There is both purpose and tremendous benefits to being in God’s school of waiting. For waiting: Is a stark reminder that we are not in control of things. This is very positive. Trying to be master of your own life will prove to be exhausting. Calls for honesty. It involves facing up to, and confessing, the struggles, pain, and doubts of our own hearts.
I’m sitting at OR Tambo International Airport, waiting for my flight back home. And I’m thinking about my hatred of waiting. I think to what degree my actions are determined by my desire to do things as quickly as possible; avoiding as much fuss as possible. The airline is Safair, reputedly the least delayed airline in the world. We checked in online, to save time and bother. When queuing, I have carefully studied the four lines, figuring out which will be quickest. The lines must keep moving! Then we have booked seats right at the back of the aircraft. These are for a quick getaway after landing. And, of course, we only have hand-luggage. Who in their right mind wants to watch the stupid carousel going round and round?
I don’t want to wait. Waiting is pure agony.
I Have the Need for Speed
My issues with time seem to be typical of the Western world. Time is precious. Time is money, say the experts. Waiting is therefore a waste of time and money. “Quick and easy” are two words with enormous seductive, even magical, powers. How can we ‘do life,’ maximising it with the least fuss and bother? We have fast food, eating meals on the run or in our cars. We covet huge internet speeds. Every fix must be instant. The latest diet promises incredible results with minimal effort. The self-help bestselling book is subtitled: Discover Yourself in Less Than 30 Minutes.
‘Make life happen, don’t let it happen to you.’ The real thing is the next thing, we want to live from peak event to peak event. Eat dessert first! When life gets very tough, skip the unpleasantries and take instant gratification. Forget the potatoes, go straight for the ice cream. ‘Just do it!’ What are you waiting for? One life, live it! Carpe Diem. There is something appealing about these slogans. Yet there is also something potentially very misleading.
As usual, the church follows the world. It simply rebrands the psychobabble: “Simple devotions for the busy Christian;” “Quick sermons for the over-worked pastor;” “Five keys to spiritual victory;” “Three Steps to Holiness.” But those titles are false. They’re dangerous! Robust faith can’t be microwaved!
Churches are filled up with people looking for rapid, painless paths to change and growth. Congregants are given formulaic answers and offered express spirituality; a trite, formulaic, and franchised faith. The world has McDonald’s. So the church offers McFaith. We want shortcuts, comfortable answers to vexing problems.
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By Scott D. MacDonald — 1 year ago
Written by Scott D. MacDonald |
Friday, August 19, 2022
People in the church who dabble with witchdoctors and occultism are ultimately deceived; they find no true, lasting solution. “To believe ‘Ukwimba kati kusansha na Lesa’ is to believe a lie. We must choose to trust and wait on God in every circumstance, and His Word must be our final authority as we encounter conflict with our African traditional proverbs and beliefs.”40 Jesus alone is our savior, and as Paul demonstrates in Philippi, the Christ did not come to work with the ng’anga. He came to set us free.
Syncretism—the blending of two or more religious paradigms—threatens Christian witness around the world. And the church in Africa continues to struggle with the popularity of local religious practices. In many locales, the ng’anga (an African religious diviner) prominently features in the lives of many church-going people. In response, Paul’s mission to Philippi, recounted in Acts 16:16–18, provides needed clarity concerning Christianity’s relationship to other religious powers and to syncretism. This article outlines the religious backdrop of Philippi, Paul’s missionary method in the Greek religious context, and the consequences that arise from Paul’s exorcism of the πύθων. In sum, Paul’s reaction to the divining spirit of Philippi leaves no room for syncretistic behavior among Christians today. Accommodation and any reliance upon other religious powers compromises the quality of the gospel and the reputation of the savior.
As servants of Christ deliver the good news of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection both near and far, ancient spiritual actors and religious competitors abound. In sub-Saharan Africa, every other urban street corner bears a sign promoting the abilities of some traditional power man from a rural or distant location, a place with charms difficult to undo by an average local witchdoctor.1 Even in supposedly secular cities in other parts of the world, vestiges of ancient paganism remain as astrologers and diviners offer their services in the public sphere without shame. Spiritual power is seemingly never beyond a human’s reach.
Depending on our cultural upbringing, such spiritual resources are our first or last resource in a time of need—an accepted and trusted form of support or a desperation-induced “last ditch” option. Occult practitioners claim to provide the knowledge we need, repair the relationships we crave, hinder the people we hate, and empower the economic endeavors on which we rely. They are the so-called “way-makers” and “problem-solvers” of the spiritually attuned.
