Ask Alex Stark (August 19-23, 2019)

Hi friends! (@Interested_In_Ask_RZIM)

This week, @alexanderkstark joins us on the forum to field our questions. Alex is an Aussie and a graduate of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics (OCCA). He and his wife Kathleen (not me!) live in Oxford, as he’s currently serving with the UK team as an OCCA Fellow. Prior to studies at Oxford University, Alex completed a bachelor’s degree in theology back in Australia.

His research interests include post-structural feminism, Christian ethics, and the influence of big tech in our lives, so don’t hold back your tough questions in those fields! :wink: He is also interested in secularism and public theology.

He is passionate about communicating the Christian story both clearly and credibly in as many settings as possible, so do come to him with what’s turning over in your mind and heart.

Alex was with us back in March, and you can find his interactions here:

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Hi Alex! It great to ask you and clarify my burden.
Presently my church has facing a great problem regarding the doctrinal issue of Church member Restoration…
A man was taking Holy marriage and after a year’s He divorce His wife without the Agreement of wife… And married another girl… So a church was excommunicated to the man based on 1 Corinthians… But man was continuing requesting to church to restored without the Agreement of first wife…
My question is can a church be restored to such man and received him without the Agreement of first wife

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Good day Alex, what is the influence of ICT on building the Kingdom of God?
Thanks
Bill

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Hi Chuimatai Singlai. Thanks so much for your question! I pray that what follows is helpful.

There’s a few things in your question. I don’t think I can - in good conscience - answer this question directly. I’m not part of your church, nor do I know your pastors/elders/leaders. And, even more, I don’t know the man and the women involved in the scenario, nor the full context of their marriage. One of the big assumptions of the text in 1 Corinthians 5 is that the people to whom Paul is writing would have been gathering in small house churches. People in those churches would have known each other. Many of them would have known each other intimately. It’s much easier to give specific, moral instruction to a group of people whose lives are intimately intertwined; it’s much harder to answer the type of question you’ve asked. In fact, sometimes it can be harmful to make a moral judgment from afar.

So, what I think would be helpful, would be to unpack what Paul meant in 1 Corinthians 5 when talking about church discipline and restoration. The main thrust of 1 Corinthians 5 is this: the moral integrity of the church is part of its witness. Paul isn’t giving a list of commands for the Corinthians; he is giving them an aim. And the aim is that not simply their beliefs but also their lives would be a witness to the good news of the gospel, the wisdom of the cross, and the power of the resurrection.

Paul’s metaphor throughout the chapter, which actually begins in chapter 1, is that of family. The metaphor is powerful. Families aren’t abstract bodies of people who don’t care for one another; families are people whose lives are shaped by their identification with their father, mother, sisters and brothers. If you fail to represent the family, that doesn’t mean you’re excluded straight away. That’d be a pretty terrible family. No, instead, the assumption is that the family will gather around you in support, encouragement, and loving judgment - all with the goal of restoring you to right membership.

So, here’s the point: if you’re part of the family of God, you want to increase in your ability to represent the head of the family. The head of the family is God himself revealed in Jesus Christ, imitated by Paul (1 Cor 4:14-16). Which means, if you claim to be a family member but you’re not representing the family name, the church has the God-given right to judge you (meaning, call a spade “a spade!”), but with the goal of restoration. That’s the main thrust of the passage.

So, what are the circumstances in which exclusion from the church-family is necessary, godly, and proper? Paul gives a list of sins which warrant exclusion from the church:

• Sexual immorality
• Greed
• Swindling
• Idolatry
• Slander
• Drunkenness

Now, we need to notice two things about this list. First, the list isn’t exhaustive. 1 Corinthians has been called the most “occasional letter” in the New Testament. By this, people mean to say that it is the letter which seems to deal with the most amount of practical problems out of all of Paul’s letters. So, when you go to 1 Corinthians, you can’t just transplant this list of immorality into our context; you need to realise that the things which Paul talks about are specific to the church in Corinth. The church in Corinth was full of sexual immorality, greed, swindling, idolatry, slander, drunkenness. People in our churches might commit these sins, but they might also commit other sins.

Which means, to put it strongly, Paul isn’t just concerned with these sins. Paul is concerned with all sin . It’s not like Paul is saying, “You can be physically abusive as a husband so long as you’re not sexually immoral,” or, “You can be incredibly bitter as a person, but just don’t be greedy!” Paul’s concern isn’t just about this list of sins and not doing them; his concern is that when you’re part of God’s family, you need to increasingly grow into looking like a member of the family. In the case of God’s family, our model is Jesus Christ. This is why there are other passages in the New Testament talking about exclusion from the church (2 Thes 3:14-15; 2 John 10-11; Matt 18:17). The stakes are much higher than a particular list of “do’s” and “don’ts,” it’s about full-fledged growth into Christ-likeness.

