ELF08 – the marks of Christian community: some Colossians gems from Lindsay Brown
My heart slightly sank when I noticed that Lindsay Brown’s morning expositions were going to be on Colossians. This was certainly not because Lindsay was doing it (!) but because I have been teaching through Colossians on the Bible Teachers’ Network and I was anxious about people getting Colossians overload. Instead, it has been very helpful for us all and complemented well. Over the course of the week, he has come out with some great lines and gems, as he has picked truths out from the text.
In particular, I’ve been struck by the points he has been making about how we form Christian community, and especially the differences these communities can (and should) make for members and non-members alike. This is so vital for a European individualistic culture which barely values society beyond its utilitarian personal advantages. And Colossians has MUCH to say to challenge this. Here are a number of illustrations and remarks from Lindsay’s 4 talks:
In Zimbabwe, during the bloody civil war on racial grounds during the 70s, that troubled country seemed as divided and traumatized as it is now. And race was the heart of the problem. And the University of Harare (or Salisbury as it then was) was as riven as the rest of the country – particularly vividly illustrated by standard operating procedure in the uni canteen. Whites on one side, blacks on the other. Except, that is, for the Christians. They were an integrated group – and deliberately sat together on tables right in the middle of the dining hall. During the first course, the white Christians got up and fetched the food and then served it to their black brothers and sisters; then for pudding, the blacks the same, serving their white brothers and sisters. And the effect on the rest of the university, without a single word of explanation or proclamation, was scandalously but marvelously electrifying. For it was clear to all that they were ONE body, united and mutually serving.
John Stott: We are to be morally distinct but not socially segregated… We should avoid “rabbit-hole Christianity”. We pop out of our holes into the world, but as soon we encounter something evil or corrupting, we rush back into our holes.
When things got really bad in Burundi around the time of the genocide in the early 90s, Tutsis were of course fleeing for their lives. The Chancellor of Bujumbura University made this extraordinary remark, despite the fact that he did not profess to be Christian. He announced: ‘Our culture is disintegrating. There are 3 groups of people on this campus: Hutus, Tutsis and Christians. They are the only ones who look beyond our differences and make a difference.
Meanwhile, in Rwanda, all the leaders and graduates of the national Christian student movement were killed – with only one exception. Only one staffworker was left. Lindsay was there a year later and as well as the appalling shock and agony of what had happened, the obvious question was why had they been picked on specifically. It transpired that the week before the genocide broke out (but when the storm clouds were gathering) Hutus & Tutsis met publicly on campus together, holding hands and singing songs together – “we are one in Christ, one in the Spirit”. And for that they died.
Another key theme has been the need to cultivate an attitude of constant thankfulness. Not least because this challenges our independent-mindedness. Hence this challenging line from the great Schaeffer:
Francis Schaeffer: The first sign of backsliding is lack of thankfulness (cf Col 3:15)
But the most important thing is how all-embracing our discipleship should be (I guess that is one of the ELF’s constants). There were various illustrations of this:
Lindsay remarked to the 25-yr old son of a key European Christian leader that it was interesting how few sons of great leaders became leaders themselves. The response was very helpful indeed: ‘Why should they? Leadership is a gift of God – and not everyone has that gift. As long as they are trusting in Christ, they are complete in Christ, and as long as they are exercising whatever their gifts have for him, that is ok.” Spot on.
Sir Fred Catherwood (former VP of the European Parliament): To try to improve society is not worldliness but love. To wash your hands of society is not love but worldliness.
But with so many people at the forum from the former Eastern Bloc / Communist countries, the challenges of living in a corrupt society are daily reality. But even if we don’t all find ourselves facing that directly, we all increasingly find ourselves surrounded by hostility. So how do we handle this? Well, here are some helpful principles for those seeking to make their stand in all walks of public life (whether commercial, political or artistic). These are loosely based on the life and witness of the prophet Daniel in Babylon:
- Set clear ethical standards from the start
- Develop a support group (of people who understand the challenges of your workplace or context) – John Wesley: The bible knows nothing of solitary discipleship
- Consider the cost of compromise (so you know what you lose if you do)
- Be prepared for sacrifice – the Lord doesn’t often deliver immediately – and sometimes the sacrifices last until the day we breathe our last. Our call is to fidelity.