Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Emergent Church

While America Evangelicalism becomes more diverse, new leadership representing the diversity is emerging.

In a recent edition of “Christianity Today” it was discovered that favorite authors of Christians in Africa are Ben Carson, Joel Osteen, Rick Warren, and Joyce Meyer. (See “Christianity Today,” October 2014, p. 22). This indicates that leading American Evangelistic pastors carry a lot of influence in Africa. This will probably be the case for some time to come. What this indicates is that these men and women need to consider that Africa is a part of their audience and thus they need to speak to Africa.

In the same edition of Christianity today there is an article about Asian American Christians entitled “Silent No More: Asian American Christians are Growing in Influence and Audience. Will They be Embraced by Their Broader Church Family?” by Helen Lee (Christianity Today, October, 2014, 39-47). This was the cover story. The article contained some interesting facts such as the Asian American community is made up of 34 nationalities, there are 7,123 Asian American churches and six ethnic groups, Chinese, Vietnamese, Filipino, Korean, Indian, and Japanese make up 83% of Asian Americans.

In God is Back: How the Global Revival of Faith Is Changing the World written by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, who are both journalists for the Economist, the authors visit an illegal but tech-savvy Chinese house church, and find the Bible study leader who seems to be heavily influenced by the prosperity gospel (pages 1-4). In my opinion, that is bad theology, but probably not surprising to find these ideas in a culture that is attempting to become an economic superpower. (Brother Yun, the “Heavenly Man,” has written about his experiences in the Chinese house-church movement and the persecution that he has endured.)

As America and the world becomes more diverse, leadership is emerging that represents the diversity. This is seen even in the Republican Party. Nikki Haley is an Asian American from a Sikh background who is the Republican governor of South Carolina. Piyush “Bobby” Jindal, governor of Louisiana, is from a Punjabi background. Both Haley and Jindal have converted to Christianity. (However, apparently Haley practices both Christianity and Sikhism.) African American leadership is also starting to emerge in the Republican Party with Allen West, Mia Love (a Mormon), and Herman Cain. (Ben Carson is now a Republican candidate for president.) Of course, the Democratic Party prides itself in its diversity.

Ravi Zecharias is an international Evangelist from India, who now resides in Canada. He is now one of the leaders in Christian apologetics.

Michael Youseff of Church of the Apostles in Georgia is a native Arabic speaker born among the Coptic Christians in Egypt. Benny Hinn is a Palestinian Christian, although he rarely admits to this. (Probably due to the strong support for Israel among Evangelicals and the tendency to think ill of Arabs among them.) Walid Shoebat, also a Palestinian, has become a well-known Bible prophecy teacher.

Chinese American Francis Chan has risen to prominence in Evangelical circles with his best-selling books such as “Forgotten God,” which is about the Holy Spirit.

Joseph Prince pastors a mega-church in Singapore. Joseph Prince is half-Sikh and half-Chinese. (Sikhism is a religion and an ethnicity.)

In Korea there is David Yungi Cho (formerly known as Paul Yungi Cho) who has recently emerged from a tax evasion scandal (in which he was fined $5 million). He was the pastor of the world’s largest church that claims 830,000 in its membership! (He is now in semi-retirement.)

Growing up in Southern Evangelical circles, the late Nora Lam was often heard of and a movie about her testimony, entitled “China Cry” was made.  Nora Lam was an evangelist who had to flee persecution in China. Growing up I would hear of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee often. Sometimes people question Nee, Lee, and Prince’s theology-as if they are heretics. I don’t see any serious divergence from Christian orthodoxy in their teachings and it seems to me that the suspicion is upon them because they are “foreign.”

This shows that God is raising up leaders from Korea, India, the Arab world and China, among other places.

Some steps are being made to make the voices coming from the “third world” or the “developing world” to be heard within the Evangelical community.

Africa Bible Commentary is s one-volume commentary written by 70 African Scholars and is the first ever to be produced in Africa by African theologians to meet the needs of African pastors, students, and lay leaders. It was edited by Tokunboh Adeyemo, the executive director of the Centre for Biblical Transformation and has previously served as general secretary for the Association of Evangelicals in Africa. He earned a Ph.D. from Dallas Theological Seminary.

There is also a study Bible entitled “The Africana Bible: Reading Israel's Scriptures from Africa and the African Diaspora” that features commentary from Africans and African Americans.

God’s Spirit is moving in China. “God Is Red: The Secret Story of How Christianity Survived and Flourished in Communist China” by Liou Yiwu and “Jesus in Beijing: How Christianity Is Transforming China and Changing the Global Balance of Power” by David Aikman both chronicle how Christianity is growing in China. There is some persecution in China. The government wants to control the church through “Three Self” churches. That is churches that are “self-governing, self-supporting (i.e., financial independence from foreigners) and self-propagating.” However, independent and illegal house-churches are thriving.

Evangelicals should have a world vision and should watch for and be open to the way God is moving around the world.

Evangelicals in America need to be loving and accepting of the international body of Christ. One way in which American Christians are not inclusive regards Arabs and Middle Eastern Christians. This is seen in Benny Hinn’s downplaying his Arab identity and claiming to be “Greek.” He is from a Palestinian Greek Orthodox background. Evangelicals tend to blame the existence of Islam upon Abraham’s fathering Ishmael through Hagar. This is an incorrect reading of Scripture. In the Bible God blesses, and doesn’t curse, Ishmael (Genesis 17:20). However, the mistake in interpretation is that Ishmael is not the father of all Arabs, as many falsely suppose. A genealogy of Arabs is found in Genesis 10:21-32, showing that Arabs existed before Abraham. After Sarah died, Abraham married Keturah and sired six Arabian tribes through her Genesis 25:1-4. In Abraham’s day, it was acceptable to take a servant as a concubine and have children through her. Today, Abraham’s action is looked upon as sinful and as a lack of faith. It is often preached that Abraham’s lack of faith brought evil, the Arab people, into the world. Each of Abraham’s eight sons became a nation in fulfillment of God’s promise that Abraham would be the father of many nations-and not just one Jewish nation. (Actually, two nations came from Abraham’s son Isaac; Israel and Edom.) From the perspective of many Evangelicals, Abraham conceived Ishmael in sin (although the Bible doesn’t say this). It is difficult to see how Abraham marrying Keturah and having sons through her could be construed as being sinful. What Christians are saying to the Arab people in their misinterpretation of Scripture is that they hate them and wish that they were never born. The Bible says that the Arabs were the first to hear and receive the Gospel (Acts 2:11, Galatians 1:17). Arabs are also confused with Muslims, while not all Arabs are Muslim and most Muslims are not Arab. Unfortunately, these racist, anti-Arab, un-Christian beliefs are deeply engrained in the American Evangelical community and reinforced by the actions of Islamist terrorists. All of this also ignores the fact that there are millions of Arab Christians and large communities of Arab Evangelicals. Christians shouldn’t have hate towards their brothers and sisters in Christ, nor should they twist the Scripture to affirm such false beliefs. Anti-Semitism needs to be fought against. But many Evangelical Christians need to change their attitudes towards their Arab brothers and sisters.

As is seen above God is moving in mighty ways around the world and in minority groups in the United States of America and Canada, but some obstacles remain. There are other similar barriers that exist among American Evangelicals regarding diversity. However, they must be overcome, because Jesus is the Son of Man, which means he is the son of all Mankind, and he died for the whole world, including Arabs, Africans, and Asians, on the cross. Evangelicals need to align themselves with the loving heart of Jesus Christ and accept diversity in the church and welcome the emerging leadership.

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