Let me begin by saying that this may seem like a complete ‘rant’ and I suppose it could be considered that. But my intention is more of a contemplation, and, as such, is not meant as a critique nor judgement on any individual. To fully understand what I mean by this statement, I commend my blog titled “Righteous Selfishness” to you.
If you find what follows to be somewhat ‘harsh’, that, again, is not my intention – the events described happened and in my account I am giving voice to the feelings and experience of many. However, I hope, for those who persevere until the end, that the conclusion is both encouraging and edifying – for that is my ultimate goal.
Let the ‘rant’ commence….
For the Southeast Regional Family Camp, the Christian saints from as far east as Van, as far west as Mersin, as far south as Antakya and as far north as Erzurum gathered on the shores of Lake Hazar southeast of the central Anatolian city of Elazığ.
The multifarious purposes of this annual gathering include: to provide a ‘holiday’ for people who have never known what a ‘holiday’ is; to provide an opportunity for believers to develop deeper relationships with one another from the same fellowship and with believers from other fellowships in the region; to worship together in a large group which is in stark contrast to what the normal small, sometimes very small, fellowships experience on a weekly basis; to provide an opportunity of challenging/encouraging teaching in the morning sessions which is followed by small groups studies based on the morning meeting and equally challenging/encouraging preaching in the evening meetings.
These are many diverse purposes and, by and large it succeeds year on year. This year we celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Family camp with something like ten or so different fellowships represented. This gathering is a grand statement to the fact that there is one body, one Lord, one baptism and one faith. There is diversity and variety in the various expressions of faith in these fellowships.
In our Western expressions of faith we often resort to a kind of short hand when we first meet a believer – we use a kind of denominational pigeon-holing to quickly assess one another and have an understanding of where we think someone is coming from.
Today I am led to believe that this denominational identification is not as absolute as it was in my youth, but, by and large, it is still utilised, but maybe, by people of my generation.
When we have foreign visitors, there are two fundamental questions I know will be asked – they may be asked in different ways, but with the same objective: what is the ‘denomination’ of the local fellowship and where are we, as foreign workers, from.
For me at least, both questions are not at all easy to answer.
Often, here in Turkey, the question of ‘denomination’ is very hard to identify. Here, the saints are, well, saints – many, nay, most have no ‘denominational’ tag or label. Even in a Turkish fellowship birthed by a foreigner with a clear denominational identification – which they then pass on to the local fellowship (for example: İzmir Baptist Kilisesi – an English word imposed on the Turkish name of the fellowship) – the local saints are often ignorant of the meaning of the denominational label and hold it loosely.
Generally speaking, the local believers believe the Bible and use it as their absolute guide – basically they say, if it is in the Bible, then they endeavour to do it, and if not, well, then, not.
This is especially true in our fellowship in Antakya which has no denominational tag – the local Turks identify themselves as ‘Christians’. When pushed, they will use the word ‘protestant’ to mean, not Roman Catholic, not Orthodox, not Jehovah Witnesses and so, by default, Protestant – but we are not protesting against the Roman Catholic Church nor are we defining ourselves in relation to the Roman Catholic Church, rather we are striving to live a life true to the Word of God and true to our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
The goal of the Southeast Region Family camp is not to create a Turkish denomination, whereby we would all adhere to our own, unique, take on scripture and follow the same ‘common book of prayer’ – but our goal is, in our diversity, to celebrate our uncompromising common core beliefs in Christ and as we gather, to be built up in the Body of Christ – allowing for differences in practice and allowing for diverse understandings of ‘disputable matters’.
The morning meetings this year were taught by a Turkish brother from Bursa which is in the west of the country and the evening sessions were taken by a Korean brother who, although now living in Korea, has lived for many years in Turkey.
The speakers were selected, asked, agreed and organised many months ago.
This year, after Family camp had commenced, there came along another Christian brother, who, I believe, is from and ministers on the island of Crete in Greece. He is known by a local leader in a fellowship in the Southeast Region. Together they approached the Camp Director to have this brother in Christ preach at camp. They made this approach in spite of the facts that the speakers had been long selected, that they had prepared and, at that time, were engaged in executing their responsibilities.
As I’ve said, at the camp we have believers from all over the region and have about ten different fellowships represented – different gatherings with different practices but all united in the core of belief in who God is, who we are and who Jesus, our Saviour and Lord is.
Anyway, this chap dearly wanted to preach to the gathered saints.
Oh, I should mention at this juncture that he does not speak Turkish and the gathered saints do not understand English – any sharing could only be accomplished via the tortuous route of interpretation.
