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Pope Francis, the Mercy of God, and the Danger of Fundamentalism

frpoorwertchPope Francis just returned from his first trip to Africa a few days ago. Those of us who watch and pray for him were amazed once again at his courage, faithfulness and continued displays of pastoral mercy. Surely “mercy” does sum up what Francis says and does as pope. Thus it is not surprising really since he has declared the coming year to be a “Year of Mercy.” He recently said that he will make twelve big (“significant”) gestures, one each month.Each is mean to demonstrate God’s mercy. This is what the Catholic Church calls a Jubilee Year. This year was pre-launched last Sunday when Pope Francis opened the Holy Door of the cathedral in Bangui, Central African Republic. One of the admirable features of Catholic Church life is the way this biblical concept of jubilee can be used to capture the minds and hearts of the whole church over a span of time.

In a brief interview in Credere, the official jubilee weekly magazine in Italian, Francis said: “There will be many gestures, but on one Friday each

The Church as God's Social Strategy (1)

imagesThe much reviewed and debated book, Resident Aliens (Abingdon, 1989), which I wrote a great deal about last week, prompted deep emotional reaction in me when I first read it back in 1990. Now, twenty-two years later, I have re-read the book with new eyes. These new eyes are the result of my missional-ecumenism, grounded in a deep theology of unity that says Christ’s mission is carried out by the whole people of God working together in deep relational love [Your Church Is Too Small, John H. Armstrong (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010)].

One of the core arguments the authors of Resident Aliens make is that “the church doesn’t have a social strategy [because] the church is a social strategy” (43).  It is this idea that I want to explore with you for the next several blogs.

The nub of this argument is that the church has never really found it difficult to be in the world. The real problem has come when the church did not understand how to be in the world. I have come to embrace

Of Gods and Men: A Film to Move the Soul

of-gods-and-men_320 Of Gods and Men is one of the most moving and tender Christian films that I’ve seen in several years. It is understated, in terms of its Christian witness, and profoundly human. There is no great display of heroism here, just a group of devoted Christian men living courageously for Christ and peace in a violent place and time. The soundtrack is in French, with English subtitles. Please do not let this keep you from seeing this moving depiction of the very real world in which Christ has called some of his people to both live and die.

Of Gods & Men Based loosely upon real events that happened in 1996, seven French monks in Algeria are kidnapped by Islamic terrorists and disappear. (The reason that we know the story as well as we do is because two men escaped capture and told the story!) The circumstances

Is Christianity the Most Persecuted Religion?

The Catholic organization Aid to the Church in Need released a religious freedom report on November 30th. The report says that seven of ten people are unable to freely live out their faith without some form of state or personal opposition that seeks to make their expression of religion difficult or nearly impossible, at least in public. I am not sure what figures and means were used to determine this percentage but I have to believe the reality of this problem is much greater than almost anyone in the West knows or understands. And I do believe no other religious profession is as widely persecuted as the faith of Christian believers the world over.

Americans, in particular, take the freedom of religious expression for granted. We should be vigilant to protect this hard won freedom and we do all that we can to properly extend it to others wherever possible. This freedom is always tenuous and when virtue goes freedom is often not far behind, which should concern those of us who live in the modern West.


By |December 16th, 2010|Categories: The Persecuted Church|

Pray and Speak Up for Christians in Iraq

PHO-10Nov17-269656_th On October 31 two priests and 51 parishioners were murdered by Islamic terrorists in Baghdad at a Syriac Catholic Cathedral. The primary reason for this attack seems to have been the determination of certain militant Islamic forces to prevent a religiously plural central government in Iraq. Pope Benedict XVI called these attacks “savage” and “absurd.” The descriptions of what happened, even to children, are gruesome.

Joseph Kassab, executive director of the Chaldean Federation of America (CFA), the largest and oldest association of Chaldean organizations in the nation, said: “Iraqi Christians are being systematically murdered and driven from their homeland. This situation must, repeat must, be addressed by an international security coalition with members from Iraq, the U.S. and the U.N.”

Many Iraqi Christians believe their suffering is invisible to most Christians in the U.S. I have to agree. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs issued a statement on this recent attack and did not even mention the cathedral or use the word Christian in condemning the attack. Several members

Tony Dungy: Blessed By Hatred?

