EVANGELISM or LOBBYING? *
(* Originally sent to Ingrid Scerri for THE TIMES OF MALTA, on June 23, 2005 and shamefully never published)
By Nino Mucci
Receiving in your hands an evangelical tract when walking in some central passageway of Malta is a more interesting issue out of apparent banality. This issue needs instead before all the attention that the circumstances require, being a serious invitation to carefully read and interpret the Holy Bible in this present time of worldly confusion.
In fact an article appearing in The Times of June 16, 2005 had already attracted my attention on a case of ''obsession with religious group'' which rendered void and null a marriage act ''for insufficient maturity to make a free choice about the marriage''. The surprising case reported in the newspaper evoked my own experience concerning the same church involved in the Court 's evaluation of the facts. '' The court - I quote from the newspaper -found that the husband's subconscious and conscious was such that for him there was no choice save that of observing the group's precepts ''..'' the court added that for the husband membership in the group of born again Christians meant everything to him and dictated the manner in which he lived''.
It frankly happened to me, as tourist in Malta, to become simply a little bit curious about the group of the ''born again Christians'' after receiving the tracts and invitation to meet. I suppose that many believers, independently from their denomination, are more and more aware of the state of decadence of the practice at church and how the secular course to a boundless consumerism has spoiled the faith of many, old and young. It can be natural then, in a country of majority's solid Catholic tradition, to have some questions about evangelism and the multiplication of Christian groups or sects, all offering a sort of esoteric membership. It is useful to remember that the basics of evangelism are in any case at the odds of a sensational propaganda of a fearful, immediate apocalyptic time, as hurled in this case. An evangelical is a gospel man or a gospel woman: the word evangelical derives from 'evangel', the Good News.
It is nothing similar to a painful threat of 'Apocalypse Now', as shouted in the streets by the tracts' providers. Maybe this is the reason why the group does not even agree on being called "evangelical", albeit the tract in itself could be evangelical. As Reverend Dr.Leon Morris, the respectful Chairman of the Evangelical Alliance of Victoria (Australia), clearly writes in the evangelical magazine ''Working Together'' :
‘’ Love is not an occupation for somewhat soppy and sentimental citizens with a distaste for determined action. It is a demand made on all God's people as their response to His great love and it is love that overflows in activities for others as 1 Corinthians 13 makes clear for all time. Love is demanding. Christ did not die, as someone has put it, "for the flim-flam of respectable Christianity". Away with that kind of nonsense! Christ died for our sins, died to put them away so that we become loving people.’’
This constructive view, honestly attached to the true heart of the New Testament, is at the evidence so far from the sectarian Puritanism induced by the skillful propaganda of the ‘’salvation recipe’’ that we should receive in a sect. Yet the formula at first sight can seem correct and could tempt the deceived member of a traditional Church to essay a new way of ‘’repentance’’ and baptism demanded in the tracts. In any case this should remain a free choice in full conscience, not -as it happens soon after the first meetings- induced by the human-corrosive, sarcastic criticism against a millenaries-old tradition of theological knowledge. And all with the speedy way of comics-illustrated pamphlets provided by Chick publisher, a wild anti-Catholic press. A press so committed to the most banal ''easy-believism'' on cartoon-supported sketchs, but who inevitably provokes a justified resentment and anger through an aggressive, somewhat insulting process, not alien to the campaign of religious hatred which has produced the bloody civil conflict in Northern Ireland.
We do not wish social conflict to Malta and as disciples of Christ we cannot agree on such things. We serve the Lord of Peace who died for our sins. The reverend Morris points rightly to the question, being a true evangelical man: ’'But the cross speaks not only about love but about lowliness. (…) The cross condemns all self-seeking.‘’(…) Who can say that we are guiltless? "Envy, hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness" are endemic in the human race and we have our share. Repentance for our past sins and a discovery of ways in which we can show that loving response which the New Testament sees as flowing from the cross is therefore an authentic part of evangelicalism.''
I long debated the issue of correct interpreting the Scripture with the guru-leader of the new sectarian church. But unfortunately he kept on his divisive mind and no way to communicate something more personal as soon he realized that it went out of his militant agenda of memorized biblical quotations. Of course each attempt to quote other passages was condemned as ''misquoting'', as if there are passages which condemn the others and we were playing chess with the Holy Bible.
It seemed as if bearing the title of ‘’born again’’ Christian means to be ‘’already dead’’ to a reasonable dialogue of faith. The first aim shown was the violent criticism of all other traditional churches, even the main Protestant streams, forfeiting them as Satan-inspired ‘lies’ of the last apocalyptic days. The terrific issue of this satanic contamination was apparently inevitable in a sectarian church where the first commitment to love becomes the last lesson, the first being that of slandering the other ‘’false churches’’.
Wasn't maybe the truth so clearly exposed in the Holy Book? James 3:13-16 (New International Version): '' Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such "wisdom" does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. ''
Or read James 4:11-12. Many passages could be inspirative of the humble service to reunite the Church in a common love, the Love of Christ. He himself says in John 17:21 ''that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.''
So the major trouble to interpret correctly the letter of the Bible seems for the guru-leader that the gift of the Holy Spirit would be sequestred under self-legitimate monopole of these ''born again''Christians who seem so unwilling to spread it out of the circle of the ''doctrine-fillable'' adepts. Who accepts their curious teachings reavels himself the Spirit-fillable, meanwhile he is also ''knowledge-empty''. Who instead has already knowledge of the Bible and has the sound endeavour to spread the Gospel would be marked by satanic domination, as soon they dissent from the sectarian theory. Convincing?
Hardly debating against the angry dissent of the apocalyptic prophet, you could eventually spur something clearly shaped in his hidden political agenda, when you hear from his supposedly inspired mouth how Palestinians should be considered the ( biblical !) enemies of Israel (besides all, the State for him counts so much..) and other very arrogant positions. Absolutely nonsense for a Christian believer, but not surprising. Messianic-Jewish author Joseph Frankovic warns in his article ''New Thinking in a Old Land'' : ''..a radical, Christian Zionist agenda run the risk of behaving more like lobbyists for a political platform than ambassadors for Christ. (... ) Before coming to Israel, a Christian worker would do well to examine closely his or her theological presuppositions against the backdrop of Jesus' saying in Matthew 5:46-47.''
-- If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? --
This ''born-again'' Christian sect is far from the authentic Christian work shown by ministries like ''Musalaha'' (Reconciliation in Arabic), which has reconciled believers of Palestine and Israel anointed in only one Spirit. Or like ''Shevet Achim'' (Brothers Dwelling Together) founded by the Christian missionary Jonathan Miles, who has assembled a medical team in Jerusalem serving as the liaison between desperate families in Gaza and the West Bank and Jewish medical personnel in Israel.
''Arab children are spared death because of the charity of Jewish medical experts operating in Israeli hospitals. The life-saving encounter between Jew and Arab paves over suspicion with trust, anger with hope, and hate with goodwill.'' (Joseph Frankovic).
For those believers who have ''ears to understand'' the Parable of the Good Samaritan and sincerely bring in their heart the luminous example of our Lord, I maybe have no need to remember them the great blessing in Matthew 5:9 : ''Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.''
Nino Mucci © June, 2005