Years ago we had interpreted speakers at the Family Camp, but due to the multiple inherent problems of interpretation, we, at the Southeast Region Leaders group made a collective decision that, especially at the family camp, we would no longer have interpretation. The message had to be delivered, direct, spoken in Turkish without interpretation – the speakers could be foreign, or could be Turk – that was not the issue.
As stated earlier, at this year’s camp the morning speaker was a Turk from Bursa and in the evening a Korean who shared in Turkish. This decision to no longer have interpretation was jointly agreed and I believe it to be a very sound decision.
In any event, our unexpected and I dare add, uninvited, brother asked… and asked… and asked…. to be able to speak – preach – to the saints gathered at the Family Camp.
Turks are a very gracious people and in the end, the camp director graciously agreed that he could share for ‘ten minutes’ in the prelude to our sharing the Lord’s Supper.
The day of these events, being a Sunday, we had planned a joint celebration of the Lord’s Supper which had been added in between the morning message and the small group sessions.
Evidently this brother found the limit of ten minutes to be too restrictive and so he beseeched the Camp Director if it couldn’t be longer and after much persistence, it was reluctantly agreed for him to present a ‘twenty minute’ introduction and preparation for the Breaking of Bread together…..
This decided, it was then that the camp director had to leave the camp site on other Camp business.
So, after the challenging and I felt, thought provoking morning session by our scheduled speaker, delivered as it was, in native Turkish, this brother came forth to preach.
As this was unplanned, a foreign brother was summarily dragooned at the last moment to act as the interpreter.
As I stated, this unscheduled, visiting speaker, would be preaching in English – again, a language that is not generally understood by the Turks, Kurds and Arabs gathered.
And so he commenced.
And once begun, the speaker spoke on, beyond both the initial time frame of ten minutes and then beyond the latterly agreed twenty minute time frame. He seemed to have no end in sight, so, at one point a message was passed up to the interpreter stating that the speaker was encroaching on the time dedicated for the small groups and he should wind up. The speaker, who was not told the content of this message, seemed annoyed that a message was being passed….
Suffice to say that when the Camp Director returned from his task, forty minutes from the time he departed, the speaker was still waxing eloquent.
And now the key question, what was his topic – this vital message that the saints from all over the Southeast region needed to hear?
What was this essential teaching that rode rough-shod over the programme, and for me at least, succeeded in drowning the previous teaching (in wonderful and clear Turkish)?
What was so indispensable that justified the usurping of time devoted to the small group sharing time – which is an essential element in understanding and applying the morning message and additionally in building relationships between believers from different fellowships…. ?
What was it?
What was so vital, important, essential, indispensable for us to hear?
Now, before I answer this reasonable query, let me stress, that this speaker is a brother in Christ, one whom God so loved that He gave his only Son to redeem. Let me clearly declare that this brother, no doubt, prayed about what he was about to do, and was seeking, in his own way and understanding, to share that which would be of benefit and blessing to the saints so gathered.
Let me reiterate, I am not attributing any negative, evil, selfish, carnal, arrogant, self-obsessed or any other appellations or contrary motives to the speaker. I am not doing that – and if my presentation gives rise to that view, I apologise.
However, what I am endeavouring to communicate and illustrate is the complexity of saints living and sharing with one another and fellowshipping together… but, remember that we are all declared saints by God, we are all redeemed by the Blood of Lamb, we are all ‘sinners saved by Grace’, we are all in our own place in growing in Grace and learning how to please our Lord and Saviour.
The ‘speaker’ is a brother in Christ, he is a ‘saint’ in Christ, and he is striving, to the best of his ability, to please Christ and serve the Body.
Now, the answer to the question: what was so vital, so important, so essential, so indispensable for the saints to hear.
His rather long, interpreted, message was on what the physical elements used in the Lord’s Supper should be constituted of. His teaching, was not unique to him, I’ve heard it before. Basically, he presented a clear case that the bread to be used in the Lord’s Supper must be, note: not can be, nor is best to be, nor even should be, but absolutely must be unleavened bread.
Now without going into the rights or wrongs of this interpretation, let me remind the reader, he was not speaking to just the leaders of the various fellowships, nor was he an invited speaker, nor was he speaking to address a point of controversy or friction within the Southeast Region – he was an uninvited interloper and this was his chosen topic.
As declared, the Southeast Family Camp is a gathering of many, diverse and different wee fellowships scattered over a large geographic area and who come together in this manner but once a year to be edified and be built up in the faith. We gather, to grow in Grace, to grow in our understanding of the Body of Christ, and yes, to receive teaching other than from our own leaders.
