Sunday, June 7, 2009

Persecution and Suffering as Gospel Seed

Updated 7 June 2009

The Seed of the Church
- Persecution and Suffering as Gospel Seed


'OT Examples of Persecution
Persecution in the 'NT'
More ‘NT’ Lessons of Persecution
Persecution caused the Spreading of the Gospel
Nominalism as a deadly Weapon
The Cross in our Lives
Denials of the Cross in the Qur’an
Theologians causing Confusion
Persecution as Gospel Seed
Squabbling around The Unity of God

I was asked to share some stories of persecution in the lives of Cape Muslims. I felt challenged to put this in the general context of persecution and suffering for the sake of the Gospel. We all know that the prophets of the Hebrew Scripture that we commonly call Old Testament, were known to have been persecuted for speaking the truth and that Jesus said that prophets are not valued in their home town. That has been happening again and again to this very day. Someone like Mark Gabriel, a former Sheikh and lecturer of Al Azhar University and now a committed Christian academic, who started his book Terrorism and Islam in Cape Town, is a marked man, liable to be killed any day. Beyers Naude dared to speak the truth about the heresy of racial legislation, White arrogance, prejudicial and discriminatory legislation and side-lined because of that. Prof Johan Heyns was killed for leading the DR Church out of that heresy.
I deem it necessary to rectify a common narrowing down of the Greek root for becoming a martyr. Witnessing for the truth is at the basis of marteria. Thus one does not of necessity have to die to become a martyr in this sense. When someone suffers for speaking the truth he or she is already a martyr.
This is especially apt when one considers how witnesses to the truth are being treated in the so-called free West. We have perfected the art of distorting the truth or just keeping silent about inconvenient or uncomfortable matters. And when the truth hurts or inconveniencing us, we try to buy our way free through bribes and the like, in stead of repenting of sinful ways. This is not new at all. Already in biblical days the religious leaders used bribes to suppress truth around the resurrection of Jesus.
In the apartheid days the government of the day spent millions to sell the lie and in recent years it cannot be refuted that our present leaders have been bribed in different ways. That same-sex marriages could be legalised against the massive opposition of rank and file South Africans must be attributed to the successful bribing of the gay lobby. In recent the Chinese funds succeeded in keeping the Dalai ooout of our country and the Sweat lobby will surely now use the same trick to bring our parliamentarians to comply, to make prostitution legal.
In this discourse I will be looking at some examples of persecution and suffering among Cape Muslims, which are not yet found in printed form. Allow me first to highlight general deductions around persecution that I have derived from the Bible. I will make a terse attempt to show how these principles were implemented in Church History, but especially how the lack of application by our spiritual forebears was very much to our detriment and even peril:

1.In my view the Bible – the 'NT' in particular – sees suffering and persecution in a positive light, but the Church since Cyprian of Carthage in north Africa has diluted that message to our general detriment. It is significant that the greatest missionary endeavour of the first centuries until Constantinian 'reforms' made Christianity fashionable, emanated from those churches which accepted persecution as integral to the biblical message.
2.We may only get missions as a priority of the church in its rightful place again if we are prepared to rectify past mistakes in a clear ambiguous way by a) publishing and disseminating a clear confession of past theological errors b) making it absolutely clear that the Church supports persecuted believers, especially those in Islamic countries. (I praise the Lord and salute the DRC of South Africaand especially Afrikaner Christians that have been faithfully supporting the ministry of Open Doors to persecuted believers and their families in many countries around the world.)
3.In our own ministry my wife and I also compromised. I stand in solidarity with the guilt and debt of the Church. Yet, I believe that a biblical theology denounces all forms of oppression, injustice and dehumanisation; that the church has to speak out in support the oppressed and persecuted – and be practical about it. That the missionary and pastor is no less than the Master, speaks for itself. We must be willing and ready to take risks, if need be put his life on the line without provocation - respectfully, not arrogantly(cf. 1 Peter 3:15).
4.Theologians became a tool in satan's hand, when they did not follow Paul's teaching to speak the truth in love. You may remember from Church History that it was the less charitable implementation of church discipline which led to the first big Church schisms by the presbyter Novatian in Rome and Donatus in Carthage. Internal theological bickering ultimately led to a very much weakened church whereas the persecution under Decius and later Diocletian could have caused a strengthening of its position and the spreading of the Gospel as it happened during the first century persecutions. This process repeated itself in Egypt in the trinitarian Coptic Church which apparently hardly evangelised while they were involved with internal and external squabbles. The church in Nubia (modern-day Sudan) was planted from Byzantium and the enduring presence of the Church in Ethopia – apart from the minute beginnings of the Eunuch of Acts 8 – came from Syrian Monophysites.
5.Vulnerability, the road of the Cross and Prayer – especially confession – is biblically speaking much stronger than to be politically correct and winning arguments. (Paul, the great apostle: 'When I am weak, then I am strong.' (This example was emulated by the great Albert Luthuli, South Africa's first Noble Prize winner, but has unfortunately been gravely diluted in the ANC the last decades).
Furthermore, the central biblical line of obedience – rather than sacrifice – got hidden under Pseudo-idolatry, e.g. in the course the resurrection of the Baal Cult in Roman Catholicism. God has always had a bias towards the poor and the peripherals and outcasts of the society of biblical times and he was often in 'bad' company - with the likes of shepherds, prostitutes, demon-possessed, Samaritans and... lepers. This has only been rediscovered by the likes of James Cone and Desmond Tutu in the late twentieth century. (That the first churches of North Africa were led by women seems still to be rediscovered or the suggestion that the Eunuch of Acts 8 could have been a homosexual may still bring me in trouble among many church folk, although this would be completely in line with the above arguments.)
6.Protestantism has not been true to its founder, arguably regarded as Martin Luther, who taught that we should never stop reforming. On the issue of persecution, we have to state that the Church at large has sadly saddled the deceptive horse of Constantinian convenience, still wanting to be big and influential. (By contrast, Count Zinzendorf, allowed the Moravians to become a denomination only when it appeared almost impossible to function in another capactiy in Britain. He included in a church litany: Bewahre uns vor unseligem Grosswerden (Protect us from becoming big in an unholy manner. Jesus taught us to be merely salt and light, countering moral morbid decay but also bright enough to be like a beacon on a hill providing light to a dark environment.)
7.Swimming against the stream is the name of the game for strong swimmers. We read in Acts 8:1 that while all the believers were scattered all over the Roman Empire the apostles stayed put in Jerusalem. There is apparently thus also a special place for holding the fort when everyone is running away, when many people seems to leave a sinking ship. To its credit the Coptic Church of Egypt has been holding the fort throughout the centuries, when Islam swept through North Africa and Communism decimated the Church in Ethiopia in the mid 20th century.
8.The Unity of the body of Christ should be a matter of priority to the followers of Jesus, as the attempt to become the answer to our Lord's prayer: 'that they may be brought to complete unity' (John 17:23). This has been recognised again and again through the ages but strangely enough, reconciliation and attempts at unification have all too often been resisted, sometimes even fiercely. (This is meant as a general remark not merely referring to these attempts in our country with its sad racial heritage.) Sometimes the resistance transpired in pious ways but usually it has been a matter of convenience and wanting to build the own kingdom, a variation of what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called cheap grace. Reconciliation under the banner of the Lamb that was slain on Calvary is still very costly.

