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Archive for the category “Bible”

SABC: Sport and Faith

A few months ago there was an intense public debate about the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) and its former head, Hlaudi Motsoeneng. I don’t know if the SABC has a new head yet, or if it is still drifting along flapping its wings like a headless chicken, but yesterday we were made acutely aware of two things that the new head, who ever that many be, should look into.


Yesterday there was a cricket match where the South African national team was playing against New Zealand. But only the rich could watch it on TV, and it wasn’t broadcast on steam radio at all.

Now this might not matter if you think that sport is a luxury, especially for spectators. No one actually needs to watch other people playing, and there’s nothing to stop them getting out and playing themselves — they could probably do with the exercise.

But the government also keeps banging on about “transformation” in sport, by which they mean that the demographic groups represented in national sports teams should reflect the demographic make-up of the country. But if only the rich can watch those sports on TV or radio, then only the rich will tend to play those sports. Those who can afford to pay to watch those sports on TV will also be the ones who can afford to send their children to the fee-paying schools where those sports are played and effectively coached. If you want to level the playing fields (pun intended) then you must make it possible for the widest range of people see our national teams play. And the government, which controls the SABC, needs to make sure that the SABC encourages this transformation by broadcasting matches where the national teams are playing, both home and away.


For the last few months, on Sundays when we go to church in Atteridgeville, we’ve caught the second part of a radio programme on SAfm called Facts of Faith. The first few times we heard it, it sounded like a paid denominational broadcast. There was a group of people drawn from various religious traditions who were asked to challenge the views of a very fundamentalist speaker, who then demolished their objections to his point of view in a rather condescending manner.

For a while we wondered which denomination was sponsoring the show. Was it Seventh-Day Adventists? Jehovah’s Witnesses? Or some new fundamentalist sect from the USA trying to gain a foothold in South Africa?

We listened to the end of the programme, but they never said which denomination was sponsoring it. It was followed, at 11:00 am by the Sunday morning church service, where one was told which church the service was in, so at least one knew what one was getting.

Eventually we looked up Facts of Faith on the web, and found that it apparently was not intended to be a paid denominational broadcast, however much it sounded like it. Instead it was

Facts of Faith is a platform for religious and faith communities to have a say in social, political, cultural, sexual and general issues. Facts of Faith affords the country and the general SAfm audience’s the benefit of hearing what faith communities have to say about the issues of the day.

Now that sounded as though it could be interesting, except that one wonders why they would broadcast it at a time when most Christians in the country would be in church, and so would not be able to hear it. That too seems a very sectarian thing to do. Nevertheless we continued to listen to the second half on the way home just because we found the main speaker so overbearing and annoying.

But yesterday’s one took the cake.

They were talking about women’s leadership in church, and there was a Muslim, and a bishop of something or other, and someone from the ACDP. We didn’t catch the names because we only started hearing it halfway through.

solascripAt one point they took phone callers from outside, and one caller said he could offer an interesting instance of something in African history that could illustrate women’s leadership from the point of view of Christianity, Islam and African Traditional Religion. He was quickly ruled out of order by the boss of the show (he was the boss, not a chairman or moderator or anything impartial like that). The name of the show, he said, was Facts of Faith, and that meant that they did not accept anything from history, or culture or tradition. It had to be from Scripture and Scripture only. Well that certainly confirmed the fundamentalist bias of the programme, and I was sad, because I would like to hear what the caller had to say.

And I wonder which “scriptures” are used by African traditional religions.



More thoughts on spiritual warfare

After reading some of the synchronised blogs relating to spiritual warfare I have a few more thoughts on the topic.

There are two points in particular that I want to comment on. One is the desire, expressed by some, to find a different term to replace spiritual warfare.

Related to this is the linking of spiritual warfare to the idea that non-Christian religions are “demonic”, and thus the notion that spiritual warfare is warfare against the adherents of other religions.

My view is that the second of these is a dangerous distortion of the Christian understanding of spiritual warfare, but that it will not be corrected by simply substituting one term for another. A rose by any other name will swell as sweet, and a sewer by any other name will smell as foul. The solution is not to change the name, but to correct the misunderstanding.

