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Did Jesus and Paul avoid conflict?
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Do Jesus and Paul avoid conflict?

In a previous blog post, I suggested that sometimes Christians need to argue. In fact, I believe healthy teams must have productive and passionate debate about important issues. We will lose much if avoid engaging in them. But I also noted that Christian unity is very important to Jesus, and in fact is taught throughout the New Testament. So does our commitment to keeping the unity of the Spirit (Eph 4:3) restrain us in participating in these types of arguments? Let’s look at both Jesus and Paul and their posture toward arguments.

Jesus does not avoid arguments

Throughout Jesus’ ministry, we often find him in debate with the religious leaders of the day (e.g. Mk 8:11, 12:28). Generally, these debates were initiated by the Pharisees as they sought to trip up this young, popular teacher who was threatening their power base. But Jesus does not steer clear of controversial subjects or refuse to answer their provocative questions.

Nevertheless, when he overhears his disciples arguing about who was the greatest (Mk 9:33-34, Luk 9:46), he puts a stop to it. These were not productive debates, and reflected a completely wrong idea of what leadership entailed.

Jesus joins an argument

But I would have thought that after the dramatic events of the cross and the resurrection, Jesus would be done with the rough-and-tumble of debate and argument. Somehow I imagined that in his resurrected glory, he would not want to have anything to do with them. Then I read Luke 24. I see that in Luke, Jesus’ first resurrection appearance is to join an argument between two disciples.

Keep the Cross Central

Follow-up: Keep the Cross Central

In surveying Paul’s letters to churches he planted, I have been pointing out lessons we can learn about following up with churches we have planted. In studying 1 Corinthians, we see two primary concerns that Paul sought to clarify and correct. The first is the need to keep the cross central and is the focus of this post. The second is the place of culture in Christian proclamation and life and will be the subject of the next post.

The cross was central to his message

Paul summarized his message as “we preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23). As he said just a few verses earlier (1 Cor. 1:17), it is the power of the cross that is central to the Christian message. The word of the cross is the power of God that saves us (1 Cor. 1:18). This message that Jesus Christ was crucified distinguishes Christianity from Judaism and all other religions. In writing about the uniqueness of the gospel message, Leon Morris notes,

It was the place of Jesus that made the difference. To see him as Messiah was to put everything in a new perspective. Not only did the Christians see him as Messiah, but as the crucified Messiah. For them the central thing was the cross, so that Paul could sum up the message he proclaimed in the words, ‘we preach Christ crucified’ (1 Cor. 1:23). Whatever subordinate and incidental issues were involved, the essential difference between Judaism and Christianity was the cross (for that matter it is the cross that is the difference between every other religion and Christianity). 1Leon Morris, The Atonement: Its meaning and Significance, p. 11.

Follow-up of church plants

Follow-up: Making sure they get the Gospel right

As I said in a previous blog post, follow-up is an important aspect of the missionary task — not just follow-up with individual new believers, but follow-up with churches that have been planted. I want to look at several of Paul’s epistles to see how Paul did this follow-up for churches he planted.

Galatians provides us with an example of the need for church-planting follow-up, as well as a model of how to do it. Paul’s letter to the churches of Galatia was probably written about a year after he and Barnabas planted those churches on their first missionary journey in Acts 13 and 14.  Elders had already been appointed (Acts 14:21-23). The disciples had been filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:52). Yet, a year later the purity of the gospel was under attack.

Exploring Spiritual Formation: Gifting

It happens every year: the gift that no one else wants finds its way under my Christmas tree. One year it was an electric hot dog cooker. The contraption had twelve metal prongs that sent electricity through the meat—I felt like Dr. Frankenstein every time I plugged it in. Another year I received a box of homemade cookies regifted to me because the original recipient thought the treats “tasted like smoke.” They did.  And who hasn’t received a perfect candidate for an ugly sweater contest? Confession: I’m sure I’ve given a few poorly chosen sweaters, too.

These experiences, along with the commercialization of Christmas, sometimes make me want to give up gift giving altogether. I wonder how all this madness celebrates Christ. It’s so easy to forget the real reason for the season in the rush to get the best bargain online or at the mall. Is it possible to find the Savior somewhere in the mix of shopping, wrapping, and exchanging presents? Would it be better to eliminate the tradition in order to focus on Jesus? In my search for answers, I decided to turn to the Christmas story for insight. I was surprised to discover how much gifting occurs there.

Bridging the Divide Network

In the October 2017 issue of Missio Nexus’ publication, Anthology, the article “Transforming Perspectives” caught my attention. The article reflects on the five consultations that have taken place since 2011 organized by the Bridging the Divide Network (BtD). This network has brought together people with different perspectives on Insider Movements to increase understanding in a safe environment. The article describes the consultation:

Nearly two hundred scholar-practitioners have been involved at some point, scores of papers have been presented and responded to, and dozens of group discussions have covered a range of topics related to ministry approaches among Muslims.

Anthology October 2017 vol. 5 no. 2, 22.

How do we decide whether someone is a Christian?

You may have heard comments about “bounded sets” and “centered sets” in missions conversations. Since introduced by Paul Hiebert in 1978, these terms have been part of many missiological discussions. Frequently, in a somewhat reductionistic way, “bounded sets” are seen as Western and traditional and “centered sets” are seen as more progressive.

Let’s review what we are talking about. Bounded sets are defined by the boundaries used to describe the set. For instance, either conversion or baptism might be the boundary for a bounded set of the category “Christian.” According to this way of categorizing people, in order to be considered a Christian, you would have to have a conversion experience or be baptized. Often the list of characteristics that define a Christian are expanded to include things like: going to church regularly, not drinking alcohol, having assurance of salvation and espousing orthodox theology on all major doctrines.

What do we call ourselves?

What label do we use to identify our religious commitment? What label should a convert adopt? These are common questions in Muslim ministry contexts. Many other ministry contexts also grapple with this issue. An internet search for ‘”Christian” or “Jesus-follower” as a label produced over 2,400,000 results (no, I didn’t read them all!). Should we call ourselves “Christians,” “Jesus-followers,” “Christ-followers,” “Born-again Christians,” or some other label?

The problem with labels is that they carry different meanings in different contexts, even within the same culture. In this post we will discuss the labels “Christian” and “Jesus-follower.” Both of these labels are subject to diverse understandings.

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