Categories
Church Development

How Closing the Bible Gap Will Impact Healthy Global Church Development

Author: Jim Thompson, D.Min., Contributing Author for Foundations by ICM

 

The Church of Jesus Christ faces many challenges today as it seeks to fulfill Jesus’ Great Commission. However, there is one problem that I intend to address today in my blog. This problem is known as The Bible Gap or Bible Poverty.

For those in North America, you may be familiar with State of the Bible. This is a collaborative research report done by the Barna Group and the American Bible Society. It provides insight into the health of the Church in America, and the direction we are headed. Every Pastor should read it and take its findings to heart in their ministry.

The purpose of this blog is to address the problem on a broader scale. It is to look at the spread of the Gospel worldwide and its implications for fulfilling Jesus’ last command “to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations…”. Though there are many aspects of this command that need to be addressed, my focus will be on the process of disciple-making and the importance of the Bible in healthy Church Development. I will also focus on this taking place in the Global South (Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East). I believe that Jesus wants us to work towards building a strong, healthy, and victorious Church among every people group on earth.

The Global Church

Research shows us that the Gospel of Jesus is spreading fastest in the above regions of the world. The Center of Christianity has moved from North to South. There is much to be thankful for. We rejoice in these developments of great growth, of faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ taking place throughout the Global South. However, despite the spread of faith in Christ, there is still the problem that often is referred to as the ‘one mile wide and one-inch deep’ phenomenon. There has been much preaching about Jesus, but little disciple-making of the followers of Jesus. The result is many people believe in Jesus, but not near as many transformed disciples of Jesus. The Church is growing larger, but not necessarily healthier. What does the Bible, and both access to Scripture and engagement with Scripture, have to do with solving this problem?

The Worldwide Bible Gap

Some also refer to this problem as “Bible Poverty”. Whatever term you use, it is a problem that we have to face and solve. In simple terms: The Bible Gap is the gap between those who want a Bible and those who do not have access to a Bible.

The Bible Gap is normally viewed in four parts; translation, distribution, engagement, and transformation. Translation of the Bible is the focus of most current writing on this subject. It is true that the whole Bible has yet to be translated into 100 percent of the earth’s languages. In fact, there may be one billion people yet to have the whole Bible translated into their heart language. The major translation ministries are doing a good job of highlighting this need to the Church. Providing all people on earth with a full Bible is a worthy cause.

Closing the Bible Gap: Distribution

Currently, approximately 95 percent of the earth’s population have access to a complete Bible, New Testament, or one of the Four Gospels in a language they can read and understand. This gives most people access to Scripture so that they can meet Jesus as Savior and Lord if they so desire.

However, although there are Bibles, New Testaments, and Gospels translated and available, they are not getting to millions of believers and seekers who want them. A great shortage of Bibles and New Testaments exists in many parts of the world among people who can read and who desire a copy for their spiritual nourishment. This problem seriously inhibits the spiritual growth of Christians and hinders the healthy expansion of the Church. This is especially true in the Global South. 

The Bible Gap describes the gap that exists between those Christians who have a Bible for their personal use and those Christians who want a Bible or New Testament that is available in their language but are prevented from receiving one. This is a distribution problem for the Church to face, and solve. In fact, it is a devastating problem because at least 500 million Christ-followers are without a Bible or New Testament in the Global South. 

There are also many more seekers who, if they had an opportunity to read or listen to God’s Word, would do so but no one is providing them this opportunity. Just as there is a famine and scarcity of physical food in many parts of the Global South there is also a famine of the Word of God in this Region. It is the Church’s responsibility to meet this need. This is a spiritual justice issue of our day. There is great curiosity and hunger among the masses of the Global South to read or listen to the Bible.

Closing the Bible Gap: Engagement

There is a second part of “The Bible Gap” which I want to bring to your attention. It relates to engagement with Scripture. Engagement speaks to the issue of Christians who have access to a Bible, whether in print, on an audio device, or on a digital platform, but who do not regularly engage with God’s Word and allow it to transform their lives. There are also millions of believers in the Global South who fit into this category. Again, this is an engagement problem the Church must face and give priority to. These problems are at the very core of disciple-making. If we are to be faithful to Jesus’ Great Commission, we must address these problems and work at solving them. 

