That Interview: Day time television – who needs facts when you can have emotion instead?

The discussion of issues relating to transgenderism on a recent edition of This Morning, apart from marginalising the views of Christians and many other people of faith, trivialised a very complex and painful issue. The presenters gave the impression that ideas of sexual identity associated with transgenderism were by and large accepted by society. That is not the case. They also failed to acknowledge the medical risks of taking the transgender route.


Previous generations had a Gettysburg address or a “peace in our time” declaration. In our day, it seems that the ideological battle raging over gender identity risks being summed up by a few condescending moments on daytime television. Of course, I am exaggerating the importance and significance of Philip Schofield’s recent outburst on This Morning.

Given that it was awarded the Best Programme award by Transgender Awards it was hardly likely that any presenter on This Morning was likely to allow any kind of balanced presentation of transgenderism or any issues connected with it. Unsurprising then that Philip Schofield and Holly Willoughby should react in the way that they did, even to the extent of Schofield describing his guests’ views as “abhorrent” and “mediaeval”.

Betraying a lack of professionalism and ignoring any attempt to retain journalistic objectivity appear to do no harm to a presenter’s reputation on daytime television. Having said all of that, given Schofield’s co-presenter’s reaction to a guest maintaining that it was healthy for children to consume what they picked from their noses, it’s hard to know where real disgust and outrage begins and ends on This Morning.

For some of us, the spectacle of two Christians being treated in such an aggressive manner on television, isn’t pretty viewing. We can feel angry that our voice is not heard. That our views are treated in such a hostile and dismissive manner. And we can feel frightened – though most of us would not admit to it – that “they” are coming for us too. Or frightened at the thought of being ridiculed in a similar way in public.

This is probably the moment to remind ourselves that public ridicule is a very real risk for any follower of Jesus. Jesus warned His disciples that persecution and opposition awaited them, wherever they went. It is also an appropriate moment to remind ourselves that the opposition and sometimes discrimination that some Christians are currently facing in the UK, is nothing like the persecution that believers are facing in other parts of the world. We do need to keep a sense of perspective.

Nevertheless, apart from what might be seen as an attempt to bully Christians on air, there were some very disturbing factors in the This Morning broadcast referred to above.

Controversy

For a start, there was no acknowledgement that there is no consensus whatsoever in academic or medical circles or in society in general about transgenderism. Far from it. Just do a quick YouTube search for another ITV staple, Good Morning Britain. You don’t have to look too hard to find clips of Piers Morgan rubbishing the whole notion. I suppose Schofield would find Morgan’s views “abhorrent” and “mediaeval”. I can’t imagine that for one moment Morgan gives two hoots about what Schofield and Willoughby think of him or his views. Perhaps we should take a leaf out of Morgan’s book.

If you really want to check out the level of disagreement, this edition of the Moral Maze will prove informative. This overview of the programme by John Stevens of the FIEC summarises the tone and content of the discussions very well. (Much of what I have written in this article has been informed by the Moral Maze podcast, but Stevens’s summary is still worth reading).

An aspect of the controversy that might surprise some, is the antagonism that exists between “trans” people and feminists. One of the contributors to the discussion, Heather Brunskell-Evans, was described as a T.E.R.F. – Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist. Shortly after participating in the programme, aired on 15th November 2017, she found herself accused of “promot[ing] prejudice against the transgender community”, and attempted to refute the charge in a blog post.

I can’t imagine that my blog has any following at all in the radical feminist world, but I wholeheartedly agree with the Dr. Brunskell-Evans when she says:

“I have called for transparent public debate, without fear of reprisal, of the social, psychological and physical consequences of the narrative that children can be born in ‘the wrong body’.”

It is simply wrong to couch this issue in terms of “society has accepted transgenderism and Christians need to ditch their mediaeval views and catch up with the rest of the world”.

It’s not just Christians who question the validity of ideas associated with transgenderism. It’s not even just religious people in general. People right across society, some who have little time for any kind of religious belief, do not accept these ideas.

One of the most serious aspects of the This Morning show in question, was not that the presenters used intemperate language. No, what was inexcusable was that they totally misrepresented the whole debate by promoting the idea that there is no debate on this issue. On the contrary, society has not moved on. This issue is controversial, extremely controversial.

Concerns

A second troubling aspect of the show was the unwillingness to accept that the concerns about transgenderism are real and sincere.

