The September/October 2004 PNEUMA INFORMER
In this issue
What's New at www.PneumaFoundation.org
New Web Site: www.PneumaFoundation.ORGNew Articles, Links, and other Features
Introducing the newly updated www.pneumafoundation.org site.
The Foundation has a new online home on a new server and with a new way of managing its content.
Transition: Do you have links to the www.PneumaFoundation.com site?
For the time being, old pneumafoundation.com links should work, but the site will not be maintained and you should begin using the new site at www.PneumaFoundation.org as soon as possible. Most links will still work if the ".com" is replaced with a ".org", but there are some exceptions. The web team will do its best to make you aware of the differences as time goes on and as any pages on the .com site are redirected or removed. Please be sure to refer to the Contact Us page for the latest contact addresses.
Also, be sure to check out the "What's New" section on the Pneuma Foundation homepage. New articles and other features are being added regularly.
New format for the PNEUMA INFORMER
The electronic newsletter of the PNEUMA INFORMER is now written in an electronic language called XML, which allows it to be written once and transformed into any manner of output desired. From this one text document, we are able to place it on the Foundation website, email the newsletter to our readers around the world, and archive it efficiently in our new content database.
Thanks to W. Simpson, who had been transforming the INFORMER from text to web page for over a year, for encouraging the editorial committee to move to this new technological standard. Thanks to Webmaster Dave Driggs for implementing this change and preparing our new web server for the change to use many XML files.
Please write to Member Services if you have any comments or concerns about this new format for the newsletter. Is there a certain way you would like to receive the PNEUMA INFORMER in your InBox? We would love to hear from you.
Visit the PNEUMA INFORMER introduction page: www.pneumafoundation.org/intro_informer.jsp
Tell us about your web site
Have a website you would like linked to the Pneuma Foundation? Write Webmaster Dave Driggs with your suggestion. Or use the on-line form to submit your suggestion: links.jsp#link.
Come visit soon. Write to Member Services with any comments or questions you have about the website or the PNEUMA INFORMER.
Reports from Around the World
Malawi: the Yao roofer
"He was one of five roofers from the Islamic Yao tribe in Malawi who worked at the mission station for two months," report German missionaries Winfried and Hildegard Steiner. "They saw almost everything which happened here; they saw us speaking with visitors, and experienced some Bible studies. When their work was finished, they returned to their villages. One month ago, one of them turned up here again, smiling broadly. 'I'm a Christian now, too. I follow Jesus.'
Curious, we asked him how he made the decision. 'I saw how you live, and by listening, I found out who Jesus is.'"
Source: Friday Fax 2004 Issue 29. Used with permission.
Internet Ministry by Ex-Witch Helps Pagans and Witches Find Jesus
A Web-based ministry is helping pagans and witches find Christ. The conversations center on Jesus at ExWitch.org, although many of the visitors have pledged themselves to false gods.
Kathi Sharpe once offered incantations as a witch and her soul to false deities. Now she offers Jesus to many of her former cohorts of the occult through her Internet-based ministry, ExWitch.org.
The ministry's site is comprised of a series of public and private message board forums. Since its March 2002 inception, ExWitch has processed more than 100,000 postings, Sharpe said.
"It's amazing to me that witches come on and talk all day long about Jesus. It's just phenomenal," said Sharpe, 34, of Greensboro, N.C.
Mark Bishop of Denton, Texas, one of five site administrators, said what is different about ExWitch is that people listen to the visitors. "We don't throw them out," said Bishop, a former pagan. "We don't water down the gospel. But we present it in truth and love. ... I don't know of many ministries trying to reach [witches]. There are many out there that have written them off."
Sharpe's evangelism efforts go beyond the Internet. She also has invited witches and pagans to her church, Calvary Church, an Assemblies of God congregation in Greensboro. Her pastor, David Crabtree, said he usually counsels a new Christian not to have any contact with his or her occult past because that has caused many to be lured back into it. But Sharpe has been the exception, he said. "Kathi had an absolute break," Crabtree said. "She didn't hold on to the old life. She was so radicalized."
Sharpe said some of the witches and pagans that attend services try to go unnoticed, showing no problem talking about Christ and reading a Bible. Those individuals, according to another former occultist known simply as Lottie, are strong-willed and are not seeking Christ. Then there are some who can't sit through a service, leaving frantically when they encounter the reality of God. "Most people do not cope well when their view of the world is tipped over," said Lottie, another of ExWitch's site administrators.
She described a personal experience that occurred in England, where she lives. Lottie said the spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation was so strong in Coventry Cathedral - out of which an international reconciliation ministry is based - that it repelled her from the place.
"I got only 100 yards into the place before I felt I would be crushed to the floor if I did not leave," she said. "Me, the occultist, found myself forced right back out of that building by the presence of God. ... It was one of the unnerving experiences of my life."
Source: CharismaNOW, http://www.charismanow.com/a.php?ArticleID=9834. Used with permission.
God on campus
Other News and Headlines
Church planting at University
Six years ago, Jason Ma sat in an introductory lecture for Philosophy. Suddenly, the Professor asked "Who believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God?" Jason and one of his friends were the only two who raised their hands in a class of 100 students. Jason could not believe that most of his fellow students had no idea what Jesus offered them, so he started prayer walking in the University, asking God to do something so that the 28,000 students would come to know him. God open doors for Jason; the University officials were sympathetic to his aims, granting him permission to hold evangelistic rallies. Hundreds were saved.
Jason soon realised, though, that very few managed to find a place in a church after becoming Christians. "To be completely honest," says Jason, "most of the churches around the University had nothing to offer students. Nobody had any idea what to do with them. Some students met for Bible study, but when they left University, the problem remained; they could not find a place in a traditional church. I found the same problem at other universities. Most students see church as boring, irrelevant and hypocritical, despite the fact that they themselves are empty, hurt and suffering, seeking true love in drugs, parties, sex and good grades. Many became depressive, some were close to suicide."
