HOW DO WE REIGN : WITH THE MESSIAH?
JEB Web Publications, Ottawa, Canada 2003
by Robert Brow (www.brow.on.ca)
(We welcome corrections, questions, suggestions as this book is in process - click on firstname.lastname@example.org to make contact. We value your feedback. This outline of chapters will change as my proof-reader/editor Mollie and I look to the Holy Spirit to clarify what to include.)
(Index is Tentative, Page currently under Construction)
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When Les Potter (see under ESSAYS -REVIEWS) went into Kingston General Hospital with prostate cancer already up into his spine I had a total writer’s block. We had worked closely on this website for ten years, and I missed him terribly. As a result I never added anything to this website for five months.
During that time I wondered what I could be doing to serve the interests of Jesus the Messiah. I had known him as Lord since my conversion from atheism (October 7, 1947) after five years in the army. That was 56 years ago. But what could I do now in my retirement from active ministry? Working on this website had absorbed my interest and energies, but now I was on the shelf. As I discussed this in prayer, an unexpected answer came. "Why don’t you put your mind to finding out what I am doing in the world. You haven’t even worked at my mission statement. I want you to reign with me among the nations."
Anybody who prays must believe that things are changed as a result of praying. And I had no doubt that again and again there had been miraculous interventions in answer to prayer. But what could reigning over the nations mean? This book (begun December 2003) gives an account of my hesitant exploration in that direction. It has already resulted in a major change in my thinking.
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Mollie and I were married in India on the compound of the Duncan Memorial Hospital, Raxaul, Bihar exactly 50 years ago. We have experienced from time to time some astonishing changes as we have prayed together. This did not happen every day, but there were sufficient examples to confirm that "More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of." I saw miraculous interventions in my life, the lives of my family, in church life, and even among other nations. But what did Paul mean when he wrote "You did reign without our help. Would that you had continued to reign, so that we might reign with you" (1 Corinthians 4:8 literal translation). What did this reigning imply? Is there a difference between praying and reigning?
Addressing the church in Thyatira, the Son of God said "To everyone who conquers and continues to do my works to the end, I give authority over the nations, to rule them with an iron rod, as when clay pots are shattered - even as I also received authority from my Father" (Revelation 2:26-27). What is the nature of this authority over nations? We will explore the iron rod that shatters nations like clay pots in the chapter on WRATH. But there are also wonderful blessings in any nation as Christians pray and reign with the Messiah.
There is the prayer of the saints (ordinary Christians) as they sing a new song: "By your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation; you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God, and they will reign on earth" (Revelation 5:8-10). Some think that this reigning will only begin in a literal period of a thousand years when the Messiah comes to reign on earth (Revelation 20:4-6). But I had concluded (see ADVENT Comings of the Lord Among the Nations) that the thousand years is not some time in the future. It is metaphorical of the present period when "he must reign until he has put all enemies under his feet" (1 Corinthians 15:25).
I realized that our reign must be right now with the Messiah as he reigns among the nations. Paul said that "When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and join heirs with Christ" (Romans 8:15-17). Here the word "heir" does not refer to a future inheritance after death. It is more like children of the family already in their teens beginning to have responsibility in the family business. James, the Lord’s brother, wrote "Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised? (James 2:5).
Jesus did not become the Messiah when he came to take birth in Bethlehem. We know from the Psalms and the Prophets that in the Old Testament period he was already the Sovereign Lord King over the nations (e.g. Psalm 2:6; 8:1, 9). And in his Old Testament reign he had friends who shared in his counsel and reigned with him.
As the Sovereign LORD was addressing the people of the Mediterranean coastlands, he called Israel "the offspring of Abraham my friend" (Isaiah 41:1, 8, as in 2 Chronicles 20:7). Muslims also look back to Abraham as the friend of God. And the New Testament makes clear that "Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him for righteousness, and he was called the friend of God." (James 2:23). But what does this kind of friendship with God mean in practice?
When he was called to move into the promised land Abraham was promised "In you all the families of the earth will be blessed" (Genesis 12:3). At least that suggests that people of all nations would look to the LORD for wisdom, help, and empowering. But Abraham’s friendship with the Messiah implies very much more.
The friend of a king shares in discussing the affairs of the kingdom. The king looks to him for input, advice, suggestions. He wants to hear the thoughts and concerns of his heart. This implies that the Sovereign LORD of the nations discussed with Abraham the way the good news of the love of God would be made known among all the nations of the earth. The result of that conversation is still impacting the world around us.
When Sodom was about to be destroyed "Abraham remained standing before the LORD. Then Abraham came near and said ‘Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?" (Genesis 18:22-23). Then the story goes in with Abraham’s bold pleading for the few who loved God in the midst of all the abominations of that city.
Similarly Moses was very closely involved in planning the constitution of the nation of slaves that came out of Egypt, and moved into the promised land. "The LORD used to speak to Moses face to face as one speaks to a friend" (Exodus 33:11). We can imagine this great leader talking over every detail of the rules that would be appropriate for the Jewish people as they moved through the wilderness for forty years. Evidently these laws were not designed to apply to other nations, as Jesus made clear in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:21, 27, 31, 33, 38. 43). But any nation is blessed if the details of its administration and legal system have been discussed by a leader who is a personal friend of the King of kings and Lord of lords.
Jesus said to his disciples "I confer on you, just as my father has conferred on me, a kingdom so that you may eat at my table, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Luke 22:28-30). I was familiar with the idea of eating and drinking with the Messiah in his kingdom. This is powerfully pictured in our communion service. But what did it mean to act as judges in a nation? The word "judging" refers to the work of the men and women who acted as the leaders and administrators of their people in the book of Judges. Although the first apostles had no political power it seems they were chosen to order and administer through prayer the huge changes that were taking place among the Jewish people after the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple in AD 70.
At the Last Supper Jesus said to his apostles, "I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father" (John 15:14-15). So they were to be involved in a royal conversation. They would share their heart with him, and he would open his heart longings to them. And so Jesus outlined the good news that the Father had in mind, and then he asked them how this could be made known in each situation.
That seemed clear enough, so I boldly took my place as a friend in the Lord’s council. To my astonishment I woke up at four in the morning and I discussed what was needed in Iraq. Then I mentioned the need for freedom for women and the new generation of young people in Iran. What did the LORD have in mind for Hamid Karzai as he tried to bring order into Afghanistan? I was born in Karachi, Pakistan, so I began asking for wisdom in the work of Musharraf, the leader of that country. I had served for five years in the Indian Army, and then taught for eleven years in Allahabad and Benares (Varanasi). I could picture what was happening, and I had good, and maybe not so good ideas, as to what was needed.
