Plesionology is theology’s long lost twin, and why it’s renewing my faith

By Preston Pouteaux

I have had a persistent nudge of curiosity that I simply cannot shake. Everytime I have breakfast with my neighbour Chris, or talk about gardening with Steve, or get together with our neighbours Colin and Kayla, I find myself astonished. These neighbours have become vital to my faith, and I don’t have a category for it, a frame of reference for why they mean so much to me. I feel like there is so much more happening between me and my neighbours than just a stream of niceties.

Christ-in-me is meeting Christ-in-them and it’s profound. God is so remarkably present in my neighbourhood, and the implications of that fill my imagination.

Here is what I’ve found: Love of neighbour has become a hobby for the church and Christians who worship together each Sunday. Hobbies are something we dabble in on the weekends or in retirement. We pull our hobby down from the shelf when we have time and energy to spare. Hobbyists may be more or less enthused about their craft, giving a moment of themselves to their passion so long as it fills the need it was created for. When real life leans in, or the hobby loses its lustre, they are boxed up and eventually sold in a garage sale.

Love of neighbour, however, is not a hobby, Jesus does not give us the luxury of calling it that. It is a vital core practice of followers of Jesus and the Church. Baking or woodworking might be a hobby, but eating and safe shelter are essential. Love of neighbour, at least for Jesus and the early church, was clearly essential. Jesus said we are to love God and neighbour, while Paul wrote to the Galatians saying, “For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’”

This is not hobby talk, it is foundational and pivotal work on which the rest of our life of faith finds its purpose and direction.

I think something is missing.

Seriously missing.

In the pantheon of disciplines, the discipline and practice of loving neighbour is alarmingly absent.

Jesus’s own commandment to love neighbour has been relegated to the hobby bin of the Christian faith, we simply cannot imagine there is much to discover there, not much to experience, probably because we have never ourselves truly experienced the life of Jesus in our neighbours. So we view Jesus’ words to love our neighbours as an addendum; a hobby for those Christians who have time to spare.

Serious seminaries and churches don’t teach hobbies.

They teach theology, the study of God. They teach soteriology, the study of salvation. They teach epistemology, the study of knowing. They teach ecclesiology, the study of the church. They teach pneumatology, the study of the Holy Spirit. They teach Christology, the study of Jesus. They teach Eschatology, the study of the end times. They teach patrology, the study of the early church fathers. They teach missiology, the study of the mission of God.

Love of neighbour? Real, actual, next door neighbours? Sorry, it’s simply not in the index.

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While loving our neighbour is core to our faith, the church has found more energy in delving into mariology, hamartiology, and apologetics. More energy has been given to the study of Mary, sin, and defending our faith than we give to loving our neighbours — the very heartbeat of Jesus.

I would like to suggest we open a new line of study, practice, thoughtful discipline, research, and examination. Understanding how we love our neighbours should be so core to our seminaries, bible training institutions and churches and it should amaze us that it has been so lacking.

Jesus said that we are to love God and love our neighbours. We have the first half of Jesus’s Great Commandment down to a ’T’. Literally. Theology, the study of God, has so captured our imaginations throughout history that it was called the Queen of the Sciences. Alongside philosophy, theology glistened in the imaginations of those who studied her mysterious depths and glorious heights. Theological disciples blossomed as people discovered there was more to be found. Poets and prophets, pastors and academics revealed what they found. The study of God is vast. Soon we found ways to study God with systematic theology, practical theology, moral theology, historical theology, aesthetical theology, biblical theology, natural theology, spiritual theology, philosophical theology, liberation theology, ecumenical theology, pastoral theology and so on. There has been no end to the books written celebrating the first half of Jesus’ Great Commandment to love God.

But what of the second half. This invitation to love our neighbour?

The word Jesus uses in the Great Commandment to love neighbour is plesion (pronounced play-see’-on). Plesion is Greek and appears in all four Gospels. To the Jewish people plesion referred to a member of the Hebrew nation, but to Jesus it was extended to include people of other nations and religions. It comes from the word pelas, which means ‘near.’ Neighbour is a good English translation of plesion. ‘Neighbour’ comes from Old English root words neah “near” and gebur “dweller.” Neighbour is the ‘near-dweller,’ and plesion refers to the person who is near to us. Jesus says that the Great Commandment is to love those near to us; our neighbours, plesion.