'OT Examples of Persecution
To all intents and purposes Abel was innocently killed. All too often modern man still prefers his own handywork, human independence nowadays called high tech - in stead of trusting in God alone. Noah was reviled and abused for his child-like faith and Joseph was thrown in prison for fearing God.
The courageous two midwives at the birth of Moses, along with his mother Jochebed flouted the Pharaoh’s instruction, by hiding Moses as a baby. The was protest in the best sense of the word, from the Latin pro testare – positive witness to life. This was civil disobedience, defying the authority of the ruler! She was obedient to the divine ruler. I believe that the church in South Africa should be speaking out more strongly for life and good morals. And about the stance of her son Moses, the book of Hebrews noted that ‘Moses chose to be mistreated along with the people of God... regard(ing) disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value...’ The prophets Elijah and Elisha had to flee as kings tried to kill them, given the blame for the famine – which actually was God's wrath for the idolatry of the nation. Daniel was arrested and thrown into the lion’s den because of his custom of praying towards Jerusalem and defying the royal prohibition into which King Darius had been tricked!)

Persecution in the 'NT'
Jesus declared us happy if we are persecuted and slandered because we are His followers (Matthew 5:8). He taught his disciples that they should not be surprised to be hated by the world (John 15:20). The reason for the persecution of Jesus, and hence of his followers, is not easily understood by the Western mind. The claim of the Sonship of God drew fierce opposition in His life-time. Those among us who have grown up with the concept of Jesus as the ‘only begotten Son’ can hardly comprehend the major problem that a Jew or Muslim has with such a notion. And the arch enemy has made sure that any possible way of a bridge to them has been blocked or destroyed. No other doctrine than this one - especially if it is brought in connection with the deity of Jesus (His being divine, that He is God) - seems to enrage oriental people more. (But do keep in mind that much of this has been caused by the theological squabbling around theotokos, the veneration of Mary – actually a pagan concept.)
In the early days of Christianity the followers of the Way were not only persecuted by wicked rulers like Herod and Nero, but soon after the great Pentecost in Jerusalem the apostles were thrown in prison by order of the Sanhedrin and removed from synagogues. Stephen (Acts 7) was the first to pay the highest price, an act that was followed by fierce persecution, in which Saul took a leading part. Paul, the prolific missionary, could have died numerous times before he finally paid with his life like almost all the other apostles. John, the last one to survive, wrote the book of Revelations while in banishment on the island Patmos. The challenge to let Jesus be Lord of our lives has made people of all generations angry because it goes against the grain of human independence. The pride in natural man rebels against the idea that someone else should lord over you. The thought that we can get forgiveness of sins without doing something for it, opposes every human effort to earn the atonement for his sins on one’s own accord. Anyone of these doctrines could harvest opposition and even persecution of some sort.
The early Church experienced persecution almost from the word go. Of course, Peter followed in the footsteps of His Master on the day of Pentecost by not mincing his words in his famous sermon, accusing the Jewish compatriots of murder, allowing Jesus to be crucified by sinful men, referring of course to the religious establishment (Acts 2:23). Peter expanded this according to the Acts record (3:17) quite soon by noting that the Jews and their leaders did it, but he softened it up somewhat, by adding that they did it in ignorance. It did not prevent him and John to be arrested soon hereafter, when they taught the people about Jesus' resurrection and brought before the Sanhedrin (Acts 4). Boldly Peter repeated that they operate in the power of Jesus who was crucified by them and who God had raised from the dead. Peter continued, proclaiming that there is no other name whereby man can be saved. After wise words from the learned Gamaliel, under whose feet Saul (later renamed Paul) had been learning, they were released and warned but promptly rearrested when they refused to be stop proclaiming the Gospel. This pattern continues throughout Acts with Stephen arrested and martyred (Acts 7), with heavy persecution bringing about the scattering of the first believers (Acts 8). Saul changed after he had been a main perpetrator himself (Acts 9). James, the brother of John, was killed in the cruelties of Herod (Acts 12). Paul lists his personal experiences in 2 Corinthians - a rather impressive one – or depressing, depending how one looks at it.
Paul was witness of the persecution of Stephen, who is accepted to be the first Christian martyr. This was an experience that must have moved the great apostle deeply, although he continued persecuting the young church. That would have haunted him, as it has been doing to so many persecutors right into the present time in places like Indonesia and Pakistan.