Soon I had a great sweep of interest from China through Nepal across to Syria and Lebanon, south through Israel into Egypt, and then into the Gulf States. . Mollie and I had enjoyed a two week holiday in Israel, and we worked for a year in Abu Dhabi and visited Oman. Obviously the LORD was concerned about each of these countries, and I was astonished to find that he seemed to care about my concerns in each country. That gave me a new vision of how he deals with nations, which is the topic of the next chapter.
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NATIONS Before we can explore what it means to reign with the Messiah
King of kings we need to note how nations fit into the overarching purposes of
God .for human history. Most people take pride in their own national origin. But
we can also view nations and nationalism as the cause of wars and vicious
divisions among people. But the Bible makes clear that nations are not an
accident of history. The main national groupings of the ancient world are set out
in the Table of Nations (Genesis 10). Their identity is not defined by genetic
origin but by the language that they speak. In our day we can see how immigrants
become British or American or Canadian when their children begin speaking
English as their mother tongue. Within two or three generations their genetic
origin loses significance. In the case of Israel a mixed multitude joined in the
Exodus, and slaves and any residents who wanted to join the Jewish nation could
do so by having their males circumcized (Exodus 12:38, 44, 48). Scholars have been able to unravel the Indo-European (Japheth)
and Hamitic linguistic groupings. But it seems that these main national
groupings have had a continuing existence for three thousand years. And in the
final outworking of history in the City of God we are assured that "The nations
will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into
it . . . people will bring into it the glory and honor of the nations"
(Revelation 21:24, 26). With this in mind it seems that God does not snuff out a
nation to exclude it from that glorious outcome. An exception is the final disappearance of the Canaanite
Phoenicians on the east coast of the Mediterranean and their colonies in north
Africa around Carthage (reflected in the awesome "curse of Ham," Genesis
9:25-27. See 10:6-14 for other branches of the Hamitic peoples). A third grouping of peoples descended from Shem (Genesis
10:21-22) apparently spoke some agglutinative languages (formed by word
combination rather than verb declensions). At present these cannot be
disentangled, but on this site I have guessed that Abraham’s language was
Sumerian (Arpachshad in Genesis 11:10). And this may prove to be connected with
the language of the Indus Valley civilization of Mohenjodaro and Harappa of
south-west Pakistan. Already there is evidence of connections with Tamil and
other Dravidian languages of south India. And it is tempting to include the
Altaic languages of the peoples of Mongolia and China. But, whatever connections
are eventually made between language groupings, it is clear that God is
concerned for all people everywhere. Humans keep making grandiose plans for
empires to promote order and uniformity but God delights in creative diversity.
The importance of nations is underlined in the promise to
Abraham. "I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you, and make your
name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you,
and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all families of the earth
will be blessed" (Genesis 12:2-3). On the one hand, through his sons Ishmael and
Isaac, the Arab and Jewish nations would in different ways have a huge influence
in the world. But even more important would be the hundreds of peoples and
tribes all over the world who have been transformed by reading the Old and New
Testaments in their own languages. In his speech on Mars Hill just below the Parthenon in Athens
the Apostle Paul explained that "From one ancestor God made all nations to
inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the
boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for
God and perhaps grope for him and find him - though indeed he is not far from
each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being" (Acts17:26-28).
This makes clear that nations have an essential place in a deliberate plan for
humans to know God. In what way does nationality relate to faith in God? Of
primary importance is the fact that our nation or tribe gives us our mother
tongue. Without a language it is not possible to communicate with others or with
God. And evidently God understands every one of the thousands of languages in
our world. He does not demand that we adopt a particular language for
communicating with him. Secondly our nation gives us a framework of law and order.
Even if we disagree with some of the laws that govern us, we are given a sense
of justice and fairness. We know that we live in a world governed by morality.
And without morality the gods of polytheism never did anyone any good. Faith in
God as Creator goes with faith that he cares about right and wrong. Even though
Paul lived under an oppressive system of Roman justice, and he was on occasion
imprisoned by its officials, he could say. "There is no authority except from
God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God" (Romans
13:1). Thirdly, whatever system of justice we live under, we have
heart longings for what would be just and fair for ourselves and others. And
when the administration of our country seems totally unfair, our heart longing
will be expressed in cries to God. The theme of this book is that in the confusion and injustices
of our world there will be some who boldly enter into the councils of the
Sovereign Messiah King of kings and Lord of lords. To their astonishment they
hear him say, "What do you think we should do about this?" In the discussion that ensues some human ideas and programs
are seen as unhelpful. But history shows that in any case the Messiah listens,
and in his own time he intervenes to change the situation in creative
directions. Happy is the nation that has some who have the faith and courage to
reign with God in this way. Passive resignation and indifference are the enemy
of social progress. In the first chapter of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah we see
a description of nation in very serious trouble. "The whole head is sick, and
the whole heart faint . . . Your country lies desolate, your cities are burned
with fire . . . Wash yourselves, make your heart clean; remove the evil of your
doings from before my eyes . . . Seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the
orphan, plead for the widow." Then the Messiah invites those who care to come
and discuss the situation with him. "Come now, let us argue it out, says the
LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow" (Isaiah
1:5, 7, 16-18). This is often used as an appeal to accept personal forgiveness,
but in the context it is an invitation to come and discuss the problems of the
nation with the Sovereign King of their nation. If we are bold enough to discuss the needs of our nation with
the Messiah, it is good to begin with all the good changes we would like to see
happening. We can talk about the happiness and education of our children,
greater freedom and opportunities for women, the care of the elderly and the
marginalized, health facilities, opportunities for recreation and cultural
activities, the provision of park land, and the preservation of our environment.
We will find that the reigning Son of God is vitally interested in these and all
other areas of our nation’s well-being. At the heart of this is the planting of
churches in every city and individuals coming to know the Messiah as their Lord
and Savior. And better appeal angrily to the ruler among nations than
accept gross injustice. As we read the lives of those who have made an impact
for good in their nation and in the world we can see how they began with this
sense of outrage. It can be seen in the life of Lord Shaftesbury, who was
horrified by the plight of children working in the mines, and slaves who were
taken away to serve without rights in a far country. We can feel the same sense
of outrage in Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Solzhenitsyn in Russia, Nelson
Mandela in South Africa. They and many others who cared for the liberation of
their people derived strength from Jesus’ words in the Gospels. This brings us to our next chapter on the wrath interventions
which are an obvious but often neglected fact of human history.
Before we can explore what it means to reign with the Messiah King of kings we need to note how nations fit into the overarching purposes of God .for human history. Most people take pride in their own national origin. But we can also view nations and nationalism as the cause of wars and vicious divisions among people. But the Bible makes clear that nations are not an accident of history.
The main national groupings of the ancient world are set out in the Table of Nations (Genesis 10). Their identity is not defined by genetic origin but by the language that they speak. In our day we can see how immigrants become British or American or Canadian when their children begin speaking English as their mother tongue. Within two or three generations their genetic origin loses significance. In the case of Israel a mixed multitude joined in the Exodus, and slaves and any residents who wanted to join the Jewish nation could do so by having their males circumcized (Exodus 12:38, 44, 48).