515z57L1GJL._SL500_AA300_ Tony Dungy, former head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, is an outspoken and wonderfully consistent Christian. His story is told in several books that reveal his faith and principles of personal coaching and leadership: Quiet Strength: The Principles, Practices and Priorities of a Winning Life, Uncommon: Finding Your Path to Significance and The Mentor Leader: Secrets to Building People and Teams That Win Consistently. Dungy has recently become an NBC analyst for NFL games. This new job has opened Dungy to a lot of harsh criticism. He has been called by critics a “high priest, the oracle who passes judgment on all moral questions.”

Since football involves a whole host of moral and personal issues Dungy is frequently asked to weigh in on people and situations in his new role. Questions such as: “Should Reggie Bush have returned his Heisman Trophy?” Or, “Does Michael Vick deserve forgiveness?” Or recently, “Should Coach Rex Ryan cut back on the f bombs?” Dungy has answered yes to all three

The Dance of Life

One of my great joys is to teach evangelism, as an adjunct professor, at the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. And one of my most profound joys in teaching is to work alongside some of the finest practitioners of evangelism in the world. Lon One such evangelist is my dear friend Dr. Lon Allison. Lon is the Director of the Billy Graham Center and a dedicated preacher and evangelist. He also promotes the unity of the Spirit in the whole church. I was asked by Lon, a few years ago, to serve on this advisory team. I gladly do this and support him in every way I can. Lon recently made a trip to Africa and shared the following account of his journey with his friends. I share it with you because of the insight it provides regarding the church in Rwanda and in the West.


A Fool for Christ

Manute Bol Some of you may have noticed that the former NBA player Manute Bol died, at the age of 47, a few weeks ago. The sports world paid little attention. Bol was not known for stardom but for being a physical freak. He stood 7 feet, seven inches tall and weighed 225. He was both the tallest and thinnest player in the NBA. He averaged only 2.6 points per game over the course of his career, though he did excel at shot blocking given his towering presence.

Bol earned $6 million playing basketball. When his fortune was used up the Sudanese native became a humorous spectacle in order to raise more money. He was hired to be a horse jockey, a hockey player and a celebrity boxer.

Wall Street Journal writer Jon A Shields, assistant professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, noted that “Bol agreed to be a clown. But he was not

The Ongoing Struggle of Church and State is a Real Threat to Mission

A French court has ruled that the St. Nicholas Cathedral in Nice, built with funding from the Russian Tsar Nicholas II and completed in 1912, just prior to the country's revolution, belongs to the government of Russia and must be handed over. The victory is Russia's latest in a series of battles for church property around the world, which represent attempts by the Russian government and Russian Orthodox Church to reassert control over a widespread diaspora. A Russian émigré group has run St. Nicholas Cathedral under the jurisdiction of the Istanbul-based Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople since the 1920s.

If you do not follow such news this may strike you as quite unimportant. It strikes me as both sad and dangerous. By danger I am not reworking the old themes of the cold war, not at all. I am reminding Christians of the danger the church faces when it gets too comfortable with the state. From 1917 until the fall of the U.S.S.R. the church and state were very separated in Russia. In fact,

When and How Should We Speak Out About the Persecution of Other Christians?

The Institute on Religion & Democracy (IRD) recently expressed its dismay (January 14 post) at the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA)’s for having ignored religious persecution in China during its recent visit. Instead, says Faith McDonnell of the IRD, the WEA spoke only of cooperation with the government-registered church while disregarding restrictions by the communist regime on unofficial churches. The vast majority of Chinese Christians, conservatively estimated at 80 million in number, worship in unregistered congregations that meet in homes and other settings.

The IRD post adds that: “In the past week alone, leaders of the Chinese House Church Alliance were detained by the authorities in Hebei province according to China Aid. House churches in both Beijing and Shanghai have also been closed recently by the police. In Shanxi province, authorities demolished the Fushan House Church’s building, giving church leaders long prison sentences. In December, a Ugyhur Christian convert from Islam was sentenced to fifteen years in prison for his faith.”

There is no question, to my mind, that this report from the IRD is accurate. Having served

By |January 27th, 2010|Categories: The Persecuted Church|