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Opening The Word

October 31, 2016
Opening The Word

Dr. Edward M. Keazirian, Th.D.
Assistant Professor of Greek
and Director of the Greek Language Program

"After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, 'If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.'” (Matthew 4:2–3).

So, what’s wrong with making bread? Look, this isn’t exactly rocket science: You’re hungry and a guy’s gotta eat, right? No big deal. Go ahead. It’s just bread.

Well, apparently Jesus thought it was a big deal––a big enough deal that he confronts the tempter with an answer from Scripture, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4 quoted from Deuteronomy 8:3).

This is just the first of three temptations Jesus will face in his encounter with Satan, but it is the most important for anyone who aspires to follow Christ. In this first skirmish, Jesus defines by word and deed the essence, authority and role of Scripture for every disciple. When Jesus quotes the text from Deuteronomy, he is reminding himself––and affirming for his disciples––that the words of Scripture are in essence the very words of God. It is not that the Scripture contains the word of God or that in human experience it somehow becomes the word of God, but rather the words written in
Scripture actually are God’s own words. These words are, as is all of Scripture, God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16).

Similarly, Jesus affirms that Scripture, as the Word of God, is truth and is endowed with the full authority of God. Therefore, he and his disciples after him are to believe and obey the Scriptures. Even Satan understands that God’s Word is supremely true and authoritative, and so his first tactic is always to cast doubt on God’s Word: “Did God really say, . . .” (Genesis 3:1) or “If you are the Son of God, . . .” (Matthew 4:3). Thus, every temptation ultimately tests our allegiance to the word and authority of God. 

Rather than question God’s Word, Jesus uses the Scripture to dispel doubt. Jesus relies upon the Scripture as the basis for his preaching and teaching (doctrine), for reprimanding Satan (rebuke), for reestablishing proper belief and behavior (correction), and for continuing education and maturation (training in righteousness). Jesus thus demonstrates in his own life the role that Scripture should play in the life of every disciple and every church (2 Timothy 3:16). 

So, what’s wrong with making bread? Nothing, unless it leads you to betray your God, your identity, and your destiny. And that is exactly what was at stake for Jesus. Satan’s seemingly harmless suggestion that Jesus make himself some bread was just the first step in his strategy to dissuade Jesus from going to the cross and ultimately to eliminate the redemptive work of Christ. Satan is still out there seeking ways to destroy those who follow Christ. Therefore, as disciples and as those making disciples, we must by our words and deeds accord the same identity, authority and role to Scripture that Christ himself did. Our very survival depends upon it.

Dr. Edward M. Keazirian II, Assistant Professor of Greek and Director o the Greek Language Program, has a background in evangelism and discipleship through InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and the Navigators. He has also served as a minister of evangelism and discipleship in a local church. Currently, he is involved in multiple ministries in his church; is a guest speaker or churches, conferences and campus ministries; and is a member o the U.S. support organization or InterVarsity in the Philippines. He received M.Div. and Th.M. degrees rom Gordon-Conwell and a Th.D. rom Boston University School of Theology

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To Live in Justice: The Message of Amos For Today

October 24, 2016
To Live in Justice: The Message of Amos For Today

Eldin Villafane, Ph.D.
Senior Professor of Social Ethics

If there is one book in the Bible that speaks insightfully and relevantly to the issue of justice for our time, it is the book of Amos. At the heart of Amos’ message is the call to live in justice. Amos had a passion for justice. He was a prophet “par excellence” of social justice. The message of the book of Amos can be presented under three basic themes or theological motifs defined by justice, namely: (1) justice among the nations; (2) justice in the nation; and (3) justice and piety of a nation. We will look at each in turn.

1. Justice among the Nations

Amos begins by indicting various nations for their wickedness and injustice, beginning with the nation to the north of Israel (Syria), then moving on to the nations to the west (Philistia and Phoenicia), the south (Edom and Ammon), and the east (Moab), and finally indicting the sister nations, Judah and Israel.

