital of Constantinople between Emperor Phocas (602-10) and his general Heraclius instigated a military mutiny. Then in 632, Emperor Heraclius ordered the conversion of the Jews, which resulted in mass murder and tremendous resentment of his rule. All in all, there was a great deal of resentment toward the Byzantines, even among other Christians. Thus, when Islamic Bedouins began raiding Christian territories, they allied with displaced Arabs and disaffected local Christians. The Persians and Greeks dismissed these sorties as common, unsophisticated nomadic activity. But they were wrong. The first wave of jihad was underway.
East-West Rift: the Result of Semantics
The arch enemy of the Church abused semantics, such as playing with words, to sow disunity. A single letter caused the Arian controversy. Affirming the divinity of Jesus, the Council of Nicaea (325 AD) delegates turned their attention to the question of how Jesus relates to the Father. This sparked petty semantic bickering. The historian Eusebius suggested at that occasion that Jesus had a nature similar to that of the Father (homo-ousos). Bishop Athanasius, who was not invited to the proceedings, had earlier already stated that this would be a compromise which would minimize the full teaching of Christ’s divinity. The Lord was homo-ousios, of one and the same substance, not merely of similar substance. The whole discussion boiled down to a debate over the difference between the Greek words for similar and same, about the presence of the letter i of the Greek alphabet. In the extension of this debate the doctrine of our Lord's divinity, the issue of Jesus’ Sonship (of God) and the doctrine of the Holy Trinity were later drawn into the discussion.
Abuse of Sound Doctrine
Sound doctrine, however, has sometimes also been abused to bind people denominationally. Even a virtue like humility can become a negative tenet if someone becomes proud of it. The follower of Jesus should display humility, but he is no door-mat. Humble submission is a virtue, but slavish servility is sinful. The believer in Jesus may assert his authority in humility, but he does not have to allow anybody to abuse him as a slave (2 Corinthians 11:20). If we have been liberated by the Son of God, we are free indeed (John 8:36). There is thus a subtle difference between biblical submission and bondage due to servility. Under the guise of submission expected by wives or congregants, Church leaders sometimes have become guilty in this regard. Those who are trampled upon in this way are however not blameless either, because a follower of Jesus should not allow himself to be brought under a yoke of slavery, under a new bondage (Galatians 5:1). After all, believers may invoke the anointing of the Holy Spirit to break every yoke of bondage (compare Isaiah 10:27). Religious Leaders causing Splits
Religious leaders through the ages fell into the trap of allowing themselves to be hero‑worshipped or causing rifts (or both). They often caused splits and division through a strong emphasis on some doctrinal tenet. We bear in mind that all great men have aroused the opposition of lesser minds. By way of a strong emphasis on some special doctrinal teaching or distortion of the Word, they however sometimes polarised believers, blurring the vision for the unity of the Body of Christ and causing splits instead. Many denominations started in this way. We lose out and miss the blessings God wants to give, because He is eager to command His blessings when there is unity (compare Psalm 133:1,3).
It is sad to see the low morals that religious leaders can display when their influence appears to be threatened. Instead of doing introspection, the Pharisees of Jesus' day started a smear campaign. And because they could not successfully hit at Jesus’ moral quality, they tried to play Him out against John, the Baptist (John 4:1ff). The aim of their endeavours was evidently to get Jesus out of the way. Is it too far-fetched to suggest that the beastly intrigue, which preceded the death of John the Baptist, had its origin with the religious leaders? From what we read in the gospels about the Baptist, he might just as well have told Herodias or Herod to their face what he thought of their incestuous marriage. But some incitement by certain leaders would also have fitted perfectly into the picture. Let’s face it: some of the things that the Master said to those Pharisees and Sadducees who came to him were not readily palatable.
In South Africa many a prominent Christian leader become a victim of fame. In a subtle way the heresy of apartheid caused some believers to lose their sense of biblical priorities. Quite a few Church leaders, who started off as committed followers of Jesus, were side-tracked in the struggle against apartheid.
Chapter 8 Antidotes to Disunity
Right from the start of His ministry, Jesus was involved with conflict. The narrative of the temptation in the desert in Matthew 4 is a high-powered confrontation between the forces of darkness that wanted to woo the Lord into a compromise, in an exchange for power. His challenge to the fishermen to follow Him was likewise conflict-laden. The report of the changing of wine into water (John 2:1-11) contains a potential conflict of priorities between His earthly mother and His heavenly Father. Jesus' respective response demonstrated the authority, sovereignty and flexibility of Father and Son. Let us deduce some lessons from our Lord’s handling of conflict.
Mediation in a Conflict
The Master gave practical and clear teaching for mediation of a conflict. We refer especially to the prime example, Matthew 18. Sometimes pastoral counsellors forget to check out the very basic step, viz. whether the complainant had been attempting to resolve the matter by approaching the other party, the purported offender, first. The Master gave us an example how to handle such matters with the way he reprimanded Martha when she complained the inactivity of Mary when she was running around with household chores of hospitality.
Of course, it is usually not easy to confront the person who has offended you - unless one is of the type that likes to squabble and fight. Those who come to us for counsel after a break in any relationship, have to be taught to check out their assumptions. Instead of accepting any loaded or hurting information passed on as truth, a good practice and principle is to ascertain if the spirit in which the story has been conveyed, has not perhaps been distorted. How much anger and hurt can be prevented in interaction among people – also in Christian circles - if this teaching of Jesus is adhered to.
There is of course the very real situation where the opposing party reacts indifferently or even aggressively upon personal confrontation. Jesus’ advice to take one or two witnesses along for this eventuality makes such a lot of sense. Yet, how often is this practised? The same thing applies to the next step of church discipline, viz. the exclusion from the fellowship if anyone persists with gross sinful behaviour and/or is not remorseful and refuses bluntly to mend his/her ways.
I suggest that we take our day to day interaction as human beings as a point of reference. How does one handle conflict in a biblically responsible way? Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 18 is in my view the valid paradigm in this regard. An important lesson from this teaching is that it is not wise to wait on the other party to offer an apology. If you know there is some discord between you and a brother or a sister, you should just make the start to get the air cleared, starting with an apology if that is feasible and applicable. In pastoral counsel offering forgiveness must be inculcated and taught. This is also the route to be taken, even if one thinks that one's own part in the development of the rift is minimal and the other party’s guilt is gross. The biblical way is always to be the least, to serve rather than expect to be served. If there are things to be set right, we have to do it promptly and generously. (Zacchaeus was ready to return the fourfold of what he had taken from some people!! (Luke 19:8).
An important facet of conflict management is the issue of anger. Fallaciously some Christians seem to believe that it is sinful to become angry. On the contrary, there is definitely such a thing as holy anger. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures one can read how God reacted with wrath and anger because of the idolatry and sins of His people. Similarly, Jesus got really angry when He saw how the Temple was desecrated by traders. (He was clearly very much angered that the lame and the blind (Matthew 21:14), the foreigners and other proselytes that habitually visited that part of the temple precincts, had been pushed out).
There are general cases and circumstances where we should fight the good fight (of faith) (Timothy 6.12). In Jude 1:3 we are encouraged and advised to 'contend earnestly for the faith' and 2 Peter 3:17 warns us to 'be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness'. However, if we feel inclined to whip certain people with the tongue – we should take the advice to heart that Dr David du Plessis passed on. Deducing that Jesus had been totally distraught by what he had seen in the temple, Du Plessis highlights that Jesus had wept before he went into the temple: ‘Don’t ever try to whip anybody – to reform them – until you’ve wept’ (A Man called Mr Pentecost, 1977:216).
3 John 9 and10 highlights that evil people in the Church may have to be exposed. The apostle John, the generally accepted author of the short epistle wanted to expose the arrogant behaviour of Diotrephes when he would visit the fellowship. The evil-minded brother engaged in bad-mouthing and he was refusing to welcome the brothers (the traveling missionaries). Diotrephes hindered the others in the church who wished to help the missionaries and he also expelled those church people who aided the missionaries. Church leaders – in fact all of us - should keep in mind the lesson of weeping first before attempting to whip.
The nature of God is such that He is swift to forgive, but ‘slow to anger and rich in steadfast love and truth’ (Exodus 34:7). In the Psalms it is repeated more than once that God is ‘slow to anger.’ At issue is how we handle our anger, or better still, how we get our anger sanctified. In fact, it would be a complete distortion of the Pauline verses (1 Corinthians 13:4-6) to say that love should cover up sinful behaviour. Paul takes it for granted that we can get angry, but we should be careful not to sin when we are angry. We must rectify things and clear the air before the sun sets (Ephesians 4:26). We should guard our temper, pray for a guard to be put before our mouth (Psalm 141:3). Paul actually encourages us to actively oppose anger in our midst by not only putting off anger and other carnal traits (Colossians 3:8), but instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. put on your new nature, created to be like God – truly righteous and holy (Ephesians 4:23,24), i.e. through the sanctifying work of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
In his epistle James (1:19, 20) passed on some practical teaching in this regard: be slow to get angry. This ties in with Romans 12:2 which defines the renewing of our thoughts as a transforming process that the Holy Spirit must perform in us. Rather than a quick fix, it is a metamorphosis.
In the same context James (1:19) taught us Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak. In all communication we have to learn to take responsibility for what we listen to, what we tell others and for our behaviour afterwards. In order for us to hear what someone is trying to communicate, we will have to first stop talking! I quote from a devotional message by Anthony Lackay, a believer who was raised in the Cape township Hanover Park:
To make sure we've really heard the point being made, we should often stop and repeat the conversation to the person speaking to us. Especially if it is an important conversation and - a sharing of personal things and experiences, maybe an instruction to be implemented - the person is seeking counsel or a listening ear.
We need to ask questions to ascertain whether we misunderstood or missed anything important from the conversation or discussion. The personwe are speaking to will also be reassured in this way that he/she had our complete and total attention. Another reason why listening to people is important for believers is that it simply means that we might have an overall listening challenge. If we struggle with listening to people, the chances are that we may be struggling to hear what God is trying to tell us too.
Apology instead of Defence
It sounds almost too mundane and so down to earth to highlight that it is much better to offer an apology instead of defending yourself when you are wrong or made a mistake. Yet, the flesh in us does not like that. How much heat can be taken out of a conflict if the guilty party apologises. Of course, apologies should not become cheap. Nevertheless, one could rather err on this side than refuse to apologise in a stubborn attitude of ‘What have I done wrong?’
Remorseful Confession as an Important Biblical Mandate
It is my conviction that confession is one of the most important biblical mandates in countering any guilt incurred in respect of Muslims (and Jews). Next to that, forgiveness always plays an important role to set parties free who have struggled under or are living through any form of strife or conflict. Wherever restitution is needed, we should attempt to rectify our part of the guilt as promptly as possible. Apologies without evidence of remorse and serious attempts towards restitution are not goodd enough. It is even worse when others are blamed.
Confession and repentance for our uncharitable and general judgemental damaging attitude of sectors of the Body of Christ is surely called for in many places all around the evangelical world. Apologies, remorseful confession and the corollary of forgiveness are indeed powerful antidotes to disunity.
Chapter 9 The Word unites the true Church
The Church of the Middle Ages remained in darkness because the Word was not only obscured, but it was also hidden from the masses on purpose. Only priests were allowed to read the Bible. This was a demonic ploy, also repeated in the Orthodox Church of Greece and in the East. It was abused by the Roman Catholic Church as well as by Islam, to keep adherents in religious bondage. Judaism and its Rabbis succeeded to make suspect anything that has to do with the 'blasphemer' Jesus. Jewish adherents were told that the document that the Christians call the 'New Testament', was a 'forgery'. No good Jew was supposed to touch that book, let alone read it. Roman Catholicism and Islam followed this pattern, suggesting that Protestants or Christians have changed the scriptures – often without giving proper substantiation for the accusation. (Some Catholics point to the apocryphal books that are not in the Bibles used by Protestants. It is significant that the Roman Catholic Church includes apocryha almost lock stock and barrel although Jerome, the translator responsible for the Vulgate, the Latin translation, had serious reservations about some of them.)
A power of God unto Salvation
Paul wrote that the Gospel is a power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16), but it had to get to the people. Even the great apostle could only be at one place at any moment. By way of contrast, in recent years we have seen how the mere translation of (parts of) the Word into the spoken language of previously unreached people groups - be it on paper or through tape cassettes, CDs and DVDs - have changed the lives of thousands dramatically. Yet, it was hardly discerned that Paul also wrote in the above verse, Romans 1:16, 'to Jews first and also to the Gentiles.' It had been Paul's own practise to first go into synagogues in every town he came. Jesus instructed his disciples in a similar way (Compare Matthew 10 and Luke 10:1-24, if we take these events to have been sequential.) The Church down the centuries succumbed to the temptation – with a few individuals and the Moravians of the 1740s to 1770 as striking exceptions - to concentrate on easier targets than the difficult Jews (and Muslims). This only changed to some extent after the Six Day War of 1973 in Israel. With regard to Muslims, significant change transpired after the Desert Storm War in 1991. Ten years of prayer, initiated internationally by Open Doors, brought exceptional results. Muslims came to the Lord in their thousands the last decade or so.
The Rediscovery of the Word
Any evangelism was opposed by Church authorities in the Middle Ages. Only in the early 5th century Jerome finished his Latin translation, the Vulgate. But ordinary Christians were not allowed to read the Bible for themselves. It belongs to well-known Church History that it took centuries for the Word to be translated into the vernacular of nations. Waraqah bin Naufal, the cousin of Mohammad's first wife, could have been the next person to attempt any translation at the end of the 6th century - into Arabic. There is no known record of what he actually translated before he became blind.
The rediscovery of the Word through people like Wycliffe and Luther caused a major wave of spiritual renewal in Europe. Britain's John Wycliffe was an early advocate for translation of the Bible into the common tongue. He completed his translation directly from the Latin Vulgate into vernacular English in 1384. Wycliffe also gave oversight to a hand written translation of 150 copies of the Wycliffe Bible.
The official Roman Catholic and Holy Roman Empire abhorrence of seeing Bibles translated into the vernacular can be derived from historic quotes: Thus Arundel, the Archbishop of Canterbury declared: 'That pestilent and most wretched John Wycliffe, of damnable memory, a child of the old devil, and himself a child and pupil of the anti-Christ...crowned his wickedness by translating the Scriptures into the mother tongue.' Henry Knighton, a contemporary Catholic historian, wrote: 'John Wycliffe translated the Gospel from Latin into the English ...made it the property of the masses and common to all and...even to women...and so the pearl of the Gospel is thrown before swine and trodden under foot and what is meant to be the jewel of the clergy has been turned into the jest of the laity...'
The Council of Constance declared Wycliffe a stiff-necked heretic, banning him on 4 May 1415. But Magister Jan Hus, teaching in Prague, had already been deeply influenced by Wycliffe's writings. After the martyr's death of Jan Hus two months later on the fire stake on 6 July 1415, the great Hussite movement arose so to speak from the ashes, leading to the Bible translation into the Bohemian vernacular and the first printed Bible. The Hussite Reformist movement spread through Middle Europe like a simmering fire, ultimately impacting Germany's Martin Luther and Switzerland's John Calvin and Huldrych Zwingli. The very special contribution of Luther to the Reformation was that he made the Word accessible to the rank-and-file German Christian.
Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam
Desiderius Erasmus, a great scholar of Rotterdam, was so moved to correct the corrupt Latin Vulgate, that in 1516, with the help of printer John Froben, he published a Greek-Latin Parallel 'New Testament'. The Latin part was not the corrupt Vulgate, but his own fresh rendering of the text from the more accurate and reliable Greek, which he had managed to collate from old Greek 'New Testament' manuscripts he had acquired. This milestone was the first non-Latin Vulgate text of the scripture to be produced in a millennium… and the first ever to come off a printing press. The 1516 Greek-Latin New Testament of Erasmus focused attention on just how corrupt and inaccurate the Latin Vulgate had become, and how important it was to go back and use the original Greek ('New Testament') and original Hebrew ('Old Testament') languages to maintain accuracy… and to translate them faithfully into the languages of the common people, whether that be English, German, or any other tongue. No sympathy for this 'illegal activity' could be expected from Rome of course.
Martin Luther, the great Reformer
Martin Luther (November 10, 1483 - February 18, 1546) was a Christian theologian and Augustinian monk whose teachings inspired the Protestant Reformation and deeply influenced the doctrines of Protestant and other Christian traditions.
The demands of study for academic degrees and his preparation for delivering lectures drove Martin Luther to study the Scriptures in depth. Luther immersed himself in the teachings of the Scripture and the Early Church. Slowly, terms like penance and righteousness took on new meaning. The controversy that broke loose with the publication of his 95 theses placed even more pressure on the reformer to study the Bible. This study convinced him that the Church had lost sight of several central truths. To Luther, the most important of these was the doctrine that brought him peace with God.With joy, Luther now believed and taught that salvation is a gift of God's grace, received by faith and trust in God's promise to forgive sins for the sake of Christ's death on the cross. This, he believed was God's work from beginning to end.
He declared his intolerance regarding the Roman Church’s corruption on 31 October 1517, by nailing his 95 Theses of Contention to the Wittenberg Church door. Luther would be exiled in the months following the Diet of Worms Council in 1521 that was designed to get rid of him.
Luther’s 95 ThesesOn 31 October 1517, Luther changed the course of human history when he nailed his 95 theses to the church door at Wittenberg, accusing the Roman Catholic Church of heresy upon heresy. Luther's action was basically a response to the selling of indulgences by Johann Tetzel, a Dominican priest. Luther's charges also directly challenged the position of the clergy in regard to individual salvation. Before long, Luther’s 95 Theses of Contention had been copied and published all over Europe.
Here I StandLuther's Protestant views were condemned as heretical by Pope Leo X in the bull Exsurge Domine in 1520. Consequently Luther was summoned to either renounce or reaffirm them at the Diet of Worms on 17 April 1521. When he appeared before the assembly, Johann von Eck, by then assistant to the Archbishop of Trier, acted as spokesman for Emperor Charles the Fifth. He presented Luther with a table filled with copies of the writings of the reformer. Eck asked Luther if he still believed what these works taught. He requested time to think about his answer. Granted an extension, Luther prayed, consulted with friends and mediators and presented himself before the Diet the next day.
