While living in the Middle East, I noticed that when the lifeguard at a swimming pool blew his whistle, the westerners all stopped to see who was guilty, but the Arabs kept right on swimming. As I observed this and other phenomena, I began to realize that Arabs and Arab society were operating in another whole dimension.
Guilt did not have the same power and influence as it did in the west.
While they were aware of guilt, it didn’t have the same strong connotations for them as it had for me.
If a policeman pulled me over, I immediately felt guilty, thinking that perhaps I had done something wrong. But when my Arab friends were pulled over, they didn’t display any sign of guilt. They talked boldly to the policeman, and even argued loudly with him over the issues at hand.
It was only after many years of living in a Muslim culture that it started to dawn on me that the Arabs around me were not operating on a level of guilt versus innocence. Nor were they operating in a fear versus power paradigm. I had heard much about this from missionaries living in Africa but it didn’t seem to apply to the Arabs of the Levant.
Rather, I discovered that Arabs were living in a worldview where the predominant paradigm was shame versus honor.
Every part of the Muslim culture I lived in was based on honor and shame.
When I visited my friends I could honor them in the way I acted. They could honor me, in the way they acted. Three cups of coffee bestowed honor on me. The first, called ‘salam’ (peace) was followed by ‘sadaqa’ (friendship), and the third cup of coffee was called ‘issayf’ (the sword). The meaning was clear in their culture. When I arrived I was offered a cup of coffee that represented peace between us. As we drank and talked, the cup of friendship was offered. The last cup, the sword, illustrated their willingness to protect me and stand by me. It didn’t matter if I was right or wrong, they were bound by their honor to protect me.
In order for shame-based cultures to work, shame and honor are usually attached to something greater than the individual. Honor is almost always placed on a group. This can be the immediate family, the extended tribe, or in some cases, as large as an entire nation; as was demonstrated in Japan just previous to World War Two.
Muslim men use this rationalization when living in what they consider an immoral western nation. They can partake in drinking alcohol and sexual escapades, because the society they are living in doesn’t define this as shameful. Something may be shameful at home, but when in different circumstances, the Arab may react differently. There is a proverb that states, “Where you are not known do what ever you like.”
The possibility of failure in some way also fills Arabs with dread, as failure leads to shame. So often an Arab will shrink from accepting challenges or responsibilities.
In most Muslim cultures, hospitality is one of the most important ways of showing honor. Hospitality honors the guest and covers up any shame the host may have. When you visit an Arab home, great effort is made to be hospitable. Rather than shame you, Arabs try very hard to honor you with hospitality. Everything is done to honor the guest and to present an honorable image of the Arab family.
The reverse is also true. If you don’t want someone to visit you, simply talk to him or her outside your door, where everyone will see that they are not invited inside. They will immediately feel shamed and will not return to your home.
If hospitality is first, then flattery must be second in the Arab ways of honoring someone. Arabs are often quick to flatter people they suspect as being honorable. It is a way of pouring extra honor onto a person while demonstrating to others around that they are honoring that person.
Third on my list is gift giving. If you admire something in an Arab home, they will be quick to insist that you have it as a gift. Even if you do not admire something, they will offer you gifts, demonstrating their willingness to honor someone else with a gift.
Even the most hard-headed American commanders have lost interest in trying to blast Iraqi insurgents into submission. Now, the focus is on winning the hearts and minds of the people – so they’ll give up the insurgents living in their midst.
There are all kinds of operations underway to do this. A typical one went down the other day in Fallujah, when a group of Marines and Iraqi policemen took to the streets, to hand out soccer balls and bags of food.
The first thing Mac (“Mac” McCallister, a consultant working for the Marines) tells military leaders coming into the area is to focus on shame and honor, not hearts and minds.
“I, as an individual, may want that kid to have a soccer ball. But consider the effect, okay?” he says.
Shame and honor are “limited resources,” Mac explains. “They’re exchanged like currency. And it’s a zero sum game. If I embarrass you, I take some of your honor, and you give me some of your shame. Now you want to do something to get it back.
