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Does Jesus Like Dream Pop? An Interview with Jonathan Ogden of Rivers and Robots

The main thing we want to do through our music is reveal the person of Jesus — Jonathan Ogden

Among contemporary worship artists, following a certain pattern designed to cultivate a familiar “worship feel” seems to yield more reward than artistic innovation and creativity.

That is, if you’re not Rivers and Robots.

Since 2012, the U.K. based worship band has pushed the boundaries of what worship music “should” sound like, pairing Scripture-laced lyrics with dreamy, synthy pop beats.

We hope our interview with lead singer of R&R, Jonathan Ogden, about Discovery, the group’s newest album, will inspire and encourage our readers to explore the contours of their creativity for the glory of God.

Discovery has the devotional, prayerful, straight-after-the-heart-of God lyrics listeners love from past works, but with an ethereal pop rock twist. What was the motivation behind the album and musical direction R&R took in Discovery?

With every Rivers & Robots album we do, we’re always looking for ways we can push things further and try out new ideas. We never want to make the same album twice. This time we had a line-up change so a lot of the musical changes were natural. Having our new drummer Caleb come in and help with the arrangements was definitely a big bonus for us. He’s currently studying pop music on his course, so he brought some different influences to our usual style, particularly on songs like Satisfy and Author/Perfector.

R&R excels at making scriptural themes, stories, and citations the center of the music (Forevermore is a stellar example of this). What does the intersection of your musical creativity and the teachings of Scripture look like?

The main thing we want to do through our music is reveal the person of Jesus, and we’re always looking to do that through our lyrics.

One of my favorite things as a writer is when I’m able to get a passage of scripture into a song’s melody almost word for word. A lot of this comes from my background of leading worship at Manchester House of Prayer. We have a model of worship called ‘Worship and the Word’ where we take a passage of scripture and sing through it (often a psalm). Quite often, choruses of our songs will come out that way, and then I’ll go back to that passage for writing verses, too.

In terms of the musical creativity, I just decided early on that I was going to write the kind of music I was excited about and the style that came naturally to me, and not worry so much about whether it’s suitable for a congregational worship time, or if it would even be popular. It was quite a freeing moment.

I guess it’s a strange combo to essentially be singing through scriptures and attributes of God with Indie/Dream Pop/ Electronic music, but it seems to have caught on!

Artists of all stripes straddle the tension between what they want to create and what their audience will actually engage with. How does R&R balance the demands of the market and “giving people what they want” with staying true to core principles?

Honestly, we try not to think about it. I think people are drawn to honesty and to genuine art that is created out of a place of passion. And the only way we can really do that is if we create what we’re passionate about and not what we think people want to hear. It’s definitely a factor, particularly when it comes to picking a single or the flow of an album; we’re thinking about how it’s going to come across to the audience and how we can introduce them to new ideas and have the album flow as a journey. But in terms of writing, we just enjoy the process of writing and pick the songs we’re most excited about.

In the chorus of Brighter than the Sun, you sing “You are the river The fountain, the stream. You go beyond all that we can conceive. So, open my eyes Father I want to see.” How does one put words to glorious truths beyond our very conception? As content creators, how do we open ourselves up to be conduits by which people can see the glory of God in our work?

This is a journey I’ve been on for a while! I want to point people to attributes of Jesus and reveal Him to people through our songs, but at the same time, I’ve had to embrace mystery. I think we have to when we’re referring to God because we’ll never fully grasp who He is and understand Him, but at the same time, He wants to reveal Himself to us and have us understand things.

That’s a big theme of what Discovery is about: following the call to Discovery the knowledge of God, while at the same time embracing the fact that we’ll never reach the end and never full know all that there is to know. We try and write out of a relationship of getting knowing God and singing about the things that He reveals to us through the Word. And I think if more people are doing that, we’re going to get a more complete picture by hearing about all the different ways that God has revealed His character and nature to each one of us.

Focusing for a moment on the sound of your music, what practical advice do you have for musicians who think “I want to make music like these guys”? Who are your musical influences? What editing software do you use? The classroom is yours!

We draw from quite a wide range of influences. Living in Manchester, it’s a big music city and we get to see a lot of live music which is always good for inspiration. Some of my big influences musically have been artists like Justin Vernon from Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes, Toro Y Moi, Grizzly Bear, Paul Simon, Beach Boys. I think the thing I’m most drawn to as a writer is melody. So that’s usually the starting point, singing a melody into my voice memos on my phone and then writing music around that.

I use Ableton Live to create a lot of the demos and the initial ideas for songs, and producing and arranging the song kinda happens at the same time as writing. I’m not the kind of person that just sits with a guitar or piano and writes a song. I like to pull up a bunch of synth sounds and drum loops and create these whole sound-scapes and then think ‘ok, what melody can I put to this’.

I guess the things that are pretty consistent in our sound is our vocal style. We like a lot of layers in our vocals. And I also love to create mood through textures. Maybe it’s little percussive sounds in the background or the loop of an acoustic guitar finger-picking, I just like to create a nice warm atmosphere.

As you look at the long-view, what kind of impact does R&R want to leave on its listeners and the worship music genre?

I’m really passionate about seeing people embrace creativity in their music, and also to understand that each of us are created uniquely, and that nobody else can write the songs that you can write, or create the things that you can create.

I see too much imitation happening at the moment with people trying to sound like somebody else, or try and get ‘the worship sound’ which shouldn’t really be a thing in my opinion! I love mainstream worship, and I sing a lot of those songs on a Sunday morning. But I also think the scope of what worship music can be is more than just what we sing on a Sunday morning. I’d love to see more diversity, and artists being confident in their own style and sound.

I have to ask: the sound of the music being submerged and coming up again out of the water in Forevermore, is there anything more to that?

We did that on one of the last days of mixing the album. The song originally just played out for a long time, and we felt like it wasn’t really going anywhere. We played around with different ideas, like fading it out, but it felt like an easy get-out. I was thinking about the whole theme of Discovery, and in a lot of the lyrics I talk about the knowledge of God being like an endless ocean and wanting to set out into discovering Him.

I had a friend of ours Ryan Pernofksi take a photo for the inside of the album art of a person diving underwater and I always loved that as a picture of diving into the discovery of the knowledge of God. And so we decided to create an audio version of that. We originally just had it go underwater and end, but it kinda sounded like you’d gone underwater and died (haha)! So we created the effect of resurfacing again at the end.

I wanted to switch the track to something else when the listener came out of the water, like you’d discovered something new. We ended up using a track that I was originally making for the intro of the album, it was this moody soundscape that introduced the theme of discovery, but it didn’t make tracklist, so we sampled that demo and used it to end the album instead!

So what do you do after a big release? Is it on to the next thing or is it time for a creative re-charge?

Our focus is on the live side of things now! We’re looking to tour with these new songs and worship together with people. We’ve done a UK and Europe tour, and also Singapore, Philippines and Japan. We’re hoping to do a bunch of trips to the States in 2019 and see what other opportunities come up. And then we’ll probably start writing again.

Where can people learn more about you and/or purchase Discovery?

All the info is available on our website riversandrobots.com – we’re also on Twitter and
Instagram as @riversandrobots

3 Three Things to Take into 2019

The concept of the “new year” is pregnant with excitement about fresh things that lie ahead and destructive things we are determined to leave behind.

In the midst of any number of personal wellness goals, the Bible gives us lasting wisdom about what you can leave in 2018 and take hold of starting today, January 1st, 2019.