 

1 Matthew 28:19-20
2 https://www.gordonconwell.edu/blog/the-100-year-shift-of-christianity-to-the-south/
3 https://www.asiamissions.net/dealing-with-the-one-mile-wide–but-one-inch-deep-syndrome-an-african-initiative-on-transformational-discipleship/
4 Thompson, James. Closing the Bible Gap In the Global South. Chapter Six, 2018.

Categories
Studying the Bible Uncategorized

The Second Coming of Christ: 5 Verses on His Return

Author: Patrick Krentz Th.M., Managing Writer for Foundations by ICM

 

Easter is over. Eggs were painted, the ham was eaten, and traditional songs were sung on the church lawn at sunrise. What’s next? We don’t have another religious holiday on the schedule for most of the year. Let me suggest that, while we spend Easter day looking back at what Jesus accomplished, we should also spend some time looking forward to what he is still going to do.

If you read the Gospels you will notice they don’t end with the resurrection. After rising from the dead, Jesus hangs out with his followers for a while, teaching them and telling them he will be coming back–the Second Coming of Christ. This quickly became, and still is, one of the most misunderstood things that Jesus talked about. Thankfully, Jesus did not leave us in the dark.

Let’s take some time to look at 5 things Jesus tells us about his return.

 

1. He will return

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if Igo and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”(John 14:1-3)

This first one may seem obvious, but it also needs to be abundantly clear. We are not merely hoping he might someday return. He promised that he would. He reassured his followers that he would not leave them alone. He gave three promises of assurance; first, that he would be with us always (Matthew28:20); second, that he would send his Spirit to be our comforter, guide, and teacher (John 14:4-15); and of course, third, that he would return.

 

2. Nobody knows when Jesus will return

“So if anyone tells you, ‘There He is, out in the wilderness,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here He is, in the innerrooms,’ do not believe it. For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” (Matthew 24:26-27)

Jesus made it very clear that anyone claiming to know when he would return is a fraud. He says this on several occasions. He also exhorted his followers to keep watch and to always be ready, because he could return at any moment (Matthew 25:13). As we read these words some 2000 years later, keep in mind that they are not any less true. Consider also Mark 13:33, and Luke 12:40.

 

3. He is coming quickly

“Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.”(Revelation 22:12)

Considering that it has been so long, how can this be true? When the New Testament refers to his return coming quickly, being ‘near’ or ‘at hand’, it is not referring to the order of events in history, but rather to the manner in which they will occur. That is, he is not necessarily returning soon in terms of a short amount of time, but that when he returns it will happen quickly. Listen to what Jesus says in revelation 16:15, “Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake…”

Indeed, it would not make sense for Jesus to tell us, on the one hand, that nobody knows when he would return, while on the other hand, telling us that he would return in a short period of time.

 

4. He will gather to himself all who belong to him

“Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”(Matthew 24:30-31)

When he comes, he will rescue all his elect from across the earth. Paul comforts the church of Thessalonica with these words: “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet theLord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.”(Thessalonians 4:16-17)

Whether this is what many call the Rapture, or whether this will happen at the Second Coming, the fact remains that he will gather up all believers and they will be with him forevermore.

 

5. He will defeat all the enemies of God’s people

“Behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.”(Malachi 4:1)

On the cross, Jesus defeated death. At his resurrection, Jesus sealed our victory and life in him. When he comes back, he will defeat the last enemies of God. Consider the account of the final battle from Revelation 19:19-21:

“And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to make war against him who sat on the horse and against His army. And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone. And the rest were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh.”

The imagery is graphic and gruesome but also incredibly reassuring. Jesus will return quickly at a time when we are not expecting him, he will gather us to himself to be with him forever, and he will defeat all of our enemies.

These are amazing promises, all of which are made possible by the accomplishments of Jesus at the first Easter. As the holiday season fades, let these words of promise encourage you to make yourself ready for his return.

