Sunday, 12 May 2013


Thoughts from a member........

I like living in Britain. I can never understand why anyone would want to move from Britain to another country. I think of myself as British (not English) because the internal boundaries (with Scotland and Wales) are non-existent, there is free movement and intermarriage between people born in different sections of Britain is common. People complain about British weather but, because of its lack of extremes, it is probably one of the best in the world for everyday living.

I always take a great interest in how British (again not just English) sports teams do. Unlike most newspapers I like them to win. (Newspapers seem to prefer them to lose so they can tell them how rubbish they are). There is a built-in wish for Britain and British people and institutions to do well.

But I know it is wrong. Separate races ceased to exist centuries ago. Nationality is just an administrative label rather than a racial description. Everyone in the world is now mixed race. Nationalism was a major factor in the two world wars of the twentieth century and, in any case, in that form only goes back a few hundred years. At least three times in his letters in the New Testament Paul says that there is no longer any difference between Jew and Gentile. In other words race no longer matters. Since everyone is now mixed race then it can’t matter anyhow. Anything that creates a barrier between any people or individuals is bad and nationalism is one of those barriers.


Everyone has two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents etc. If you go back one thousand years and assume three generations per century then everyone had one thousand million ancestors alive at that time. If you go back just two hundred more years then they had over sixty-eight thousand million ancestors alive at that time. One thousand years ago there were not even one thousand million people in the whole world so obviously any individual alive today was related to some individuals who were alive one thousand years ago in many different ways. I expect I am descended from both William the Conqueror and King Harold (If Harold had any surviving children) and everyone else on both sides of the Battle of Hastings (well, all those who had any children).

So am I a Saxon, a Norman, a Viking, a Celt, a Roman, one of the Belgae...? I am none of them and all of them – a bit of each and of many more besides.

Going in the opposite direction isn’t as straightforward. Not many people have two children, four grandchildren etc. Nevertheless, any person in Britain one thousand years ago, who had any children, is probably related to everyone alive in this country today. You may want to exclude immigrants from this but there will be many of those who are also direct descendants of people alive in Britain a thousand years ago. This is because many British people have gone abroad, not only to the former Empire but to many other places as well. Some will have married people abroad or at least become the parents of children in other countries. A number of programmes in the BBC series “Who do you think you are?” have shown this.

I have seen it written that, before the Industrial Revolution, only ten per cent of the population moved away from home in their lifetime. That would mean that, in theory, every ten generations (or 300 to 400 years) the whole population had moved. Even though it will not have happened as uniformly as that, once an incomer has arrived, then there is a good chance that he or she will marry a local person and so within a few generations many of the people there will have ancestors from another part of the country simply because of that one incomer. In mediaeval times some wealthy people had estates in more than one part of the country and they would travel from one to another. They would not take all their servants with them because some would be retained at each place, but they would have some people travelling with them and it is highly likely that that would also mean there were children with parents from different parts of the country.

Because of the existence of the Bible it is easier to trace things relating to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I emphasise that I am using this example simply because we have information (in the Bible) about these descendants. There is no reason at all to suppose that it was much different in any other group that has existed over the last few thousand years. The Old Testament gives many examples of people who married people from other races – Moses, Boaz, Ahab and all those mentioned at the end of the Book of Ezra. Because of the effect of what I have mentioned above then it is inconceivable that there are still any people who are completely descended from Abraham etc. and with no outside ancestry. On the other hand, Paul at least three times wrote in his letters that there is no longer any distinction between Jews and Gentiles. Presumably he also taught this when he was preaching and teaching. Those early Christians were from both categories and, because of Paul’s teaching, it is almost certain that they would have married without bothering whether the person they married was a Jew or a Gentile. Two thousand years later, even one marriage would have many millions of descendants alive at this time. In all probability, at least half the world’s population are directly descended from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Now obviously there will be those who are more Jewish than others but it is virtually certain that even Adolf Hitler was partly Jewish – maybe less than one percent, but still partly Jewish. I would also imagine that it is highly unlikely that anybody now is as much as 80% Saxon, Norman, Celt, Jew or any other ancient grouping. I have no scientific reason for this particular point but, because of the intermarriage and other interbreeding over the millennia I think the statement could well be correct. DNA testing can give some information but it has its limitations. One of the problems is that some tests (e.g.) only trace through the male line. Because this ignores who the male married it only tells part of the story. Some historians (as opposed to DNA experts) have tried to use DNA research to prove things which it cannot actually do.