Bringing church to the students, not the other way around Gripped by this state of affairs, Jason began to pray. He discovered that it is much better to bring church to the students, not the other way around. After much research, including studying China's underground house church movement, he became convinced that relationship-oriented "simple church" was best suited for reaching students. He read about 18-year-old Chinese girls who had planted over 100 house churches in one year, although they had only been Christians for a few years themselves. The churches which he investigated in China were networks of small fellowships of 15-30 members which met in houses and small shops to share their lives every day and follow Jesus together.
"If an 18-year-old Chinese girl can plant 100 churches each year in China, why shouldn't a student plant a few at University?" Jason asked himself. He realised that, similar to the Biblical concept of a 'house of peace' or 'a man or woman of peace', a missionary can win 'a student of peace' for Christ, who will in turn win his circle of friends for Christ, thus forming a small church.
One single church would of course never be able to reach the very diverse student community, so he started viewing every student group as an unreached people group, with the aim of starting a church among them. These new churches with 15-20 members would meet somewhere, and if they grew, would not look for somewhere larger to meet, but divide, thus multiplying. They could meet anywhere - in dormitories, apartments, Student Union rooms, classrooms or the coffee shop across the street. So he started planting churches at his University. They later sent missionaries to other universities to do the same; Campus Church Networks (CCN) was born, starting at the San Jose State University in 1998, and is spreading.
The 13/30 Window
Missiologists created the term '10/40 Window' to describe the geographical region between 10° and 40° latitude; many consider this to be the least evangelised region in the world. "The 13/30 Window is probably more important," says Jason. He means people between the ages of 13 and 30, where the greatest harvest potential for the Gospel is probably to be found today. "That group," he says, "is amazingly open for the Gospel." Surveys show that 90% of all Christians decided to follow Jesus before their 25th birthday. This is also the most important group, because they are the future of the world and the church.
60% under 25 years old
Statistics reveal that 60% of the global population is under 25 years old; 30% - 1.7 billion people - is between 10 and 24 years old. Studies by the Barna Reasearch Group showed Jason that the 18- to 25-year-olds are the group least likely to attend a church. The majority of students who attended church during school no longer did so at the end of their studies. Jason concludes that "we desperately need completely new churches for the new generation, because the traditional form of church simply does not work in America. Post-modern youths no know standards, believe basically anything and want to experience God for themselves. They will not sit in pews, listening to someone preach forever, but want to put their faith into practice."
Statistics from the American Society for Church Growth from 1999 show that American churches lose 2.76 million people to secularism or nominal Christianity and that between 3,000 and 4,000 churches close each year. In the past decade, the active membership of all Protestant denominations has shrunk by 9.5% (around 4.5 million people), compared to a population growth of 11% (24.2 million) in the same period. Half of all churches have not gained a single new believer. "That," Jason recognises, "doesn't need a new committee, it needs a revolution."
Where are the revolutionaries?
His motto became "Start a revolution, start a campus church!" On CCN's web site, he writes "Every revolution begins with a revolutionary. Are you prepared to be one? Is there already a Campus Church at your University? If not, you should start one..." Campus Church Networks is a relational church planting movement led by students, challenging and training students to plant new churches for a new generation at every university in the world.
Source: Jason Ma, www.campuschurch.net by way of Friday Fax 2004 Issue 31. Used with permission.
for Current News and Links
- China: Christians called "termites to national security" Nationwide campaign launched against house churches. (ChristianityTodayOnline) www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2004/010/6.21.html
- Powell Calls Darfur Situation "Genocide" (ChristianityTodayOnline) www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2004/136/51.0.html
- Editorial: "Loving Military Enemies" War does not exempt Christians from the second-greatest commandment. (ChristianityTodayOnline) www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2004/009/25.84.html
- Iraq urges Christians to return from exile Thousands of Christians were chased out of Iraq by radical Muslims but some of them are returning to Kurdish-controlled areas in the north (UPI). www.washtimes.com/world/20040827-121041-8778r.htm
- The college code A Christian group is derecognized on a matter of principle—the "principle" of diversity (Jon Sanders, The Wall Street Journal). http://www.opinionjournal.com/taste/?id=110005534
- Obituary: Stephen F. Olford. Dr. Olford, who pastored New York's influential Calvary Baptist Church from 1959 to 1973 and hosted the Encounter radio and television broadcasts, died Sunday after a massive stroke, Olford Ministries International reports. http://www.olford.org/partner/Article_Display_Page/0,,PTID314886%7CCHID599936%7CCIID1855598,00.html
- Colorado, U.S.: Few bypass abortion rule Judges can override parental-notification law, but not many teens try (DenverPost) www.denverpost.com/Stories/0,1413,36~53~2335412,00.html
- Biblical archaeology: ChristianityTodayOnline reports on the "recent" discovery of John the Baptist's cave with numerous links to related stories and other recent headlines. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2004/133/21.0.html
- Persecution watch: Vietnam: "Distress, Harassment Continue for Vietnam's Montagnards" "Government authorities continue to apply unrelenting pressure on tribal Christians in the Central Highlands of Vietnam, while trying to convince the international community that all is back to normal in the troubled region." (ChristianityTodayOnline) www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2004/133/32.0.html
See other news to pray and praise God about in the Prayer Requests department below.
Report the News
We are looking for stories about what God is doing in the world, reports about the persecution of Christians, and information about significant trends and ministry opportunities. If you have a news item to report, please send an email to the PNEUMA INFORMER.
Thanks to Our Volunteers
How could we ever say "thank you" enough to all of the wonderful people who make the Foundation a ministry that God is using to teach and help people all around the world? The editorial committee would like to give special thanks to a few individuals who have really been a big help over the last few months.
