News values: Is the African voice suppressed?

A content analysis of six newspaper reports on Ebola in Nigeria in the Telegraph and the Mirror from July 20th 2014 to October 20th 2014; with particular focus on the adjectives used, and sources cited.

In the words of Jawaharlal Nehru (the first Prime Minister of independent India):

A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new; when an age ends; and when the soul of a nation longsuppressed finds utterance.

This quote will form the basis of my inquiry into whether the voice of Nigeria was suppressed in the coverage of the Ebola crisis. In addressing my hypothesis I have selected six reports, three articles from each newspaper from the day the virus entered Nigeria (July 20th 2014), to the day the country was declared Ebola free by the World Health Organisation (WHO) — 20th October 2014. Both newspapers were selected by their market segment and political inclination: the Telegraph being a broadsheet right of centre newspaper, while the Daily Mirror is a tabloid newspaper with inclination to the left of the political spectrum.

Content Analysis

In addressing Content Analysis I am reminded of a statement by Robson (2002) on making enquiry, a term he borrowed from detectives to describe the process of ascertaining the best research method. In his words,

Put in more usual research language, watching becomes observation; asking becomes interviewing, using questionnaires and administering tests (Robson 2002: p. 223).

Some definitions:

  1. “is a research technique for the objective, systematic, and quantitative description of the manifest content of communication” (Berelson, 1952: 18).
  2. “the systematic and replicable examination of symbols of communication, which have been assigned numeric values according to valid measurement rules, and the analysis of the relationships involving those values using statistical methods, in order to describe the communication to its context, both of production and consumption” (Riffe et al, 1998: 20).
  3. “In one sense, all qualitative data analysis is content analysis in that it is the content of interviews, field notes, and documents that is analysed. Although this content can be analysed qualitatively for themes and recurring patterns of meaning, content analysis historically has been very quantitative in nature” (Merriam, 1998: 160)

All three definitions allude to the fact that it is systematic and quantitative. Within the toolkit for researching texts and distinctive in its own right, content analysis has its place with other methods like: textual analysis, discourse analysis, and semiology. It is systematic in the sense that it uses a fixed research guide; and scientific in the sense that it can be replicated by different individuals with certainty that the interpretation of results correspond with data generated from the process. It is also objective and replicable once the parameters are set using a Coding Sheet, on this point it is important to emphasise that content analysis is as valid as the coding scheme is valid to the enquiry at hand. Therefore, the design of the coding scheme is imperative to a successful research project.

According to Robson (2002),

Content Analysis came to prominence in the social sciences at the start of the twentieth century, in a series of quantitative analyses of newspapers, primarily in the United States.’ (p. 351).

It is effective in comparing: representations, contents; and, it can be applied across media and formats e.g. video games, TV programmes, radio programmes, movies, and print. For instance, it could be used to analyse the amount of adverts in a video game, or representation of women in news or a TV drama. Content Analysis can be used to monitor, measure, and count subject matters — as is the case with this research.

However one of its limitation is the fact that resources are finite and our universe is vast, with this in mind the scope and samples size for research needs to be representative in order to allow for generalisation. For example, the first Ebola outbreak in West Africa was reported in Guinea in December 2013, and on 20th July 2014 Mr Sawyer (a Liberian-American diplomat) arrived at the main Nigerian international airport in Lagos with the virus. In terms of news outlet, we have: radio, television, magazines, newspapers, and the internet. In England alone there at least twenty four newspapers, which can be divided into the following segments: broadsheets, tabloid, mid-market broadsheet and freesheets. Clearly the burden on finances, resources and time poses a challenge on a research project of this magnitude. As a result, I am working on a couple of newspapers and six articles.

As part of the quality assurance process, the values need to be clearly thought through and defined; so like a funnel, attributes have to be streamlined to basic units in order to enable computation and analysis. For example, units of analysis (e.g. front page of the Sun), subjects (news about migrants), categories (politics, economics, housing, NHS, Schools), and variables (Africans, EU,).