1. Leave Worry. Take Trust.

That the omnipotent God of the universe who by the very force of His will brought all contingent reality into existence condescends to be called our Heavenly Father is one of Scripture’s most awesome and mind-blowing truths.

And it is this truth which forms the basis of why Jesus commands us to trade worry for trust in the One who knows our most basic needs even before we do:

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own

Matthew 6:31-34

2. Leave Selfish Ambition. Take Reliance on God.

In sharing the Gospel, I constantly meet people hurtling toward everything they want in life at breakneck speed, fully convinced that with all there is to do and become, God is simply not worth an investment of their time.

Such people are like the fictional rich man Jesus spoke of who dreamed of selling his lucrative grain to buy bigger and better silos so he could one day sit back and relax even wealthier than before.

The only problem is this poor rich man would not last the night before God demanded of him his very soul (see Luke 12:16-21).

James addresses a similar issue in the book he wrote:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:13-15)

Selfish ambition is a form of practical atheism of which even believers can be guilty.

This happens when we work and plan and strive and hustle without reference to the very God who gave us the life, health, and employment necessary to make those things possible.

The antidote to a selfish drive for more is to be rich toward God, acknowledge His will in everything we do, and watch how He directs our steps.

3. Leave laziness. Take a Kingdom-focus.

Opposite selfish ambition are those who cannot be bothered take anything seriously at all.

Without any goals or a vision for life, they wish their hours away for 5 p.m. and their days away for the weekend.

Cruising through life without a care, they don’t realize how soon the end can sneak up on any one of us–no do-overs allowed.

On the contrary, the Bible call us to “redeem the time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:16), “encourage one other, and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25), and “devote [ourselves] to doing what is good” (Titus 3:14).

The sheer extent and utter importance of the work of the Lord before us ought to shock us out of our apathy and sloth.

As churches, families, friend groups, and individuals, we ought to set audacious goals for seeing the Kingdom of God advanced in 2019 and gather regularly to keep one another accountable in meeting them.

So don’t let the new year take you by surprise. Trust in God, rely on God, and work dutifully out of love for God. The best resolutions are the ones with an eternal timestamp.

Fighting Biblical Illiteracy with Buzzers: An Interview with National Bible Bowl Director Josiah Gorman

The verdict is in: evangelicalism is full of people who don’t know the Bible and whose theology resembles heresy more than orthodoxy. However, in the midst of such a confused climate, National Bible Bowl is a Bible quizzing program which stands out for its desire to get young people into Scripture, the whole Scripture, and nothing but the Scripture.

Today, I talk with National Bible Bowl Executive Director Josiah Gorman about his organization.

Josiah, most of our readers will hear Bible Bowl and think some wacky youth group activity. What exactly is Bible Bowl?

jg
Josiah Gorman (r) poses for a photo with a student competitor.

Some may consider Bible Bowl a bit wacky, but I’ve never found a program more effective at teaching the Word of God to students. Bible Bowl is a program akin to the scholar bowl found in most high schools, but using Scripture, that uses competition to encourage students grades 3-12 to immerse themselves in God’s Word.

Geographically, where does National Bible Bowl have active teams?

Bible Bowl has teams as far west as Denver, CO and as far east as Jacksonville, FL. However, one of our goals is to grow so that Bible Bowl can be found coast to coast!

Josiah, you yourself are a former Bible Bowl player. How did your participation in Bible Bowl  impact your walk with Christ?

Bible Bowl is the single most impactful program I ever participated in when I was in high school or younger.

I grew up in the church, went to youth group, participated in AWANA, and attended Bible college. And I can safely say that I know more Scripture from my time in Bible Bowl than from all the others, probably combined. But it isn’t just an issue of knowledge, although that’s important, but of teaching. Through Bible Bowl I have seen God create hundreds of mentoring relationships. When you have a student learning Scripture under the tutelage of a faithful adult, whether laity or in vocational ministry, the Holy Spirit can’t help but move. The students will ask hard questions and have the wisdom of older generations to help guide them. For me that came in the form of my coach, Bill Thomas, who was also the lead minister of the church I attended.

I fully admit that when I studied the Scriptures in school I did not understand them as well as I do today, and God willing I’ll continue to understand them better and better the older I grow. But what Bible Bowl did was plant the seed in my heart. Bible Bowl is a planting ministry, not a harvesting ministry. And like the farmer who planted seed in Jesus’ parable, some will fall on hard ground, others is choked by thorns, and some are in shallow soil, but it is a miracle to watch the seed that fell on good soil: students who decided to go into missions, or vocational ministry, or those that want to bring Christ to the workforce.

All across the church-world people are talking about the steady increase in biblical illiteracy. How is Bible Bowl seeking to address this growing problem?

Bible Bowl seeks to deal the heart of the problem, which is the illiteracy itself. The simplest and most direct route to address this is to encourage kids to study the Scriptures, in their context.

When we study, we study whole books at a time. There is a time and place for survey level study of Scripture, but to combat Biblical illiteracy we need to know the whole story.

It’s good to know John 3:16, it’s better to know John 3, but to fully understand John 3:16 you need to know the whole book of John.

Some people may look at Bible Bowl and say “it’s all head knowledge.” How would you respond to that?

I could say, “You can’t apply what you don’t know.” Or I could argue that if we believe Scripture’s promises about itself (Isaiah 55:11, Psalm 119:11, Acts 17:11, 2 Timothy 3:16), then we know that the Holy Spirit moves through knowledge of the Word of God.

But I’m not going to do that.  Instead I want to show you.

  • I want to tell you about Anita Zutaut Hoch who went into the mission field in West Africa, to a country I can’t tell you about, in part because of her time in Bible Bowl.
  • Or Bill Thomas, my mentor, who credits Bible Bowl with being a key reason he entered preaching ministry.
  • Or maybe the Hurley’s, who met in Bible Bowl and now are missionaries in South America in part because of Bible Bowl.

When people study Scripture, they are moved to share it with others, and we have hundreds upon thousands of students who played Bible Bowl and then dedicated their lives to sharing God’s Word. 

Some of our readers may have some qualms about mixing competition and the Bible. After all, doesn’t the competition aspect make Scripture a means to an end and foster strife between believers?

Respectfully, no.

Competition is a vehicle to get students studying the Word of God. God made us competitive, we don’t believe that this is a disordered trait. And because of that, we don’t believe that competition must foster strife. Is it true that some people will compete with the wrong attitude? Probably. But we don’t expect perfection of our students. They will mess up, they will do dumb things. But we believe in the transforming power of learning God’s Word. There are many kids turned adults who will tell you that they are somewhat embarrassed by their behavior in Bible Bowl, but as a function of playing Bible Bowl they saw that those things were not the best way to behave. And in the end, Paul said he would become all things in order to win some for Christ.

In the end, we’ll do whatever it takes to get students to learn Scripture.

What do you say to someone who likes the idea of Bible Bowl but is daunted by the idea of memorizing so much material?

First, you don’t have to memorize it! Our goal is to get as many students as possible to learn Scripture. While I believe memorizing to be one of the best ways to learn, there are many others and we encourage students to study in any way they like! Second, memorizing is a skill like any other that can be strengthened and developed. This summer I had a parent tell me that if we had told them two years ago how much her student would be memorizing now, they never would have joined. You have more capacity to memorize than you give yourself, or your student, credit for.

Besides the obvious importance of knowing the Bible, what are some of the other benefits of joining the Bible Bowl community?

