Poverty of Spirit

Chale Atikonda

Dear readers:

Today we have a guest voice here on Theology in Overalls.

Chale Atikonda is a Master of Arts in Religion student and serving as Teacher’s Assistant at Africa Nazarene University in Kenya, Africa. He is an aspiring writer in the area of Theology. He is a Youth Pastor of Chiimba Church of the Nazarene and he is from Malawi, Africa.

His paper, entitled “Poverty of Spirit,” was edited by Eileen Qui.

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Matthew 5:3; Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Μακάριοι οἱ πτωχοὶ τῷ πνεύματι, ὅτι αὐτῶν ἐστιν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν).

INTRODUCTION

There have been a good number of interpretations of what Jesus meant when He said that the “poor in spirit” are blessed. Some people believe that Jesus recommended physical poverty as a merit to enter into the eternal Kingdom of God. Others believe that Jesus meant one must suffer under the guidance of the Spirit, such as punishing the body by denying it food, sleep or good clothing, and in extreme cases, even punishing the body by beating it, causing bleeding wounds to make one poor in obedience to what they believe to be the leading of the Spirit of God. Before I embark on explaining what I believe Jesus meant when He called us to the poverty of the Spirit so that we are able to attain the Kingdom of God, let us begin from the original language in which this verse was written in.

GREEK UNDERSTANDING

GREEK LITERAL MEANING TRANSLATION
Μακάριοι blessed, happy Blessed
πτωχοὶ (of one who crouches and cowers) beggarly, poor are the poor
Πνεύματι wind, spirit in spirit,
αὐτῶν Self (emphatic), he, she, it (used for the third person) for theirs
Βασιλεία kingdom, sovereignty, royal power is the kingdom
οὐρανῶν Heaven Of heaven.

Although the Greek word πτωχοὶ basically means “poor”, this text appears many times in Hebrew scripture and the usage of its equivalent Hebrew word is broader than the Greek word. The Hebrew word עני” meaning “poor” describes a person who can do nothing on his/her own and is totally dependent on other people to provide all their needs. Ryan Shaw concurs by stating that “in Hebrew ‘poor’ reflects the humble and helpless putting their trust in God. The ‘poor’ admit Spiritual bankruptcy.”[1] In addition to this, the Bible hub comments, “Poverty in any shape helps to stir in man a sense of need, a disposition to consider himself as dependent….”[2] Therefore,  in the original language, the word “poor” describes someone who cannot do anything on his/her own and all needs must be provided by someone else. A good example can be a baby who always needs an adult to give them what they need and be at their service all the time. However, the difference from a baby is that the “poor,” as described in the original language, know that they are unable to do anything for themselves. Therefore, they must become attached to someone who has the ability to provide for their needs.

THEN WHAT DID JESUS MEAN?

In this verse, Jesus meant that the blessed are those who know that they cannot do anything on their own and therefore, recognize that they always need God to meet all their needs. The poor in spirit recognize their spiritual bankruptcy and are humble enough to completely submit themselves to a master who is rich in everything to provide for their needs. The logic behind this is that one cannot submit oneself as a poor person to a master/provider to provide for him/her without some form of worship or service to this master/provider. Adele Ahlberg Calhoun concurs, “Everyone worships someone or something…. Human beings cannot help but assign ultimate value and worth to someone or something. Of course that does not mean everyone worships God. One’s ultimate devotion can rest in money, success, a person, a garden, a creed, a cause so forth. Ultimately, what we are devoted to will shape our lives.”[3] That is why there are numerous people who worship their jobs and give their all in serving or working.  They work hard not because they love what they do or take pride in their work, but because they know that their job provides them with what they need. Without their jobs, they cannot get what they need and make ends meet. They are poor in the eyes of their job. Ryan Shaw argues in agreement that “Poverty of Spirit means I need God for everything. It is confidence in God, not natural circumstances or abilities.”[4] So Jesus meant that blessed are those who come to this state, see themselves weak and insufficient without God and they, therefore, join themselves to God with humbleness in living, service and worship. Such people qualify to attain the Kingdom of God.

Continue reading “Poverty of Spirit”

Guest voice: Lessing on infant dedication

Pelham LessingThe Church of the Nazarene allows for the practice of infant baptism, but does not believe it is a saving sacrament. Rather, we believe it is a covenant sign showing the child’s acceptance into the church, with promises made by parents and congregation to bring up the child in the fear of the Lord. This is the same promise made by parents during dedication, which is offered as an alternative to infant baptism.

The theology around infant dedication is thin. I appreciate how Pastor Lessing handles the topic, adding new insights.
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A Time for Clarity: Child Dedication

by Pelham Lessing

Having a new baby in a family is one of the most exciting times for most parents. Many believing Christian parents decide to publicly dedicate their child to God. Nonetheless, there has been a lot of confusion and theological debate as to the purpose of child dedication.