Robson (2002), listed the following steps in carrying out a content analysis:

  1. Start with a research question;
  2. Decide on sampling strategy;
  3. Define the recording unit;
  4. Construct categories of analysis;
  5. Test the coding on samples of text and assess reliability; and
  6. Carry out the analysis

In comparison to other methods of data collection, Robson (2002) highlighted the following advantages and disadvantages:

Advantages:

  • when based on existing documents, it is unobtrusive. You can ‘observe’ without being observed.
  • the data are in permanent form and hence can be subject to re-analysis, allowing reliability checks and replication studies.
  • it may provide a low cost form of longitudinal analysis when a run of series of documents of a particular type is available.

Disadvantages:

  • the documents available may be limited or partial.
  • the documents have been written for some purpose other than for research, and it is difficult or impossible to allow for the biases or distortions that this introduces (note need for triangulation with other accounts/data sources to address this problem).
  • it is very difficult to assess casual relationships. Are the documents causes of the social phenomena you are interested in, or reflections of them (e.g.in relation to pornography and/or violence in the mass media)? (p. 358)

Coding Sheet and Sample

According to Merriam (1998),

the name of categories can be derived from three main sources: the researcher, the participants, or sources outside the study such as the literature (p. 182).

To this end I arrived at the following headers for my coding sheets (attached as appendices): Article ID, Date, Newspaper, Word count, Adjectives (two subcategories: positive or negative), Sources cited (three subcategories: reliable, vague or none), and Other (for anything that is relevant, but does not fit into any of the headers). I hasten to clarify that reliability of sources is based on either the individual’s proximity to the event or victim, expertise on the subject, or position of power. For example, a relative of the victim, a knowledge expert on the subject, a health professional based in Nigeria, a staff from Medicine San Frontiers (MSF), a WHO official, or a member of the Nigerian government.

Sample size

My search was carried out on LexisNexis using query for ‘Ebola’ and ‘Nigeria’in ‘headlines’. With the start and end dates known, I worked out the total days of the event (93 days) in arriving at a median date. Three articles from each newspaper was selected based on reports on the start-date (July 20th 2014), median-date (4th September 2014), and, end-date (20th October 2014). Where no reports were available on any of these days, an article closest to the date was selected. And if more than one article was available on the same day the one with the most words was used.

Stereotype and News Values: Is the African voice being suppressed?

Using the analogy of the mechanical press to explain the impact of a negative image and the stereotype it leaves in the minds of people, Downing and Husband (2005), mentioned that:

a figurative stereotypes becomes a social and psychological definition of an ethnic or other social group, as something produced as a result of enormous, irresistible pressure that in consequence is completely fixed, ‘carved in stone’ so to speak, totally resistant to change or adaptation. (p. 32).

These images and stereotypes are likely to be evident in the types of words (especially adjectives) used and sources cited in the coverage of this news. By way of background the Nigerian government was able to track victims and contain the Ebola virus; using local expertise, innovative ideas and a fit-for-purpose strategy. Sadly, the country, its volunteers and health professionals did not get the praise and coverage they deserved — especially after all the negative publicity the nation and nationals have suffered from the English press over the years.

In preparing for this research, I read through a broad range of online materials, sources include: the BBC, Aljazeera, Bloomberg, CNN, BBC, British Medical Council, Vanguard (Nigeria), Guardian, The Independent, CBS, Huffington Post, The Atlantic, Walls Street Journal, The Times, Mail online, Daily Express; with a view to spot trends and observe themes.

During the course of my reading exercise, I was surprised to know that following the success by the Nigerian authorities, a contingent was sent to lead the African Union task force against Ebola in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. This team comprised of medical epidemiologist, field epidemiologist, physicians, nurses, laboratory technologists, laboratory scientist, data managers, and psycho-social professionals. Armed with this information, I turned to Galtung and Ruge’s (1965) seminal work on News Values, for answers. They defined news values

as specific standards adhered to by media professionals in the structuring, selection and production of news stories worthy of reporting to the audience by news reporter, journalist, and broadcasting media professionals also as a general guidelines and criteria that determines the worth of news and how much prominence is given by newspapers, radio, or television reporters.