How should the Christian relate to the ng’anga (i.e., the sangoma, the witchdoctor)?2 Sadly, the testimony from too many Christians in many places is mixed. In a moment of need, one might recite the Bemba proverb “Ukwimba kati kusansha na Lesa,” meaning “Charms are mixed with God for them to work.”3 Believers may easily justify a quick visit to the witchdoctor or use charms if they believe that God works in and through them!
Martin Mwamba, a pastor and talk show host with Faith Radio in Kitwe, Zambia, recounts an experience:
One day a woman texted me during the program. She said she had been working, and after retiring she had gotten her pension money, and now when going back home she was robbed. She continued, “I will take off my church uniform as a Christian and go kuli shi in’anga (‘to the witchdoctor’) and bewitch them.” Then her question was, “Is it right for a Christian to visit the witchdoctor?” The phone response from other listeners was interesting and shocking. Some suggested that she should go because God takes too much time to respond, and others said it was fine because witchdoctors give fast solutions, adding that they (witchdoctors) are also used by the same God.4
Hearing this kind of urgency-based decision making, Mwamba’s assertion is reasonable: “Even people in churches today in Africa would prefer to consult diviners and witchdoctors … to receive a quick solution to their daily problems.”5 After all, no one wants to wait for God!6
Occultists easily capture Christian customers. Surprisingly enough, many “witchdoctor shrines” are veritable havens of Christian objects like Bibles and practices like singing praise songs.7 And witchdoctors readily play along with the cultural idea that God empowers their work, offering to pray to God for effectiveness with charms and reciting a Scripture verse or two.8 Confusion abounds, and Christians readily step into the confusion by seeking their desired results despite the syncretism.
Syncretism is the “blending of one idea, practice, or attitude with another. Traditionally among Christians it has been used of the replacement or dilution of the essential truths of the gospel through the incorporation of non-Christian elements.”9 The ng’anga has played a central role in the African’s religious life throughout Africans’ collective memories. Despite Christianity’s inroads throughout Africa over the past century, the role and importance of the ng’anga has not evaporated. Many Christians sadly still find a need for them, and witchdoctors adjust and modify their practices to suit the Christian environment. Syncretism, the blending of African and Christian religious concepts, persists.
The irony is that many pulpits resound with sermons against syncretism. Preachers unflinchingly expound Jesus’s statement from John 14:6: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” “Jesus alone” is declared, yet the cultural norm remains firm: witchdoctors have a place in the life of Christians.
Many an African Christian still feels the draw of the ng’anga. The appeal of animism is not unique to Africa. While the African Christian visits the ng’anga, a European Christian convert dabbles in astrology, and an American teenager consults a Ouija board. The pull of spiritual knowledge and power is strong in Africa, but do not think that the rest of the world is immune! Thus, syncretism arises in every culture where Christianity enters, and “church history is filled with the struggle against syncretism from political, social, religious, and economic sources.”10 And the best response to our syncretistic attachments is a fidelity to Scripture, which both rebukes and affirms aspects of our church traditions and cultural norms.
One underutilized text in countering syncretism is Acts 16:16–18. Luke records the following account from the second missionary journey:
As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.11
While we could look to other missional encounters with spiritual power persons throughout Acts (e.g., Simon the Sorcerer, Elymus, the Sons of Sceva), the Philippian confrontation serves as an example to Christians throughout the world today. We must reject all forms of syncretism. Our missional testimony to non-Christians only heightens this necessity.
1. The Background of Acts 16:16–18
As we consider Acts 16:16–18, let us first locate where this episode occurs in Paul’s missional endeavors. Between leaving Antioch in Acts 15:36 and returning in 18:22, Paul’s work broke considerable new ground as the Lord turned the missionary team toward Greece.12 “Following his vision at Troas (Acts 16:8–10), the apostle Paul started the first church in ancient Greece at Philippi (c. AD 49–50, Acts 16:11–40).”13 Like Paul’s earlier ministry, which led to a confrontation with the sorcerer Elymus on the island of Cyprus (Acts 13:6–12), this journey involves another spiritual challenge in the city of Philippi.
Lest we mistakenly brand Paul as a troublemaker, Paul’s missionary method does not call for the immediate confrontation of any religious figures in a particular region. On Cyprus, Barnabas and Paul are not looking for Elymus. Instead, they proclaim the word of God to those who wish to hear it, such as Sergius Paulus (Acts 13:7). In Philippi, again, Paul’s priority is preaching, even after his initial meeting with the slave girl (Acts 16:16–18)! Creating religious conflict (which would ultimately result in his imprisonment) and exorcising a πύθων are not Paul’s primary objectives. Only when the situation proves intolerable, hindering his proclamation ministry in a new mission field, does Paul confront the slave girl and the spirit within her.
