View print-optimized version | View pdf of bulletin

Sunday, June 24, 2018 | 9:30 and 11:00 a.m.

The Holistic Mission of the Church
in the Time of Crisis

Dr. Andrea Zaki
President, Protestant Churches of Egypt

Psalm 146
Isaiah 1:16–17
Acts 2:42–47

We declare God’s praise and reclaim the present for the God to whom it belongs. We are liberated to live in the present where God’s newness is at work—undaunted, undiminished, unintimidated, free, powerful, joyous.

Walter Brueggemann, A Gospel of Hope

We are living in a very difficult time. The economic crisis in the world, terrorism, climate change, manipulation, political instability, and religious extremism are all contributing to the current difficult context.

One could say that this is the mark of each age and, even when we study the context of the early church where this passage of Acts comes from, we will find a context which could be to a great extent similar to our context today.

In the time of the early church, there were persecutions, economic sanctions on believers, poverty, and political oppression. However, one cannot deny that the context we live in today is similar, though different from one country to another.

Let me share with you, as one body of Christ and as dear brothers and sisters, the kind of challenges that Egypt—my country—and Egyptian Christians—my people—are facing.

●      ●     ●

The whole world is facing the dreadful face of terrorism. Egypt’s role has been very strong in combating those ideas and forces, and we believe that many countries are in support, especially after true realization of this common enemy.  

Egypt has witnessed several terrorist attacks, such as bombing and burning churches and the violation of some Coptic families. Most of these terrorist attacks are targeting churches, but also government officials, police, and military officers. But as in the early church time, Egyptian Christians are strengthened, and the church is growing in faith amidst all these attacks.

●      ●     ●

The Egyptian economy was heavily influenced and has been affected by dramatic political changes that occurred in Egyptian society.

Egypt is facing major economic challenges as a result of external loans, consecutive crises that have affected many Egyptian sectors, such as tourism and flow of investment. This resulted in increased taxes and customs, the devaluation of the pound, and the Egyptian currency depreciation against the dollar and removal of subsidies. Millions are suffering and under the poverty line.

●      ●     ●

We need to understand carefully the context we live in so that we can apply the Word of God effectively, as well as properly. To understand the context means that we go beyond the problems to the root causes of these problems.

There is a story—which I cannot forget—from one of the villages where we used to do development and social work. One day we found many children had diarrhea, and that some of them were close to death. The council of the village met and decided to open two new clinics to deal with the problem, but surprisingly the problem was not solved. Many more children suffered from diarrhea, and the situation became worse and worse. The council met again, and when they started to analyze the situation they discovered that there was a pool of dirty water in the entrance of the village where flies and mosquitoes lived, which were carrying the virus to the children. The council decided to clean the area, and the result was that the children got better.  When we become aware of the root cause of a problem, we can find the right solution.

I believe that the early church in Acts had a clear understanding of the root causes of the problems of their context, and their message was directly targeted to the needs of the community at that time. This passage from Acts indicates three main ideas:  the teaching of the apostles; partnership; and social responsibility.

●      ●     ●

The teachings of the apostles were based on the life of Jesus.

  • The humanistic aspect of the life of Jesus.
  • Jesus’ miracles were a response to the needs of the people—the story of transfiguration tells us how Jesus left the glory up on the mountain and went down to heal a human who was in need.
  • Jesus was open to the “other”—the good Samaritan.
  • Jesus was committed to his mission.

In the early church there was always a connection between doctrine and action and this can explain to us the authority of the teaching in Acts.

●      ●     ●

Partnership was based on the early church’s awareness of its identity. They believed that they were the remaining faithful in Israel and all prophesies of the Old Testament were fulfilled in the Messiah. Resurrection was the window where they were able to reread the life of Jesus and understand his mission in a prophetic way. In that context they celebrated with the sharing of bread and experienced the power of prayer.

The Lord’s Supper was a meal where they came and ate together. In this meal there were no poor and rich, educated and illiterate, male and female, elites and grassroots people. Everyone was equal and they ate together as the people of God.

Prayer was a common practice, and they believed in the power of prayer. They became aware that their actions were also a part of God’s response to prayer. You cannot pray for the poor if you are not ready to give some of your money to those in need and you cannot pray for people’s salvation if you are not ready to participate in evangelistic campaigns. You and I are part of God’s response to prayer.

As a result of this partnership, the miracles continued, new people joined the Church, and major social responsibilities were carried out.

●      ●     ●

It is clear from the Bible, from many Old Testament teachings, that Christians have a social responsibility.

  • God cares about the poor and the oppressed. (Deuteronomy 15:7-11)
  • God acts by devising programs to reduce increasing inequality between the rich and the poor—such as a Jubilee year when everyone could return to their original land, which might have been lost. (Leviticus 25:10-17)
  • God encourages action by crediting righteousness to one who promotes justice and acts fairly in society. (Ezekiel 18:5-9)

The social responsibilities of the Early Church were based on Jesus’ resurrection. There were certain elements that contributed to that context, such as:

  • The economic sanction on the new believers
  • The doctrine of the return of Jesus Christ
  • The reality that many of the new believers were poor

In that context the early church carried out its social responsibilities in two ways. The first was that some sold all they owned and gave it to the church. The second was that others shared what they had with those who had nothing.

I do believe that the ways that the early believers responded to the needs were not as important as the attitude of those believers. What we need today is not to replicate what they did. We need to follow the concept rather than the methods.

●      ●     ●

Today we need to learn from the Acts of the Apostles that the witness of the Church must be holistic. The Church cannot preach and close its eyes to its social commitments. These social commitments are based on the resurrection of Jesus as well as its awareness of its identity. When the Church takes on this holistic approach, it is carrying out its prophetic role, and this is what is needed in the very complicated context in which we live today. Amen.