This January, I am joining the Greek Evangelical Church of Nicosia, Cyprus, to encourage the evangelicals of Cyprus to spend more time with ancient Christians. Seven years ago, after finishing my BA, I spent an academic year on the island of Cyprus working with students as part of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES), and I have long desired to return to the island and share more of our Lord’s rich grace with the people who live there.
What exactly I’ll be doing
The main event in Cyprus will be a series of seminars on ancient Christianity at the Greek Evangelical Church. These will run the evenings of Wednesday and Thursday, 23 and 24 of January, and the day of Saturday, 26 January. The weekday topics will be ‘Ancient Christians of Cyprus’ and ‘Trinity and Mission: Ancient Thought on Jesus and His Mission in the World’, and the Saturday topics will be ‘Evangelicals and Tradition: Interacting with Ancient Christianity’ and ‘The Bible in the Ancient Church: Development and Authority.’
I will also be spending time visiting students and volunteers who work with the Cyprus Fellowship of Evangelical Students (CyFES). Seven years ago, CyFES did not exist. Now the Lord has blessed the island with a fledgling movement in both the Turkish North and Greek South, in which Greek Cypriot students are involved – a contrast to seven years ago when our ministry was almost entirely amongst international students. I want to see what our glorious God has been doing and tell the good news to those who supported me through prayer and finances when I first went to the island.
Why the Church Fathers? What is the missional purpose of this trip?
I believe that right now, as our cultures become less rooted, Christians need to maintain roots in the Gospel and remind ourselves of the blessings of God upon our spiritual forebears who helped us think clearly about what the Gospel is and what is integral to the Faith. The writings of ancient Christianity are the common foundation for all Christians, and a knowledge of their teachings and devotional practices and history can only serve to deepen our love of God and His incarnation as a man to save us and the revelation of his subsisting as the Most Holy Trinity. This deepened love, in turn, is fuel for mission in an increasingly lost and wayward world.
In Cyprus, the situation is a very particular one. At the forefront for my mission is the hostility between the evangelicals and Orthodox that runs back for over a century. Since the Orthodox claim the ancient heritage of ‘the Fathers’ as their own, evangelicals are often very wary to discover the wisdom of our ancient forebears of the faith. By helping nudge them towards these ancients — with the full support of their elders and minister — I hope to help them find ways of expressing the faith to the Orthodox that will make them seem less — well, frankly, less American; many Greek Evangelicals are called Americanos. The Greek Fathers can help evangelicals express the Gospel in a Greek idiom. This, whether it converts the Orthodox or not, will help the Orthodox view the evangelicals with less suspicion, hopefully helping bridge the divide of mistrust that gapes between them today.
Furthermore, the ancient Christians faced many challenges, especially in the area of Christology, that the Christians of Cyprus face day-to-day in their dealings with a very strong, very visible presence of both Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons on the island, as well as certain fringe ‘evangelical’ and charismatic groups. The arguments and teachings of the ancient Church can help the modern Cypriot stand firm in the true evangelical way in the face of the allure of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Benny Hinn, or any other latter-day prophet.
Please pray for these seminars that the Lord will give me the right focus and words for each one and that the people of Nicosia’s Greek Evangelical Church will be edified and equipped for life in the topsy-turvy world of post-Christendom Cyprus, where their neighbours scorn them for not being Orthodox yet go to New Age seminars for ‘spirituallity’ themselves.