Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Tonight's seekers Bible study

I'm quite encouraged by how tonight's study went. It wasn't that everything went amazingly smoothly or that I led superbly - I didn't, having relied on my co-leader to rescue me when I stumbled a little at v.9-10 - but it felt significant in that it lent insight into what the members of my group were thinking, and that they were beginning to see the gospel of grace with more clarity. They might even have seen a little bit of the offence of the gospel as well!

One or two of you will know that the group I co-lead is a seekers group, and so just about everyone is not a Christian. All of them come from abroad, like myself, but unlike myself, most of them are not fluent in English. In some ways, Colossians has not been an obvious book to go through with them, although there is plenty of great stuff, such as the supremacy of Christ in 1:15-23 which are very good at pointing them towards Jesus. But there are other parts, such as last week's passage on 2:16-23, with talk about New Moon festivals and worship of angels which would be harder to teach non-Christians, although I guess the main point of that particular passage, that it's necessary to stay "connected with the Head" (v.19) would still be good for non-believers. The Word of God is eternally relevant to everyone; it just means I have to be more creative and think more laterally when I think how a specific passage speaks into their particular situation.

Anyway, when I first saw that I was slated to lead on 3:1-11, I didn't actually think it would open up the discussion the way it did; after all, the moral exhortations of the passage are what usually immediately jumps out at people. But from the get-go, as I focused on v.1-4, which is key to making sure we don't understand v.5-11 in a moralistic way, they asked really intelligent questions that showed they had picked up on the already/not yet tension. I was really surprised. (It helps that at this stage of the year, we've become pretty comfortable with each other, and so they're not afraid to ask questions or to try to articulate what they think). So "why does God not completely destroy sin now?" or "Wait, I'm not clear on getting new bodies, do we get them when we die or when we believe in Christ?".

But I think where the discussion really came to life was when they struggled to understand the relationship between faith and works, i.e "Since you are a Christian, therefore do XYZ" instead of "Since you do XYZ, therefore you are a Christian". (To be fair, I think it's hard for Christians to grasp this too; I know I myself still sometimes fall into a works-righteousness mindset). You could just about see the lightbulb go on for one of the girls, who brought up the objection: "Wait, it's completely unfair if you can go and do anything you want just because God forgives you!" Now, that's a very good and valid objection to bring up, and in one sense I'm encouraged because I think it was Martyn Lloyd-Jones who once said something along the lines that if someone accuses you of antinomianism, then it's a good sign that you've explained grace well! I guess if Paul was already anticipating this objection in Romans 6 having explained God's grace in 3:21 onwards, then I am on reasonably safe ground and not leading people to heresy. :-p

One of the things I've enjoyed from leading a seekers group is that it pushes me to have to think through things as well. I think in some senses, because their English is not great, it means that you can't get away with waffle. You have to precise in what you say, and learn to communicate clearly and simply. You also have to work harder at the level of worldviews, i.e engaging with people who might have very different presuppositions from you - I find that hard, although me being a fellow Asian does help from time to time. It's still best, I think, to communicate in the mother tongue of the person, and multilingual people have my utmost respect. I guess I am multilingual myself, but my Malay's pretty rusty and my Mandarin, while it has probably improved a little on the listening side, just isn't good enough to have really meaningful conversations. Although some Latinos are delighted when they hear my even more rudimentary Spanish (I took some classes for fun eons ago).

Well, haven't done a stream-of-consciousness post for a while, but I just wanted to write this down.

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