In these early chapters and throughout the book of Amos, we are confronted by the fact that God calls all people, all nations to account for their behavior. God’s standards of justice are universal, for they are rooted in God’s righteousness, God’s holiness, yes, God’s character. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. puts it this way: “There was no monopoly held by any people, race or religion on righteousness; justice, goodness and truth were the standards for all mortals on planet earth or they would have to explain any deviations to Yahweh himself!"

It is important to note that the injustices committed by these nations are similar to the injustices that we tragically see today among the nations. Let me underline a few:

  • Damascus (Syria) is accused of cruelty, violence, and atrocities because she has “threshed Gilead with threshing sledges of iron” (1:3).
  • Gaza (Philistia) is accused of slave trading “because she took captive whole communities and sold them”(1: 6).
  • Tyre (Phoenicia) is accused of breaking a covenant or treaty “because she…disregarded a treaty of brotherhood” (1:9).
  • Ammon is accused of imperialism and atrocities “because he ripped open the pregnant women of Gilead in order to extend his borders” (1:13).

Lamentably, each one of these injustices can be seen in our day and contributes to the reason why we live in times of global crisis:

  • Cruelty and violence among nations have been institutionalized and commercialized by the modern “threshing sledges of iron” that represent the lucrative market of weapons or armaments of war.
  • The slave trade is the cruel experience of the Sudan in Africa, where entire ethnic groups are sold in the market. In other cases, just as cruel, young girls and boys are sold into slavery and prostitution by the Asiatic market and others.
  • The breaking of treaties is seen clearly in many nations whose loyalty is dictated, not by covenant or treaty among sovereigns, but by the sovereign and universal globalization of the market. Modern treaties are not worth the paper on which they are written if the “god” Mammon reigns!

Sooner or later, what the nations sow, that they shall reap. God is still sovereign—over creation (5:8), over history (9:7),over the nations (1:3 – 2:6). God demands justice among the nations!

2. Justice in the Nation

As often happens in the history of nations, political stability and economic prosperity brought about self-sufficiency and indifference among
the Israelites. But God placed a “plumb line” in Israel, with equal implications for Judah and for the nations. The “plumb line” revealed a society inclined toward idolatry, oppression, exploitation and violence—indeed, to injustice. Judgment would come on Israel, for,

"They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. They trample on the heads of the poor as upon the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed." (Amos 2:6-7) 

It is critically important for us today to understand that the standard of justice placed before the king and the dominant class (the governor, landowners, business people, judges and military), as well as all the people, is that of
Justice toward the poor. We will all be judged by how we treat the weakest members—this is the heart of Amos’s message. Why is this so? I believe that the teaching of Scripture is clear (in Amos as in the other prophets) that beyond God’s intrinsic love and championing for the stranger, widow, poor and needy lies also the reality of idolatry. As the commandments teach us: “I am the Lord your God…You shall have no other gods before me… for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God” (Exod. 20: 1-5).

While many of the Israelites may not have worshiped idols of wood or rock (as many may not today), yet they rendered “worship” to the god of wealth (Mammon). The desire and anxiety for riches (greed), an obsessive note in the lives of the dominant class, led to their oppression of the poor and needy and the corruption of the courts, the market, the religious system and the society at large. Washington Padilla reminds us that a central note of Amos was of “social injustice as the specific form that the sin of idolatry assumes in society. The lesson is clear: idolatry is at the heart of social injustice and the eventual downfall of a nation.

"But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never- falling stream." (Amos 5: 24)

A central concern in the book of Amos, and in all the biblical teaching about society, is that God has a passionate concern for justice for all—especially the poor, the weak and the oppressed members of society. God demands justice in
the nation!