Special thanks goes to Kristen Walma, Joe and Angela Arnold, Rachel Walma, Darcy Wise and Erin Mock for assisting with the recent mailings of the PNEUMA REVIEW to our subscribers around the world. We could not mail the journal without you! Thank you so much.
A big thank you also goes to W. Simpson and his faithful preparation of the PNEUMA INFORMER for online release for over a year. He radically reduced editor's preparation time to get the newsletter ready for its HTML pages, and he encouraged the web team and editors to pursue new technology to use XML and better content management.
Thanks for all of your help!
Responses from Readers
"I just read a little blurb from your newsletter ... interesting article about the miracles that are going on across the world and how we have to accept the supernatural with Jesus. It really made me think. Thanks for all the good thoughts."
Read about this report in the August 2004 PNEUMA INFORMER: www.pneumafoundation.org/pi_8_2004.jsp#N10060
Please note the change of my e-mail address and change your records accordingly. I do not want to miss out on the pneuma informer.
Thank you for keeping us up to date with your email address, you save our volunteer staff a great deal of administration time. Thank you for letting us know you appreciate the PNEUMA INFORMER.
"Why I Believe the Bible" by James MacDonald
There are a lot of good reasons to believe that the Bible is God's book.
So what do you tell people when they ask, "You don't really believe all that stuff in the Bible, do you?"
The more you rub shoulders with people who have no concept of real Christianity, the more your faith will be challenged, even your sanity questioned.
"You've got to be kidding? You're basing your life on some dusty book written like a million years ago?"
"It's just a bunch of stories."
"You thing God wrote it?"
"Any thinking person knows the Bible is full of mistakes and contradictions?""
I'm sure you've heard these lame excuses and more. Especially if you've ever tried to explain your confidence in God's Word to somebody. Well, you're not alone.
If you give me a couple minutes of your time, I'll fill you with some facts about God's Word that will not only increase your confidence in His book, but also give you some solid answers for your skeptical friends. God told the prophet Isaiah to "Cry out' The grass withers and the flower fades away, but the word of our God shall stand forever" (40:8). That means that long after skeptics are gone, God's Word will still be standing. Here's why.
The Bible is all that?
The more I study the Bible, the more I am absolutely convinced that God did write a book. No one can refute that the Bible is the preeminent book in existence. It has traveled more highways, walked more paths, knocked on more doors and spoken to more people in the mother tongue than any book the world has ever known, can ever know, or will ever know.
Let me give you some numbers that blew my mind. One organization alone, Gideon's International, distributes more than 56 million copies of the Scripture worldwide every year. Do the math—that's 107 copies a minute. Since 1815 to 1975 2.5 billion copies of God's Word were printed and distributed. No other book comes close in circulation.
Some would say, "Sure, the Bible is a great religious book, but what about the Koran or the Book of Mormon?" I love what this scholarly dude, Montero Williams (not to be confused with Montel Williams) said about Eastern religion after 42 years of studied comparison with the Bible. He said, "Pile them if you will on the left side of your study table, but place your Bible on the right side by itself alone. For there is a wide gulf between the Bible and the so-called sacred books of the East which cannot be bridged over by any science or religious thought."
Any why do so many people hate God's Word? No other book has been so burned and banned and outlawed as much as the Bible. From Roman emperors to communist leaders to college professors, everyone seems to take it upon themselves to attack this book. If for no other reason, aren't you at least curious why this book is so hated? I'll tell you—the Bible calls people to true accountability before the Creator of the universe and very few of us are willing to submit.
Man will never be able to destroy the Bible because Almighty God wrote it and He is taking care of it. We could go on citing fascinating historical twists and recent archeological finds that prove the Bible's credibility and indestructibility, but let's just say this: when you hold the Bible in your hands, you hold a personal message from the loving and living God. Yes, a loving God, provided we receive His message and choose to take Him seriously.
Let the Bible speak for itself.
Does the Bible confirm itself to be true? Let's take a moment to consider the facts.
God used 40 different people to write down His Word. Not one or two people, or five or ten. Forty! Some of them were shepherds or farmers. Others were political and religious leaders, even kings. Together these authors lived over a period of 1,500 years. (That's the same amount of time as from the Middle Ages to the present.)
So we have 40 people, all authors of Scripture, from different walks of life, separated by one and a half millennia. Now tell me, how do you get all these people to agree on theology? You can't get four people to decide on where to go for dinner. And these guys wrote on the two things that nobody ever agrees on: religion and politics. Their consistency is nothing short of amazing. How did this happen? These human instruments recorded what the single Author of Scripture told them. I'll say it again—God wrote a book. And it changes people's lives.
Next time you hear a critic say, "the Bible is full of contradictions" just ask them to name one. Most people will be speechless. Even the few who will speak, 99% of their questions can be answered by the following:
Supposed contradictions of message. Critics say things like, "the Old Testament says an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but in the New Testament it says to turn the other cheek. Contradiction!" To that you can say, "Jesus totally cleared that up in Matthew 5:38. He changed the program from law to grace." And if they say something that you don't know how to address, offer to get back to them with an answer. Don't cower in silence because you don't have a response at your fingertips. Do your homework and ask your pastor or trusted Bible ministries to help you.
Supposed contradictions of historical events. Again, critics may say, "Two places in the Bible tell the same story differently. Contradiction!" Here's a common, big one. "Genesis 1 says that God created man and woman. Genesis 2 says He created man and later created woman out of man." Clearly we are getting a flyby in Genesis 1 and a focused look at one point of creation—man and woman, in chapter 2. More detail, not contradiction. Don't be intimidated into thinking that the Bible doesn't square with itself.
Supposed contradictions of scientific details. Did your college professors try to trash the Bible? This is one of their favorite: Joshua tells the story of the day that the sun stood still. Science could prove that if the sun ever stood still, the earth would blow apart. Like a God who could put one hand on the sun and hold it still couldn't put the other hand on the earth and hold it together?