I’ll try and categorise those concerns under five headings: medical; science; children; women; mental health. Of course, for Christians there is the whole issue of scripture. I am not going to deal with that, as my purpose is to try a provide some sort of snap shot as to what is going on in the culture. Glyn Harrison has authored an excellent paper on identity and this is a brief but helpful statement of biblical teaching from Kevin De Young.

Medical

Despite the seriousness of taking the transgender route, both the government and opposition in the UK argue that people should be allowed to self-identify. That means you can determine your own gender without any medical evidence. It is hard to believe that a decision with such serious medical implications can be made without any medical evidence.

More seriously, the use of puberty blockers – drugs to delay puberty – has raised some serious questions. This Wikipedia article will direct you to various references on the subject. A quick Google search on the long term effects of puberty blockers will reveal the concern raised about these drugs.

Professor Robert Winston in a Radio 4 interview reported in the Telegraph, expressed serious concerns about the impact drugs and surgery were having on those seeking a change of gender. In his opinion, the results of gender reassignment surgery were “horrendous in such a big proportion of cases”. Needless to say, he came in for severe censure shortly afterwards, posting the following statement on Twitter in his defence: I have nothing against transgender. But I object when I have cited independent peer reviewed papers with full evidence for what I said”

Science

The scientific basis for transgenderism is at best questionable. Certainly, some scientific publications and studies claim that there is scientific evidence to indicate that the so-called “transgender brain” is different. However even this article in Scientific American, largely sympathetic  to the idea of a “transgender brain”, concludes:

“…it will be a long time, if ever, before a doctor can do a brain scan on a child and say, “Yes, this child is trans.”

Other scientific research finds no evidence whatsoever for a “transgender brain”. Ideas of gender are shaped by social background and cultural context more than by genetics. This research published in the New Atlantis argued that there was no evidence to support the idea of a specifically “transgender brain”. Some of the headlines from the report are covered in this newspaper article.

Children

For many people the notion that we should be discussing gender dysphoria or gender identity with children, even in some cases pre-school children, is troubling to the point of being sinister. Cases of “trans children” appear to be growing all the time. This kind of story is not considered unusual these days.

One has to ask, however, why much of what could be considered part of growing up and a not unusual part of childhood, should be framed in the language and understanding of transgender ideology?

Is it really necessary to read into, what in the past would have been considered lack of understanding, some kind of condition that needs prescription drugs and possibly leads to gender reassignment surgery?

None of this received air time on This Morning. Nor, significantly, was it even mentioned that, quote “the majority of children with suspected gender dysphoria don’t have the condition once they reach puberty.” (Source: NHS Website)

Transgender Trend in the UK, was formed specifically to draw attention to the implications of transgenderism for children and provides links to articles presenting academic analysis of transgenderism.

Women

It is understandable why feminists are concerned about transgenderism. Women’s lives are put at risk when, for example, a murderer is allowed to change his identity to a woman and be sent to a women’s prison.  An article in The Sunday Times claimed that up to half of transgender inmates may be sex offenders (Up to half of trans inmates may be sex offenders : The Sunday Times 19-11-17)

Women have suffered so much at the hands of twentieth / twenty-first century western culture. Whether it’s eating disorders, some kind of plastic surgery to “enhance” their beauty or the destruction of the parts of their body that biologically define a woman as woman, it seems that western society is not short on inventive ways of attacking womanhood.

Mental health

Great offence is taken when so called gender dysphoria is associated with mental health issues. The Sunday Times reported that one therapist in Scotland, who was afraid to reveal her identity for fear of being struck off, helped teenage girls to question whether they were transgender.

She frequently found that young people sent to her supposedly suffering from gender dysphoria had previously undiagnosed mental health issues such as autism or anxiety (“Wrong gender feelings” could be teen anxiety: The Sunday Times, 19-11-17).

Some in the medical profession question the whole phenomenon of gender dysphoria. John Whitehall, Professor of Paediatrics at Western Sydney University, raised such concerns:

“ Yet hardly any paediatricians recall any cases of gender dysphoria in almost 300 cumulative years of practice. Certainly, I have not seen one in fifty years of medicine. I accept cases must exist and consider them tragedies deserving as much compassion and medical care as the three cases of physical intersex I have encountered in my career.

What astonishes me is the lack of evidence to support massive medical intervention in the face of evidence that it is not necessary. I cannot help wonder how the intervention was approved by the various ethics committees in hospitals, health regions and universities when it took some students and me over a year to get approval for a study that merely asked mothers when they introduced solid foods to their children. Ultimately, I had to give my personal phone number to all respondents of the questionnaire lest someone suffer anxiety in the middle of the night.”