When the counsellor put the same question to Luther the next day, the reformer apologized for the harsh tone of many of his writings, but said that he could not deny the majority of them or the teachings in them. Luther respectfully but boldly stated, "Unless I am convinced by proofs from Scriptures or by plain and clear reasons and arguments, I can and will not retract, for it is neither safe nor wise to do anything against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen."On May 25, the Emperor issued his Edict of Worms, declaring Martin Luther ‘vogelfrei’, an outlaw. This ban implied that persons sentenced thus were not to be granted any accommodation.
Martin Luther's German Bible
He subsequently translated the New Testament into German for the first time from the critical Greek 1516 Greek-Latin New Testament of Erasmus, a text which was later called textus receptus and published in September 1522. The translation of the ‘Old Testament’ followed, yielding an entire German language Bible in 1534.
Luther’s translation of the Bible helped to develop a standard version of the German language and added several principles to the art of translation. Luther's hymns sparked the development of congregational singing in Christianity. His marriage, on June 13, 1525, to Katharina von Bora, a former nun, began the tradition of the marriage of clergy within several Christian traditions – in opposition to the celibate life-style that was taught and practised by the Roman Catholic Church.
Martin Luther was the first person to translate and publish the Bible in the commonly-spoken dialect of the German people. Luther also befriended William Tyndale, an academic from Cambridge, giving him safe haven and assistance when Tyndale fled from England.
God's Exile – a very special Martyr
The first Bible printed in English was illegal and the Bible translator, William Tyndale, was burned alive for the crime of translating God's Word into English. William Tyndale produced the first English translation from the original Hebrew and Greek Scriptures. (Wycliffe translated from the LatinVulgate.) Because of the persecution and the determined campaign to uncover and burn these Bibles, few copies remained. William Tyndale was introduced to the writings of Luther and Zwingli at Cambridge University. Tyndale got his M.A. at Oxford. Thereafter he was ordained into the ministry, serving as a chaplain and tutor. He dedicated his life to the translation of the Scriptures from the original Hebrew and Greek languages.
Tyndale was shocked by the ignorance of the Bible prevalent amongst the clergy. To one such cleric he declared: 'I defy the Pope and all his laws. If God spares my life, before many years pass I will make it possible for the boy who drives the plough to know more of the Scriptures than you do.' After he had failed to obtain any ecclesiastical approval for his proposed translation, Tyndale went into exile to Germany. He noted that 'not only was there no room in my lord of London's palace to translate the New Testament, but also that there was no place to do it in all England.'
Supported by some London merchants, Tyndale sailed in 1524 for Germany, never to return to his homeland. In Hamburg he worked on the 'New Testament', which was ready for printing by the following year. As the pages began to roll from the press in Cologne, soldiers of the Holy Roman Empire raided the printing press. Tyndale fled with as many of the pages as had been printed. Tyndale moved to Worms where the complete 'New Testament' was published the following year (1526). King Henry VIII sent out his agents to offer Tyndale a high position in his court, a safe return to England and a great salary to oversee his communications. However, Tyndale was not willing to surrender his work as a Bible translator, theologian and preacher merely to become a propagandist for the king!
He became a new version of John the Baptist when he argued against divorce and specifically dared to assert that the king should remain faithful to his first wife! Tyndale maintained that Christians always have the duty to obey civil authority, except where loyalty to God is concerned. King Henry VIII's initial enthusiasm for Tyndale turned into rage. Tyndale was hereafter an outlaw both to the Roman Catholic Church and its Holy Roman Empire - and to the English kingdom!
In 1535 Tyndale was betrayed by a fellow Englishman, who gained his confidence only to treacherously arrange for his arrest. Tyndale was taken to the state prison in the castle of Vilvorde, near Brussels. For 500 days, he suffered in a cold, dark and damp dungeon and then on 6 October, 1536, Tyndale was taken to a stake where he was burned. His last reported words were: "Lord, open the king of England's eyes”.
Chapter 10 Uniting Dynamite
The role of the invention of printing is paramount in the disseminating of the Word. In this regard it is good to be reminded that exactly this was the motivation of the German Johan Gutenberg. When he saw that the Christian truths were kept imprisoned in a few manuscripts, he wanted to give wings to the truth.
The Cape has its own version of the same phenomenon. Arnoldus Pannevis, a Dutch school teacher who came to the Mother City in 1866, noticed that the people at the Cape were speaking a language which was quite distinct from Dutch. He was driven by a passion to see the Bible translated into the language spoken by the people. However, he was met with derision for his idea to have the Bible translated into a patois, a kombuistaal. Pannevis’ plea with the British and Foreign Bible Society was flatly refused: ‘We are by no means inclined to perpetuate jargons by printing them.’
On the other hand, the move of the reformer Martin Luther in putting the Bible into the hand of the rank and file German has also been interpreted as the cause of the first big denominational split of the Body of Christ after the schism that has resulted in the East-West divide when the Orthodox Church and Rome parted ways.
Only in the 1960s the Second Vatican Council permitted ordinary Roman Catholic Church members to read the Bible for themselves. In the 1980s we saw a mighty turning to Christ in that denomination in South America when all church members were encouraged to read the Bible. This led to a substantial exit from the Roman Catholic Church and the simultaneous growth of Evangelicalism in South America.
A similar phenomenon has been occurring in the Middle East in recent years and months. Every Muslim who has access to Internet can now read the Bible in his/her own language (This was preceded by ten years of prayer for the Muslim world). Thousands became followers of Jesus and many more are still secret believers.
The Purpose of the Scriptures
The prophets knew that God’s Word was the vehicle to bring His rebellious and back-slidden people back to Himself. Repeatedly a promise is connected to obedience to the Word and its teachings on the one hand and punishment for disobedience on the other. Down the ages the preached Word was divinely used to call back-sliding Christians back to God and His ways.
The purpose of the Scriptures should be stressed: guidance and correction. David exclaimed: "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path" (Psalm 119:105) and Paul advised Timothy: "Every Scripture is ... useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16).
Paul emphasized that the Word should dwell richly in us (Colossians 3:16). Of course, this does not mean that we have to imitate Ezekiel who literally seems to have eaten the scrolls (Ezekiel 3:3). It does mean however that we may be radical in our obedience to scriptural teaching. In fact, Paul encouraged us in a similar way that Christ should dwell in us and from there we must be rooted and established in love (Ephesians 3:17). The Word in us has the quality of purification. Therefore John can say that whosoever remains in Christ, sins not (1 John 3:6). There is of course always the occasion of lapses, when one leaves the close communion with Christ. This is the time when the enemy loves to strike, when we are overcome by sin (Galatians 6:1). In this regard there is a definite difference between wilful sinning and accidental sinning. However, confession and the conscious refraining from sinful behaviour (Proverbs 28:13) opens a clean slate for the road of victorious living in the footsteps of the resurrected Son of God (1 John 1:9 ‘if we confess our sin … He … will purify us from all unrighteousness’). Linked to this is the conscious communion with the Lord, connected to Him as branches to the true vine (John 15:1ff).
Although Martin Luther caused arguably the biggest church split in history, he cannot to be given the blame that Protestants later made a shibolleth, a test of orthodoxy, out of his catechisms. They were intended for teaching young people the basics of the Christian faith. Luther emphasised ecclesia reformata semper reformanda (literally it means reformed churches are always ready to reform and adapt), suggesting that we should never remain static in our church practices and traditions. We should always continue the process of evaluation and we always have to be ready for change and reformation. There he is on sound 'New Testament' ground. No less than our Lord himself set the standard for treating rules and regulations like traditions and rituals such as washing of hands, offerings and fasting (e.g. Mark 7:13ff, 'Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down...) Matthew Henry comments aptly and concisely on Mark 7:1ff, 'One great design of Christ's coming was, to set aside the ceremonial law; and to make way for this, he rejects the ceremonies men added to the Law... Those clean hands and that pure heart which Christ bestows on his disciples, and requires of them, are very different from the outward and superstitious forms of Pharisees of every age. Jesus reproves them for rejecting the commandment of God.'
Functional without losing the Core
Our Lord attacked long exhibitionist prayers. Even the Sabbath Law came under scrutiny. The functionality should prevail, without losing the core. If functionality becomes convenience, the Lord may deem it fit to drive us out of our temples. How many churches got stuck in rigid formalism and tradition! However, if we feel inclined to whip – we must keep in mind that Jesus wept before he went into the temple Luke 19:41).
Jesus also led the way in flexibility, getting his cue from the Father. The communion with Him gave our Lord the liberty to change the water into wine, although he initially deemed it inopportune to go public with miracles and wonders (John 2). Although his stated strategy was to stick to the House of Israel, the Lord broke his own rules by helping the Roman centurion and the Syro-Phoenician woman when he discerned true faith. He challenged the norms of the society of his day by dining with the despised chief tax collector Zacchaeus and allowing a prostitute to anoint him and use her hair for drying purposes.
Chapter 11 False Alternatives
The example of the Greek philosophers to create alternatives would impact the theology of the West deeply.
One of its bad fruit was the stressing of a Bible verse, taking it out of its context. The stressing of one verse at the expense of the full biblical revelation is not limited to the founders of sects. In a rather debatable way Martin Luther for example did this as well. The highly respected reformer possibly undermined the unity of the body of Christ through his sectarian interpretation of Romans 1:17 “but the righteous man shall live by faith.” He emphasised the verse in an overdrawn way - sola fide, by faith alone - putting works in a rather negative light.
Faith as Work or Works of Faith?
For many centuries the 'works of faith' teaching was evidently not always understood properly. How else was it such a revolutionary experience for Martin Luther to discover in Romans 1:17 that ‘the righteous shall live by faith alone’? We note that this Pauline verse was merely citing Habakkuk 2:4. The esteemed Luther however definitely over-interpreted Paul. Martin Luther has possibly to be given the bulk of the blame for making works of faith suspect in the process. In the extension of this concept, grace and law came to be perceived as opposites. The accusations of Jewish theologians against Paul – all too often selectively and abusively emulated by Muslim scholars – have like-wise been overdrawn. The prolific epistle writer possibly never intended to play works out against faith as Martin Luther and other theologians since him have been doing. In fact, in his beautiful song on love, 1 Corinthians 13, Paul ends with ‘Faith, hope and love... and the greatest of these is love.’ Are not love and works almost identical in this context, albeit that he attacked works in that chapter which are not motivated by love?
From the letter that the second century Church Father Policarp wrote to the Philippians, it can be deduced that he must have known at least the bulk of the writings of the 'New Testament'. It is evident that he picked up the gist of Pauline teachings accurately when he described the relationship between faith and love (works) as follows: ‘Faith is the mother of all, it is followed by expectation (hope) whilst the love to God, Christ and the neighbour leads the way.’
A Serious Misconception
Some Christians have been led to believe that according to the Hebrew Scriptures (‘OT’), salvation is accomplished only through works. This is definitely a misconception. The Hebrew word most often translated with ‘grace’ or ‘favour’ is chen. Chuck and Karen Cohen - two Messianic Jews, i.e. followers of Jesus with a Jewish background, have clarified the meaning of chen in biblical context: ‘the stronger coming to the help of the weaker... (The stronger) acts by a voluntary decision, though he is moved by the dependence or the request of the weaker party’ (The Roots of our Faith, p 22). An excellent example of how it works in practice is how Moses interceded for the idolatrous Israelites after the experience of the golden calf in Exodus 32. In the exchange between God and Moses the word chen is used nine times. Moses knew that it was not by any merit on the part of the Israelites that he could approach the Lord and intercede for them. It is significant that God met him on that basis, even stating that it is His divine nature to be ‘gracious’ (Exodus 34:6). Tragically, the Jewish Christians, already excluded by their fellow-countrymen because of their faith in Jesus as their Messiah, became isolated from their Gentile co-believers as they continued with the observance of Sabbaths, circumcision and other Jewish feasts and thereby unwittingly and unintentionally perpetuating the misleading perception that they reduced Christ's sacrifice.
The flawed Grace versus Law Dichotomy
Paul's distinction between Isaac as the son of the promise and Ishmael as the son of the bondwoman is unquestionably very valid, just as that between grace and law. It caused however a tragic by-product, a haughty condescending attitude towards Islam and Muslims, as well as a sickening arrogance of Western Protestants towards Roman Catholics. Many Protestant theologians were taken on tow by the overdrawn teaching of Martin Luther. He created the impression that grace and law are mutually exclusive. Subsequently, some theologians have been suggesting that Torah (Law) belongs to the ‘Old Testament’ and charis (grace) to the new covenant. In Galatians 5:4 Paul did of course warn against those who believed that they could be justified by faith - those legalists have fallen away from grace. That was the closest he came to propagate a so-called contradiction between law and grace.
The flawed legal and forensic interpretation of Torah – preferably only with negative connotations and in contrast to the Jewish understanding of loving and protective teaching - led to a caricature. The sad part of this is that this construction even found its way into Bible translations. The King James version – generally regarded as one of the best English translations - fell into the trap by translating John 1:17 incorrectly. The word but is used, thereby indirectly implying that there is a contradiction between the law given by Moses and the grace and truth which came through Christ. (In the original Greek the word used is the conjunction kai; it should thus be translated as the law AND grace.
In spite of Paul's warning against a lackadaisical attitude towards sin – he actually said in Romans 8 'far from it', licentiousness and even grave sin cannot be tolerated with excuses such as 'grace abounds' or 'die liefde bedek alles', (love covers everything). In so many churches remorse because of sinful practices and a clear evidence of breaking with sinful and immoral practice are nowadays hardly required or expected. In Reformed churches the dichotomy is weakened to some extent when the law is read every Sunday in their liturgy in some form. Following Paul, the apostle, this is followed up by a pronouncement of grace. All too often, however, this amounts to an empty ritual. Nevertheless, the perception grew in many a congregant to regard the ‘NT’ as superior to the ‘OT’.
Torah merely an Educator to Faith in Christ?
In more than one instance the Hellenist upbringing of the prodigious Paul comes through. Greek philosophic thinking loved the either/or combination. Coming from his personal experience of a legalist interpretation of the Torah - against which our Lord protested strongly - Paul proclaimed the law to be an educator to bring one to faith in Christ. Hebrew thinking is more inclusive, wary of false alternatives. Under this influence Paul wrote to the Galatians (3:5) along similar lines with regard to the gift of the Holy Spirit: ‘... by the works of the law or by the hearing of faith.’ (Elsewhere we examine the false assumption of works and faith as alternatives.) This verse, along with Galatians 3:2 could be abused to support the grace versus law argument. Paul basically argues indeed that the gift of the Holy Spirit was not imparted to them in consequence of the observance of the Law of Moses, but in connection with a faith response to the preaching of the gospel. Evangelicals will generally have no problem with this. In his later letters to the Ephesians and the Philippians he made quite clear what is at issue: “For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9). Faith is not of yourselves but it is instrumental to salvation. It is not your own human achievement or effort. It is the gift of God. To the Philippians (2:13) Paul wrote “…for it is GOD which works in you both to will and to do His good pleasure”. God provides Christians with the willpower and motivation to do His good pleasure. The real issue here is thus not grace OR works. Neither is it grace OPPOSED to works. Nor is it grace in place of works. It is simply Grace FOLLOWED BY works.
Be it as it may, already in the first century Ignatius, an early Bishop of Antioch, said in The Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians (ca. 110 A.D.): ‘…For if we continue to live in accordance with Judaism, we admit that we have not received grace. For the most Godly prophets lived in accordance with Christ Jesus.’
Paul versus James
The rivalry between the respective followers of James and Paul have often been inappropriately blown up and exaggerated. Some authors have tried to suggest animosity between James and the Nazorean Christian community on the one hand and the Pauline followers of Jesus on the other hand. This is highly artificial because in his epistle James speaks twice about Jesus as the Lord and the Messiah (Christ) and in James 5:7, the author awaits the coming of the Lord. That is almost the equivalent of the supreme God himself. The wording is no different than Pauline equivalents.
Martin Luther also blew into that horn. He even went to the extreme of calling the Epistle of James 'straw-like'. Luther changed the order of the 'NT' books in his German Bible translation in such a way that the Epistle of James was moved to the back of the Bible, just before the book of Revelations. Many believers since Luther went to another extreme. Thus some evangelicals reacted in opposition to the so-called 'Social Gospel' of the early 20th century. They over-emphasised faith, sometimes even side-lining or bad-mouthing works of compassion. No less than the Master himself showed where the priority should lie, viz. on parity when he said, ‘But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His Righteousness’ (Matthew 6:33). The Bible teaches the combination of faith and works, or better still, it highlights works of faith. Jesus’ example of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25ff) is the prime paradigm, where the ritually and doctrinally ‘incorrect’ Samaritan - in the view of Jesus’ Jewish audience - put the Levite and the Priest to shame. The probable view of the law expert, who had questioned Jesus in the context of the parable, would have been legalist. James stressed in his epistle that our faith should be derived from our works - faith without deeds is dead (James 2:14-26). In this passage James highlights the action of the harlot Rahab, that she was performing a deed of faith when she was still a pagan.
It is possible that James deemed it necessary to give this correction because of an extreme interpretation of Pauline teaching. Paul possibly merely meant that works should not be abused to boast with or attempting to earn rewards with them. But he did not discard them either. In fact, 1 Corinthians 3:14 shows that he did reckon with rewards: If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. In that context however, the rewards are not material. Elsewhere Paul gives an idea what he means with the remuneration the believer should be looking at, e.g. Philippians 4:1 I love you and long to see you, dear friends, for you are my joy and the crown I receive for my work. Paul thus pointed to the committed mature believers of Philippi as ‘You... my crown’. Nevertheless, we may take for granted that nothing we ever do for the Lord goes unrewarded. God is not unrighteous to forget our work and labour of love. It has become proverbial that the Lord is no man's debtor
In his second letter to the Corinthians the believer is challenged to aspire to be ‘transformed into his (the Lord’s) likeness’ (3:18) and in 1 Corinthians 9:25 he writes about a crown that will last forever. The crown refers to a reward. The quality of the material used in building on the foundation Jesus Christ, was important, whether it would stand the test of fire (1 Corinthians 3). Thus believers who have been discipled well, would be the sort of reward Christians should be aiming for. At the same time, building on any other foundation than Jesus, is disqualified for any reward. Timothy Keller (Generous Justice, 2010:98) summarized the various positions of Paul and James succinctly: 'The contradiction is only apparent. While a sinner can get into relationship with God by faith only (Paul), the ultimate proof that you have saving faith is the changed life that true faith inevitably produces (James).