3. Justice and Piety of a Nation

The Israelites had forsaken the needy and oppressed. They pretended to worship the true God by the multitude of their offerings and gifts. They even excelled in the composing of music for temple worship (6: 5). There was a form of revival—yes, the temples were crowded yet it was an abomination to God. Listen to God’s words:

"I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream." (Amos 5:21-24)

Throughout Scripture we can find important truths
about worship that relate authentic worship to our behavior toward the poor and oppressed. The words of Amos are echoed by the prophet Isaiah when he says:

"Is such the fast that I choose a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this the fast I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice…to let the oppressed go free…? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; When you see the naked, to cover them and not to hide yourself from
your own kin?" (Isa. 58: 5-7)

The fast or worship that pleases our God is accompanied by acts of mercy and justice toward the poor, the broken and the oppressed. Furthermore, such true worship has the great promises of God’s blessings. The prophet Isaiah continues:

"Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer…The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail." (Isa. 58: 8-9, 11)

There is a seamless relationship between ethical behavior and true worship, between justice and piety. Who we are and how we behave are intimately related in our giving worth to our God. For true worship, whether expressed in our daily walk or in a building called a temple or church, must be “in spirit and truth” (John 4:23). In the New Testament, for example, we find these profound and disturbing words in Matthew 25:42-45:

For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.” They will also answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?” He will reply, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”

There is a great mystery here, for as we serve with justice the poor and needy in our midst, we are in a deep yet spiritually profound sense doing it to the Lord. We are ascribing worth to our Lord. We are worshiping him. May our worship be in spirit and in truth. May we in our worship live in justice!

Eldin Villafañe, Ph.D.,Professor of Christian Social Ethics, was Founding Director of Gordon-Conwell’s Boston campus, the Center for Urban Ministerial Education (CUME) and also Associate Dean for Urban and Multicultural Affairs. He has served as a visiting professor at Harvard Divinity School, held leadership positions with his denomination and in Hispanic theological associations, and ministered in the urban setting as Minister of Education at the Iglesia Cristiano Juan3:16 in the Bronx in New York City, then the nation’s largest Hispanic church. He holds an M.A. from Wheaton Graduate School of Theology and a Ph.D. from Boston University

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Politics and Christian Faith in an Election Year

October 20, 2016
Politics and Christian Faith in an Election Year

By Dennis Hollinger, Ph.D.
President & Colman M. Mockler
Distinguished Professor of Christian Ethics

The relationship of Christian faith to political life is part of a larger theological issue: namely, the relationship of God’s Kingdom to the kingdoms of this world. The kingdoms of this world include various social institutions (i.e. economics, education, entertainment), but clearly the political sphere is the one with the greatest power in society by virtue of its ability to enact and enforce laws, and to preserve order and peace.

Through the ages Christians have had varying views on how to relate the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world, particularly the political dimension. Some have seen the two spheres in such opposition that withdrawal or non-involvement is the only recourse. Others have believed that the kingdoms of this world, including the state, can be transformed towards the values and virtues of God’s Kingdom. And still others have held the two kingdoms in some kind of creative tension.

Wherever we land on that spectrum several observations can be made from a biblical perspective. First, the ultimate hope of Christians is not found in the state and the political process, but in the Triune God. Second, we do belong to both kingdoms, for Jesus said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mk. 12:17). Moreover, we are called by Christ to be light, salt and leaven in the world, and that includes the kingdoms of this world. There are various ways that Christians carry out that leavening process, but in a democracy voting in elections (national, state and local) is clearly one of them.

So the question naturally emerges for Christians, “How should I vote?” I would suggest three sets of criteria to guide believers as they go to the voting booth on election days. 

The Character of the Candidates 

Scripture clearly lays out specific criteria for Church leaders, and character is at the heart of those requirements (I Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9). But can we expect the same for political leaders operating in the sphere of the earthly kingdoms? History and experience certainly point towards the significance of character virtues for political leaders, such as: integrity, trustworthiness, personal morality, courage and kindness. These character traits are significant because leaders by nature are an example to others, and thus the tone of a whole society is set by the virtues or vices of its leaders. In addition, good governing requires trust among the various constituents of a society, and trust cannot be established without high character among those governing.

Aristotle, the ancient philosopher argued that character was one of the primary means of persuasion. In his classic work on Rhetoric he saw persuasion established by three elements: ethos (character of the speaker), pathos (emotional influence) and logos (logical arguments). If indeed the character of a person is essential to persuasion, then its applicability to political life is evident. Personal virtues inevitably manifest themselves in actions and are essential for all forms of leadership, including politics.