Eric, you touched on a big one in your question: community! There are very few other places where your student can find such an engaged community of young people and adults committed to studying Scripture together. Your student will make friends with high character young people, and likely find mentorship and learning under the tutelage of another Godly adult.

In addition to that, our students develop wonderful academic skills, such as: test taking skills, the discipline to study, increased capacity for memorizing, and the ability to quickly recall what they’ve learned. Touching on one of your previous questions, students also learn how to win and lose in a Christ-like manner. Many students come into Bible Bowl with their identity partially tied to how they perform in Bible Bowl and leave with their identity tied more firmly in Christ.

Can you cast a wide vision for how you would love to see Bible Bowl impact the church at large?

Like you previously mentioned, Biblical illiteracy is rampant in the world today, but not just the world, also our churches. Bible Bowl is the single best tool I’ve ever come across to combat Biblical illiteracy, and so I hope that Bible Bowl spreads to every single church in the country, regardless of denomination. I realize that it’s not likely to happen, but I believe Bible Bowl is that potent. And I believe that if the church in America would do so, we would see a revival in America as biblically literate leaders left our churches for Bible college, secular universities, the workforce, and vocational ministry.

What are some “next steps” for someone wanting to start a Bible Bowl team at their church?

We’d love to hear from anyone who wants to start Bible Bowl! Our website is: www.biblebowl.org, and you can email me at jgorman@biblebowl.org. Or, and this is my preference, feel free to give us a call! Our phone number is (321) 972-5390, we’d love to talk with you!

A Tale of Two Prisoners: What John McCain and Richard Wurmbrand Teach Us About the Two Kingdoms.

Perhaps no living member of the United States Senate commanded the kind of respect enjoyed by Senator John McCain of Arizona.

Shortly after discontinuing treatment for his advanced and aggressive form of brain cancer, the eighty-one year old politician was dead, and thousands across the Republic mourned the loss of America’s Senator.

A self-proclaimed “maverick”, McCain was known for his rare decency in political discourse, his willingness to work across the ideological aisle, and his decorated military service on behalf of the country he adored.

Indeed, it was that service in Vietnam, where he languished five-and-a-half years as a prisoner of war, soldiering through the brutalest of tortures, which helped launch McCain’s successful and lengthy political career, gaining him respect in the eyes of allies and opponents alike.

Maverick, though he may have been, McCain stood in a long line of individuals who had had their deepest beliefs tested in the fires of physical and psychological torment.

Indeed, in reading the harrowing details of McCain’s stay at the “Hanoi Hilton”, one notices the similarities between his story and that of another political prisoner more than 5000 miles away.

That prisoner was Richard Wurmbrand.

Wurmbrand was a Romanian convert to Christianity and preacher living in Romania during the Cold War who spent fourteen years in Communists prisons for his faith in Jesus before his release three years before John McCain’s ordeal.

Like McCain, who elected to serve his country in the United States Navy, Wurmbrand felt a divine call to service on behalf of his nation, a Holy Nation, and became a minister of the Gospel in his native Romania, even as the Communists were making such an occupation as difficult and dangerous as possible.

Both men would suffer dearly for their service.

In 1967, during the Vietnam War, McCain’s aircraft was shot down over Hanoi.

Once pulled to shore, he was greeted by a band of North Vietnamese who beat and stabbed him with the butt and bayonet of a rifle, treating the freshly minted POW to a sampling of the hell that was to come.

Nearly twenty-two years prior, the Church in Communist-controlled Romania was facing a war of its own.

At a Soviet-sponsored clerical assembly in 1945, Richard Wurmbrand and his wife Sabina, herself a radical disciple, sat in horror as priests and pastors, one after another, rose and extolled the supposed the compatibility between the Kingdom of Christ and the politics of the Communist state.

Finally, Sabina tuned to her husband and said, “Richard, stand up and wash away this shame from the face of Christ.”

He replied, “If I speak, you will lose your husband”, reminding her of the high cost of defying the Soviets.

With that, Sabina issued him a firm challenge: “I do not wish to have a coward for a husband.”

“Then I arose”, Wurmbrand recounted in his book “Tortured for Christ”, “and spoke to the congress, praising not the murderers of Christians, but Christ and God and said that our loyalty is due first to Him” (15-16).

The brave minister was promptly put on a list and, three years later, arrested and imprisoned.

Wurmbrand and McCain spent three and two years, respectively, of their time incarcerated in solitary confinement.

To keep from losing their sanity, both men passed the days by writing, using the only means available to them: their minds.

“I used to write books and plays, McCain recalled, “but I doubt that any of them would have been above the level of the cheapest dime novel.”

Wurmbrand composed sermons, explaining, “Every night I delivered a sermon. There was no visible audience, but I preached to God. I preached to the angels.”

Though perhaps even worse than the isolation was the physical abuse.

The atrocities visited upon Wurmbrand and other believers in the Communist prisons have to be read to be believed:

Christians were put in ice-box “refrigerator cells” which were so cold, frost and ice covered the inside. I was thrown into one with very little clothing on. Prison doctors would watch through an opening until they saw symptoms of freezing to death, then they would give a warning and guards would rush in to take us out and make us warm. When we were finally warmed, we would immediately be put back in the ice-box cells to freeze—over and over again! Thawing out, then freezing to within just one minute or two of death, then being thawed out again. It continued endlessly. Even today sometimes I can’t bear to open a refrigerator (36-37)

Writing of his own tortuous experiences, McCain said, “I had been reduced to an animal during this period of beating and torture”, at one point enduring a succession of beatings by various prison guards every few hours for days until finally agreeing to write a confession of guilt.

Yet for all the similarities between their stories, the greatest point of divergence is reflected in how they reacted to the very people who caused them such misery.

In a first person account of his captivity, written in 1973, the language McCain used to describe his prison guards spoke to a fresh wound seeping anger and resentment.

“I hate and detest the leaders”, he wrote, a sentiment he echoed in 2000, saying, “I hate the gooks. I will hate them as long as I live.”

While a professing Christian who prayed and knew the Scriptures, the grace to forgive his tormentors eluded the elderly statesman.

In the starkest of contrasts, even while still imprisoned, Wurmbrand and many of his fellow Christian inmates prayed for and desired the salvation of their captors:

In the jailors who whipped us we saw the possibilities of the jailor of Philippi who first whipped St Paul and then became a convert…It was in prison that we found hope for the communists, that they will be saved. It was there that we developed a sense of responsibility toward them. It was in being tortured by them that we learned to love them. (60)

My point here is not to condemn John McCain. I can only thank God I have never suffered a fraction of what he did.

Yet, here we see the clear differences between the politics of the kingdoms of world and the politics of the Kingdom of Jesus.

John McCain went to Vietnam to kill his enemies on behalf of his country.

  • Richard Wurmbrand went to prison with a vision of giving to his enemies life through the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

John McCain swore himself to hate, resentment, and unforgiveness towards his enemies who made his life a living hell while in captivity.

  • Richard Wurmbrand, by God’s power, was given a supernatural love for his enemies in the very face of their cruelty.

John McCain had an unflagging vision to protect, spread, and preserve the principles of his country, the United States of America, above all others.

  • In solitary confinement, Richard Wurmbrand prayed “for America, for Britain, for Africa, for Australia, for New Zealand, [for] Germany, [and] France”, for their churches and children, knowing “you [the Christians there] pass a good time of your night praying for the prisoners in Communist countries.”

This was a man who understood that the Kingdom of God, not any earthly nation or national principle, is the hope of mankind, and who toiled to make that hope known around the world until his death at ninety-one.

