Mission & Collision
When we are upriver in the jungle, the community of Nuevo Italia has limited electrical power, on from dusk till 9:00pm. In the black darkness that follows the stars above the southern hemisphere shine like diamonds.
The church at Antioch was the springboard of the ancient divine charge given to Abram to be - through his immediate descendants, Israel - the father of a people more numerous than those bright stars above the Near Eastern skies. Abraham was charged to be a blessing to all nations on earth (Genesis 15:5; see also 12:2-3, 17:4-6 and 22:15-18.
Following the commissioning of Paul and Barnabas by the Antioch church, these two answered their Jewish antagonists in Pisidian Antioch, quoting Isaiah’s words about Israel’s covenant; it was not enough simply to be God’s chosen people, he chose Israel, as he chose Paul and Barnabas in the first century, as he chooses us in the 21st century, to be 'a light to the Gentiles, bringing salvation to the ends of the earth’ (Acts 14:47, quoting Isaiah 49:6).
Kavin Rowe – in his careful study of Paul’s encounters with pagan cultures and Roman power, World Upside Down – shows through detailed exegesis how, in all of the cities on this, their first missionary journey (Acts 14), subsequently in Philippi (Acts 16), Athens (Acts 17), and Ephesus (Acts 19), the gospel of the risen and exalted Jesus collided with paganism and confronted imperialism. “In Acts, it is either magic or Christianity, either Artemis or Christ” (World Upside Down, p. 49). “This collision… [between the life-shape of Christianity in the Graeco-Roman world and the larger pattern of pagan religiousness]”, he continues, “rests ultimately in the theological affirmation of the break between God and the cosmos. For to affirm that God ‘has created heaven and earth’ is, in Luke’s narrative, simultaneously to name the entire complex of pagan religiousness as idolatry and, thus, to assign to such religiousness the character of ignorance. Pagan religion, regardless of the specific differences engendered by time and locale, knows only the cosmos; it does not know God" (p. 50).
The collision of Christianity with paganism inevitably in Paul’s day – as it will also in ours – brought confrontation with Roman imperial authority, which - in the final analysis - it will always do. The outcome in Acts between the missionary Paul and the Roman authorities was not – as Rowe's exegesis of Acts demonstrates – as is often thought a simple rapprochement between religion and political power; “the Christian mission…is not a counter-state. It does not…seek to replace Rome, or to ‘take back’ Palestine, Asia or Achaia” (p. 87). At the same time, he reminds us, “following Luke’s narrative is to read Christianity not as a call for insurrection but as a testimony to the reality of the resurrection.…[yet] the rejection of insurrection does not simultaneously entail an endorsement of the present world order…” (p. 88).
Here in Peru, as in the United States, this is election season. Christians are citizens of national political systems, but we are first and foremost citizens of the Kingdom of God, where the incarnate Jesus, crucified under the power of the state was raised by the power of God, and declared to be both Lord and Christ - the expected messiah, the King for whom the Jews were waiting. In Paul’s day there existed not only the pagan religions, their followers subservient to the gods, but an imperial cult which declared that Caesar, the Roman king, was thought and thought himself to be god or lord. Culture, religion and politics all walked hand-in-hand. The resurrection of Jesus and his exaltation reminds us that he is both Lord and King. It should give us pause, both in our missiology and in our doxology.