Suicide rates amongst people who have had sex reassignment surgery are also a major cause for concern:

“The only long-term follow-up study of people who have under-gone sex reassignment surgery suggests that it is not the simple solution we are led to believe. This study found substantially higher rates of overall mortality, suicide, suicide attempts, and psychiatric hospitalisations in sex-reassigned transsexual individuals compared to a healthy control population.”

The academic study referred to in the above quote can be found here.

There is a ton of information out there, some of it very technical, pertaining to this debate.

Contributing to an increasingly polarised climate

Finally, the kind of contribution This Morning made to the ongoing discussion about gender identity, in my opinion, only further polarises an already polarised debate.

More worryingly, it is another instance of the curtailing of free speech. Demonise the opposition and then walk away and write a tweet ending with #bekind.

Or in the case of Bath Spa University, deny a psychotherapist the opportunity to research the rise in the number of people seeking to reverse their gender re-assignment, for fear of negative coverage on social media.

Or like the teaching assistant at a Canadian university, face the wrath of the university authorities for showing a video about the politics of grammar.

We are in an increasingly toxic climate. My issue with the This Morning episode that prompted this post, is not that Christians were publicly ridiculed, distasteful as that might be. It’s not that our opinions aren’t heard sympathetically. I’ve come to expect as much.

The major criticism that can be made against said programme, is that experienced broadcasters presented a very complex and painful issue in a wholly irresponsible and facile manner. And a few hours later engineered an exchange on social media and then shut it down. The show itself and the aftermath indicated that the presenters had little if any concern to help the public understand any facet of what is a very complicated social issue.

The only winner to emerge from this was Piers Morgan. In comparison to his counterparts on This Morning he’s emerging as a voice of sanity and common sense. I can hardly believe what I have written in the last sentence. But then again, the world does seem to be going crazy.

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3 Ways to keep your vision tank full

Philip the evangelist is one of the forgotten heroes of the early church.

Philip was a member of the church at Jerusalem. His first official ministry role was that of ensuring the fair distribution of food to the Greek and Hebrew widows in the Jerusalem church.

The next time we meet Philip he is evangelising in Samaria (Acts 8.4-8). His ministry has an incredible impact and attracts the attention of the apostles who have remained in Jerusalem. Eventually Peter and John are dispatched to Samaria to lay hands on all the new believers so that they are filled with the Spirit.

Meanwhile, an angel has told Philip to leave these scenes of revival and take the road from Jerusalem to Gaza (Acts 8.26). As he is walking along the road, he meets a high ranking official from Ethiopia and shares the gospel with him. The man responds to the gospel and as soon as they find some water Philip baptises him (Acts 8.26-40).

And then Philip disappears once again. This time the Spirit transports him to Azotus and he begins a new preaching tour.

Philip clearly had God-given vision.

There are a number of things in Philip’s story that will help us keep our vision tank full.

If you want to keep your vision tank full, a secret life with God is essential. 

Firstly, Philip had a secret life with God.

When the apostles were looking for people to distribute food to the widows in the church, the looked for people who were full of the Spirit (Acts 6.3).

You don’t stay full of the Spirit unless you have a secret life with God.

Secondly, Philip had a reputation for wisdom. He was full of the Spirit and wisdom (Acts 6.3). He was a wise man. Wisdom is a quality that enables us to make decisions that are good and godly. Philip had that quality.

We need to be spiritual and practical!

If you want to keep your vision tank full, look for opportunities where others see problems

Philip’s evangelistic ministry began during the greatest crisis the church had faced up to that point.

One of its greatest leaders, Stephen, became its first martyr. In the aftermath of Stephen’s death, a violent persecution broke out against the church. Many of the Christians left Jerusalem. Philip went to Samaria.

Philip began his evangelistic ministry at what seemed the worst time. And he began it in one of the worst places, Samaria. Samaria for any Jewish person was not a destination of choice. But Philip went there and God blessed him.

Philip seized an opportunity in a time a great difficulty. Sometimes God sends us opportunities, but they are wrapped up in a problem! When your vision tank is full, you see the opportunity, not just the problem.

If you want to keep your vision tank full, don’t settle for success

Philip could easily have settled in Samaria. He could have made it “his” revival. But he didn’t. He listened to God – or more precisely listened to God’s angel and walked off down the road!

