Sunday, September 9, 2007

SHOULD CHRISTIANS AVOID NON CHRISTIAN MILIEUS?

SHOULD CHRISTIANS AVOID NON CHRISTIAN MILIEUS?

Several times Christians ask me this question: should a Christian attend his or her village meetings or alumni or even attend non Christian parties and milieus? Is it sinful to dance Bikutsi, Salsa, Rock, Country, Merenge, Makossa or even Dombolo as a Christian? Some Christians do not even talk with or visit relatives because they are sinners. To the best of my knowledge, a Christian is not an alien, recluse or eschewal. It is my utmost wish that this screed will serve the purpose of an eye opener to empower the free minded Christians to serve the Lord in their communities without fear of being judged for the glory of God.
Those who say that a Christian should not gather with unbelievers use the following umbrella verses; (Ps. 1:1; 2; Cor. 6:14, Rom 12:2; 1 Jn. 2:15-16. As a result, I will start with a careful exposition of the above verses. In Ps. 1:1 “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful”. Let us treat seven main words. I will use Hebrew equivalences for word study purposes. Blessed/ esher meaning happy /, man/îysh means individual/, ungodly/râshâ – actively bad person/, way/derek- course of life/, sinners/chattâ-guilty person/, seat/môwshâb- assembly/ and scornful/lûwts-make fun of God /. Morphologically, the interpretation sums up to this: happy is the individual who does not act on the advice of an actively bad person, nor follows the way of life of a guilty person, nor assembles with people who make fun of God.
This is not a blanket for Christians to avoid non-Christian milieus because we would have to create our own roads, markets, hospitals, schools (without non-Christians) and communities. In other words, we will have to live like the early nuns and monks. The Psalmist wants us to avoid the company of scoffing sinners because their influence will bar us from the joyful presence of God. As you know already: evil communication corrupts good manners (ICor15:33). Jesus instead prayed that God should not take us out of the world but that He should sanctify us through His word (Jn 17:15). If not we would have to leave this world.
The second verse is “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness?” (II Cor. 6:14). The main phrase is; unequally yoked together. Jesus’ antonymic usage of the word “unequally yoked” in Mt. 11:29-30 dresses the interpretation table. The word “yoke”, reenacts itself better in olden Israel. The farmers used two oxen, the younger and the older. They then put two wooden bars under and above their necks so that they would tread the field. The younger one would have to learn from the older one. That is why; Jesus said; take my yoke and see how gentle I am. Meanwhile, “unequally yoked together” portrays they are yoked discordantly. Therefore, it would not fit the purpose of MECA or community gatherings because ab initio we gather with equanimity. On the contrary, when people yoke discordantly they do not share a common life style. As a result, I do not participate in libations and oblations though I attend MECA meetings. There are churches fighting among themselves and that would be “unequally yoked” too. To “be unequally yoked” refers to people with different values (light against darkness) coming together for a common lifestyle with each obliged to surrender their original lifestyle. Unquestionably, that is not what those community meetings or alumni do. This verse too would not mean that we should not gather at all with non-Christians. Then we have to do business only with Christians, work only with and for Christians. I wonder how many Christians would have jobs today.
The third verse: “and be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by renewing of your mind that ye may prove what is good and acceptable, and perfect, will of God ” (Romans 12:2). The main phrase is “be not conformed to the world be ye transformed by renewing of your mind.…” It is not only an injunction against assimilating the behaviors and customs of this world but also a dictum on being Christ-like. Avoiding the behaviors and customs of this world does not exempt us from being a peacock. So being Christ-like is very expedient in its application. Does not coming to Manyu meeting or gathering with your own people make you Christ-like? Does the community look up to you because you avoid your alumni, Manyu meetings or other regional meetings?
The fourth passage is “love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man loves the world, the love of the father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 Jn. 2:15-16). This passage spells out clearly that worldliness is not an external behavior of where we go, the activities we participate in and the people we relate with. It underscores the source of worldliness as lust of the flesh (internal gratification of carnal desires), lust of the eyes (insatiable desire to acquire material) and Pride of life (unbridled possession of self-importance and superiority). Therefore, going to those meetings alone do not make you worldly but the things you do and harbor in your heart while there may make you worldly. If it was not an internal matter then you are already worldly anyway because you are in the world.
God made himself man and came down to earth (I guess worldly God) to eat with sinful man. Jesus, admonished the people when they accused him for sitting with sinners by saying; “the Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children”. (MT. 11:19). One thing Christians have not wanted to say to the world is that Christ drank wine. This verse states so clearly. The compound word “winebibber” is a total synonym to the word tippler. Though the wine in those days had little alcoholic content it was still alcoholic and the usage of the word “winebibber” means it was a regular habit not a one-time affair.
What would we say if we saw a pastor in a mantago house or drinking spot? Na some pastor that. That yeye pastor wey i di shidon for bar or for mbu house. While Jesus sad, ate and drank with even sinners (because the good news was and is for the fallen human race) some Christians cannot even see their pastors not to talk of sinners seeing him. When Jesus visited Bethany, a woman came to pay her allegiance and she did it by pouring a precious ointment from an alabaster box. She washed his feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair, kissed his feet and anointed them. The religious leaders began judging him and questioning his character and status as some do with men of God nowadays. Some disciples said it was only good as a dole. They selectively forgot to realize that Jesus did not come for the righteous but for the sinners; “I came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Lk 5:32) and “there is great joy in heaven when one sinner repents” (Lk 15: 7, 10).