Plesionology, then, is the study of neighbours. It is the close examination of how we relate to our neighbours and how we love them in obedience to the Great Commandment. It is paying attention to, being curious about, standing in awe of something so profoundly vital to being a human made in God’s image. Plesionology puts others, specifically those we can talk with and pass on the street everyday, and places them right in the centre of this human experience. It puts neighbours right in the midst of our faith in Jesus and says that we meet God when we love our neighbours. Jesus thought it was essential, and I’m starting to think it might be, too.

We are enamoured with theology because we can, as one of my theology professors said years ago, pick apart God like a frog specimen in science class. Theology and all of her branches of investigation does not often require much of us. We can think about God without having to become like Jesus. We can read our books and prepare our sermons without much changing in us. Theology, without plesionology can be hollow and void of any true life. Jesus never intended theology to exist apart from living out the very thing that God (who so loved the world) intended for his theologians. We were always meant to love our neighbours, and it is in loving our neighbours that we make sense of God.

So I’ve decided to follow that nudge of curiosity. I want to explore all that loving my neighbours means to growing in Christ. Why I love being a pastor in the neighbourhood way more than I ever did as the manager of a church program machine. Why my neighbours have come to trust Jesus, not because I was convincing. Why Christian spirituality finally makes sense within 90 paces of my front door. Why beauty and imagination compel me to love more and more. Why grace is truly Good News when it emerges between me and my neighbours. There are so many profound questions I have and they keep coming. Although I just made up the word ‘plesionology’ to serve as a much needed framework for these questions, there is deep joy in finally embracing the second half of Jesus’ words to ‘love God’ and ‘love neighbour.’ It’s making me more fully human, and I love it.

Jesus moved into the neighbourhood and it changed everything. Has our theology? Have we?

This post previously appeared on medium.com. Preston Pouteaux is a Pastor at Lake Ridge Community Church, author, beekeeper, and curator of neighbourhood conversations at intotheneighbourhood.ca

How is plesionology being studied and lived out in your community? Send us a comment!
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New Church in New West

By Cailey Morgan

Meet Makarios!
We are overjoyed to introduce you to Makarios Evangelical Church, a new Church Plant in Process with the CBWC in partnership with Olivet Baptist Church. Led by husband-and-wife team Pastor Jessica Lee and Dr. Tim Ngai, Makarios (MEC) began weekly gatherings in September 2018, at Olivet’s facility in New Westminster, BC. Worship services and studies are conducted in Cantonese for adults and English for youth.

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Olivet Baptist Church facility. Photo courtesy Olivet.

Tim, a spiritual direction professor at Carey Theological College, says that it was a student who actually encouraged his wife to consider church planting:

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Dr. Tim Ngai. Photo courtesy Carey Theological College

It’s always has been a deep-rooted passion and vision for both my wife and I to walk with people in their spiritual journey to inspire them to connect with Jesus and live an abundant life according to the leading of the Holy Spirit, but we never lay any thought on starting a church.  My wife took a year off from her ministry last year. Jessica was then led by the Spirit to pray to search God’s will and her heart for her next step…So when our student shared with us the idea of us starting a church focusing on spiritual formation, we included the idea in our prayer list. 

As we started to talk with our friends and spiritual mentors, surprisingly people responded overwhelmingly positive. We found God has built up a group of people who share the same vision and are willing to respond to this calling of God with us.

Meals and Mentorship
Last December, 60 people attended the Christmas party hosted in partnership with an international student ministry group out of nearby Douglas College. Much of Makarios’ outreach ministry thrust has been in partnership with this group. Makarios offers English conversation classes for international students on Saturdays, followed by a meal. Every second week, the entire congregation joins in this meal before their Saturday evening worship service.

Jessica, who has a background in pastoral ministry and training in spiritual direction, now serves as Lead Pastor while Tim supports her as MEC’s Consulting Pastor. In the few months since the launch, Jessica is thrilled with the engagement of the group. Seventy per cent of the new congregation is already in serving roles—including a chef, who joyfully organizes regular meals for community and outreach purposes. Just this week, many congregants stayed behind late after Wednesday Bible class to help prepare dumplings for the Chinese New Year celebrations and to offer to those at the food bank that operates out of the Olivet building.

Jessica and Tim have the opportunity to serve as spiritual mentors for many people in the congregation, and are excited to have some leaders stepping up to learn how to be mentors themselves as well.

“A leader is not someone who is powerful or just has lots of experience,” says Jessica. “A leader is someone who has a life that manifests the love and power of God to His people.”