Persecution caused the Spreading of the Gospel
We also discern a close relationship between persecution and prayer in the book of Acts. Thus the believers were at prayer when Peter was miraculously led out of prison. The persecution of the first generation of Christians however also caused the spreading of the Gospel to the ends of the earth. From Jerusalem Jews and proselytes returned after Pentecost (Acts 2:8) – many of them to places in the Middle East that are Islamic today. From Antioch the ancestors from different nations and races formed a dynamic congregation with the Cypriot Barnabas and North Africans in leadership. The Samaritans and the Assyrians, the ancestors of many Muslims, were possibly part and parcel of the teams spreading the Gospel from places in Assyria, the present-day Iraq, together with Jews. Thomas and Peter (1 Peter 5:13) were probably at the helm of the churches that took the Gospel to India and as far afield as China. Christians do welcome to take persecuting and suffering in their stride, seeing it as a challenge.

More ‘NT’ Lessons of Persecution
Somehow the Church in the West seems to have overlooked what value Jesus attached to persecution and innocent suffering. In the so-called beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12) the whole latter part, a third of the pericope is devoted to related matters: ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness... Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you...’
In the run-up to the crucifixion our Lord had to experience the terrible emotional suffering among the twelve special disciples of a lack of understanding of his passion (Luke 18:31-34; John 18:11), the sleepiness of the trusted three (Matthew 26:40) and lack of power in his greatest moment of testing. Thereafter the Lord also suffered under betrayal, denial and desertion (Matthew 26:56) of his disciples. As the Lamb of God, Jesus was slaughtered so to speak innocently for the sins of the world, crying out in agony ‘My God (my strength), why have you forsaken me.
After taken down from his pedestal of arrogant self-confidence, Peter learned the lesson of innocent suffering thoroughly. Peter in his first letter (2:19, 21; 3:13, 18; 4:1, 2, 12-14 , 16) and James (1:2) go to some lengths to explain that Christians should regard it as an honour and privilege, that they should even rejoice when they are suffering from causes beyond their control, when they are persecuted for the sake of the Gospel. Paul likewise stated that it is a privilege for the Christian to suffer for Christ’s sake (Philippians 1:29). Paul called the scars on his body - because of suffering as the result of persecution - ‘marks of Jesus’ (Galatians 6:17).
Years later, after the resurrection and ascension of our Lord, when Christians had been spread throughout the Roman Empire through fierce persecution, he encouraged believers with the following words: ‘Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ…’ (1 Peter 4:12, 13a). Not only Peter, but also the other disciples grasped the message very well. Ten of the first disciples died an unnatural or ‘premature’ death and the eleventh, John, was banished to the island of Patmos.
In their epistles (letters) to the early church, there was hardly an apostle who did not mention or at least allude to persecution because of the Gospel. Paul writes for example to Timothy as if persecution is the most commonplace thing in the world: ‘...Yes, and suffering will come to all who decide to live godly lives to please Christ Jesus, from those who hate him’ (2 Timothy 3:12). Soon after he came to faith in Jesus, Paul himself was shown how much he had to suffer for the name of Jesus (Acts 9:16). To the Romans he wrote: ‘If someone mistreats you because you are a Christian, do not curse him; pray that God will bless him’ (Romans 12:14). In the first letter to the Corinthians he mentioned how ‘we have been kicked around without homes of our own’ (1 Corinthians 4:11). The church at Ephesus is reminded casually that he had been imprisoned because he served the Lord (Ephesians 4:1).

Nominalism as a deadly Weapon
Second century martyr Bishop Polycarp became the model, so much that Tertullian was led to proclaim the blood of the martyrs to be the seed of the church. The truth of Tertullian’s adage can be easily verified in the lives of people like Jan Hus from Prague, who died on the fire stake in Constance in July 1415. The church was seen by Cyprian of Carthage as the sole ark of salvation, without whom one could not have God as one's Father. At this time nominalism grew, which was checked temporarily through the systematic persecution under the Roman emperor Decius (249-251), the worst that the church had undergone up to that point in time. Diocletian, who took imperial office in February 303, resumed the persecution. He ordered churches to be destroyed, had clergy imprisoned and forced many to offer sacrifices by torture. As in the days of Decius, there were not only many martyrs but also many who 'lapsed'. While the Church grew and expanded to new geographical regions in spite of – or should we say through - persecution, Jews were gradually side-lined until finally Emperor Constantine caused a semi-permanent rift between Gentile Christianity and Judaism in the fourth century. People were baptised by force, and idolatry was brought back by the back door.1 (Through the proclamation of 321CE Constantine drove a big rift between Judaism and Christianity. The pagan custom of praying towards the East, i.e. towards the sun, was practised by the Manichaeists. They adopted the practice from a syncretistic Christianity. Clemens and Origines were two theologians who defended these practices.) Nominalism grew out of bounds as it became first the convenient and later the in thing to be a Christian, whether one was a follower of Jesus or not. Possibly more than anybody else, Constantine is to blame for the growth and spread of nominal morbid Christianity, a church that lost almost all its initial vibrancy.