But, it should be noted that the invited guest speakers and organisers of this Family Camp recognise the diversity that is the Body of Christ and within the Southeast Region. Speakers are not selected because they represent or favour any particular doctrinal expression of Christianity – speakers from various persuasions have been invited in the past. Having said that, none have run rough shod over all and imposed their own understanding and way of doing things on the gathering.
Well, that was the case, until this day… but then, he wasn’t a selected nor invited speaker.
Personally, I can not think of a more inappropriate venue to deliver such a message. I will make a little comment on the content of the message, but the issue is more the manner, timing and venue of such a presentation and how it came to be.
There were many fellowships present and as a collection of fellowships, we endeavour to respect each fellowship – we agree on the core, essential beliefs, and let the differences that always exist, to, well, exist…
For example, some fellowships limit participation in the Lord’s Supper to baptised believers – others do not recognise such a limitation – in the sharing of the Lord’s Supper at Family Camp, the saints are instructed to follow the custom of their home fellowships as we share together.
Some fellowships have identified with a historic denomination, most others have not, some are rather ‘charismatic’ in their form of worship, others are decidedly not – there is a rich variety in the expression of faith in the diverse fellowships.
Whilst it is true that in the context of relationships and with mutual respect, these issues can and perhaps should be discussed and explored… but not, as on this particular Sunday, presented to all and sundry as the one and only interpretation of this particular, disputable topic…
The verse that rose in my mind as he presented his absolutist vision of the Lord’s Supper, were the words of our Lord when he said to the Pharisees, those masters of the Law, “go and learn what it means that I desire mercy not sacrifice” – something they were unable or maybe it would be true to suggest, that they were unwilling to understand… the law was written, it was tangible, it was clear and something they could dissect and render clear interpretations on… and they were in a very long tradition… And yet the Lord, the one who ultimately had instituted the sacrificial system, drew their attention to “I desire mercy not sacrifice”… the heart over the technical details…
But, I dare say, on this day, our unexpected speaker was not expressing the conclusion of that particular lesson…
The ironic bit was, after this absolutist, black and white, uncompromising and forced teaching on what the physical elements must be (unleavened bread, and proper wine), we, the gathered saints broke bread using good, common, Turkish (leavened) flat bread.
I did not observe what the speaker did with this element. Later I learned that he had wine purchased to replace the Sour Cherry juice that had been prepared and also had insisted on ‘unleavened’ bread – which, simply put, was wholly unattainable.
Please, don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with unleavened bread – it was the manner, the uncompromising character, the absolutist nature of the teaching… which seems to render the Lord’s Supper to become something less about ‘remembering Him’ and ‘showing the Lord’s death’ and more about what the physical elements used are… and doing ‘it’ right…
I suppose by implication, this teaching introduces limitations on being able to celebrate the Lord’s Death ‘till He come’ according to the availability of the ‘proper’ elements… The speaker did not say that, but the implication seems to present itself.
Now, after a tour de force that was this unplanned dogmatic presentation, how can you add something negative to this?
Is it even possible?
Well, it seems the answer is, yes.
After what many felt was a debacle, the speaker had the audacity and temerity to go to the evening speaker and ask him to step aside and give the prime evening speaking time to him.
Yes, he asked the invited speaker who had been specifically asked many months prior and who had come from Korea – a significant distance – to share, (and he was sharing directly in Turkish,) to yield to him.
Words fail me…
… utterly fail me…
It beggars me to try to understand this mind set…
Yes, there is one body.
Yes, there is one Lord.
Yes, there is one Spirit.
Yes, there is one Baptism.
Yes, there is one head of the Body.
This interloper, this individual, this uninvited speaker, is my brother in Christ. God loves him unequivocally. God loves him so much that He gave His one and only Son that he might live.
This is truth. This is reality.
And yet, what he did was profoundly inappropriate. It was, by any definition, inconsiderate of others and it was indescribably offensive to ignore the local leadership and programme.
It was unbelievably… again, I am at a loss for words… and it could cause the stumbling of some…
Is his view on the elements for the Lord’s Supper right or wrong?
That is really not the question. That can be discussed at another time if people feel it needs to be explored, but the topic of his message is only part of the problem.
I maintain that this was not the venue, that this was not the time, that this was not, by any definition, in the very least, helpful to the saints gathered.
Please, consider where we live. Consider the times we live in. Consider that death, and a violent death for believers, is not a remote, idle possibility, but a very real potential. Consider we had at camp those whose father, husband, co-worker, who, together with two Turkish brothers were brutally murdered for their faith, just nine years ago in the nearby city of Malatya.
Considering these realities, I maintain that this was not the message to forcibly bring to the saints so gathered.