Second, exclusion applies to those who persist in sin. The list he gives here contains sins which seem to be particularly damaging to community. It’s hard to worship next to someone who has swindled money from you; it’s hard to take communion with somebody who you know has committed adultery. All that to say, there’s two aims of Paul’s instruction in the passage: (1) that the types of sin which damage community are the ones that are most serious; and (2), those who persist in sin are the ones who are at risk of exclusion from the church family. Exclusion from church is not for those who commit a random sin; it’s for those who persist in sin.

In other words, Paul treads a fine line between commending moral integrity and imploring radical grace - just compare Galatians with 1 Corinthians! And so, the question becomes, “How do I know when to integrate somebody sinful back into our church community?” And the answer is this: don’t wait until they are morally perfect (because we all sin, that’ll never happen!); wait until they issue true repentance, and when they exhibit a real desire to grow into the likeness of Jesus and God’s family.

Which means, to come back to your question (can a church be restored to such man and received him without the Agreement of first wife?), let me give three practical implications:

  • Judgment is good. Judgment is actually loving. But, the heart of judgment should be aimed towards restoration. Which means, judgment should be issued as early as possible, because all judgment is an invitation to the right way of life. The longer you withhold judgment from someone, the harder it is going to be for them to turn their life around. The sooner you issue judgment to them, the sooner they’ll be able to step back into representing the family. The question I would have for any church where marriages are breaking down is this, “Are you calling people to the life God has for them as frequently as possible and as early as possible?” Divorce isn’t something that just happens ; usually it is the result of a million small decisions where a spouse begins thinking the wrong things, entertaining the wrong ideas, and begins walking down the path which divorce finalises. If the church really is the family of God, it’s also their responsibility to be so involved in the lives of married couples that divorce doesn’t even seem like an option to them.
  • Second, for you Chuimatai, there are going to be people in your church who continue to commit these sins - both the ones listed by Paul, but also other sins which undermine community and mar the reputation of God’s family. If you don’t know them intimately, God does not give you the licence to judge them. Your judgment can actually do more harm than help. Why? Because you’ve got no stake in their life. You don’t really care. You’re just throwing a stone at their moral failure. You could do that, but it won’t help them be restored to the church family. It’ll just make them feel separated from the church family. At the same time, you might know them intimately (like family). If so, God gives you the responsibility to judge them. The more closely you know them, the more helpful your judgment will be! So, my encouragement to you with this particular scenario would be this: if you’re intimately involved in their lives, you’re given the right to judge them and the responsibility to work for their restoration into God’s family. If not, get to know them or leave the question for people close to them and your church leadership (hopefully your church leadership knows them and loves them deeply).
  • There could come a day when all three of these people - the divorced spouse, and the newly married couple - worship God as one family in the same room. What a wonderful expression of the grace of God and the power of the gospel. But that’s a process which needs to begin with the man’s repentance, the old spouse’s forgiveness, and the sensitivity of the new spouse.

I hope this is helpful, Chuimatai!

PS. 1 Corinthians doesn’t explicitly talk about marriage and divorce. To understand that, read Matthew 19 and Genesis 1-2. The basic idea of Jesus is that legitimate grounds for divorce is if one party commits adultery. It’s sinful to issue a divorce for any other reason.

But, here’s the thing: even issuing divorce on the grounds of adultery isn’t great. God would actually love there to be a people-group who, even if their spouse were to commit adultery against them, could so love that person such that the marriage was restored. Why? Because marriage ultimately tells the story of God’s love for humanity. God’s vision is that all marriages would last, because God’s marriage to us in Christ is the type that lasts, even amidst our adultery of heart. Divorce isn’t just tragic because it brings humans unhappiness; it’s tragic because it lies about God.

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@alexanderkstark Thank you so much… Our church are afraid to restore thinking that young generation will fallow such example if we take it lightly, but now I understand we need to pray and observe to the man of his geniuen propose…
Thank you so much sir.

Hi Alex, thanks for joining us this week to help answer our questions.

How can one uphold christian ethics in the face of the high level of moral decadence in our life space particularly in the workplace?

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Hello Alex,
What movement do you see happening with anti-Semitism from inside the Church in UK? Are relationships between Jews and Christians improving? What bridges between faith are built in UK?