Scholars have been able to unravel the Indo-European (Japheth) and Hamitic linguistic groupings. But it seems that these main national groupings have had a continuing existence for three thousand years. And in the final outworking of history in the City of God we are assured that "The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it . . . people will bring into it the glory and honor of the nations" (Revelation 21:24, 26). With this in mind it seems that God does not snuff out a nation to exclude it from that glorious outcome.
An exception is the final disappearance of the Canaanite Phoenicians on the east coast of the Mediterranean and their colonies in north Africa around Carthage (reflected in the awesome "curse of Ham," Genesis 9:25-27. See 10:6-14 for other branches of the Hamitic peoples).
A third grouping of peoples descended from Shem (Genesis 10:21-22) apparently spoke some agglutinative languages (formed by word combination rather than verb declensions). At present these cannot be disentangled, but on this site I have guessed that Abraham’s language was Sumerian (Arpachshad in Genesis 11:10). And this may prove to be connected with the language of the Indus Valley civilization of Mohenjodaro and Harappa of south-west Pakistan. Already there is evidence of connections with Tamil and other Dravidian languages of south India. And it is tempting to include the Altaic languages of the peoples of Mongolia and China. But, whatever connections are eventually made between language groupings, it is clear that God is concerned for all people everywhere. Humans keep making grandiose plans for empires to promote order and uniformity but God delights in creative diversity.
The importance of nations is underlined in the promise to Abraham. "I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all families of the earth will be blessed" (Genesis 12:2-3). On the one hand, through his sons Ishmael and Isaac, the Arab and Jewish nations would in different ways have a huge influence in the world. But even more important would be the hundreds of peoples and tribes all over the world who have been transformed by reading the Old and New Testaments in their own languages.
In his speech on Mars Hill just below the Parthenon in Athens the Apostle Paul explained that "From one ancestor God made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him - though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being" (Acts17:26-28). This makes clear that nations have an essential place in a deliberate plan for humans to know God.
In what way does nationality relate to faith in God? Of primary importance is the fact that our nation or tribe gives us our mother tongue. Without a language it is not possible to communicate with others or with God. And evidently God understands every one of the thousands of languages in our world. He does not demand that we adopt a particular language for communicating with him.
Secondly our nation gives us a framework of law and order. Even if we disagree with some of the laws that govern us, we are given a sense of justice and fairness. We know that we live in a world governed by morality. And without morality the gods of polytheism never did anyone any good. Faith in God as Creator goes with faith that he cares about right and wrong. Even though Paul lived under an oppressive system of Roman justice, and he was on occasion imprisoned by its officials, he could say. "There is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God" (Romans 13:1).
Thirdly, whatever system of justice we live under, we have heart longings for what would be just and fair for ourselves and others. And when the administration of our country seems totally unfair, our heart longing will be expressed in cries to God.
The theme of this book is that in the confusion and injustices of our world there will be some who boldly enter into the councils of the Sovereign Messiah King of kings and Lord of lords. To their astonishment they hear him say, "What do you think we should do about this?"
In the discussion that ensues some human ideas and programs are seen as unhelpful. But history shows that in any case the Messiah listens, and in his own time he intervenes to change the situation in creative directions. Happy is the nation that has some who have the faith and courage to reign with God in this way. Passive resignation and indifference are the enemy of social progress.
In the first chapter of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah we see a description of nation in very serious trouble. "The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint . . . Your country lies desolate, your cities are burned with fire . . . Wash yourselves, make your heart clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes . . . Seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow." Then the Messiah invites those who care to come and discuss the situation with him. "Come now, let us argue it out, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow" (Isaiah 1:5, 7, 16-18). This is often used as an appeal to accept personal forgiveness, but in the context it is an invitation to come and discuss the problems of the nation with the Sovereign King of their nation.
If we are bold enough to discuss the needs of our nation with the Messiah, it is good to begin with all the good changes we would like to see happening. We can talk about the happiness and education of our children, greater freedom and opportunities for women, the care of the elderly and the marginalized, health facilities, opportunities for recreation and cultural activities, the provision of park land, and the preservation of our environment. We will find that the reigning Son of God is vitally interested in these and all other areas of our nation’s well-being. At the heart of this is the planting of churches in every city and individuals coming to know the Messiah as their Lord and Savior.
And better appeal angrily to the ruler among nations than accept gross injustice. As we read the lives of those who have made an impact for good in their nation and in the world we can see how they began with this sense of outrage. It can be seen in the life of Lord Shaftesbury, who was horrified by the plight of children working in the mines, and slaves who were taken away to serve without rights in a far country. We can feel the same sense of outrage in Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Solzhenitsyn in Russia, Nelson Mandela in South Africa. They and many others who cared for the liberation of their people derived strength from Jesus’ words in the Gospels.
This brings us to our next chapter on the wrath interventions which are an obvious but often neglected fact of human history.
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There is not one text in the Old Testament where the wrath of God sends people into eternal damnation. Wrath simply means anger that results in assigning proper consequences. And the consequences are always in this life. In an eternal sense the judgment is a free choice of outer darkness as opposed to enjoying the light and love of God. "This is the judgment (krisis) that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light" (John 3:19).
But God certainly assigns wrath (bad consequences), not only in the life of individuals (as in Psalms 6:1) but in nations that behave abominably (Psalm 33:10; Isaiah 1:24; 9:17, 21; 13:3). Most of the time the Messiah Son of God does not interfere in the ordinary administration of our nation. Except when a nation is being disciplined under his wrath, he never lets things get out of hand. Usually within a generation tyrants are toppled. Nor does he permit a nation to terrorize and oppress other nations for ever. As Mary sang "He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly" (Luke 1:52).
The Old Testament prophets noticed what they called a periodic "Day of the Lord." The day of the Lord in Babylon's destruction (539 BC) is pictured with portents in the sun (the emperor), moon (the empress), stars (generals and dignitaries), foundations shaking (Isaiah 13:6, 9, 10, 13, as in Jeremiah 46:10, Joel 1:15, 2:1, Amos 5:18). And Jesus used exactly the same language to describe the destruction of the temple in AD 70 (Matthew 24:29) Isaiah often shortened the expression to "that day" (Isaiah 7:18-23, 10:20, 11:10-11, 17:4, 7, as Paul does in 1 Corinthians 1:8, 3:13).
Such interventions were also called comings of the Lord ( Genesis 11:5, 18:21, Exodus 6:6, 12:12, Isaiah 13:6,9, 19:1, 31:4, 40:10, Zechariah 14:1, 5). In each Day of the Lord coming there was terrible wrath for those who deserved it, and for others there was redeeming, deliverance, vindication, opening of new doors (Exodus 12:51, 15:6-7, Isaiah 34:8, 52:9). Jesus and the New Testament writers used the same language, as in Matthew 21:40; 24:27, 30, 37, 42, 50; 1 Corinthians 1:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; Revelation 2:5, 16, 25; 3:11 (for a fuller treatment see Advent Comings of the Lord among the Nations).
