Pioneers Cross Boundaries
The definition of a pioneer might be ‘someone who crosses boundaries’. Most recently the BBC has been celebrating eighty years since the beginning of television broadcasting. This technological enterprise has been hailed as a pioneering breakthrough: crossing and extending the boundaries of technology to a whole new way of communicating.
In those first few years of technological enterprise, women were employed for the first time as programme makers. The BBC has hailed these women as pioneers, crossing entrenched gender boundaries.
The need for boundaries appears to be part of the human condition. They come in many shapes and forms. They can be culture-specific, language-specific, gender-specific, and – reinforced by centuries of tradition – are often more entrenched than simple geographical borders.
The mandate of Jesus to the first disciples
In the Gospels, Jesus was criticised for crossing the boundaries of ritual cleanliness by ‘welcoming sinners’ (Luke 15:2) and, worse still, for eating with the ritually unclean (Mark 2:16)[i]. Following his resurrection, Jesus promised the Holy Spirit as he commissioned his disciples to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). As the child of missionary parents, these words shaped my spiritual DNA.
Something profoundly significant is being implied in these verses.
The words of Jesus promising the power of the Holy Spirit follow the question posed by the disciples, “are you at this time going to restore the Kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6)
This question reflects the struggle, aspiration and the deep-rooted ethnical specificity of a people longing for salvation and deliverance from decades of Roman imperialism.
The answer of Jesus was to dismiss the question: ‘this is not for you to know’. Instead he commissioned a mandate to cross boundaries in his name. As Jesus had crossed boundaries, he now commissioned his disciples, beginning in Jerusalem, to be his witnesses also in Judea, Samaria, and to the farthest reaches of the known world. Jerusalem was the centre of Jewish worship and learning: home to the Temple and prominent Jewish teachers. Judea was where of the common people lived. It was also the dwelling of ‘unclean sinners’ such as shepherds and lepers. Samaria was the apostate nation: they were outside of salvation and the enemy of true Jews. The “uttermost parts of the earth” were the lands of the goyim – the nations – who were to be fodder for God’s wrath. In other words, the disciples were called to be pioneers. The rest of Acts sees this commissioning unfold. These very ordinary men and women were to cross religious, social and political boundaries. They would face hostility, ridicule, danger and martyrdom. It is little wonder that they needed the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
Do we dare cross boundaries?
The Scottish church in the 21st Century is steeped in a long history of religious and cultural boundaries. These boundaries make us feel safe and keep us comfortable. The situation is accentuated by a persistent and dominating belief that these cultural boundaries carry a sacred sanction.
We are challenged not only to cross our own boundaries to reach our communities for Christ, but to cross the boundaries that our communities have themselves created, usually for their own preservation. What about the area of town with a large social housing population and a distinctive ethos of its own, or the nearby affluent community where they generally keep themselves behind the closed doors of their own properties? What about the gatherings of youth who trouble their neighbourhood, or the now large section of our community who feel the failure of their reliance on food banks? Are they welcome in our faith community? The refugees recently arrived amongst us, or…? The list goes on.
As I travel the country to promote the SSCM Pioneer Ministry course, I am deeply heartened that a great many churches and Christian groups are now crossing boundaries, going out to young people, students, refugees, the disabled, the disaffected and the homeless. The Pioneer Ministry course at SSCM is designed to enable our students to reflect on the process of crossing boundaries in Jesus’ name.
Dr Alistair Macindoe
Tutor in Pioneer Ministry
[i] ‘Sinners’ is a translation of the Gk. ‘hamartoloi’. This is not our contemporary use of the word ‘sinner’. The hamartoloi were a class of people who were ritually unclean, socially alienated and excluded from the salvation of Israel: beggars, tax-collectors, prostitutes, shepherds, lepers, criminals, etc.