Young congregations like Makarios need support from their family of churches in these formative years. Has your church considered partnering with CBWC Church Planting to help build a strong foundation of prayer, relationship and financial support? Talk to me (cmorgan@cbwc.ca) or Shannon (syouell@cbwc.ca) to find out what you can do today to strengthen Makarios and other CBWC church plants.

Culture Shift

By Shannon Youell

Last week we posted the great resource from Anna Robbins, Fearless: A guide for relating faith and culture in today’s world. When I downloaded and watched this free resource, I was encouraged in the work Anna has done on helping us understand the complex time we live in.

Much of what she shares reiterates what I spoke about at the BCY Assembly this past July. My topic was Culture Shift and our conditioned understanding of culture, the sub-cultures existing within dominant culture and how we, the church, interact or withdraw from culture or oppose the prevalent culture.

The challenge I was suggesting, for us, is that we often view culture as something outside of the church—something which we must transform. The reality, however, is that culture shift begins first with us and as we are transformed, the dominant culture around us observes something different. My premise is that, we as Christians (the church), are no longer distinguishable from the dominant culture as the early Christians were.

I then posed that the way for the church to find its way back to transformation from the inside out is to re-engage with Jesus as Lord. We must realize there are many “Caesars” we now serve in our dominant culture. When the early Christians declared that Jesus is Lord, they were clearly stating that Caesar, or the dominant values of the day, is not. Cultural commentator, author and pastor Mark Sayers posits that though Christians have tried to influence culture, the dominant culture of our day has actually “colonized” us to look just like anyone else. He and John Mark Comer of Bridgetown Church in Portland, USA, have launched a podcast that explores the intersection between faith and culture.

I am very much enjoying how Mark and John Mark discuss world views, the rise of secularization, the marginalization of the church, the current and historical influences that challenge cultural values of individualism, consumerism, de-institutionalization, identity politics and the trends of the day that are influencing and shifting our cultural norms in the western world.

Get your walking shoes on and your earpods in place and listen to challenges we are all wrestling with how to navigate these intersections in our own lives and world views, but also in our faith communities. https://thisculturalmoment.com/

I would suggest that we listen to this with the posture of what do we, as Christians and communities of faith, need to shift in our own practices and commitment to “Jesus is Lord” to begin to once again become distinguishable while engaging the dominant culture around us.

I believe this was the challenge Jesus was giving to the people of faith in His day, in His Great Sermon, when He reminded God’s children of being salt and light: when the people of God no longer are distinguishable (have flavor), we are like a light under a bowl, hidden from the world that is searching for the light switch that brings peace into our homes, neighbourhoods, cities and world.

 

 

 

 

FEARLESS: A guide for small groups

By Anna Robbins

When I was with you for your assembly back in 2013, and with the pastors and spouses in Banff in 2016, I engaged with people on some of the basics of relating faith and culture in today’s world. I have given similar workshops with regularly-updated material in many places before and since, and the MacRae Centre for Christian Faith and Culture at Acadia Divinity College has decided to produce this as a six-week small group resource, complete with teaching sessions and leader’s guide with discussion questions and bible studies.

FEARLESS for Small Groups
We are so deeply committed to the contemporary church in Canada, that we want to share this educational resource with your leaders for free. We have already given out over 100 copies to pastors and churches in Atlantic Canada, and we would like to offer it free to the wider Canadian Baptist family as well.

The world is changing so rapidly; we find it difficult to understand what’s happening to our churches, or where our faith fits. We can lock the doors and hide in fear, or we can engage our mission to the world with courage! Fearless is a new resource designed for small groups to tackle what it means to live out the Christian faith in an ever-changing culture. Lively introductions by Lennett Anderson, and clear teaching by Anna Robbins, together with a leader’s study guide, will equip your group to understand the relationship between faith and culture, so that they can live courageously as Christians in the world today.

Click here to download. CBWC churches and leaders use the CODE: CBWC-Fearless at checkout for free access.

The six sessions include the following topics:
* What is culture?
* How do faith and culture relate?
* How does culture influence faith?
* What does it mean to be in the world and not of the world?
* How does faith influence culture?
* How do we live out Fearless faith today?

Stop. Breathe. Think. Pray.

By Shannon Youell

My daughter gave me a lovely journal for my last birthday. I have kept journals for years, mostly for thoughts and notes as I read Scripture, am inspired by Scripture,  and am inspired by sermon ideas.

These journals are very messy and I decided I wanted this one to be beautiful, which means I have to take some more thoughtful time while furiously writing my inspirations!