“The father, off to the side, is thinking, ‘Hey, that’s my job.’ So you’ve shamed him. He might also know that the kid doesn’t deserve it. Shamed him again. And if you give the ball to the little kid, he could get beat up, since the bigger ones prey on the littler ones. More shame. So does that father grab an Ak-47 and do a drive-by, to get back some of his honor?”
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. Gal 2:11-12
Remember this scene from Galatians? Remember when Peter came to visit Paul and Barnabas in Antoich and Paul later had to rebuke Peter “in the presence of all”? What was the spirit he was confronting?
The spirit of religion!
Paul knew that spirit from an earlier trip to Jerusalem when “false brethren had sneaked in to spy out our freedom which we have in Christ in order to bring us into bondage.” (Gal 2:4)
Peter, in carrying out his role as Apostle, had come up to Antioch to check on the first Gentile church the world has ever know. There we find him “mixing-it-up” with the believers, even staying in their homes and eating with them. Well, evidently some “certain men from James” from Jerusalem came up as well to check things out! When Peter saw them he “began to withdraw and hold himself aloof” from the Antioch believers, “fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away…” (Gal 2)
Please note this: Peter didn’t fear death, imprisonment, ridicule, torture… Not even the Pharisees. No! The record shows that he only feared one thing: “legalistic Christians” bound by the spirit of religion!
Barnabas was not a young believer at this time, but a seasoned, veteran missionary. His Christian roots went back to Jerusalem, where we see him as a sold-out believer, who was personally discipled by the 12 Apostles for over 10 years. Yet he too was carried away by their hypocrisy!
As noted Biblical scholar B.W. Johnson (1893) has stated:
“It required a life long struggle on the part of Paul to emancipate the church from Judaism. These men seemed to follow him everywhere. That restless wing of the church which clung to Judaism as well as Christianity, had troubled the churches at Jerusalem, Antioch, Galatia, and Corinth…”
The spirit of religion can’t see the beauty and power of Jesus healing a man born blind because it happen on the Sabbath.
The spirit of religion says to a paralytic man, instantaneously healed from 38 years of being unable to walk: “It is not lawful for you to carry your mat on the Sabbath!”
The spirit of religion sees the outpouring of the Holy Spirit with its “strange manifestations” and equates the experience to being nothing more than a “cheap buzz from cheap wine”. Acts 2
The spirit of religion doesn’t see the “captive set free” when demons are driven out of a poor slave-girl but only sees loss of profits from its fortune-telling. Acts 16
O brothers and sisters, that same ‘spirit’ which seemed to follow Paul everywhere, is also here in our midst! That “restless wing of the church” which fought against the freedom we have in Christ in the 1st Century is alive and well in the 21st Century.
A Flame that was Nearly Extinguished
New Year’s Day in 1739 was no ordinary day for about 60 students on the campus of Oxford University who gathered for prayer and to celebrate a “Love Feast” together. The meeting lasted all night! The Holy Spirit moved so powerfully that many fell down, overwhelmed. This, of course, is well know by all to be the starting point of the Great Awakening in Britain and America. Let John Wesley himself describe it to you:
‘Mr. Hall, Kinchin, Ingham, Whitefield, Hitchins, and my brother Charles were present at our Love-feast in Fetter Lane, with about sixty of our brethren. About three in the morning, as we were continuing instant in prayer, the power of God came mightily upon us, insomuch that many cried out for exceeding joy, and many fell to the ground. As soon as we were recovered a little from that awe and amazement at the presence of his majesty, we broke out with one voice, “We praise Thee, O God, we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord”’ (Idle 1986)
The fire of that night fanned into a flame of revival that quickly swept over Britain! Within a few short weeks and months, 10,000’s had heard the gospel and many were converted and gathered into weekly “Class Meetings”, which would continue under Wesley’s leadership for the next 60 years.
But sadly, within just six months, deep tensions had developed over manifestations accompanying this revival. Again from Wesley:
“Saturday, 16 June – We met at Fetter Lane, to humble ourselves before God, and own that he had justly withdrawn his Spirit from us for our manifold unfaithfulness: by our divisions; by our leaning again to our own works, and trusting in them, instead of Christ; and above all, by blaspheming his work among us, imputing it either to nature, to the force of imagination, or even to the delusion of the devil. In that hour we found God with us as at the first!” (Idle 1986).