Here's another: Did you know that 2,200 years before Christopher Columbus, God said our planet was circular and not flat? (Isaiah 40:22). Geologists and evolutionists have often challenged the Bible only to be proven wrong. It's almost laughable to think of them trying to figure out God's program. I'm going to stick with what God has said in the matter yet to be verified by science. I'm sure He's not holding His breath waiting to be validated. As if, "Whew, they've finally proven I'm real; what a breakthrough!" I don't think so.
Fulfilled prophecy. For me, one of the greatest proofs for the Bible's trustworthiness is the fact that things that God said would happen'did. The Old Testament is packed with fulfilled prophecies. Written a thousand years before Christ, Isaiah 7 foretold that the Promised One would be a child, born of a virgin (it happened) and that He would establish an eternal kingdom.
Psalm 72 says that the Promised One would be worshipped by shepherds and kings who would bring gifts to him. ("In the same region there were shepherds in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night." Luke 2:8)
Micah 5:2 says that the Promised One would be born in Bethlehem. "That's just a lucky guess," some say. Hardly. Sixty-one prophecies concerning the life of Jesus Christ were written between 500 and 4,000 years before His birth and they all happened. Coincidence? Unbelieving scientists applying the measurement of statistical probability tell us that the chances of just eight of those prophecies being fulfilled is one in 1017 or one hundred thousand trillion. This wasn't luck. This was God.
True or false? People who have never read the Bible or have not read it with an open heart think that it's contradictory, outdated, and irrelevant. Like a car repair manual from the 1920's or a computer textbook from the 1950's.
But you and I know differently.
Okay let's make it personal.
Have you ever sat under the teaching of God's Word and felt totally convicted? Has the Spirit of God ever used His Word like a knife, pointing out your specific thoughts and motives? I could tell you about times God's Word has worked me over. The real question is are we allowing Scripture to penetrate our lives and change us? If you can say yes, then you know the power I'm talking about.
On the flip side, as you've pondered God's Word have you felt an inexpressible comfort? A peace that transcends understanding? When you were hurting or discouraged, did certain passages become clearer with new insight? Did it strengthen you? Could man have written such a wonderful comfort as this? I don't think so!
I wish you could see what I see from the front of my church every weekend as I teach God's Word. I look across the faces of people gripped by God's eternal truth. Tears stream down their cheeks. Some can hardly look up because they're under the power of the Holy Spirit. Hear this—God's Word is always effective in doing the job that He intended it to do. It never "returns void," Isaiah 55:11 promises. Every time you as a mother or father, pastor, small group leader or children's ministry worker teach Scripture, God says, "You think you're speaking, but what is really happening is that I'm sending forth My Word."
Why do I believe the Bible? Because I'm convinced beyond any doubt that it is divinely inspired in its totality, inerrant in doctrine, infallible in authority, immeasurable in influence, personal in application, regenerative in power, diverse in its unity, and infinitely trustworthy. Why? Because God wrote it.
Do you sense the immensity of that truth?
This reality not only compels me to celebrate sola scriptura but to live it! Are you with me? Starting right now, how about we choose to make a greater personal investment in God's Word? You've got the time—just set your priorities. Commit to read, study, and ponder more of God's timeless message' and then go live it! Make it the passion of your life to discover what it means to delight in the law of the Lord (Psalm 119:77).
And the next time someone asks you, "Why do you believe the Bible?" proclaim your confidence and faith in God and the book He has written by answering, "I am glad you asked'."
By Dr. James MacDonald. From Sola Scriptura Winter 2003 Issue Number 2. Used with permission.
Please note that although Dr. MacDonald does not agree with the Pneuma Foundation's position regarding the contemporary ministry of the Holy Spirit, this article reflects a shared passion for God's Word that the Foundation commends to our readers.
Resources You Can Use
Technology Resources and Tips
Need a Virtual Private Network at Your Ministry?
If you need to secure your internet usage, try this solution. Just click on over to www.findnot.com. Yes, it will cost a little bit (less than your Internet Service Provider charges), but then the IT guy at your office will not have to set up and maintain a flawless VPN for your ministry and you will enjoy completely anonymous messages and web-searching regardless of where you live on the planet.
For example, if you live in a land that suppresses information about Christianity, you could log onto findnot.com and use your newly-encrypted channel to order Bibles and have them shipped to a friend in the land next-door, then go pick them up the following week. Send and receive email without encryption and without worry that someone is "sniffing" your connection.
If you do live in such a situation, it is important that you encrypt your local hard drive in case your laptop is seized. Brigada Today
highly recommends IBM ThinkPads because of built-in IBM Client Services encryption.
Source: adapted from Brigada Today 2004/08/27, used with permission.
Thanks for Linking to PneumaFoundation.org
The volunteer web team would like to give a warm "thank you" to all of you who have placed a link to the Pneuma Foundation on your personal or ministry website. By linking to us to are affirming that you find our resources valuable and we appreciate the encouragement. Links also increase our popularity in many search engines that rank based on links to the site that can be found on your site and others.
If you would like to receive updates about big changes to the site, please send us a note. Small changes that occur will be mentioned in the PNEUMA INFORMER, but we would be glad to tell you about big changes when they happen. This can help you as you work at keeping your links as up-to-date as possible. Just send an email to Member Services and we will add you to our web updater database.
Thoughts to Ponder
The poet remembers.
You can kill him
—a new one will be born
to chronicle the deeds
and the conversations.
Source: Czeslaw Milosz [translation quoted here:http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2004/136/12.0.html]
"When we do sin, we have security in the fact that His forgiveness always covers our sin and washes it away. Consequently, when we confess a sin, it's not so much that we're asking Him to forgive us (in the hope that He will decide to do so), but rather to thank Him that His provision through the Cross enables us to be fully released from sins' evil effects."