The Cross in our Lives
One of the most explicit and yet neglected teachings of the 'NT' is the practical experience of the cross in our lives, for example how persecution and suffering can bring out the best in us. Peter mentions ‘the suffering of grief in all kinds of trials’ (1:6,7) positively. It operates like fire which purifies the silver and gold in the furnace (Malachi 3:3). Axel Kühner, a German pastor, relates the application of the work of a silver smith in a devotional book. The artisan had to watch the silver ore being burnt until the moment he would see his own image in the silver. In a similar way, suffering of all kinds moulds the believer to reflect the image of Jesus. Just as Christ suffered, we must ‘arm ourselves with the same attitude’ (1 Peter 4:1). We must be prepared for suffering and persecution. 1 Peter 5:10 gives the end result of the relative short period of suffering: The proof of the pudding is that we are enabled to love our enemies. Let us listen to the letter to the Hebrews in the relationship of suffering to obedience once again: ‘During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions ... to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his submission (Hebrews 5:7). The explanation of this difficult portion follows immediately afterwards: ‘he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him...Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered (Hebrews 5:8).
Jesus showed by his life-style that the teaching of ‘enemy love’ is not only theory. It has a deep meaning that the Master looked up to Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1ff), the collaborator with the Roman oppressors. When everybody in Jewish society was condescendingly looking down on the mean tax-collectors, Jesus showed respect. When it was normal for a respectable Jew to despise the outcast Samaritans, the Master gave them dignity. (Compare John 8:48 to see how being a Samaritan was put on an equal footing with being possessed by demons.)
Corrie ten Boom became the ambassador of enemy love and forgiveness after her experience in the Ravensbrück Nazi concentration camp’, merely because their family had supported the persecuted Jews. Her sister Betsy said just before the death in the concentration camp: ‘Corrie, we must tell it to the people what we have learnt. They will listen to us because we have been here’.
To practise enemy love as a part of one’s life-style is not easy. Even among Jesus’ disciples there were those who had problems with His non-violent manner of doing things. Though Peter had heard the divine voice on the Mount, declaring Jesus as God’s Son in whom the Almighty was well pleased, he still protested fiercely when Jesus suggested that He would be killed (Matthew 16:23). How deep-rooted the problem was, is highlighted by Hans-Ruedi Weber: ‘Those who see John’s interpretation of the crucifixion as one of glorification overlook that John too had problems in fitting the repugnant event of the crucifixion into his theology. Significantly, in his crucifixion narrative, the verb ‘raise’ or the concept of exaltation does not appear.’

Denials of the Cross in the Qur’an
To illustrate some sentiments which are opposed to the death and resurrection of Jesus in the Qur’an, I give an example apiece from Moses and Abraham, two major Qur’anic prophets (apart from Muhammad). They are definitely not accidentally also the two prime Jewish personalities, the two main foci of Judaism.
Quite a few verses of the Qur’an refer to the confrontations of Moses and Pharaoh. All the more it is very astonishing that the Qur’anic narrative does not mention the tenth plague and the Passover. Pharaoh is depicted in the Bible as the mirror image of the enemy of souls. The devil opposes the believer. Egypt represents bondage in sin and Moses is God’s appointed deliverer, to lead His people from bondage and slavery. The context of Acts 7:37 is only one of many 'NT' indications that the early church regarded Jesus as the prophet to whom Moses was referring, the one who would be like him.
The Qur’an does speak of a great sign which Moses showed Pharaoh in Surah 79:20. But what this sign is, is not spelt out clearly. The Islamic sacred book does refer elsewhere (in Surah 17:101) to nine signs. Yusuf Ali, in his commentary on Surah 7:133, logically deduces these signs to be the nine plagues and then he enumerates them. They are similar to the plagues mentioned in the Bible. With some imagination it would not be too far-fetched to see the great sign of Surah 79:20 as the tenth plague. Jesus is interestingly also mentioned as a sign in Surah 43, in close proximity to the section 5 of Surah 43 where the signs (plagues) are being referred to a few times.
The Bible described the tenth plague as the death of the first born in all those houses where the blood of an unblemished lamb was not applied to the door-posts. Even if we would accept the great sign of Surah 79:20 as the tenth plague, the question would still remain why it had to be put in such an unclear way.
The death of the first (and last) born as an act of atonement is also depicted in 1 Kings 16:34 when King Hiel rebuilt Jericho, which had been cursed by Joshua. Thus the curse was lifted. Paul picked this up in 2 Corinthians 5:21 when he mentioned Jesus, ‘who had no sin to be sin for us’, becoming a curse himself (Galatians 3:14). He was paying the wages of sin, namely eternal damnation, to lift the curse so that the believer can have eternal life, by accepting his forgiveness in faith as a gift (Romans 6:23). Jesus was of course the unique, first and last born Son of God, bringing in a new dimension of the ‘first-born from among the dead’ (Colossians 1:15,18). Also for the Christian attitude to Islam this has a major implication. keeping in mind that millions have been deceived by an ‘angel’ who brought ‘another Gospel’ which denies the cross (Galatians 1:8). Our compassion for the millions who have thus been unwittingly brought under this curse, should lead us to prayer that the veil may be lifted, so that they might recognised that Jesus, the Son of God, is the real sacrifice, the real Korban and atonement who died also for their sins.

