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Reflections

I called this section "reflections" for lack of a better term. Later on it will be filled with a variety of different topical entries.

What is Happening in my Country?November 7, 2008

The Sharing ChurchJune 1, 2008

In this essay I will give a follow up to the question asked in the previous “Observations of poverty”: "how does living in a world with obvious economic disparity affect my Christian walk, especially as one blessed by the world's economic structures based on where I was born?”

Jesus preached that the "kingdom was near." We think that he meant, not "the dispensation of grace is near, and in another 2000 years, the kingdom of God will come," but that the reign of God would be inaugurated in his own death and resurrection and in the establishment of the church as His body. Some scholars might argue that Jesus really thought something apocalyptic was going to happen, after sacrificing his life--but that he must have been mistaken, because the world didn't change much after the "Messiah's" resurrection.

The word "Christian" implies the Messianic claim of Jesus' identity. Christians who believe that Jesus was not mistaken think that something significant did happen when Jesus laid down his life in forgiveness of his enemies, and was risen from the dead--proof of God's ability to redeem even beyond the power of death. But we don’t often connect that event with what happened next: the beginning of the church. We must not underestimate the role the church could have to live out the values and practices of God’s kingdom, if we take seriously that the “Kingdom is near.” Jesus himself hints at this in his picture of the reign of God as a mustard plant, which starts as a small seed but grows into a full tree. Clearly that plant doesn’t seem very large in the world today, but the seed was already planted 2000 years ago.

Anabaptist Christians refuse to dichotomize between the church visible and invisible, a dichotomy that does not stress preoccupation for the state of the visible church. Anabaptists believe the witness of the church in its visibility is the witness received by the world—a huge disservice is done when the church accepts or participates in the evil of the world: whether the acceptation of Nazism in the 30’s or its uncritically heralding corporate profit-seeking capitalism.

John Alexander, in his yet unpublished book, Stop Going to church, argues that the New Testament’s primary concern is how Christians love each other, (even more important than their loving the lost) that is, the purpose of the church is to be a body unified by the costly servanthood of its members toward one another. In this way, Christians are a greater light to the world, than through external ministries such as development programs, or political lobbying. We grant that the New Testament puts discontinuity between the reign of God seen in its fullness and the present world, but the church has an eschatological role to play. What the New Testament firstly preoccupies itself is not individualized orthodoxy, but how Christians together are to faithfully be the church (to which individual orthopraxy and orthodoxy are subordinate). Hence its injunctions to “love each other,” “Bear with one another,” Paul’s willingness to suffer for the churches, and theirs of tearing out an eye to give it to him.

There are so many directions in which I could go with this, but I want to just concentrate on what the “inbreaking of the kingdom” has to say to the dimension of human wealth and poverty. I feel the word poverty acquires more meaning if we tie it to issues of justice, as a relative lack of material resources due to economic or structural injustice (even if unseen). Or having to struggle to survive in a setting where many don't. These dimensions-- justice and basic need-- are dimensions of poverty that the Bible is concerned with. The Bible is not materialistic, nor desire violent class struggle; nor does its language lend itself to arguing abstractly for the inherent human rights to free modern health care, or to a modern Western education. The Bible is concerned with the broad spectrum of injustice/righteousness that includes social or economic injustice, and it express God's concern that we have what we need. Jesus said "do not worry about your life... For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. " (Matt. 6:25,32). In Acts 2 reports that the believers had all in common (not "divided everything up evenly"), so that no one was without need. Ancient Israel divided land among families, and it was (according to the law) never to be sold, only leased up to fifty years (one of the reasons Ruth is a hero is that by marrying Boaz, her deceased husband’s land remains in the same family). The law put in place systems to take care of the most vulnerable (widows being given in marriage to the next-of-kin, and gleaning of fields).

