i have just started reading this book by Ron Sider who we got to hang out with a little bit during our time at the Simple Way in Philly a couple of years ago. Recently he visited South Africa and i got to hear him speak and thought it was high time i got hold of this book which has influenced so many people.
This part i want to share is just from the Foreword and yet it already floored me – definitely not going to be an easy book to read i imagine, but suspecting it will be a life-transforming one.
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The Foreword is written by David Watson from St. Michael-le-Belfrey, York and this is just a part of it:
It is virtually impossible to overstress the practical significance of this book. It calls for a new reformation of the church that is as relevant and urgent for today as were Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses in 1517.
Certainly there are numerous issues that call for our attention at this present time: confusions over basic doctrines, questions of ordination, patterns of ministry, the role of women, the unity of the church, the place of spiritual gifts, methods of evangelism, the vital need for renewal – these, and many other matters, hammer insistently on the doors of the church.
Nevertheless, while we continue to have an internal, theological dialogue within our own ranks, the hasrh inescapable fact is that this very day about 500 million men, women and children throughout the world are literally starving, and double that number are undernourished.
The equally disturbing, uncomfortable truth is that Christians in the developed countries are living in comparative gross affluence. We have accepted a lifestyle which is so similar to that of the covetous world around us as to be indistinguishable from it. We may try, sometimes with high-sounding spiritual reasons, to justify the money we spend on ourselves, our homes, our food, our cloths, our possessions, our entertainment, our holidays, our children’s education, and even our church buildings. We may talk about “trying to win our friends for Christ”, about “nothing less than the best being good enough for God”, or about “church buildings that may reflect the beauty and glory of our Creator”; yet, however we may describe it, we cannot escape from the fact that (in Jesus’ parable of Dives and Lazarus) we are the rich man, clothed and fed in comfort, and also guilty of appalling negligence concerning the starving and sick man at our gate. Since all that we are and all that we possess belong to God, we must one day give account of our stewardship to Him.
Further, we have largely ignored the insistent theme throughout the Scriptures – a theme that Ronald Sider expounds so powerfully in this book – that God has always been on the side of the poor. It is not that God is partial towards the poor; He loves equally every person He created. However, God is essentially a God of justice; and it is because the rich so often oppress or neglect the poor (as is manifestly true in the world of today) that God is especially concerned with the needs of the afflicted. The whole self-revelation of God in the Scriptures – at the time of the Exodus, through the warnings of the prophets, in the compassion of Jesus Christ, with the loving action of the early church – makes this truth abundantly clear.
Moreover, God normally works through His people. If, therefore, we claim to be the people of God, one sure sign of this should be our practical and sacrificial concern for the poor. “If any one has this world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3.17f). What the apostle John is saying, in his usual forthright terms, is that those who neglect the poor and needy prove that they cannot really be God’s children at all, however orthodox and pious their words and beliefs might be.
It is disturbing, therefore, to find that most western Christians are closely identified with the “establishment”:, with the rich and powerful. We have greater affinity with the affluent and the influential than with the downtrodden and the oppressed. We have accepted a largely middle-class culture, with its worldly values, and selfish ambitions, and have conveniently ignored the utterly radical teaching of Jesus concerning money, possessions and social standing within the kingdom of God.
Most serious of all, perhaps, our lifestyle, both individual and corporate, is astonishingly different from the lifestyle of our Master whom we profess to follow and serve. We know (and preach) all about the grave of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, though He was rich, for our sakes became poor, really and extremely poor; but we do not demonstrate the same grace in our own lives. We have not become poor so that others might become rich. We have not even chosen to live simply so that others might simply live. We glory in gospel texts, such as John 3.16, which describes God’s amazing generosity towards us in giving us His own Son; but we easily forget certain other texts, such as 1 John 3.16 which challenge our generosity toward others: “We ought to lay down our lives for this brethren.”‘
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Forget NSFW, this passage is NSF Life… and that is just the foreword. And it challenges me to my core. How seriously as Christ followers do we take God’s Word?
One thing that hit me from this passage was the comparison to the rich man in the rich man and Lazarus story? i have always managed to somehow distance myself from both characters in the parable while looking down and tut-tutting at the rich man for his actions. Oh wait, that’s me? Boom.
Same happened with the older brother in the story of the Prodigal Son. And i am scared to even think that it might be true of the priest and the rabbi in the parable of the Good Samaritan… it frequently seems that those outside the church are being better neighbours to those in need than those inside.
There is much thinking, self-reflection and work to be done. i am not looking forward t reading the rest of this book if it’s going to be like that.
And i also totally am.