Christian Theology in a Sudanese context. God lives in the Church.
What do you think your church exists for? Take a moment and think about this before you read on.
What are the reasons and purposes for which you meet as Christians together? My suggested answers would include the following: God has provided me with a local congregation to facilitate good preaching, application and practical teaching of the Bible. This promotes godliness and ethical righteousness. I can worship corporately with like-minded people and I can receive the ordinances of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. In the church gatherings, God enables me to enrich the fellowship of believers. This expresses unity and solidarity. There is some opportunity for me to take part in the nurture and training of new converts towards maturity as Christian disciples. This adds to the quality of Christian lives. There is some opportunity for me to take part in corporate evangelism and mission enterprise. This adds to the number of Christian people. There is also some opportunity for me to take part in corporate social service towards those who are disadvantaged within our church community, and within our wider community. This visibly demonstrates the compassionate love of Jesus Christ towards all people and can lay a receptive foundation for our personal witness to Christ. In my church there is also a procedure for resolving disputes between any of the believers before they become divisive to the testimony. This shows our submission in love to one another (1 Corinthians 6:4-6; Galatians 5:13-14; Ephesians 5:21). You will noticeI have made a deliberate emphasis on the fact that I can play a part – may be several parts – in the ministry of my local church. Please understand, this is not because I am an ordained minister! Even if I had not been specifically ordained in a London, England, church in A.D. 1973, and even if I had not successfully completed Bible College near Sydney, Australia, four years earlier, and even without my recently gained Master of Arts degree from Sheffield University, England, I can still minister in the local church. Neither ordination nor degrees are necessary for ministry. Every Christian can minister! Every Christian should minister!
Every Christian is a priest in the spiritual house of the church (Hebrews 10:19-25; 1 Peter 2:5; 1 Peter 2:9). The New Testament emphasises that the coming of Jesus Christ has put an end to the need of anyone to ‘go between’ us and God Himself. We all have direct access to God. It is our own responsibility to have “clean hands and a pure heart”, (Psalm 24:4), and these are available to us through Jesus Christ alone (1 John 1:8-9). All Christians have a priestly ministry. A ‘priest’ (Greek – hiereus) is ‘one who prepares and offers a sacrifice’. We are all to give God ourselves as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1-2). A ‘ministry’ (Greek – diakonia) is ‘a service, something that is done for others’. When you give yourself, you give everything. When you serve, you are not the person in control. My role in Christian ministry is to give myself totally to ministering to the needs of others, as God directs. Every Christian has this privilege and responsibility. I have always been uneasy when visiting churches in Sudan, seeing people stand to their feet when I come in, accepting an offered special soft chair on the platform when the congregation is seated on hard backless benches, and having a bottle of Coke or Pepsi to drink while others are given only a communal cup of water. I understand that Sudanese respect for people and their wonderful hospitality toward strangers are to be commended, and I gladly do so. But it feels uncomfortable to me as a servant minister of God to be given these special honours. I am only doing my duty. I am obediently following my orders. I am a servant who does not want to be treated as special. Anyone who seeks personal privileges or position, has missed the point of a servant ministry.
In the wonderful Sudanese culture, many people quietly serve others without wanting to be noticed. The lady teaching the delightful, if noisy, children in Sunday School, is serving in her ministry. The people bringing water around to the congregation an hour into the meeting on a very hot day, are serving in their ministry. The man who sweeps away any litter and all the dust, and who locks up the door when everyone else has gone home, he is serving in his ministry. When we culturally recognise the very obvious public ministries of some, we must be careful not to overlook the essential, but virtually hidden, ministries of the majority. And as Christians, we must never seek ministry, just to be especially recognised (1 Timothy 5:17-18;
1 Corinthians 12:21-25).
Every Christian can serve by helping other people. “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honour one another above yourselves” (Romans12:10). “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position” (Romans 12:16). “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:8). “Therefore let us stop passing judgement on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put a stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way” (Romans 14:13).“Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (Romans14:19). “May the God Who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus” (Romans 15:5). “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Romans 15:9). “I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another” (Romans 15:14). It is an interesting study to look at the words ‘help’, ‘helped’, ‘helper(s)’, and ‘helping’, from a Bible concordance. To ‘help’ means to assist. It means to lift the burden from another. It means to contribute to the cause. A helper improves the situation. A helper serves someone else. You may not feel able to be ‘a minister’ in your church, but if you can ‘help’ in your church, you are being a minister in the New Testament understanding of that word. (As a start to this study, see Acts 9:36; Acts 11:29; Acts 13:5; Acts 18:27; Acts 19:22; Acts 20:35; Romans 16:2; 1 Corinthians 12:28; 2 Corinthians 1:11; 2 Corinthians 9:2; Philippians 4:3; 1 Timothy 5:9-10;1 Timothy 5:16; 2 Timothy4:11; Philemon verse 13). All Christians have gifts and abilities given to them by God that they can use for the benefit of the local church (Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:7-10; 1 Corinthians 12:27-30; Colossians 3:15-17; Hebrews3:13; 1 Peter 4:11). God gives a whole variety of people so that they can make a wide range of contribution. Every gift is an ability God knows will be useful to the congregation as a whole.
Every talent submitted to the Lord becomes a spiritual ministry. Encouragement puts strength into everyone. Advice, (admonition) given and received, may prevent disasters. Properly submitted and tested prophecies may guide or warn the church (1 Corinthians 14:29). Clear explanation and application of the Bible’s teaching to every day life in Sudan builds up the character qualities and lifestyles of Christians. In answer to believing prayer God powerfully and miraculously intervenes in events surrounding the life of the church and the individuals who make it up. God’s healing may be similarly given, either using common medicines, sensible therapies, or with no human treatment at all.
The ability of some of my Sudanese friends to get their tongues to pronounce many languages Dinka, Nuer, Moro, Mabaan, and so on, as well as Arabic and English, puts me to shame. I’m glad God understands English! Prayer and praise spoken to God in an unknown tongue, privately, and publicly if interpreted, is another gift God gives to some
(1 Corinthians 12:30; 1 Corinthians 14:2). People can share the knowledge and wisdom gained from their experiences, and others can find this helpful to them. Discerning counterfeit spirituality, at events which are not Christian even though they may seem as if they are, is a valuable gift from God too. Administration is the ability to organise well and make sure everything happens as it should. It includes accountability to others. Faith is the ability to stimulate reasonable trust in God from the congregation. Showing mercy means to be able to put one’s own ‘rights’ to one side and to concentrate on the future more than the past. These are all examples of ways in which believers may be used by God to serve their local congregation.
Comparatively few Christians are called to serve by taking local church leadership responsibility (Ephesians 4:11-12). To be a faithful ‘servant of the servants’ of Jesus Christ is a blessed ministry (John 13:12-17). Pride has no place in the heart of a pastor. The essence of Jesus’ command, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you”, is “a humility and helpfulness towards brothers and sisters in Christ”. Foot-washing the congregation is not necessary for the pastor, but the recognition that the pastor’s role is that of a servant – and not of a master – is definitely necessary.
Thinking it though.
(a). Define: ‘the Christian ministry’.
(b). What does ‘the priesthood of all believers’ mean? (1 Peter 2:5).
(c). How can a ‘servant of the church’ be its leader?