The spirit of religion wormed its way into the brothers’ midst and tried to derail the movement of the Holy Spirit. With a crafty voice of the serpent it said: “Indeed…Would God really do that?” and attempted to put off to the effects of “cheap wine”, imagination or the devil the reality of the presence of God. Thanks be to God these dear brothers humbled themselves and gathered again to seek God face. History proves that God did indeed show up as at the first.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Remember this: “A little leaven leavens the whole lump.” (Gal. 5:9) We have seen with our own eyes how a little comment, a little bit of sarcasm, even foolish banter, grieves the Heavenly Dove.
You know as well the pain of gathering in Jesus’ Name, sensing the Presence of God and the leaders move on to the next point of the service. How do we keep from “quenching the Spirit’s fire”?
The book of Galatians was written to battle legalism and the spirit of religion. Many have suggested it is the Magna Charta of the Christian faith. Linger there often! Meditate on its main message.
“It was for freedom that Christ has set us free, therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” (Gal 5:1)
Paul wrote Galatians to those four churches of Galatia (which BTW is the first piece of the NT ever penned) who where being infiltrated by “false brethren” shortly after his first missionary trip there: “O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you…Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Gal 3) This is the battle against the spirit of religion.
Finally I quote a lengthy passage from Wolfgang Simpson, in his excellent book, Houses That Change the World, who summarizes this whole discussion with this insightful:
“Religion… is like a built-in feature of every person on earth: the world literally streams with religion. We do not have to do anything to become religious, it is creational, natural, and it creeps in unaware, like an ugly spirit raising it’s head while everyone sleeps. Religion builds up like static energy when we walk with plastic shoes on a carpet.
It needs the power of the Holy spirit, constant prophetic and apostolic ministry and the ongoing equipping of the saints to maintain a non-religious, alert and sober spirit, and to be free from religion, and liberated by Christ to worship him in truth and spirit.”
Yours for the Faithful in Every Generation,
The global Church is in the midst of a change similar in magnitude to the 16th century European Protestant Reformation, which, like an untamed stallion, broke free of 100’s of years of institution and tradition and personalized – once and for all – our faith in Christ! Their rally cry became:
“The priesthood of all believers, the Bible in the language of the people and justification by faith”.
The current reformation /transformation of the church is re-examining those treasured milestones of the first Reformation and calling the church to a new Reformation. The following two important books speak of this upheaval:
“The first Reformation was about freeing the church. The new Reformation is about freeing God’s people from the church [the institution].”
“Christendom is dying and needs to be removed from its life-support system.”
What was the tipping point of the first Reformation?
Clearly, Martin Luther not only understood his own times better than most but he understood the times and epochs of those who went before him. I personally feel that THIS is the battle of our times. This is our “Waterloo” as the church of Jesus Christ enters the 21st Century. Will we go silently into the pages of history OR will we – men and women, young and old, gifted by God – rise up and change the future by an even greater understanding of the past and a show a deeper conviction to live out all those conclusions in the present?
Most scholars would say that Luther was just a “baby Christian” (perhaps a believer for 2 years) when he nailed his 95 Theses to the church door. Within days his life was under threat of death by the foremost power on earth during his day.
On All Hallow’s Eve (October 31st) in 1517 Luther, nailed his 95 Theses on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany. During those days, the common practice when someone wanted to initiate dialogue and debate among scholars on controversial subjects was to nail your ideas or declarations to the church door. (The Story of Christianity, Price & Collins) Luther’s act, in and of itself, was not dramatic! But the people listened… and Europe (and thereby the USA and Canada and beyond) have forever been changed.
Luther’s greatest impact on the world, it could be argued, was NOT as a leader, reformer or pastor, but as an author. He was the author of over 55 large volumes. Luther was actually Dr. Luther and he taught Biblical Theology at the University of Wittenberg. His “lightening rod” influence came not so much from his personal charisma as from his diligent studies. Luther looked critically and passionately at the church of his day and the church of history. The selling of indulgences, which so greatly angered Luther and provoked the 95 Theses, was not looked at simply in his present day context, but through the long and narrow lens of biblical accuracy.