The Positions of the Candidates

When we explore the positions of political candidates we quickly recognize that as Christians we must often break with conventional politics. As believers we must hold together commitments that frequently are not held together by the major political parties. For example, Scripture is clear that followers of Christ must care for the poor and for the intrinsic dignity of human life from beginning to end. Similarly Christians must be committed to justice, including racial justice, and to freedom of religion. Christians believe that the family, as defined by Scripture, is a bedrock of society and also believe that personal freedom flows from being made in God’s image. These kinds of commitments are not frequent bedfellows in today’s political world.

In sorting through these issues we should recognize the difference between our ethical commitments and the strategies for attaining them. For example, Christians may agree on the importance of poverty alleviation, and yet may recommend differing strategies for attaining their goals.

All of this demonstrates that politics is complex in discerning our commitments, the best strategies to achieve those commitments, and in deciding on which candidate best reflects the positions we hold dear. Rarely will we get everything we want in a single candidate. This should not surprise Christians, for we believe that humans are finite and fallen, and our best efforts (even righteous and just ones) fall short of God’s designs. In politics we make not absolute moral judgments, but prudential judgments, discerning the best we can get, but frequently accompanied by positions we reject.

The competencies of the Candidates

A final set of criteria in how we vote is the competencies for the job. Here we explore skills, past experiences, knowledge, and temperament to carry out the vast, complicated requirements of political life. Christians care about competencies, because God desires that humans flourish in all dimensions of our existence, and political aptitude is essential for enabling the political process to function well for the common good. Competencies for public life are particularly essential in today’s world because foreign policy, domestic challenges, and the political process are highly complex, requiring vast understanding, astute leadership qualities and a temperament to work with varying and even opposing parties and positions.

One issue that arises in the competency criterion is whether Christians should favor fellow Christians in how they vote. This question was posed to the late Chuck Colson in a lecture he gave at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary on the eve of a national election several elections ago. Colson, I believe, responded wisely when he said, “You should never vote for someone simply because they are a Christian, because they may be totally incompetent to carry out the job. Being a Christian does not ensure political capabilities.” No one person will ever have all the capacities needed for the job, and thus part of their competency set should be the ability to draw on the wisdom, experiences, and knowledge of others.


From these sets of criteria it is clear that Christians will never get all they hope and pray for in any single candidate or political party. It is frequently noted that politics is the art of compromise, not necessarily of our most deeply held principles and virtues, but of the strategies for achieving those commitments, including sometimes the lesser of two evils in our voting. In politics there is frequently ambiguity and ambivalence in how we should vote. But that after all reminds us that politics is not the main thing in the Christian agenda. Our primary allegiance is to a Kingdom that far transcends the kingdoms of this world, but nonetheless gives us a framework and motivation for engaging the world--even the messy, embattled, yet noble world of politics.

Note: This essay was first presented in a forum on Christianity and Politics at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary on September 29, 2016. Dennis Hollinger, Ph.D. is the President and Colman M. Mockler Distinguished Professor of Christian Ethics at Gordon-Conwell.

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Domestic Violence In The Church

October 17, 2016
Domestic Violence In The Church

By Anne B. Doll,
Senior Communications Advisor

Approximately one in four women worldwide has suffered physical abuse by an intimate male partner, such as a husband or ex-husband. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the U.S., an estimated 1300 women die each year as a result of domestic violence, nearly 5.3 million incidents of interpersonal violence occur and approximately 2 million women are injured.

For churches, the statistics are equally sobering. Domestic violence “happens within and beyond communities of faith in approximately the same prevalence rates,” says Nancy Nason-Clark, Ph.D., Professor of Sociology at the University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, Canada.

Dr. Nason-Clark is also creator of the RAVE Project, a web-based series of resources that provides information and training for families of faith impacted by abuse. She has studied contemporary Christianity and violence for 20 years. “The numbers tell us there’s a significant problem that
we need to be positioned in the churches to do something about,” she notes. “But if one woman in one church is having this problem, then we need to be a safe refuge for her…“…There continues to be a holy hush that permeates many churches, and it only takes a few people to shatter that silence.”

