Monday, September 13, 2004

On Repentance, Revival and Community Transformation
GEM 04:09:12 [Ivan: Gilbert + 16]

Rev. Jesse Jackson once said that if you were walking through a rough part of town on a dark night, and you suddenly saw four strapping young men coming your way, you would be very, very relieved to learn that they were coming from a Bible study. In short, being heavenly minded is one motivation for doing much earthly good!

For, lived out gospel principles have a definite and obvious impact on personal behaviour, and as a result truly godly people often have a definite positive impact on the community at large.

The biblical explanation for this pattern is that: (1) souls are saved and filled with the Spirit of God through the atonement in Christ’s blood (what the Passion of the Christ is about); (2) people are discipled through the teaching and corporate life of the church; and, (3) their lives, families, communities and associated institutions are reformed and positively transformed as a result. For, communities and their institutions do not have souls; so, it can only be through spiritually transformed – i.e. “born again” -- people who are motivated, envisioned and equipped by God that the church can work to bring enduring blessings to the nations. As Paul puts it: “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith . . . not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” [Eph. 2:8 – 10, cf. 4:9 – 29 & Titus 2:11 - 14.]

Indeed, history records that in the barbarous Dark Ages the people were systematically kept from having the Bible in their own language. But the sacrifices of martyrs such as Tyndale -- betrayed and burned at the stake in 1536 for the “crime” of translating the Bible into English -- unleashed the Spirit-driven reviving force of the gospel by putting the Bible and its message in the hands of the people. This led to centuries of reformation and liberation, as otherwise ordinary people stood up for conscience, for freedom, and to end age-old social injustices: tyrannical government and wars of conquest; colonialism and slavery; child labour; barbaric prison conditions; the oppression of women and racial groups; and more.

Here in the Caribbean, Colonialism, racism and slavery (that once universal curse) indeed came to us at the hands of “christianised” Europeans. However, the church of 1492 was a church that had long fallen far short of the gospel mark, and was only then about to be confronted by the call to reformation in light of the unfettered gospel and Scriptures. Then, as modern democracy emerged over the next several centuries, based on the declaration that it is self-evidently true that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, age-old abuses gradually and in turn came under the moral microscope and were found wanting. So, in the course of time, it was “dissenting” – that is, evangelical -- Christians who saw that something was deeply wrong with slavery in the New World and began to call for the end of the slave trade, then slavery itself, leading to a long and bitter conflict.

But, why “gradually”? Why, sometimes, “centuries”?

It is tempting to expect and demand that the flaws in communities and cultures should all be seen and perfectly corrected at once. However, that requires revolution rather than reformation: such a sudden, across the board change leaves no time or room for people to change their thinking. So, objectors to the demands of revolutionaries are instead swept away, often to the forced labour extermination camp or to the execution-place. Thus, it is no surprise to see that the history of revolutions – starting with the French Revolution, the prototype for such radical revolutions -- is by and large a sad one: they almost always end in bloody reigns of terror and ruthless dictatorships.

For, it takes time to think, discuss questions and create a critical mass of support for social change. It also takes time to find and fix the bugs in proposals for such change – and the white heat of revolutionary rage is not the best mood for successfully carrying out the required debugging. (Observe: it was only on the second attempt that the American Revolution narrowly managed to work out an effective – as opposed to perfect -- governing structure in 1787, and it would take a massively bloody civil war in the 1860’s to resolve a key remaining issue: slavery.)

In short, history teaches us a vital lesson, one written in rivers of blood: gradual reformation is as a rule safer, sounder and more successful than radical revolution. But, for a much needed reformation to happen here in our region, courageous reformers must be prepared to stand up and ask hard questions that many powerful (and perhaps corrupt or even ruthless) people will not want to hear. So, the basic rights of such reformers need to be protected by law: freedom of conscience, of association, of expression, of the press, etc. And that brings us back to our need to respect and uphold the ideals in the Montserrat Vision statement: “a truly democratic, God fearing society.”

Therefore, let us now repent, especially from blindly following those who try to lead by deceptive rhetoric, slander and intimidation. Then, let us confess that we have too often allowed fear to silence our consciences (and indeed sometimes: even our pulpits). After that, let us turn again to fulfilling the urgent task and call of the church in the Caribbean and world: saving souls, transforming lives and reforming and blessing communities as we build our nations under God.

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