honest to goodness… This is the exact likeness of Zwingli – or as the Scientologists say, Xenu
I had the opportunity to travel to Afghanistan before the US involvement there. It was an incredibly rewarding trip in many ways, but I wanted to focus on one of the ways specifically. There has been a lot of talk about the creeds and why they matter or do not matter and most of it has been theoretical and impassioned. I hope to perhaps provide a real world example to the discussion and bring it out of the realm of ideas and place i firmly in the realm of people.
At the time that I was there Afghanistan was not a particularly friendly country to Christians and the Bible was frowned upon and in most places not allowed. Knowing this, I did the only reasonable thing and helped a group to smuggle bibles into the area in the official language of the country. The trip itself was rewarding but the reaction to seeing the Bible was worth the risk in and of itself. O if we in the Western World had a longing and love for the scriptures as they did…but that is a different story.
The villagers that I met had experiences with missionaries who had spread word of the gospel, but few of them had ever seen a Bible, none of them had a full copy (a lucky few had a page or two torn away) and the standard missionary verses were known. (John 3:16, etc) but that was the beginning and end of their Biblical knowledge. Through the translator, I asked how it was that they knew they were Christians if they had not had a proper education in the faith and had no access to the Word of God. They listed the following 12 reasons as how they knew:
- I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth:
And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary:
Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell:
The third day he rose again from the dead:
He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty:
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead:
I believe in the Holy Ghost:
I believe in the holy catholic church: the communion of saints:
The forgiveness of sins:
1l. The resurrection of the body:
- And the life everlasting.
This was how they knew they were Christian. This is what they had taught others you needed to believe in order to be a Christian. This was the only thing that they had and knew for certain. They went on to provide a brief explanation of which each statement actually meant as well, so it was not simply lines memorized, bu rather the gospel understood. Not only that, but they were happy to share it and over joyed to be able to tell the story. There is probably a lesson there for the western church.
While they were overjoyed and excited to have the full Word of God, it was not so that they could try and find out what they believed, they already knew that, they wanted to find out the whole story from beginning to end. They wanted to fill in the details and to be able to better know the Lord. They knew what they believed, they just wanted to know some more of the details.
There has been some discussion of whether or not the Apostles Creed (and the others) is “seeker friendly”. I know that it was able to be understood by Afghans who were poorly educated at best. There has been some discussion as to weather or not it can inspire faith. I know that it inspired those men, women and children to the point that upon being able to touch the Word of God, the wept for joy. Thy become positively elated when they opened it to see a language that many of them could read. Yeah, that’s right. They were content to be able to touch the Word of God without being able to read it (so they thought). That is how precious it was to them. It was precious because of their belief, and that belief came from the Creed. There has been some conversation about if the creeds are necessary. I know that is all the tribesmen and villagers I met had, and it was necessary for their belief. There has been some discussion as to weather or not one needs to believe all the tenants of the Creed to be a Christian, and to be fair, who is a Christian and who is not is above my pay grade. I will say that if you do not believe in what is contained in the Apostle’s creed, you are well outside the boundaries of what has defined Christianity for centuries and that is a dangerous place to be.
So, do the creeds matter? Are they still useful? Here is what my experiences have shown me. I know that when the somewhat popular Newsboys song “We Believe” is played, that a six year old boy runs to grab his cross and hold it high and sing along and dance like David (except for the no clothes part) because he knows it to be true. I know that the words of the Apostle’s Creed still hold power as they are the story of a loving God from beginning to end. I know that no matter our differences, that the whole of Christianity has traditionally held to 12 rather simple tenets. I know that it was enough for those who had no idea who the Living Christ was and that while we are arguing over it’s usefulness, it is still leading people to new faith and affirming the faith of those whom already believe. I know that if we are to have any hope for true Christian unity that it will begin with the words “I believe” and end with “amen”.
I have not seen the new update, but if you are interested in the study of the original languages, then pay attention. The focus of Bibleworks is on the Original Languages and it is awesome.
“…Discouragement: The greatest occupational hazard of the believer…”
As I began to read this book for the first time, preparing for my review, I had to stop in the phrase above in total awe of the truthfulness of it! Anyone who is honest about their feelings, especially those in the ministry, will have to admit that an aspect of being a Christian minister that is as connected to the ministry as the calling to minister itself, is the fact that ministers will often be discouraged and unfortunately many, for lack of resources, committed fellowships, etc. will allow the discouragement to become such a heavy burden that they will no longer be able to function as ministers and worst, as Christians!
Thankfully there is this book, written brilliantly and in a way that ministers, specifically, but also the folk in the pew, will understand the reasons for discouragement and hopefully deal with them.
Chapters are subtitled “How to…” which turns the book into an useful “how to” manual. It is always refreshing when an author not merely points to problems but also prescribe valuable and applicable solutions to such problems. Stott does that very well in this book.
THE TARGET AUDIENCE
As I mentioned above, every Christian can find useable information in this book as to how to deal with discouragement. But ministers, those who minister to congregations of any size, bound to a denominational creed, or the self-proclaimed independents will benefit from the “how to” prescriptions offered in this book. If you are not a minister — but have experienced bouts with discouragement, or the euphemistically called “spiritual burn-out,” — do not shy away from reading and applying the “how to” principles of this book. These concepts are easily adaptable to you whether you are a Sunday School teacher, a choir director, a music director, or in any activity in which one may be overcome by this “occupational hazard” called discouragement.