Some Biblical references

One problem with the idea of finding another term for “spiritual warfare” is that the concept is embedded in the Scriptures and the Christian worldview, and any term we may devise will probably be inadequate, and may give rise to more serious distortions than those it seeks to prevent. Here are just a few of the scriptural references to the concept of spiritual warfare.

  • II Cor 10:3-5 – Though in the flesh we do not struggle according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly, but powerful to God for destroying strongholds, demolishing arguments and every high thing that rises against the knowledge of God.
  • I Peter 2:11 – Brethren, I beseech you as sojurners and aliens to abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.
  • II Tim 2:3-5 – Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier on service gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to satisfy the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.

Christians and pagans

The last scripture reference ((II Tim 2:3-5) also relates to Christians and pagans. As the historian Robin Lane Fox has pointed out:

In antiquity, pagans already owed a debt to Christians. Christians first gave them their name, pagani… In everyday use, it meant either a civilian or a rustic. Since the sixteenth century the origin of the early Christians’ usage has been disputed, but of the two meanings, the former is the likelier. Pagani were civilians who had not enlisted through baptism as soldiers of Christ against the powers of Satan. By its word for non-believers, Christian slang bore witness to the heavenly battle which coloured Christians’ view of life (Fox 1987:30).

This heavenly battle, between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Satan, is one in which there is no peace and no neutrality (see Luke 11:14-26, esp v. 23, “He who is not for us is against us”). If there is no neutrality, then the pagani, those who have not enlisted as soldiers of Christ, must be soldiers in the army of Satan, whether they know it or not That seems to be a logical conclusion, and yet Christians have adopted different views, and ambivalent views, towards non-Christian religions. The stark opposition in Luke 11 is countered by the different view in Mark 9:38-41, “He that is not against us is for us”.

At this point I cannot speak for Western theology, because since Augustine of Hippo, Anselm of Canterbury and Calvin of Geneva the West has tended to have a different understanding of sin, and notably of original sin. Western theology has tended to see original sin as a macula, a stain on the soul, transmitted from generation to generation, original guilt being transmitted along with original sin.

The Orthodox understanding is somewhat different. I was born in South Africa, and so I am a South African citizen by birth. But there is no mark on my soul to say that I am a South African citizen. Similarly, South Africa is part of the world and the world lies in the power of the Evil One, and so I was also a citizen of the Kingdom of Satan by birth, but in baptism I renounced my citizenship of that Kingdom and was born again as a citizen by birth of the Kingdom of God (Heb 12:22-24). Thus Western theology has tended to see original sin as a matter of heredity, while Orthodox theology has tended to see it as a matter of the environment. Western theology has tended to see sin and evil primarily as something God punishes us for; Orthodox theology has tended to see sin and evil primarily as something God rescues us from.

Having made this qualification about sin in general, and original sin in particular one can see that at the Fall, man lost the likeness of God, but not the image of God. Orthodox theology does not accept the Calvinist theory of total depravity. Human beings, and human society, and human religion became corrupt, but did not become wholly, purely and totally evil.

So Christians (or at least Orthodox Christians) approach pagans from a double point of view. If there is a polytheistic society (and Christianity grew up in a polytheistic society, and most of the religions it encountered inside and outside the Roman empire for the first few centuries were polytheistic) then Christians believe that they do not worship God the creator, but lesser deities, created deities. Most of the pagan creation myths speak of the gods being created. A common word for lesser deities in the time of early Christians was daemones. Daemones inhabited the atmosphere, between earth and heaven. Their primary characteristic was not (at that stage) to be evil, but simply to be lesser gods. We can see this in Psalm 82 (LXX 81). And this is the picture given in the New Testament. Pagans worship creatures rather than the creator. They worship underlings rather than the great God above all gods. Nations have gods, national spirits, as described in Deuteronomy 32:8-9, and can be seen in the Orthodox ikon of Babel when contrasted with the ikon of Pentecost.

So in the New Testament the gods of the pagans are described as demons and idols, not so much to indicate that they are purely evil, but to indicate that they are lesser. “I say, ‘You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless you shall die like men, and fall like any prince.’ Arise O God, judge the earth; for to Thee belong all the nations” (Psalm 82:6-8)

That last verse, “Arise, O God, judge the earth” is sung, accompanied by noisy banging and stamping of feet, by Orthodox Christians on Holy Saturday, and it is a prayer fulfilled by Jesus when he said “Now is the judgement of this world (judge the earth), now shall the ruler of this world be cast out (like any prince), and I, when I am lifted up from the earth (Arise, O God) will draw all men to myself (for to Thee belong all the nations)” (John 12:31)-32).