Two Types of Christians
The side-lining of Jews had a very negative effect on Christianity. A tragic aberration set in when the Church became the establishment. The rapidity of numerical and geographical expansion of Christianity in the third century greatly accelerated the acceptance of a double ethical standard. Acute theological problems were raised by a doctrine of two types of Christians, ordinary ones and the clergy. (Already in the first century the concept was known as the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, composed of two words, nikao meaning conquer and laos which means people.). A Nicolaitan was someone who supposedly conquered the laity, the common people. This germ was disseminated in a sermon of Origen (184 -254 AD), when he spoke of an elite army that was supported by soldiers who also fought against evil but who were not involved with the actual fighting (Chadwick, 1969:176)
The State Church replacing House Churches
The secular advantages given to the Church as a result of the Constantine military victories and the subsequent reforms had a fatal side effect. The unified State Church replaced house Churches, which were actually forbidden. This was of course far removed from the biblical idea of the unity of the Body of Christ. In the process the Church lost its prophetic power over social, cultural and pagan habits. The clergy became less dependent on God and their life-style moved further and further away from biblical standards. Thus the biblical word paroikia of which Peter, the apostle, speaks in his first epistle, meaning to be a stranger on earth, evolved to become a parish. This became almost the opposite of the original concept, but understandable in the environment of a society without money. The parish was the security of the priest.
Contextualization or Confrontation
A choice between contextualization and confrontation would be another case where false alternatives are sometimes projected. If all issues were as straightforward as the logos/rhema debate, it would not be such a problem. However, there are instances where the heart of the Gospel is at stake. One such issue is the so-called contradiction of contextualization and confrontation. The ‘New Testament’ is quite clear that both have its rightful place; in fact, proper contextualisation inevitably leads to confrontation. The nature of the Gospel is that it ‘offends’ because it goes against the grain of our innate yearning for self-sufficiency.
Improper contextualisation occurs when the adaptation to the culture goes so far that no confrontation comes about. The message of the Cross is always ‘folly’ to those who oppose the Gospel (1 Corinthians 1:18). On the other hand, it does not mean that the carrier of the Good News must set off on confrontation course every time he/she shares the Gospel. Jesus taught that his followers should be ‘shrewd as serpents and as innocent as the doves’ (Matthew 10:16).
Paul became a Jew to the Jews and a Greek to the Greeks (1 Corinthians 9:20ff). Nevertheless, this did not eliminate the necessity of confrontation with the Romans, the Greeks or Jews. In fact, his contextualisation, going into the synagogues and sharing the Gospel from the Scriptures, more than once led to a threat to his life. Abusing contextualisation to avoid confrontation is unbiblical. Dialogue which becomes an end in itself is biblically untenable. This does not take away the necessity of sharing the Word in a way that is geared to the culture. Ideally, sharing the Gospel respects the hearer in every way. It is sensitive to his/her special needs.
Occasional Need of Confrontation
In no way should we condone an airy-fairy covering up of differences. Jesus used God’s Word as a prime weapon against the devil when He was attacked in the desert. But also the assistants of the arch enemy had to be opposed. Because the Lord had observed their ways meticulously and listened carefully to what they were saying, Jesus could venture into enemy territory, telling his religious opponents to their face that they were hypocritical. He gave Simon, the Pharisee, a lesson in hospitality, while he uplifted the prostitute who 'wasted' precious nard ointment to anoint him and drying his feet with her hair (Luke 7:37ff).
The Master furthermore spoke of ‘binding the strongman’ (Matthew 12:29). Paul wrote about ‘taking captive every thought’ (2 Corinthians 10:5), about ‘strongholds’ (2 Corinthians 10:4) and ‘weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left’ (2 Corinthians 5:7). The full ‘armour’ of the believer (Ephesians 6:11ff) belongs of course to the very well-known portions of Scripture which have even been taught to children in Sunday school. In traditional theology these warlike terms have generally been over-spiritualized. (This probably happened when the superficial impression could be gained that it could clash with the impression that Christians should be peace-loving or even pacifist. Islamic adherents love to say that their religion is a peaceful one – albeit not quite accurately as they could basically only refer to the Meccan Surah’s and verses of the Qur’an -.)
In Galatians 2:11-15 it is reported how Paul criticized Peter to his face in the presence of others when he detected hypocrisy. If the actions of fellow brothers and sisters confuse young believers, it might be necessary to do the unusual thing to reprimand them publicly. Paul had been taught at the feet of the renowned Gamaliel. As a Pharisee, he thus had a head-start. But, like the Master, he dared to confront his opponents on their own turf. In Athens he challenged the learned Greeks who were constantly debating on the Areopagus (Acts 17:16ff). In the same vein, the apostle did not beat about the bush in his condemnation of hand-made gods as idols. This made the Ephesians very nervous, causing uproar in the process. The presence of him and Silas caused a furore in Thessaloniki, especially when Paul spoke about Jesus as the Christ (Acts 17:1-9).
At a time when it has become fashionable to be a 'Revolutionary', by just quietly leaving the conventional Church system, there is more than ever need for healthy confrontation. Every pastor should know why people are leaving the (sinking?) ship. Before leaving, church members should pray for a good opportunity to share their frustrations and/or disappointments in a mature and loving way. This phenomenon is simultaneously subtly fragmenting the Body of Christ – and not conducive to the transformation of communities.
Chapter 12 The Herrnhut Moravians in Church Unity Endeavours
In this chapter we examine in some more detail how Count Nicolaus Zinzendorf and the 17th century believers in Saxony’s Herrnhut implemented biblical principles, adapting them for their generation.
Ever since Peter, the apostle, was challenged to step down from his condescending attitude in obedience to the command of the Holy Spirit to enter the home of the Roman soldier Cornelius, there can be no excuse for permitting any artificial social barriers in the Church of Jesus Christ. Any effort in this regard would be tantamount to disobedience to the teaching of the Word. It has perhaps not been appreciated sufficiently that real, meaningful contact between master and servant contains the seed of radical mission work.
Jesus himself had set the standard when he called his disciples friends, no longer servants: No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you (John 15:15). Paul blew into the same horn with his teaching of the broken wall and the one new man (Ephesians 2:14f) with its result There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).
Obedience rather than Glamour
A sign of great personalities is that they choose suffering rather than glamour when the chips are down. At the outset of his ministry Jesus chose not to be impressed by the adulation of his Nazareth townsfolk. Instead of riding on the crest wave of praise, he swam against the stream, risking his life in the process (Luke 4:14-30). When a multitude of Jewish worshipers wanted to forcefully make Jesus their worldly King (John 6:15), he refused this praise. Instead, he left the multitude. In the same chapter it is recorded how he responded with a hard word, after which the crowd left him en masse (John 6:66). Jesus chose the road of suffering, to be ultimately crowned with thorns. His Kingdom is not of this world.
When Peter merely faintly suggested that Jesus should escape his innocent death, the Master had to rebuke him strongly, seeing no less than satan behind this idea (Mark 8:33). Although he was the Son, the Lord had to learn obedience to the Father (Hebrews 5:8). By the time of the Gethsemane struggle he had obviously learned the lesson when he was required to empty the cup, the content of which ultimately took our Lord from the presence of His Father, so much so that he ultimately used the word forsaken. In the agonizing prayer of the Garden, He responded thrice with ‘not my will but your will be done…’ (Mark 14:36).
One of the most self-effacing gestures in Church History was performed by Francis of Assisi. He was asked to pray for a spastic child in an Italian village whose body was all twisted. He initially didn’t want to pray for the child because he didn’t want to receive any glory if the child was healed. After persistent pleas by the village folk, he prayed a simple prayer. The young child thereafter just ‘unwound and relaxed’. The people were ecstatic. After five minutes they were looking for Francis because he was nowhere to be found. He believed that all glory belonged to God.
The line between acclamation and rejection can be very thin at times. Choosing for absolute truth often makes the difference. Compromise could sometimes prevent persecution or rejection. When Bishop Comenius had received secular recognition via the invitation to become the rector and pioneer of the newly established Harvard University near Boston in the ‘New World’, he declined, preferring to stay with his small persecuted flock in Poland.
To Follow Christ means Stepping Down
The most profound example of the principle in well-known mission history is probably the instance when Count Zinzendorf ‘stepped down’ to speak to the slave Anton at the occasion of the coronation of Christian VI of Denmark in 1731, after the mediation by one of his Herrnhut believers. Meaningful dialogue ensued because Anton, the slave who hailed from the West Indian island St Thomas, challenged Zinzendorf, the aristocrat, in no uncertain way. The Count responded in a positive way by inviting Anton over to Herrnhut to repeat his challenge to the congregation that had been hearing repeatedly of the worldwide mission need. Although the Herrnhut believers were apparently still very much in the revival mood, they needed the slave Anton to get them moving to the mission fields. What will the reaction of the more affluent South Africans be if their poorer compatriots challenge them to share their lives meaningfully in partnership, to become servants, the equivalents of slaves?
In Herrnhut the slave Anton did not mince his words either. He stated clearly that any prospective missionary to St Thomas, the island in the West Indies from where he originated, should be prepared to become like one of them; the missionary candidate had to be prepared to become the equal of a slave. The Moravians of Herrnhut, through their child-like faith in Jesus, accepted the challenge spontaneously. In the next few decades they left the little village in their hundreds to places all over the world.
The socializing of Count Zinzendorf with the slave Anton was definitely not an one-off occasion. This was in line with the charismata, the spiritual gifts of Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12 and the five-fold ministries of Ephesians 4, that they are not only given to leaders. Moreover, it was part of Zinzendorf's life-style to converse with kings and slaves alike, whoever came across his path. For almost a decade the Count had been ‘on everyday terms with artisans and peasants’, confirming his instinctive conviction that spiritual gifts are independent of social rank (Weinlick, 1956:96). This was evidently part and parcel of the original DNA of Moravian missionaries.
Count Zinzendorf demonstrated what servant leadership entails. Although it becomes clear from all reports that he was a dominant aristocratic figure in the fellowship, his style was nowhere autocratic or domineering. Thus he regarded the way Friedrich Martin treated his Caribbean congregants as too strict, but Zinzendorf did not oppose him in the least (Spangenberg, 1773-75:1177). Even though he disagreed fiercely on some issues, it seems that Zinzendorf hardly ever imposed his will on others. Although he was for example very dissatisfied about a financial transaction which was enacted in his absence - and against which he protested as soon as he heard about it, the Count assisted to scratch the capital together (Spangenberg, 1773-75:1490).
The Count excelled at integrating the initiatives of congregants. Centuries before cell groups were rediscovered in the 20th century, the Herrnhut congregation was divided in 56 small bands where an informal atmosphere encouraged innovation. Thus the cup of the covenant - whereby the cup would pass from hand to hand - as well as the dawn service on Easter Sunday became standard practice in the denomination as a whole (Weinlick, 1956:85). Both traditions were initiated by the group of the single brethren.
Zinzendorf instructed candidate missionaries to have a servant attitude: ‘You must never try to lord over the heathen, but rather humble yourself among them, and earn their esteem through the power of the Spirit...’ How seriously they took the instructions is borne out by the fact that Matthaeus Freundlich, a first generation missionary in St Thomas, married the mulatress Rebecca, at a time when non-Whites were still called ‘Wilden’, also in the literature of the Brethren. The missionary had to seek nothing for himself. ‘Like the cab-horses in London, he must wear blinkers and be blind to every danger and to every snare and conceit. He must be content to suffer, to die and be forgotten’ (Lewis, 1962:92). Zinzendorf demonstrated what it means to regard the other higher than yourself. The Count praised the North American indigenous believers. In his diary the following entry is found for March 9, 1729: ‘...I spoke earnestly with our servant Christoph and was deeply humbled by his testimony concerning himself. He is far in advance of me’ (Lewis, 1962:90).
Teachability and Humility
It has been reported how Count Zinzendorf was getting challenged in his faith in the Holy Scriptures from a very early age. He became deeply involved with questions around the authority of God's Word from the age of seven (Beyreuther, 1962:84). Zinzendorf discovered that whosoever is prepared to face uncomfortable questions and then take a step of faith, can only grow through it spiritually. He had the courage to speak bluntly of transcription errors, of geographical and chronological mistakes in Scripture. He saw it as no major tragedy that the apostles erred in their imminent expectation of the second coming of the Lord. The Count even proceeded to say: ‘Misunderstood prophecies can and should not be defended, but they should rather be pre-empted and acknowledged’ (Cited in Beyreuther, 1962:89). Count Zinzendorf was quite radical. He believed that the Holy Spirit can empower anybody to interpret the Word for himself according to his own capacity and circumstances. Not only the professional teacher had the right to expound Scripture, because the paraclete (The Holy Spirit) ‘will teach you everything’ (John 14:16).
It is evident that the lessons were thoroughly learned and put into practice. John Wesley was struck by the humility of the Moravians. In his first confrontation with Moravians who were with him on a ship bound for North America, John Wesley was deeply impressed: ‘... I had long before observed ... their behaviour... performing servile offices for the other passengers which none of the English would undertake.’ Zinzendorf also taught that the leaders had to be teachable themselves. ‘Only when the ‘Amtsträger’ (clergyman) becomes a brother amongst brethren and accept from them fraternal help in comfort, encouragement, complimenting, admonishment, correction and prays with and practises brotherliness as one of them, then brotherhood is realized' (Beyreuther, Studien zur Theologie Zinzendorfs 1962:193). Through his example Zinzendorf inspired others. His teachability inspired noblemen and professors to go and sit at the bare feet of the potter Martin Dober. His example of putting the Kingdom first found a following when learned men declined high academic posts.
Teaching by Example
Count Zinzendorf not only taught, but he also displayed that he was teachable. Thus he became willing to go to Dresden in 1721, although that was really the last of the places where he wanted to serve the Lord, after the godly Magister Schwedler had spoken to him (Beyreuther, 1957:231). When Zinzendorf was offered a full-time post as one of the cabinet ministers of the Danish throne, he declined, citing his commitment to Herrnhut as a reason. (Earlier he had aspired to go to Denmark.) He was willing to be employed in some lesser capacity, so that he would have time for free-lance religious activity. He really understood the biblical injunction ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God and its righteousness.’
His example was duly followed by other Moravians. Spangenberg refused an offer as professor of Theology at Jena. Arved Gradin, a prominent Swedish academic of Theology and Philology, declined the call to a professorship at Uppsala University, coming to the village of lowly Herrnhut instead. Samuel Lieberkühn who had studied Hebrew thoroughly in Halle and Jena, preferred to go and work among the Jews in Holland, rather than accepting an offer to become professor of Semitic languages in Königsberg.
The Biblical Model of Fellowship Practised
The biblical model of mutual fellowship has hardly been practised better ever than among the Moravians of Bethlehem (Pennsylvania) in the ‘new world’ in the 1750s. ‘Seldom has even the most easy service (been) executed with such holy reverence... a brother in the stable or in his manual work can ever think that he does nothing for the Saviour; whoever is faithful in the outward (things) is just as well a respectable servant of Christ as a preacher or a missionary.’ The joy with which they performed mundane tasks, interspersed with love feasts, was part of their DNA. Even at work they would sing. Thus Bishop Spangenberg could write: ‘In our economy the spiritual and physical fit together like the body and soul of man...’
Hierarchical church structures have sadly conditioned leaders to become bosses. The dictum coined by Lord Acton (1834-1902) that 'power tends to corrupt, but absolute power corrupts absolutely', is so true, also in religious contexts. This is however alien to the spirit of biblical servitude. Loving brotherhood, (or rather siblinghood), should be the hall-mark of Church work, where the leader's endeavours should result in the empowering of the congregants. The early Moravian missionaries evidently understood this very well. They discerned that ‘New Testament’ life had to be demonstrated. In the Caribbean they bought slaves free, took them into their houses and worked alongside them on the plantations (Spangenberg, 1773-1775:1177). On the other hand, the Herrnhut fellowship respected the culture gender pattern of their day, whereby a distance of mutual respect had to remain intact. The sisters called each other by the familiar ‘Du’ (you) but used the polite ‘Sie’ (thou) when they addressed the brethren. Among the males the same thing happened. But also the Bishop was not addressed with a title, but merely as brother so and so. (In fact, the Bishop's role in the Moravian Church to this day is merely that of the pastor of the clergy, without an administrative function).
Winning Sectarians over Through Love
God commands his blessing where brethren live in love and harmony (compare Psalm 133:1,3). The enemy of souls is therefore always on the lookout to cause disruption and disunity. It is no wonder that Herrnhut received its fair share of sectarians, who quite soon converged on the village after 1722 from all geographic and spiritual directions. The practice of winning sectarians over through love eventually won the day. The refugees from Moravia refused to be drawn into religious quarrels until a separatist with the name of Krüger came to Herrnhut in 1726. He described Count Zinzendorf as the ‘beast from the Abyss’. Krüger dubbed Johann Rothe, the Lutheran pastor of the neighbouring town Berthelsdorf a false apostle. Even Christian David, the faithful pioneering refugee from Moravia, was misled. Ultimately only three brethren remained with Zinzendorf. When the Count discerned that the fiery Pastor Johann Rothe merely aggravated the situation with his sermons, he requested leave from his lawyer’s office in the city of Dresden to move to Herrnhut at 'Easter' 1727. Hereafter he spoke laboriously to the erring members individually with patience and love. In public he shed heiße Träne (hot tears) because of the evident disunity.
The big About-Turn
The revival of August 1727 in Herrnhut is often romanticized. It is often overlooked or forgotten that Count Zinzendorf went to the little village on his estate in April 1727 explicitly ‘that he might give all his time to the healing of the discords and to caring for the souls whom the Lord had led to his estate’ (Lewis, 1962:51). The summer of 1727 could only flourish after a major conflict had been resolved. The Moravian refugees wanted their original denomination - the Unitas Fratrum - restored, whereas Zinzendorf preferred a small fellowship evolving that would display a significant ‘leaven’ presence within the bigger Lutheran Church. A good compromise was reached when the statutes were finalized on 12 May 1727, including the radical statement: ‘Herrnhut shall stand in unceasing love with all children of God in all churches, criticize none, take part in no quarrel against those differing in opinion, except to preserve for itself the evangelical purity, simplicity and grace’.