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Hey Bill. Thanks for your question! I think you asked this last time, but I didn’t get the chance to respond. Sorry about that! Let’s get stuck into it :smile:

Can I ask you what you mean by ICT and by building the kingdom of God?

ICT stands for “Information and Communications Technology.” That’s a really broad category! Is there something specific (like, social media, PowerPoint, or even mobile phones) which you were hoping I’d comment on?

Building the kingdom of God could mean different things to different people. By it, some mean “social justice,” while others mean “saving souls,” while others would see them as intricately entwined.

One of the things I like thinking about is how technology forms us. If you’ve ever been in advertising, you’d have heard the phrase “There is meaning in the medium.” Which means, you can communicate the same information through different mediums and they will have different effects. If that’s true, here’s a fun question: Do humans learn something different about God by reading the Scriptures on their phone than if they were to read them from a tangible book, or sing them over one another (e.g., Psalms and Colossians 3:16).

I say all this to get the conversation going. I probably wouldn’t be able to talk about the in’s and out’s of ICT. What I would be able to chat about would be thinking theologically about the use of particular devices. I think the world is finally waking up to how we’ve entrusted ourselves to such a myriad of devices without even understanding how our relationship with them affects our psychology. I love talking about this stuff.

Anyway, bit long winded on my part! Looking forward to your reply! :slight_smile:

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Hi Brian. Thanks for your question. I’m sorry if my answer is disappointing, but there’s two reasons I won’t be able to adequately respond.

On the first level, I prefer not to talk about “the church in X Place.” There’s practical and theological reasons for this. The theological reason is that the local church is God’s means of the world’s redemption, and as such exists as small, local outposts of his kingdom. Because of that, each local church will have its own flavour, flourishing, and failures. To group them all together and try and brand them with the same narrative would be to fail to acknowledge this.

The practical reason is related. I live in Oxford where there are so many churches. The myriad of unique individuals in those churches, and the distinctness of each local church from one another, makes it unhelpful to describe these types of trends - let alone trying to do it for the whole of the UK. If there were dome data collected, that’d be a different story. I’m not aware of any data.

The second reason is that I’m suspicious about your question, if I’m honest. The role of the Jews within and around the church of Jesus is a contested topic within evangelical circles. Some people hold to a Christian Zionist view, which claims that the fate of the Israelite nation state is linked with God’s plan for the end times. Others hold to a supersessionist view, which claims that the church supercedes Israel as the main vehicle of God’s redemption in the world and the primary recipients of God’s salvation plan. There are multiple other views with a whole lot more nuance. But, I’d want to know why you’re asking this question before I answer it.

The question I would have for someone concerned with the treatment of the Jews would be this:

  1. Is this a question asked because of eschatological reasons (meaning, you’re asking this because you expect the fate of the Jews to detail to Christians the progress of Jesus’ second coming)?

Or…

  1. Is this a question asked because of imago dei reasons (meaning, the Jews are image-bearers of God as much as are other ethnic and religious groups, and I am concerned with the plight of all people groups)?

The horror of anti-semitism to the first person is that it will cause them to be anxious about the timing of God’s second coming. The horror of anti-semitism to the second person is that it will cause righteous anger on account of people not being given the dignity and respect they’re owed by virtue of being image-bearers of God. All Christians should agree that everyone should have the second reaction toward anti-semitism, because anti-semitism violates the inherent worth of Jews who, by virtue of being human, are aware the value of bearing God’s image. Not all Christians will agree that anti-semitism has the political and eschatological significance that Christian Zionists interpret.

I hope this is helpful, Brian.

Many blessings,
Alex

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Hi Charmawee! I hope I can do the opportunity justice.

I love your question. I just want to affirm your desire to aim at being a better witness to God in your workplace. Like Paul, you know that Christian faith isn’t private, but public - and it’s God’s great commission to us to take our faith into the marketplace of ideas. This is exactly what Paul did in Acts 17, within the Areopagus Council. So, that’s awesome! :slight_smile:

I’d love to say four things on this topi:

First , please do feel free to respond and be more specific about the particular Christian ethic you might be talking about. I don’t think that there is a one-size-fits-all approach to talking about Christian ethics with those who aren’t Christians, because there is a huge difference between “loving your enemy,” and “pursuing singleness and celibacy as a same-sex-attracted male.” So, depending on the ethic, there will be different things that are more helpful to talk about, especially if our goal isn’t just to inform our non-Christian friends, but specifically to witness to them the goodness of the gospel!