So I started with a sticker:

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just breathe sticker

And then I expanded that thought:

  • Stop
  • Breathe
  • Think
  • Pray

Often, with life so full and busy (who else has come to despise that word–I wonder when humanity made busy such a virtue), I often find that I have done none of those things within the waking hours of my day. Well, of course I have breathed, but not the kind of breath that brings pause.

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Ministry work is daunting at best and often overwhelming when we attempt to use our strength by which to minister. Yet, if we follow the example of our Master, we find Jesus withdrawing to a quiet place, to stop, to breathe, to think, to pray. He comes away knowing He has heard and seen God for the next segment of His journey, of His day, of His hours. Jesus practiced sitting where His soul finds home and so must we. Five or ten minutes a few times throughout the day brings focus and refreshment. It brings clarity and resolve. It invites the Spirit an opportunity to speak and for us to actually hear.

Psalm 1 in my reading this morning speaks of the wisdom of delighting in the law of the Lord and meditating on it. I have always loved this Psalm (well, to be honest, I love most of them!), as it speaks to me of stopping. Of breathing. Of thinking. Of praying. It reminds me that doing this amazing work of God’s Kingdom is not for me to do alone, or you to do alone, but for us to do alongside the God-With-Us who is always present even in the mundane tasks and the daunting to-do lists.

The promise, of course, is that we will be well-watered, refreshed and bear fruit. I am learning (still and again) that when I take these pauses throughout my day, I actually find the work a joy even in the more difficult times, for I am letting my soul find its way home for a “nap.”

Here is how I am practicing this pause in my day’s labour right now:

Stop – Stop means to “arrest” or “suspend.” In the sense of this pause in our day, I would choose “Suspend”—suspend for 10 minutes everything that has been occupying my body, mind and soul. I find notifications distracting, so I switch them off both on my computer and my phone for that time. If you can, leave the environs of what you were doing. Take your work out of your visual field.

Breathe – Deep measured breathing oxygenates the brain, calms the busy-ness, and helps us to refocus. Sue Hunter, our lovely former Alberta Regional Administrator, taught us to breathe in through the nose and count to 4, and then breathe out of the mouth counting to 4. Then to 6 and then 10, until we had a slowed, thoughtful rhythmic breathing. Then replace counting with “speak Lord” as you breathe in and “I’m listening” as you breathe out. Practice this until you sense yourself aware and alert of God’s peace resting on you.

Think – I like shaping this around Philippians 4:8-9: thinking on what is true in my day; what is right in my day right now; what is pure and lovely in the midst of the busyness of the day. Peterson’s Message translation is helpful. “You’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.”

Pray – Philippians continues, “Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.” As we’ve spent time thinking and listening to the Spirit, pray those things back: gratitude for what has been realized and repentance for the realization our thoughts that day may have been ugly, unkind, disingenuous. Follow with thankfulness that God’s grace is rich and His goodness nurturing. Approach the next portion of your day by “putting into practice” these things and see God at work weaving you into His song.

As we move into our co-labouring of living out the Gospel of the kingdom of God, these pauses are equally as necessary as the tasks before us, the relationships we live in and bring nurture to, and the sharing of God’s Big Story. This is the soul-care of our own persons, which promises to give us resiliency and joy in joining God in His work in our world.

Happy New Year!

By Cailey Morgan

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Happy New Year!

There’s something about turning the page on a new season that opens the possibility for new hope for the future. I don’t know about you but I am so ready for an opportunity to disengage from the patterns and ruts that I’ve gotten myself into over the last year and begin afresh.

I was reminded by a colleague recently, however, that as Christians, we follow a different calendar.

New Year in December
Yes, on one level I am talking about the Liturgical Calendar, which provides a way for us to live into the story of God throughout the year. The first Sunday of Advent is the first day of the Christian or Liturgical year. Anticipation of the Incarnation becomes the starting point, not personal goals for self-betterment, or stirring up willpower to achieve a better you.

No—for God’s kids, New Year’s Day is a day to cease striving and to wait. It’s a day to put all our hope in Emmanuel who is coming to ransom us, captive in our sins and in the atmosphere of sin around us that threatens to suffocate us until the breath of the Spirit comes.

Everyday A New Day
On another level, we as Christ-followers have access to New Year’s Day every day! As Lamentations 3:22-23 says, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” We’ve all messed up, some of us deeply, in the past year, month, week. Yesterday. Today already. But every time we turn away from our heavenly Father, there are two arms open wide to receive us back. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:19).

