Learning It the Hard Way

I recently had the privilege of addressing the Minister’s Meeting of the Church of God in Ontario, under the leadership of its Administrative Bishop, the Rt. Rev. George Peart (that’s right, Anglicans, Rt. Rev.) It was a really wonderful gathering, and I was able to address the ministers about lay and men’s ministries.

We have always said that one of the great things about Pentecostal churches is that they are inherently multicultural, and the Churches of God in Ontario reflect that. The majority of them are West Indian, with additional contributions from East Indian and a few Caucasian churches.

Most North Americans consider the West Indies a great tourist destination but not much else. However, working in the Church of God, I have found our West Indian bretheren some of the best, and their culture a treasure, and so this meeting was a special treat. Those of you who spend time on this site know that the "islands" are something of an obsession to me, from my stories of cruising in the Bahamas to The Island Chronicles. But being with these people brought back memories of an interesting incident that took place on a visit to England thirty years ago.

When things were slow, I watched the BBC. Now they were covering a "test match" of cricket between the English team and the West Indian team. (The photo I use as a cover for the Positive Infinity New Testament, shown above, shows the Nassau harbour lighthouse with the cricket ground in the foreground.) The West Indians were consistently the victors, so the Beeb dispatched a reporter to find out why they were being beaten at their own game. They interviewed the West Indian captain and his answer was simple: "We learned it the hard way." Without the fancy cricket grounds of England, the West Indians were forced to do with what they had, and the result was that they were better at the sport than the people who invented it.

Americans’ attitude towards people who learn "the hard way" is decidedly mixed these days. On the one hand we love an underdog story of someone who comes with many disadvantages and achieves something great. On the other hand we are afraid for our children to have to experience any hardship. For the last quarter century the Boomers and their successors and assigns have been obsessed with getting the children they have into the "best" schools and driving them (literally in many cases) from one high-commitment activity to another. Some of our schools have banned certain sports (like dodgeball and tag) to make sure that neither their self-images nor their bodies suffer any injuries. The environments that children are raised in are so clean that their immune systems are impaired, leading to growing rates of asthma, food allergies and other auto-immune conditions.

Such trends are reflected in our churches. In conservative churches, we see the growth of "prosperity teaching" and other like trends which tell us that we don’t have to "suffer for Jesus" or anything else, that prosperity is our right. Liberal churches continue their drift into sappy universalism (click here to find out how I was cured of that) and "anything is okay" morality.

But the truth is that the world we live in is as imperfect and sinful as the one that Our Lord came into many years ago. And, although we affirm that Jesus Christ’s sacrifice was one and sufficient for the remission of sins, we also recognise that while in the world bad things will happen and that we must respond to them rather than go into denial and pretend they do not exist. In this respect the Islamic challenge is a healthy reminder of this, but it’s sometimes hard to see what lessons we are learning from it.

But while the West wallows in its own effeteness, the rest of the world struggles with economic deprivaton and a daily challenge to survive. More of this world is Christian–evangelical and Pentecostal–than many realise. Those who come to North America bring energy and desire that is decidedly lacking in the natives. In spite of the fact that those natives are given the best opportunities on the planet, there’s no guarantee that they will prevail in the world marketplace, which is one reason for the lacklustre opposition to illegal immigration.

It works this way in the church, too. Christianity is becoming a Third World religion faster than those in the "West" care to admit. It is no longer the "white man’s religion" because, as I was reminded in Ontario, white people are abandoning at as the rest of the world embrces it. In the Anglican world, the Africans and others–including, not accidentally, the Province of the West Indies–are giving the Episcopal, ACC and CoE a fit, and justifiably so. If missionaries followed weapons and traders in the West’s colonial exploits, what’s to keep the reverse from happening from the Third World? The Islamicists are hoping it will be them, but they’d first better deal with the erosion of their position in places such as Indonesia. There is a serious possibility that the West will lose its nerve in defending its own civilisation against the Islamic onslaught. But same Islamicists need to watch their backside, too, as they face the real "crusaders" in the world, the people that learned it the hard way.

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