The big about turn came when the Count called all the inhabitants of the village Herrnhut to a public meeting on May 12, 1727. He taught them for three hours in the new statutes - the rules and regulations. Everybody who wanted to live on his property had to sign their agreement to abide by the statutes. The general tone of these statutes was significant. The brothers and sisters of Herrnhut were enjoined to live in love with the children of God in all churches. Internally, the mere critical judging of each other would be regarded as a ‘Greuel’, an abomination, to be fiercely opposed. He ‘discoursed on the sole ground of salvation – without entering into the various notions which had caused confusion and division among them’ (Langton, 1956:72). One after the other the members agreed until only a few stubborn separatists were left. (On 12 May 1748, twenty one years later, the Count recalled how the village had been weighed. He used to call the 12th May, 1727 the ‘critical day’ upon which Herrnhut would prove to be either a ‘nest of sects’ or a vibrant fellowship of Christ.) The inhabitants were required to sign the statutes, the Manorial Injunctions and Prohibitions, promising with this act to end their sectarian quarrels, and to live in fellowship with Christians of all beliefs and denominations. Twelve Elders were elected who had control over every department of life, and enforced the Injunctions and Prohibitions with an iron hand. They levied the usual rates and taxes to keep the streets and wells in order and supervised the care of widows and orphans, while keeping a watchful eye over the relationships of single young men and women. They also followed the actions at the inn closely and they reprimanded the narrators of evil tales. All who disobeyed the laws, or conducted themselves in an unbecoming, frivolous or offensive manner, were requested to leave Herrnhut.
Small Cells of Mutual Trust
On Sunday 9 July 1727 the tide had almost turned, but Zinzendorf was not yet completely happy. He noticed that there was still not warm mutual trust and love. Hereafter he endeavoured to meet every member of the community individually, sometimes with one other person who had their trust, discussing the respective spiritual condition of the person concerned. He sought to link them up in small groups of two, three or more from the same sex who could console, encourage and rectify each other. This was the beginning of the 'bands', by which not a single soul was left out in the cold. This developed into small cells of mutual trust where transparency prevailed.
On the 5th of August Zinzendorf 1727 conducted a moving all-night prayer event on the Hutberg, the hill just outside the village. Sunday 10 August they had another lengthy afternoon meeting of song and prayer that went on until midnight. The remaining separatists were finally pulled in. Three days later the congregants went to Berthelsdorf for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, where a ‘sea of tears’ - mutual love and forgiveness - drowned the occasion. It seems as if God was only waiting for the unity to let the revival break out in force!
Taking Critics Seriously
A major problem in Church History has been that leaders often responded to critics inappropriately. All too often these critics were either not listened to properly or Church leaders over-reacted, giving people the option to leave the fellowship if they were not satisfied.
Count Zinzendorf was exemplary in listening even to critics of the Gospel. Although he was self-confessingly not an avid reader, he stayed a humble learner throughout his life. Erich Beyreuther, in his hey-day professor in Munich and a prominent biographer of Zinzendorf, saw the greatness of Zinzendorf amongst other things in how he would even look for help during his personal religious struggle at the work of Pierre Bayle, an eminent 17th century harsh critic of the Church. Beyreuther shows quite convincingly how Zinzendorf understood Bayle much better than anyone before or after him, better even than the renowned philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach. Whereas Bayle kept on waiting and hoping for new revelations of faith in the churches, Zinzendorf surged forth towards the realization of it (Beyreuther, 1965:233). It testifies of special grace that Zinzendorf could throw ‘a conciliatory light on the tragic figure of Bayle’ after the lonely fighter had bravely put forward uncomfortable views, heavily attacked thereafter (Beyreuther, 1965:233). That Zinzendorf candidly confessed that he was reading Bayle’s works as a close second to the Bible, did however not earn him acclaim. This was yet another reason for clergy of other denominations to castigate Zinzendorf.
The bad Smell of Theology
Count Zinzendorf’s views on certain doctrinal issues - to let love prevail instead of clinging to official Church doctrine and the letter of the law - could have averted much pain if they had been taken seriously by the Church of his day (and ever since). He detested the 'bad smell of theology'. He stated that ‘all the essential theology can be written with large characters on one octavo sheet’ (Cited in Lewis, 1962:15), i.e. on half of an A4 page.. Zinzendorf was very concerned at the development at the Herrnhut Theological Seminary during his absence in America, fearing that ‘the brethren would move away from simplicity, that their bishops would start filling the young people with learnedness’ (Spangenberg, 1773-1775:1492). In one of his Fetter Lane Lectures in London, the Count made the astonishing remark that the philosophers and theologians ‘have made that which was before obscure so pitch dark that, if earlier, before hearing it explained, one did understand a little bit; now after the explanation one no longer has the slightest idea what to make of it.’ In the sentence just prior to this remark, Zinzendorf offers the reason that was so typical of him: ‘they have been intent on hunting for expressions outside of Scripture in order to expound... those passages of Scripture which they found obscure’ (Zinzendorf, Nine Lectures, 1746). The Count referred to the vain academic theological practices and exercises as odium theologicum (bad theological smell). To put the record straight: the Bible does not teach that intellect must not be appreciated. Paul sat under the feet of the famous Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), but he only became a spiritual giant after his mental capacity came under the rule of Christ. Thus the warning is possibly just as apt for our day and age as in by-gone times. (In South Africa many a Bible School suffered in spirituality when academic accreditation was frantically sought because of government requirements for lecturers in the democratic era of our nation.)
Doctrinal Differences can cause Rifts
Zinzendorf taught missionary candidates not only to refrain from getting involved in doctrinal disputes, but rather to try and diminish the differences between churches (Spangenberg, 1773-1775:1272). In an age of tremendous Protestant bigotry, he wrote: ‘I have been severely censured for not acknowledging the Pope to be the Antichrist, as I am sure he is not, and cannot be deemed so upon the authority of the Bible...’ In the same context the Count said ‘...Every church bearing the name of Christ... (is) to be (seen as) a congregation formed for his sake; more or less erroneous … I never will boast of it (my church) and despise others’ (Cited in Lewis, 1962:20). The people of Herrnhut caught the broad vision. They sought nothing for themselves, wanting only to be ‘used by the Lamb of God as a leaven of his unity wherever he might call them’ (Lewis, 1962:61).
Co-operation in Missionary Endeavour
A major contribution of Zinzendorf in missionary strategy - which has often been over-looked by many ‘faith mission’ agencies at their own peril - was that he succeeded in getting other denominations to co-operate in the support of the Moravian missionary endeavours. Already in Germany he exploited the Moravian tradition of music to the full when their groups were invited to conduct ‘singstunden’ (singing hours, devotional meetings with songs around Bible verses, the daily texts, as the 'sermon') in both Reformed and Lutheran congregations. Zinzendorf’s emphasis on the Body of the Messiah was not appreciated everywhere, Committed believers nevertheless joined them from almost every denomination of the time. In England he could call on support from Anglicans, Methodist and Quakers. At the first Pennsylvania Synod of the Reformed Church the representatives of the denomination were called upon by one of their leaders to support the non-denominational Moravian work for the furtherance of the Gospel in the Americas and the West Indies. Little groups of contributors were organized in Philadelphia and New York and in the homes of many synod members (Lewis, 1962:149). Similarly, some Moravians worked alongside the Lutherans. In the teaching of Zinzendorf to his missionaries he made it clear: ‘You must not enroll your converts as members of the Moravian Church, you must be content to enroll them as Christians’ (Lewis, 1962:95). At a Moravian church conference in ‘s Heerendijk (Holland), Zinzendorf stated emphatically: ‘I cannot ... confine myself to one denomination, for the whole earth is the Lord’s and all souls are His; I am debtor to all’ (Lewis, 1962:143). As the reason for this activity, the Count expressed himself thus in 1745: ‘For thirty years I have yearned that all may be one in the Lord’ (Nielsen Der Toleranzgedanke bei Zinzendorf, Vol.1, 1951:44).
The Love of God as the only valid Motivation
We note the repeated statement of Andrew Murray: ‘The missionary problem is a personal one.’ It is not the sheer effort which will get missionaries to the fields, but the love of God personified. He allowed His Son to die for our sins. After seeing the Ecce homo painting of Christ in the museum of Düsseldorf with the challenging words,
the youthful Zinzendorf was
deeply moved. He knelt before the painting,
pleading that the Lord might ‘draw him forcefully into
communion with his sufferings.’ He surrendered his whole life to the Lord and the Cross:
his name, rank and fortune became relative. He was more determined than ever to
give his everything in the service of the Lord. Andrew Murray took the cue from
the Herrnhut Moravians: ‘Get this burning thought of ‘personal love for the Saviour who redeemed me’ into the hearts of
Christians, and you have the most powerful incentive that can be had for
missionary effort’ (Murray, 1901:44). Or in different wording: ‘Missions was the automatic outflow and the overflow of their love for
Christ. It was to satisfy Christ’s love and express their own love that they
brought to Him souls that He had died for to save’ (Murray,
1901:158). This somehow also puts a question mark to some modern-day 'worship'
services, which all too often resembles a glorified concert, with musicians
amplified too much on a stage and the congregation hardly singing along. It
seems to me very problematic when loving Christ is expressed vocally, but where
the logical consequence - like loving outreach to the needy and spiritually
lost - is conspicuous by its absence.
Zinzendorf’s Vision for Church Unity
Count Zinzendorf had a tremendous vision for the unity of the Body of Christ. He envisioned the believers around him not as a separate denomination, but as a dynamic renewal society which would serve to revitalize existing denominations and help create new work in mission areas. There are numerous churches in Pennsylvania where Moravians had started a church and school for the settlers and native Americans, and then turn it over to the Lutheran Church, the Reformed Church, or whatever denomination they perceived to be the strongest in that area. This also happened in other parts of the world, such as Greenland and Australia.
Ecumenicals in the biblical Mode
Count Zinzendorf has been described as the first ecumenical after the Reformation, but then it should be remembered that his ecumenical theology arose from the religious experience among those who ‘have experienced the death of Jesus on their hearts’ (Lewis, 1962:15). It was a ‘heart religion’ that he preached: ‘without it, all efforts towards unity he regarded as unfounded and doomed’ (Lewis, 1962:15). Visser ‘t Hooft, the first General Secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), quoted Zinzendorf: ‘All fellowship which is only based on agreement of opinions and forms without a change of heart, is a dangerous sect’ (Visser’t Hooft, 1959:27). Increasingly however, the leaders of the WCC after Visser ‘t Hooft did not heed this warning.
Zinzendorf was however for many Christians too difficult a customer. He was too unconventional, fraternizing with Roman Catholics while remaining on very friendly terms with those who are coming from the opposite doctrinal pole of the Church spectrum. Even in our day many Christians would be unhappy with someone who straddles the Church boundaries as Zinzendorf did. In my view the only persons who approached that ecumenical evangelical spirit ever since were Dr Billy Graham and Dr David du Plessis. (The Cape-born but Free State-raised South African who was dubbed ‘Mr. Pentecost’, became the instrument that God used to usher in the breaking down of the wall not only between Pentecostals and other Protestants, but also between Protestants and the Roman Catholic Church in the 1960s.)
Being a reconciler has never been easy. Dr Billy Graham has been fiercely criticized by evangelical leaders, notably for going to speak in Communist countries and meeting the Pope (see for example Drummond, 2001:97).
Making Use of All Generations
It seems that the Reformation did not bring major revision with regard to the making use of all generations. The Moravians were once again exemplary; nobody was excluded. Even children had a role to play. Gifting and ability was primary so that teenagers were given leadership functions. When Melchior Nitschmann was nominated to become one of the four chief elders of the Herrnhut fellowship, Count Zinzendorf had reservations. He thought that they should not have included the teenager into the lot because of his age. The Count apparently did not know Melchior Nitschmann that well. The bare-footed youngster evidently had the trust of the congregants, demonstrating a steadfast attitude that soon enough impressed Zinzendorf (Uttendörfer and Schmidt, 1914:95). Anna Nitschmann was given the leadership over the single sisters although she was only fifteen (Weinlick, 1956:84). Eighteen single females under her leadership lived solely for the Lord. Along with Anna Nitschmann, Susanna Kühnel would be a special channel that God used in the 1727 revival among the children. In 1731 Martin Linner, a seventeen year-old, became the ‘Älteste’ - the elder - for the unmarried young men.
An independent Biblical Line In various matters Zinzendorf took an independent line from Martin Luther, although he was deeply influenced by the great reformer. The most striking difference is perhaps their respective views on Jews. Martin Luther initially emphasized the Jewishness of Jesus, urging Christians to love all Jews for the sake of Jesus. Towards the end of his life, however, Luther not only gave up on converting Jews to Christianity, but he also wrote one of the most anti-Semitic tracts. Whereas Adolf Hitler abused the latter writings of the Wittenberg reformer to implement the Holocaust, Zinzendorf’s contemporaries from the Jewish nation regarded him as their great friend! In various other ways he demonstrated an independent spirit; he wanted to be dependent on the Lord alone. He did not follow the austere strict 'Busskampf' (painful struggle on conversion) of Jacob Spener, his godfather, who became known as the father of Pietism. Instead, the Herrnhut Moravians became known for their frivolity and joyous worship with lots of singing. Those Pietists, who insisted on the Bußkampf of the Halle tradition, had problems with the joyful practice of the child-like faith that the Herrnhut Moravians displayed. With regard to another accusation - that Zinzendorf strived after a unified Church - these fears were completely unfounded. The Count actually encouraged the believers to remain in their churches, to rather be the ecclesiola, little churches within the bigger Lutheran denomination (Spangenberg, 1773-1775 (1971):1462). In America the Moravians worked so closely with the Reformed Frelinghausen, who had been there since 1720, that Frelinghausen was regarded as one of them. Of course, Zinzendorf remained a pain in the neck for all denominationalists because of his wide vision of the Body of Christ.
The Moravian missionaries sent out from Herrnhut in the 18th century were required to fend for themselves. They received just some pocket money, together with a coffin. They were expected to be ready to die in the tropics in the service of their Saviour after a few years due to the health conditions due to the the absence of medical facilities. The missionaries were required to identify fully with the slaves and indigenous people among whom they would be working. They were expected to empower the slaves and indigenous people where they brought the Gospel, without getting politically involved in skirmishes with the slave owners or local authorities.
William Carey, who revived this missionary spirit from 1792, and the generation of missionaries that came through in the next fifty years, spread the same vision.
If one considers how inclusive Count Zinzendorf and his Moravians were – and how he viewed grace - we understand why they were arguably the most successful ever in the outreach to Jews. The celebration of the Singstunde (singing hour) on Saturday evening was a tradition that they had brought along from the early Herrnhut days, which they adapted from the Jewish practices, where the Sabbath starts on Friday evening. The abounding grace that went ahead of the emissaries to the ‘heathen’ nations enabled the Count to be bold enough to see the same grace at work in the christening of infants.
Count Zinzendorf took matters further, spelling it out that differences could even be used to serve towards mutual enrichment. Sigurd Nielsen, a bishop of the Moravian Church in South Africa and originally a Danish national who served for many years in the Transkei, examined the idea of tolerance in Zinzendorf's theology. He summarized the tension with the word homopoikilie, a term which expresses the unifying in diversity and the diversity in unity (Nielsen I, 1951:60).
It was the rich variety of believers and the varying approaches to spread the Good News which led Zinzendorf to appreciate the various denominations: they were to him clear evidence of God’s providential care for the different temperaments and needs of His children. He thus clearly saw in this an expression of the Church radiating the multi-coloured wisdom of God (Ephesians 3:10). Within the Church of the Lord Zinzendorf distinguished various tropoi: Lutheran, Calvinist, Anabaptist (Mennonite) and Anglican. He expected every group to retain their own identity within a multi-coloured 'rainbow' constellation.
Nevertheless, Zinzendorf did not ride roughshod over the ecclesiastical disunity, and we should not do so either. According to him the main ecumenical task was a deep sense of repentance and need of forgiveness because the holiness and the unity of the Church had been broken by the narrowness, bigotry and pride of nominal Christianity (Lewis, 1962:108). But Zinzendorf was too far ahead of his time. The other church groups did not trust him. In fact, when he tried to create one denomination in the United States among the German speakers, Heinrich Melchior Mühlenberg was specially sent from the Pietist stronghold of Halle to counter this influence. Zinzendorf was however much too ambitious and activist, organising no less than six non-denominational conferences or synods in half a year in 1742 (Praamsma, De Kerk van alle Tijden, III, 1980:125).
An accommodating View on Baptism
It is well-known how the followers of Luther persecuted the 'Anabaptists'. For four centuries the 'Anabaptists' as a group were labelled as folk who preached false doctrine and who led people into apostasy. Followers of Zwingli in Switzerland were among the first to persecute the 'Anabaptists', decreeing in 1526 that some of them should be drowned.
During Zinzendorf's life-time the christening of infants was common and the immersion of believers was regarded as sectarian, associated with re-baptism. Yet, the Count advised Georg Schmidt in Baviaanskloof, the later Genadendal of the Cape Overberg in a letter of ordination: ‘Baptise him where you shot the rhino’. Georg Schmidt evidently understood this advice as an encouragement to baptise the new convert in the river, because one can read in his diary entry of 31st March, 1742: ‘Then I said to him to go and stand in the water and I baptised him.’ The context does not indicate whether the water was deep enough to immerse Wilhelm, but this action was already revolutionary for the time. Georg Schmidt used the precedent of the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:26ff) when he was challenged soon hereafter why he baptised someone at a venue outside the confines of a church building. In the same letter of ordination Zinzendorf referred to the christening of the children of believers. He thus did not take an absolute stand. The Herrnhut Moravians refrained from getting involved in divisive debates about the mode of baptism. Be it as it may, the Reformed Church clergymen both at the Cape were furious, because there was no congregation present at the Sergeant's River event at Baviaanskloof. The Cape Reformed ministers regarded this as absolutely necessary for the practice of baptism. To interpret that the Count was playing it safe in case he could have been labelled an Anabaptist, would definitely not be applicable. He took many a life-threatening risk!
