I Owe You

On Tuesday [March 29] I went with Bishop Mbanda and a few other pastors to a small village in the surrounding mountains. I can’t remember the name of the village because I couldn’t pronounce it, but we visited one location of the 300 Shyira Diocese churches as well as one of the 52 Shyira schools. They had a confirmation ceremony for about 30 new Christians, and as a lifelong member of a Baptist church that was a new experience for me. Additionally, the entire ceremony was in the native language, Kinyarwanda, which means that I understood nothing about what was happening at any point in the 4-5 hours that we were there. However, I was a guest of honor and was allowed to sit down front in the shade since the ceremony was outside. (Imana Ishimwe = Praise be to God)

Inside Local church

Inside the local church.

Not only did I grow up in a Baptist church, but I also attended and graduated from a Baptist University in Arkansas. I learned everything about Baptist History from the single greatest Baptist History professor on the planet, Terry Carter. The fact is, I probably know more about other world religions than I do about other Christian denominations, and I need to learn a lot more about Anglican doctrine and church structure. I love to see Christians belonging to different denominations and co-existing as one body of Christ and serving together for the same biblical purposes. I don’t believe there’s a reason for anyone to have an issue, but for some reason there are people who have negative hang-ups when it comes to other churches or denominations that are different from what they’re used to. I want to make it clear that even though I’ve been immersed in the “Baptist world” my whole life, I do not bleed Southern Baptist or place any single denomination on a pedestal. While I am excited to serve in Rwanda for so many reasons, one of the things that I love the most about this opportunity is that I am (by church membership) a Southern Baptist committed to work for two years with an Anglican Church — in Rwanda. I am thankful for churches and Christian leaders who: (a) Intentionally grow within a multicultural community, and (b) Intentionally partner with believers and churches across various denominations. I hope to be an example for some in America, but also for believers in Rwanda as well. I expect to grow (a lot) in my understanding and view of the global church. In a few communities I know of it would be a miracle of God if two different BAPTIST churches served together and supported one another as Christians should! But all joking aside, unless a person or church is blatantly preaching a false gospel — any message other than what the Bible proclaims — then I believe it’s healthy to have diversity in thought, interpretation, doctrine, ceremony, and tradition. Regarding the Anglican Church in Rwanda, it’s exciting for me to learn about their church doctrine, church structure (model of church leadership), and church tradition. There may be times when I disagree with certain aspects of doctrine or church structure, but I don’t fully agree with everything about Baptist doctrine either. No denomination is fallacy-proof, yet we should learn from one another and work together as “biblical churches,” full of Christ-followers who highly esteem the Bible and live to glorify God through knowing and doing his will. Just so you know, the Anglican Church in Rwanda, and the Shyira Diocese in particular, are very evangelical. Every pastor or lay leader I’ve met — regardless of their level of education — is focused solely on shepherding and feeding the flock God has given them. Without a doubt they are eager to grow and learn how to lead well from an intellectual standpoint, but you can know all the theology in the world and not have what it takes to lead a church. To be honest, I’m somewhat surprised to discover such a high quality group of leaders. A Sunday School answer and simple Christian fact that we all know and believe is, "Yes! Of course God can use anyone with faith, humility, and a willingness to seek the Lord and serve the church with all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength." Well, apparently I forgot that Jesus used a bunch of uneducated teenagers to found and lead his church on earth. Thanks for the reality check, God. Thanks for bringing me encouragement and joy from meeting leaders who are disciplined and focused on their calling, who love people and are seeking to do the will of God in all things.

Bishop & Pastors getting ready

Bishop Mbanda (middle), Christophe (right) - Head of Christian Education and one guy I work closely with

"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free" - Galatians 5:1

 The book of Galatians is about what it means to live as a Christian and to be freed from the power of sin because of Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead. We are no longer slaves to sin; rather, we have been made both righteous by God and right with God. That also means that our relationships with other people can be restored or made right. We don’t have to be divided, angry, prideful, or full of hate and discontent towards other people. Christ set us free so that we could actually be free from sin, but being freed from something implies that one has gained the freedom to do something else. Paul also used a good amount of ink in the book of Romans to write about Christian freedom through Christ and how//how not to use that freedom in relation to other people — namely, in relation to other Christians. If "the wages of sin is death,"  then death is owed to every person who has ever lived because "all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory." But "the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord" and "all are justified freely by [God’s] grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus," (Romans 3:23-24; 6:23). Jesus took what was owed to us (death for sin) and paid the debt for us (freedom from sin). If the cost of sin means death and Jesus took the totality of sin upon himself, then ultimately it was sin that killed him. But we know that he did what only God in the flesh could do by resurrecting from the dead and beating death. Jesus was perfect and never incurred a debt for sinning, but:

"God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Now check out what Paul wrote in Romans 13:8

"Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law."

 Didn’t Jesus himself claim to be the fulfillment of the Old Testament law? [Yes, he did…Matthew 5:17-20] The most important thing to realize is that Jesus paid the only outstanding debt that he owed ….. LOVE! Jesus paid this debt to “love one another” in the most complete sense as he was motivated by love for his people and died to set them free them from sin, and by loving others he fulfilled the law. Like Jesus, we do not owe anyone what they deserve to be paid. If someone sins against us we do not have the freedom to “give them what they’ve got coming.” Regardless of your opinion or conviction, the only thing we owe one another is, what? ….. LOVE! Paul points to Jesus in Romans 15:1-3 as the ultimate and only example of true love. Jesus was the God-man who humbled himself and was patient with people in their weakness, and who showed the greatest possible amount of mercy and compassion by literally “becoming” the totality of universal sin and dying on a cross. If Jesus died for us while we were still sinners then surely we can love one another who are in Christ, having knowledge of the hope that he is always at work in and through us.

Bishop, Archdeacon, and pastors … Being from Arkansas, I know what hot weather is. It was hot out there and every one of these guys wore a suit and tie without sweating. I was drenched.

Let me bridge the gap between Tuesday’s trip to the mountains, my time with some Rwandan church leaders, and what I’ve written about our freedom in Christ and the love we owe one another. Will I have to wear a white collar that shows right below my Adam’s apple and a gold “Jesus piece” necklace if I want to preach or work with Anglican pastors here in Rwanda?? No, I won’t. And my Rwandan brothers and sisters welcome me as a fellow servant of Christ and one who is working to advance the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth, regardless of differences in language, culture, or denominational church background. Of course, I will always dress appropriately for any occasion  and respect the culture and environment that I am in. But the point I’m making is that I’m not expected to conform and abide by any specific (and legalistic) rules or guidelines. That shows the freedom and diversity we have in Christ, and love for one another is given and received at both ends. Above all, God is glorified through the living, loving, and united church made up of people from various nations. It’s not an Anglican, Baptist, or any other kind of man-made church. It’s Christ’s church — the one he loved and gave himself for, the many members and one Body of which he rules supremely as the head. People from every nation have been given the gift of freedom to love one other and worship God together, and although in Rwanda  we don’t always understand one another or speak the same language, we are bound together by the love of God that can rarely be expressed in words anyway.

The whole village sat through the ceremony. That’s good community.

30 new followers of Jesus and church members on the biggest day of their lives.

Bishop Mbanda laying hands and praying for each new believer individually.

New Christians sharing in Communion for the first time.

This was hanging on the wall in the pastor’s house. I love it. It may be basic, but these men really cherish their role as pastors and have a heart to shepherd of God’s people.

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