The Greek religious context is evident upon Paul and Silas’s entry into Philippi. As the slave girl attaches herself to their ministry, it is as if the current religious powers greet Paul at the gate and refuse to let go. While a casual reader of an English translation (e.g., “a spirit of divination” in the ESV, “a spirit by which she predicted the future” in the CSB) might mentally divorce this spirit-inhabited girl from the broader religious climate, the Greek text πνεῦμα πύθωνα at least indirectly ties the girl and her owners to the Greek oracular system.14 Keener explains that this spirit is “the same sort of spirit that stood behind the most famous of all Greek oracles, the Delphic oracle of Apollo whose priestess was called a pythoness.”15 And Herodotus confirms that oracles, inspired by a πύθων, were not limited to Delphi.16
By Michael Clary — 4 months ago
We do not live in a perfect world. Every household will make decisions based on their life circumstances, and Christians should avoid being overly prescriptive about matters that are truly secondary. God is honored when Christians prayerfully consider how to best pursue their God given priorities. Even though motherhood is diminished in the world, the church can uphold its glory and dignity.
Motherhood is Life
I recently rewatched “Saving Private Ryan” for what must have been the 10th time. Saving Private Ryan tells the story of a young man whose three brothers were killed in combat in WWII. Private Ryan was the only brother to survive D Day. When military officials realized this, they dispatched a special regiment of eight soldiers to track him down, somewhere in France, to retrieve him and bring him home.
Saving Private Ryan is a masculine movie. It’s all about brotherhood, war, duty, honor. But when I watched the movie this time, however, I noticed something I hadn’t noticed before—mothers. Many of these young men, who were fighting for their lives on another continent, were thinking about their mothers back home. In a particularly disturbing scene, a soldier lies on a beach in Normandy, clutching his bloody stomach that had been blown open, crying out “mama!” while he died.
The mission to save Private Ryan was deemed urgent because the military command wanted to spare his mother the overwhelming grief of losing her last remaining son. One scene depicts the awful moment just before she learned the news that she’d lost her other three sons. She is standing at the kitchen sink washing dishes as she notices a military vehicle approach. A man dressed in a military uniform exits the front passenger side of the vehicle, turns toward the back door of the car and opens it. A chaplain steps out. She knew immediately. She falls to her knees in grief, knowing that she’d lost one of her sons. Surely her mind is racing with questions. “Which son? How did he die?” But the audience knows the situation is much worse. She’d lost three of her sons in one day, and the fourth was still missing.
Scenes like this show the power of motherhood. When strong, young men in war are in the throes of death, their hearts are naturally drawn to the safety, comfort, and love of home. They long for the woman who gave them life. Mothers embody everything they hope for in dangerous times. War is death. Motherhood is life.
The World’s View of Motherhood
Many young women feel the need to suppress their maternal instincts because they’ve been culturally conditioned to devalue motherhood. They’ve grown up watching shows and hearing stories celebrating how “girls can do anything boys can do.” A friend once noticed a poster in a school highlighting girl’s potential in a series of pictures associated with different careers. One was a doctor, another was a business executive, a third was an astronaut. Of all these images inspiring young girls about what they could become in life, none of them depicted mothers.
During a small group discussion with some Christian friends, one young woman sheepishly admitted that what she most wanted out of life was to be a wife and a mother. She was hesitant to acknowledge this, because she felt that this was somehow aiming below her potential, wasting her gifts, and settling for second best. All her life, she’d heard about how exciting a career can be, but she’d heard relatively little celebrating the fact that she can create and nurture new life. In pop culture, pregnancy is depicted as a hurdle to overcome. But the testimony of scripture is that children are a blessing and motherhood is a glorious vocation (Ps 127:3-5). This is not to say that women should not get an education or have a job. For our purposes here, it’s simply a matter of priority. Motherhood is highly valued in Scripture but devalued in modern culture.
Motherhood has never been an easy calling ever since it came under the curse of sin (Gen 3:16). Nevertheless, throughout history, societies have always valued motherhood as a social good to preserve and nurture civilization. As the industrial revolution radically changed the household, some feminist thinkers began arguing that the traditional household was outdated, oppressive to women, and needed to be changed. It was holding women back, enslaving them to their husbands and children. But women could be liberated from this bondage by seeking careers outside the home the way men did. They assumed that women could be more free, more fulfilled, and more valued in the marketplace than in the home.