Unity on God’s Terms
Ephesians 4:4,5 (There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism...) shows nevertheless that Zinzendorf was probably too accommodating. Biblically, there is no such thing as unity at all costs. There is only unity on God’s terms. The issue of ‘one baptism’ to which Paul refers among others in the verse quoted, may bear out the above theory in the years to come. Devoid of a dramatic ‘Here I stand’ position of Baptists and Pentecostals, the Holy Spirit has brought movement on this issue which was unthinkable a decade or two ago. The loving acceptance of divergent views - allowing God to bring about the shifting of positions through his Holy Spirit - is apt to bring about more unity than heated synod discussions on doctrinal issues. (Nehemiah 3, the building of the wall, does demonstrate that different (church) groups can work towards a common goal. Various groups worked next to each other, each with a clearly defined goal within the bigger purpose: the completion of the wall around Jerusalem. Thus the Bible underscores unity in diversity.) A united front against abortion and the legalisation of prostitution are issues where Bible believing Christians may even be challenged to join hands with people of other faiths. Capetonians from diverse backgrounds have been doing this when they attempted the name change of Devil's Peak. Victory on this score has not been achieved as yet!
In Search of the Invisible Church
Count Zinzendorf looked on the one hand seriously for evidence of the 'Invisible Church', but he also deemed it a priority to work towards visible expressions of it. As he put it: 'The church cannot live on the long run from an invisible and uncommitted brotherhood’ (Beyreuther, Studien zur Theologie Zinzendorfs 1962:193).
Zinzendorf also believed that the unity should become concrete, that believers had the task to make the Church of Christ visible. The challenge is to bring together all those who are already united in Christ in some ‘field of encounter’ (Lewis, 1962:108). All the denominations have only relative value, they could only point to the ecclesia invisibilis, the invisible church (Lewis, 1962:108). At the same time, Zinzendorf believed in ‘the manifoldness of life.’ He said for instance: ‘... souls must not be forced; we must not expect them all to be measured by the same yardstick or to share exactly the same development of inward experiences ... It is not Gospel-like to prescribe rules, methods and dispositions, or require equality of souls’ (Lewis, 1962:102).
Spirit-wrought Unity the Name of the Game
Count Zinzendorf’s desire for Church unity was influenced by the tragedy of the fragmentation of the Body of Christ. He referred to his own church as Secta Morava (Spangenberg, 1773-1775:1230). And if he may still have erred in being too accommodating, Zinzendorf made up for it by going out of his way to take differing theological positions really seriously. He succeeded in a special way with a great balancing act, succumbing neither to engage in squabbling nor by offering cheap compromises. In his activism, he was however sometimes too hasty. When he wanted to include Roman Catholics in a unifying process without clear indication that their leaders were prepared to address Mariolatry, he was definitely expecting too much from other Protestants.
Count Zinzendorf discerned that overt co-operation could never be a substitute for unity wrought by the Holy Spirit through prayer and supplication. He knew only too well that men could join in the same ‘outward ceremonies and duties of religion, but in reality deny the truth of it.’ The Count realized that we should not strive after an organic union of denominations, but work towards unity which transcends all church divisions. The ‘unity of His wounds’, of common faith in the crucified and risen Christ, will ultimately determine all other kinds of unity (Lewis, 1962:99). Therefore, it is not surprising to find the Count attacking righteousness and piety that come out of human efforts. Without the blood of Jesus they are like ‘ein beflecktes Kleid’, a stained garment (Spangenberg, 1773-1775:1451). This is of course a reference to Isaiah 64:6 where human righteousness is described as filthy rags.
No Christianity without Fellowship
Zinzendorf showed by his example that his philosophy: ‘Ich statuiere kein Christentum ohne Gemeinschaft’ (I propose that there is no Christianity without fellowship), was no empty theory. It has been suggested that Zinzendorf added fellowship as a third sacrament in the Protestant Church (Lewis, 1962:66). Yet, it must be stressed that the Count did not expect fellowship to be man-made; it was a gift of the Lamb. ‘It is not so much a fellowship of kindred minds but fundamentally of kindred hearts’ (Lewis, 1962:66). It was therefore natural that he expected believers who were linked to Herrnhut to get involved with fellowship locally, wherever they lived. Although Zinzendorf broke with Pietism in many other ways around 1734, the small ecclesiolae within the bigger churches remained a part of the Moravian practice in the diaspora. This was definitely in line with the teaching and example of the Master.
Concentration on a few dedicated Believers
The Herrnhut Moravians had a good missionary strategy, concentrating on a few dedicated believers who could work alongside the missionaries to evangelise their own people. In fact, Count Zinzendorf encouraged His missionaries to be especially on the lookout for those individuals whom the Holy Spirit had already prepared.
Count Zinzendorf was one of the few people in Church history who really discerned the importance of this principle. He saw on the one hand the untiring will to reform of the ‘children of the world’, but on the other hand he also saw the ‘sleeping churches and their inactive congregations.’ Little has changed since then. Influenced by the principle of the ecclesiolas (small fellowships inside the big churches) of the Pietists, the Count organized the Herrnhut community in small ‘bands’ and ‘choirs’, which would of course be easier to handle. He also put a lot of emphasis on young people. He guided and nurtured them, even during conferences so that they could grow into the Church work, but he also used them for experimentation, because thus he could also stop any new endeavour more easily when it did not succeed. Following the Master, the vibrant Herrnhut church openly discussed the success (or lack of it) of missionary ventures.
In recent decades the house church movement has been making great strides, notably in variousAsian countries. Will the lessons derived really be heeded or are we just going to continue or - just as bad - are we going to proceed with pouring new wine into old bags, wasting the precious wine?
Utilizing Diversity of Gifts An important part of a personalized approach is working towards the development of latent gifts in others. Zinzendorf ‘was swift to recognize the diversity of racial and individual gifts, and from the beginning he insisted on the enlistment of native ‘Helpers’ wherever possible' (Lewis, 1962:96). The graves of native Christians from all over the world at Herrnhaag, where the Count and his retinue found refuge after their banishment from Saxony, bear witness to the fact that this idea was also put into practice. Special in this regard was the Count’s eschatology where he saw it as the duty of missions to bring in the ‘first fruit’, the first converts from all tribes and nations. He believed that the evangelizing believers could hasten the Lord’s return in this way. His personal sojourn among the Indians of North America taught him to be happy and contented to see individuals come to the Lord, but also to search for those who are also fully sold out in His service. From the ranks of the nations the individuals who had been fished, were expected to take the message to their peoples. The day of using the net to catch fish (Matthew 13:47) would come. Zinzendorf thus taught what would be highlighted at the turn of the 21st century in the Church Planting Movement, where the missionary is constantly on the look-out for and praying to meet the person of peace (taken from Jesus command to the 72 disciples he had sent out two by two in Luke 10).
Chapter 13 Evolving International Prayer for Unity
It is sad that the prayer for Christian Unity has not yet functioned completely unitedly. We need not be surprised however, because the arch enemy loathes and hates united prayer. Down the centuries this has been a divine ‘tool’ par excellence to usher in spiritual renewal and revival.
Roots of international united Prayer
The Evangelical Alliance tradition of a Week of Prayer the first full week of January goes back to the year after its launch in 1846. It was one of the agreed initiatives that came out of the founding conference.
The Week of Prayer has been in vogue in many countries in Europe for a very long time. In countries of the former communist world in Europe it was only the Evangelical Alliance issue that stayed alive through the communist era. So, even when people had heard of nothing else about the Evangelical Alliance, they had often heard of the Week of Prayer.
Pentecostal Prayer Meetings in South Africa
South Africa was possibly the first country where the tradition of prayer services between Ascencion Day and Pentecost went nationwide.
Ds. G.W.A. van der Lingen of the Dutch Reformed Church in Paarl was one of very few pastors who stemmed the tide of liberalism that swept over the Cape in the 1850s. It is no surprise that he became God’s instrument for introducing the blessed Pinksterbidure, the tradition of prayer services between Ascencion Day and Pentecost that became such a blessing to the Dutch Reformed Church for over one and a half centuries.
It all started on 6 February 1861 as an overflow of the revival that started in Worcester the previous year. Ds. Van der Lingen of the Strooidak (Straw Roof) congregation arranged a special meeting of approximately 100 prayer leaders - including women and children - to discuss their concerns. After experiencing the manifest presence of the Holy Spirit and His quickening power, the congregation was fearful that the divine presence would decrease over time and finally stop. They wanted, therefore, to find ways of preserving and spreading the blessing. They started cell groups. Taking their cue from the Disciples who were unified - with one mind (Greek homothumadon) - in the Upper Room after Ascencion Day (Acts 1:14), the cells were challenged for communal prayer during the ten days between Ascension Day and Pentecost.
An invitation was published in De Kerkbode for all existing prayer groups in Paarl to participate in corporate prayer between 9 and 19 May, 1861. The believers attempted to follow the example of the believers who had been meeting for prayer while waiting in Jerusalem to be baptized with the Holy Spirit. Ds van der Lingen was at first reluctant to join these meetings. There was a gradual built-up of expectation during that week, mingled with cries for mercy. He not only finally relented but he also became God's anointed vessel of blessing on Pentecost Sunday, 1861.
When this news began to spread to neighbouring congregations, they too decided to follow Paarl's example. Over the next few years more and more congregations would join in. As a direct result, the 1867 Dutch Reformed synod advised all congregations to conduct 10 days of prayer in the run-up to Pentecost every year. The tradition became a major blessing to the nation. The Pinksterbidure would impact Afrikanerdom for many decades. Many Afrikaners look back to some Pentecost prayer season as the time when they were converted or when they recommitted their lives to the Lord.
In 1894 Pope Leo XIII also thought of Pentecost as a symbolic date (the traditional commemoration of the birth of the Church) for the unity of the Church. Protestant leaders suggested in 1926 via the Faith and Order movement in the mid-1920s to have an annual octave of prayer for unity amongst Christians, leading up to Pentecost Sunday.
A Roman Catholic Week of Prayer Initiative
A different date for a Week of Prayer began in 1908 as the Octave of Christian Unity. The dates of the week were proposed by Rev. Paul Wattson, co-founder of the Graymoor Franciscan Friars. He conceived of the week beginning on the Feast of the Confession of Peter, the Protestant variant of the ancient Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter, on 18 January, and concluding with the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul on 25 January.
Evolution of the Week of Prayer for Unity
Abbé Paul Couturier of Lyons, France, who has been called "the father of spiritual ecumenism", advocated prayer "for the unity of the Church as Christ wills it, and in accordance with the means he wills", thereby enabling other Christians with differing views to those of the Roman Catholic Church to join in the prayer. In 1935, he proposed naming the observance Universal Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. In 1941 the Faith and Order Conference, at that time a Protestant daughter group that developed out of the Edinburgh international conference of 2010, changed the date for observing the week of unity prayer to come in line with that observed by Catholics. In 1948, with the founding of the World Council of Churches, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity became increasingly recognised by different churches throughout the world. The proposal was finally accepted by the Catholic Church in 1966.
In 1958, the French Catholic group Unité Chrétienne and the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches (a body which includes, among others, most of the world's Orthodox churches as well as many Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Reformed, United and Independent churches) began co-operative preparation of materials for the Week of Prayer. The year 1968 saw the first official use of materials prepared jointly by the Faith and Order Commission and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, representing the entire Catholic Church. Collaboration and cooperation between these two organizations has increased steadily since, resulting recently in joint publications in the same format.
Chapter 14 The Road to the Global Day of Prayer
Sally Kirkwood, a Cape intercessor, had already been prepared by the Lord when she started a prayer meeting for Muslims at her home in Plumstead. Along with other intercessors she became God’s instrument for increasing prayer awareness in the Mother City. In 1997 she asked God how to mobilise prayer for each community at grass roots level. 'While I was praying, I saw the shape of a honeycomb cell.' This became the beginning of a strategy to get more prayer covering for the city. When Sally attended a Woman's Aglow Conference in Stellenbosch the following year she heard how cross pollination brings out the best in fruit and flowers. She subsequently started prayer cells in neighbourhoods. 'In forming these cells across denominations, it brings out the best in us and brings unity.'
Churches from different Denominations joining Hands
Reverend Cynthia Richards from Africa Enterprise was another divine channel when she visited the various ministers’ fraternals of the Peninsula, while organising prayer meetings in preparation for an evangelistic campaign with Franklin Graham at the Newlands Cricket Stadium.
It was truly significant for the Cape Town Metropolis in April 1997 when churches across the city and from many denominations joined hands for a big campaign on the Newlands Cricket Stadium with the evangelist Franklin Graham, the son of the renowned Billy Graham. Pastor Walter Ackerman from the Docks Mission Church in Lentegeur and Pastor Elijah Klaassen from a Pentecostal fellowship in Gugulethu/Crossroads, worked tirelessly to enlist people from the Cape Flats and Black churches for this event. Transport from the townships was provided free of charge. This served as a model for the Transformation stadium events of the new millennium.
Prayer Seminar at CEBI
Still in April 1997 there was a prayer seminar led by Gerda Leithgöb at the former Cape Evangelical Bible Institute (CEBI) soon hereafter. The news of the sale of the former CEBI premises to Muslims coincided with the prayer seminar. What a sense of unity we experienced in spite of the proverbial 'Sword of Damocles' hanging over us as we gathered there! Pastor Danny Pearson led the believers of the fellowship, using the premises for church services. He also organised prayer walks in the area. The march of Islam continued there unabatedly as Muslims bought up one property after the other.
Visit by Cindy Jacobs
In May 1997 Sally Kirkwood was approached to organise prayer for a visit by Cindy Jacobs, an intercession leader from the USA. Sally contacted people and organised a prayer and fasting chain. She sensed the Lord directing her to 'establish a presence' at the venue, the Shekinah Tabernacle in Mitchells Plain. Taking along an intercessor along at a time when it was quite dangerous to go and pray at the venue, the Lord used the intercessors to open the way for others to follow.
The visit by Cindy Jacobs brought a significant number of ‘Coloured’ and White intercessors together. She confirmed the need for confession with regard to the troubled District Six. Sally Kirkwood played a pivotal role, taking this burden on her shoulders. When she approached me in October 1997 in this regard, I had already started with preparations for a visit of intercessors from Heidelberg (Gauteng), scheduled to come to the city the last week of that month. (This was included in the two-yearly initiative, interceding for breakthroughs in the so-called 10-40 window.)
Prayer on Mountain Tops and Stadiums
In mid-1997 Eben Swart became the co-ordinator of Herald Ministries for the Western Cape. He worked closely with the Network of United Prayer in Southern Africa (NUPSA), which had appointed Pastor Willy Oyegun, a Nigerian, as their Western Cape coordinator. Together they did important work in research and spiritual mapping, along with Amanda Buys (Kanaan Ministries), who counselled Christians with psychiatric problems.
Led by Pastor Mitchell, a Hindu-background Indian, Christians prayed from Signal Hill early on Saturday mornings. After the citywide prayer event on Table Mountain in September 1998, organized by Eben Swart of Herald Ministries, the vision of praying on the heights was revived.
At one of the Saturday morning prayer times at Signal Hill in 1999, the idea of Cape Town as a spiritual gateway to the continent was shared. The prayers resulted in a surge towards transformation in the country after Richard Mitchell had seen the Transformation video at a pastors’ prayer meeting.
Within months, the vision of praying
in sports stadiums became a reality
Within a matter of months the vision of praying in sports stadiums became a reality. There followed significant combined prayer events: at Bellville’s Velodrome on a Sunday morning; the Athletics Stadium of the University of the Western Cape; at the Vygiekraal Stadium and at the Athlone Stadium. The well-publicised transformation meetings started in March 2001 at the Newlands Rugby Stadium. But there were many other obstacles to overcome before that fell into place.
Visitors to the Cape
At the sending of prayer teams to different spiritual strongholds in 1997, a team from the Dutch Reformed congregation Suikerbosrand in Heidelberg (Gauteng) followed the nudge of NUPSA to come and pray in the Mother City.
A team from Heidelberg
(Gauteng) pray in Bo-Kaap
This was spiritually significant because Heidelberg had once been the cradle of the racist and right-wing Afrikaanse Weerstandsbeweging (AWB). That the AWB town Heidelberg was sending a team to pray for Bo-Kaap, might have hit the headlines had it been publicised! But all this was undercover stuff. This was transpiring at a time when PAGAD was still terrorising the Cape Peninsula. The Bo-Kaap Islamic stronghold was not geographically situated in the 10/40 window, but Bennie Mostert correctly discerned that it was the case ideologically. It had become a Muslim bastion because of apartheid.
Moravian Hill hosts a strategic Meeting
As part of this visit from Gauteng, a prayer meeting of confession was organized for November 1, 1997, in District Six, in front of the Moravian Church. Sally Kirkwood not only had a vision for the desolate District Six to be revived through prayer, but she also informed Richard Mitchell and Mike Winfield about the event. The Cape prayer movement received a major lift. Eben Swart of Herald Ministries lead the occasion. That turned out to be very strategic. Eben Swart’s position as Western Cape Prayer Coordinator was cemented since he was now able to link up with the pastors’ and pastors’ wives prayer meeting led by Eddie Edson. The event on Moravian Hill in District Six attempted to break the spirit of death and forlornness over the area, so that it would be inhabited again. However, it would take another seven years before that dream started to materialise.
Citywide Prayer Events
1998 brought significant steps to effect more unity in the body of Christ city-wide through the initiatives of NUPSA and Herald Ministries. Regular prayer meetings at the Mowbray Baptist Church ensued, with believers coming from different parts of the Peninsula and from diverse racial and church backgrounds. The meetings carried a strong message of unity. However, the suggestion to continue on local level in different areas, never took off. Nevertheless, the Mowbray exercise brought together two racial groups for prayer, becoming the forerunner of citywide events.