They listed twelve factors responsible for the construction and reporting decisions in newspapers and broadcast news — a term they coined‘newsworthiness’. Therefore, an event is as worthy as the amount of criteria it addresses among these twelve factors. Through their research they worked through three basic hypotheses:

(1.) additivity hypothesis: the more factors an event satisfies, the higher the probability that it becomes news; (2.) complementarity hypothesis: the factors will tend to exclude each other; (3.) exclusion hypothesis: events that satisfy none or very few factors will not become news (pp. 64–91).

Application of Galtung and Ruge’s (1965) twelve factors:

  1. Frequency: the events occurred unexpectedly, and with Lagos State being densely populated, it was feared to be a disaster. However as the authorities stepped in to bring a speedy end to the virus, the news suddenly died out;
  2. Threshold: the threshold value witnessed a diminishing return once no new incidents were reported by the World Health Organisation (WHO);
  3. Negativity: the negativity factor quickly dried out as the virus was curbed through the efforts of the government of Lagos State and the joint task force delegated to deal with the outbreak of the virus;
  4. Unexpectedness: It was an extra-ordinary event when it was known that Mr Sawyer travelled via plane with seventy two other passengers to Nigeria, infected with the virus;
  5. Unambiguity: because of the negative perception of Nigeria, and the shock factor, the press were hesitant to report about the turn of events in Nigeria even after the WHO had given the country the all clear;
  6. Meaningfulness: other than the fact that Nigeria is an ex-colony and a member of the common wealth, the cultural proximity is quite wide in distance; as a result once the course of the story became positive, its news value dropped significantly;
  7. Personalisation: the outbreak could not be personalised beyond the death of the doctor Dr Stella Adadevoh who diagnosed and alerted the authorities in Nigeria of the first victim. After her death the personalisation factor dropped moved to her family, then it faded;
  8. Reference to elite nations: although an oil rich elite nation in an African context, Nigeria is not a global power. As a result there wasn’t much attention once the infection was curbed;
  9. Reference to elite persons: similar to the point raised with regards to personalisation, the virus did not affect any rich, powerful, famous and infamous get more coverage;
  10. Consonance: the initial outbreak fitted with the media’s expectations so it received a lot of coverage, but as time passed the media’s readiness to report on the Nigeria dwindled;
  11. Continuity: with the population, and perceived hygiene and educational level of the masses, the story gathered momentum. However, this changed very quickly as the outbreak was contained through effective public information and mass mobilisation of volunteers and government officials;
  12. Composition: stories from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea took centre stage as Nigeria contained the virus.

Applying Content Analysis

From Table 1 (see appendices), we can deduce that all the articles had at least one source cited, and they were all experts. However nine (64%) were likely to be close to the event in the sense that they were either in Nigeria, West Africa or directly responsible for staff on the ground; while (36%) were unlikely.

The total word count for both sets of articles was close; the telegraph was 2,177 and the Mirror 2,263; this was a surprise as I was expecting the coverage from a broadsheet newspaper to be bigger than that of a tabloid newspaper. I didn’t find any report on 24th September 2014 (the median date).

The Telegraph reported on 20th October (the day Nigeria was declared Ebola free), however the report was very condescending. The success was down to luck and the competence of a British trained doctor — directing the success to the UK. Within the same article, an unrelated news about the Boko Haram insurgency also stole this rare opportunity for the country to shine. The people involved were detached from the country in the report, they were praised almost as if they were not Nigerians — which I found bizarre.

For a nation that is a former colony and member of the common wealth, the reports lacked depth and width, as a result, I suspect that most Nigerians and others concerned about this epidemic would have had to look to else for in-depth coverage.

Very few adjectives were used as reporters seemed very distant from the event. A couple of the Mirror’s reports came across as alarmist, and they did not reflect the content of their headlines. In one case, a report with a headline on Nigeria suddenly switched to Sierra Leone half-way through with clearly no direct link within the story.

Conclusion

This exercise has been an eye opener for me, as I grappled with different theories around race and gender reporting.

With Nigeria’s recent history, a statement by Downing and Husband (2005), comes to mind,

It may be hostile or it may be held supportive — White people over the past millennium have often held supportive stereotypes of themselves and negative stereotypes of those they colonized — but it is rigid. (p. 32).