Source: Daniel A. Brown
"The church was never intended to provide safety from a rapidly changing world. It was never intended to argue old dogma while envisioning the future."
Source: Thomas Hohstadt
"Holiness and Pentecostal folk really have recaptured a way of communing with God that engages human worshipers as embodied, emotional, related creatures. And this can be a very good thing."
Source: Chris Armstrong http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2004/139/53.0.html
Excerpts from the Fall 2004 issue of the PNEUMA REVIEW
The Pneuma Review is a quarterly printed journal of ministry resources and theology for Pentecostal and charismatic ministries and leaders. For more information about the PNEUMA REVIEW, and to learn how to subscribe, please visit: Introducing the PNEUMA REVIEW. www.pneumafoundation.org/intro_pr.jsp
Buy the Pneuma Review online at Amazon.com
Write a review online for the Pneuma Review!
From "Rightly Understanding God's Word: Bible Background." Part 1 of 2 by Craig S. Keener
In any communication, some matters are stated but others can be left assumed. For instance, I am writing in English, on the assumption that I and my readers both know English; if Paul wrote to the Corinthians in Greek, he could assume that they knew Greek. I assume that my readers know what a Bible is, and would be safe to assume that my readers know what a car is, what a radio is, and what pounded yam is (though Paul's readers knew none of these things, except what the Old Testament part of the Bible was). Paul could likewise allude to specific customs his readers practiced without explaining them, because the Corinthians already knew exactly what he meant (e.g., "baptism for the dead," 1 Cor 15:29). But for us to understand Paul's meaning we must either know Greek or have a translation, and we must either know the culture the biblical writers shared with their audiences or have access to resources that help explain that culture. What the writer could assume as part of his meaning was as much a part of the meaning as what he had to state.
We have noted previously the importance of whole-book context, because most books of the Bible stress particular themes addressing particular issues. We should not skip from one book of the Bible to another (except where one book specifically refers back to an earlier and widely circulated one), at least not until we have figured out each passage in its own context first. But one reason particular books emphasize particular themes is that they addressed particular situations. Although people sometimes ignore such verses, many verses explicitly state particular audiences for these books--for instance, the Christians in Rome (Rom 1:7) or in Corinth (1 Cor 1:2). There are appropriate ways to apply these books to today, but first we must take seriously what these works explicitly claim to be: works addressed to specific audiences in specific times and places. In other words, before we can determine how to apply the ancient meaning today, we must understand the ancient meaning. To skip this important step in Bible interpretation is to ignore what the Bible claims for itself.
When Paul wrote letters, the very genre in which he wrote reminds us that he addressed specific situations, as letters usually do. Thus, for example, in 1 Corinthians Paul addresses questions about food offered to idols, head coverings, and other issues that Christians today usually view as relevant only in some cultures. The letter also addresses division between followers of Paul and followers of Apollos, which does not occur in exactly that form anywhere today; we have to deal with division in the church, but few people today claim to follow Apollos. If we read letters as letters, we remember to look for the specific situations they address.
We should consider the relevance even of narratives to the first audience they addressed. For instance, if Moses wrote Genesis to those who had just been released from slavery in Egypt, they could have identified readily with Joseph, who had also been a slave in Egypt before his exaltation. The repeated emphasis on the promise of the holy land in Genesis also would provide great encouragement for Israelites about ready to go in and conquer it. Considering such relevance of the Bible to its original hearers does not make the Bible any less relevant for us; rather, it teaches us how to discover its relevance properly. Everything in the Bible is for all time, but not everything in the Bible is for all circumstances.
Some examples of culture-specific teachings in the Bible
We all recognize that some commands in the Bible were limited to the period that they address. Moses says to build a "fence" around the roof lest you incur bloodguilt if anyone falls from it (Deut 22:8), yet most of us today do not build fences around our roofs. Are we disobeying this passage? But back in Moses' day, people had flat roofs; and in Moses' day, people would spend time on the roof, often with their neighbors. Yet if a neighbor child fell off the roof, she could get hurt. So Moses commands us to build a parapet around the roof to protect our neighbor. Today, if we do not take neighbors on the roof, the point for us is not the parapet; the principle is watching out for our neighbor's safety (for instance, making someone riding with us wear a seat belt). But we would not have discovered the principle if we had not understood the background.
Some today seek to get doctrine especially from Paul's letters, so let us take some New Testament letters as examples. Paul tells Timothy to go to Troas and bring his cloak from there (2 Tim 4:13), yet none of us tries to obey this explicit command of Scripture by going to the excavations at Troas and looking for Paul's cloak. (Even though Paul also calls Titus to come to him in Tit 3:12, we do not view visiting Paul in Rome as a command to us today.) Even if Timothy did not get the cloak, and even if it still exists, and even if we could be sure it was Paul's, only one person could actually retrieve the cloak. And none of us could then take it to Paul! This passage of Scripture is addressed to the only person who could fulfill it, namely Timothy. Likewise, do we really need to beware of Alexander the coppersmith (2 Tim 4:14-15)? Given the mortality rate for people over 150 years old, he has surely been dead for a long time. (For some other situation-specific allusions, see e.g., 2 Tim 1:2-6; 3:14-15; 4:20; Tit 1:4-5.) We can learn principles from Paul's bond with Timothy and his warnings against opposition, but we cannot press these statements literally as commands for today.