Categories
Christian History Studying the Bible

Did Jesus Really Rise From the Dead? 5 Facts about the Resurrection

Author: Kevin Richard Ph.D., Managing Writer for Foundations by ICM

 

Resurrection as History

The Bible is a historical text but at the same time, the Bible is theological history. It reveals the Triune God of Christianity and the plan of redemption for all creation, but it does so in space and time, in the annals of history. Central to Christianity is the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, and while this pillar of the faith is spiritually and theologically significant, it was also a historical event. This is important because, in history, the events surrounding the life of Jesus are, as New Testament scholar Mike Licona has suggested, an “object of study.”1 That is the purpose of this blog, to look at the resurrection of Jesus from a historical point of view and answer three questions:

  1. How do we study the resurrection from a historical perspective? Minimal Facts Approach
  2. What is the historical evidence that Jesus rose from the dead? The 5 Minimal Facts
  3. What does it all mean? The Religious Significance

 

Minimal Facts Approach

Philosopher and Christian Apologist Gary Habermas has developed what he calls the “Minimal Facts” approach to the resurrection of Jesus. The Minimal Facts (MF) approach, as Habermas states, “considers only those data that are so strongly attested historically that they are granted by nearly every scholar who studies the subject, even the rather skeptical ones.”2 Habermas notes there are around 12 facts that could be considered but he normally narrows down the scope to 5. He chooses these 5 because nearly all scholars agree on them and from them, you can make the case for the resurrection of Jesus.3 The five minimal facts are:

  1. Jesus died by crucifixion.
  2. Jesus’ disciples believed that he rose and appeared to them.
  3. The church persecutor Paul was suddenly changed.
  4. The skeptic James, brother of Jesus, was suddenly changed.
  5. The tomb was empty.

Let’s briefly unpack each of these minimal facts and then discuss why they collectively give us good reason to believe that Jesus rose from the dead.

 

The 5 Minimal Facts

In this section, we will look at the five minimal facts in question and offer a little explanation for each of them.

 

1. Jesus Died By Crucifixion

This one may seem obvious but to get a resurrection you first need someone to die. That Jesus died by crucifixion is one of the strongest attested minimal facts. You would be hard-pressed to find someone in academic circles that affirms Jesus did not die by crucifixion. The Romans were notoriously brutal in this capital form of punishment and they were extremely efficient in the process. Furthermore, the Bible says that in order to make sure Jesus had died, a spear was thrust into his side (John 19:34). It does not seem likely that Jesus could have endured such a brutal and vicious beating and execution “attempt” and survived.  

 

2. Jesus’ disciples believed that he rose and appeared to them.

Notice the wording here. This minimal fact does not necessarily affirm that a risen Jesus actually physically appeared to the disciples; rather, it affirms that the disciples believed that the risen Jesus had appeared to them. This belief was a life-changing event and caused a radical transformation in their lives. There are a number of suggestions as to what the disciples actually saw. Some say that the disciples were hallucinating or that they saw what Dr. Habermas has coined “Jedi Jesus.”4 But both of these claims deny what the New Testament affirms, that Jesus rose bodily from the dead. The disciples proclaimed a risen Lord who ate with them (Lk. 24:42-42) and were able to be touched – consider the story of Thomas being able to touch Jesus’ pierced scars (John 20:24-29). 

 

3. The church persecutor Paul was suddenly changed

This minimal fact is interesting because you have a person who was very zealous for Judaism suddenly have a change of behavior after an encounter he claims was with the resurrected Jesus (1 Cor. 15:8). No one can doubt that following his experience on the road to Damascus, Paul became an ardent ambassador for this new movement called Christianity. Something happened on that road. Paul believed the resurrected Jesus appeared to him and called him to take the good news of Jesus to the Gentiles. Paul would be beaten, shipwrecked, imprisoned, and eventually put to death for his proclamation of Jesus. This encounter with Jesus changed his life and because of it, the Gospel came to the Gentiles.

 

4. The skeptic James, brother of Jesus, was suddenly changed

The James in question here was one of Jesus’ four brothers (Mark 6:3; Matthew 13:55). From those passages in the Gospels, we know that Jesus’ brothers were skeptical of their half-brother, Jesus. They even mocked Jesus during his ministry. We also know that this same James became one of the religious leaders of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 15:13-21; Gal. 1:18-19).5 So what caused this change of heart? We learn from Paul that after Jesus’ death, he appeared to his brother James. From this encounter, although the event is not explicitly described in the Scriptures, we can infer that James believed that he had encountered his risen half-brother, the person he now believed to be the risen Lord! Having encountered the resurrected Jesus, James went from a skeptic to one of the main leaders of the church in the same city where Jesus was crucified!