It must be understood, however, that child dedication and infant baptism are not exact equivalents. Infant baptism (sprinkling) is understood in various terms to grant or symbolise salvation, to cleanse away sin, or to confer saving grace upon a child. Infant baptism is believed to be a means of grace. Infant baptism revolves around two arguments: [1] the New Testament ordinance of baptism parallels the OT ordinance of circumcision (Col 2:11-12) and [(2] the early church baptised whole household (Acts 16:15). The scope of this article does not afford me the opportunity to discuss the argument that infant baptism equates to baptismal regeneration.

Child dedication on the other hand based on the view of prevenient grace is seen as the divine or unique mercifulness that precedes human decision. Child dedication therefore is the recognition and sign of God’s special covenant with humankind, which he initiated in eternity past and demonstrated through His Son Jesus Christ. Prevenient grace also refers to the first of the threefold relationship between God and the believer represented by the Greek preposition para (para). God through the third person in the Godhead, the Holy Spirit dwells with a person prior to conversion. Convicting the person of sin, righteousness and judgment and convincing the individual that Jesus is the only answer.

The author believes the Shema (the Jewish Confessional Creed based on Deut 6:4-9) forms a crucial part in understanding child dedication. Wiersbe divides the Shema into 3 sections:

  1. Confession – verse 4, this is a declaration of the supremacy and oneness of God.
  2. Commandment – verse 5, highlights the commandment for Israel and by extension the church to love God with everything.
  3. Communication – verses 6-9, the remaining verses then outline what we are to do with God’s Word, take it into our hearts and communicate it to our children, families and community (1999:46-48).

Further to the above, in the field of practical theology and pastoral ministry, child dedication is understood in five broad ways:

Firstly, when we dedicate a child recognition is given to God as the giver of life (Psa 36:9). Secondly, parents are offered the opportunity to make a parental promise to rear the child in accordance with God’s Word. Thirdly, dedicating a child presents the parents, the [immediate] family, and the local church the honour to bless the child, that is to pray for the manifest or tangible presence and power of God upon the life of the child (Matt 19:13-15). Fourthly, it depicts the prophetic imagination of the church to which the parents belong to express its anticipation and expectation that the child will experience a high quality spiritual, intellectual, social, and physical life (Luke 2:52). Lastly, the reason we dedicate children is to give expression to our aspiration to experience God’s fullness in life: his protection, preservation, and providence.

Evangelicals acknowledge that the practice of child dedication is not a major doctrine of the faith nor is it a sacrament as taught in some churches. Although not practised in the same light as in both the Old and early New Testament period (the Law of Inheritance), dedicating a child to God in the contemporary church presents us with a wonderful reason to challenge the church at large to create child friendly communities and local churches where JESUS IS LORD. It also brings great blessing to the parents and congregation and presents opportunities to minister to extended family and friends who otherwise would not come to church.
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Pelham Lessing completed his Bachelor of ARts in Bible and Theology at Global University. He completed postgraduate degrees in ethics, theology and education and holds professional qualifications as a teacher and counselor and is registered with the relevant professional and accredited bodies. He currently serves as a full time lecturer at the South African Theological Seminary (SATS) and as an adjunct faculty in the Development Studies Department at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) where he lectures at both the undergraduate an postgraduae levels. Pelham also serves as lead pastor of Crossover Community Church of the Nazarene in Turffontein, Johannesburg.

When the Good News…isn’t

EdFudge1The longer I live, the more I realize that God has people everywhere, in every denomination.

Edward Fudge is a brother in the Church of Christ. I hope you enjoy his essay below as much as I did. It is reprinted with his permission.

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“Evangelism without Evangel is an ism”

– by Edward Fudge

My late friend J. D. Clanton faithfully attended the opening Sunday morning service of his congregation’s annual “Gospel Meeting,” but he also held them to their advertising. Each year the visiting “gospel preacher” decried the evils of sin, the horrors of hell, and the list of things an “alien sinner” must do to be saved. J. D. knew that the New Testament word for “gospel” meant “good news,” and he knew that the sermon he just heard would never be mistaken for that. So every year, as J. D. shook the “gospel preacher’s” hand and exited the building, he also left him with a sincere smile and a simple question: “What’s good about the good news?”

Truth is, my old buddy J. D. had a point. The more we read Luke’s summaries of first-century “gospel” discourses, conversations, and maybe even a sermon or two, the more keenly aware we become of several major differences between evangelism as done by the Apostles and their gospel associates in the beginning, and much of what passes for evangelism today. That said, here is Difference #1: Whatever is going on in Acts sounds more like telling a story and less like giving instructions.