As radical disciples, we feel uncomfortable with the lionizing and romanticizing of war stories and nationalism, both of which fly in the face of our Lord Jesus’ teachings.

Therefore, when our sons and daughters look up and around for heroes to emulate, let us point them to men and women like Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand who embodied the Savior’s words in Matthew 5:11-12:

“God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.” 

Your Perfect Church Must Die: Learning to Love What You Have Been Given.

lunch table

The great irony in the search for Christian community centered around the Kingdom of Christ is how it so often leaves the searcher isolated, a spiritual wanderer without a place to lay his head.

While many successfully integrate into fellowships and denominations which have God’s Kingdom as their stated focus, others find themselves spiritually homeless, unable to settle in any particular congregation or tradition.

In truth, every wanderer has their own story, and the reasons for why they continue to wander, bounce, or refuse to congregate at all are as many and varied as they are. 

Some, through no fault of their own, live in areas where the array of available churches, much less Kingdom-focused churches, are less than abundant.

Others might otherwise congregate in non-Kingdom fellowships, but struggle with whether such a decision would amount to a compromise of faith.

Still others are bound by unrealistic expectations that give birth to shattered dreams and later die in a fit of cynicism, hurt, and despair.

Indeed, I hope that of all the reasons why you have not yet found “your” church family, you are not denying yourself such a privilege due to unrealistic expectations such as, for example, holding out for the perfect church. 

And what is the perfect church?

  • Naturally, such a congregation believes in the permanence of marriage, non-resistance, headcoverings, and the two-kingdoms doctrine.
  • Furthermore, they are active in sharing their faith and in discipling one another.
  • The members live close to each other and share large meals and laughs as often as they can.
  • Such a church has not grown cold or struggled to lift itself out of its spiritual ruts (as happens with all other churches).
  • All members participate in the full life of the Body and share the deepest parts of their lives with each other, absent fear of backstabbing or breach of confidence.
  • Fresh vegetables from the church garden fill the table during times of fellowship, as singles and marrieds share stories over fresh-baked bread, while the coos of newborns and the sounds of playful youth fill the air. 

Is this your idea of a perfect church? Maybe not. However, may I tell you a secret?

It is mine.

Yet, the greatest freedom in my life came when I laid down at the foot of the cross this dangerous dream which kept me from fully committing and enjoying the brothers and sisters God had put before me.

Denominations start, they grow, they plateau, and their members begin to crow for the “golden days” (which they did not even consider so golden when they were living them).

The same is true with all churches, no exceptions.

This is not a cause for despair, but a call to a determined realism.

“Realism” because the reality is that no church, tradition, or denomination has ever been everything its members wanted or needed, whether concerning biblical principles, our human psycho-social needs, or simple personal preferences. 

And “determined” because we are convinced that recognizing such a fact will free us to enjoy the imperfect, struggling, frustrating, but altogether beautiful, hope-filled, and redeemed communities of Christ that surround us, while acknowledging our ultimate hunger and thirst is not filled by even the best of Christ’s churches, but in Christ.  

grayscale photo of the crucifix

Christians, Muslims, and Gospel-Centered Friendships: An Interview with Dr. David Shenk

shenk photo

As the global consultant for Eastern Mennonite Missions, Dr. David Shenk is a Mennonite and missionary with a passion for reaching Muslims with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Dr. Shenk has written, co-written, and contributed to several books on the subject of Christianity and Islam, including his award-winning book “Christian. Muslim. Friend: Twelve Paths to Real Relationship”, published in 2014.

As Kingdom Christians look outward to the nations hungry for the life-giving word of Jesus Christ, we appreciate Dr. Shenk for taking the time share his wisdom on how we can form friendships with Muslims and, in the process, be faithful and true witnesses of Jesus Christ.

Dr. Shenk, can you explain to our readers how you became involved in outreach and evangelism among Muslims?

My parents were pioneer missionaries in Tanzania among the Zanaki people. Bumangi was the name of their village. Illiteracy was 100%. I saw the Gospel touch people and I saw the Holy Spirit calling forth a redeemed people. My mission commitment was formed growing up within that missions experience. However, there were no Muslims living in our community. It was only many years later that I came in touch with Muslims; Eastern Africa was becoming mostly Christian.

However, when I was about six years old the Holy Spirit called me to follow Jesus.. By the time I was a teenager the call of God for missions was very clear. I built on that commitment, and in fact postponed marriage until my friend whom I was dating carried the same calling for missionary commitment that I carried.

Shortly after our marriage, Merlin Grove, who was director of Mennonite missions in Somalia, was martyred. God used his death to call us to Somalia and to the Muslim people. I knew that the man who pulled the knife did not know the love of God in Christ. So within a year of Merlin’s death our family of four was headed to Somalia for a four year term. We knew this was God’s appointment.

My introduction to your work was through your debates with Muslim apologist and scholar Shabir Ally (in which I took note of your irenic, non-combative approach to debating). How does a focus on the Kingdom of God shape both the issues we debate and how we debate?

The first day in Mogadishu I was invited to drink tea in the late evening. The conversation revealed that we could not serve in Somalia if we were not at peace with the people among whom we served. The first question the fellows asked around that tea table was, “Why did you come? If it is to convert us, go to the Hindus, but do not come to us as missionaries. We already know about God.

That evening I learned that I needed to earn the right to live and minister among the Somalis. After that evening I determined to earn my authority as a witness for Jesus by listening and firmly and gently share the good news of Jesus. And the questions about Jesus were everywhere. I did not need to invent reasons to share about Jesus. – everyone was curious about Jesus.

You talk in your book “Christian. Muslim. Friend.” about cultivating “real friendship” between Christians and Muslims. What is the difference between real friendship and “12 steps to get your Muslim friend to visit your church.” Or is there a difference?

I have just been in Uganda to celebrate with the university the publication of the Dialogue which was published forty years ago. Badru and I were the invited guests. A thousand people, mostly academics, were present to hear the two of us speak of our friendship. That is why people came. Not to hear Shenk and Badru but rather to observe our friendship.

Badru talked about the essence of peacemaking being tolerance and dialogue. I responded asking whether we should commit to truth, not just tolerance. I said that there is a Man standing within the hundreds present, and if we listen we will hear him say follow me! Who is that Man. Many years ago he also called me and I said yes to that call. In my dialogues with Badru you will hear me bearing witness that I have said yes to the call of that Man and so I am here to bear witness that I am his follower. From that moment our conversations were not just with one another – Jesus was also present.

Now I cannot arrange such dialogues; they come as surprises orchestrated by the Holy Spirit. These kinds of encounters come my way occasionally. Jesus needs witnesses. He does not need defenders. He is his own best defender. But he does need witnesses. I am one of those witnesses. Jesus does not need people who try to prove him, but he does need witnesses . I assure Muslims that I am not here to prove Jesus; I am here to witness. Jesus has called me and I am therefore his witness.

What are some of the most common misconceptions Christians have about Islam/Muslims. What misconceptions to Muslims have about Christians/Christianity?

There are four questions every Muslim has about the Christian faith. Each question is rooted in a misconception. We must answer each of those questions if we expect a Muslim to consider the Christian faith. These are the questions:

1) What do you mean when you say that Jesus is the Son of God?

2 ) What do you mean by Trinity?  

3) Have Christians changed and distorted their scriptures? 

4) How could Jesus who is the Messiah be crucified?

And, sometimes, what do you think of Muhammad?

On the Christian side, the overwhelming question is about terrorism. Every church and synagogue I enter has that question as the top question. Muslims must answer that question satisfactorily if they expect Christians to consider Islam.

The Internet is a blessing and a curse for those wanting to learn about other belief systems, including Islam. Where can a Christian begin to get accurate information about the diverse religion that is Islam?

Read my books. I am serious about that. I have written four books exactly on the question of what is Islam. The “Dialogue” is the first book to read. That describes the Muslim and the Christian faith. Then read the other three books in the “Christian Meeting Muslims.”

First, “Journeys of the Muslim Nation and the Christian Church”. This carefully describes Muslim missionary theology compared to the Christian missions theology .

Then a must reading is the story of Ahmed Haile, Teatime in Mogadishu.

Finally the book on friendships. Each book can be summarized in a word: Dialogue; Witness; Peacemaking; friendship.

I have other books you might consider as well. For example, I have written a thirty hour video series on Islam. That is now being used across central Asia. Then there is a Bible study series written for Muslims. This study has been used in hundreds of Muslim homes.

What excites you about Christian work being done by Anabaptists/Mennonites to reach Muslims with the Gospel? What is left to be done?

The whole Muslim world is troubled by the many expressions of violence within the Muslim Umma [community]. The Anabaptist witness to the peace of Jesus is remarkably good news. Everywhere I go I introduce myself as an emissary of Jesus who is the prince of peace. The doors are never closed to that witness. As far as I can remember in my forty some years of bearing witness to Jesus and his peace, the door is always open and the invitation is always there to share the good news of Jesus.

Are there any general tips or guidelines one should keep in mind with sharing the Gospel with Muslims?

In Revelation 3 we have the promise that Jesus will open the door that can never be closed. The passage then describes the qualities of the church for whom Jesus is opening the door. Those qualities are: doing good deeds; commitment to the scriptures; acceptance of suffering; witnesses for Jesus; patience. These churches also keep their identity to Christ and to the church clear. These qualities enable Jesus to open doors! (Revelation 3:7-12)

If one of our readers feels a burden for doing ministry in an Islamic context, what advice would your give them to go about discerning this call and where they might be most effective?

The best way to test your calling for Muslim ministry is to become acquainted with Muslims and develop friendships. Every Christian needs a Muslim friend and every Muslim needs a Christian friend. It would be great to begin to learn Arabic. That would open doors! Invite a Muslim friend into your home. Hang out with Muslims in the teashops where they hang out. Get acquainted with Muslims. The overwhelming value in Islam is hospitality. Receive and extend hospitality with Muslims.

Four thousand years ago something terrible happened in the home of Abraham. Hospitality was denied to Ishmael and Hagar. The tragedy of that separation has never gone away. Every year in the pilgrimage

The pilgrims enact the account of Hagar looking for water for her son and the angel miraculously redeems Ishmael from death. As a Christian and Anabaptist community we are called to restore the ostracism of Ishmael. We offer the hospitality to Ishmael that was denied in the tragic day 3,500 years ago when Abraham sent Ishmael away into the desert

Pray that Ishmael may indeed be saved! (Genesis 21:8-21)

“God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, What is the matter Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy

up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation. Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer.” (Genesis 21:17-20)

 

Christianity and Politics: An Interview with Dr. Christopher Petruzzi

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Dr. Christopher Petruzzi is professor emeritus at California State University, Fullerton’s Mihaylo School of Business and Economics (having served as assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and at New York University’s Stern School).

In his book “Christianity and Politics: The Attempted Seduction of the Bride of Christ”, Dr. Petruzzi makes the case that the way of Christ stands opposite the way of worldly politics. Bringing in his unique insights as a PhD in economics, Dr. Petruzzi’s book is a great resource for those wishing to go deeper into why Christians ought to reject the siren song of politics in favor of charity, evangelism, and living lives transformed by the Holy Spirit.

Dr. Petruzzi, how does an economist and Evangelical Presbyterian come to write a book about the danger of mixing Christianity and politics, and how did your religious and professional backgrounds help equip you to tackle such a difficult subject?

While I was raised as a Presbyterian and even belonged to a Presbyterian church a few years ago, I am not now a Presbyterian. I am part of Mariners Church which is an evangelical church in Orange County, California.

I became interested in politics and government in my early teen years. In college I became more interested in the economics of government and how that related to property rights and market solutions to economic problems. I was the president of my college’s club of libertarian political economists.

The free- market orientation of economists at the University of Chicago was part of why I picked that university for graduate school, and when my advisor, Arthur Laffer, left Chicago to teach at the University of Southern California I went with him to finish my PhD there. That background left me with the perspective that political solutions to social problems all involved changes in (broadly defined) property rights. They take rights away from some parties while giving them to others.

When, at the age of 39, I became a born-again Christian it became apparent to me that following Christ was not about seeking to change property rights.

The tagline of your book is “The Attempted Seduction of the Bride of Christ.” What is it about the prospect of political power that is so seductive to Christ’s Church What happens when the Church succumbs to political seduction?

People often think of politics as the way to get things done. Prior to the crucifixion even Jesus’ disciples thought that Jesus would take over the worldly government of Israel to bring about his kingdom. They did not understand that Jesus was doing much more than that. He offered a way to change the behavior of people by bringing them into a spiritual kingdom. More important, he offered a way for people to enter into a new relationship with God.

Islam is based on changing people’s behavior by the political solution of a theocracy which forces obedience. That is a substitute for God’s direct rule over their lives. It makes the state into an idol. When Christians become seduced by politics they are following that same false idol and, consequently, rejecting Jesus.

What is the most common objection you hear to the view of Christianity and politics you propose in your book and how do you answer it?

The common objection is that Christians should change the world and that politics is the best way to do that.

I agree that Christians should seek to change the world, but trying to do so through politics leads to failure. The only way that we can genuinely change the world is by leading people to Christ and letting the Holy Spirit change the hearts of men. That needs to be done one person at a time, by witnessing, showing charity, and making ourselves good examples.

While that it may not be the quick and easy solution that people want, it is the only solution that works. Fortunately, as Jesus told us you will find rest for your souls for my yoke is easy and my burden is light”.

Many say that by declining to participate in worldly politics, we refuse to be part of the discussion. If issues such as health care, environmental protection, and religious liberty, for example, are decided in the political arena, isn’t it negligent to not let our voices as Christians be heard?

Most of the private hospitals in the US were started by Christian organizations, and through charitable endeavors like those, we have been an important part of health care. We should continue providing health care to the needy. Political solutions, however, are about forcing other people to spend their own money to provide health care to the needy. That is not a Christian cause.

Each Christian should do his own part on protecting the environment, including little tasks like picking up trash that has been left by other people, and I support courts holding polluters liable for the damages they cause. While they are important, environmental issues are not what I would call Christian issues. Just because an issue has importance and even involves justice, does not make it a Christian issue.

For example, think about Luke 12:13. When a listener asked Jesus to tell his brother to make what was presumably a just division of an inheritance, Jesus said that was not his business. In a similar ways some other issues which involve justice are not our business.

On a similar note, scientific issues are not Christian issues. Global warming and what causes it are scientific issues, and we should leave those to science. There is no Christian position about what causes global warming.

Courts have upheld religious liberty in the US, so that should not be an issue here.

What makes Christian charity a superior more efficient form of charity than government charity, in your view?

That relates to my answer (above) about health care as well as other issues of charity.

First of all, a political solution which forces people to pay for health care or other benefits for the poor does not help the souls of the people who pay or the souls of the people who receive those benefits. The payers just see it as one more tax. They do all they can to avoid the tax, and many resent being forced to pay for the benefits of other people. The recipients see it as an opportunity to get something from the government. Since they know that the people who paid for that benefit were forced to do so, there is no reason for them to feel grateful.

By contrast, Christians who freely give to charity know that they are being obedient to God, and this enhances the Holy Spirit who dwells within them. Similarly, the recipients of Christian charity know that people gave to them out of love. That makes the gift something special to them.

In addition to these spiritual advantages of Christian charity over public benefits, there is a practical side. Taxpayers arrange their affairs to avoid taxes in every way that is legal. That has social costs which do not exist for charitable giving.

Recipients of public benefits arrange their affairs to qualify for more benefits, and that has even greater social costs. For example illegitimacy rates among the poor soared after the creation of the federal program AFDC which provided cash benefits based on number of dependent children in poor households.

Finally, there is the cost of administration which is more expensive for public benefits due to the many rules which are necessary to prevent the system from being exploited.

You seem to think that legislation is not the best way to change behavior, but if laws allowing no-fault divorce and same-sex marriage, for example, influence public morality and normalize certain forms of behavior, could not opposite forms of legislation influence the public morality of the nation in a more Christian direction?

At the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, Roman law and the morality of unbelievers was far worse than anything we see in the US today. What Christians would call bad behavior was normal. People enjoyed watching other human beings being tortured to death in the public arenas. Slave owners could force their slaves to have sex with them. Nonetheless, over the next 280 years, the number of believers grew from about 3,000 on the day of Pentecost to (by my best estimate) more than half the population of the Roman Empire.

Christians changed public morality over this period. Their contrast with the behavior of non-Christians may have been part of why people changed from pagan ways. They changed from their pagan beliefs even though that change sometimes brought the death penalty. If the behavior of unbelievers becomes worse in modern times, it will only make the contrast with Christianity more apparent, and that may help bring more people to Christ.

An outward appearance of moral behavior is enforced in the one fifth of the world that follows Islam. That outward appearance does not bring people closer to Christ, and it might keep them away from him.

In chapter 10 of your book, you write, “while the Bible states that those who bless the children of Israel will themselves be blessed, this does not mean unconditional support for the secular state of Israel” (133). How should Christians approach U.S. policy towards the Israeli State (one thinks of the recent move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, celebrated by many Conservative Evangelicals, for example)?

Other than using the courts to further our rights to worship and witness (as was done by Paul in the Roman Empire and by modern Christians in the US) Christians should not try to influence government policies. Many Christians have let the State of Israel and Jerusalem become idols. We should explain their errors to those Christians with love using the Bible along with historical and scientific facts.

In your own life, how receptive have you found people to your view of Christianity and its relation to politics?

Most Christians do not like this viewpoint. I think that there are a couple reasons for that. Many Christians do not agree with me that Jesus’ words in his Sermon on the Mount apply to us today. They also do not agree with me that while we are in the world, Christians are not part of the world. Politics is part of the world, and I suspect that some Christians want to hang on to that part.

When I myself gave up participation in worldly politics, I was left thinking, “now what do I do?” What do you advise someone in a similar situation, having been convinced to reject the politics of the world and now wondering what he should do to make a positive change?

Worldly politics is an idol, and people make idols of their political leaders. Those leaders, however, will not save them and, for the most part, are not going to make the world a better place. Jesus the Christ is the one and only leader whom we can trust. We cannot be divided on that. Jesus does not want half of our allegiance, or even most of our allegiance. He wants it all.

Christians had a great historical success in making the world a better place, but that success did not come from our involvement in politics. In fact, the involvement in politics hindered Christian success. Our success was through witnessing, charity, and making ourselves good examples. The Holy Spirit helped us with that.

My advice to Christians seeking to make a positive change is to step away from the world, and obey God. We can trust Him.

What are you up to these days? Any new projects on the horizon?

I am working on some academic articles that develop concepts from my book to explain how and why government works the way it does.

I am also continuing with the project on Christian group living which I started a few years ago.

I also have some projects involving innovations in business.

Kingdom Journey: Steve and Stephanie Jordan

The Kingdom Journey Series shares how Christians with roots in the Restoration Movement came to embrace Kingdom Christianity.

Name: Steve and Steph Jordan |Location: Ohio | Rest. Mov. Roots: International Churches of Christ

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1.) Brother and Sister Jordan, tell us a little about yourselves?

We have been married for eighteen years and have five amazing kids whom we homeschool. As far as work, we have a vending machine business and our blessed that I (Steve) can now work from home as an accountant. We have lived in Ohio/Northern Kentucky most of our lives, apart from a short stint in Arizona.

2.) When did you both come to follow Jesus?

We were converted in the International Church of Christ in 1996 (Steve) and 1997 (Steph) during which time we learned discipleship and the basics of the gospel.

3.) Can you explain your background and involvement in the International Churches of Christ?

Once converted, like many others, we were in leadership pretty quickly, eventually going on full-time ministry staff. We also started a chemical recovery ministry given our background in drug/alcohol abuse.

We continued to serve on staff for several years before leaving in 2002-03 in the months after the reorganization caused by the Henry Kriete letter. We homeschooled with many folks from the ICOC, and maintain many of those relationships to this day.

In recent years, we have been back in fellowship to a degree with people in the ICOC, though we do not commune with them. They respect us and our convictions, and are somewhat humble in many respects regarding our convictions, as most of them are unfamiliar with Kingdom-centered convictions.

4.) How did you become interested in a more “radical”, Kingdom focused Christianity? What does that journey look like?

We read David Bercot’s books (Finny Kuruvilla’s book “King Jesus Claims His Church” was helpful, as well), but at that time were busy growing churches. After we left the ICOC, I (Steve) worked for a Christian Church and we helped form a church plant with a team of people. The church is doing well by American Evangelical standards, as we had not yet embraced Kingdom teaching when we worked with them.

Jesus being the head of the church in truth and reality, not just in word, has become very important to us. Particularly, the handling of communion is the best indicator we have seen as to this headship issue, for if a church treats communion flippantly, it is a warning sign that the Head is missing.

It has been a process for us, doing various house churches through the years on and off and seeing the fruit in the churches we have known through the years, etc.

5.) What have been some of the difficulties along the way?

Having three of our kids in the middle of their formative years exposed to Evangelical churches, and seeing the need to move towards more grounded groups has been very challenging. As Paul says, marriage divides our interests. We want relationships for our kids, but struggle knowing the cost of those relationships is a compromise in holiness and, frankly, numbers of people, as Kingdom-minded folk are scattered and relatively scarce.

We do not want to go from lawless Christianity to rules-based holiness with our kids. They will have to sift through a lot just to see God.

6.) How does Kingdom-centered Christianity play out practically in a marriage? What advice can you give to young couples who may be on the same journey as you and your wife were?

The sooner you get the King to be the head of your home, the better. There is nothing like taking communion as a couple, and having accountability before partaking keeps the throne in its rightful place!

7.) What can conservative Anabaptists learn from the Restoration Movement and vice versa?

When I (Steve) think of the Restoration Movement, I think of a very incomplete restoration. Establishing, the preeminence of Scripture (at least in theory) and dismissing associations and societies overseeing church bodies was huge, but much has been left undone and holiness has been sacrificed on the altar of “being relatable.”

“You shall know them by their fruits”, Jesus said.