Even though most Christian women would quickly recognize the error of this thinking, the basic assumptions and desires of feminism can nevertheless seep into our unconscious minds, training us to devalue the vocation of motherhood. Women are being subtly conditioned to believe that the marketplace is immanently desirable—where true happiness and fulfillment can be found. Motherhood is a secondary endeavor if a woman chooses to succumb to her own biology. Homemaking should rarely be the top vocational choice, unless she’s going for a trendy, boutique, trad wife flex. This thinking is ungodly. Nevertheless, the feminine nature has a way of asserting itself. It cannot be so easily denied. Women are naturally and instinctively inclined to make homes.
The Feminine Design
I have pastored many women through infertility struggles and have personally seen how devastating this trial can be. For these women, their missing motherhood can feel like a personal failure. Why is missing motherhood such an emotional weight for so many women? Because it’s their design. Motherhood is the goal (or telos) of the feminine design. Women are physiologically oriented towards it. A woman’s menstrual cycle is a monthly reminder that her womb was designed to bear life, and her breasts were designed to feed and nurture life. This astoundingly powerful ability to create life should be affirmed and celebrated, not minimized or dismissed.
The Scriptures present motherhood as one of the greatest blessings a woman could receive. Similarly, a barren womb was one of the greatest trials she could endure. Womanhood cannot be properly understood apart from her potential for motherhood. It is the unique design of her body. When God created Eve, he was not merely solving a loneliness problem, but a reproduction problem. She was God’s answer to man’s inability to fill the earth on his own. This is why Adam named her “Eve, because she was the mother of all living” (Gen 3:20). God gave him much more than a wife. He gave him a potential mother.
A common word Scripture uses to describe motherhood is “fruitfulness” (Gen 1:28). This word appears in the Bible over 200 times, covering a range of interrelated meanings from gardening to sexuality. Fruitfulness is multiplication. Just as the Garden of Eden was meant to grow, expand, and multiply to cover the earth, Eve was meant to be fruitful and grow, like a garden. Women are uniquely equipped to multiply and amplify things. A woman’s body can take a single sperm from a man and knit together a new human being from it. Just as her name suggests, Eve truly did become the mother of all living, giving birth to the whole human race. This feminine ability goes beyond physical childbearing. Femininity represents the ability to expand what is received. As author Rebekah Merkle put it, “When God gave Eve to Adam, he was handing Adam an amplifier… Adam is the single acorn sitting on the driveway which, no matter how hard he tries, remains an acorn. Eve is the fertile soil which takes all the potential that resides in that acorn and turns it into a tree, which produces millions more acorns and millions more trees.”
The Vocation of Motherhood
Women are natural homemakers. Marriage is all about making a home, and wives will naturally devote themselves to it. The question is not whether she’ll do it, but to what degree she’ll prioritize it. Every household will need its cabinets stocked with groceries, meals prepared, and laundry washed. Beyond this, the children will need to be fed, nurtured, clothed, disciplined, and educated. Typically, the mother takes the lead in handling these chores. She may do them all herself, or she may outsource some or all of them to others. For example, a well-trained and qualified nanny can be hired to come into the home and perform all these tasks. A nanny may be a better cook, better housekeeper, and better teacher of the kids. This being the case, why not hire them to do as much as possible? Some families see this as the wisest option, since, after all, the nanny is the professional. She’s the expert. But homes need more than domestic expertise; they need a mother’s presence.
By J. Warner Wallace — 8 months ago
Written by J. Warner Wallace |
Tuesday, January 24, 2023
When we, as a Church, come to properly understand the power and activity of God in our world and in our lives, we’ll share the awe felt by the early Church. The resulting change in our character will bring glory to God.
The first community of saints reflected the power and design of God in their lives as a family of believers. The earliest believers followed the Biblical example they found in the Book of Acts as it described the nature and essence of the first community of saints. The observations of those who witnessed the early Church should inspire and guide us. If we were to emulate the earliest energized believers, our churches would transform the culture and inspire a new generation. How can we, as Christians today, become more like the Church that changed the world and transformed the Roman Empire? We must learn the truth, strive for unity, live in awe, serve in love, share with courage and overflow with joy. These six important characteristics were held by the earliest congregations:
And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. And everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. And day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.Acts 2:42-47
Six simple attributes were observed in the earliest believers. These principles serve as a template and guide for those of us who want to restore the passion and impact of the early Church. If we employ them today, we’ll create healthy, vibrant, transformative churches. As Christ following theists, we should recognize and appreciate the power and righteousness of God:
Principle #3: Live in Awe
The Church should be in awe of God’s handiwork and continuing involvement in our world:
…and they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. And everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles…