New Year’s EMM chapel Address January 3, 2012
By Nelson Okanya, EMM President
Happy New Year to you all! We give thanks to the lord for the Lord is good and His love endures forever! The lord has given us yet another year. With the New Year comes new resolutions, new ways of living and new strategies for doing things. What would a mission leader such as myself say to a mission agency staff such as you on New Year? I sat with this question in December anticipating what to say. I read scripture and other books on missions, I prayed, and talked with you and with missionaries (both former and current), mission leaders, church leaders, pastors and friends. As I engaged in these activities and reflections, I continually invited the Holy Spirit to speak to me for without the guidance and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit all is in vein (Jn 15:4-5).
I took some time to reflect on some of the realities of the world in which we live and I was overwhelmed by the seeming challenges for the church and mission agencies of which we are one. Recently for example I have been learning through various studies conducted by National Study of Youth and Religion that has conducted studies on our youth’s attitude towards religion. Their conclusions are consequential to the church’s future I believe and we must not ignore them.
They have discovered for example that our teens profess and practice a kind of faith that although similar in appearance to orthodox Christianity but it could not be far from it. (You will hear more about this in the coming weeks and months). Our young adults embrace a kind of pluralism when it comes to faith and are known to be accepting of “spirituality” while rejecting religion. They are also described as seeking to belong but not willing to join etc.
All these realities the researchers conclude points squarely to the faith of their parents, a conclusion that left me with many questions that I look forward to asking pastors and church leaders as we partner together in God’s mission. In short, the Christian faith is a minority faith and as such stands to be bullied by the majority.
According to the Pew Research:
The number of Christians around the world has nearly quadrupled in the last 100 years, from about 600 million in 1910 to more than 2 billion in 2010. But the world’s overall population also has risen rapidly, from an estimated 1.8 billion in 1910 to 6.9 billion in 2010. As a result, Christians make up about the same portion of the world’s population today (32%) as they did a century ago (35%).
The current state of affairs in our world today, reminded me of the world the first Christians inhabited. Like us, they were a minority in a majority culture, a culture that was not particularly friendly to the gospel and to their way of life as followers of the Messiah. I believe that we can glean a lot from Peter’s epistle in this regard.
In 1 Peter we find a sort of “be ye separate but engaged” sort of reality. The situation in our western society is in some ways similar to the first Christians an in some ways worse because of the symbiotic nature of our teen’s understanding and practice of their Christian faith among many other factors. In addition, like the first Christians, we experience a kind of hostility to our faith as a minority group. For those of us from the Anabaptist tradition this is not new to us, our forebears were killed at the hands of people who regarded themselves, as Christians but were threatened by the Anabaptist’s understanding of the Christian faith and life.
As my former professor George Brunk III pointed out to us at a conference recently, suffering theme in Peter is a kind of sporadic suffering; social discrimination, ostracizing, social bullying, etc and more generally the attempts to undermine the rights of a minority by the majority. Therefore, Peter sought to encourage these Christians using a language such as a refiner’s fire to describe their experiences rather than the language of persecution fire to encourage them to live and tell their story with confidence amidst the hostilities of their day.
Contrary to some allusion that Peter was acculturating the Gospel and sort of softening its edges, such an allusion could not be far from the truth in fact Peter presents a rather vigorous response to the challenges these Christians were facing. But first, we must remember that our salvation is by grace. Peter says, “My main point is to urge and bear witness to you that this grace, in which you stand, is the true grace of God.” (1Pet. 5:12). God did all this! It was divine initiative (1 Pt. 1:1, 13,), God’s grace is a transforming grace; it is a pure gift that flows from God to us.
This understanding ought therefore to inform how we live in the world. When we respond with grace in our relationships to others, we receive favor before the Lord (1 pet. 2:12, 21-25). It is a grace in the presence of God that grows out of human action but receives the favor of God (an inter-change between God and us. Grace and ethics are not isolated from each other as Detrich Bonhoeffer ably reminds us in “The Cost of Discipleship”, grace and discipleship must go hand in hand. This grace however is God’s free gift to us which we ought to reflect back to God in our action. When this happens, we are being missional and faithful disciples of Jesus.
As we seek to walk with the Lord, the Lord will empower us to do what he has called us to do. (1 Pet. 1:4-10). We ought therefore to speak and serve on behalf of God. If speaking do so as if speaking for God, if serving do so as unto God.
Peter develops some instructive values for Christians in a hostile world (George Brunk III helped name some of these for me):
• Honor-Not Shame Shaming is the instrument used by the majority to silence the minority. Jesus was subject to shaming but he did not return in kind. Here, Peter responded by reversing the strategy, honor belongs to the believer and shame to non-believer. Therefore, the honor belongs to you who believe while shame belongs to the non-believer who ostracizes you for believing the Gospel (4:16; 2:6; 1:7; 3:16).
• Imperishable-Not the Perishable: The imperishable quality of the gospel far surpasses the value of gold (1:3-4; 1:7; 1:18-19). Therefore, prepare to be refined as you live your faith in a hostile world.
• Hope-Not futility: Salvation is to be revealed, this is not an escapist view of the present circumstances of living in a hostile world. We are encouraged to make the future redemption our guiding truth in the present (1:5; 1:18-21; 1:14).
• You have an Identity: As God’s people saved by grace, you are now a people, and you belong to God! Both you as an individual staff member and as a member of the EMM community and of the church at large. You are a disciple in the community of the Messiah participating in God’s mission in the world (2:10; 2:5).
-God’s purpose and our actions coincide to give God glory and to carry forward God’s mission.
-How will you engage in God’s mission this year?