This line of thought was also highlighted recently in Blurs’ Damon Albarn’s criticism of the image of Africa portrayed in the Band Aid 30 song. In an interview with Cathy Newman (Channel 4) he said:

“Having been to many countries and gotten to know many people, it always seems that we have only one view of it,”

In reflection content analysis is a very effective tool, standing to its name as a method of analysing the contents of a piece of information.

There was evidence of little or no competition from newspapers to report on the subject, in fact most of the newspaper coverage were hardly dissimilar.

There were likely to have been logistical challenges especially to do with health and safety of reporters and their crew, however the risk factors are not different from the risks of war — perhaps this accounts for the lack of depth and width of coverage.

Perhaps advertisers were not likely to be associated with poor disease ridden Africans. This leads us to another salient point: where and how people in diaspora access news. In recent times we have seen a big drift to internet sources; TV channels like CNN and AL Jazeera; and radio programmes like BBC’s World Service. So, may be news from Africa is no longer financially viable for newspapers. May be we are not interested in news from the continent, may be we have exhausted our emotional capital, may be the newspapers have left that share of the business to bigger news companies…

Finally, for an event that ran for ninety three days, a seven percent sample is insufficient for thorough analysis, but sufficient enough for testing the hypothesis, and providing scope for further work on some of the questions raised in this report.

Bibliography

Balnaves, M., Shoesmith, B., and Donald, S. (2009) Media Theories and Approaches: A Global Perspective. Palgrave Macmillan.

Berelson, B. (1952). Content Analysis in Communication Research. Glencoe, Ill: Free Press.

Husband, P. C, with Professor John D. H. Downing (2005) Representing race.Thousand Oaks, Calif: London: SAGE, 2005.

Galtung, J and Ruge, M. (1965): “The Structure of Foreign News. The Presentation of the Congo, Cuba and Cyprus Crises in Four Norwegian Newspapers.” Journal of Peace Research, vol. 2, pp. 64–91.

Kelly, M., Mazzoleni, G. and McQuail, D. (2003) Media in Europe: The Euromedia Research group; Ed. by Mary Kelly. London: Sage Publications Ltd.

Merriam, S. (1997) Qualitative research and case study applications in education. 2nd edn. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Robson, C. and Robson, P. (2002) Real World Research: A Resource for Social Scientists and Practitioner-Researchers. 22nd edn. Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated.

Ryan, C. (1991). What’s newsworthy? In Prime time activism: Media strategies for grassroots organizing. Boston: South End.

Appendices

Table 1: Data from Coding Sheet

6 completed coding sheets

3 Newspaper articles from The Telegraph

3 Newspaper articles from The Mirror

Meditation: Economics and Social Change

‘Social change doesn’t always have to be political, cutural or spiritual; it could also be economical. Economical change rewards providers financially, and in return consumers get value for money. Let this statement change the way we think or do business’ ~ Clement Akran

This Sunday’s Public lecture: Five principles for victorious living!

‘Beginnings are usually scary and endings are usually sad, but it’s everything in between that makes it all worth living.’ – Sandra Bullock in Hope Floats

Now that the excitement of Christmas and New Year have disappeared, and reality has kicked-in, this statement provides a backdrop for my lecture this Sunday entitled: Five Principles for Victorious Living. 

So in line with our theme for 2015 (Joy and Glory), I will be exploring some simple and effective actions that will enable us actualise our dreams and aspirations for the year.

Join us at 6pm: Art Centre, Drama Room, Bexleyheath Academy, Bexley

God bless!

 

Did I just hear him say, ‘Go sell all, give to the poor, and follow me?’

peter-preaching2

An assessment of the historical value of Acts (2:41–47; 4:32–5:11; and 6:1–6), for understanding the real economic life of the early Jerusalem church

Introduction

In consideration to the question at hand, let us have a look at Jesus’ exchanges with some of the rich people he encountered during the course of his ministry. Of particular interest to me was his conversation with a man just described as the rich young ruler, captured in the synoptic gospels (Matthew 19:16–30, Mark 10:17–31 and Luke 18:18–30); and the conversation that ensued between Jesus and his disciples afterwards.

