I lost my religion in South Sudan

When Jesus instituted the gathering of the church He was clear about our purpose, and it’s shockingly simple.

He and His friends gathered around bread and wine, and He said that every time they gathered they were to reflect on His gift of grace, take those sacraments and remember Him. “THIS do” He said.

The church is a living, breathing, organism.

The apostles appointed elders & deacons to organize the organism so that sound gospel doctrine could be preserved and the church could care for one another in times of affliction and persecution.

The simplicity of Christ’s church is challenged when the “organized organism” functions like a corporate organization.

I’m not going to make an argument that all churches should be small, having no more than “x” members. Neither am I going to argue that the church should resist being organized, become anti-programs or deconstruct into a gathering that abandons the New Testament by becoming pastor-less, elder-less and doctrine-less.

The church was organic and organized – but it wasn’t an organization. Organizations are always at risk of becoming unnecessarily complex and a pastoral call is theological, not corporate. We aren’t religious entrepreneurs with business plans.

The beauty and power of this simplicity is never clearer than when I do international travel because outside North America, Jesus is literally all that many churches have – and He’s all that every church needs.

Place to gather? Check.
Pastor to preach Christ? Check.
Water for baptism? Check.
Bread and wine? Check.

I’ve been in a lot of countries and participated in worship in a lot of diverse churches, but I lost my religion in South Sudan. I’ll explain what I mean by that later.

I landed in Juba and traveled to Lainya with the Canadian Gideon’s who were getting Bibles to churches in their own language. I think I started losing my religion when our van got a flat tire and after hopping out of the vehicle, I found a .50 cal round in the street. I was told not to venture off the road because of armed land-mines.

IMG_2685

I participated in a conference that was put on by a number of churches. They gathered in a field under tents. At first, it was a familiar church conference scene: music, people in worship, etc… Then my conference security showed up wearing an AK-47 instead of a black “security” T-shirt with matching laniard.IMG_2746

I spoke in a number of churches – and by that I mean gathering places like a well known tree or a makeshift structure. Each place I visited continued to rattle my paradigms about the phrase, “this is a great church”.

Some gatherings were less than 50 people, others were upwards of 600. On one occasion, the church was mainly women and small children. I asked one of my guides about it. I wasn’t sure if it was cultural, or whether the men rejected the gospel. He replied matter of factly, “They’ve all been killed.

Toward the end of the trip, I was honoured to give Bibles to church planters. Up until that point, they had been sharing them. I noticed some of the church planters had markings on their foreheads. When I asked about it, I was told the markings indicated these men were cattle raiders. Just a few years earlier, they stole cattle for a living. Some of them had killed for cattle. Now they were planting churches.

The gospel excavated their hearts of stone, full of hate and had given them hearts of flesh,  full of love. IMG_2849

By the time that trip was over, I had lost my religion.

By that I mean that most of the things I thought KW Redeemer would need in order to be ” a great church” had evaporated entirely by the end of the trip.

South Sudan gave me a conviction that Jesus is quite capable of carrying the church on His preeminent shoulders. When you see churches thriving in persecution and multiplying across a country with nothing but the Spirit and the Word working together, it’s a fantastic reminder of Whose it is.

We can grow our churches with stuff – even good stuff – but multiplying and sustaining the church for generations is completely beyond our scope. Christ alone can do that, so we should probably stick to the cards and keep pointing everyone to Him.

Place to gather? Check.
Pastor to preach Christ? Check.
Water for baptism? Check.
Bread and wine? Check.

Press on,

Paul Dunk

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