In a pair of parables about the imminent destruction of Jerusalem Jesus described the wrath consequences of rejecting the Son of God. The owner of the vineyard "will put those wretches to a miserable end, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at harvest time" (Matthew 21:37-41). Similarly in the next parable he warned of the consequences of rejecting God's word and making light of God's invitation. "The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city" (Matthew 22:1-7). But that Day of the Lord also included the invitation. "Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet (Matthew 22:9). And this happened forty years later (in AD 70) as the religious establishment of Jerusalem was decimated, and messengers were sent out to the four winds to gather in people from all nations (Matthew 24:31).
It is therefore quite clear that the Sovereign Messiah Son of God exercised wrath in his dealing with nations in the Old Testament period. And if we study the history of nations we can see that he has continued to intervene in wrath when necessary in the history of peoples in the two thousand years since his ascension.
We saw in the previous chapter how we can share in his reign as we discuss all the good things that we long for in our nation and that of others. But we may feel less comfortable when he invites us to share in the exercising of his wrath among the nations. Christians will ask Jesus to intervene in their personal health problems, protection, and financial concerns. When we pray for those who are proclaiming the good news in tough situations we assume that the Lord will intervene to do what is needed. But calling down wrath and judgment on others is not part of our vocabulary.
Many have branded the imprecatory psalms as sub-Christian. We cringe at some of the language. "Let them be put to shame and dishonor who seek after my life . . . Let ruin come upon them unawares" (Psalm 35:4, 8). "O God, break the teeth in their mouths . . . Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime. . .The righteous will rejoice when they see the vengeance" (Psalm 58:6-10, as in 69:22-28). When we cry out like that, our loving and just God need not do exactly what we wish on our persecutors. But the freedom to express such feelings certainly acts as an emotional safety valve in extreme cases of injustice, vicious cruelty, and being defrauded.
The first result of such prayers is that instead of taking justice into our own hands we can hear Paul's words "Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord" (Romans 12:19). Then having prayed an imprecatory prayer, we realize the danger of the person we have prayed for, and we may even be able to pray for them, and love them. This has been a common experience under torture. Imprecatory psalms are also much safer than repressing our hatred, which can break out in violent behavior. We also remind ourselves that an imprecatory psalm does not affect the person's eternal salvation. Wrath is always bad consequences in this life, which God can use to change and bless individuals (Luke 15:11-24) and bring nations to their senses.
Even if we feel uncomfortable using an imprecatory psalm when we are terribly wronged and abused, we can certainly share in the many cries for justice in the Book of Psalms. If the Lord does not intervene in justice we are helpless pawns in the hands of those who have power over us. And that is true for a large part of the suffering peoples in our world. They have every right to cry out for God to intervene. And we can observe how he does this, maybe not as quickly as we would like, but often very decisively.
But how would we begin to think of sharing with the Messiah King of kings in his exercise of wrath among the nations? The first thing to realize is that he is indeed the supreme judge, not only of oppression with our nation, but also between nations. This is the theme of the Book of Judges. "The Lord raised up judges, who delivered them out of the power of those who plundered them." In each case "the Lord was with the judge and he delivered them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the Lord would be moved to pity by their groaning because of those who persecuted and oppressed them (Judges 2:16, 18, see 3:9, 15; 4:3; 6:7).
We are more hesitant to take the next step into the counsel of the Messiah Lord of the universe. It is hard to believe that he actually wants our understanding and input into the situation. In the previous chapter we saw how he longs for this in relation to blessing a nation. How much more does he want us to share in the tough exercise of wrath. Obviously many will get hurt in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, or Babylon, Rome, or Berlin. We should grasp the fact that he does not enjoy acting alone as a dictator. He prefers to say with one of his friends "I think it is time to deal with Pharaoh, Assyria, Nebuchadnezzar, Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin, Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein, or whoever. What do you think is the best way to do this, and when is the right time? What are you heart feelings about this situation? What kind of consequences should we assign? How do we avoid the innocent getting hurt?"
The Bible records the astonishing event of the Exodus, but it resulted in many soldiers being drowned as the waters came back over them. In the two great wars of the previous century, the Viet Nam war, and many other conflicts millions lost their lives. We wonder if leaders had discussed these situations with the King of kings the terrible carnage might have been avoided.
An ideal outcome was the collapse of Communism in the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989. No armies slaughtered one another because enough people cared, and marched non-violently in candle-light processions. It would be interesting to know how many were involved in discussing this astonishing outcome with the Lord? In a powerful chapter about Martin Luther King Philip Yancey lets us into the secret of what happened behind the scenes as black people suddenly found themselves freed to become fellow citizens of the American people (Soul Survivor: How my Faith Survived the Church, New York: Doubleday, 2001, Chapter 2, pp. 11-41). A similar story needs to be written about every great movement of human liberation.
We should add that, in addition to praying for liberation in our own country, the Messiah invites us to discuss with him the freeing of other nations. And it is an awesome experience to see how, when we begin to do this, situations in places half way across the world are miraculously changed. It is time more Christians enjoyed this incredible privilege.
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We have seen how in the Old Testament period the Son of God had individuals like Abraham and Moses who reigned with him. They were his friends, and he enjoyed involving them in his reign both in their own nation and among other nations. In the New Testament a major change occurs.
After his ascension, having taken birth in one particular nation for thirty years, the Messiah decided that he needed to have a church in every city of every country in the world. This would enable the Kingdom to be decentralized. Each church would be a center for the work of the Holy Spirit, and his government would be easily accessible to ordinary people everywhere.
In the Book of Acts we have the account of apostles planting churches in major cities like Jerusalem, Caesarea, Damascus, Antioch, Ephesus, Philippi, Thessalonica, Athens, Corinth (for a listing of the first 54 city churches see WORD THOUGHTS, CHURCHES, Apostolic).
Paul then gave three accounts of some of the gifts which the Holy Spirit gives to individuals in these churches (Romans 12:4-8, 1 Corinthians 12:27-30, Ephesians 4:11-12). Through these different kinds of Christian a huge city would be permeated with the love of God. Individuals would be touched by gifts of healing and works of mercy. Jesus used the imagery of yeast working in a lump of dough (Matthew 13:33). The Holy Spirit would also appoint some to teach how his reign would impact and work out in that city (a sample of this teaching appears in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7). And this would be illustrated in the parables of Jesus’ Kingdom. Others would work as prophets to receive the Messiah’s point of view in every situation and make that known to ordinary people.