It is not a large book, so in reviewing it I was often tempted to review chapter by chapter, and perhaps allow my feelings and experiences as someone who have been honored by God to exercise the function of a minister in two different countries — as one who could not escape seeing my own personal story written in the pages of this book! Had I done so, however, I would never have finished this review and it would not be as easy for those who are considering reading this book to make a decision about reading it; the review would be perhaps larger than the book!
So, my method here will be to comment on some outstanding portions of the book. Here are them classified not specifically in any order of importance:
- A Personal Ministry to you: When Stott mentions the “Problem of Discouragement – How to Persevere Under Pressure,” he inserts the teaching of the Apostle Paul as a direct mention of discouragement: In “Do not lose heart…” — as if Stott is preaching directly to you — he writes, “I’d like us to turn to 2 Corinthians 4 and I hope you don’t mind if I give you a little Greek lesson” – this type of personal ministry to the reader will make this “how to manual” be a very intimate conversation with the author, whose credentials to provide advice, and “give us a little lesson in Greek” is indisputable. He then proceeds in a brilliant exposition of the text — crowning his arguments by stating to us why we should not “lose heart.” Readers will be glad they are not reading some broad concepts of a haughty author dispensing his erudite knowledge of a particular text, but he is actually ministering to you! That’s the way I felt; as if I were in his office and he was talking to me! Discouraged people, or people struggling with discouragement, need this personal ministry and Stott provides it throughout the book!
- It is a book of personal discipline: Most of us, people in the ministry often struggle to be disciplined and orderly. The book lines up three kinds of discipline that are especially beneficial for those compulsive workers that frequently, in times of stress, are open to discouragement — the need for time off, even an afternoon siesta (God is good after all…) taking the example he learned in Latin America; along with the repentance of the vice of punctuality; the need for hobbies; and, time with family and friends, meaning, friendships. He, as a biblical preacher, applies a text of Paul in 2 Timothy to support to his thesis by mentioning that Paul who was a great Christian was not afraid to admit that he needed friends. Oh, that hurts, I would say, because most of us ministers know very well that we are not supposed to have “close friendships” with no one since that may impair our ability to minister to them, but here Stott says, YES, we need friendships as Paul also needed.
- Time for Devotion: Ministers have to study so much to teach that they deplete themselves of that they need to learn for themselves. I learned that one when I was still in ministry school. This is one of the areas of Self Discipline within the remedies to combat discouragement. In fact, this book is a book in and of itself of Self-Discipline in my opinion! Anyone who needs a “list” of Self-Discipline applicable suggestions will find it in this entire book!
- A book about Respect and trust in Relationships: Throughout the book Stott uses “live” first-hand experiences in his life to teach us some principles. When laying out principles of trust in relationships he tells a humorous one about one of his missionary recruits who responded to “how he was getting along in his new country.” Worth reading and laughing at the response. However, better yet to check it out and honestly conclude that perhaps all of us would have given the same answers and still would not have identified such answers as a problem. I feel tempted in transcribing the story here — but, read the book, read the chapter. Find how important it is to learn how to trust and respect committed relationships, whether they be with your peers or with the people whom you are entrusted by God to work. Furthermore in the aspect of relationships, Stott deals with very simple principles, or mistakes, that we all commit, such as the inability to recognize redemptive worth on people, the incapacity to listen, and all the other aspects that many of us take for granted and consider them to be an “aside” (and why, even an inconvenience) in our ministerial life!
IN SUMMARY, I said that I did not want to make this review larger than the book. Let me just tell you that if you are in ministry you should do what the writer of the Foreword (Ajith Fernando, Teaching Director of Youth for Christ) says: “…I read this book slowly, as part of my devotions…” Yes, this is a devotional book! I loved it, I recommend this to anyone.
Remember, often it is not “if” you will get discouraged, but “when!” Discouragement may not be something that is inherent to your activity as a minister, but rather, I remind you, it is an “…occupational hazard…” This book will, at a minimum, if you are one of the lucky ones whose dangers of discouragement have not yet assailed you, prepare you “when” it comes!
So far, I have about ten (although I will add two as possible cases later on).
- Judges 9.54, Abimelech
- Judges 16.29, Samson (this is a hugely special case and very helpful as a necessary precursor for my dissertation)
- 1 Samuel 31.4, Saul
- 1 Samuel 31.5, Saul’s attendant
- 2 Samuel 17.23, Ahithophel
- 1 Kings 16.18, Zimri
- 1 Maccabees 6.43, Elaezar
- 2 Maccabees 10.13, Ptolemy Macron
- 2 Maccabees 14.37, Razis, a loyal Jew who was soon to be arrested, killed himself because, “εὐγενῶς θέλων ἀποθανεῖν, ἤπερ τοῖς ἀλιτηρίοις ὑποχείριος γενέσθαι, καὶ τῆς ἰδίας εὐγενείας ἀναξίως ὑβρισθῆναι.”
- Matthew 27.4, Judas
Not even Judas is condemned for his suicide. At least 2 of those are lauded, with one of those roundly praised.
While I hate making definitive statements about “the bible,” there is no explicit condemnation of self-inflicted killing in Scripture. Rather, we have plenty of examples that seem to match instances found in other cultures. Honor. Remorse. Heroism.