A prayer event on the Grand Parade
almost floundered after a bomb threat
A well-publicized prayer event on the Grand Parade almost floundered after a bomb threat. Prior to this, churches across the Peninsula had initially been requested to cancel their evening services on Sunday, 19 April 1998 and join this service. In sheer zeal, a Christian businessman had thousands of pamphlets printed and distributed. Unwisely, he did not consult with the organizing committee about its content. The flyer and poster that invited believers to a mass prayer meeting against drug abuse, homosexuality and other moral concerns, unfortunately also referred to Islam in a context that was not respectful enough for some radical Muslims. It was however also sad that certain City Bowl churches had not been prepared to close their doors even on a one-off basis for this event.
A PAGAD member apparently regarded the flyer as an invitation to disrupt the meeting, passing on a threat to that effect. The event was subsequently announced as cancelled, but a few courageous believers showed up nevertheless. These included the late Pastor Danny Pearson, who had been deeply involved with the preparation of the prayer occasion. He believed that we should not give in to the intimidation, and that, if need be, Christians should be willing to die there for the cause of the Gospel. The meeting proceeded on a much smaller scale than originally planned. The service included confession for the sins of omission to the Cape Muslims and to the Jews. And there was no PAGAD disruption of the meeting!
More Prayer Efforts in the City Bowl
Some churches in the City participated in a forty-day period of prayer and fasting from Easter Sunday to Ascension Day 1998. Rev. Louis Pasques of the Cape Town Baptist Church spearheaded this endeavour. A weekly meeting with a prayer emphasis gained ground slowly after the 40-day effort from April to May 1998. Later that year, combined evening services were held once a month in the City Bowl in participating churches, with the venue rotating very time.
A corresponding period of prayer and fasting in 1999 - this time for 120 days - was concluded in the Western Cape in the traditional Groote Kerk celebration of the Lord’s Supper when pastors from different denominations officiated. This was a visible sign of a growing church unity. At that Ascension Day event, Dr Robbie Cairncross was divinely brought into the situation. He came to the Mother City with a vision to see a network of prayer developing in the Peninsula. His prayer for an office for his Christian Coalition/Family Alliance near to Parliament was answered in a special way when he moved into the premises of the Chamber of Commerce (SACB), a stone’s throw from the Houses of Parliament.
A Link forged with Community Transformation elsewhere
Pastor Eddie Edson of Mitchells Plain organised two all-night citywide prayer events on 25 June and 15 October 1999. By this time White pastors started to attend the monthly pastors' gathering more regularly, even at places like Die Hok in Manenberg, a former drug den.
Rev. Trevor Pearce, an Anglican minister from the township Belhar, started joining these prayer meetings. He was no stranger to the pain and hardship of discrimination and violence, yet his gentle disposition was often used by God to fulfil the role of peacemaker.
Seeds for 24/7 Prayer
The pastors’ and pastors’ wives monthly meetings of the 1990s became the run-up to the city-wide prayer events at the Light House Christian Centre in Parow, on the Grand Parade in the City and at sports stadiums from 1998. These occasions, along with prayer events like the one at Moravian Hill in District Six on 1 November 1997, brought about further correction.
After a visit to the USA, Rev. Trevor Pearce, an Anglican minister who also had some ministry experience on one of the Operation Mobilization (OM) ships, brought back copies of the Transformation video and an audio copy of the book Informed Intercessions by George Otis, jr. This documented account of what happened in Cali (Columbia) also included principles for successful community transformation.
Trevor Pearce wasted no time in meeting with Eddie Edison, who was already praying with a group of pastors for the city and the nation. As the group listened to the recorded voice of George Otis and watched the stories of transformation and redemption, they too felt that deep stirring deep within their hearts. There seemed to be so many similarities between the two countries. Drugs, death, and despair had all been part of daily life for the residents of Cali, Columbia, until the Holy Spirit brought transformation through the praying church. What satan had intended for evil, God was using for good.
At the city-wide prayer event at the packed out Lighthouse Christian Centre on 15 October 1999 the Transformation video was viewed by the audience.
Moravian Heritage Rekindled
Although the Moravian denomination itself seemed to have dwindled into obscurity, the heritage of the early Moravians was once again at the cradle of a mighty movement of God across the world. A group of intercessors from America visited the East German village of Herrnhut in 1993. The group included a believer from St Thomas, the island to which the first two missionaries left in 1732. That group experienced a sovereign outpouring of God’s spirit as they prayed in the prayer tower of Herrnhut. This could possibly be seen as the beginning of the modern wave of prayer that swept around the world since then. The vision of the 24-hour prayer watch - that kept going in Herrnhut for 120 years - was rekindled in a big way towards the end of 1999. Like wildfire, the concept spread around the world. At the beginning of the year 2000 African leaders - spearheaded by Bennie Mostert from Pretoria and John Mulinde of Uganda - got together to attempt implementing the example of the Moravians in Africa.
Jericho Walls at the Cape
„Sooispit” - the turning of the soil – in preparation for the building of a prayer room in the Western Cape, took place on February 9, 2000. Charles Robertson, a Cape Christian businessman with a heart for prayer - along with his wife Rita - generously donated resources towards a venue for the work of NUPSA in the Western Cape. The premises in Brackenfell were earmarked to become a 24-hour prayer room for intercessors from the whole continent.
Daniel and Estelle Brink were called to lead the NUPSA initiative to get 24-hour Prayer Watch off the ground at the Cape. That this was spiritual warfare of a high degree became evident when Daniel Brink became critically ill shortly after commencing his new function. The Lord touched and healed him in answer to the prayers of many intercessors. In due course the ministry was renamed Jericho Walls, and the Western Cape branch became Global Watch.
Impact of the Transformations Video
Graham Power, a Cape businessman, who is a member of the board of Directors of the Western Province Rugby Football Union, saw the Transformations documentary video in March 2000, birthing in him a strong desire to see a prayer event at the headquarters of the Rugby Football Union in Newlands. He promptly approached his co-directors for use of the biggest sports stadium of the Mother City. This was approved in August 2000. The Sentinel Group, that included George Otis of the well-known Transformation videos, staged a three-day conference at the Lighthouse Christian Centre in Parow with international speakers from 3 November 2000, followed by a citywide prayer meeting at an athletics stadium in Bellville on Sunday, 5 November. The meetings in Parow and Bellville were preceded by prayer events that not only coincided with a bout of spiritual warfare against the occult Satanist Halloween celebrations, but they were also part of a countrywide 40-day offensive of prayer and fasting for the continent. After the Parow and Bellville events of November 2000 the stage was soon set for a prayer event at the Newlands Rugby Stadium on 21 March 2001.
District Six Moravian Church again
In 2002 President Mbeki announced that the Moravian Church building, which had been used as a gymnasium by the Cape Technikon, was to be returned to the denomination. Hendrina van der Merwe, a faithful City Bowl Afrikaner prayer warrior, had been praying for many years for a breakthrough towards renewed church planting in Bo-Kaap, and for a 24-hour watch to begin at the Moravian Church. With the origin of the modern prayer movement dating back to the Moravians of Herrnhut in 1727, this would be very appropriate. Hendrina van der Merwe hoped to be part of this prayer watch before her death. The Moravian Church Board was formally approached in October 2003. The request was approved, along with permission to have monthly meetings with Muslim background believers in their church building in District Six.
The American missionary Susan Hill arrived in the Mother City with a vision for prayer. It was only natural that she and her husband would be linked up with the prayer watch movement in 2002 when they came to settle in the Mother City. Susan Hill came into the picture as a possible coordinator for a prayer watch to be started in the City Bowl. From 2002 joint prayer events took place at the District Six Moravian Church every third Saturday of the month, which she later led.
The St Andrews Presbyterian Church was also considered for the purpose of a 24-hour prayer watch. Hendrina van der Merwe resided in this complex at this time as well as Swieg Nel, who got linked to the ministry of Straatwerk. The St Andrews church hall became the venue of a half night of prayer on the Islamic Night of Power in 2003. At this occasion, Trevor Peters, who worked as the security guard of the parking area, participated prominently. Increasingly, he became burdened to pray for the city. Unknown to many, Peters had been corresponding with Reverend Angeline Swart with regard to the use of the District Six Moravian Church. The Lord humbled Trevor, a former gangster and drug lord. He became a car guard of the parking area and tour guide at the historical Groote Kerk. God brought him into the main prayer force for the city.
Run-up to a Continental Prayer Convocation
The Koffiekamer, once mooted as the venue for a 24-hour prayer watch, suddenly became a major channel of blessing when an Alpha Course started there. A special role in the transformation of the city was accorded to the Koffiekamer when many a vagrant was transformed by the power of the Gospel and prayer meetings for the city were held there every last Wednesday of the month.
It was furthermore fitting that the prelude to a prayer convocation for the African continent from 1st to the 5th December 2003 at UWC, Bellville, took place on Robben Island. This was a follow-up of the ‘Cleansing South Africa’ event of September 2001.
Bombs discovered and defused
On Friday 3 November, two potentially destructive bombs were discovered and defused at a well-known shopping centre in Bellville. The bombs could have caused massive loss of life, had they detonated at the intended time a few kilometres from the venue of the prayer event in Parow. On the same day of the start of the prayer conference, the main alleged perpetrators of the pipe bomb planting were arrested. Reverend Trevor Pearce, who led the Community Transformation prayer initiative, stated that it could hardly have been co-incidence that the arrest of the surmised culprits happened at the time of the conference and that the 18 bombs, which had exploded in the preceding months, did not result in any loss of life. Nor could it have been mere co-incidence that pipe bombs were discovered under a snooker table at a house in Grassy Park on 6 November, a day after the citywide prayer event in Bellville. For five years not a single PAGAD pipe bomb detonated at the Cape.
The Newlands Event of 21 March 2001
Transformation of the Mother City of South Africa received a major push on 3 November 2000. After the Parow and Bellville events, the stage was soon set for a major occasion at the Newlands Rugby Stadium.
On the local level churches also seemed to be playing a role in bringing about peace. On Sunday 25 February 2001, it was reported on national television that local church leaders had brokered a peace accord between two Bonteheuwel gangs, the Cisko Yakkies and the Americans.
The Transformation programme was closely linked to intercession from the outset. It is no surprise that the 24-hour prayer watch was connected to a big prayer occasion scheduled for the Newlands Rugby Stadium on 21 March 2001. In the 21 days prior to the event more than 200 congregations joined in a prayer effort for the stadium meeting on a 24-hour basis.
A satellite connection and
big screens allowed more
people to participate
The 21 March 2001 event was extraordinary in the extreme. Because Newlands was too small for all the people who wanted to attend, several local churches used a satellite connection and big screens to allow more people to participate. Radio CCFM and Radio Tygerberg radio stations also broadcast the unprecedented occasion live. Because it was a public holiday, many followed the prayers at home via radio and TV.
A prophetic Move in District Six
Murray Bridgman, a Cape Christian advocate, felt God’s leading to perform a prophetic act in District Six. He had previously researched the history of Devil’s Peak. Along with Eben Swart, Bridgman provided some research that encouraged Dr Henry Kirby to lobby Parliament to change the name of Devil’s Peak to Dove’s Peak. (Duivenkop had been an earlier name.) Kirby’s role as the prayer coordinator of the African Christian Democratic Party resulted in a motion tabled in the City Council in June 2002. The motion was unsuccessful, fuelling suspicion that satanists also had significant influence in the City Council.
On June 1, 2002 Susan and Ned Hill, an American missionary couple, joined Murray Bridgman and his wife as they poured water on the steps of the Moravian Hill Chapel in District Six, symbolically ushering in the showers of blessing that we prayed would come. Forcefully the message was confirmed that Messianic Jewish believers should be invited to join in the prayers of welcome to the foot of the Cross, to those who intended to return to the former slum-like residential area District Six.
Prayer events in the 58 nations and islands linked which are to the continent of Africa were held on 2 May 2004 in some 1100 stadiums. A 10-minute prayer was disseminated, which would have been offered all over Africa at Greenwich Meantime +2 hours. It could be accessed via e-mail in thirteen languages all over Africa.
The event of 2 May 2004, when African Christians were praying, was apt to impact the continent in a significant way. The theme running throughout the afternoon was that the time had come for the Dark Continent to become a light to the nations. In an inspiring message, the Argentine speaker Ed Silvoso led the millions of believers in stadiums across the continent through prayers of repentance, dedication and commitment. The Lord gave a vision to someone, which was shared with the Newlands crowd. The time for the fulfilment of Isaiah 66:12 had come. Although this particular word from the scriptures refers to Jerusalem, the speaker applied it to Africa, quoting: ‘For thus says the Lord: „Behold, I will extend prosperity to her like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream.” Two items that recurred again and again in the prayers were HIV/AIDS and poverty relief.
The 7 DAYS Initiative
As a follow-up strategy of Transformation Africa, the 7-Days initiative was launched. On the verge of the 2004 event in stadiums all over Africa, Daniel Brink of the Jericho Walls Cape Office sent out the following communiqué: ‘...From Sunday May 9th thousands of Christians all over South Africa will take part in a national night and day prayer initiative called „7 Days”. The goal was to see the whole country covered in continuous prayer for one year from 9 May 2004 to 15 May 2005. At relatively short notice, communities in South Africa were challenged to each take 7 days to pray 24 hours a day. The initiative started with the Western Cape taking the first seven weeks. Daniel Brink, the regional organizer, invited believers of the Cape Peninsula to ‘proclaim your trust that, when we pray, God will respond. Declare your trust that if we put an end to oppression and give food to the hungry, the darkness will turn to brightness. Pray that houses of prayer will rise up all over Africa as places where God’s goodness and mercy is celebrated in worship and prayer, even before the answer comes.’
Global Prayer Watch, the Western Cape arm of Jericho Walls, filled the first 7 days with day and night at the Moravian Church complex in District 6, Cape Town, starting at 9 o’clock in the evening on May 9. Every two hours around the clock a group of musicians would lead the ‘Harp and Bowl’ intercessory worship whereby the group would pray around scripture. In another part of the complex intercessors could pray or paste prayer requests in the ‘boiler room’.
What a joy it was for the fervent prayer warrior Hendrina van der Merwe to be present on the 9th May 2004 in the Moravian Church. However, she was neither to experience a spiritual breakthrough towards new church planting in Bo-Kaap nor the start of a 24-hour Prayer Watch in the City Bowl. She went to be with her Lord on the 31st of December 2004.
Jericho Walls challenged ‘millions of believers’ all over the world ‘to seek the face of the Lord and ask him to fill the earth with his glory as the waters cover the seas’ (Habakkuk 2:14) from 6th to the 15th May 2005. Young people were encouraged to do a ‘30 second Kneel Down’ on Friday 13 May and to have a whole night of prayer in the run-up to the Global Day of Prayer on Saturday 14 May, a ‘Whole night for the Whole World.’ On Sunday 15th May 2005 the first Global Day of Prayer took place. This was possibly the most unifying event of the body of Christ since Pentecost.
Chapter 15 Challenges at the Cape in Recent Years
It was exciting to see how in different parts of the country, the vision ‘adopt a cop’ - prayer for the police force - took off. Cops for Christ saw themselves as stimulators and co-ordinators for prayer.
Prayer at Die Losie
When we were still wondering whether it was feasible to go ahead with plans to have a 24/7 week of prayer in the City Bowl at the beginning of February 2005, Trevor Peters phoned me. This happened just as my own faith had started to wilt on the matter. It turned out that he had been corresponding for some time with leaders of the Moravian Church about the use of the complex in District Six.
At the monthly prayer for the City on Saturday 8 January (2005), it was decided to press ahead with another week of prayer from 30 January to 6 February as a next step towards the goal of a 24-hour Prayer Watch in the City Bowl. Our friend Beverley Stratis, who has a long-time prayer burden for the city that stretched over many years, was asked to get in touch with Superintendent Fanie Scanlan to see if a room in the Buitenkant Street Police Station was available as a plan B.
One thing led to the other within a week, until it was finalized that the week of prayer would be held at Moravian Hill, to be followed thereafter with a prayer watch at the Buitenkant Street police station. Superintendent Scanlan put to our disposal a room called Die Losie, a former Freemason lodge in the police station. This was a significant step in the spiritual realm. On Sunday 23 January, 2005 the station was anointed and prayed over, signalling the victory of the Lord in the Mother City.
In preparation for the 2006 Global Day of Prayer, prayer drives were organised. The prayer drives converged at the Central Police Station in Buitenkant Street. God used this event to touch at least one person in a special way. Wim Ferreira had been invited to work with the Deputy Mayor of the metropolis.
When all the groups had arrived at Die Losie, the former freemason lodge, Daniel Brink, the co-ordinator of the event, asked me to share in a few words how God had changed things at the police station. I became too emotional. However, at this moment, Wim Ferreira was deeply moved. He promptly requested a room for prayer in the metropolitan Civic Centre where he had just started to work. This was another divinely orchestrated move. After a few months, Barry and I joined Wim for a regular weekly Friday prayer time in a board room of the Civic Centre. The Lord put the unity of the Body of Christ on our prayer agenda once again. We continued with efforts to get Capetonian believers to pray together. This was to us an important step towards the revival we yearned for.
Start of a 24-hour Prayer Facility at the Civic Centre
Before long, a trickle of workers from all walks of life was coming to faith in Jesus. On Wednesdays at lunch time believers from different denominational backgrounds gathered there to pray and intercede for the city. The Lord also challenged Wim Ferreira to start a 24-hour prayer facility at the Civic Centre premises. Soon a prayer room near to the parking area on the ground floor was frequented by many people throughout the day. The foundation stone towards 24/7 prayer in the CBD of the metropolis was laid.
Pastor Barry Isaacs became the new co-ordinator of Transformation Africa. As a result of their deliberations, prayer meetings started in October 2007 at the Uni-City Council Chambers one Saturday morning of every month at 5.30 a.m. (This was later changed to 6 a.m.). Wonderful answers to prayer were subsequently experienced month after month. At one of these occasions, the lack of the availability of the Civic Centre Banqueting Hall for a combined prayer event on Ascension Day touched Peter Williams, the secretary of the Provincial Parliament. He promptly extended a provisional invitation to the group to come and pray there as well.
On 31 May 2008 more than 100 believers gathered in the legislative house of the Western Cape for prayer at 6 a.m. Three days later there was a hush – and no mocking - as two Christians shared their biblical convictions at the same venue, as part of normal parliamentary procedure. This was for Peter Williams a direct result of the united prayer at that venue! The implementation of unity on biblical grounds in the spirit of the person and example of Jesus - without semantics (notably the playing with words) and doctrinal bickering around issues like baptism and women in the pulpit – started appearing on the horizon.