In the real world we know wealth is very skewed among the countries of the world and great portions of the world's money supply are managed by a few individuals on the boards of the largest corporations. As a Christian I would like to propose the question: Shouldn't it be disturbing to us if the worldwide church has approximately the same income or wealth distribution as the world? How much authority do Christians have to denounce the economic injustice of the world if we can't form a body that reflects a different reality?

According to Ron Sider, 25% of Anabaptist Christians own 88% of the wealth among worldwide Anabaptists (http://www.mwc-cmm.org/News/MWC/060313rls1.html) In the New Testament we have the example of the giving of the Gentile church to the Jerusalem church in a time of poverty (2 Cor 8:13-14).

I am aware of various objections that could be made to this question. How can material sharing be done without the Christian haves assuming power and prestige over Christians with less? How can it be done without creating dependencies? In a way that allows the church in South to be self-supporting and own its own mission efforts? Maybe a partial answer is to encourage equal exchanges that involve non-material gifts. Many Christians in poor countries could share missionaries, prophets, or spiritual gifts with Christians in wealthy western countries.

To be sure we can’t argue for the unlikely scenario of equalizing wealth among all Christians at current exchange rates, so that American Christians will all empty pocket until falling near or below the poverty line, while people in developing countries would have the incentive of large handouts if they become Christians. But I would suggest that in the global church, apart from exceptionable circumstances, there should not be Christians starving or malnourished, or in living conditions that take away dignity. We should work toward the goal of the church in Acts of everyone being without need. I don’t mean to detract from a commitment to the well-being of all human beings, but there would be great witness if Christians could at least show solidarity with fellow Christians—if being Christians gave more unifying identity than nation, race, class, or education.

I would like to recall the parable that the prophet Nathan told David in 1 Samuel 12:1-4. A rich man with lots of livestock, in order feed a guest, robs a poor family of their only animal, a beloved lamb, instead of taking out of his own abundance. I would like to extend the parable: The same rich man robs other poor families of their only animals, and soon amasses a very large herd. Generations pass and the rich family prospers and start a yarn factory to make use of all their wool. The children and the grandchildren of the poor man have continued to live in poverty, never having a way to get ahead, because what they had was taken away from them. With little means to get by, they chose to work for market wages at the yarn factory of the rich family, which is at least enough to be able to eat. The descendents of the rich man have better intentions than their forefather; they even hope for a (superficial) reconciliation and say to them, "we want you to know that we are not racist like our great-grandfather; we consider you our equals, and have brought you out of misery by our fair wages. Therefore we hope there are mutual feelings of goodwill between our families, and you can always count on our charity."

I think it is clear that there are many unjust systems and principalities in the world. Arguably, the rise of the West’s strong economy has roots in wars and domination that took place over generations, and that have never afforded healing. The church can’t take the structure of the world head-on, it can trust that the suffering-servant Jesus sealed the victory against evil. But the church’s witness to Jesus demands its pointing to an alternate reality than the current unjust system. Economic sharing would then not be “charity” but a form of witness.

Can we as a church demonstrate a unity beyond barriers of race, nation, class, and language, that simply is not to be found in the world? There needs to be a generosity much more radical than what we see. Something more than sending work teams who spend three quarters of their money on hotels and flights. At times North American groups build things like the sand volleyball court next to where I work, which had a very short life before being flooded and buried in my flood zone neighborhood that gradually rises upward as dirt is trucked in and houses are built up. I suggest that unity would include economic sharing and good stewardship of resources. It would mean forming relationships and ties between Christians of the north and south, between Christians of different languages, race, nations, and social class. Those relationships and awareness of each other’s needs (material or otherwise) help grant wisdom in knowing how to love authentically and share.

PovertyNovember 15, 2007

Regionalisms in HondurasSeptember 16, 2007

ImmigrationJuly 9, 2007

The Blessing of GodJune 3, 2007

Questions not all Frequently AskedMay 18, 2007

El MuditoMay, 2007

QuotesFeb 12, 2007

The Mencía familyMarch, 2007

Updated June 22, 2008