As we have seen, the King of kings does not want to reign as a lone Dictator. He wants some from every city to share in his council for the spiritual interests of their people. They will bring in their concerns and input concerning everything good that is needed. Nor does the Messiah want to act as a solitary Judge. In the exercise of justice he chooses those who are called to reign with him to act as members of the jury. They can suggest mercy, and alternative means of sentencing. In our legal system ordinary citizens can be called upon to serve on a jury, and it seems that there are no special qualifications for reigning with the Messiah in the exercise of justice.
But what happens when things go wrong in a church or group of churches? This is pictured for us the first three chapters of the Book of Revelation. The message to the seven churches of Asia (Revelation 1:4) is from "the ruler of the kings of the earth" (1:5). And the churches are made to be "a kingdom" (1:6, 9) in each city.
In some cases false apostles are trying to turn the church in a wrong direction. "You have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and found them to be false." But the struggle against this false teaching has moved the church in the city of Ephesus from love into theological wrangling. "You have abandoned the love you had at first" (2:4). As a result they are in danger of losing their function as a light in that city (2:5). This has happened again and again in Church history.
The church in Smyrna was facing persecution. They need to "listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches" (2:11, see this refrain repeated for each church in 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). Perhaps they had no one who could enter into the council of the Messiah, understand what was happening, and share in his judgment on the "synagogue of Satan."
The Church in Pergamum held firm in the faith when their leader Antipas was martyred (2:13). But they had some who were propagating two forms of false teaching (2:14-15). The church in that city needed to turn their attention to what the Messiah was saying to them by the Spirit (2:16).
The Church in Thyatira had fallen under the spell of a woman who called herself a prophet (2:20). She was encouraging ritual sexual immorality and idolatry. The Messiah knew he would have to excise this cancer by a severe wrath intervention (2:22-24) to deal with her and her followers. He then called the Church back to their proper role of reigning with him. "To everyone who conquers and continues to do my works to the end, I will give authority over the nations; to rule them with an iron rod, as when clay pots are shattered" (2:26-27). We have seen what is involved in doing this in the previous chapter.
The Christians in Sardis had a name for being alive, but actually their spiritual life was dead (3:1). They were in danger of sudden destruction (3:3) But the Church in Philadelphia had "an open door" and he would keep them "from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world" (3:10).
The city of Laodicea suffered from being "lukewarm and neither cold not hot" (3:15). They needed to welcome the Messiah in to eat with them in their communion services (3:20). And again he added the invitation to reign with him. "To the one who conquers I will give a place with me on my throne, just as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne" (3:21).
Evidently from the point of view of the reigning King of kings the health of the church in a city is not measured by the magnificence of its buildings, the glory of its musical performances, or the richness of its vestments. These have their place, but they are only the icing on the cake. They are a mockery if the cake is rotten and uneatable. What counts is whether Christians are able to hear the teaching of the Bible, pay attention to prophets who can interpret what the Lord is doing among them, fill the city with the love of God, and have some who can reign with the Messiah and share in his justice among the nations.
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We have considered how individual Christians are invited to reign with the Messiah. They are to discuss with him the loving relationships that are needed in society and the interventions of justice to correct wrongs as they occur. We now turn to see if there is any evidence that this kind of prayer life has ever been part of the agenda of Christian denominations. Right now Iraq is in the news, and we will begin with the huge churches that once flourished in that land.
As the first churches spread rapidly in all directions Christians used three different languages in their services. Greek speakers pointed out that the Old Testament Septuagint translation (LXX) and the New Testament Gospels and other writings were all written in Greek. So the Greek Orthodox denominations decided that Greek must be the language of the universal church. Latin speakers argued that Latin was the language of Rome, the capital of the Empire. As a result the Vulgate Latin translation by Jerome nourished Roman Catholic Europe for the next fifteen centuries.
But the language of the first Christians was Aramaic. That was the mother tongue of Jesus and his twelve apostles. The written form of Aramaic was called Syriac, or the language of Syria. In the first centuries it was the trade language (similar to Swahili in East Africa) all the way from Jerusalem through Damascus and across present-day Iraq, Iran, and into China.
In the Book of Acts we read about the missionary movement led by Paul and Barnabas from Syrian Antioch into the Mediterranean to the west. But there was far greater church growth to the East. Edessa (modern Urfa in Turkey) became a great theological and missionary center. From there Syriac speaking Christians fanned out into cities in present-day Iraq all the way down the Tigris and Euphates rivers. By the year 225 there were more than 25 large bishoprics, each with dozens of congregations (John Stewart, Nestorian Missionary Enterprise: the Story of a Church on Fire, Edinburgh: T & T Clark and Madras: Christian Literature Society for India, 1928)
These flourishing churches made a major mistake by glorying in the beauty of their original Syriac language and liturgy. As a result they failed to translate our Scriptures into the languages of the people. There were no Persian (farsi) or Arabic versions of the Bible in the first centuries. As a result when the ancient Persian religion (Zoroastrianism) was revived by the Sassanic dynasty (226 AD) Christians were powerless to resist. Then when Islam was propagated by the followers of Muhammad (c.570-632) they offered the Qur’an written in beautiful Arabic. It could be learned by heart, and impressively recited. It used the same script as Persian, so it could be read easily (as opposed to the quite different Syriac script). The worship of one Creator God (Arabic Allah, Hebrew Elohim, Indo-European Dev) was simpler to understand than the Trinity described in the Syriac liturgies. And as a result millions of Christians swung over into Islam without realizing the change.
The problem was that as the Qur’an was obeyed Jesus took a lesser place as a mere prophet. He was no longer the Sovereign Messiah who rules among the nations. Nobody was encouraged to be the friend and confident of the King of Kings in caring for the rights of women, widows and orphans, the poor resident minorities, prisoners and slaves.
As churches lost their influence in the Middle East Islam created a great civilization with Baghdad as the cultural and intellectual center of the world. For six hundred years the Ottoman Empire (see Word Thoughts) ruled the world from Spain to India.
But the problem is that civilizations can create magnificent buildings, promote literature, music, and the sciences, endow universities, enrich the rulers, and provide extravagant luxuries for those who already have more than they need. But, without individuals who can enter into the council of the Messiah King of kings and plead the cause of the oppressed, they can be cruelly heartless.
It is impossible to prove that loving social concern will never arise where God is viewed as unapproachable, and rules by unquestionable decrees like a heavenly Dictator. But it seems evident that only a theology of the love of God can give humans a vision of a society sweetened by loving relationships. And in this little book we have suggested that when change is needed, or wrath needs to be assigned to restore justice, the reigning Son of God longs and waits to have humans involved in his decisions.
As we will see, Christian theology has often followed Islam in making God unapproachable. What has been promoted is unquestioning submission to a hierarchy who relay his orders. As we turn to Europe we will see other ways in which humans have been excluded from the councils of a loving God.
