The two elders and the swine

The two elders and the swine

i know a good number of people have been eagerly watching and waiting for this feedback.

Let me start by firstly saying, ‘That’s good and well and fine and all, but it’s not good enough. Have your own conversations. Invite differing opinions and viewpoints to your house for coffee. Take these conversations offline.’

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The Context

A few weeks ago there was a bit of an online conversation about a status that Andrew Selley [pastor from Josh Gen] had posted which some of you may remember:

“One of Satan’s greatest traps-is to make the unimportant seem a central theme of the Christian value system. By doing this he seduces Jesus loving Christians to fight battles and devote their lives to things which actually don’t bring Gods kingdom! Instead of preaching the gospel and planting churches, Christians devote themselves to social justice issues like ending poverty, politics, forcing Judeo-Christian values onto the unredeemed world, addressing inequality or human rights and so miss the entire point of what God actually wants us to do. We are not commanded to make the world a better place to live in, that is a byproduct. We are commanded to preach the gospel and so make disciples of all nations! Let’s make sure we keep Gods mission central to our lives.”

An online engagement ensued and Ross, an elder from Josh Gen, and his friend Robin [another elder and also someone who was at the Vineyard church with me back in Stellenbosch days], asked if we could have coffee. Another Facebook friend Mkhokheli asked if he could join, and on the day asked if he could bring a friend, Marthella, and my wife Valerie [aka tbV] also joined us…

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To be fair most of the crowd drank tea

We started at around 7.30 in the pm and ended just before 10.30 so it was a good lot of conversation and listening. And i don’t think we all left thinking or believing the same thing[s]. But i also don’t believe everyone left thinking the same stuff they did when they arrived. There was definitely stuff for people to wrestle with and think more about and hopefully have more conversations about and see some change in.

To set a little more of the context for those who may have missed it, i did spend a large part of the morning in some engagement with Andrew Selley himself around some other things he posted on Facebook in which he wondered if my focus on the poor made me more Judas than Jesus and also suggested that he could help me “but Jesus warned that we should not throw our pearls before swine”. So i didn’t enter the conversation feeling super generous towards Andrew and because he was not there, the conversation was not so much interrogating what he thinks and believes as it was about trying to understand where Ross and Robin [as fellow leaders in his church] stood with regards to the public statement he had made that we had engaged with.

The four things i was particularly interested in getting clarity on were God’s Kingdom, The Gospel, Disciples and God’s mission, although i would now add ‘the Christian value system’ to that as all five are mentioned in the original statement and the problem i had with it was that the things Andrew seemed to be saying were missing the entire point of what God wanted to do, or seen as by-products, for me are very much central to all five of those things.

The conversation

i can’t express enough the value of face to face conversations around drink or food. Personally, i have seen that social media spaces can be places of challenge and engagement and change, but nothing beats seeing a person and hearing their tone and having the opportunity for immediate clarification and the absence of other noise. So there is definitely something that offline brings to a conversation such as this and we definitely saw that last night.

From the moment Ross engaged with me online and all through last night it has to be said that humility was deeply experienced and that made the extent of the conversation we had last night possible. There were definitely some things said that made people uncomfortable last night but it felt like a safe space that acted as a catalyst for that.

i also deeply appreciated Mkhokheli [who i didn’t know beyond a few chance encounters at the Warehouse] jumping in and asking if he could be a part of the conversation and then bringing Marthella, as well as Val being part of the conversation. Having different voices and perspectives definitely helped shape our time together and i think Mkhokheli in particular, helped to bring some much-needed perspective. But also Val has a powerful and beautiful way of seeing and describing kingdom things in terms of the holistic picture [God isn’t only interested in souls but the redemption of all creation] and Marthella brought an honest and raw questioning.

A large part of the conversation focused around the distinction between ‘being saved and that leading to doing a bunch of stuff’ and the idea that being saved included being transformed in such a way that the stuff was part of the salvation and not an added extra. We spoke a lot about ‘Loving God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind AND loving your neighbour as yourself.’ The Both/And’ness of that. The dangers of a belief that it is all Jesus and no Justice and equally that it is all Justice and no Jesus. Val reminding us that she cannot separate the two – and threw out adding worship to the mix. Jesus-Justice-Worship. Can you have any of them without the other two?

i guess if we wanted to sum up a large part of the conversation, it would have something to do with how we define those five ideas:

# What does God’s Kingdom look like in South Africa?

# What do we mean when we say the Gospel?

# What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus who gave the entry point as, ‘Deny yourself, take up your cross daily and follow Me’?

# What is God’s mission?

# What makes up the Christian value system?

i don’t think these are five different things necessarily and i’m not sure we all landed on exactly the same place when it comes to them, but i think we discovered that for the most part there was a lot of common ground. And that we probably all have some more thinking and wrestling to do with those in our present context as we try to actively make sense of them.

For me, what i take out of last night was the acknowledgement of humility demonstrated, commitment to engage and wrestle with important things with people we don’t necessarily know so well, the responsibility attached to the statements we make both online and off and hope for the church in South Africa if these are the kinds of engagements we can see more of.

Public challenge theology

i do think it’s helpful to explain why the original challenge was made from my point of view. A lot of people tend to hold Matthew 18 up when there is a public dispute and say, ‘You need to go to the person one on one and confront them.’ Which is true when someone has sinned against you. Jesus presents an incredible model that starts with a one on one, moves towards a slightly bigger group and then goes on to the community at large. Absolutely great model and agree with it completely.

But i do believe that it is different when the sin or offence has been made publically – i think we see this with Jesus and the Pharisees on more than one occasion [but especially with the great Woes challenge], with Jesus and Peter [“Get thee away from me, satan!”, with Jesus and James/John when they are vying for front row seats in the kingdom and even Paul and Peter when Peter starts acting hypocritically in a public space.

The reason for this is the audience. If a public statement/offence has happened and it is dealt with quietly in an inbox or around a coffee table, all of the people who were witnesses of the original thing have not had an opportunity to be challenged/changed/redirected and this is crucial.

Andrew made a status on Facebook which felt seriously problematic to me because it was, in essence, a preach to all who read it and so i believed that it needed to be challenged and explored and wrestled with in that same context so that everyone who read it had the opportunity to consider an alternative view.

Go and do likewise

It means a lot to me that a number of people seemed super invested in last night beyond just those who were there. i guess because in many ways this was the reputation of the greater church at stake. Can we see each other? Can we listen? Can we resolve and move forwards together? i deeply appreciate messages and prayers and people asking how it went because this is something that affects us all.

i love Jesus. There has never been any doubt about that, not to me anyways. i have never advocated a pursuit of Justice that is separate from Jesus.

i love the church. This may be harder for some people to believe because of how much of a hard time i give it, but it is precisely because i love the church that i continue to fight for it to be the church that Jesus called us to be.

i love it when people take both of those seriously enough to risk being uncomfortable, to risk confronting and being confronted, to risk stepping into a stranger’s house and sharing a drink and a conversation. to risk challenging and being challenged.

i loved last night and i hope more of us will do it more often.

After all, someone once said that we will be known by the love we have for one another. And it certainly felt like that was present last night.

About the Author:

Brett Fish is a lover of life, God, tbV [the beautiful Valerie] and owns the world's most famous stuffed dolphin, No_bob (who doesn't bob). He believes that we are all responsible for making the world a significantly better place for everyone.

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