For Universal Christian Unity, Sanctity, and Bravery…
The Church of Jesus Christ is facing an unprecedented rise in hostility and persecution in recent decades, coming from multiple quarters. That was brought home to me in an unforgettable fashion when I stared at the blood-soaked soil where 23 schoolgirls were slain by the Isis affiliated ADF in Uganda in June, or at the nearby scene where 18 schoolboys were burned to death in their dorm. Or when I recently met a young Afghani believer who told me he was baptized by none other than Werner Groenewald in Kabul. Werner, his children and local believers were slain by the Taliban on a Saturday afternoon in November 2014 – during a Bible Study – while his wife was serving at a hospital nearby. The South African family had apparently led multitudes to Christ for over twelve years in Afghanistan. Their story is available in book-form as the Tragedy in Kabul, written by (Dr.) Hannelie Groenewald.
Toward the end of my recently published book Ultimate Frontier – Meeting the Challenge of Islamic Dawa (available on Amazon and Goodreads), I offer fifteen points to galvanize our resolve for Christian sanctity, unity and bravery all around the world in the power of the Holy Spirit. It is now needed more than ever. Down here are twelve of those points.
Let us be wholeheartedly resolved…in all dependence on God’s grace and Spirit…
1. To read our Bibles like never before, as the Bible wants to be read: book by book, chapter by chapter, verse by verse, as God’s very Word to us. Whoever loves God wants to hear his voice (Ex. 19:4 ESV) above the cacophony of voices in the world today. Meditating on Scripture “day and night” (Ps. 1) will not only cause us to experience the power of silence again, but will transform our lives from the inside out, filling us with courage, hope and joy. Let us throw our stupid phones aside, and read Scripture as the early church did, focusing on the fourfold Gospel, then on Acts and the apostolic writings, with the entire Old Testament as its vital background and redemptive framework.
2. To observe much better habits of prayer, both privately and corporately with God’s people. Prayerlessness is practical atheism stemming from our inherited secular-materialist worldview of the Enlightenment. God wants to be reminded of his everlasting promises by the watchmen on Jerusalem’s walls (Is. 62:6-7). He wants to hear our voices and smell the aroma of our supplications, for he is able to do far more than we can pray or think. He will give good gifts, especially the Holy Spirit, to all who earnestly beg him in Jesus’ name (Luke 11:5-13). Let us pray the Lord’s Prayer daily before God’s throne, closing with the ancient kyrie eleison, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy… on me a sinner, on us your people, and on our entire human race, and saturate us with your holy presence.”
3. To return to the example of the Early Church, by passionately promoting the apostolic kerugma (cf. Acts 10:34-43 and I Cor. 15:1-11) and by joyfully obeying the Sermon on the Mount, as well as all the other commands of our Lord and his apostles. Let us remind ourselves daily, as they did, that all of life is a choice between life and death, or light and darkness, of that narrow path that leads to glory and the broad way leading to destruction. Let us hold on to the Apostolic and Nicene Creeds summarizing the earliest kerugma, and nourish our souls with the body and blood of our Lord in holy communion, eagerly anticipating the marriage supper of the Lamb.
4. To confess our faith without wavering. Let us seek to do so spontaneously, winsomely, and sincerely, relying not on ourselves but on the Holy Spirit speaking through us. Let us seek to live out the Great Commission, taking the Good News to all nations—for the “fields are white unto harvest.” Let us do so mindful how much damage hypocrisy has done to the church, walking wisely before a watching world (Col. 4:5-6). Let us pray for that gift of joyful fearlessness, as the very sign that “we have been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13), in glad anticipation that he shall soon appear like lightning flashing across the dark sky.
5. To follow Christ more closely than ever, by denying ourselves and by daily taking up our cross. Let us shun all narcissism and selfishness by our humble, selfless service, forgetting ourselves, thinking more of the needs of others than our own. Let us live like those who heard our Master’s call in the gospel, considering a life of humble service as the only one worth living, instead of wasting it by living for comfort, pleasure, and ease (Gal. 2:20). Let us be zealous in doing good to all, especially to the household of God, considering that giving even just a cup of water to the least of his disciples, is like giving it to Jesus (Matt. 25:31-46).
6. To pursue Christian virtue and godliness in this age, as Christ’s apostle taught us in Gal. 5:13-26. Let us pursue love in an age of loneliness, joy in an age of despair, peace in an age of turmoil, patience in an age of anger, kindness in an age of rudeness and indifference, goodness in an age of malice, faithfulness in an age of betrayal, gentleness in an age of arrogance, and self-control in an age of rampant addiction and rage. Let each of us remind ourselves that the Ten Commandments were given to protect my neighbour from me and my sin, and that love does the neighbour no harm. Let us resolve to make the parables of the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan the templates of Divine grace and love in our lives.
7. To love all God’s people, as those born of the Spirit, loved by the Father and redeemed by Christ (John 17 and I John 4:16-5:5). Let us passionately love the church-universal and local; the church-triumphant in glory, and the one down here, locked in battle with darkness still. Let us cherish the sound preaching of God’s Word, the loving fellowship of his saints, and the holy office of those watching over us. Let us strive to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, warning those who threaten to tear Christ’s body apart through sectarianism and a useless wrangling about words. Let us celebrate the beauty of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church with all the saints in love (Ephes. 3:14-21), until the morning star rises in our hearts.
8. To love all people, for the Son of God became man to offer up his life for the world; yes “he put on a body so that in the body he might find death, and blot it out” (Athanasius). For as death and corruption came through one man and spread to all, so the resurrection and eternal life came through one Man for all. For there is but one God and one Mediator between God and humankind—the man Christ Jesus—who died for us and rose again, desiring that none should perish, but that all should walk with him in truth and love. If he then so loved all humankind, how shall we, redeemed by his love, not follow in his footsteps and love them too!
9. Not to fear persecution for righteousness’ sake, for if we want to save our lives, we will lose them, but if we willingly lose them for Jesus’ sake, we shall save them (John 12:24-25). Let us appreciate anew how much in the Bible was written for the church suffering under the cross, cherishing those passages in the Psalms, the Gospel, and the Epistles calling us to patiently bear our cross for the Lord and his people’s sake. Let us remember those who are in prison as if we are there with them (Heb. 13:3) and shun all fear as the devil’s deadly snare (Is. 51:12-13), for no-one shall ever be able to separate us from Christ’s love.
10. To witness boldly against all oppression and injustice, both in our own communities and in the world. Let us do so as the Lord would have us do, without favouring any person, gender, nation, race, culture, class or creed (James 2:1-13). Let us follow in the footsteps of the Hebrew prophets and Jesus of Nazareth, doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God (Micah 6:8), knowing that peace shall never prevail where injustice or oppression are tolerated. Let us freely admit where Christians or Christianity have seriously failed in the past, while refusing to sell out our God-given inheritance out of sense of guilt.
11. To pursue courage and wisdom in politics, seeking to witness to the truth as Jesus did before Herod and Pilate, his apostles before the Sanhedrin and Paul before the Emperor. Let us refuse to use the so-called “separation between church and state,” or our fear for controversy, as an excuse for cowardice. Let us seek to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves, resisting the temptation to exercise influence through worldly power. Let us be grateful to be salt to the earth and light to the world to the glory of God, and nothing more, for our father Abraham was just a wandering Aramean (Deut. 26:5) and we are only pilgrims and strangers in this hostile world (I Pet. 1:1).
12. To long for our Lord’s appearance (I Thess. 4:13-18). Let us remind ourselves every day of the high calling by which we have been called, fulfilling our vows and duties out of reverence for Christ, never mind what office, location, or stage of life we may find ourselves in. Let us always be ready to render account for what we have done in the body (Luke 12:35-40), so that we may look with confidence to our King’s appearance, when he shall come to judge the world, and to make all things brilliantly new!
Finally, “let us always be watchful, firm in the faith, courageous and strong. And let all that we do, be done in love” (I Cor. 16:13-14). And let us remember that “unless a kernel of wheat falls to the soil and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies, it will bear much fruit” (John 12:24). Maranatha, come Lord Jesus!