By way of background, this young, pious, wealthy, and perhaps ambitious young man was obviously drawn to Jesus’ ministry for reasons we are not particularly clear about. His lifestyle received a rare praise from Jesus who was at most time at loggerheads with the theology, philosophy, and ethics of the ruling classes of his time. This gulf in understanding was profound, most times evidenced in the trick questions and debates posed at Jesus – especially from the Pharisees.

The kingdom of God

Jesus’ ministry was heralded by John the Baptist, who some theologians allude to having led a lifestyle not dissimilar from that of the Essenes; preaching: ‘Repent for the kingdom of God has come near.’ (Mark 3:2 NRSV). With this in mind I hasten to clarify that Mark, Luke and John use the term kingdom of God, while Matthew uses Kingdom of heaven. Therefore, avoiding any theological debate with reference to God or heaven, I would like us to consider both interchangeably, as traditional thinking allude to God’s domain being heaven – as such, the kingdom of God or heaven simply means God’s Government.

According to Scott Mcknight (2008) this term was ‘the central category used by Jesus to express his mission and vision for what God was doing through him for Israel.’ (p. 354). To this end the word kingdom becomes increasing important as we build our thoughts on the question at hand. For instance, in a content analysis I carried out on the Kings James’ translation of the New Testament for the term kingdom of God, I discovered that it appears seventy-six times, surprisingly, fifty-four of these occurrences are found in the gospels. A similar exercise on the Old Testament, reveals that it appears in less than half of this figure – only thirty times. When we consider the fact that most of Palestine at this time was under Roman occupation, the thrust of Jesus’ ministry was not welcome development for the ruling elites – regardless of tribe or stock. However, for those that were poor, sick, widowed, orphaned, imprisoned, enslaved, oppressed, or marginalised; this was a message of hope. They now had something to live for, perhaps best encapsulated in the words of Paul to friends in Rome: a hope [that] does not disappoint us (Romans 5:5 NRSV).

For followers of Christ, this kingdom not only provided hope after death, it also demonstrated deliverance from practical challenges in this world. This mind-set was evident in many accounts in the New Testament, and succinctly articulated in Luke’s writing in Acts: ‘how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.’ (Acts 10:38 NRSV). Those last five words (for God was with him), echoing something about the origin of the power and authority in operation through the person of Jesus Christ; for a kingdom ceases to exist once its means of power and authority is taken away. But even after his death, this power continues to be demonstrated through his followers by the same spirit – God’s spirit (the Holy Spirit). (John 14:12).

It is imperative to note also that not all who came to Jesus came for their worldly needs, others had deeper needs. To this end the following individuals come to mind: Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10), Nicodemus (John 3:1-21), and of course the rich young ruler. Apart from his financial and political background, his religious or tribal affiliation is not exactly clear, however his alias (the rich young ruler) brings in the possibilities of family ties with the ruling aristocracy, he was probably a Pharisee, Sadducee, or Scribe. But unlike some from similar background, his was not a trick question. He asked Jesus: ‘Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?’ (Matthew 19:16 NRSV). After a brief exploration of his spiritual background, Jesus said to him: ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ (Matthew 19:21 NRSV).

These words bears some resonance to the exchange between Elisha and a widow whose sons were about to be enslaved by her late husband’s creditors. In those days debts were passed on to a next of kin, and because work opportunities were limited for women, male offspring were attractive redemption for these ruthless creditors. In the absence of equity and social justice, she came to the prophet for divine intervention (the kingdom of God). The prophet instructs her to go and borrow as many vessels as possible, and pour the contents of the only jar of oil she had into all the vessels she had collected. Miraculously, the oil continued to flow until she ran out of vessels. Not knowing what to do next, she went back to prophet, and he said to her: Go sell the oil and pay your debts, and you and your children can live on the rest.’ (2 Kings 4:7 NRSV).

Sadly the rich young ruler went away with a heavy heart, unable to comply with Jesus’ instructions. And as the young man turned his back from the kingdom of God, enroute back to the kingdom of this world; Jesus dropped a bombshell on his disciples: ‘Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’ (Matthew 19:23, 24 NRSV). In shock, they asked: ‘Then who can be saved?’ (Matthew 19:25 NRSV). Jesus replied: ‘For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.’ (Matthew 19:26 NRSV). Still stunned at what he had just heard, Peter had a mini stand-off with Jesus – he said: ‘Look, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?’ (Matthew 19:27 NRSV).