In October of 2008, Pastor Timothy P. Philabaum, awakened to the gravity of domestic violence when Nancy addressed his Gordon-Conwell D.Min. residency. Returning to Zoar Lutheran Church in Perrysburg, OH, a congregation of some 650 worshippers that he has served for 31 years, he resolved to shine the light on domestic violence and enlist his members to help address it.

“I know there are abuse problems in my church,” the senior pastor says. “I have met with families experiencing domestic abuse. But what really galvanized me was when Nancy Nason-Clark came to the residency. Her web page (theraveproject.org) has a wonderful collection of resources for clergy and for women who are abused. I thought, ‘Here’s one way to put my faith and care into action.’”

To counter the “holy hush” surrounding domestic abuse, he has addressed this issue in sermons and the Sunday School throughout the year, when appropriate. “I really try to verbalize the word ‘abuse’ because it is such a hidden word, an unwanted word,” he says. His intent is to raise the consciousness of church members about domestic violence, and about resources that are available locally.

Behind the scenes, Pastor Tim maintains connections with leaders of domestic violence shelters in the Greater Toledo area, and has invited representatives from several shelters to his church to “share their issues—their people with our people.” This year, his church hosted an Unveiling Ceremony, during which officials from a local abuse shelter displayed full-size plywood silhouettes of women in Wood County who had died from domestic abuse. “We had a worship service, unveiled the silhouettes and read the names and stories of each of these women with all their families there. We have also had people from the Cocoon Shelter come to our place on an annual basis. They bring…their silhouettes, tell their story, raise money and keep connection.”

Members of his congregation have also stepped up to the plate to help the local shelters with material support, including money, food and clothing. One member has served on a shelter board. “There are people in our church who know about problems of abused women, and people who have family members [with abuse issues],” Pastor Tim explains. “Some already knew about the shelters and had some contact with them. I think our church has made a very caring response to this ministry.”

In addition, Zoar Church has instituted a practical alert system for women suffering abuse. Behind the doors in each stall in the women’s restrooms are small pieces of paper designed to be unobtrusively inserted into a woman’s shoe. Entitled “Do You Feel Safe?” the papers contain the name and phone number of a shelter, phone numbers of Pastor Timand the church’s female pastor, the RAVE Project website and other resources.

“What my staff and I still find intriguing is that I always put six papers behind each stall, and they disappear. None show up in the trash cans or are thrown around… We’ve come to the conclusion that they’re being taken, which is valuable…what I hope for. They’re obviously meeting a need. I have no idea who takes them. They’re designed to be anonymous.”

Dr. Nason-Clark says that it’s wonderful when pastors “shatter the silence” about domestic violence, because this gives immediate credibility to DV as an important issue, and also gives women permission to come forward. Moreover, “It says to those who would be violent that this will not be tolerated. It gives incredible support to those who are helping other victims, and it really changes the world of survivors because it says the church is walking with you.”

She notes that many women and men are very frightened to talk about domestic violence “because it challenges the notion that families of faith have it together… Somehow, people can cope with the notion that cancer can eat away at the body of a believer, but they have a lot of trouble understanding mental health issues and…issues of abuse. I think there is a resistance, and when I say that in Christian seminars and conferences, it gives a challenge to religious leaders to speak clearly and unequivocally that God does not support this kind of behavior.”

Nancy’s research has shown that women of faith often stay much longer in abusive relationships than those who are not. She encourages pastors to address this issue with women, because often they will say, “Until he touches the children, until he hurts the children, I will not leave.”

“When women are enduring abuse themselves, it is hurting the children. You cannot be a victim of domestic violence living in a household with your children and not have it impact them… If women are encouraged to see that the children are already being impacted, they’re more likely to believe that they should seek safety for themselves and the kids.”

Regarding the practice of some church leaders who insist, on scriptural grounds, that a woman must remain with an abusive husband, Nancy quotes her colleague and Gordon-Conwell professor, the late Dr. Catherine Clark Kroeger, with whom she collaborated on several books. “I can tell you how Cathy would handle that. I have been with her many times when she would say, ‘What do you do with the body bags?’ That would be her response.”