Second , aim at living all the Christian virtues more than, or at least as much as, you try and figure out how to talk about them. It’s tempting to think that this question is particularly focused on questions of sexuality, which seem outdated to the progressive west. But, so much about the life God invites us to is actually just attractive to the on-looker. For example, how striking it would be if all Christians everywhere loved their enemies. Or, imagine if all Christians took seriously the injunction from Jesus to be salt and light in the world. Salt prevents decay and enhances flavour. Imagine a global body of diverse people acting to prevent our world from decay (justice, ecology, etc) and to bring out the flavours of culture (architecture, poetry, music, beauty!). That’s a cool thing. I say all this to challenge the idea - which it is so easy to assume - that Christianity is an outdated list of morals. It’s not. Christianity is apprenticeship unto the most amazing person in all of history - Jesus Christ. Jesus lived a full life, a costly life, a beautiful life. Whenever we’re thinking about the challenge of upholding Christian ethics, we should be quick to remind ourselves that even though following Jesus is costly, it is also incredibly compelling - and there’s more to Christian morality and ethics than the particular ethics which culture zooms in on!

Third , and somewhat related, the best defence of Christian ethics is not an argument (though, that is necessary). The best defence is a life steeped in Christ-likeness. Take, for example, the famous passage in the New Testament, which urges Christians to defend their faith:

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have (1 Pet 3:15)

One thing we often fail to notice is that this injunction to give a defence for the faith is sandwiched in a book which is dedicated to the imperative to pursue holiness. Chapter one is about pursuing holiness, chapter two is about the treatment of slaves and family members. And chapter three is about suffering with perseverance for the glory of God. And then the injunction comes. The lesson we can take from this is incredible. It’s this: that the New Testament assumes that people will ask you questions about your faith when they see it working. And there’s our goal: live such a life that people ask you questions to which only the gospel is the answer. And this is why, I think, the best apologetic – the best defence of the Christian gospel – is a local body of believers passionately loving God and actively serving their community. Why? For one, it’s the embodiment of the message. Two, it’s the thing which actually prompts questioning. And three, everyone can do it . If you want somebody to ask you about the hope you have - or the reason you hold to a particular Christian ethic - you need to embody that hope and the ethic by living a life of such holiness that people literally think you’re from another world. God’s continually patient invitation to each of us is to surrender our hearts to him, that he might transform us from the inside out. Because the most powerful apologetic is the transformed Christian life.

Fourth , when trying to talk about particular ethics, try and figure out ways to talk about its goodness. And there’s different levels to this. For example, somebody might despise the idea that there is a God who holds them to account for the life that they live. It might be bad news to them that God holds them morally responsible. But, here’s why it’s actually good news for humans. It’s good news because it means we’re not cosmic accidents; it’s good news because it means we have a purpose. Being held morally responsible is actually quite dignifying, and if the maker of the universe is happy to give me moral responsibility, then that’s quite a noble calling! I always say that it’s simultaneously daunting and liberating: it’s liberating because it makes sense of the fact that I feel within me that the way I live my life has meaning; it’s daunting because, if it’s true that I am held morally accountable before God, then the question which remains is, “Have I been morally faithful?”

The deeper level comes when you might be talking about a particular ethic. Take, for example, sexuality - a huge topic in our contemporary culture. Somebody who has been told their whole life that the height of being human is sexual pleasure will consider it bad news that homosexual practice is outside the bounds of God’s intention for sexual expression in his world. But, how could that be good news? Well, it’d be good news if we point out the liberating truth that the height of human experience is not sexual pleasure nor sexual expression, but is actually intimate relationship with the living God. It might be liberating for people to know that they don’t need to centre their lives around their sexual identity, and that God has another identity for them - in Christ - around which they can centre their lives. That’s a pretty awesome invitation because, for some people, their sexual identity is everything. Yet one thing culture is never told is that sex often doesn’t satisfy. So, if you’re speaking with someone who believes that sexual identity is the primary source of their value and worth, then they’re only ever going to feel as stable as their last sexual interaction. But, if you are given the invitation to centre your life around Jesus, he will never fail you. That’s good news right there!

One of my friends, and a speaker on our team, David Bennet, tells his story of coming to know Jesus as a gay-activist in his book A War of Loves . You should read the book, if you get a chance. In the book, David essentially shares how an encounter with the living God changed his life. As a same-sex attracted male, those temptations didn’t disappear. But, as someone who met the living God, he knows it’d be wrong to act on those desires. So, as a committed follower of Jesus, he has chosen to remain single and celibate by the grace of God for the rest of his life. In other words, he has chosen to deny his temptations as a same-sex attracted male and embrace his identity as a disciple of Jesus. One of my favourite lines in the book goes like this:

“I have given up a portion of myself. But in return, I found my whole humanity.”

