**Disclaimer: I usually write posts I feel could benefit all South Africans – an even those abroad. Today I write specifically for the church in South Africa. It is unlike my previous posts. It is not well structured or well articulated. It is not thoughtfully inclusive or well polished. There will be typo’s I’m sure. It is not theologically sophisticated. I am merely presenting to you voices that I think we need to heed on this very day.**
I get the feeling that we are not really listening to the real questions that are being asked by this country. I see the big challenges we face as South Africans and I feel like I seldom know how we as a church are partnering with God to bring real solutions and redemption and liberty and restoration and reconciliation and keep our spiritual default settings from kicking in all the time.
I see so many posts on Facebook and tweets on Twitter going forwards and backwards. We outdo each other in our wise, prophetic and intelligent utterances. I see many many words and very little transformative action.
We choose the pain we want to acknowledge and remain indifferent and inattentive to everything else.
Today is Ascension Day. Most of us didn’t even notice. But since it is Ascension Day, I think it is wise to take stock again of some voices that have been crying out over the years as they considered the Ascension of Jesus (I realise that there are many other voices and perhaps many other that could have been more representative – these are the ones, that came to mind when I started writing this today).
For some theological foundation, a non-South African New Testament scholar that I respect:
Luke 24: 46-51 (King Jesus Translation – NT Wright)
“This is what is written,’ he said. ‘The Messiah must suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and in his name repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, must be announced to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are the witnesses for all this. Now, look: I’m sending upon you what my Father has promised. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.’ Then he took them out as far as Bethany, and lifted up his hands and blessed them. As he was blessing them, he was separated from them and carried into heaven.”
Of this NT Wright said in his commentary, Luke for Everyone (first published in 2001),
“‘Repentance’ and ‘forgiveness of sins’ are not, therefore, simply a matter for the individual, though they certainly are that. At the heart of being a Christian is the personal turning away from sin, and celebrating God’s forgiveness, which is after all at the heart of the Lord’s Prayer itself. But these two words go much wider as well. They are the agenda which can change the world. Today’s world is full of disputes, large and small, only a few of which get into the newspapers. Nations, ethnic groups, political factions, tribes and economic alliances struggle for supremacy. Each can tell stories of the atrocities committed by their opponents. Each one claims that they therefore have the right to the moral high ground, and must be allowed redress, revenge, satisfaction. But, as anyone who has studied the complicated history of the Middle East, Rwanda or Northern Ireland will know, it is simply impossible to give an account of the conflict in which one side is responsible for all the evil and the other side is a completely innocent victim. The only way forward is the one we all find the hardest at every level: repentance and forgiveness. The resolute application of the gospel, under the Lordship of the risen Jesus, is the only way forward towards the creation of new hope and possibilities. The extraordinary work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, under the leadership of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, showed the way in the last years of the twentieth century. He offers a wonderful example: who will follow?”
Moving to our local context, David Bosch, prophetic South African missiologist, wrote in 1991 (a year before his tragic death) about the Ascension,
“The ascension is, preeminently, the symbol of the enthronement of the crucified and risen Christ – he now reigns as King. And it is from this perspective of the present reign of Christ that we look back to the cross and the empty tomb and forward to the consummation of everything. Christian faith is marked by an inaugurated eschatology. This is true not only of the church -as if the church is the present embodiment of Christ – but also of society, of history, which is the arena of God’s activity. Salvation history is not opposed to profane history, not grace to nature. Therefore, to opt out of civil society and set up little Christian islands is to subscribe to a truncated and disjunctive understanding of God’s workings…Christ’s order of life already forcefully progresses throughout the world. Mission from this perspective means that it should be natural for Christians to be committed to justice and peace in the social realm. God’s reign is real…we will not inaugurate it, but we can help make it more visible, more tangible. Within this unjust world we are called to be a community of those committed to the values of God’s reign, concern ourselves with the victims of society and proclaim God’s judgment on those who continue to worship the gods of power and self-love. In the words of section IV.3 of the Melbourne conference, “The proclamation of God’s reign is the announcement of a new order which challenges those powers and structures that have become demonic in a world corrupted by sin against God.”
(Please may I ask you to refrain from reading David Bosch’s words in a spiritual sense only…)
Next up, Alexander Venter, 2004,
“My assumption at that point was simple and clear: If we reconcile with God – are born again – the rest will take care of itself. Just win people to Jesus, then SA, and the world, will get sorted out! We are reconciled and find each other in Christ, so what is all the political fuss about?…Many still believe that to be true…We need to have a workable theology, and ethic or a model of social reconciliation and change for the common good or societal inequalities and conflicts will overrun us. This application of the gospel, of reconciliation to our social realities is a profound spiritual responsibility for all Christians and churches. It is as demanding and urgent as one-on-one reconciliation – we do not have a choice. We must diligently pursue both personal and group reconciliation for the common good, for Jesus’ sake.”
Lastly, Rev Frank Chikane (1988),
“To be a Christian means to engage in the struggle for justice against injustice…Any view of Christian life without engaging in struggle cannot be compatible with the work of the Lord on the cross. Our mission as Christians is to engage in acts of salvation for the world in the name of Him who died for it. We are called to proclaim the good news of salvation to the world.”
Church (and here I include myself)! Our South Africa is broken and in desperate need of healing – yes individual healing (and I think the church is doing this), but also healing on societal level. This is the work of the church. Can you not see the direction in which we are heading? We need to take action! We cannot wait for government to bring healing and restoration. This is our mandate. Are we addressing this from our pulpits? Are we helping our people to discern? Are we equipping the saints for works of justice, reconciliation and restoration? What is the Gospel we believe and live!?