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Greek speaking Christianity burst on the scene when the first Hellenistic congregation was organized in Jerusalem (Acts 6:1-6). Soon there were Greek speaking churches in the major cities of the Eastern Mediterranean. Many of their monks engaged in heroic austerities, but their prayers tended to be contemplative. Their theologians wrote most of the important explanations of the Trinity, and these have enriched churches all over the world. But I wonder if it ever occured to these monks or theologians that the great God of their worship and theology would welcome a mere mortal into heart conversation to reign with him among the nations?
The situation was hardly better among the Latin speaking Christians of Europe. Some of them were very compassionate individuals. They also had monks who lived in disciplined communities devoted to prayer, service, and the copying of ancient manuscripts. But ordinary Christians tended to assume that the Messiah’s orders would come down from the Pope through the Cardinals, Bishops, and their local parish priests. The concern of Francis of Assissi for the poor and downtrodden was a short-lived anomaly.
In the Reformation Calvinism rejected both monasticism and the papal hierarchy of the Roman Catholics. But Calvin’s theology had no room for individuals to share in the reign of the Lord among the nations. Jesus the Messiah was made rigidly impassive and immutable. You obeyed, but never questioned his absolute decrees.
There was a major model change with the Pietist movement in Europe. A hundred and fifty years after Martin Luther (1483-1546) a Lutheran minister named Herbert Spener (1635-1705) from Alsace felt the need to bring congregations back to life from the formality and control of their ministers. In 1666 at Frankfurt he began devotional meetings for prayer and Bible study twice weekly in his own home. He encouraged lay people without theological training to share the concerns and thoughts of their hearts from the Bible. This very much displeased the professional theologians.
But such gatherings grew into a great movement of renewal across Germany, and resulted in the foundation of the University of Halle (1694). As often happens, this movement of the Spirit soon fell back into legalism, but it also flourished in the missionary spirit of the Moravian colony at Herrnhut. We could view the Pietist movement as the origin of the millions of Bible Study and House Groups which have mushroomed in our day.
John Wesley (1703-91) came into a deep personal faith (1738) through the Moravians. He adopted the pietist model of small groups (class meetings) of his converts from open air preaching. The aim was to revive the Church of England. And the fruits of the new emphasis on personal experience flourished among the Methodists and Baptists and the Anglican Evangelical Revival. Their numbers were swelled by those who were touched in evangelistic meetings, the Welsh Revival, and the rapid growth of Pentecostal denominations. Many abandoned worship with the mainline denominations, and inevitably in the process of time their meetings also tended to become fossilized in legalism and an authoritarian hierarchy.
But an important model shift had brought millions of ordinary Christians into an experience of talking very personally with their ascended Lord. As opposed to reliance only on formal services and prayers led by trained clergy, thousands of people felt free to bring their heart longings to the King of kings as he reigned among the nations. As they met together they encouraged each other to express their new boldness in prayer.
One result was the vast missionary movement of the previous century. When William Carey wanted to go and serve in Bengal, his Baptist leaders told him that God could do this perfectly well without his help. But through Carey and the hundreds of missionaries who followed him churches have been established in every city of the world. Even in countries like Saudi Arabia, where official Christian gatherings are illegal, thousands of Christians from dozens of different countries find ways to meet informally for prayer.
As this has happened on a vast scale, we cannot prove that some of those who were involved felt that they now had the right to share directly in the Messiah’s reign. There is no sharp dividing line between prayer as heart conversation, and prayer as the experience of reigning with the Lord in his Kingdom.
What can be said is that, wherever large numbers of Christians have begun meeting for prayer and sharing of their faith, impressive social change has miraculously begun to transform the culture of nations. If our study of what is involved in reigning with the Messiah in the first four chapters of this book is correct, we have one plausible explanation of the underlying heart change. We may find this hard to comprehend, but it seems as if genuine compassion and social change only begins to occur when people have the boldness to discuss what is needed with the King of kings. And we can also see how the toppling of oppressive systems one after another has resulted when Christians have prayed for the Lord’s wrath to intervene.
Why does the Son of God wait to intervene in these ways when for hundreds of years social progress has seemed more like a glacier than a torrent? We will see this illustrated in the next chapter on India.
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For 3000 years the people of India were organized under a rigid caste system. This was combined with a theory of inexorable Karma. People were condemned to suffer their deserts in their next incarnation. The higher Hinduism (Advaita) offered a way of escape from this eternal miserable round of transmigration (samsara). By practicing one or another system of meditation one could free oneself from the grip of illusion (maya) to attain oneness with the Absolute (see Religion: Origins and Ideas 9).
Original Buddhism had offered another way of escape by losing all desire (Religion: Origins and Ideas 2.2). But this did not change the weight of impassive indifference to human need. One could also address various gods such as Krishna for personal favors, and engage in his bhakti (worship by chanting). But there was no way to discuss the plight of the sick, the poor, the lower castes and untouchables with the King of kings. That was never part of the model until Christian influences began to suggest an alternative.
The first sign of a social conscience appeared in and around Calcutta among reformers who were influenced by William Carey (1761-1834) who translated the Bible into Bengali (1798). Rammohan Roy (1772-1833) adopted the humanitarian emphases of the Gospels, and pointed out how these could be found in the Hindu scriptures. He was followed by Ramakrishna (1836-86), Vivekananda (1863-1902), Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), and above all by Gandhi (1869-1948). Many of these reformers were influenced by the Sermon on the Mount. Meanwhile in thousands of Christian schools children read the good news of the love of God in the New Testament. Imperceptibly, and beginning deep in the sub-conscious of the nation, people began to feel the need for compassion, the protection of women, the rights of the lower castes and the untouchables, the care of lepers, and other medical and social services. These ideals have now been adopted by many educated Indians as essential parts of Hinduism.
Meanwhile strong Christian churches have emerged among people who were previously viewed as low caste and untouchable. The importance of this was noticed in the Methodist Bishop J.W.Pickett’s Christian Mass Movements in India (1933). Later studies have renamed such large scale conversions "Group Movements." A huge amount of documentation has shown that similar movements touched millions of downtrodden people not only in India but in many other parts of the world. The first converts were usually derided as "rice Christians." They were baptized to get what the missionaries would hand out to them. But the fruits in their lives, and the social transformations that occured, were so impressive that some members of the higher castes in India also came to faith.
The first group movements in India spread among members of a lower caste (say the leather tanners or night soil workers) and they touched the few from that caste scattered in many villages across a big area. But there were also tribal movements where most of a tribe became Christians (as had happened in many of the tribes of Europe). . The most spectacular changes were evident among the Naga, Lushai, and hill people in the mountains of eastern Assam. There were also impressive movements among the Karens, Shans, Kachins, and other tribal groups in Burma. The emergence of compassion and social justice among previously savage head-hinting tribes is often explained by government literacy programs and schools. But it is hard to deny that it was the new wave of freedom and dignity brought by the good news of God’s love that was the effective driving force, and government services had to follow.