The 2010 Soccer World Cup and Lausanne III
After the failure of the Church in our country to hone in on an opportunity towards effective networking during the xenophobic mob attacks of May and June 2008, we latched on to the national outreach effort that was launched in the country with the 2010 Soccer World Cup called The Ultimate Goal (TUG). This was a very positive experience but it still only resulted in limited networking when some rivalry surfaced. Due to two strong missionary personalities of Muslim evangelism, something like two camps developed.
Both the Global Day of Prayer and the Lausanne III events of 2010 did not live up to our high expectations to foster unity among the Bride of Christ in the city. The 2011 initiatives of 'Strengthening the Ties' of followers of Jesus and 'Fire Trails' straddled man-made boundaries and barriers, but these events had no significant noticeable impact.
The Church universal still has to acknowledge collective guilt for the doctrinal squabbling that led to the establishment and rise of Islam. The maltreatment and side-lining of Jews by Christians fall in the same category. If they are not repented of and confessed, these issues may remain hurdles in the way of a collective turn around by Islam or Judaism in my view.
Study of Revivals
In the course of my love for historical research I furthermore discerned how revivals followed as a rule from a unity or fellowship of praying believers. By way of contrast, disunity – accompanied at the Cape by denominational rivalry, personal ambition, envy and racial prejudice - seems to have been a major stifling factor for the work of the Holy Spirit to come to full fruition.
Renaming of 'Devil's Peak'
At the beginning of 2009 the Lord put the public demonstration of the unity of the Body of Christ quite strongly on my heart once again. This time I hoped to assist in uniting believers with the possible renaming of 'Devil's Peak'. I linked up with Pastor Barry Isaacs and Murray Bridgman, a local advocate, who had been praying with us at different venues over a number of years. Our attempt included a meeting on 4 February 2012. We sensed that we got involved in spiritual warfare big time when I almost became the victim via a massive heart attack a few days prior to the event in the night from 30 to 31 January.
Divine Nudges towards One-ness of Followers of Christ
At the beginning of 2010 I was deeply touched when I discerned that Isaac and Ishmael, the two eldest sons of Abraham, had actually buried their father together (Genesis 25:9). The evident reconciliation was probably preceded by confession and some remorse. Or was there some reconciling agent involved?
On 11 October 2010 the Lord ministered to me from Romans 1:16 when we received the Lausanne Consultation for Jewish Evangelism (LCJE) Quarterly Bulletin. That edition of the LCJE Bulletin highlighted the legacy of Moishe Rosen, the founder of Jews for Jesus. In the paper that Rosen delivered as part of the Jewish Evangelism track at Lausanne II in Manila in 1989, he highlighted 'Jews first' from Romans 1:16. This led to the beginning of Ishmael Isaac Ministries and another attempt at Muslim/Jewish dialogue and reconciliation, an effort to link Messianic Jewish believers and Muslim background believers at the Cape.
I thought to have discerned another 'missing link' that same month, viz. that revivals were, as a rule, accompanied by deep remorse over personal and national sins. This would then often result in the shedding of 'rivers of tears'. I shared this insight on Signal Hill and at a few other occasions. In the run-up to Lausanne III in October 2010 at the International Convention Centre in our city, I was deeply moved to 'discover' the disobedience and neglect of the Church at large in reaching out 'to the Jews first' (Romans 1:16f). I was especially moved again how the Jews were side-lined by our Christian ancestors. (In my research I had been discerning anew how our Christian forbears have haughtily stated that the Church replaced the nation of Israel and the Jews.) That the venue was more or less equidistant to Bo-Kaap and Sea Point, the respective strongholds of Islam and Judaism in the Western Cape, was a special nudge to me.
A meeting on the Saturday afternoon of 23 October at a private address in Milnerton was a defining moment. Believers were invited to meet Pastor Baruch Maayan and his family that had returned from Israel. He was responding in obedience to a call by the Holy Spirit to come to the Cape. He shared that he felt like Jonah, to have received a second chance to minister to believers here. There I was thoroughly humbled and embarrassed. I was completely overwhelmed by a sense of guilt towards Jews while I felt an urge to apologise on behalf of Christians for our disobedience and for the fact that we have been side-lining the Jews.
Baruch shared his conviction that he was sent to Cape Town to challenge believers with the highway message of Isaiah 19. Highway meetings ensued every last Saturday of the month in Sea Point. A close link developed between us and the Maayan family. This led a visit to Israel in 2011 and ultimately to the building of a north facing prayer facility at our home that we dubbed the Isaiah 19 prayer room.
The threat of our country to be put under the rule of ancestors at the centenary celebrations in Bloemfontein in January 2012 caught the imagination of intercessors. Here at the Cape the Lord used Pastor Light Eze, a Nigerian pastor, to bring believers together. We linked the ogre of demonic ancestor spirit rule to the effort to change the name of a well-known mountain summit to Doves' Peak. The result was a new season of spiritual warfare including '8 Days of prevailing prophetic prayers...' during which we sang every evening Jesus, we enthrone you! Fairly spectacular answers to prayer followed and there were also supernatural phenomena which gave us great expectations. Events to highlight the five-hold ministry later in the year kept the prayer for revival alive.
A significant move in the spiritual realm occurred when Pastor Maditshaba Moloko was appointed as the co-ordinator for the annual Jerusalem prayer convocation.in 2014. The gifted intercessor and visionary moved with her business into office space to the 20th floor of the Thibault Square Building on the Capetonian Foreshore in mid-2015. Soon thereafter a monthly prayer meeting for Jerusalem started there. This would become the venue for many strategic city-wide meetings linked to prayer events, such as meetings ahead of the big event at the Lighthouse in July 2015 and a prayer event with Pastor Baruch Maayan at Cape Point on 11 December that was organised on very short notice.
Appendix 1: Some Autobiographical Background
Ever since my sister Magdalene returned excitedly from an ecumenical week-end youth event at in Elgin – in the apple growing district of Grabouw around 1960 - I recognised that the unity of believers across the racial and denominational barriers could be quite important in the spiritual realm. A young White student from Rhodes University had rattled my sister's inculcated and socially conditioned racial mind-set. (In a country as ours where racial classification has caused such damage, I am aware that the designation Coloured has given offence to the racial group into which I have been classified. For this reason, I put ‘Coloured’ consistently between inverted commas and with a capital C when I refer to this racial group. To the other races I refer as ‘Black’, ‘White’ and 'Indian' respectively, with a capital B, W and I. The former two races, Black and White, are written with capitals to note that they do not refer to normal colours and the latter group refers to persons from Indian descent, but born and bred in this country.)
I thought as a teenager that the most effective opposition to the heretical apartheid ideology would be to assemble Christians from different racial and denominational backgrounds as often as possible, to demonstrate the unity of followers of Jesus in this way. However, my conviction was more intuitive because my knowledge of the Bible was still very limited,
A turning Point in my Life
A major turning point in my life occurred when two different teenage friends nudged me to attend the evangelistic outreach of the Students’ Christian Association (SCA) at the seaside resort of Harmony Park near Gordon's Bay that was scheduled to start just after Christmas at the end of 1964. There I was not only spiritually revived, but there I also received an urge to network with people from different church backgrounds. Multi-racial work camps at Langgezocht in the mountains of the Moravian Mission station Genadendal from the mid-1960s - to help build a youth camp site there - gave me the rare opportunity to meet students from other racial groups in a natural setting.
A church-sponsored stint in Germany in 1969 and 1970 included study and practical experience in youth work as well as studies of the biblical languages. Wherever I had the opportunity to address groups in Germany, I highlighted the ecclesiastical disunity, the fragmentation of the Body of Christ in my diagnosis of the einzigartige (unique) problems of South Africa. (The other two problems that I mentioned in these talks were racial discrimination - apartheid was still fairly unknown in Germany - and alcoholism) At this time I would also read everything that I could get hold of what Martin Luther King (jr) had written (This was banned material in South Africa).
Quest for visible Expression of the Unity in Christ
The importance of the visible expression of the unity of followers of Jesus grew further after my return to my home country in October 1970. However, in a rather overdrawn and misguided anti-apartheid activism, I joined the Christian Institute (CI) soon thereafter, hoping that White members would also be willing to expose themselves to the possibility of arrest for breaking petty apartheid laws. (The CI was started by Dr Beyers Naudé to bring Christians from the different races together to study God’s Word. The CI policy at that time was to respect the law, although the apartheid laws were so immoral and discriminating.) My activism probably estranged the young White friends.
I met my future wife Rosemarie in May 1970 in an infatuation-at-first-sight encounter in Stuttgart. After my wife-to-be had been refused a work permit and thus entry into South Africa in order to get reclassified as a 'Coloured', the Moravian Church Board assisted me to return to Germany. Rosemarie and I married in March 1975.
In the first few years of my (in)voluntary exile in Germany there was little opportunity to translate my conviction of a clear expression of the Unity of the Body of Christ practically.
During the final part of my theological studies in Bad Boll, near to Stuttgart in Southern Germany, the legacy of Jan Amos Comenius, the 17th century theologian and last bishop of the old Czech Unitas Fratrum (Unity of the Brethren) and Count Zinzendorf, the leader of the Renewed Moravian Church, became very dear to me. I was ordained as a Moravian minister in September 1975. Thereafter Rosemarie and I left for West Berlin where I co-pastored a Moravian congregation. Two years later we moved to Broederplein in the historical town of Zeist in Holland. There Rosemarie and I served the predominantly Surinamese Moravian congregation of Utrecht.
I discerned ever more clearly with the passing of time that racial and ecclesiastical divisions were hampering a deep work of the Holy Spirit, notably in South Africa. The need for racial reconciliation and the attempt to help close gaps between ‘ecumenicals’ and ‘evangelicals’, as well as between the rich and the poor, became increasingly important to me as I became aware how much of a micro-cosmos my home country was.
In November 1978 I needed divine healing from my anger towards the apartheid government and my denomination for their indifference towards the gross injustices of the day during a six week stint in the country with my wife and our first born son Danny. God used the banned Dr Beyers Naudé - who was basically under house arrest to make me determined to labour towards reconciliation between the estranged population groups and races.
I hereafter entered into intense correspondence with various agencies in what I perceived as a calling to achieve reconciliation in my divided home country. I felt an intense challenge to oppose the demonic tenets of church rivalry and competition, by stressing the unity of the Body of Christ, as well as fighting the diabolical economic disparity and structural injustice in a low-key manner. I hoped and prayed that South Africa might give an example to the world at large, not only in respect of racial reconciliation, but also in the voluntary sharing of resources.
Blessing of united Prayer
Linked to this was also the blessing of united prayer, which was repeatedly confirmed during a six-month stint in South Africa - as we attempted to address the racial barrier in a low-profiled way. We were very much encouraged by a multi-racial group of believers from different denominations in Stellenbosch. The group had been started by Professor Nico Smith and a few pastors as a sequel to the South African Church Leaders’ Assembly (SACLA) event in Pretoria in 1979. At that special occasion church leaders across the board broke ecclesiastic and racial barriers unprecedentedly.
Another networking initiative with local ministers of other churches saw me deeply embroiled in the Crossroads saga of May 1981 taking big risks and linking closely with Rev. Douglas Bax, who had been a friend of our Moravian theological seminary in District Six. We were very thankful to hear later that two pivotal apartheid laws were removed from the statute books - influx control for Blacks, which led to the establishment of Khayalitsha, and the prohibition of racially mixed marriages. What a special privilege it was that I could contribute to some extent to the repeal of these two pillars of apartheid.
In Holland I tried to put the lessons of the unity of the Body of Christ to good effect that I had been learning. A first big nudge came in 1982 from Rens Schalkwijk, a teenager who had returned from Jamaica with his Moravian missionary parents a few years earlier. He suggested that we pray together - in the footsteps of our Moravian ancestors - early in the morning in the nearby Zeist forest.
Soon Rosemarie and I were leading the Goed Nieuws Karavaan (GNK) initiative of Zeist and surrounds. This we did from 1982 until the end of 1991. Our vision to give visibility to the Body of Christ locally was partially realized during this ministry when soon we had about 30 co-workers coming from the full ecclesiastic spectrum, from Roman Catholic to Pentecostal. We were blessed with holistic practical fellowship, in which believers from different denominational backgrounds participated.
Concerts of Prayer
Rens Schalkwijk gave us another nudge in early 1988, this time to start a small prayer group, along with two students of the local Pentecostal Bible School. The US prayer leader Dave Bryant visited Holland to promote Concerts of Prayer. A Dutch YWAM leader initiated regional prayer groups as a sequel to Dave Bryant's visit. In no time our geographic area became the first Regiogebed of the country, attended by Christians from quite diverse denominational backgrounds. The monthly events included prayer for local evangelistic work, praying for missionaries that had been leaving our region to serve in missions and for individual countries.
At the prayer meetings of the ‘Regiogebed’, with Christian participants from different church backgrounds we prayed for local issues, for missionaries who left from our area, but also for countries. In 1989 we prayed especially for Communist countries, notably for the German Democratic Republic, Hungary and Romania.
At our ‘regiogebed’meeting of 4 October 1989, I mentioned in passing to someone that I had posted a letter to President De Klerk that day. Spontaneously Mr. van Loon, a teacher from the nearby town of Doorn, who was no regular at our prayer meetings, who overheard this, suggested that we devote more time that evening to pray for South Africa. Nobody objected. The whole prayer meeting was hereafter devoted to praying for my beloved country. That was the only occasion when we prayed so intensely for a single country.
Nobody present at the prayer meeting was aware that President De Klerk would meet Archbishop Tutu and Dr Allan Boesak the next week. That strategic meeting became in a sense a watershed in the politics of the country, the prelude to the release of Nelson Mandela and the end of apartheid. Also in other countries - especially in South Africa itself - people had been praying for a change in the suicidal direction of the political system.
Back in Cape Town
I was back in Cape Town in January 1992 – this time with my own family, including my wife and our five children. We wanted to bring into practice what we had learned about spiritual warfare during our training as missionaries of Worldwide Evangelization for Christ (WEC). Thus we endeavoured to stimulate non-denominational targeted prayer almost from the outset. Initially we targeted the residential area Bo-Kaap, an Islamic stronghold because of apartheid. With a few other believers we started praying for Bo-Kaap fairly soon. Later we also added Sea Point and the Middle East, praying for Jews and Muslims.
We prayed during the lunch hour on Fridays with individual believers for many years. From this prayer initiative many a blessed ministry evolved such as hospital ministry and outreach to foreigners.
One of the events organised in 1993 by the Western Cape Missions Commission was a workshop with John Robb of World Vision. The list of participants at this event was used to organize the Cape Jesus Marches the following year. In this way I updated my contacts for further mission endeavour in the Western Cape.
I had high expectations when I co-ordinated about 20 prayer marches in different parts of the Cape Peninsula, making strategic contacts at this time. I had been hoping that this venture would result in a network of prayer for a breakthrough among Cape Muslims across the Peninsula. However, the initial interest that our second attempt with an updated audio-visual had ignited in various areas, soon fizzled out. Nevertheless, Sally Kirkwood, a Cape intercessor, had already been prepared by the Lord when she started a prayer meeting at her home in Plumstead. Along with other intercessors she became God’s instrument for increasing prayer awareness in the Mother City.
Involvement in City-wide Prayer
My participation in the Western Cape Missions Commission became the backdrop of my organizing Jesus Marches in the Western Cape in 1994. This coincided with an attempt to start a regional prayer network for Muslim Evangelism.
I discerned the denominational disunity to be a demonic stronghold already very strongly in 1995. At that time Rosemarie and I regarded the ministry to Muslims as our personal duty on which we should continue to focus. I nevertheless gave as much support as possible to all attempts for churches to work together, especially in the realm of combined prayer. (The Jesus Marches of 1994, the prayer for the 10/40 window in 1995, the prayer drives and other initiatives before and after the PAGAD threat in 1996 and in 1997, the city wide prayer events, as well as the Franklin Graham campaign at Newlands of the latter year all belonged to that category.)
The most visible result in this period was when I worked alongside various local pastors in the Cape Peace Initiative (CPI). We succeeded with God's help to nullify the PAGAD (People against Gangsterism and Drugs) attempt from 1996 to islamize the Western Cape. A big factor in this regard was the networking with the local Christian radio station Cape Community FM (CCFM).
At this time I was also very much involved with city-wide prayer events, led by Pastor Eddie Edson of Mitchell's Plain. Those city-wide prayer events ultimately became the forerunner of the big Newland Rugby Stadium event on 21 March 2001 and the annual Global Day of Prayer that started in 2005.
Praying at different Venues
With Pastor Louis Pasques and the late Pastor Edgar Davids I came together for prayer on a weekly basis. From this base we attempted to get pastors and local believers of the Cape Town City Bowl to operate in unity, but we harvested only limited success initially. In due course a weekly ministers’ fraternal was running where we prayed for each other.
Pastor Richard Mitchell had been praying over the city with Christians from the heights at Rhodes Memorial. We adapted this cue to start monthly early morning prayer from Signal Hill in 1998, praying for Bo-Kaap, Sea Point and often also for a greater expression of the unity of the body of Christ in the CBD.
Appendix 2: Draft Declaration on Christian-Muslim-Jewish Relations -
Preamble to the (Draft) Declaration
Deploring the occasional outcry against Israel by certain Church leaders, the following declaration is presented to South Africans by a group of Cape followers of Jesus. Some of them have been raised as Jews and others as Muslims - augmented by local Christians. We are aware that we have no mandate to speak on behalf of Christians in general.
We would nevertheless like to highlight that the Bible teaches clearly that Abraham blessed both Isaac and Ishmael. We also invite followers of Jesus to take the acronym ISLAM stand for I Shall Love All Muslims.
Furthermore, the possible rift between Abraham's two sons – which would have been natural after all that had transpired with Ishmael and his slave mother - was apparently amicably resolved in their life-time. It is recorded that both sons buried their father together (Genesis 25:9), possibly reconciled to all intents and purposes. We believe that it is incumbent upon followers of Christ to strive after reconciliation between the spiritual descendants of Abraham. We do however also wish to express our regret of the side-lining of Jews from the first century AD onwards by Gentile Christians and that ultimately the Church was taken to have replaced Israel.