Traditional Church of Christ circles resemble the Anabaptists (mostly) with their rules and piety, but still only just so. Even (especially) in the ICOC, worldliness abounds and persists.

The Anabaptists, however, are shackled by rules that stifle growth. Both Anabaptists and Restoration Churches would do well to abandon group-think and come together in humility to learn from each other.

8.) What church do you attend currently?

We are in a rather nauseous state of flux in the ICOC Cincinnati, OH. We are strongly considering starting a fellowship here just north of Kings Island Amusement Park where we live.

9.) What encouragement would you give to a reader in a Restoration Movement church who is going through a “Kingdom awakening” of their own?

Live outside the box!

Do not forget Revelation and the book of Acts – as well as Matthew and Jesus’s teachings towards the Pharisees. Revelation has warnings that are best to heed when considering worldliness, and the book of Acts has convictions for those who are comfortable in their piety. The reliance on the Holy Spirit in Acts prompted many radical things to happen, from gentile conversion to jail breaks.

You don’t get to witness God if you are in a church where programming is the thrust, and sermons and staff are the Head.

Beware of the allure of prosperity in the U.S. and other first world countries.

10.) Finally, what is on your bookshelf or what are you reading currently ?

On books, there are too many to list…Law, Ravenhill, Richardson, Finney, among others… The first two volumes in particular of the Ante-Nicene Fathers.

Elliot Nesch’s Sermon on the Mount commentary.

Some books on the holocaust, and a couple other books for my (Steve) profession and entertainment.

11.) Anything else you would like to add?

I (Steve) am a studier of people, and am very interested in sociology and in what people are doing in regards to their journeys.

Please pray for us as we consider our next steps. And those who have current fellowships, please be humble. Other people have probably walked your steps before, and you would do well to heed their advice. The book of Proverbs says as much for a reason!

Thank you for your time and prayers.

The Life and Legacy of David Lipscomb: An Interview with Dr. John Mark Hicks

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Dr. John Mark Hicks is Professor of Theology at Lipscomb University, having taught in institutions affiliated with Churches of Christ for thirty-six years (you can read more about his bio here). In 2006, Dr. Hicks co-wrote the book “Kingdom Come: Embracing the Spiritual Legacy of David Lipscomb and James Harding.”

David Lipscomb’s work “Civil Government” continues to inspire Christians to look past the kingdoms of the world to the Kingdom of God as the solution to humanity’s problems. We thank Dr. Hicks for agreeing to be interviewed on life and legacy of David Lipscomb.

Dr. Hicks, for those unfamiliar with David Lipscomb, can you give us a brief sketch of who he is and how contemporary historians of the Restoration Movement have appraised his impact on the Movement?

David Lipscomb (1831-1917) was born in Tennessee, and he was educated, farmed, and ministered in the area around Nashville, Tennessee for practically all his life. He is recognized as the most significant thought leader among southern Churches of Christ in the post-Civil War era, even into the 20th century.

While all would agree he was a significant figure in the separation of Churches of Christ from the Christian Church due to his opposition to instrumental music in the Christian assembly and the centralization of money and power in missionary societies, among Churches of Christ he is often viewed as a moderate. He did not embrace some of the right-wing perspectives that characterized publications such as the Firm Foundation in Texas. For example, he opposed the practice of reimmersing those who had been previously immersed upon a confession of faith in Jesus simply because they did not understand baptism as the moment when God saved them. Doing what God said because God said to do it was a sufficient motive for faithful obedience, according to Lipscomb.

From the perspective of the Disciples of Christ, Lipscomb is a radical right-winger. From within Churches of Christ, he is a moderate. In fact, if the Disciples had never moved toward higher criticism, the introduction of women preachers, and ecumenicism, Lipscomb would probably have never been as strong on separation from the Christian Church. In other words, while disagreements would still exist, I imagine Lipscomb and contemporary Christian Churches/Churches of Christ would have found some common ground and mutual respect as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Many of our readers will be familiar with Lipscomb’s work “On Civil Government” , which first appeared in the Gospel Advocate magazine which Lipscomb edited and which argued for a strict separation between the people of the Kingdom of God (the Church) and the politics of the kingdoms of the world. How was that work received in Lipscomb’s time? When did his non-participation, non-violence view begin to wane among the Churches of Christ?

Lipsbomb did not originate this position. It was held by a significant number of people in Middle Tennessee at the outbreak of the Civil War, and Tolbert Fanning (1810-1874) advocated it a dozen years before the Civil War at least.

In 1866 Lipscomb published a series of articles articulating his position, and those articles ultimately became the book Civil Government (published in 1889).

The articles and book created considerable controversy. It is difficult to judge percentages, but it appears it was a dominant position in Middle Tennessee but it was not as well received elsewhere. Some suggest that it was a strong minority at the time of World War I, perhaps even a slight majority. I don’t think we can really know exactly.

His view began to wane among Churches of Christ in the 1920s-1930s. World War I began the demise, and as some power brokers within Churches of Christ moved to isolate premillennialists among them, it declined further because his view of civil government was closely linked to an apocalyptic vision of world history (and many added premillennialism to that vision, such as James A. Harding). Ultimately, World War II was the death of this vision of life as the vast majority within Churches of Christ embraced patriotism and nationalism (much as what happened among Northern Christian Churches at the outbreak of the Civil War).

The plethora of responses by Restoration Movement Christians to the plight of the enslaved Africans on American soil, especially in the time surrounding the Civil War, is both fascinating and frustrating. Alexander Campbell seemed to take a moderating view that stressed unity. How did Lipscomb’s view on the institution of slavery compare with Campbell’s?

Yes, Alexander Campbell was a gradualist, that is, he believed the evils of slavery would gradually disappear over time as the nation came to its moral senses, and he did not think slavery should divide churches because it was, in his view, morally sanctioned in some form by the New Testament. Campbell hoped and believed that slavery would disappear in the South just as it had in New England, given enough time and due moral diligence.

Lipscomb held a similar view as Campbell. However, he did regard slavery as a great evil because of the way the slaves were treated and he believed God, in his providence, would find a release for the slaves. Indeed, Lipscomb believed the Civil War was for the purpose of punishing the south for its treatment of the slaves as well as freeing them. At bottom, Lipscomb did not believe in violent revolution, and though Fanning and others were known to buy and free slaves (when freeing them was costly and difficult), Lipscomb submitted to the government as he thought Scripture demanded but worked for the humane treatment of slaves and expected its ultimate dissolution.

You co-wrote a book on David Lipscomb in 2006. And those familiar with your online writings know how Lipscomb, Tolbert Fanning, and James Harding have captured your attention. What is it about these men that fascinates, inspires, and challenges you?

Well, first of all, they are my family of origins as a minister among Churches of Christ. They shaped my family in significant ways. In order to understand myself, I need to understand them. We don’t know who we are unless we know where we have come from and how that has shaped how we think and act in the present.

More than that, however, I find their passion for evangelism, the poor, and critique of government fascinating. They advocated living simply, giving generously, and dedicating their energy toward kingdom-building rather than political and economic power. Their sense of the priesthood of all believers (every Christian is a teacher, missionary, etc.) is powerful, and their sense that the local church is the frontline of the kingdom of God in the world inspires me to focus my attention there. The church truly is, for them, a community that bears witness to others by its own life and practices.