If you’re looking for a way to reconnect with the Lord in this new calendar season, try opening the Psalms each morning for the next couple of weeks, looking for times when the Psalmist uses the word “morning.” There’s a strong theme of God’s unfailing commitment to us, as well as the constantly-failing commitment of us to Him, and the opportunity—daily—to re-align ourselves to the God who has covenanted with His people, promising to never leave nor forsake us.

With-Us

By Shannon Youell

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God-With-Us.  Incarnated.  Spirit takes on flesh.  The Lord is born to earth.  Christ.

All the Christmas stories have now been re-told.  The waiting, the expectation has come.

As sure as the sun will rise in the sky each morning

As sure as the God-With-Us Son walks with us,

In the midst of human-living in dark places where grief, despair, desperation dwell

in hollowed hidden crevices,

Light has come to define these deepest sorrows to shadow

Only shadow

For on earth there is peace to all peoples

On whom God’s heart is resting.

The tender mercy of God

Filling the hungry with good things,

Lifting up the humble, the rejected, the excluded

Restoring to creation intention the God-With-Us

Glory of Created walking in the cool of the day with Creator

In Thy will on earth splendor

Christ the Savior present – With-Us – 

Guiding the weary to green pastures, quiet waters

Restoring souls, hearts, hope, joy

For on earth there is peace that God-With-us-Will-Never-Leave-Us

Alone

For darkness is but a shadow

Waiting for the light

Light of the world

With-Us.

 

Merry Christmas from CBWC Church Planting!

Celebrating the Word-made-Flesh

By Cailey Morgan

Over the past month on this blog we’ve been basking in the promises of the Old Testament prophets about our King who will come and bring justice and righteousness, this humble Ruler who will hold our hand and invite us into His mission of peace and flourishing for the world.

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As Christmas fast approaches, many of us have likely also been in the first 2 chapters of Luke’s Gospel, a story rife with exclamations of praise as the words of Old Testament prophecies transform into the living reality of Word-made-Flesh before the very eyes of everyday folks like a doubting priest and a pregnant teenager.

I hope that the songs of Elizabeth, Zechariah and Mary—and the pronouncements of the angels—well up in you a new song of worship to our King like they have done for us. Here’s my take on Luke 1 that I’ve been singing lately, and next week you’ll get to read Shannon’s poetic response to the culmination of prophecies come true in Jesus.

His mercy extends His royal hand reaches 
To perform mighty deeds 
Do not be afraid He lifts up the humble 
The Holy One has done great things 
 
My soul glorifies my spirit rejoices 
In the Lord  
In God my Saviour 
For You God nothing’s impossible 
Let it be as You have said 
 
Blessed is she who has believed 
That what the Lord has said will be 
Blessed is she who has believed 
That what the Lord has said will be accomplished 
 
He remembers our children 
He is mindful of us 

He shows mercy to our fathers 
He is mindful of us

My soul glorifies my spirit rejoices 
In the Lord
In God my Saviour 
For You God nothing’s impossible 
Let it be as You have said 

Justice: Encompassing Love

By Shannon Youell

Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations.

He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his teaching the islands will put their hope.

This is what God the Lord says—the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out, who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it:

“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand.  I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.”

Isaiah 42:1-7

A friend of mine, a recent immigrant from Iran, was telling me recently that the Muslims do not call Allah “god” in the sense that we often do, where we use it as a name.  He said that Allah is more than a name, but is a descriptor of what Allah is:  Love. In his telling, this Love is enveloping, surrounding, all encompassing.  Interestingly, Wikipedia says that the name Allah is used both by Muslims and Arab Christians. The name is the essence of Love – Love is God’s essence.

I asked my friend’s daughter why their family had converted to Christianity when they moved to Canada. She said that in reading the teachings of Jesus she saw God’s love.

“Here is my servant,” God says to the Israelites in reference to Messiah. He will not break the bruised reed nor snuff out the smoldering wick, but rather He establishes justice on earth.

This love, this incarnational love, in the shape of Jesus, looks upon us humans as bruised reeds, beautiful-but-broken sons of the good, good Father. He still has hope for us. He takes our hand and invites us to join Him as the vessels through which His righteousness and justice is delivered.