When you face death, violent, vicious, bloody death and rejection, cursing, torture, ‘remembering the Lord until He come’ is paramount – surely the actual elements used are secondary… not unimportant, but I suggest, secondary… to daily remembering Him who endured so much for us, who gave His life that we might live.
Please, Pause and Consider – please ruminate on the state of affairs of where the local believers live, especially those of us in the east of this country… mull on the daily challenges that our local brothers and sisters face, with a raging war just over the border, sectarian violence within the country, ethic atrocities, fighting, terrorist outrages and not just the spectre but the very real presence and activity of that black organisation of death and terror – IS, existing, planning and executing its brand of Islam and terror here in this country.
Those who live in countries where the mere threat of IS causes you to ponder and reflect, consider your brothers and sisters here, who live cheek by jowl with the reality that this group lives, and I dare say thrives, here and they pose a special, very real threat to those who identify with Christ.
So, back to our unplanned speaker, here we see that it is possible for a brother in Christ, to honestly and sincerely desire to speak and share what he, no doubt, believes to be an essential message and yet to miss the mark so utterly and completely.
Indeed, it is possible, for one whose name is inscribed in the Lamb’s Book of Life, to proceed and be not deterred by the camp leadership, nor by the fact that he was uninvited, nor by the fact that he does not speak Turkish, nor by the fact that he had not arranged an interpreter.
In point of fact, in the face of such reluctance and hesitation, it is possible for our brother in Christ to diligently press on, over the top of all, overcoming all objections and feeling no shame, nor approbation, pressing on and continuing until there was ultimately no possible way forward – the evening speaker declined his request.
Please remember, Christ loves him, still.
What is the take-away, from this rather long rant?
I believe, in response to these events, the take-away application is that in whatever I do – and by inference, what you, dear reader do, is to be sensitive both to our Lord and also to the Body of Christ – it is, after all, His Body and He is the Head of that Body.
It is not enough for me to be convinced of the rightness of my message or my vision or my burden or my calling or my whatever – I do not live in isolation.
The Body of Christ is an essential part of the equation.
Therefore, if I acknowledge the Lordship of Christ and if I confess that Sovereign God is, well, Sovereign over all, then, when I have that sense that “my message” or “calling” or “teaching” or “whatever”, is so ultimately important and essential, but, at the same time, the Body of Christ and the leadership that God has placed in the Body say, “whoa” or “slow down” or “not so fast” or a simple, down-right “no”, I should listen.
Alternatively, I could simply deny the sovereignty of God in this scenario, I could just decide that I am a ‘prophet’ sent by God to the sick and ailing Church – hence their opposition – and they need to hear ‘my message’.
But, if that is my course, then I must indeed ensure that my life is a shining example of the Grace of God, the Love of God, the Holiness of God and there is full adherence to the HOLY Spirit in my living, acting, reacting and the manner in which I address my brothers and sisters in Christ. If I am to over-rule the Body of Christ, then I had better be right, not just before God, but in my living before man.
What our brother in Christ did, is both done and, unfortunately, it is not unique. This experience is a warning to me, and to all who have persevered and read this far, that individually we need to be alert, to be aware, to listen to God as He speaks to our hearts, but, also, to listen to God as He speaks through His Body – the church. The Body of Christ is His idea, His creation, His chosen vehicle, and He is the Head thereof…
It is not sufficient to be just “Jesus and me”.
Let me reiterate: it is not sufficient just to be ‘Jesus and me’.
It is simply not sufficient for me ‘only’ to be fully, wholly convinced in myself.
Ours is not just an individual faith – yes, it is an individual faith, I must exercise faith and believe as an individual, I must express personal faith in, and trust in Christ for my salvation, myself, but that belief then births me into the Body of Christ, the fellowship of the Spirit and the ultimate Lordship of Christ over me, my thoughts, my beliefs, my burdens and my vision.
Let me emphasise, I personally, must believe and exercise faith, but then I enter the Body of Christ – and from that point onwards it is the Lord Jesus Christ and me and you (plural pronoun), in other words, ‘us’.
God made it that way.
I am absolutely certain that our brother meant no offence, meant no harm, meant only to encourage and build up the Body of Christ. However, in his manner and in his message he failed to achieve these goals and only brought discord, discontent and dissatisfaction into the Body of Christ.
May the ‘good’ that I intend actually be ‘good’ and be a blessing. We are together in the Body of Christ, and it is as the Head, who is Christ, directs that we can encourage, and bless and build one another up into maturity, honouring the Lord in what we do and say.
Yes, Jesus and me, but also, us, in the Body of Christ.