 

5. The tomb was empty

The Gospels attest that the tomb of Jesus was empty and the stone rolled away. This claim of an empty tomb would have been easy to disprove if the body had still been there. People would have known where Jesus was buried as his body had been given to Joseph of Arimathea and he and Nicodemus helped to secure Jesus’ body in Joseph’s personal tomb (John 19:39-40). There is also evidence to suggest that the tomb was empty in the religious leaders’ response to the testimony of the soldiers on guard. Instead of telling them to produce the body to counter the claims of the disciples, they instead told them to spread a story that the disciples stole the body of Jesus (Matt 28:11-15). This implies that the religious leaders knew the tomb was empty and had to come up with a story to cover the truth.

 

A Unifying Explanation

It was stated previously that the Minimal Facts were chosen because the majority of scholars agree with these facts. It should be noted that this is not the same as saying “the majority of scholars believed Jesus actually rose from the dead.” There is still skepticism by some even though the historical facts are agreed upon. The facts still need an explanation though, something that joins them all together. Something happened following the death of Jesus. Skeptics have tried to come up with alternative theories to explain away these facts but none of them do a sufficient job of accounting for these minimal facts. The best explanation of what happened is that Jesus resurrected bodily from the grave, spoke and ate with the disciples, appeared to James and Paul, and commissioned the Church to go and make disciples (Matt 28:19-20).

 

The Religious Significance

Lastly, we must consider the question “what does it all mean?” Historical facts are not “brute facts” meaning they do not carry with them their own interpretation. There is an extra step we have to take to go from “Jesus resurrection from the dead” to “Christianity is true and the resurrection is one of the central tenets of the faith.” The resurrection event requires interpretation, it is both a historical and a religious event. This is why it was said that the resurrection of Jesus is theological history. 

The theological significance of the resurrection is vast but here we will close with this specific point. The resurrection shows that Christianity is true because it affirms everything that Jesus said and did prior to his death. Jesus claimed to be God, he claimed to be on a mission from the Father, he performed miracles, he forgave sins, he ushered in the Kingdom of God, and he even predicted that he would be killed and would rise again. Why do we believe all of this? Because 3 days after Jesus was crucified, the Father raised him from the dead. We have good historical, evidential reasons to believe it’s true!

 

1Mike Licona,The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, (Downers Grove,Ill.: IVP Academic, 2010), 30.
2Gary Habermas and Michael Licona,The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, (Kindle Edition:Kregel Publications, 2004), Loc. 330 of 4050.
3Ibid., Loc. 380 of 4050.
4This is a reference to Star Wars and scenes where Jedi appear to Luke Skywalker after theyhave died. The first example would be in The Return of the Jedi when Obi-Wan Kenodi appears and talkswith Luke Skywalker while he is training on Dagobah. The second is at the celebration on Endor also inReturn of the Jedi where Anakin Skywalker, Obi-wan Kenobi and Master Yoda all appear to LukeSkywalker. In both these scenes the deadJedi appear in this “phantasmal” form. They are there andpresent to Luke but not embodied.
5James was one of the chief spokespersons at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15).

Categories
Christian History

What is the History of Easter?

Author: Patrick Krentz Th.M., Managing Writer for Foundations by ICM

 

What is the history of Easter? We can all agree about where it started – with the resurrection of Jesus Christ some 2000 years ago. But where does Easter fit in, and what’s with all the bunnies and eggs? Many recent studies have concluded that Easter is based on ancient pagan celebrations, that the date and perhaps especially the name of Easter are pagan through and through. In this estimation, Christians merely adopted the pagan holiday and attached the story of Jesus to it. In this blog, I want to introduce you to a counterpoint to this pop history. 

How it All Began?

To summarize the popular premise, at least the most common among many, “Easter” got its name from a pagan goddess named Eostre. This Eostre is a semi-mythical figure dating back thousands of years before Christ. She was a ruler to whom were ascribed the traits of a god – specifically a god of fertility and life. It is said that a yearly festival was established in her honor and that eggs and rabbits were part of that celebration. 

Fast forward a few thousand years and pagan people across the world still celebrated this holiday. Christians, with the best intentions in mind, co-opted this holiday but replaced Eostre with Christ because…you know…resurrection and life. Seemed like a good fit. So Easter became a Christian holiday in much the same way as Christmas (we have a blog about that, too!). At least, that’s what we’re told. 

What’s In a Name?

But let’s talk about that name for a moment. This seems to be the central point of contention for those who argue for the pagan roots of Easter. Did early Christians use the name Easter? Certainly not. Originally, Easter was called Pascha. This name refers to the Jewish Passover, not an ancient fertility goddess.2 In fact, for the early Church, Pascha was simply Passover after the resurrection of Jesus. Pascha comes from the Hebrew word Pesach, meaning ‘to pass over,’ and refers back to the Exodus story.