The challenging dimension is holding together the tension between kingdom of God and the desire to bear witness to justice and peace in the world. To what extent is political action necessary if we are going to bear witness to justice? Lipscomb himself favored labor over the business tycoons of the late 19th century; he was a progressive era unionist, even sometimes bordering on a socialist communal agenda without, of course, involving himself in politics themselves. What would Lipscomb have done with the Civil Rights Movement? I think he might have marched (given the changing times) and supported the movement, but to what extent would he have seen the necessity of political action in the legislatures and voting. Probably, I imagine, he would have left that to God though he would have been a voice for humane treatment of people in their social relations and in churches.

Lipscomb obviously was not in favor of Christians taking over the legislature to, for example, “take the country back for God.” Many of us who think similarly are often met with the charge that we believe Christians should “sit back and do nothing.” How would Lipscomb have responded to such a claim?

 

It is difficult to know exactly what Lipscomb would have done in our contemporary context.

In his own context, he welcomed laws that supported morality though he neither voted for them nor antagonized for those laws. When there are good laws, he is happy to obey them. When there are bad laws, as long as they do not subvert the gospel in any way, he still obeys them.

Civil disobedience is on the table for Lipscomb, though it is difficult to discern when he would actually use such except in extreme circumstances where the law explicitly contradicts the will of God.

He also used his voice to protest war (e.g., Spanish-American War), denounce commercial greed, and advocate for labor. In the Jim Crow south, you do not see him, however, confronting the evil and calling for change, though it is clear he did not agree with Jim Crow laws. One sees this in the context of the church, for example, where there should be no difference between Black and White in the community of faith. Lipscomb opposed the Jim Crow process of segregation that shaped the South in the 1870s-1890s, and it was basically complete by the 1900s.

I don’t think Lipscomb would say, “sit back and do nothing.” He would probably say, “preach the gospel, live as disciples, and bear witness to justice and peace in nonviolent ways.”

Hypothetical scenario: I’m sitting in a Church of Christ and have come to believe Lipscomb, Harding, and Fanning were on to something, especially as it relates to the Christian’s relation to government and war. Now I am wondering if there’s a place for me in the Churches of Christ. What is your advice for such a person for whom the teachings of the leaders of the past are clashing with the realities of present teachings and trends?

I hope there is a place because that is where I sit! There is a persistent stream of thought from Stone and Fanning through Lipscomb and Harding to the present. Pacifism never died out among Churches of Christ, though it was overwhelmed at times. Our heritage has this resource, and we should retrieve for the present, especially in the light of current realities.

However, one must sit with grace, patience, and persistence. Speak when there is opportunity, live peaceably with people, model how to resist evil with good rather than evil, etc.

I imagine Jesus himself had to wonder whether he could endure remaining among his own disciples who wanted to burn cities rather than liberate them. This is part of suffering with Christ and completing the ministry of Christ in our time.

How can we allow the example of David Lipscomb to continue to challenge us in the present day?

The pressures surrounding the Civil War were intense. It is difficult for us to imagine. But suppose someone said (as some did) in the aftermath of 9/11, that our task is peacemaking rather than warmongering. Suppose someone might say, it is just for us to fight back and make war on the Taliban because of what they did to us. It serves justice and freedom.

I imagine Lispcomb heard the same thing in Middle Tennessee from both northern and southern politicos. Each could make their own case. Each employed a “just war” strategy. Lipscomb and others were under tremendous pressure to conform and pick sides and go to war. Some of Lipscomb’s cousins, classmates, teachers, and fellow-students went to war, and some from each of those categories I just listed died. The cultural pressure must have been enormous.

 

Nevertheless, Lipscomb refused to conform, and he decided for the kingdom of Christ instead of the human kingdoms.

That challenges me. Could I have done that? What would I have done? What should I do now?

Yes, Lipscomb continues to challenge me.

Kingdom Journey: Ted Hake (Part 2)

The Kingdom Journey Series shares how Christians with roots in the Restoration Movement came to embrace Kingdom Christianity.

Name: Ted H. | Age: 67  | Location: Culver, Oregon  | Rest. Mov. Roots: Disciples of Christ

16807701_10212050432718439_7022158697155664650_nRead part one of this interview here.

4.) How did you become interested in a more “radical”, Kingdom focused Christianity? 

So part of our journey was sudden, but much of it has been gradual: seeking our Lord through reading and studying His Word, having times of prayer, and seeking His will for us – what He would have us do regardless of what we want.

There were times growing up where I would have questions. And, of course, the church has changed much from what it was like when I grew up in it. We have visited a few Christian Churches over the years. I believe the members are very sincere in their faith. It just doesn’t feel like “home” anymore.

5.) What have been some of the difficulties along the way?

There were just a few times people seemed to think we were maybe “putting on airs.” After all, they knew us before! We weren’t perfect. We still aren’t perfect – but we are allowing God to perfect us.

We believe strongly in a few things that are different from the way either of us were raised:

That we should honor the Lords day by not working or cause others to work.

We are to dress – and act – modestly. And as far as we are able to live our lives beyond reproach.

That divorce and remarriage is wrong in God’s sight.

That we are to be non-resistant in life; not taking people to court, not voting, not fighting with others, and to obey authorities in the government and church as long as it does not conflict with Scripture.

That the Christian women’s prayer veiling is for today

Our beliefs here have caused some friction in our families and friendships.

6.) Can you explain how Kingdom-centered Christianity has played out practically in your marriage?

I shared above that I was very much backslidden when I met my wife. We married when I was working as a logger in Forks, WA. I know if I had died in that state of not walking with God I would have had nothing but eternal condemnation.

We met and had a long distance relationship for barely 6 months before we married – I drove from Forks, WA to Lebanon, OR on weekends to see her at her parents’ house. In other words, we hardly knew each other.

If I had not come back to the Lord, and we had not given our marriage over to God, I very much doubt we would be married today. I recommend no one gets married under these circumstances. Kingdom-centered Christianity plays out in every day of our marriage in forgiveness, non-resistance, submission, love, putting the other first, and many other Kingdom attributes necessary for marriages

7. ) What can conservative Anabaptists learn from the Restoration Movement and vice versa?

I believe conservative Anabaptists could learn from the Restoration Movement not to place too much emphasis on outward appearance. I do believe outward appearance, like ritual, helps us to remember who we are–who we worship and whose we are–but our heart condition is essential to our faith!

I also believe conservative Anabaptists could learn to support their pastors more, not necessarily just financially, but by helping in the church more so the entire load doesn’t fall on the pastor’s shoulders.

The Restoration Movement, I believe, could learn of nonresistance from the Anabaptists. Accepting our lot from God, taking our lumps from the world, and trusting Him for our sustenance and safety. And also the idea of using the lot to allow God to choose pastors from the spiritually minded men of the congregation, rather than hiring pastors just based on a seminary degree.

8.) What church do you attend currently?

We attend, worship, and hold our membership at the Mennonite church near our home in central OR – Grace Christian Fellowship in Culver, Oregon. And since my work as an Agricultural Consultant takes me into different parts of Oregon, we occasionally worship at Sheridan Mennonite Church in Sheridan, Oregon, where we used to live before moving back to central Oregon.

9.) What encouragement would you give to a reader in a Restoration Movement church who is going through a “Kingdom awakening” of their own?

Read God’s inspired Word! Meditate on it. Pray, asking Him to help you apply His Word to your life!

10. Finally, what is on your book shelf or what are you reading currently (in Scripture or otherwise)?

It was my turn to teach the adult Sunday School class this quarter, which went through the book of Romans, so that was mostly what I have been reading. I also preached (I am not the pastor, but am asked occasionally to bring a message) through I Thessalonians and just recently concluded that series of messages.