We start with Peter’s remarks to a street crowd on Pentecost reported in Acts 2:14-40, not a sermon but an explanation of a very strange day interrupted by tornado-like noise, flying fireballs, and ten dozen men and women talking in languages they never learned (v, 2-12). The end of the world has started, says Peter; God is dousing all his folks in Holy Spirit, and the messianic microphone is wide open to his sons and daughters of all ages (v. 13-21). This segues into the Jesus story–his good life and deeds, his murder, his resurrection and ascension (v. 22-35). Peter accuses this crowd of complicity in Jesus’ death–the crowd asks what to do–Peter answers their question–3,000 get baptized that day (v. 36-40).

Turn through the rest of Acts and you’ll find “sermons” are really “stories” more often than not–in Jerusalem (ch. 3:11-21; 4:8-12; 7:1-53), at Caesarea (ch. 10:36-43); in Antioch of Pisidia (13:13-41); and in Athens, Greece (17:22-31). Instructions are often included or added, not a formula and not twice in the same words. Not arbitrary commands but necessary responses from good hearts in view of new realities as told in the preceding stories. Worthy of our imitation and actually simpler rather than more complicated. Finally, this is all “natural” (supernaturally, of course).

Theology in Overalls: Why it Matters

Pelham Lessing

I was asked by Dr Crofford to consider writing a short essay on a practical theological theme or to write up a book review as a way to introduce me to the readership of his blog: Theology in Overallswhere theology meets everyday life – by being what he calls a guest voice. Instead of thinking about a practical issue to write about or to decide on which of the books I am currently reading would make for a nice book review, I became absorbed by the name and description of the blog-page. So instead of writing a book review or on a practical issue I want to write about Why Theology in Overalls Matters and apply it to one particular sphere.

This got me thinking about the current issue of overalls being discussed in South Africa’s parliament, theology and its practical implications. The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) is a leftist political party in South Africa. One of the aims and objectives of the party is “to create conditions for total political and economic emancipation, prosperity, and equitable distribution of wealth of the nation.” The EFF are currently embroiled in an argument with government and or parliament on wearing red boiler suits and overalls to parliamentary sessions.

According to the EFF their dress code is a symbol signifying their disassociation and dissatisfaction with the ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC) who the former claim are not living up to the Freedom Charter[1]. The African National Congress (ANC) has accused the EFF of not respecting the dress code of institutions and a failure to understand decorum, which according to the EFF is relying on colonial imagery. The EFF in turn says that their dress code is used as a symbol of the plight of the poor and working class. For the EFF politics must be practical and speak to life-based (rooted in life) issues. As I read articles and listened to reports on the radio regarding the overall debate, my mind started to focus once more on the practice orientated nature of the gospel.

Continue reading “Theology in Overalls: Why it Matters”

God and Coffee: A Story

Newlyweds Kevin and Naomi Nye

Newlyweds Kevin and Naomi Nye

For the next 2 Saturdays, I’ll be featuring guest voices here at Theology in Overalls. Today, I’m pleased  (with permission) to repost  “God and coffee: A story,” from the weblog of Southern Nazarene University alumnus, Kevin Nye.

Kevin is a writer who gently shakes up  your unexamined assumptions. Even if you’re not a coffee connoisseur, you’ll enjoy how Kevin uncovers God in everyday things.

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GOD AND COFFEE: A STORY

In this, my first “meaty” post about God and Coffee, I simply want to tell a story. It’s a story you may know if you know me personally, or might have a connection to in some other way. It’s nothing more than a personal story about how coffee, and a small little world made possible, changed my life. This felt like an especially poignant story to tell because of all the news and opinions about mental illness surrounding Robin Williams’ death.

This is only a story, and you may wonder, “What does this have to do with God and coffee?” Well, this story has coffee in it, and it has God in it, so that’s my first qualification. But mostly, I tell this story because I think this whole situation was made possible because coffee is something that most of the world shares in common. It’s something that almost all of us drink, young and old, and unites us with the rest of the world: where coffee drinking, farming, and distributing take place. It’s a shared experience, and I think God is in it.

In 2005, an espresso and smoothie catering company called Dirty Water Coffee Co. was started in Oklahoma City by an ambitious, but driven 20 year old named Taggart Dertinger, affectionately known by the name Tag. From scratch, Tag developed a fully mobile coffee and smoothie shop that could be set up in 15 minutes or less, and offer everything from espresso shots to Busted Bean Frappuccinos, or the classic Snozzberry smoothie. By the time I joined the company in 2011, Dirty Water was doing upwards of 20-25 events per week, with four full setups that could be in different places at once.

Continue reading “God and Coffee: A Story”