Theologians causing Confusion
First century theological opponents of the Gospel stated that Jesus was born in a human way and not supernaturally conceived. The fact that a significant sector of the church did believe that he was uniquely born, was almost completely obliterated when the theologians argued so vehemently. 1 Peter 1:1,2 gives some indication that the Trinitarian issue may have been discussed already in the first century: ‘To God’s elect, strangers in the world, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ...’
The problem became acute when theologians tried to explain the Trinity. The efforts of capable early church scholars like Irenaeus and Origen were unfortunate, speaking of the Son and the Spirit as the ‘two hands’ of God. The so-called Cappadocian Church Fathers of the fourth century hardly changed things for the better, using all sorts of learned words. When Sabellius made a serious effort to explain how the Father possibly suffered on the Cross, it was labelled as Patripassianism. This comes from the Latin, and means "the father suffers." The name refers to the teaching that God the Father suffers on the cross as Son — since the two are different modes of the same person.
Persecution as Gospel Seed
Carsten Thiede, in his book - Jesus: Life or Legend (1990:117) dubbed Tertullian ‘a master of the art of how to turn the tables’. This was especially the case with the adage, which stemmed from his pen: ‘The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.’ Tertullian referred pertinently to the sadder part of early Christianity: how Christians were hated, persecuted and martyred, though all they were offering was a message of kindness and neighbourly love.
A special case of Gospel seed that has hardly been recognised in the West is the exile of Nestorius, who maintained that Christ had two distinct natures, divine and human, which acted in unity. Nestorius put it however also quite strongly that it was an abomination to call Mary, as was the custom in the church, the Mother of God. He was exiled to the Libyan oases, spending his last years in Cyrenaica (Isichei, 1995:25). There he wrote a defence of his tragic life under a pseudonym. If he had written it under his own name it would have been condemned, unread.
One of the most spectacular examples of the Tertullian adage took place in a North African village in the 1980s where God 'sovereignly descended upon this coastal township with gracious bounty... He did not rest till every member of the Muslim community was properly introduced to His only begotten Son, Jesus.' A 'wholesale conversion involving some 400 to 450 villagers' ensued (Otis, 1991:157). Stunned by this special divine visitation, mission workers sought for the reason. They discovered that this took place at the site where Raymond Lull, a Spanish missionary from Majorca, had been stoned in June 1315. Lull appeared not to have been a man of prayer although he wrote in his book The tree of Love, that Islamic strongholds are best conquered by 'love and prayers, and the pouring out of tears and blood.' (Cited in Tucker, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya, 2004:58). With the advantage of historical hindsight, the wisdom of his offensive method is quite debatable,When he was over 80 years old he literally provoked the villagers, seeking martyrdom.
Squabbling around The Unity of God
The Sabellians, the followers of Sabellius, believed in the unity of God. Sabellius stressed that the Holy Trinity expressed three different states or relations, all forming but one substance, as a man consists of body and soul. The Nestorians, who derived their main doctrine from Nestorius, Bishop of Constantinople in the fifth century, maintained that Christ had two distinct natures, divine and human, which acted in unity. Nestorius put it however also quite strongly that it was an abomination to call Mary, as was the custom in the church, the Mother of God. Tawid, the Unity of God and the denial of Jesus as the Son of God were two tenets of Islam that clearly have their roots in these two groups. The basis of the argument was later used in attempts to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity like the same person being a father, a son, a husband and a brother. Other arguments used would be the different functions within an entity like the roots, stem, branches and leaves of a tree or something that has different manifestations. Thus the same substance HO2 (water) can be vapour when it evaporates or ice when frozen.
I am indebted to Samuel Levine, a Jewish scholar, in pointing to an aspect of the Hebrew word Elohim for the plurality of the divinity. This comes in my view the closest to a proper understanding of the Almighty. In his book You take Jesus, I'll take God he wrote 'When the world seems to have a God of good and God of evil at the same time, there the Torah will use Elohim. Thus, this name is used to refer to God as the God of justice' (Levine, 1980:56). He went on to suggest Christians should not have stopped at the number three (for Trinity) in a certain context where six names for God are used. Muslims indeed expanded this, giving 99 names to the Almighty. However this would still put an unacceptable limit on him.
The argument by Ahmed Deedat and others to use a mathematical equation, that 1+1 + 1 is not equal to 1, is completely flawed, To give the Almighty 99 names is a rather poor attempt to rectify the inherent folly. To counter this with the multiplication equation that God is rather like 1 X 1 X = 1 – which I have also used in the past, I must confess - is still limiting God. If we want to use Mathematics, we should rather go for an exponential equation. Where not only 1 to any power = 1, but even 1 to the power of zero stills equals 1. This would however possibly still not capture the true character of God.
To repeat the gist of my argument: it was the theological bickering which started an unfortunate and tragic cycle of persecution of violence - with the Donatists of North Africa even making a special virtue out of martyrdom. (Nobody who had wilted under persecution was allowed to take an office in the church.) This set off a new cycle of disunity which ultimately weakened the Church of north Africa to such an extent that the Saracens were welcomed, Islam ushered in.
To us in South Africa this almost had a similar result. When Ds Davie Pypers used spiritual warfare – fasting and prayer on Bain's Kloof in his run-up to the divine healing of Mrs Withuhn on 13 August 1961 at the Green Point Track, he was reviled and side-lined because the theological argument proclaimed here from the Stellenbosch Theologicdal Faculty - and the DR Church of the day at large - was that divine healing belonged to biblical times. The simultaneous debate for and against a demonic heresy which was defended on very spurious grounds, politicised and weakened not only divided the once strong evangelical denomination, but also the body of Christ. I am aware I may have ruffled some feathers with that but I want to close now with a positive example. I believe that the low-key almost absent debate between the inter-faith church leadership and evangelical leaders around the attitude to Islam may have helped to save the significant Islamisation of southern Africa in the late 1990s. Persecution and prayer were major factors in stemming that tide here at the Cape - notably when radical Islamic forces attempted to repeat the UDF tactics of the 1980's to make the Western Cape ungovernable, as a preamble to make the province and later the nation Islamic.