But we can also guess that a proportion of these new converts learned to pray, and some will have begun to share in the reign of the Messiah that we outlined in the first four chapters. In this book we have suggested that it is a prayer conversation with the Son of God that opens up the minds of people for freedom and social concern. If we are right, this was the heart origin of the changes which have begun to transform India after hundreds of centuries when it was assumed that change was impossible, even wrong.
Obviously the superior attitudes of the higher castes will take time to wither away. They will be replaced as in the west by a class system based on wealth and education. What has changed even more rapidly is the theory of an inexorable karma that explained misery as caused by the sins of a previous life. This doctrine may still undercut efforts at meeting social needs, but educated Indians will no longer accept it as a reason for tolerating injustice.
What remains in place is the higher Advaita Hinduism that offers a form of meditation that results in viewing the concerns of this life as having no reality that matters (maya). This quietens the mind, and offers an escape from the harsh experiences in one’s own family and that of others. Instead of looking to the King of kings and Lord of lords, arguing with him, and crying out for justice, an inertia sets in. Indifference easily clogs the heart that is needed for social change.
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Like India, China has a very long history. India had three thousand years of the unchangeable caste system and a doctrine of inexorable karma. But since the sixth Century BC China has offered its people a much bigger variety of options for picturing what life is about (see Religion : Origins and Ideas 3).
Taoism was originally based on the teachings of Lao Tzu (c.604-531 BC) who was a contemporary of Confucius. He maintained that every species should live according to its own tao. The tao of a snow goose was to fly free and migrate according to its own nature. It should not be protected by being fed and protected in a cage. Similarly each human being must be free to live according to his or her own personal tao without the artificial restraints of the priests of the ancient Chinese religion. Inevitably Taoism developed its own temples and priests. They transformed Taoism into a system of religious practices which denied what Lao Tzu had propagated, but his original vision continued to appeal to freedom loving people.
Confucius (c. 551-479 BC) was a younger contemporary of Tao Tsu. He was horrified at the idea that people should follow their own tao and do what suited them. This could only result in anarchy. He taught that the salvation of a nation was by right actions based on submission to the ancient traditions. This suited the landowning and scholarly classes whose position in society was based on the status quo. One did not ask what was right for the poor and downtrodden. The proper question was "How does a gentleman behave in the light of the ancient rules of Chinese society?
Buddha (c.563-483) attained illumination and taught disciples in India. His ideas soon came into China, and they provided a quite different alternative to both Taoism and Confucianism. In its original form Buddhism was based on the idea that the cause of all unhappiness is desire. The lust for power, success, money, sex, and other bodily pleasures causes all that is wrong in society. Salvation (nirvana) is therefore the eradication of all desire. When the last desire had left the human heart the person would be freed from the attachment that held him in the inexorable grip of transmigration. Ordinary people did not find this as easy as it sounded, and they turned to monasteries (sanghas) where they could find help in doing this in the company of others. A later form of popular Buddhism abandoned this austere way of salvation and offered a greater way (mahayana) by praying to a statue of the Buddha in a beautiful temple.
The problem for ordinary people in China was that none of these philosophies freed them from the harshness of the struggle for survival. The great mass of peasants and unskilled workers continued to eke out just enough for subsistence. They were kept alive to meet the needs of a system that needed their labor for the benefit of the ruling classes.
Major changes began at the turn of the last century, but there was no improvement in social justice for ordinary people. From about 1900 AD China was divided into spheres of influence controlled by various colonial powers. Their main agenda was increasing the opportunity for trade and business interests. Chiang Kai-shek tried to restore a sense of Chinese nationalism, but he was opposed by the Communists who wanted a revolution to establish a classless society. This gave the Japanese the opportunity to take over the country for fourteen years (1931-45) as part of their program of world domination.
When the Japanese empire was toppled by two atoms bombs, China suffered continuing confusion and civil war for another twenty years. Mao Tse-tung (1883-1976) eventually came to power and was able to enforce the Maoist form of communism all over the country. In theory this was meant to establish the rule of manual workers over those who had oppressed them. But in practice China suffered for ten terrible years (1966-76) the upheavals of the cultural revolution. After Mao died, Communism continued as the official creed of the government, but the Chinese people had seen that enforced collectivism did not work, and slowly more freedoms have been allowed.
It seems clear that none of these Chinese philosophical and ideological movements encouraged ordinary people to approach the Sovereign Messiah Lord of the nations. But in our day encouraging changes have begun to occur. Millions of Chinese, mainly led by a younger generation of hard working students, emigrated and dispersed all over the world. They not only adopted western ideas of compassion and social justice, but large numbers of them became Christians. In China there are 15 million Protestants and 10 million Roman Catholics in the state recognized denominations, but independent groupings are illegal and often have their buildings closed down. But this will inevitably change, and one can visualize the emergence of China as a country where Christians are free to worship as they choose and propagate their faith.
Already movements of the Holy Spirit are touching ordinary people and empowering them to pray. Inevitably some of these newly freed and empowered Christians will discover that they are invited to share with the Sovereign Lord of history and Chinese history in particular. And when this dialogue opens up we should expect that three thousand years of mere subsistence will begin to be sweetened by love and genuine compassion.
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As far back as written history can take us the African continent was divided into hundreds of tribal groupings. Some of these tribes gained authority over others and local empires were established. But it seems that without written Scriptures there was a decline from the worship of one creator God into Polytheism and various tribal gods (see Religion: Origins and Ideas 1). That degenerated into animism, which is the belief that trees and plants and natural forces are possessed by souls that can be evil and need to be placated. That made it easy for shamans and witch-doctors to suggest that they only had the power to master these terrifying forces by the use of their secret incantations and sacrifices. There was a recollection of a benign Creator God, but with their minds gripped by forces they could not control there was no way for ordinary people to think of talking to, let alone influencing, the King of kings and Lord of lords
Before the end of the first century there was a strong church in Alexandria. That has continued as a Coptic speaking denomination which has survived in Egypt to this day. By about 200 AD strong churches had been established in North Africa around Carthage. These churches looked north to the capital of the empire, and they read the Bible and worshiped in Latin, the language of Rome. We have already seen in chapter 6 that Roman Catholic Christianity was organized as a hierarchy with authority coming down from the Pope through cardinals and bishops to the parish priests. And the African churches in an around Carthage were established on this model. As in western Europe, ordinary people were never encouraged to have direct access to Jesus as the reigning Messiah. The Berber people that lived around them and the tribal people to the south were ignored.
To the east in the Horn of Africa the Ethiopian church used the local Ethiopic language (also known as Ge’ez). Translations of the Old and New Testament nourished Christians in that country from the earliest days till modern times. Unfortunately, as far as we know, Christians never translated the Bible into the languages of the Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and other areas to the south. The result was that both to the east of the Sahara desert and to the west the main centers of Christian faith were never able to influence the rest of the African continent. One could say they never touched the heart of Africa.