We recognize these as absurd examples; "Those were commands given only to Timothy!" we protest. Our protest is correct, but how many other commands in 1 and 2 Timothy may have been only for Timothy or only for first-century Ephesian culture? We cannot settle that question by simply guessing at an answer we might prefer; nor can we ignore the question and hope to be consistent. Paul was probably aware that the Spirit was guiding him as he wrote (1 Cor 7:40; 14:37), but it is quite doubtful that he expected Christians to be trying to apply this letter to themselves two thousand years later--or even that human history would continue for two thousand more years (cf. 1 Cor 7:29; "we" in 1 Thess 4:17). If they did try to apply his letter to Timothy, he would expect them to take into account what this piece of Scripture explicitly claims to be: a letter to Timothy (1 Tim 1:2; 2 Tim 1:2).
Many Christians today question the faith of others who do not interpret literally every text that we interpret literally; yet all of us refuse to take some texts literally--or at least we refuse to apply some texts directly to ourselves without taking into account that our situation is different. Paul tells Timothy to avoid water and take some wine for his stomach's sake (1 Tim 5:23). Paul is certainly not telling Timothy to get drunk; in Paul's day, most wine was watered down two parts water to every part wine, and wine was not distilled, so the alcohol content was not high. At the same time, before refrigeration and hermetic sealing, any grape juice that had been kept for some months after the last grape vintage included some alcohol content. Would we tell every Christian today with a stomach ache to avoid water and go have a watered-down beer? Or was that simply the best remedy available in Paul's day, in contrast to our own?
In fact, all Scripture is universally applicable (2 Tim 3:16). This does not mean, however, that it is not articulated in culture-specific and language-specific ways. Rather, it means that we have to take the situation into account when we interpret Scripture, reading it like case studies applying to specific situations to find its principles which we can then apply in other situations. Otherwise one would end up like some western missionaries who mixed up their own culture with the biblical message and then told African Christians they had to keep both the Bible and western culture to be good Christians (which resembles what Paul's opponents did in Galatia--Gal 2:3-5; 6:12-13).
Inspiration does not change a writing's genre, or type of literature. Psalms are still psalms, narrative is still narrative, and epistles are still epistles. (We will deal with genre in a subsequent chapter.) Pastoral letters, like sermons addressed to local congregations, can contain universal and culture-specific exhortations side-by-side; this is true in inspired, biblical letters just as it is true in other letters.
For example, I sometimes write letters of exhortation containing mainly universal principles relevant to the particular situation I am addressing. Yet in those same letters I may include some exhortations relevant only to the situation I am addressing. Unless I consciously write expecting other, future readers outside the situation, I may never stop to distinguish my universal and situation-specific exhortations. Because I intend all my exhortations to be relevant to my immediate audience I do not write these two kinds of exhortations in different ways or express them in different literary forms.
A later reader might therefore distinguish which I thought was which only by reconstructing the situation and comparing my other writings addressing specific situations. Thus murmuring is always wrong (1 Cor 10:10; Phil 2:14); eating idol-food is sometimes wrong (1 Cor 8-10); women's authority as ministers of the word was sometimes limited but sometimes commended (cf. Rom 16:1-12; Phil 4:3).
Paul provides many direct commands that we do not observe today, and some that we cannot observe today. How many Christians put money into savings the first day of every week for a collection for the saints in Jerusalem (1 Cor 16:1-3)? Paul commands his readers to receive Epaphroditus (Phil 2:29), but since the latter is now dead, we cannot fulfill this command literally. Paul exhorts his readers to pray for the ministry of himself and his companions (2 Thess 3:1-2), but it is too late to pray for their ministry today. Instead we learn more general principles about hospitably receiving and praying for God's servants.
Must a transcultural application be absurd before we will limit it? Or do these "absurd" examples point out to us the way we ought to read Paul's letters consistently? To claim that only the obviously culturally limited passages are in fact culturally limited is simply to beg the question of interpretation methods. If these examples remind us of the genre in which Paul writes, they remind us that Paul could freely mix directly transcultural statements with those that addressed merely specific situations.. It should not surprise us that Paul relates to his readers where they are at; he specifically states that this is his missionary strategy (1 Cor 9:19-23; 10:31-33), and most of us today similarly try to be relevant to those to whom we speak.
When Paul exhorts men to pray properly (1 Tim 2:8), shall we assume that women should not pray properly? Or shall we assume that, just as Paul had a specific situation to address with the women in that congregation (2:9-15), he also had a specific problem in mind addressing the local men's behavior (2:8)? Given other passages which commend (Rom 16:1-12; cf. Judg 4:4; Acts 2:17-18; 21:9; Phil 4:2-3) or permit (1 Cor 11:4-5) various ministries of women, is it possible that the limitations of 1 Tim 2:11-12 address a special situation? The answers to some of these questions are much debated, but our desire to be consistent in the way we interpret the Bible may invite us to ask such questions.
The office of an "overseer" (1 Tim 3:1), like most other local-church offices in the New Testament, arose in a specific cultural context; it was practical for the church to borrow models of leadership from the synagogues that already worked in the Roman world. Is it possible that modern denominations' arguments about forms of church leadership may make too much of a matter that is not really central to Paul's point? Some would retain as transcultural the requirement that one rule one's family properly as a condition for ruling the church (3:4-5). But this borrows ancient Mediterranean requirements for respectable leadership, in a culture where paternal authority could be enforced by severe discipline (in theory even execution)--a culture which differs markedly from our own. Granted, some regard these models of church order as transcultural, so we should turn to other, more clearly culture-specific examples.
Perhaps more significant are passages providing instructions not merely to Timothy but to the church as a whole. How many would regard as transcultural the warning that widows younger than sixty will spread bad talk (probably best translated "false teaching"; 1 Tim 5:11-13), or that fables circulate especially among older women (4:7)? Here, for example, widows must not be put on the roll for church support unless they are at least sixty years old, have been married only once (5:9), have raised children and washed strangers' feet (5:10), and also have no extended family to care for them (5:8). Americans usually relegate to government programs the caring for widows; Africans, much closer to the biblical culture, normally support them through the extended family. But in most cultures, so few widows today have washed strangers' feet that our churches can claim to obey Paul's teaching without supporting them anyway! Paul commands that younger widows must remarry, not taking the pledge of membership in the order of older widows supported by the church (5:11, 14). But how they can obey this precept if they do not find husbands is not quite clear. In Paul's day there was a shortage of women (possibly due to the pagan practice of female child abandonment), and most women therefore sought and found husbands quickly. In many black American churches, however, single women outnumber single men more than two to one; in parts of rural India and China, by contrast, men far outnumber women.