He left a good thing to pursue a “God thing”. What he didn’t know was that he would lead someone to Christ who had the potential to influence a whole nation.

When your vision tank is full you will be prepared to take new roads to pursue what God is doing, even if it seems you are leaving something successful. And you don’t know who you are going to meet on that journey.

If you want to keep your vision tank full, look out for your family

In Acts 21, we see Philip at home. Paul and Luke and their friends stay at Philip’s house. Luke explains:

 Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven. 9 He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied (Acts 21.8-9)

He had four daughters who prophesied. Clearly Philip had given time to his family despite all his responsibilities and activities. There was an atmosphere of God in his house.

When your vision tank is full, you will look out for your family and have their spiritual interests at heart.

 

5 things we can learn from our 90th anniversary

In Search of Excellence and Good to Great, two of the most influential business books of the last thirty years, attempted to find why some companies were successful and what set them apart from others. I am sure some have attempted to do the same for the church.

Our ninety years as a church is a good time for some quiet reflection on how we have got to where we are today. It is also worth asking ourselves what we can learn from our ninety year pilgrimage. What have been the factors in Glasgow Elim’s survival and successes over those ninety years?

Obviously, we could sum it all up in two words: God’s grace. However, God’s grace comes wrapped in packages that we might not immediately recognise as grace. So here are a few thoughts on how “grace” showed up in the Glasgow Elim journey.

Firstly, people, ordinary people (not sure anyone really is ordinary as we are all unique), are the unsung heroes of Glasgow Elim. They prayed, gave, brought their friends, kept the faith and many have now received their reward. Glasgow City Council have adopted the strapline People make Glasgow. That is certainly true of Glasgow Elim. And has been true of Glasgow Elim for ninety years.

Secondly, pastors and leaders. Over its ninety year history, Glasgow Elim has been led by some very capable pastors and deacons. Great churches do not become great through incompetent or poor leadership. It’s not only the capability of the pastor that counts, but the quality of the leadership team. Strong local leadership teams are so crucial in the growth and development of any church.

Thirdly, managing pain. This might seem an unusual factor to highlight. Glasgow Elim has known some incredible high points. And some very low points. The pain of a church split that saw the church reduced to a fifth its original size. The pain of lack of resources and having to “penny pinch”. The personal pain that many of its people experienced.

Pain is often the reason people give up. The people of Glasgow Elim have never given up. They pressed through the pain barrier into new seasons of blessing and increase.

Fourthly, welcoming His presence. Glasgow Elim has a reputation for welcoming the presence of God. That kind of terminology is often associated with its more recent history. But this hunger for God’s presence goes back to its very roots. God’s presence and power were sought and welcomed as much in the 1920s as today. Our future hinges to some extent on our continued seeking after God.

Finally, future prospects. We can’t afford to settle! Where we are ten years from now is largely determined by how we respond to God today. Previous generations responded to God’s call in their day. They prayed and sacrificed. They took steps of faith. They built the facilities that are such a blessing to us today. May we look to the future with the kind of faith and commitment that they did. And may we too see in our day the things they saw – and greater.

You can find the 90th anniversary videos here.

5 Ways to keep your love tank full

If you think this is a post about sex or romance, then your understanding of love is twenty-first century Western and not first century biblical. Sorry, thought I’d break the bad news first!

Westerners of this century almost always associate love with romance or sex. Not affection or friendship or that tough enduring virtue that the Bible calls agape. That probably helps at least partly to explain the confusion over gender and sexuality that has assumed so much importance in public life. But that’s another story.

“Love, love, love” sang the Beatles. “Love, love, love, love” taught Jesus. Love God (Matthew 22.37). Love your neighbour (Matthew 22.39). Love one another (John 13.34-35). Love your enemies (Luke 6.35).

It’s pretty comprehensive. Neighbours and enemies cover a wide spectrum, and as C.S. Lewis once remarked often they are one and the same person!

It is simple. It’s not hard to understand. But it’s not easy either. We sometimes find it hard to love even those we love!

How do you keep you “love tank” full?

Firstly, remind yourself of what love looks like.

Jesus is the greatest and best example of someone who showed perfect love. In fact He is the only example of someone who showed perfect love.

John 13 provides us with special insight into the love of Christ. Verse one says “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”

What follows next is extraordinary. Jesus takes off his outer clothing, wraps a towel around His waist and begins to wash His disciples’ feet. This must have been such a shock to the disciples, for this is the kind of task reserved for a slave. Peter’s reaction reveals just how shocking this was to the disciples. The promised Messiah was washing their feet.