When Ds Davie Pypers commenced work in 1956 as a minister of the Dutch Reformed St Stephen’s Church in Bree Street, he discerned the need for increased prayer for the Muslims of the area. Soon he initiated praying for Bo-Kaap and the Muslims living there. Together with two other ministerial colleagues, he interceded every Monday for the area that became even more pronouncedly Islamic in the wake of the envisaged implementation of Group Areas legislation.
Ds. Pypers appears to have been one of the very few ministers at the Cape of his era who had any notion of spiritual warfare. It was by far not common practice yet. And satan was definitely not going to release his gains so easily.
A significant Power Encounter
Davie Pypers was called to become the missionary to the Cape Muslims on behalf of the Dutch Reformed Church, linked to the historical Gestig (Sendingkerk) congregation in Long Street. It is the church where once people from different denominations worshipped, the cradle of missionary outreach in South Africa.2 Ds. Pypers had hardly started with his new work when a challenge came from a young imam, Mr Ahmed Deedat, to publicly debate the death of Jesus on the Cross. As a young dominee David Pypers prepared himself through prayer and fasting in a tent on the mountains at Bain’s Kloof for the event which was to take place on 13 August 1961 at the Green Point Track.
Because of publicity in the media, 30 000 people of all races jammed into the Green Point sports venue. The stadium quivered with excitement like at a rugby match. In the keenly contested debate, Imam Deedat started with the assertion that Jesus went to Egypt after the disciples had taken him from the Cross. He thoroughly ridiculed the Christian faith, challenging Pypers to give proof that Jesus died on the Cross. The young dominee rose to the challenge by immediately stating that Jesus is alive and that his Lord could there and then do the very things He had done when He walked the earth.
Dr David du Plessis, who was nick-named 'Mr Pentecost', reported on the event in his autobiography: ‘Taking a deep breath, he (Pypers) spoke loud and clear, ‘Is there anybody in this audience that, according to medical judgement, is completely incurable? Remember, it must be incurable...’ Of course, the stadium was abuzz by now. And then several men came along, carrying Mrs Withuhn, a White Christian lady, with braces all over her body. She was completely paralyzed. Then Pypers went ahead, asking whether there were any doctors present who could examine her and vouch for her condition. ‘Several doctors came forward, including her own physician, and they concurred in pronouncing her affliction incurable.’
Pypers simply walked to her and without any ado prayed for her briefly and proclaimed: ‘In the name of Jesus, be healed!’ Immediately she dropped her crutches and began to move.
The Green Point Aftermath
The Green Point Track event resulted in a victory for the Cross, with Mrs Withuhn being miraculously healed in the name of the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ.
Many Muslims were deeply moved, but an unfortunate thing also happened. The booklet The Hadji Abdullah ben Yussuf; or the story of a Malay as told by himself (in an Afrikaans translation) was re-issued. Its distribution at the gates of the Green Point Track was definitely not helpful. Actually it was quite unfortunate and insensitive. The booklet refers negatively to the Qur’an and Muhammad, the founder of Islam.3 The Cape Muslim community was enraged by the re-publication of this nineteenth century pamphlet.
What was perceived as the defeat of Ahmed Deedat, and thus of the Muslims at Green Point, inspired a call for revenge. Deedat stated publicly that the original motivation for public debates was his humiliation at the hand of Christians. He was not willing at all to accept defeat lying down.
The effect of the Green Point Track miracle was almost nullified by news that came from another part of the world on that same day. The report of the building of the Berlin Wall resounded throughout the world! A new type of battle was cemented - the ‘cold war’ between Soviet Communism and Western Capitalism!
However, it was nearly just as bad that Pypers was heavily criticized by his denomination for undertaking the confrontation without getting prior synod approval. Furthermore, his denominational leadership was still clinging to a Calvinist interpretation of divine healing.
Islam linked to Communism?
As the ensuing cold war became the focus, the enemy of souls abused Communism with its atheist basis, attempting to stifle the spreading of the victorious message of the Cross, as it had been proclaimed at the Green Point Track. The event of 13 August 1961 had great importance in the spiritual realm. The Islamic Crescent was subtly linked to Communism in opposition to the Cross. (This was to happen again in reverse in 1990 after the demise of Communism. Islam took over the mantle from the atheist ideology as a threat to world peace when the Iraqi army marched into Kuwait. That event became the catalyst for many Christians to start praying for an end to the bondage and deception at the base of the ideology of Islam as a destructive spiritual force.)
Yet, in his denomination, Pypers was still a lone ranger. In some quarters he was even villified after the Green Point event, although he had actually been challenged by the literature on faith healing, which had been written by Dr Andrew Murray, a revered hero of his church. Pypers was out on a limb in the Dutch Reformed Church. At the Kweekskool in Stellenbosch, the theological seminary of the denomination, it was officially taught that faith healing was something which belonged to a past age - to the times of the apostles.

A Father pays a high Price for his Faith
Ali Behardien, a Cape Muslim accountant from Paarl, courted major problems when he became a follower of Jesus in 1985. His own father suggested that he should get out of way. He then left the Cape scene for Mmabatho in Bophuthatswana where he lived for six and a half years. Thereafter he returned to the Western Cape where he studied Theology, finally attaining a Ph.D. under Prof. Dirkie Smit. In 1994 he addressed the Toringkerk Dutch Reformed congregation in Paarl, sharing his testimony of how he became a follower of Jesus. Soon hereafter his son was shot and killed by an unknown hit man draped in Arafat gear, that soon became known as the PAGAD trademark in the Western Cape. Just like Professor Johan Heyns who was also assassinated at that time, the killers have still to be identified. This was a high price Dr Behardien had to pay for his faith as a father because the young man had actually been raised as a Christian. But perhaps this was also some of the seed of martyrs at the Cape. More Cape Muslims came to the Lord in the years hereafter than ever before.