In response Jesus made this profound statement: ‘Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.’ (Matthew 19:28, 29, 30).

Grippingly, it might seem that the poor and needy are provided for in God’s kingdom – albeit sometimes miraculously, while the rich are instructed to sell all and disburse the proceeds of their wealth among the poor in their community. This story provides us with a beautiful backdrop as we assess the historical value of Acts: 2:41–47; 4:32–5:11; and 6:1–6; for an understanding of the real economic life of the early Jerusalem church.

The early Jerusalem Church

As with the conception of Mary by the Holy Spirit, the early Jerusalem church was born out of a similar experience on the day of Pentecost. The followers of Jesus were all together in one place (Acts 2:2 NRSV) as he instructed, then suddenly they heard a sound like that of a rushing mighty wind, tongues of fire descended on each one of them, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit – demonstrated initially in their ability to speak in unknown tongues. They were emboldened to preach, teach, baptise converts and manifest miracles. This small community of believers suddenly witnessed a surge of converts after Peter inspired by the Holy Spirit, delivered an impromptu sermon to the crowd of onlookers, and: ‘So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers’ (Acts 2:41-42 NRSV).

According to Haenchen (1971), ‘verse 42 leads to the following description of the situation which does indeed still speak of the new converts, but at the same time describes the life of all the faithful.’ (p. 190). The new converts not only accepted Jesus Christ as their lord and saviour, they also accepted the underlying culture of the disciples. Luke gives us a snippet into some of the cultural practices within the community in verses 42-47. Jeremias and Bauernfeind (1930) listed them as: instructions by the apostles, contribution of offering, solemn partaking of food together and prayers (cited by Heanchen, p. 191). However, Haenchen (1971) sees these verses in a dual sense – perhaps not dissimilar to the practices in most churches today, where as well as their various vocation, they also had communal and individual or family worship. Another important point to note in verse 45 (with regards to properties and goods), is that properties were sold as and when a need arose by owners who voluntarily relinquished the proceeds of sale towards kingdom projects.

This line of thought strengthens Peter’s indictment to Ananias in the book of Acts: ‘why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, were not the proceeds at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart?’ (Acts 5:3-4 NRSV). Furthermore Capper (1983) mentioned that Ananias and Sapphira sold what was to be termed extraneous assets, in other words, anything they did not need for accommodation or work. (p. 121).

When Jesus commissioned the disciples for mission, he said to them: ‘Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food.’ (see Matthew 10:5-15 NRSV). This corroborates with Jesus’ response to the scribe who offered to become one of his disciples: ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ (Matthew 8:20 NRSV).

Among the sects in Jesus’ era, the Essenes were the closest to this approach to community life. According to Geza Vermes (1982), ‘they lived on the fringes of Jewish society as an esoteric community and imposed a lengthy initiation process on aspiring candidates.’ However, theirs was highly formalised. For instance they had: a probationary period for new converts, a hierarchical structure, training, rituals, tribunal board, vow of membership, and an excommunication process (p.125). Also, fully fledged members were required to hand over their belongings and earnings to stewards, and in return all their needs were met (p. 126). This model contrasts, the light touch approach we see used in addressing the dispute between Hellenists and Hebrews believers within the community of the early church in Jerusalem (Acts 6:1-7). If anything, the appointment of seven stewards was in order to alleviate the problem at hand.

Conclusion

Haenchen (1971) in his exegesis on Act 4:32-37 highlights a pertinent point with regards to worship for believers in this community by linking the mention of heart and soul to references in Deuteronomy 4:29 – ‘with all thy heart and with all thy soul’; emphasising that they control our conduct and personality, and both elements are integral for worship. (p. 231).