Another example is that of Transubstantiation (the idea that the Eucharistic elements are the actual physical blood and body of Jesus). Luther traced the issue of Transubstantiation to the Lateran Decree of 1215 A.D. and claimed that the term and the idea were “unknown until the false philosophy of Aristotle took root”. (A.G. Dickens, Reformation and Society)
Luther was able to change his current situation by being a meticulous student of world history.
“Of Whom The World Were Not Worthy…”
One thing we can be sure of: Reformation of the church will be costly!
Think of William Tyndale, the noble New Testament translator from England who died at the young age of 42, burned at the stake. His crime: he dedicated his whole adult life to translating the scriptures into the language of the people!
Think of Jan Hus, headmaster of the University of Prague. His bold statements that the Church had gotten off track from Her apostolic roots cost him his life. His blood – Hus was burned at the stake in his mid-40s – laid the foundation of the Hussites, the Bohemian Brethren and the Moravian movements, whose missionary impact has been felt across the globe.
Think of John Wycliffe, theology professor at England’s great Oxford University. He was harassed his entire life time for wanting to “free the people” from the institutional church. He succeeded in translating the entire Bible – by hand – into English. His followers, known in history as the Lollards, kept the flame of Reform alive into the 1500s.
All these men and women, and many others, were persuaded of this one thing. It was literally the “red thread” down though the centuries, spoken first by John Wycliffe (1329 –1384), considered to be the Morningstar of the Reformation: “I believe that in the end truth will conquer”.
The “truth” we fight for in this day and age looks vastly different than what those great leaders died for in the 15 –16th Centuries. Our battles may be different, but the message is the same. We must align the church with the clear and costly teaching of Scriptures, especially the New Testament, for therein lies our “blueprint” for today. To do less is to make a mockery of their deaths.
I believe that “church-as-we-known-it” will soon undergo such total change as to be nearly unrecognizable! “Church-of-the-New-Reformation” will be more participatory, have more of a “24/7” feel about it, and function more like a “family get-together” than a “formal gathering”. Never again will mankind dress up for Sunday morning church! This future church will look incredibly similar to the past churches found in our New Testaments and will include meeting in homes (Rom. 16:5; Col. 4:15) where we actually eat a whole meal together – The Lord’s Supper – when we assemble. I long and hope for a “Corinthian-type church” that has such expression of life, the Spirit, unpredictability and joy.
“Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me.” Martin Luther
Yours for the least in the kingdom,
Have you ever started to read a bed-time story to your children from a book that your wife has already been reading to them and had no idea what is going on? As you come “barging in” in the middle of the book you ask the kids: “Who are the characters?” “What are they doing?” “Where did they come from?…”, etc.
Many in the church today make this same fatal mistake in their bible reading: gleefully hopping and skipping about from chapter and verse to chapter and verse of completely different books, without once ever asking these same questions!
“And when this letter is read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and you, for your part read my letter that is coming from Laodicea.” Col 4:16
#1. We need to read the books of the bible as books – from beginning to end – and not just random chapters and verses. Please notice that the early church read them as a letter (Col 4:16, I Thess. 5:27) and that it would be 100’s of years before chapters, then verses, were added…An imperfect system to say the least! (History tells us that the verses were put in by a monk while riding on horse back!)
The NT is a collection of different letters written by different authors from different times and different cities addressing different problems! Read them as individual letters, from the first page to the last, just as you would with any letter you received in the mail! And ask yourself the “who, what, where, why, when” questions to boot!
Context & Author’s Intent before Interpretation! (for you scholarly types: Exegesis before Hermeneutics!)
Can you imagine explaining American history to a complete foreigner, who knows absolutely nothing about the USA, and you start with the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights issues, then you go on to explain about the present Iraq War and follow that up with a complete overview of the Revolutionary War, then the Pilgrim’s landing at Plymouth Rock and close with a brief description of the Civil War?
“Absurd” you shout! But did you know that this is how many of us read the NT right now!
