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“How Long is a Chinaman”

I have had great fun with this phrase over the years. When it is said rather than written it is fun to watch the eyes of the one I am talking to glaze over. The reason is their assumptions. You might note that there is no punctuation above and when I say it I don’t really give a tip off. Is it a question or is it a statement? Most assume it is a question. “How long” meaning what is the length or height of a Chinaman? In that context it is a question of physical dimension. But when they respond “I don’t know” I point out that I am making a statement, not asking a question. Confusion really sets in at that point because they are so locked into the thinking that “How Long” is a dimensional statement. When what I am saying it a Chinaman’s name is How Long.

Often times we respond to things based on assumptions we have made and even when someone tries to clear it up we have a hard time understanding because we have definitions in place that seem to prevent us from “getting it.”

I had a call this week from one of our supporters. She was very distraught because her church had a speaker on Sunday who is working on raising mission support to be a missionary to Muslims. He teaching in the pulpit seemed fine but during the Q & A several things came up which caused her to wonder if she was wrong. For example, he insisted that Barack Obama is a Christian and his evidence is that Obama claimed to be one. He insisted that we should only think positively about others and take at face value what they say. I don’t know if Obama is a Christian or not but this again points out the need for definition. John Dominic Crossan and retired Bishop John Shelby Spong of the Jesus Seminar of the Jesus Seminar both claim to be Christians. Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses claim to be Christians. If we are to always be positive and believe what anyone claims we would have to regard them as Christians. But what does that mean? Does it mean “one who was born in America”? Does it mean “I went to a church that claims to be Christian for a lot of years”? Perhaps it means, “I can spell it, C-H-R-I-S-T-I-A-N, therefore I am one.”

The speaker also declared that Christians should not be politically involved and then went on to praise the current presidency and their stand against Israel, and other political positions. This is inconsistent or more likely a problem of definition. Wanting to see peace does not seem to be political and affirming ones that in your opinion are doing the best at bring it about are ones that you would support.

The Bible doesn’t really discuss politics directly. It does explain that as believers we can live in any political system and be used by Him in spite of the political system. Our core definitions or our core beliefs need to be clear, understandable and most of all, biblical. What are they?

  • Jesus is God. There is no other God and all other claims are false.
  • God exists as a trinity and this is eternally true.
  • All humans except Jesus Christ are sinners. Those who are redeemed (Christians) are redeemed sinners who still struggle with their sin nature.
  • Our focus should be on God primarily.
  • Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone on Christ alone.
  • We are to defend the faith and warn against false prophets and false teachers.
  • As believers we are called to protect the innocent, feed the poor, visit the imprisoned. In other words, wear Jesus well.

We find Jesus, Paul, Peter as well as Old Testament prophets being much less than “positive” about false teaching and false teachers, unless you consider them being positive that there are false teachers positive. Clarity in our terms and definitions is critical. Asking questions about the terms is vital to true understanding. False teachers use the same terms we use but give them new definitions. For example, Heaven’s Gate claimed they were opposed to suicide. But then defined suicide as living on in his body or “container” and so they took poison to escape this “container.” Once we know what someone is actually talking about we can decide if what they are saying is true.

“How Long is a Chinaman” Yes he is!

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