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I am moved by the imagery of God holding my hand.  Of his all-encompassing love holding onto me in the midst of the darkness so that I join him in shining a light into the snuffed-out places in humanity’s struggles and sorrow.  As noted two weeks ago on this blog,  “often the righteousness of God in the OT refers to the faithfulness with which God acts. This faithfulness is in full accordance with his commitments to his people and with his status as divine King—to whom the powerless may look for protection, the oppressed for redress and the needy for help.”  Verse 3 in Isaiah 42 says just that, “In faithfulness, he will bring forth justice…”

This is also our expression of faithfulness to the goodness of God—that we “become the expressions of his light in the world.” We incarnate the love that is beyond descriptors, larger than any one word can hold; this love crosses languages and cultures and yes, even the misguided religiosity of others and ourselves. God incarnated translates that Love into humanity in the Messiah, Jesus.  Jesus, incarnated in us, is meant to do the same.

God holding our hand takes us somewhere. He leads, we walk alongside. He reveals, we step in and act. “I will take your hand,” He says, “to make you to be a covenant for all peoples and to make you to be a light.” God leads us to participate in His mission; God leads us by the hand to be the incarnational presence “to whom the powerless may look for protection, the oppressed for redress and the needy for help.”

It is his mission to the world He so loves and it is ours as those fully encompassed in His love.

Justice Incarnated

By Shannon Youell and Cailey Morgan

“The church exists for mission, to be a sign of God’s saving presence among God’s people. This presence is not abstract but is always concrete in a particular locality.” (Emmanuel Katongole. The Sacrifice of Africa: A Political Theology for Africa).”

In Sunday’s reflection from the Canadian Baptist Advent Reader, we find the story of Paride Taban and witness the thick gospel in action, where the church lives a life of the incarnational, of being present with God’s Presence in our world as participants in righteousness and justice that restores community relationships – humans to God and humans to one another. macu-ic-60818-unsplash.jpg

Psalm 89 tells us that the foundations of the Kingdom of God is righteousness and justice. Our foundations as God’s kids are different. The pillars of this family are righteousness and justice: primary concern for other-ishness rather than self-ishness.

And somehow in the midst of surrendering our drive for making our own lives better, we find the blessing of God which is more abundant than anything we could build for ourselves. Even beyond that, as we begin to walk in the light of the Lord’s presence (Psalm 89 again), the Lord promises to take hold of our hand, mentor us in the way of the light so that we become the expression of His light in the world (Isaiah 42:6).

Reflect upon the story of Paride Taban below, asking ourselves, how are we, the church, lean into an “ecclesiology, a vision of what the church is called to be.”

Paride Taban is a fascinating and compelling figure in the African church today.  Formerly a Sudanese bishop, he recently received the illustrious United Nations peace prize for promoting peace in South Sudan. Throughout his many years of service as the Bishop of Torit (1983-2004), Sudan was marred and afflicted by civil war. Bishop Taban found himself displaced and homeless as he worked among his people who were likewise displaced by the violence. Despite all these challenges, he remained a tireless advocate for peace. 

But when peace finally came to South Sudan, instead of seeking a position of leadership and authority, Taban retired and established a new community in Kuron called the Holy Spirit Peace Village. He dreamed of a community where tribal rivalries could be set aside so that peace, cooperation and mutual respect might be the rule. He relocated to Kuron and lived in a tent as he began to share his vision and invite people of good will to join him. Families from several different tribal groups and faiths have chosen to live in this community. It has become a model of what is possible. 

In commenting on the Holy Spirit Peace Village, the theologian Emmanuel Katongole wrote “What Taban is driving at—or better, what is driving Taban—is ecclesiology, a vision of what the church is called to be. That is why relocation is not simply about a change in geography or location but a theological category, an essential ecclesiological mark – indeed, the very mission of the church. The church exists for mission, to be a sign of God’s saving presence among God’s people. This presence is not abstract but is always concrete in a particular locality.” (Emmanuel Katongole. The Sacrifice of Africa: A Political Theology for Africa). 

As we reflect on the incarnation at Christmas, it is a time to consider God’s missional calling on the church to be an incarnational people, to set aside our status and privileges in order to live out a vision of the Kingdom which brings peace, reconciliation and hope. Whether you live in South Sudan or Southern Ontario, we are called to have the same mindset as Christ, who emptied himself for others. 

Jonathan Mills 
Immanuel Baptist Church, Toronto 

This Advent season, and always, let’s remember that righteousness and justice are the foundation of God’s throne love, that love and faithfulness go before Him. And, as we will discuss more next week, let’s surrender to Him and become the ones about whom the Psalmist says, “Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, Lord” (Psalm 89:15).

Visit baptist.ca/advent to read more reflections from the Canadian Baptist family.