As I said earlier, I used the descendants of Abraham etc. simply because there is the written evidence of the Bible to help. There is no reason to suppose any other nation was different. Separate races ceased to exist many centuries ago and the idea of a nation now is simply an administrative label for purposes of the laws in any one country. It’s not as though even national boundaries are fixed long term. Apart from the small countries such as Andorra and San Marino only about 10 European countries kept the same boundaries throughout the twentieth century and two of the bigger countries only came into being in the nineteenth century. Island nations are a bit different but normally, national boundaries are arbitrary and fluid. The fluidity of national boundaries and its odd results is well illustrated by the life of Albert Schweitzer. He was born in Alsace Lorraine in 1875. Up until 1870 it was part of France but became part of Germany after the defeat of France. Albert Schweitzer spent most of his adult life in a French colony in Africa. During the First World War, because he was technically German, he was interned as an enemy alien. After the end of that war Alsace Lorraine became part of France again so in the Second World War he was no longer an enemy alien!!

Separate races ceased to exist many centuries ago and the modern administrative notion of a nation is arbitrary. Doesn’t that make racism extremely silly?

What about the future? People still seem to want to categorise people by their colour and some application forms go to extreme detail to try and cater for every possibility. Increasingly that will become impossible. If a person of one colour marries a person of another colour then all their descendants for ever more will be mixed colour. Everyone already is mixed race so that description is not helpful. Probably, in a few hundred years time, it will be impossible to categorise people by colour because every person will be a different combination of the colours of their ancestors. That makes prejudice on the basis of skin colour just as silly as racism.

What I have written here only touches a small part of the subject. There are very many other illustrations of how intermarriage has meant that races ceased to exist a long time ago – e.g. the free movement of peoples throughout the Roman Empire which included parts of the Middle East, a lot of North Africa and large parts of Europe. Race and nationality are not very meaningful terms anymore. Where we live is not “our country”. It is just that little bit of the world where we happen to have been born or happen to live and we are given a label for administrative purposes only.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Sheep,wolves,snakes and doves

It may sound like the beginning of a trip to the zoo, but it is,of course, the heart of the content of Matthew 10' particularly around v16......

'I am sending you out as sheep amongst wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves'

I have heard (Christian) people take the latter half of that verse 'wise as serpents and innocent as doves' then cut it in half, leaving only the 'wise as serpents' and go on to apply it to a situation in their own lives that invariably justifies an action that serves their own agenda,often at the cost of somebody else.

For instance they may owe some income tax but there is an unintended loophole in current legislation which can legally be used (until it is closed down) but which nonetheless was never intended to be used. Out comes the half phrase, misquoted and ripped out of context - 'ahh, but the bible says we are to be wise (or cunning in some translations) as serpents'.... Or, perhaps, if they are of a more spiritual (albeit mildly cowardly disposition) they may use it to justify why they should NOT engage in any risky mission activities.

This is certainly neither the intention behind,nor the context of, Jesus teaching.
The context is that the twelve have already been commissioned and sent 'on mission' as it were. Instructions and guidance had been issued and they were in no doubt that general danger and unpleasantness lay ahead, so this was not really up for debate. So, the context to which this,full, saying is spoken by Jesus is that of believers who have already been commissioned for a potentially dangerous and difficult mission. Any use of it by Christians outside of this context is therefor a no no - especially if it is designed to be purely self serving in its application and outcome.

After v16 the text goes on to say that the “wolves” will deliver the “sheep” to courts, and flog them, and drag them before governors, friends and family will hate them, they will be persecuted, maligned and killed! (Matthew 10:17-31). So it is pretty clear that when Jesus says he is sending them (or us?) as sheep among wolves, he means that we will be treated the way wolves treat sheep!

Although sheep are proverbially stupid—which, on the face of it, is what it looks like when they walk into a pack wolves and not away from them—Jesus counters that notion by saying “be wise as serpents.” This means that vulnerability, not stupidity, is the point of calling us sheep. Be like snakes, not sheep, when it comes to being smart.

So, yes, we are called to 'go among wolves' and be vulnerable as we preach the gospel, but when they lunge at you (as they will), step aside. When they open their mouths, don’t jump in. Take all measures to avoid persecution or harm when doing so will not dilute or compromise the integrity of the gospel. Don't be a total prat and pick the wrong battles or in what we say and how we say it so that we unnecessarily inflame and invite persecution (then wrongly revel in the fact that we are suffering for the gospel, blind to the fact that we are suffering for being stupid not vulnerable!

Jesus adds, 'be as innocent as doves'. That is, don’t give people any legitimate reason to accuse you of injustice or immorality. Keep your reputation as clean as you can. On a more personal level, whatever your presuppositions or prejudice (about the wolves), be prepared to take them at their word until such time as you have reason not to do so (always being ready to step aside in an instant....) Act towards them with a presumption of grace....

So the snake-intelligence and the dove-innocence are both designed to keep the sheep out of unnecessary trouble. Jesus does not mean for us to get ourselves into as much difficulty as possible. He means: Risk your lives as vulnerable, non-combative, sheep-like, courageous witnesses, but try to find ways to give your witness in a way that does not bring down unnecessary persecution.

That is the context and out working of what started out as a trip to the zoo!
(With thanks to John Piper)