Paul is clear that some of his commands in the Pastoral Epistles relate to avoiding apostasy (1 Tim 5:15) and--a matter related to the views of the broader culture--public reproach (1 Tim 3:2, 6-7, 10; 6:1; Tit 1:6-7; 2:5, 8, 10). This includes his exhortations concerning the obedience of slaves (1 Tim 6:1-2; cf. Tit 2:9-10), which most Christians today would grant addressed a specific cultural situation. If the principles are more binding than the situation-specific exhortations that illustrate them, we may wish to consider how today's situation differs from that of the first century, and what practices support or hinder the Church's witness.
But none of this means that these passages have nothing to teach us. Paul specifically writes to Timothy, Titus, or to particular churches, but we can learn from his inspired wisdom for their situations as long as we pause to think how it might translate differently into our somewhat different situations. Human nature and God's nature have not changed, and we can take into account the changes in culture as long as we know something about the original cultures of the Bible. For example, Paul specifically left Timothy in Ephesus to warn against those teaching false doctrines (1 Tim 1:3), and exhorts Timothy to do so according to the prophecies given him (1:18; 4:14; cf. 2 Tim 1:6); he also addresses specific false teachers (1:20), who are now dead. Although Paul did not leave us in Ephesus nor did we receive Timothy's prophecies, there are plenty of transcultural principles here, such as fighting dangerous doctrines, or heeding words of wisdom or properly tested prophecy. But again, noting that specific exhortations can have more general relevance does not allow us to simply assume that we know that transcultural relevance before we have studied the situation carefully.
When Paul tells Timothy to drink a little wine for his stomach's sake (1 Tim 5:23), we learn that it is sometimes necessary to take medicine. God often heals instantly in answer to prayer, but at many other times he has provided us natural means by which to improve our health. (By "natural" we mean what he has created in nature, not occult practices which involve evil spirits.) Yet recognizing that this is the only way we can apply some Scriptures must summon us to consistency: perhaps this is the way all Scripture is to be read to be profitable for teaching (2 Tim 3:16).
This is how Paul often read the Old Testament: Those events were written down as examples for us, both positive and negative (1 Cor 10:6, 11). In the same way, we should read the stories in the Bible as case studies--as examples how God dealt with people in particular kinds of situations. Then we can take warning or encouragement when we recognize analogous situations today! But we must make sure the situations are really analogous. That is, God destroyed the disobedient in the wilderness (1 Cor 10:6-10); that does not mean that obedient people should fear destruction! We do not simply apply directly to ourselves every passage we read without taking into account the difference in situation.
The same is true for Paul's letters. Paul addressed specific situations in a specific culture. We cannot simply apply his words to all cultures directly, as if we can ignore differences. When Paul says to "Greet one another with a holy kiss" (Rom 16:16; 1 Cor 16:20; 2 Cor 13:12; 1 Thess 5:26), he uses the standard form of intimate greeting in his culture. (Familial kisses were often light kisses on the lips.) Today Christians should still greet one another affectionately, but in most of our cultures few of us actually use kisses to do it, especially the kinds of kisses used back then. Although Christian interpreters today differ as to where to draw the line, no one tries to fulfill literally every command of the Bible with no account for the difference in situation. No one tries to get Paul's cloak at Troas and bring it to him.
. . .
Read the rest of this article in the Fall 2004 issue of the PNEUMA REVIEW
Book Review: The Spiritual Society: What Lurks Beyond Postmodernism? Frederic W. Baue. Crossway Books (Wheaton, IL, 2001), 192 pages. by Wolfgang Vondey
The Spiritual Society by Frederic Baue is a timely book. It addresses the contemporary worldview that has been frequently described with the elusive term "postmodernism." The author, formally trained in theology and English literature, observes indicators in contemporary culture that paint a picture of a future society which is in many ways "spiritual" but by no means "Christian." In Baue's view, what we call "postmodern" is, in fact, not the designation of a future spiritual age; it is a transitional period between the modern era and the coming age. Moreover, by observing the cultural indicators of this transitional phase, the author proposes a vision of the future that might help Christians to prepare for the spiritual challenges ahead.
Baue's projection of a future age--seemingly religious but openly hostile toward Christian faith and doctrine--reads like a commentary on John Courtney Murray's The Problem of God Yesterday and Today. Murray's seminal description of the postmodern age, published in the 1960s, examines the early development of a society that rejects Christian doctrine and considers the very existence of God a menace to human freedom. Although Baue's perspective is decidedly Lutheran, and the reader will find little interaction with other Christian traditions, Baue's observations form an insightful analysis of the postmodern period and a stimulating update to Murray's publication. It is therefore up to the reader to engage Baue's North American Lutheran perspective in further dialogue with other Christian traditions and cultures.
Nonetheless, even the casual reader will find Baue's observations descriptive of much of the present situation. The New Age movement, influences of Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Paganism, combined with a secular mythology, cultic ideology, or Native American spirituality, are just a few of the contemporary benchmarks that continue to undermine and challenge a Christian worldview. Many Christians are unaware of this counter-culture or choose not to engage in it. While the latter is commendatory, Baue advises his readers not to be ignorant of the current situation and calls the Church to stem against the tide of secularism and false spirituality.