That’s good news for our world right now!

Anyway, feel free to come back to me on this stuff. This post was longer than I intended!

Blessings to you, friend.

Alex :slight_smile:

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Hi Alex, thanks so much for your insightful response. I like the way you structured your response.

I would like you to also shed light on dealing with corruption in the workplace.

Best regards,
Charles

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Thank you for the information. More meaning was revealed by your concerns I think. In the USA, we don’t get too much of an accurate pulse of the Church in many places. After doing a 10 minute crash research skim on the internet of UK anti-Semitism, it seems to be a nasty mess outside the UK Church. I would expect the trouble has leaked into the body there as well as things that migrate into the body here on the west coast of the ocean between us.

I speculate that relationships must be strained from what you haven’t said. Your comments of potentially two camps interested about anti-Semetism was interesting. Some other folks who may not perceive the embarrassing history of hate between Jews and Christians may think that anti-Semitism is a new / old problem that has a bearing on endtimes. On the contrary, I think the opportunities for reconciliation and bridge building are more available and needed than ever. It would be helpful if the Church could be light and love to our ancestors of faith we are grafted upon. It is a toxic world of hate in the UK and USA where we witness uncivilized hate against Jewish brothers in our own countries. It is much worse in some places of the world, but we have some semblance of concern in our own countries to cut out the cancer before it overtakes us.
-Or we don’t really care.

Shalom,
Brian

Thank you Alex, (ICT is indeed broad (especially after “C” was incorporated into “IT”.)
But to be more specific, I am looking at how to best use technology to reach Millennials.

I’m also trying to fathom how to utilise the “other 167 hours in a week”, between Sunday’s. [aka - www.prochurchtools.com web site.]

Would it be possible to run a cell group / fellowship group / whatever term is used by that church using technology? [Like I am led to believe “Everyday Questions”? (But I can’t get details on how that actually works.)]

Also this very ‘Ask RZIM’ forum is great for me. But could it work in a church setting? e.g. “Ask the pastor”?

All of this Without incurring massive resources or money. [I can’t get our elders to invest in a web site… yet!]

Thank you
Bill

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I have heard people say that marriage is a metaphor for Christ being joined with the “bride” of the church so it is a holy and sacred covenant. In the old testament when people had several wives, what was the purpose of marriage for them? Jesus had not come yet and they did not know him.

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Hey Brian,

Thanks for responding to this - it’s nice to have a conversation about this with you. Reading through my initial post, I realise I could have been more clear in articulating what I was trying to do. Sorry about that! Our views on Israel will determine the significance we attribute toward anti-semitism. So, I think it’s important to talk about how different Christians think about Israel differently. All Christians would agree that the Jews are a special group of people by virtue of being used by God historically. Similarly, all Christians would agree that the Jews are due the dignity and worth of all humans, by virtue of bearing the image of God.

However, not all Christians agree on the place and position of the ethnic Jews in the ends times. Some think that the Jews have their own covenant alongside the church, climaxing in their re-entry into Jerusalem and the building of their temple. Some think that the Jews failed in their vocation, forfeiting God’s promises to them through the prophets, only to be replaced by the church. Others sit somewhere in the middle, thinking of the Jews as God’s grace-chosen agent through which he desired to act in history, and because of which they hold a special place in the kingdom of God (though, again, Christians disagree on what that special place is; whether it is metaphorical or literal, etc). There’s no shortage of options. But it is important to articulate this first, because a person’s view on the significance of Israel will determine what they make of anti-semitism.

Also, you’re so right - there has been a lot of talk about anti-Semitism within the UK more broadly. It was in politics and covered by the media, particularly earlier this year. As followers of Jesus, we need to be vigilant so that such sentiment doesn’t enter into the church. It is lamentable the degree of violence conducted against the Jews, particularly noting the attack on the synagogue in Pittsburgh last year.

The evils of anti-Semitism are not new either - you’re right to note! It seems to peep its head every so often, most notably in the 20th century. People like Martin Luther - a father of the Reformation, really - himself was accused of being anti-Semitic on account of the way he read the book of Galatians. Anti-Semitism shows itself in multiple ways, and we should be cautious to avoid it and quick to mourn it.

Blessings, brother,
Alex

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Hello Alex. I would like to ask whether genetic engineering like the use of CRISPR is biblical. Thank you.

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I want to study bible what can I do

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