Ok, but everyone calls it Easter these days, right? Not nearly. Most Eastern Christians call it Pascha, and the word for Easter in many non-English languages translates to Pascha (e.g, Spanish Pascua, Italian Pasqua, Portuguese Páscoa, and Romanian Pasti). Calling it “Easter” is a Western, Anglo addition likely deriving from one of many German words. 

Think about it. If the original name is not Easter but rather this name was added later by Western, Anglo society, then the very idea that Easter is a pagan holiday because it has a pagan name is an entirely anglo-centric argument. Think about it, the argument is essentially saying ‘It’s pagan because English-speaking peoples call it by a pagan name’…that does not seem like a good argument. It ignores the long history of what the church has called the celebration of the resurrection and it ignores the reality that its origins are Middle-Eastern. 

So, even if the word Easter is pagan (and this is a big if, but one that we don’t have space to talk about here), that doesn’t make Easter, or rather Pascha, a co-opted pagan celebration. 

How Was the Date of Easter Determined?

But what about the date of Easter? Isn’t it based on the pagan Eostre celebration? Going hand-in-hand with the discussion of the name of this holiday, the timing of our celebration centers on Pascha, or the paschal moon, not on an ancient holiday. In the early church, the timing of Easter was a point of considerable debate. The prevailing sentiment of the Church, however, was that the Christian Pascha celebration was to be celebrated separately from, and in most cases after, Passover.

Why does this matter? Because it is abundantly clear that the date for Easter is based on the Jewish festival, not the pagan holiday. While originally the idea was that Easter should be celebrated after Pascha because Jesus ate the Passover meal before going to the cross, a change in calendars meant a change in dates. When the West switched from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, the original connections faded, but the idea remained. The date of Easter is far from having a pagan origin.

Where Do the Easter Bunny and Easter Eggs Come From?

The argument that Easter is a co-opted pagan holiday is perhaps strongest in regard to some of its peripheral elements – bunnies, eggs, lambs, etc. Some are easier to explain than others. The lamb, for instance, has clear connections to the Christian story.

But what about the brightly-colored eggs? How are they religious? Well, ancient Easter practices included the season of Lent where certain foods were forbidden, including eggs. As a result, when Easter came and the restrictions were lifted, it became customary to give an egg as a gift. As the custom grew in popularity, the eggs began to be painted or decorated. In Russia, the tradition was so widespread that the nobility would gift egg-shaped, jeweled ornaments – think of the Faberge Eggs. So, far from being pagan symbols of fertility, eggs merely celebrated the fact that people could start eating whatever they wanted again.

Ok, then what about the Easter Bunny? Surely that must be pagan, or at the very least entirely commercial? To that objection I could merely concede as there is much less evidence for the religious roots of the bunny… and yet, even he likely came in through the Church. 

You see, as the Lent tradition mentioned above was practiced by Catholic and Orthodox Christians, early protestants rejected the practice of giving up certain foods before Easter. Instead, some protestant groups began what could be seen as a very early Christian meme meant to poke fun at their Catholic neighbors. So, as the joke goes, why don’t Catholics eat eggs until Easter? Because the Easter Bunny hides them. In some accounts, the bunny itself even lays the eggs, but I won’t even try to speak to the religious significance of that.

What is the History of Easter?

Putting this all together, Easter, or rather Pascha, is thoroughly Christian and dates to the beginning of the second century A.D. at the very latest. The date of Easter has Jewish and Christian roots, and even the elements that seem least religious have cultural and historical significance for Christians. Only the name, Easter, appears to have pagan roots, but even that is likely a historical coincidence as the word Easter more likely derives from one of many Christian terms (such as the German word for Resurrection). 

The oft-cited pagan history of Easter is anglo-centric and anachronistic. It lacks a basis in real history, instead of creating a pop history. Don’t fall into the trap this Easter season when you see popular theories showing up on your social media feed. Celebrate the resurrection of Jesus with confidence knowing that the church, from its inception, has considered this the most sacred of days of the Faith.

 

1Also known as Queen Semiramis, wife of Nimrod, who later became known as mother goddess Ishtar or Eostre.
2The main historical evidence that ties the word Eostre with Easter comes from an 8th-century monk named Bedewho briefly mentions the connection in one of his writings