According to Pastor Tim, “Women [who are abused] feel powerless and unable to make a change. Or they are fearful of what might happen… In counseling women, my biggest issue is to trust the woman who has been abused. I need to listen carefully to her story and provide mercy. Safety for the woman and the kids is paramount.

A pastor also needs to know what kind of resources are in the community, to know who to call when someone calls you and says, ‘I’m having problems with my husband. Where are the contacts for the shelter or the YWCA or the safe houses?’” Dr. Nason-Clark says that “when pastors listen to women, they can respond to the questions that women are asking: ‘Why has God abandoned me?’ ‘I promised forever ‘til death do us part. Why is this taking place?’ ‘How can I be a better Christian?’ …Pastors need to be in a position to listen to what the heart cry is and respond with the toolkit that is available to them as a result of their training and knowledge of Scripture.

“Sometimes it’s as simple as praying with the victim without placing blame... Sometimes it’s giving them a selection of five or six passages to look over and think about… When pastors have an awareness of some of the dynamics of abuse, they are able to listen with ears that are attuned. And then they’re able to harness their repertoire of spiritual helps to offer a woman spiritual counsel. Some pastors do that. And when they do, it augments a survivor’s journey towards healing.”

Pastor Tim says that most of his counseling about domestic violence occurs with non-abusive, soon-to-be married couples during pre-marital conversations. And while he has experience in counseling congregants, the RAVE website gave him helpful resources on how he could better help a woman who is in trouble. He advises pastors to check out this website, and take some of its online training courses. “Of course, most pastors are not skilled in abuse counseling, so knowing what your referral possibilities are is vitally important.

Can change and reconciliation occur when each individual in an abusive situation receives professional domestic violence counseling? “It takes a lot of work,” he contends, “but we’re gospel people. There’s always hope. “And, for me, I would say clearly to my people, ‘God never takes delight in abuse of women, of children, of anyone…God never takes delight in abuse.’”

For nearly 10 years, Anne was the director of communications at Gordon-Conwell. Before making the trek from Ohio to Massachusetts, she worked in senior leadership positions in the health care field. Anne also co-founded a public relations firm that worked with major companies and hospitals across the country. As senior communications advisor, Anne manages the production of Contact and the Annual Report.

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The Cost of Following Jesus

October 11, 2016
The Cost of Following Jesus

By Anne B. Doll,
Senior Communications Advisor

When a Gordon-Conwell graduate returned to his native Ethiopia after completing his degree in New Testament, he knew full well he would face religious persecution. He had lived in its shadow for most of his life. “If you follow Christ, you should expect suffering,” he comments matter-of-factly. “We are all called to bear our cross. If our Lord was persecuted, who won’t be persecuted?”

Now the leader of a Christian school in Ethiopia, he accepted Christ in high school during Communism’s grip on Ethiopia. Throughout those perilous years, all churches were closed, and government-sponsored persecution prevailed.“ For 17 years, the persecution from the Communist regime was very, very difficult,” he recalls. “So many people were tortured, imprisoned and beaten. They were attacked because of their faith so that they would recant and say, ‘There is no God.’”

Those who refused to recant “paid a high price,” he adds. “So many people died during the Communist time.” As a university student, he and fellow Christians experienced intense persecution first-hand, especially from the Communist student association. “Because of the Communist ideology, we were not allowed to declare our faith, to worship God openly,” he explains. “We were not allowed to pray in the cafeteria or in our dormitories. We could not sing, or do anything that was religious, and we were highly followed by the student association.”

As a freshman, he faced a defining moment in his faith journey when he and several fellow Christians were called before the dean of students to face charges by the student association that they were “anti-Communism, unpatriotic and had been hired by imperialist America.” The purpose of the charges was to have the Christians dismissed from the university and even sent to prison. The night before their meeting with the dean, the students gathered to pray. Many were frightened, particularly because some of their friends, facing similar harassment, had abandoned their faith. The believers also knew that university expulsion would forestall any future opportunities for employment.

