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What Do You Do In Cape Town?
Stocki looks at his student trip to Cape Town and asks questions about evangelism and the error of Bible reading as an end in itself, among other things.
So what do you do in Cape Town? - We build houses on the townships.
Is it a Christian thing? - Yes. Habitat For Humanity is a Christian organization trying to rid the world of poverty housing.
But do you do Bible Studies or anything? - No.
It is not the questions so much as the depth of suspicion in the continued interrogation that gives away what this conversation is about. What do you do? Is it Christian? The answer that is being sought is, what is the Christian activity that you will be doing to make the venture evangelically sound? Building houses does not fulfill that criteria. In the eyes of many, Christian actions are confined to preaching on corners, running crusades, beach missions, children’s clubs etc. That you are only building houses suggests that there is something a little bit woolly about your work and liberal about your theology.
But what did Jesus say? Did he say, “If you do a mission you will enter the kingdom of God, if you preach to the heathen in far away lands you will enter the Kingdom of God?” He did not. He said, “I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room. Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me you did it to me.” (Matthew 25 - The Message) I am guessing if Jesus said it then this must be what he defines as spiritual. Interesting.
But let me not just defend our corner and receive a tick on whether our trip passes the criteria to be deemed Christian. The above conversation leads to huge concerns about the understanding of the common or garden-variety evangelical about what Biblical Christianity is. How, for instance, can evangelicals be so seemingly centered on the Bible and miss a massive chunk of Jesus’ teaching recorded by Matthew, given at a crucial point of his life, just before the cross?
It is another little curse of modernity. Modernity is the worldview we have lived in for almost three hundred years. It is scientific and rational and we made Christianity in its image. Modernity needs to live in systems and boxes and rational thought. Many Christian thoughts are taken from biblical truths and then followed in a modernist way to a logical conclusion. The rational thought says that souls are eternal and bodies temporary. Therefore, we should concentrate on saving souls and ignore the material physical here and now. That makes sense in a modernist mindset but it is a huge distortion of the Bible’s teaching and the commands and example of Jesus. It allows modernism to eradicate huge swathes of the biblical mandate from our discipleship. Two thousand verses that show God’s clear, compassionate concern for the poor can be ignored as not that important and in the case of the conversation at the outset of this article sit outside the criteria for what is Christian.
That in itself may be a symptom of a deeper and more worrying error. Underlying our opening conversation’s suspicion and judgment is the compartmentalizing of faith. Faith is confined to things that are deemed Christian. So building houses is not, but doing Bible study is. The fear here is that life is divided in two as well. The Bible study never gets out of the Bible and into the everyday life that we live because we cannot see anything spiritual outside of Church activities. This leaves us schizophrenic and in grave danger of never integrating our spiritual lives into what we might foolishly call our secular lives and therefore being able to live pretty much any which we way like outside of church. This leads to a lack of holiness in most areas of our lives and lack of relevance to the world we are hoping to reach for Christ.
My friend is the manager of a company with twenty five workers who all work closely together in one building, many in one open plan office space. Having been through the evangelical experience as a student, my friend was very careful in his observation of a young enthusiastic Christian who joined the team. Eventually he told me, “Steve, it was amazing. He did all the things he thought a Christian was supposed to do. He did not swear or laugh at the racy jokes. He talked about church and made it clear he was a Christian BUT he did none of the things that would have made an impression on his work mates. If people needed stay behind he was the last to offer, if someone needed help he was not very forthcoming. In the end, his faith was not taken seriously because his life did not catch peoples attention. The spiritual made no impact on life and he made no impact on those around him.”
What we then have are spiritual disciplines that are ends in themselves and nothing to do with their original intention. The Bible is read so that we have read the Bible. It never gets applied. The words never get to jump off the page and meander in and out of the lives we live. The Bible becomes a comfort blanket. Just as a child might have a piece of worn out and filthy cloth to carry around to feel secure, many Christians need to read the Bible to feel secure. It is read so they can feel good rather than to turn their lives upside down and inside out. It is about the feel good factor and little else. It is a dead discipline of a dead book in a dead soul. Yet we have elevated the reading of it to a more important task than the living it.
In many ways, this is what modernity has done. It has killed the vibrancy of Bible reading, evangelism and Christian living and replaced them with a dead orthodoxy. This orthodoxy is even more useless as we find ourselves living in a post modern world because the system by which we represent God and salvation simply does not make sense. God and the Gospel are the same yesterday, today and forever but the world that they are communicated into has changed beyond recognition. In order for the post modern world to in any way understand what the church means we must communicate to them in a way they can hear and decipher. Objective and rational dogmatism are the currency of modernism. They simply do not have a value anymore.
Post modernism is all about subjectivity and mystery. So if I want to awaken a soul to the things of God and Jesus the proclamation techniques of the past three hundred years are pretty much useless. It will take a subjective awakening in souls and the most powerful alarm call will be a life that lives Jesus’ teaching rather than one that just shouts out his name. This actually takes us back to the Biblical model that God taught us was the best way to reveal Himself anyway. Words were never enough spoken or written and so God made Himself flesh and moved in among us.
Building houses on a Cape Town township is a little bit like the burning bush in the wilderness. It is such a strange and unexpected phenomenon that it draws people in as Moses was drawn in. And as they get closer to Gods active presence they hear his voice and get the message. As we white Europeans build houses on black African townships we become very quickly an intrigue. Why are they here where whites rarely venture? I have watched people slow down as they pass the houses we are building; inquisitive. I have watched as a man came up to one of the home owners we were building for and asked how much he was paying these white people to build his house? When the owner flashed those amazing African white teeth in a grin and told him that these white people were actually paying to be the laborers to black builders in a land where so recently that would have not only have been ridiculous but against the law, you could see the man’s face get more furrowed with confusion. Confounded by what didn’t seem possible but was very much happening before his eyes, the answer is a simple one and declared at least at the public dedication of houses if not in the many conversations beforehand; it is because they follow Jesus and believe in justice and good news and the Kingdom and God’s will coming on earth as it is in heaven.
As we spend time in various situations as part of a township community there are many conversations that we are drawn into. I have shared with, among others, a Rasta selling fruit and Communists selling political revolution. As I share my faith in conversation the truth is that they can argue with my belief no matter how strong or well argued in a modernist sense that Jesus is God and that he died in my place and was raised to life. It can be disagreed with even in a modernist system. But what people cannot argue with and must come to terms with in the depths of their minds and their souls is an argument that has erudite power in either modernism or post modernism. These people raised thousands of pounds and flew thousands of miles to mix cement and carry blocks in an alien environment to help total strangers. The keys that are handed to a family who have never before lived in a real house cannot be argued against. God’s love is not just words shouted from a distance or pasted on a billboard. Gods love has come into their lives and has changed their lives forever.
So what do you do in Cape Town? - We build houses on the townships.
Is it a Christian thing? - YOU TELL ME!
Steve Stockman 7/11/2004