#2. The second task before us is to realize that the NT is not written in chronological order but is ordered mostly by the size of the letter, especially the Pauline letters! The NT, in fact, was collected like many other compilations of the Ancient East (including the Koran) from the biggest book to the shortest. This is why the short books of 1-2 Thessalonians, some of the earliest NT literature ever penned (written in 50 AD), are put just in front of the equally short book of 1 Timothy (written about AD 62 – twelve years later!) towards the end of the NT.
Never mind that 1 Thessalonians is written to an infant church (just 6 months old) and 1 Timothy to a seasoned, veteran apostle dealing with elders who had been bring false teachings.
Once we know the chronological order of the NT, people and places start to fall into place and deeper meaning bursts forth: such as Paul’s stating that he had “fully preached the Gospel from Jerusalem to Illyricum…”(Rom 15). Knowing when (and where) the books were written we can see that after just 10 years preaching and planting churches in both Asia Minor and Greece, Paul had “no more place in these parts” and it was time to move on.
Below is a very probable time-line of some of the NT letters:
Galatians, James, 1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Corinthians, Romans, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, 1 Timothy, Titus, 2 Timothy, 1-2 Peter, Hebrews, Jude, 1-3 John, Revelation
Many people, even after years of reading the NT, are unable to tell where Pisidian Antioch is or locate Achaia on a world map and have no clue who Tychicus and Epaphras are! While this may seem like I’m splitting “theological hairs”, it actually looms very large in increasing our overall comprehension of the NT and its fast moving action and characters. We need a time-line to keep the flow of what the Holy Spirit is doing!
#3. The third task before us then is to make a time-line of the events of the NT, especially the Pauline travels and the time-line of his writings, to really understand the ebb and flow of the life and times of the early church.
30 AD – 44 AD. Pentecost to Antioch
46 AD. Paul’s First Missionary Journey (with Barnabas and John Mark)
50 AD. Paul’s Second Missionary Journey (with Silas and Timothy)
53 AD. Paul’s Third Missionary Journey (with Timothy, Erastus, Aquila and Priscilla)
57 AD Jerusalem Arrest Acts 21
59 AD Shipwreck in Malta Acts 27-28
62-68 AD. Paul’s Fourth Missionary Journey with Timothy, Trophimus, Tychicus, Titus and Luke including trips to Crete, Miletus, Ephesus, Philippi, Nicopolis and Rome – death.
Lastly, I want to briefly mention one more critical area: Biblical translation, especially during that volatile and politically dark era when the Bible was first translated into English (ca. 1400-1500).
#4. The biblical writers – Luke, Paul, Peter, Moses, etc. – were inspired by the Holy Spirit. Sometimes the translators were not! Moreover, the “powers that be” often had controlling reasons to keep the laymen/women ignorant of the Scriptures. Why else would the Bible be ONLY in Latin – a dead, academic language then as it is now – for 800 years?
William Tyndale was one of many Reformers who broke with this atrocious stronghold over people’s lives. Unfortunately he, like countless others, paid with his life: strangled and burned at the stake in Belgium in 1536 at the age of 42.
For an example of how politics and power held sway over the “Bible Translations”, please read on (taken from The Great Ecclesiastical Conspiracy) :
“This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. (1 Tim.3:1) Would it shock you if I told you that the word office is not in the Greek text? It is obvious, again, that the King James translators were preserving their ‘Ecclesiastical words’. The translators, under King James’ injunction to keep the main terms of the Church of England’s ecclesiastical form, make two main errors. The first is adding a word to the text that doesn’t appear in the Greek, i.e. “office”. There is neither a word in the text for office NOR the idea of office outside their own paradigm. The second is an error in translation. The word translated “Bishop” is episkopos. The word means to “oversee”, to “tend”. Vine defines it thus: ‘EPISKOPOS’, lit., an overseer (epi, over, skopeo, to look or watch), whence English ‘bishop’… The passage in 1st Timothy actually reads, ‘If a man wants to oversee, he desires a good work’.”
Thanks for reading. We hope this is helpful.
Yours for the Least in the Kingdom,
Jeff and Maria Gilbertson