Within a few years of the death of Muhammad (c.570-629), the Arabs had conquered Egypt and Alexandria fell in 641 AD. As Islam swept across North Africa, the churches of North Africa were quickly absorbed into the Arabic speaking Muslim culture of Arabia. The Arab advance into Europe was only stopped at the Battle of Tours (732). Churches survived in Egypt and some cities of Ethiopia. But they remained as an isolated enclave, and Muslim traders bypassed them and set up trading posts all the way down east Africa to Zanzibar and beyond.
Before crossing the Atlantic to discover America, Portuguese navigators had sailed south along the west coast of Africa, and they reached the Gambia River (1455), the Niger River (1472) and the Congo River (1482). It is convenient to begin the modern history of Africa when the Cape of Good Hope was discovered (1487) by the Portuguese navigator, Bartolome Dias (1466-1500). Ten years later (1497) a fleet led by Vasco da Gama (c. 1469-1542) sailed round the Cape of Good Hope into the Indian Ocean. The Portuguese quickly established a colony in Mozambique and on the island of Madagascar, but they were more interested in the slave trade than encouraging the natives to read the Bible in their own languages. Angola was only colonized much later when it became an overseas province of Portugal (1951).
The Dutch established a settlement in Cape Town (1652), and slowly extended this inland to control what was called Cape Colony. There were many wars with the Bantu tribes which had lived in the area, and the Dutch settlers did not welcome Africans into their strictly segregated Calvinistic churches. As we saw in chapter 6, Calvinism viewed God as immutable and impassible. People could obey and worship the glory of God, but the idea of humans influencing the mind of the Messiah as he reigned among the nations was not part of that church model.
The British Empire in Africa began with the annexation of South Africa from Dutch control (1806). It moved north, partly as the result of the travels and work of missionaries. The conversion (1860) of King Khama of Bechuanaland (later known as Botswana) was a major factor in that country’s prosperity, and later it became a British protectorate (1885). In Kenya most of the Kikuyu tribe became Christians when the Bible was translated into their language. Ten years later Kenya and Uganda became Crown Colonies under the British East African Protectorate (1896),. Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) was controlled by 1900 and became a Crown Colony (1924). Tanganyika (now Tanzania) had come under Germany (1884) but was ceded to Britain (1919). Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) became a self-governing British Colony (1898)
French influence in Africa began with trading posts along the coast, and then in Mauritania (1817). But the French colonial empire was firmly established when Algeria was annexed (1842). Instead of maintaining apartheid as the Dutch had done in South Africa, they made the local people into citizens of France. Senegal (1895), Mali (1895), Niger (1900), Mauritania (1904), Chad (1918), all became part of French West Africa. Morocco became a French protectorate (1912).
Leopold II of Belgium established the Congo Free State under his personal rule (1885), but this was a disaster. And the country (now known as Zaire) was annexed as a Belgian colony (1908). But in the next fifty years very little was done to prepare leaders to run their own government.
In the ten years from 1956 to 1966 many of the countries in present-day Africa became independent republics. These included Morocco 1956, Sudan 1956, Malagasy 1958, Mauritania 1960, Mali 1960, Niger 1960, Senegal 1960, Zaire 1960, Algeria. 1962, Uganda 1962, Kenya 1963, Tanzania 1964, Zambia 1964, Zimbabwe 1965, Botswana 1966. An important result was that Christian churches of various denominations were free to flourish all over Africa. Charismatic movements appeal to many Africans, and in spite of the danger of legalism and being taken over by cranks, ordinary people found themselves able to express their heart longings and feelings to God.
Meanwhile through the work of African Enterprise, led by Michael Cassidy, the Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu (born 1931, Archbishop of Capetown 1986) , and many other courageous leaders, Africans were freed to worship together and look to the Holy Spirit to renew and bless their country. After a long brutal struggle, apartheid legally ended in 1994 when Nelson Mandela was freed from jail and elected President of South Africa.
What can one predict from this very potted account of the emergence of Christian churches in central and south Africa? There is still strict control by the Vatican over Roman Catholics, but more and more African bishops have been appointed. Protestant and indigenous African denominations have mushroomed in many areas. There have been terrible tribal massacres as among the Hutu and Tutsi mainly Christian tribes. But so far there has been religious freedom in most parts of Africa as long as Christians do not get involved in movements to overthrow their government.
As more and more feel free to talk to the Messiah Son of God, some will begin to take their place in his councils and reign with him. As this happens we can imagine Africa emerging from two thousand years of animistic chaos into the love of God beginning to impact the needs of ordinary people. As in Europe, that does not mean the end of wars between nations and tribes, but the idea of personal freedom social concern for the downtrodden is likely to emerge.
In our impatience with Africa we could remember that the tribes of Europe were Christianized over a period of eight hundred years. But in chapter 6 we showed how the spiritual freedom which we now take for granted only flourished a thousand years later in the nineteenth century.
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It was Jesus who first made clear to the world that from God’s point of view there is a sharp division of functions between religion and the state. "Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and give to God the things that are God’s" (Matthew 22:21). This principle was first seen as a reason to submit to the laws of the Roman Empire (Romans 13:1-7). But the situation changed if the Emperor demanded to be worshiped as God. And for three centuries in the Roman Empire many Christians were martyred for refusing that submission.
In Chapter 6 we saw that after the conversion of the Emperor Constantine churches were freed to propagate all over Europe. But when the Pope in Rome became sufficiently powerful, he and his successors began to demand the right to interfere in matters of government and the personal freedom of individuals. There was a long church and state controversy, and partly as a result of the Reformation nations won the right to choose their own form of denomination. But that still meant that the government of each country wanted to make rules about the worship of its citizens. It was only after much struggle and persecution that Christians in Europe gained the right to worship more or less as they chose.
It was the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States (1789) that first enshrined the separation of church and state at the very heart of a nation’s freedom. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
This First Amendment
made it illegal for the state to favor any religion or denomination over others. This was a momentous change in the way people could choose their own religious alternatives. This may not have been foreseen at the time but the result is that in addition to thousands of Christian groupings, Hindus can have temples, Muslims can have mosques, and anyone is free to propagate any religious faith as long as they do not break the law or interfere with the freedom of other citizens.
At first sight we might assume that the astonishing mushrooming of denominations, religions and sects in America would result in total chaos. In practice in each denomination the First Amendment has prevented religious interference in the freedom of individuals to worship and pray as they choose. If one grouping fails to meet the spiritual needs of people, they are free to move to another. And a person’s religion, or lack of a stated religious affiliation, does not exclude him or her from any office including that of being elected to be President. That reduces the motive for individuals to profess a religion to attain political power.