After He has finished, Jesus explains that He has set an example for them to follow (vv.14-16).

And then in verses 34 and 35, He gives His disciples a new command: love one another as I have loved you.

His love is our standard.

In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul sets out some aspects of love:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13.4-8).

Secondly, remember and meditate on how much God loves you.

John says:

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4.10-11)

Thirdly, restore love to a place of priority in your life.

1 Corinthians 13.13 highlights the eternal worth of love. It really is that important!

Fourthly, recognise the importance of encouraging relationships.

Your love tank will permanently run on empty if all of your relationships are ones in which you are constantly giving love and encouragement.

The writer to the Hebrews stresses the importance of continually spending time in a spiritually hot and healthy environment:

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10.24-25)

Finally, rely on the Holy Spirit.

We cannot love like Jesus loved in our own strength. Love is a fruit of the Spirit:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love…” (Galatians 5.22).

It’s through the Spirit’s power that we are enabled to love others.

It’s hard to argue with the importance the New Testament places on love.Let’s leave the last word with Paul:

“And now there remain: faith [abiding trust in God and His promises], hope [confident expectation of eternal salvation], love [unselfish love for others growing out of God’s love for me], these three [the choicest graces]; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13.13 AMP)

 

Keep your hope on!

Perhaps one of the most quoted verses about hope is a negative one: “Hope deferred makes the heart grow sick” (Proverbs 13.12). Which is often understood along the lines of “when you don’t get what you hoped to get you get disappointed”.

It would be a mistake however to limit our understanding of hope to what happens when it is unfulfilled.

Hope is an incredibly important virtue. Along with faith and love, it has pride of place amongst Christian virtues (1 Corinthians 13.13).

Even the world recognises the importance of hope. Listen to what health care professionals said in two different articles in Psychology Today:

“For my patients,” Groopman writes, “hope, true hope, has proved as important as any medication I might prescribe or any procedure I might perform.” (Psychology Today)

“If I could find a way to package and dispense hope, I would have a pill more powerful than any antidepressant on the market. Hope, is often the only thing between man and the abyss. As long as a patient, individual or victim has hope, they can recover from anything and everything.” (Psychology Today)

The kind of hope the Bible talks about is something even more powerful, because it has as its object God Himself and is based on the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

I think it’s fair to say that we talk more about faith and love than hope. Which is strange, when considering the coverage the New Testament gives to it.

Hope enables us to endure (1 Thessalonians 1.3). It enables us to stare death in the face – and not blink first (1 Thessalonians 4.13)! It has a purifying power (1 John 3.3).

There are however two images used in the New Testament to convey the positive impact of hope.

One is found in 1 Thessalonians 5.8. Paul talks about the hope of salvation as a helmet. Just as a helmet protects a soldier’s head, so hope, godly hope protects us from the negative, destructive thoughts that the enemy seeks to implant in our minds.

One major way of protecting our minds is putting on hope as a helmet. That means developing patterns of thinking that focus on a God-shaped future, rather than a future shaped by anyone or anything else.

As second image used in association with hope is that of an anchor (Hebrews 6.19).

Anchors keep ships stable in an unstable element. When our hope is firmly anchored in Christ, we are enabled to remain stable amidst the instability all around us.

It also means that we won’t drift when the storms come. A ship that is adrift is dangerous indeed. First of all, it has no direction. Secondly, it is a danger to itself and other vessels. When we lose our hope, we drift. We lose direction in life. And we become a danger to others as well as ourselves.

Hope is incredibly important. Keep your helmet on. And keep your anchor firm.

3 Signs of a religious spirit – and how to avoid developing one!

I don’t think I have ever preached on the danger of developing a religious spirit. However, having given a bit more time to reading the gospels over the summer, it is hard not to see how much opposition Jesus faced from the religious leaders of his day.

It would be handy if we could consign that kind of mentality to the days when Jesus was on earth. Unfortunately we can’t safely do that. It’s a mentality that manifested itself in the early church and throughout the subsequent history of the church.

Paul’s letter to the Galatians was written primarily to counter an extreme case of religion. If churches planted by the apostle Paul were vulnerable to the kind of legalism manifested by the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, the thought that we are immune to this religious virus is not rooted in reality.

So what are some of the signs? Let me give you three.

Firstly, we risk developing a religious spirit when we focus on our spiritual history at the expense of our future destiny.