Baue draws his inspiration from the work of Pitirim A. Sorokin, a Russian-born sociologist who founded Harvard University's Department of Sociology in the 1930s. Although influential in his day, contemporary sociologists have largely neglected Sorokin's perspective, which views the development of Western civilization as oscillating between two major cultural systems: the "Sensate," periods when material values predominate, and the "Ideational" or "Christian," times when spiritual values prevail. In Baue's view, the transition between these two recurring systems can be discerned throughout modern and postmodern history, and a careful observation of Western society reveals--in his opinion--an unsettling vision of the future.
Baue's vision of the future is grim; his book is a wake-up call. Although the author sets out to do more than can be accomplished within two hundred pages, the book invites dialogue and stimulates discussion. Dialogue with Pentecostals, for example, could lead to a very similar evaluation of the present worldview but would produce a very different outlook on the future. Spiritual warfare, Spirit baptism, divine healing, exorcism, and prophecy are not terms that will be found in this book. And yet it is in precisely those categories that the Pentecostal movement has encountered the darkness of this present age. At a time where Pentecostals are integrated and accepted in society and culture more than ever before, The Spiritual Society calls Pentecostals and others to discernment and dialogue. Baue's work invites such dialogue, and for those who are not intimidated by the Lutheran perspective, the book may, after all, have a lot to say. Baue is alerting us to "keep our wicks trimmed, our lamps burning, alert, self-controlled, abounding in good works, encouraging one another and building each other up in the most holy faith, and fighting the good fight."
Reviewed by Wolfgang Vondey
Read other book and periodical reviews in every issue of the Pneuma Review
- Dr. J., in India writes: "Please pray for our seminary. We are enrolling students for B.Th and M.Th. Pray that day by day God will grow our ministry and that students will come and seek admission day by day. Our target is 1000 students. Please pray we will enroll 1000 students." Reference Number: 90012878
- Pray for the Zhuang people of southern China: October 1st will begin a month long prayer emphasis for the over 17 million unreached Zhuang of Southern China. They are the largest people group in the world without a Bible in their own language. Each month on the first is a time of prayer and fasting on behalf of Zhuang, but in the month of October each year there is a special emphasis. Please join Christians around the world for the October 1st 2004 Day Of Prayer for the Zhuang.
Source: Brigada Today. Write for more information and a full color prayer guide.
- One PNEUMA INFORMER reader in Florida, asking for prayer about the recent hurricane damage, writes: "Ivan was a category 4 hurricane when it made landfall. This most recent hurricane, Jeanne, was a minimal category 3 when it made landfall in the U.S. Probably the reason Jeanne did so much damage down along the east coast of Florida is because the recovery efforts from the previous hurricanes that had come through had not been completed. People in that area are feeling really defeated, so please pray for the victims of the hurricanes in Florida and surrounding states (especially North Carolina, which had terrible floods). The loss of life was greatest, overall, with Jeanne, this last one, but most of the deaths were in Haiti, where over 1,300 lost their lives (and the number is still climbing) because of all the mud slides. But there have been deaths in Florida with each of the hurricanes this season, as well as LOTS of devastation. Anyway, please pray for the people who are having to pay a very high price for the weather losses! Thanks!"
- PNEUMA REVIEW contributing editor, Joe Joslin writes: "Kim and I are proud to announce that we have accepted the referral of infant twin girls from Kazakstan. Our daughters were born in the city of Ural'sk on February 19th, 2004. We hope to travel within about 2-3 months to complete the adoption. Thank you for all of your continued prayers. This is a blessing beyond our wildest dreams."
- Appeal for passing out tracts in Brazilian courts successful. An appeals court in Sao Paulo has reversed the conviction last year of two evangelists charged with violating the South American nation's "hate crime" law. The landmark case involving evangelicals and Afro-Brazilian spiritists is the first to test a federal law declaring it a crime to "practice, induce, or incite discrimination" against members of another religion, Compass Direct reported.
Umbanda and Candomble spiritist groups brought criminal charges more than two years ago against Baptist pastor Joaquim de Andrade and Anglican Aldo dos Santos, claiming that gospel tracts they distributed at the annual Iemanja festival disparaged the African deity, and therefore violated the federal law.
In April 2003, the men were found guilty of the charges, but they refused to pay the fine imposed and appealed the verdict. Andrade hailed the appeals court's recent decision as upholding freedom of speech and their right to conduct personal evangelism in public places.
"We can certainly continue evangelistic work on the beaches, in the streets, in plazas and through all communications media in Brazil," Andrade told Compass. "The judges' ruling came out favorably toward us because we are not breaking the law of our country. There has been recognition that we have the right to give our testimony."
Source: Charisma NOW http://www.charismanow.com/a.php?ArticleID=9700
- Good report from Sri Lanka: Christians are expressing relief over the country's recent supreme court ruling, which determined that clauses of a proposed anti-conversion bill violate the constitution. The court's decision last month came as a blow to the all-Buddhist monks' political party Jathika Hela Urumaya, which has been campaigning to ban conversions to Christianity, Reuters reported.
The measure proposed a fine the equivalent of $11,000 and imprisonment for up to seven years for violators. Christian denominations have strongly opposed the bill and feared that it would be used to curb religious freedom and target believers.
"Christians are happy that the court has struck down certain controversial clauses in the bill as unconstitutional," Roshini Wickremesinhe, legal officer with the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka, said. "The voting on the bill, if at all, will certainly take months now. We accept the supreme court determination."
Christians constitute about 8 percent of this prominently Buddhist country's 19.7 million people, 70 percent of whom are Buddhists. According to Operation World, with Christianity growing by more than 11 percent a year, Christians have come under increased persecution -- more than 50 violent attacks were reported in the last six months. Some 146 Christian churches were forced to close down between December and March, Christian Solidarity Worldwide said.
Source: Charisma NOW Used with permission. http://www.charismanow.com/a.php?ArticleID=9816