“That was scary personally for me,” he says. “At that time, I was a younger man. I trusted in the Lord. I believed in the Lord. I knew he was my Savior, and I did not believe in the Communist ideology. But now I was in a situation: to follow Jesus or deny my faith. The next day, when the group appeared before the dean, she looked at the list of accusations by the Communist student association and finally asked, “What are you going to say about this?” The students replied, “We will not deny your faith. We will not deny Christ. You can expel us from the university, but we will continue worshipping the Lord.”

Impressed by the students’ response, she commented, “I know that you are very faithful and honest students, and they are jealous of you—jealous of your performance. So the only thing I would advise you is: please be wise in your worship and don’t expose yourself to these dangers.”

The alumnus suffered yet another assault when he graduated from the university. Included in a standard reference letter affirming that he had met all requirements was an addendum: “But we want to mention that he is a follower of a cult.” Evangelicals were seen as cultists. Looking back, he says that growing up under Communism “was good, because it refined our faith. It purified us. At that time, we were worshipping underground. Many people lost their eyes. Their arms were amputated. Some paid their lives. We have experienced all of this.”

When Communism fell in 1991, millions of Ethiopians came to the Lord—approximately 14 percent of the population. But persecution did not end. Today in Ethiopia, two religious groups are recognized as official religions: the35 percent comprising the traditional Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and the 35 to 40 percent who are Muslims. Persecution is waged by both groups when their members convert to Christianity. As he says, “The two groups call it ‘sheep stealing.’”Converts from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church are ostracized, threatened, attacked and beaten, and their homes are burned, especially in rural areas. Converts from Islam face even harsher persecution.

“The Lord is bringing thousands of Muslim converts into his Kingdom,” he explains. “When these Muslims become Christians, they experience serious persecution from their family members and friends.” Persecution can include ostracism—a hardship in a country where identity is found in the community. Converts may also suffer loss of property such as cattle, destruction of their harvests and the burning of their homes. “If again they endure,” he says, “the radical Islamic fundamentalists tell the local authorities that the converts are anti-government so that they can be imprisoned. All this so that people will abandon their beliefs.

“New believers are cautioned not to expose their faith and immediately join a local evangelical church, and some continue to attend services in their mosques, becoming part of what he calls an “Insider’s Movement.” But if new believers are identified, they are warned by Christians not to stay in the area because some converts have been poisoned. Others have disappeared and are assumed dead.

“Islam is a very, very strong religion,” he comments. “People are like in iron bars. It’s very hard to penetrate. But what is happening in Ethiopia is that some people are coming to the Lord through dreams and visions. Sometimes the Lord himself appears and tells them this is the right way.” He says this happened recently to a young college student. “She was tied with a strong rope and somehow the Lord untied her in the night, and she escaped through a window. She took a bus and came to the city and asked the Christians for shelter.” Eventually, her new Christian friends may be able to send her back to college.

“Muslim converts in Ethiopia nowadays are paying a high, high price,” he says. “The most important thing is to help them endure through this persecution. It’s knowing the truth. Once they see the light, it is very hard for them to turn their backs. So when they come out of Islam, our graduates who are ministering to Muslims tell them that following Jesus has a cost. They warn them, ‘You will be persecuted.’ But compared to knowing Jesus and the price they pay, it is nothing.”

How do Ethiopian Christians like this Gordon-Conwell graduate hold firm under such persecution? “The Holy Spirit helps you to stand in those difficult circumstances,” he replies. “When you make that decision [to stand], you know that there is nothing above the Lord, that if they take your property, they kill you, absolutely your life is in the hands of the Lord. As the Apostle Paul says in Romans 8, ‘nothing will separate [you] from the love of Christ.’ “So it’s knowing God. It’s knowing His love and what He paid on the cross, the price He paid for us in redeeming us. It’s having a Heavenly mindset, knowing that you are in God’s Kingdom, that this earthly kingdom is temporary and that this persecution will pass.”

He urges fellow Christians to pray for their brothers and sisters in Eritrea, where severe persecution by the government is rampant, and 3,500 are imprisoned for their faith in Jesus. He also seeks prayer for his school. Many students come from poor churches that cannot support them, and occasionally go for several days without food. After graduation, they return to the same poor churches and serve without pay. Teachers at the school also suffer privation. But what sustains them, he says, is “the fruit we see. Our graduates go out, and they minister the Lord. And when we see the Kingdom of God stretched across Ethiopia and other countries because of the ministry of our graduates, it keeps us going. We need your prayers.”