Here’s what John the Baptist said to the Pharisees:

Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, 9 and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. Matthew 3.8-9

They were so caught up with their own spiritual pedigree that they overlooked the lack of fruit in their lives.

An impressive spiritual family tree is incomplete without spiritual fruit.

Secondly, we risk developing a religious spirit when we fail to embrace what God is doing.

In the revival that came about through John the Baptist’s ministry, baptism was the evidence that you had embraced what God was doing.

The religious leaders rejected it. Luke 7.30 says:

But the Pharisees and the experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptised by John.

We often think that our impressive history with God guarantees that we’ll always be at the centre of what he is doing. Yet history proves that the opposite is almost always the case. The people of the previous move of God become so locked into a kind of spiritual nostalgia that they miss what God is doing in the present – and sometimes even reject it as “not the real thing”.

Finally, we risk developing a religious spirit when we become more concerned about forms of religious expression than helping people.

On one occasion Jesus healed a woman who had what we would call curvature of the spine on the Sabbath in a synagogue. You might think that everyone would rejoice. Not so! The synagogue leader responded with a lecture about the Sabbath not being a day for healing – there were six other days for that:

Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God. 14 Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, ‘There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.’ (Luke 13.13-14)

The reaction is almost comic, but tragically it reveals that this man is more concerned about the forms of his faith rather than the people that faith is meant to help.

It’s very easy for those of us in a Pentecostal / Charismatic church to apply this to some of the more established liturgical churches. It has to be said that more traditional churches are not the only churches susceptible to “formalism”. Contemporary worship expressions, prayer lines, altar calls, preaching, and the unwritten liturgy of “the way we do it here”, can become just as formal and every bit as people unfriendly as we think is the case in more traditional churches. In short, what was once something that was Holy Spirit empowered degenerates into turbo-charged religion.

How do we avoid this trap? Love and humility. That was how Jesus moved amongst the people. In His day it exposed religious spirits. In our day, if we will walk the path of love and humility, it might help to save us from developing a religious spirit.

1 thing I learnt from an Indian apostle

A couple of years ago I visited India. It is amazing what God is doing there and throughout the developing world. Although I was there to speak / teach, I came home feeling that I had learnt more than I taught.

Just recently I had the “home leg” of the learning experience when one of the church leaders I had visited in India visited our church. Needless to say I wasn’t disappointed by the “learning experience” from my friend’s visit. I learnt more than one thing and was moved, not to say overwhelmed by much of what he had to say. One thing, however, stood out.

So what was the one thing? My friend told us that in his movement they instilled into the children that God had called them and ordained them to lead a fruitful life. This is based on Jesus’ declaration to His apostles in John 15 that He had chosen them and appointed them to bear lasting fruit (v.16). If you want to trace the idea further, read the mandate God gives Adam and Eve in Genesis 1. Or the promise He gives Abraham in Genesis 12.

He told stories that were both amazing and very moving to illustrate how even the children in the movement he leads were passionate for Christ and the gospel. This passion, it was evident, remained into adult life, to the point that many were and are prepared to sacrifice very good careers to become missionaries.

As I reflected on the kind of church culture I grew up in – one that extended far beyond my particular church – I noticed that our approach to and understanding of our purpose in life was very different. For us, the emphasis was on avoiding sin rather than producing fruit. In fact I think producing fruit was seen more as a command to be obeyed than a promise to be believed.

There are two problems with that approach.

Firstly, a fruitful Christian life becomes a pressure rather than a promise. And it almost always rests on our ability rather than His power at work through us. In the end it produces spiritual frustration more than spiritual fruit.

Secondly, an approach that focuses on “sin avoidance” tends to end up in spiritual sterility or even a kind of paranoia about being polluted by the world.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t emphasise the need to avoid sin. In fact, we might need to rediscover that emphasis. But on its own, it will not produce fruitful people. And if individual Christians aren’t fruitful, then churches will not flourish.

I should admit that I do go looking for the “secret sauce” or the “silver bullet” when it comes to any kind of success or effectiveness in the church, or elsewhere for that matter. Having said that, I am not for one moment claiming that this is the only or even the main factor in church growth in the developing world. And I do realise that there are enormous cultural differences between the Western world and the Indian sub-continent.

At the same time there are biblical principles that transcend culture. The conviction that God has called every Christian to flourish and bear lasting fruit, to my mind transcends culture. It’s a scriptural principle, not a tenet of a particular culture. And if that is the case, it should be the conviction of every believer- Indian or Western.