In the days of Jesus, he abolished the accustomed “Long March” of the Jews. In other to visit Capernaum, a Jew would leave Jerusalem, pass through Bethany, and Bethsaida before entering Capernaum, which made the journey almost twice because they considered the Samaritans unclean and would not use their land. When Jesus came, he breached that behavior by passing through Samaria and using the parable of the Good Samaritan to impart his didactic concept of good neighborhood.
If we live as a recluse or Dreyfus in the Devil’s Island how then would we evangelize the lost. Make friends when you don’t need them and when you need them they will be there.
It was a similar desire of the Early Church to stay away from unbelievers that brought about Christianity of the cloisters: a philosophy whereby devout men of God decided to live an organized and solitary way of life that began in Egypt around 250-350 AD when St. Anthony retired to the desert to live a 20 years life of solitude. The cumbersome difference today is that, while in those days their activities saved civilization today it is a regressing element. Today churches are mostly considered as sources of revenue. Meanwhile, due to the Benedictine Rule, people became so religious, intellectual and entrepreneuring. That influenced the neighboring barbaric tribes who became civilized. The monk took time in preserving the writings of great scholars and church fathers. They also taught the people how to do manual work either in farming, art or handicraft. However, when they grew rich they became grossly immoral. During the reformation in protestant countries they soon disappeared, and are dying out in catholic countries.
Do those who abstain from community gatherings nowadays contribute positively to our society? Light can make a difference only in darkness and not among other lights. The modern trend is that people have to learn how to develop their areas than wait for the government or handouts. That is why we have community and building fees levied as project fees for aborigines and autochthones of various villages. Surprisingly those who refuse to pay visit home and drink the tap water from the same development fee they refused to pay. Who is righteous? The pastor who paid and contributed to have that tap borne water or the loner who comes now to quench his or her thirst without price and without money? Sometimes I think it is even greed. At times when people do not want to buy a friend a beer they say they are Born Again. I knew you would laugh! Sometimes, they exacerbate by jumping into rash conclusions that the pastor is trying to mix up Christianity with the world.
Let me treat two major terms dealing with religious mixtures; ecumenism and syncretism. Ecumenism is the coming together of different religions with each keeping their tenets and style of worship while syncretism, is when different religions come together to form something different from the two. It resembles when two molecules of hydrogen bond with a molecule of oxygen to give wasser (water in German. I am exercising my German skills). You smile don’t you? How does going to your alumni turn you into another person? What mixture does it entail in your faith?
Conversion into Christianity does not provoke acculturation. There are at least five elements of culture; language, food, clothing, tradition and customs. Be it known, that no culture is superior to another and no language is insufficient. Sometimes in the Bible, language (precisely orthoëpy) has served as a password (Judges 12:5-6). I was shocked to hear a degree holder tell an expatriate that we have two languages: French, English and many dialects in Cameroon. That at once begs for the question what is a dialect. A dialect is a variety in a main language. For example, English is a main language but American, Scottish, South African Englishes are all dialects. Kenyang is a language and in it, you have the Upper Bayang and the Central Bayang dialects. Kenyang is not inferior to neither English nor German but it is less influential. If so then we do have more than 284 languages in Cameroon. Every language is like a tree. It has branches, and no branch is substandard to the other. The people who cannot speak English and are using Kenyang feel satisfied doing so. Therefore, utility is taking place where by utility, is the satisfaction, derived from consuming a good or service. That means any good Christian should first learn his or her own language before they could learn a second language because they would have to start their missionary work from home. Fie for shame that expatriates are the ones teaching Kenyang.
Jesus ate his traditional food and kept the Jewish customs and traditions of going to the temple. He dressed traditionally and spoke Hebrew, and Aramaic. I am fully certain that Jesus participated in the festivities during the marriage at Cana. Participation in a ceremony does not imply sinful conduct. You could dance without intending to have sex with a lady who is not yours. Some women do not dance yet they grope ten bachelors in secret. Some people do not go to their alumni yet they are paedophiles. A Chinese proverb says “when the heart is willing, it will find a thousand ways and when it is unwilling, it will still find a thousand ways”. Jeremiah said the heart of man is deceitful and desperately wicked who can know it (Jer. 17:9). Sin, neither selects milieus, people, age nor gender. What you keep in your heart is what would change you.
Paul explains: “to the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (I Cor.9:22). I am not saying we should divulge in sin to win people for Christ. God forbid! Peter was first sent to the Gentiles but regarded them as unclean and God sent Paul and made him the preacher to the gentiles. Tell me who had a greater missionary influence in the apostolic world. If Paul, by mixing with non-Christians without sinful entanglements opened many more churches than Peter who did not want to mingle with them, then mingling may not be a bad idea.
Therefore, my people, if you see a preacher dancing Belle Sumbu, Rap, Rock, Country, Salsa, or Merenge they have not backslidden nor are they being unchristian. That is a Christian and preacher who effloresces in his faith in Christ peradventure he or she wins some. They would not make themselves aliens by being Christians or preachers. Remember that no theological statement was ever made in a cultural vacuum. Culture deals with people and the Bible was written to and for people. That is why a good Bible interpretation beckons for an awareness of the Jewish culture, customs, language and anointing from God.
My appeal is that you explore the facets of Christ’s freedom peradventure you could win some for Christ. Please, feel free to duplicate this lesson for your church or people you know. Don’t hesitate if you have questions so that, we will participate in building our villages and communities no matter the umbrella.

Until then, no Christian should live in a vacuum

Prince & PA Hamilton Ayuk

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