b) Rashaad Staggie/Glen Kan/Mark Gabriel

Conditions in Manenberg became almost unbearable
In 1995/6 living conditions in the township of Manenberg were almost unbearable for the local people, and things seemed completely out of control. Father Chris Clohessy, the local Roman Catholic priest, had earned the trust of many people there, moving fearlessly also in gangster territory. PAGAD (People against Gangsterism and Drugs) was initiated by a group of Muslims in 1996 and joined by Father Chris Clohessy. However, in the ensuing inter-faith venture, Muslims were soon dominating proceedings. Prominent figures like Imam Achmat Cassiem were reported to have performed a palace coup. As the leader of Qibla, Achmat Cassiem subtly changed the anti-drug, anti-crime movement into an organization that sought to bring in Islamic rule in the Western Cape by any means. PAGAD radicals saw this move merely as part of the plan to implement the October 1995 decision in the Libyan capital Tripoli, to attempt Islamising the African continent from the South.
PAGAD became known publicly on 4 August, 1996. That was the occasion when an influential gang leader and druglord, Rashaad Staggie, was burnt alive in full view of television cameras. The crisis that followed the PAGAD eruption of August 1996 presented the churches with a challenge, an opportunity to touch the problem areas of the Cape townships.
Are we perhaps in Lebanon?
The danger of a Lebanon-type civil war scenario became very real. Many people at the Cape feared that the gangsters might hit back with a vengeance. A meeting for church leaders and missionaries was organised at the Scripture Union buildings in Rondebosch, followed by a wave of prayer by evangelical Christians. Drug rehabilitation where Jesus is central was also suggested. However, when the crisis subsided, pastors simply resumed building their own ‘kingdoms’.
Spiritual strongholds became a focus of prayer drives. In 1966, Pastor Edson from Mitchells Plain and intercessors launched a convoy of vehicles from different churches on the last Friday of each month. The prayer drive of July 1996 started at the strategic Gatesville mosque. This was the same venue from where a fateful PAGAD car procession started a week later. The latter procession left for Salt River on August 4th, the date of Staggie’s public burning. The event catapulted his twin brother and co-gang leader Rashied into prominence.
The prayer drives unfortunately only had a short lifespan. Another initiative of Pastor Edson, which lasted much longer, was the monthly pastors’ and pastors’ wives prayer meetings. Yet, it took years before the racial divide was bridged, and even then these prayer meetings still never really took off multi-racially. Nevertheless, they prepared the soil for the start of the spiritual transformation of the city.
From Cairo to the World!
Sandwiched between the two above-mentioned processions that left the Gatesville mosque, a church service in the Moravian Church of Elsies River, a township-like Cape northern suburb, was to have world-wide ramifications. Mark Gabriel shared his testimony there at a combined evening youth service on Sunday 28 July, 1996. This event added a new dimension to the Cape Muslim ministry effort. Gabriel’s printed testimony had just been published in South Africa with the title Against the Tides in the Middle East under the pseudonym Mustapha. (Gabriel previously was forced to flee his home country where he narrowly escaped assassination.) Within a few days, the booklet which contained his story was in the hands of a Muslim leader. Maulana Sulaiman Petersen correctly suspected that Mark Gabriel had contact with local missionaries. Threateningly he enquired after him on Wednesday 31 July. (Mark Gabriel was doing the practical part of his Youth with a Mission (YWAM) Crossroads Discipleship Training School course with us.)
Reminiscent of the situation when Martin Luther was taken to the Wartburg castle for safety,4 Mark Gabriel was forced into hiding. The televised Staggie execution by PAGAD on 4 August reminded Mark of Muslim radicals of the Middle East. He now started with significant research of jihad (holy war) in Arabic Islamic literature, finishing his manuscript in 2001 in Orlando (Florida,USA), where he had moved to in the meantime. The September 11 event of that year made his book on the topic a bestseller when it was published at the beginning of 2002. It came out under the title Terrorism and Islam. That book became a major factor in the exposure of the violent side of Islam. Subsequently the book was translated into more than 50 languages.
Arson attempted on a Church
A 10-week teaching course ‘Love your Muslim Neighbour,’ in which we worked with Renate Isert, a German missionary, emphasised prayer as integral to ‘spiritual warfare’. Just before the course was scheduled to begin, there was an arson attempt on the intended venue, the Uniting Reformed Church in Lansdowne, where Dr Henry Dwyer was one of the pastors. When Muslims offered to help with the repair of the damage, the suspicion was confirmed that Satanists were not really behind the arson attack as had been suggested by a Cape Argus reporter. A Lebanon type scenario with Christians and Muslims fighting each other now appeared even more ominous. (We did not know at that time that Lansdowne was one of the big PAGAD strongholds).
The reason that the ‘Love your Muslim Neighbour’ course was held at the St James Church in Kenilworth from 3 September to 5 November 1996, was exactly because we wanted to use it as a ‘Gideon’s fleece’ (compare Judges 6:36-40), a test to make sure that we were in God’s will. That church experienced the vicious attack in July 1993, which God used to get South Africans to pray as never before. For this course in Kenilworth I used my devotional teaching on John 4, the interaction of Jesus with the Samaritan woman, for a short the first time as a ten-part series.5
A potentially dangerous development was the resuscitation of Afrikaner right-wing resistance. On Sunday 5 January, 1997, in a series of bombings, a mosque was savagely damaged. These atrocities were linked to a group that called themselves the Boere Aanvalstroepe. Thankfully, in answer to urgent prayer, the other right-wing Afrikaner groups distanced themselves from them and the dangerous situation was defused momentarily.

At that time we went to Grabouw more or less every second week, after our mother had been admitted to Huis Silwerjare, a home for the aged. In the hospital Rosemarie met an old Muslim lady from Belhar who seemed to be quite open to the Gospel. As Belhar would not be too much of a detour en route to Grabouw, we popped in there. The aged terminally ill patient had been sent home basically to go and die. When we visited her, she spoke very lovingly about her grandchild who evidently had made her quite jealous to experience the wonderful love of Jesus. The old Muslim lady understood that die liefde van Jesus is wonderbaar (the love of Jesus is wonderful). Her heart was wonderfully prepared, so that Rosemarie could lead the old sick (grand) mother to the Lord.
When we went to visit her again a few weeks later, we found a devastated couple that was not only in bereavement about their mother – they had been expecting that - but also because of the death of their 17-year old daughter. A man who had been ‘playing with a pistol’ killed the young girl so-called accidentally. The parental couple went on to rave how other children loved their daughter at Kensington High School, but they stopped short of accusing anybody. When they mentioned that the perpetrator had links to PAGAD, suspicion did come through that it was no accident after all.