Later in Christian history the distinction between angels and demons hardened. Angels were good spirits, demons were fallen angels, and strictly evil, to be resisted in spiritual warfare, and yet there is also a sense in which Christians mourn for them and their loss, and even the Archangel Michael did not presume to pronounce a reviling judgment against the devil (Jude 6-10).

So the deities of the pagans are daemones, in the sense of being lesser spirits, creatures rather than the creator, and their cult is, like all human worship, fallen. The deities may be angels or demons, (in the good and evil sense) as well. Human religion is corrupt, but it is not completely corrupt, and in Christian mission is not necessarily to be eradicated, but restored and fulfilled. And even Christian worship, undertaken as it is by sinful men in a fallen world, is likely to become fallen and corrupt itself. So we, as Christians, do not necessarily say to pagans “Your religion is bad and ours is good, therefore abandon your bad religion and join our good one.” But we rather say “Come to meet the One who who supersedes all religion, yours and ours, and who calls us to worship in Spirit and in Truth.”

Fr Michael Oleksa notes that the teaching of St Maximus the Confessor gave Orthodox Christianity a more positive view of non-Christian religions than Western theology did. “St Maximus the Confessor wrote that the Logos became embodied not just once, but three times – in the creation of the world, in the Holy Scriptures, and finally and most perfectly as a human being” (Oleksa 1992:38).

It was St Maximus’s opposition to the monothelitism of his times, and to the Platonic theology of Origen, that laid the foundations for the positive view which Orthodox missions have generally had of traditional societies in central and eastern Europe in the 9th & 10th centuries, and across central Asia and into eastern Siberia and Alaska over the next 800 years. “Orthodox evangelists felt no obligation to attack all the pre-contact religious beliefs of shamanistic tribes, for they could perceive in them some of the positive appreciation of the cosmos that is central to St Maximus’ theology. They could affirm that the spiritual realities these societies worshipped were indeed ‘logoi’ related to the Divine Logos, whose personal existence these societies had simply never imagined” (Oleksa 1992:61).

So when a pagan diviner (in South Africa called a “sangoma”) casts out a demon, should we, like those who accused Jesus, say that he casts out demons by the prince of demons, and denounce it as a satanic deception? If we do, we are seduced into making of accusations, and that is the most satanic deception of all.

See also:

Disruptive Theology: Easter thoughts 2006

I found some interesting comments on the difficulty of communicating across cultures here:

Disruptive Theology: Easter thoughts 2006

It puts me in mind of two things: first, the difficulty of communicating with people who see the world from the framework of a modern economic ideology and believe that it takes precedence over Christian values (see previous post).

And secondly, the rise of African Independent Churches, where missionaries, particularly Protestant ones, from the West translated the Bible into many African languages, but their own theology was contextualised for post-Englishtenment modernity. The Africans understood the Bible much better than they did, because the Bible is a premodern book.

Deus Creator Omnium

There’s been a great deal of hype about the Gospel of Judas in the news media recently.

A friend, John Davies (who is a retired Anglican bishop), writes

I find myself often thinking of texts and statements as ‘windows’ into situations; most obviously true of the NT Letters and the various episodes in Acts. Incomplete, but, we affirm, sufficient (today’s BBC news is making quite a thing of the ‘Gospel of Judas’, as if this would cause us to revise the creeds. The funny thing is that, to be an orthodox (in the general sense) Christian, you dont have to believe anything much about Judas. The Arrest would have easily happened without him. He is important, not because he is essential to the story but because his presence in the story re-assures us that betrayal is part of the normal environment of the Christ-presence and therefore we shouldn’t be surprised when it happens to us, through us, or by us. Every priest is a betraying priest, and I find that I still catch my breath at the point in the Canon where I have to say ‘in the same night in which he was betrayed)

Anyway, this blog has some more on it, and a link to a translation of the text.

Deus Creator Omnium

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