In light of this, one can argue that the call to sell all and follow was for those in leadership as was the case with the twelve who were called to follow Jesus. For example we see Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) on his own accord being inspired through Jesus’ teaching and preaching to give freely out of all he had; as such what was his, remained his, and he was not under any compulsion. The call to leadership is therefore a call to total dependency on the kingdom. Paul articulated this in a letter to Timothy (his protégé) when he said:  No one serving in the army gets entangled in everyday affairs; the soldier’s aim is to please the enlisting officer.’ (2 Timothy 2:4 NRSV); most likely inspired by Jesus teaching on being single minded: ‘No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.‘ (Matthew 6:24 NRSV). As such these leaders were meant to be free of worldly pressures with a view to immerse themselves in the work of the ministry. The community of believers were meant to reciprocate through freewill or voluntary contribution for their leaders and those in need within the community.

This concept also aligns with Old Testament paradigms, for instance David (1 Chronicles 29:1-9) raised funds towards the building of the temple, and in similar vein Moses (Exodus 35:4-29) asked the people to give voluntarily for causes that can be best be described as national projects. Therefore, this new community of believers were likely to be building on this tradition in addressing missional and social causes.

To this end we can deduce that the rich young ruler was only asked to sell all, give to the poor and follow because Jesus wanted him to be a disciple – perhaps not dissimilar to his call to Matthew the tax collector (Matthew 9:9), and the fishermen (Peter, Andrew, James and John), (Matthew 4:18-22).

Bibliography

Brian J. Capper, The Interpretation of Acts 5.4, Journal for the Study of the New Testament 19 (1983) 117–131.

Haenchen, E. (1971) The acts of the apostles. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Mcknight, S. (2008) The Kingdom of God. In: Evans, C. (ed.). Encyclopedia of the Historical Jesus. New York, Routledge/ Taylor & Francis Group, p. 354.

Scripture quotations marked (KJV) are taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version. New York: American Bible Society: 1999; Bartleby.com, 2000. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NRSV) are taken from the Holy Bible, The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Vermes, G. (1975) The Dead Sea Scrolls. 2nd edn. London: SCM Press Ltd.

The life I now live: flaws of religion

In Paul’s letter to friends in Galatia, he was stirred to make this profound statement:

We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law. But if, in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 1But if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.

(Galatians 2:15-21 NRSV)

In light of recent debates with regards to Jihad and the Islamic agenda, it is fitting to have a quick look at Christianity’s recent history.

For instance: Protestants, Jews, and non-conformists were humiliated, persecuted, and tortured in utterly gruesome showcase events by church authorities in medieval times.

Believers were: killed, brutalised or imprisoned for meeting privately, or even trying to make the scriptures accessible to the common man.

Puritans who left the shores of Europe in search of spiritual freedom in America, became oppressors themselves, with record of genocide against the Indian population, not to mention slavery, and the most inhumane torture Africans suffered. The awful treatment and brutality against women and children also needs mentioning.

Sadly, these were all done based on the world view and legalistic interpretation of scriptures by ‘Christians’ not dissimilar to what we see in ‘radical Islam’ today. Therefore I submit to you dear friends that religion is the problem – hence Christ!

May the just truly live by faith and trust in Jesus’ finished work at Calvary. May we hold back from casting stones at people that do not agree with our view point. May we express love to all, regardless of faith, gender, background, sexual orientation, race, beliefs, or non-beliefs…

Amen.

This Sunday at Healingsprings fellowship!

In the words of Austin Gentry,

Knowing God as a trustworthy and able captain is the ultimate compass in the storms of uncertainty.

Join us at 6pm for the final part of our running series: The Critical Journey.

Tonight’s lecture: A life of love.

6pm – 7:30pm | The Drama Room, Bexleyheath Academy, Bexley.

Healingsprings fellowship: 2015 Declarations

Theme: Our Year of Indescribable Joy and Glory!

We declare that in this year 2015, we will:

  • increase in knowledge, and discover our talents;
  • deploy our talents;
  • take advantage of every opportunity to maximise our talents;
  • be alert and know what to do and where to be at the right time; and
  • no limitation will stand before us.

And because we now have understanding:
– grace is multiplied in our lives to be doers, and not just hearers;
– we are strengthened to do more for good causes and humanity; and
– everything we do brings joy and glory to God! Amen.

Scriptural references:
– 2 Kings 4:1-7, 8-37
– 1 Peter 1:8-9