Three assassination attempts: a) Aysha Hunter b) Mark Gabriel C) Rashied Staggie

Threats on our lives: a) Bo-Kaap b) Gangsters


Dissent as a cause of Persecution

Islam took its cue to persecute dissidents from Judaism and the Church. In the early days of Christianity the followers of the Way were not only persecuted by wicked rulers like Herod and Nero, but soon after the great Pentecost in Jerusalem the apostles were thrown in prison by order of the Sanhedrin and removed from synagogues. Stephen (Acts 7) was the first to pay the highest price, an act that was followed by fierce persecution, in which Saul took a leading part. Paul, the prolific missionary, could have died numerous times before he finally paid with his life like almost all the other apostles. John, the last one to survive, wrote the book of Revelations while in banishment on the island Patmos.
The Church was no better in its handling of dissidents. The teaching of Paul, to speak the truth in love, was all too often not adhered to. Paul himself was possibly also guilt of this himself in his disputes with Judaisers. The letter to the Galatians especially bears witness to that.
The most tragic part of the dispute around the nature of Jesus is the wrangling that erupted around it and how the Church handled dissent. The run-up to the bickering can be traced to the treatment of Donatus, a dynamic North African preacher. It is especially tragic that one has to discover that there is unfortunately very little written in Western church history books about Donatus and the Donatist Church, just as a complete dearth of material on the Middle Eastern Assyrian Church that did such stalwart missionary work in the first centuries of the Christian Era. The Donatist Church however was the cause of a big schism in North Africa in respect of the Catholic Church. Each community made the exclusive claim to be the one mystical body of Christ and the sole ark of salvation without whom one could not have God as one's Father.
Worse was to follow when a brilliant theologian, Nestorius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, taught that God the Word was not 'hypostatically', i.e. intrinsically joined with human nature, but rather dwelt in the man Jesus. As a consequence of this, he denied the title "Mother of God" that had been given in reverence to Mary, perhaps in an attempt to emphasise Jesus' divinity. Nestorius emphatically denied that she was theotokos, the bearer of God. From the standpoint of Nestorius, God had no beginning and thus could not have a literal "mother." Nestorius asserted that what Mary gave birth to was the man of Jesus, but not the pre-existing Word from the Trinity. Instead, Nestorius preferred the term "Mother of Christ" (Christotokos/ Χριστοτόκος).
When reports of this reached Pope Cyril of the See of Alexandria, he acted quickly to correct this breach with orthodoxy, requesting that Nestorius repent. When he would not, the Synod of Alexandria met in an emergency session and a unanimous agreement was reached. Not only was Nestorius banned, but Cyril also ex-communicated anyone who followed the teachings of Nestorius.
Alongside the Christological debate, other factors were to come into play in the controversy that would ensue, including a political struggle between the supporters of the See of Alexandria and the See of Antioch, the influence of the Emperor over the See of Constantinople, and the patriarchal primacy of the Pope.
Supporters of the title 'theotokos,' including the Alexandrian bishop Cyril, countered that it was Nestorius who was actually denying the reality of the incarantion, by making Jesus Christ into two different persons, one human and one divine, in one body. Such objection to the ideas of Nestorius stemmed from his viewpoint that there is a divine essence and a human essence and that they are mutually exclusive--no union between the human and divine is possible. If such a union of human and divine occurred, Nestorius believed that Christ could not truly be con-substantial with God and con-substantial with us because he would grow, mature, suffer and die (which he said God cannot do) and also would possess the power of God that would separate him from being equal to humans.
The Emperor, Theodosius II (401–450CE) was eventually induced to convoke a general church council, sited at Ephesus, which itself a special seat for the veneration of Mary, where the theotokos formula was popular.(It was there where the Gospel caused a major confrontation around the idolatry around the goddess Artemis, Acts 19:21ff). Cyril took charge of the Council of Ephesusin 431 CE, opening debate before the long-overdue contingent of Eastern bishops from rival Antioch could arrive.
The council deposed Nestorius and declared him a heretic, without giving him an opportunity to defend himself. The Emperor gave his support to the Archbishop of Constantinople, while Pope Celestine I was in agreement with Cyril.

While the 431 council was in progress, John I of Antioch and the eastern bishops arrived. They were furious to hear that Nestorius had already been condemned. They convened their own synod, at which Pope Cyril of Alexandria was deposed.
Both sides then appealed to the emperor Theodosius II, or rather to the imperial eunuchs who controlled him. Initially the imperial government ordered both Nestorius and Cyril deposed and exiled. The dubious compromise in Ephesus of Mary as the Mother of God is still venerated in Roman Catholicism.
Nestorius exiled and wrongfully accused
In the following months, 17 bishops who supported Nestorius' doctrine were removed from their sees. Eventually the political position became so bad that John I of Antioch was obliged to abandon Nestorius in March 433. On August 3, 435, Theodosius II, who had supported Nestorius' appointment, bowed to the influence of his sister Pulcheria in issuing an imperial edict that exiled Nestorius to a monastery in the Great Oasis of Hibis in Egypt, securely within the diocese of Cyril. There he was at risk of attack by desert bandits, and was injured in one such raid.
In East and West, Nestorius' writings were burnt wherever they could be found. They survive mainly in Syriac. The incident caused a split within the church, and led to the creation of separate Nestorian churches that would flourish throughout the Middle East and central Asia.
Was Nestorius really a Nestorian?
After 1,500 years of Nestorius' stigmatization as a heretic, a handwritten 16th century book containing a copy of a text written by Nestorius was discovered by American missionaries in 1895, in the library of the Nestorian patriarch in the mountains at Konak, Hakkari, south eastern Turkey. This book had suffered damage during Muslim raids, but was substantially intact, and copies were taken secretly. The Syriac translation had the title The Bazaar of Heracleides. The original 16th century manuscript was destroyed in 1915 during the Turkish massacres of Assyrian Christians. The Bazaar was written towards the end of Nestorius' life, and in it he explicitly denies the heresy for which he was condemned. Instead he affirms of Christ "the same one is twofold" — an expression that some consider similar to the formulation of the Council of Chalcedon, 451 CE. Nestorius's earlier surviving writings, however, including his letter written in response to Cyril's charges against him, contain material that seems to support charges that he held that Christ had two persons. Thus, whether Nestorius was actually a Nestorian is still a matter of debate.


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