For nearly 10 years, Anne was the director of communications at Gordon-Conwell. Before making the trek from Ohio to Massachusetts, she worked in senior leadership positions in the health care field. Anne also co-founded a public relations firm that worked with major companies and hospitals across the country. As senior communications advisor, Anne manages the production of Contact and the Annual Report. 

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When The Pastor Suffers From Depression

October 04, 2016
When The Pastor Suffers From Depression

By Raymond Pendleton, Ph.D.
Director of the Clinical Counseling Program & Professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling

Recently, I had the privilege of reconnecting with an old friend and former student. As we sat at lunch, he told me what had taken place in his life during the past few months. He is a man in his early fifties, married with children, and a pastor for many years since he completed seminary. As I listened to his story, it became all too familiar.

In his most recent pastorate, he had served for several years with a good measure of success and satisfaction. He recounted that for most of his life he had experienced bouts of depression but had always been able to put his head down and charge forward. Eventually, the depression would lift, and he would be able to go on as before with the work of ministry. However, this time it was different. After a long holiday season that seemed to require more energy than usual, he experienced a return of the depression that was more serious and debilitating than any previous episode.

In conversation with the lay leadership of the congregation, they agreed together that he should take some time and get some professional help to work through the depression. He found a very helpful counselor who was able to help him identify a series of traumatic losses and disappointments throughout much of his early life. He described several “breakthrough experiences” that became the source of relief and healing. He was feeling free and able to move forward with ministry again. In fact, he felt that he was more ready than ever before to engage the tasks of the pastorate.

The bombshell came when he sat with the leadership of the congregation and they asked him to resign, feeling that they wanted a more energetic presence in the pulpit and as a leader of worship. He was stunned, to put it mildly, but he had no choice but to capitulate to the irrequest/demand. As a testament to his recent healing experience, he was able to deal with this body blow with a sense of balance and reasonable calm but without sinking into a depression.

It would be a wonderful thing if this pastoral experience was unique, but it is not unusual for untrained people to see depression as something to be avoided and to be judged as a malady that disqualifies a Christian from service. A mythology is often extant that Christians should not be depressed. These folks should not read the life of Haddon Spurgeon, the famous English preacher, or the lives of many biblical characters who suffered from this mood disorder.

As a teacher of Pastoral Counseling, I spend a significant portion of the introductory course talking about depression, its etiology and the various approaches to treatment. Students need to be prepared to deal with depression in their own lives as well as the experience of depression in the lives of the congregations to whom they minister, since it is clear that pastors are a primary source for caregiving. When a person comes to consult with a pastor, it is important that the pastor be able to recognize the issues with which this individual is struggling and be able to make appropriate intervention. At the same time, I tell my students that they are always responsible for the spiritual nurture of those in their care.

In their recent book, New Light on Depression, David Biebel and Harold Koenig describe four types of depression: (1) situational depression, (2) developmental depression, (3) biological depression and (4) spiritual depression. David Biebel is a teacher, speaker and seminary graduate with a Doctor of Ministry degree. Harold Koenig is a board certified psychiatrist. Their book is a very helpful treatment of the varieties of depression and the possibilities for help that are available. The reality, I tell my students, is that anyone can become depressed. The issue is to recognize that depression is not a statement of spiritual failure. Depression happens! Pastors, lay leaders and those who provide counsel to individuals and families must be well trained to recognize the symptoms of various levels of depression and have sufficient knowledge of the resources available to respond to the particular needs of the person.

Dr. Raymond Pendleton, Professor of Pastoral Psychology and Director of Mentored Ministry, is President of the Willowdale Center for Psychological Services in Hamilton, MA. He chairs the board of FOTOS (Fish On The Other Side), a ministry to people struggling with gender identity, and is a board member of Hagar’s Sisters, a ministry to families experiencing domestic abuse. He teaches on marriage and family life for conferences and congregations. He holds an M.A. from Auburn University and a Ph.D. from Boston University

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