The location of the Lausanne III Conference, the Cape Town International Convention Centre, a mere Kilometre respectively from the prime localities of Judaism and Islam in the Western Cape, has been a renewed stimulus for some of us to pray more intensely that a representative body of Christians might express regret for the above and offer an apology on behalf of Christians for a) the side-lining and persecution of Jews by Christians b) that Christian theologians misled the founder of Islam at the inception of that religion.
In the light of strained Christian-Muslim relationships and violent encounters in the past, we deem it necessary to write down down some of our convictions that could assist to "clear the table" for fresh meaningful interaction between the spiritual descendants of Abraham.
The Draft Declaration is not primarily a confession with regard to past failures and transgression of Christians. Yet, it hopes to stimulate thought among individuals or groups to evaluate it and take appropriate action. Knowing how powerfully God has used confessions in the past to bring about meaningful change in our country – notably the confession of Church leaders at Rustenburg in 1990 – we do ask however that Christians and Church leaders in particular would consider drafting a confession in respect of wrongs perpetrated by our forebears to Muslims in general, and more explicitly to Cape Muslims. Similarly, we believe that a general confession on behalf of Christians for arrogantly stating that the Church hasreplaced Israel and the Jews is long overdue.
The Draft Declaration however merely suggests steps of an appropriate response which could be contemplated and prayerfully applied under God's guidance for each local context. In short, we pray that the Declaration may make many of us to think, pray and act.
The Draft Declaration is written from the understanding that the Bible spells out clearly that we do have a biblical mandate to proclaim the truth, to witness and to serve. It proposes also a reappraisal of the role of the Church at large with regard to the situation in the Middle East. The notion that the descendants of Isaac and Ishmael have been eternal enemies (and should remain that way,) has hardly any biblical basis. We regret that Church leaders have all too often compounded the age old problem of Israel and Palestine in an unreconciling way instead of being an agent of reconciliation, e.g. by bringing together Jews and Muslims who got reconciled through common faith and working with followers of Jesus Christ from those backgrounds.
We also regret the disobedience of the Church at large to the example and precepts of Jesus with regard to Jews, as exemplified and taught by Paul, the prolific first century letter writer and missionary. Instead of seeing the preponderance of the apple of God's eye (Deuteronomy 32:10; Zechariah 2:8) as God's formula for world evangelism – loving concern for and outreach to Jews first (Romans 1:16f) - the Church in general neglected the loving and compassionate outreach to them completely. Instead, our Christian forebears haughtily rejoiced in the perceived rejection of Israel by the Almighty and arrogantly accepted the erroneous notion by and large that the Church replaced Israel.
As followers of Jesus, the Christ, we have an unpaid debt to Jews and Muslims - the message of hope in Him, our Lord and Saviour. We believe that God calls us to share His love for the World (John 3:16) with every human being, especially with Jews and Muslims as co-spiritual (and in some cases natural) descendants of Abraham.
1. The early Muslim Community.
There is no historical evidence that the man Muhammad, who is revered by Muslims as God's final prophet to mankind, ever came to know God through faith in Jesus personally. On the contrary, we are sad that the founder of Islam apparently had contact with confused Christians, some of whom even denied Jesus Christ's divinity. Strikingly, he was evidently deceived by the unbiblical veneration of Mary, the mother of Jesus, after which he appears to have thought that Christians believed her to be a consort, a partner to God. The founder of the religion was apparently also devoid of clear and patient guidance by followers of our Lord who could explain to him that God revealed himself in the person of Jesus. We deem it our task to introduce Muslims to the God who spoke to us through Jesus the Christ and through his revealed Word, the Bible.
2. Side-lining of Jews
We take note that the religious leaders of Jesus' day rejected him as the promised Messiah (John 1:1-11). In fact, Jesus described it as the unpardonable sin that the Pharisees asserted that he was demonically inspired after he had first healed and then set a demon-possessed man free from his bondage (Matthew 12:22-37). The move caused that generation of Jews, to reject him as Messiah. This is the veil that is still by and large to be removed. Arrogance of Gentile believers towards Jews because of the supposed divine rejection of Israel and the Jews was apparently already discernible among the first century churches. (This is tantamount to another veil covering the eyes of the Church.) In Romans 11 Paul clearly intended to rectify this situation, stating that the Gentile Christians were merely grafted into the true olive tree, Israel. Our vision is to see the prayer of Jesus in John 17 fulfilled that it will become one flock and one shepherd – Jew and Gentile believers who follow and serve Him as their Messiah and Lord - and that his followers will be brought to complete unity (v.23). This is to us congruent with the yearning of Paul that the branches of the olive that have been broken off from the olive tree may be grafted back - that the veil may be removed.from Jews in a significant way.
We thankfully note that the respective emperors of the Roman Empire, Constantine of the West and Licinius of the East proclaimed the Edict of Milan in 313, which established a policy of religious freedom for all. With regret we however also take note that Constantine's decree in 321 AD of a compulsory free day on the day of the sun, the first day of the week, side-lined Jews. In effect this strengthened the erroneous view of certain Christians that the Church replaced the nation of Israel as God's elect.
3. The Abuse of Force.
The secular advantages given to the Church as a result of the Constantine military victories and the subsequent reforms had a fatal side effect. The example of Emperor Constantine to subjugate peoples was emulated by Muhammad and his Islamic successors to bring whole nations under Islamic bondage in this way.
Augustine, the renowned North African Church Father, set the pattern for Muhammad to react with force if persuasion does not work. He initially accepted that there would be godless and nominal Christians in the Church, because wheat and weed should be able to grow next to each other until the harvest. Church discipline should not be practised forcefully with the iron rod, but rather like that of an operating surgeon. The erring and back-sliding believers should be brought back to the fold with the Gospel of grace. Augustine requested the authorities to use force to bring back the erring ones to the Church. To motivate his position, Augustine thereafter however quoted Luke 14:23, ‘Force them to come in.’ With this argumentation he unwittingly legitimized force to subdue opposition, paving the way for the Inquisition and the Crusades (The Inquisition became known as a harsh international secular judiciary, where a travesty of justice became the common practice. Jews were given the option to become Christians or be killed).
The Crusades (1096-1270) were not honouring God, but were mostly done by Christians seeking revenge and who were motivated by earthly gain by way of domination. The 'Crusaders' did not spread the Gospel of salvation to Jews and Muslims. In no way can these monstrous acts be condoned. We utterly deplore them as a grave caricature of the Gospel. It is our task to be on our guard not to fall prey to other agenda's other than that of the Kingdom of God coming through in the person and ministry of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. When we hereby attempt to express regret in a small way, we would like to emphasise that we want to refrain definitely from any ‘points scoring'.
4. Jews and Muslims in the colonial Era
Government officials of the Dutch East Indian Company (DEIC), pastors and European settlers dissuaded slaves to become Christians and thus be freed. This was contrary to the noble DEIC decrees.
We deplore the religious intolerance of the colonial era at the Cape when Jews and believers from other denominations that the Dutch Reformed Church were expected to join the colonial church to participate fully in normal activities of their society.
The colonial period at the Cape of Good Hope was a time of little hope for slaves. This era was marked by a decline in the missionary fervourof the Church. Due to materialistic greed Christian slave owners encouraged their workers - as their possessions - to rather become Muslims. Consequently, many slaves were neglected by the Christian Church at the Cape. Many slaves subsequently embraced Islam towards the end of the eighteenth and in the beginning of the nineteenth century. The Christian Church and many Cape Christians have largely neglected their prophetic task to pass on to Muslims and Jews the Good News of salvation through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
When so-called "Christian" Western countries became obsessed with a lust for territorial power, it resulted in colonial empires that were dominated by Western nations of the Northern hemisphere. Muslims in Islamic countries sadly usually came to see a distorted Jesus in the lives of so-called "Christians", such as traders who invaded, annexed and exploited their territory, without any effort to build the Kingdom of God. We cannot ignore what happened. We however want to encourage all followers of Jesus show love to Muslims through our lives. We believe the Message of Jesus the Christ needs to be brought to Muslims (and Jews) in the uncompromising servant attitude of Jesus.
We are however grateful towards God for the example of individual Christian believers who displayed compassion for downtrodden people at the Cape of Good Hope, the slaves, the Khoi and San people. These individual believers did not shy away from sharing their faith also with Muslims (and Jews).
5. Muslims in the Apartheid Era
It is significant that so many apartheid laws and practices had their precedence in the attitudes and measures against the Cape Muslims of the colonial days. We are aware that the ideologists of apartheid took their cue from a misguided interpretation of Scripture via the demonic ideology of Germany's Nationalist Socialism. (The Anti-semitic Nazi leaders not only discriminated against Jews but they were also responsible for the extermination of 6 million Jews – the Holocaust.) The enforcement of apartheid enhanced the spread of Islam. An unknown number of nominal Christians embraced Islam in protest because the apartheid laws were perceived as the fabrication of a ‘Christian’ government. We note sadly that the legislation and practices of our new South African government have also been driving people further away from a living vibrant relationship to Jesus Christ, notably with perceived laxity regarding sexual immorality.
6. Let Your Kingdom Come.
In the light of what happened, we as followers of Jesus Christ, concede that the Evangelical witness through the ages, especially during recent decades here in South Africa, was not always bold and clear. The impression was given that Allah of the Qur'an and the God who revealed Himself in the Bible and through Jesus as the Messiah, are identical. Notably, in the Bible, God confirmed Jesus as his Son, whereas the Qur'an states that God does not have a son.
The impression that Christians, Jews and Muslims serve the same God, caused many Christians to be deceived and disillusioned after marrying into a Muslim family and then required to forsake their faith in Jesus as Saviour and Lord. We admit that the Church did not stand up to clear the confusion. With the co-operation of Christian denominations and individual Christians we want to bring fresh hope to all people.
We accept the challenge to bring the message of salvation within the reach of all Jews and Muslims in our vicinity and to invite Christians to become educated regarding this challenge. Realising that in our own lives, as well as in the generations before us, there has by and large been sin of omission with regard to Muslims to a large extent. We now invite all South African Christians to bring this guilt personally before God and repent of it.
May God in his Almighty power use us to spread His love to all our neighbours irrespective of faith, nationality or creed!
Ishmael-Isaac Christian Ministries,
Cape Town, February 2011
 John Stewart, a British church historian, described the work of the Assyrian-Nestorian Church in 1928 as ‘a church on fire’.
This has especially been highlighted by Karen Armstrong in her book The Gospel According To Woman, London, 1986). It may be somewhat overdrawn what she stated, but there definitely is validity of her statement that 'Christianity has formed Western society and Christianity has been the only major religion to hate and fear sex. Consequently it is in the West alone that women have been hated because they are sexual beings instead of merely being dominated because they are inferior chattels'. Armstrong's statement has to be disputed because this is not true only for the West. Arab desert culture permeated Islam so much that slavery of women (and children) after subjection was very normal.
 Obviously the model is the house church. The hierarchical structure in the Church evolved from the Temple with High Priest etc.
 The Greek word here is charis, with its plural charismata, usually translated as spiritual gifts.
 We could say that the real border crossing started at Jesus' crucifixion. There one of the murderers and the Roman centurion both discovered something of his divine nature. His crucifixion was in another way a double pointer to the Church. The women who faithfully stood by him until the very end represented the 'old' Jew and the Roman was the new Gentile believer. In this way the crucified one draws people from different directions and nations.
 It is still believed and taught in Islamic circles that Christians believe in Mary, the mother of Jesus, as the Mother of God in a physical sense.
 Isaiah 56:7, the verse to which Jesus refers, speaks of a house of prayer for the nations.
 It is possibly not too far-fetched that Irenaus assumption that a certain Cerdo was the teacher of Marcion, the Gnostic, whose heretic teaching from around 144 was such a major source of Replacement Theology.
 His grandfather, Bacchius, had a Greek name, while his father, Priscus, bore a Latin name, which has led to speculations that his ancestors may have settled in Neapolis soon after its establishment or that they were descended from a Roman "diplomatic" community that had been sent there
In a similar way Abraham and Adam have been incorporated into the Islamic faith because of their submission to Allah.
Tertullian, De praescriptione haereticum (c.200) in Bettenson, Henry S. -Documents of the Christian Church
 The sharp difference between Paul and Barnabas was highlighted via a forgery, the Gospel of Barnabas
The lapsi were those who had renounced their Christianity under persecution, but who later wanted to return to the church. Re-baptism has subsequently become standard practice in more than one denomination and sect when someone joined their ranks, not recognizing the baptism performed in any other denomination.
 Not all Pharisees were bad people. However, it is sad that a few rotten potatoes sometimes do influence a whole bag. The 'NT' probably distorts the picture of a group of people who generally had a good reputation amongst their compatriots, comparable to the damage certain paedophilic and adulterous clergymen inflicted on the image of their profession or the distorted negative portrayal of the role of the pastor in the average Hollywood film.
 The original Greek translated as “be transformed” contains the word metamorpheste.
The reference to kombuis was probably not meant as a normal kitchen, but the one on a ship where the sailors practiced the notorious uncouth language.
Radical is derived from radix, the Latin word for root.
 This is a word or phrase identified with a particular group or cause; a catchword. The Gideonites used the word shibolleth as a test of pronunciation to check whether the Ephraimites could pronounce the sh sound (Judges 12:4-6).
 There is also a comparable haughty attitude by some Catholics towards Protestants as well, contending that the Bible which Protestants are using, has been changed.
The root word jarah pertains to shooting and aiming pointedly, to hit the target.
 In a commentary to the Letter of James, p. 141f, D. Moo gives a very helpful explanation of the 'contradiction'. He said with regard to justification by faith: 'James and Paul use 'justify' to refer to different things. Paul refers to the initial declaration of a sinner's innocence before God; James to the ultimate innocence pronounced over a person at the last judgement.'
At closer examination of these translations for the original Greek for word, we notice that they are used interchangeably in the 'NT'.
In his booklet The Destiny of Israel and the Church, 1992, Derek Prince wrote about three P's as spiritual warfare weapons: Proclamation (pp. 109-112), Praise (pp. 112-116 ), Prayer (pp. 117-120 ). (Suffering under) Persecution could be added as another P. Brother Andrew expanded this significantly in 1998, devising ten strategic steps, ten P’s (prophetic, planning, persistence, preparation, presence, penetration, profiling, permanence, proclamation and power) to which he linked a prayer apiece.
George Barna highlights the phenomenon of Christians who experience vibrant faith outside the walls and confines of the conventional congregational church format (Revolution, Tyndale House, 2005) .
 I do not make any excuses for using the word dialogue, which has been maligned in some evangelical circles. From the context I shall attempt to show that there is definitely a very positive side to it.
This happened for example at a prayer meeting on 10 February 1728, when Zinzendorf especially referred to distant lands - Turkey, Morocco and Greenland. Twenty six men thereafter started preparing for missionary work, although there was no immediate prospect to leave for some mission field. We note that this challenge to missions of February 1728 occurred only half a year after the widely reported revival of 13th August, 1727.
 In Greek the word doulos is used for both slave and servant. The basic differences between the two concepts like coercion and choice became less stark over the centuries.
This is the plural form of charis (grace), given to every follower of Jesus, according to Ephesians 4:7.
 On the mission fields this model however did not function at all. The teaching was somehow not imparted efficiently to empower the indigenous towards leadership. The bishop who invariably was a gifted leader, also became an administrator in the absence of trained indigenous candidates. The original model was restored in South Africa in recent years. (Bishop Errol Moos had never been a member of the Moravian Church Board.)
The painting, by Domenico Feti, was titled Ecce Homo (Behold the Man) and it showed Jesus with a crown of thorns on His head. At the bottom of the picture, the artist added the inscription: This I have done for you. What have you done for Me?
P.M. Legene, Graaf van Zinzendorf, de man die maar één passie had (Voorhoeve, Den Haag, 1900) p.50.
No less than the universally acclaimed Karl Barth called Zinzendorf not only ‘the first genuine ecumenist’, but also ‘the only genuine Christocentric of the modern age in his Church Dogmatics (Edinburgh: T.T. Clark, 1956, Vol. 1:683).
 I am alluding here to the literal translation of the words in Ephesians 3:10 that has been usually rendered with manifold wisdom of God.
 Georg Schmidt, Das Tagebuch und die Briefe von Georg Schmidt, (Weskaaplandse Instituut vir Historiese Navorsing, Bellville, 1981) p.344
 In Matthew 10 the twelve disciples had to be looking out for the 'worthy' person. It was the standard practice of Zinzendorf and the Herrnhut Moravians to send missionaries out in twos or in small teams. Georg Schmidt was the exception, sent to the Cape alone as punishment for allegedly recanting his Protestant faith during his imprisonment in order to be set free.
That was to change later de facto, when Dr Beyers Naudé, our leader, preferred imprisonment to a monitory fine because he would not testify to the biased government-appointed Schlebush commission of enquiry into the funding of the CI.
A fuller version of these experiences our story is called (In)voluntary Exile, accessible on our internet blog.
 The government of the day allowed us to live in the country for six months as a family of four pypersto assist my late sister's family. She had been suffering from leukaemia, passing away in December 1980. During this period I taught at Mount View Senior Secondary School in Hanover Park.
 I do not want to minimize the political efforts, e.g. by the moves behind the scenes sponsored by the Swiss government or by Dr van Zyl Slabbert’s IDASA, but I nevertheless assert that it was ultimately the concerted prayer that made the difference.
 After substantial research into missionary work to these groups, I deemed it appropriate to dub outreach to Jews and Muslims neglected 'Cinderella's' of evangelism and missionary work.
 A fuller version of how this transpired is recorded in Seeds sown for Revival and in Spiritual Dynamics at the Cape. Both titles can be accessed on our internet blog
Some of these Christians have been working alongside Muslim background followers of Jesus here at the Cape and elsewhere and who who have been discipling some of them - in certain cases over a lengthy period of time.
Some enmity did develop over the centuries though, as the prophet Isaiah attested to seventeen hundred years later.
 The background of the following can be accessed at www. isaacandishmael.blogspot.com