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Post Cards From The Edge Of A Post Christian Culture. I should probably file this story under “reflections on politics” and “Who elected these clowns”. Speaking of politics, does anyone in the current Administration have a clue as to what they’re doing in the Middle East? This article certainly makes you wonder. This article about a preemptive strike by Israel on Iran is a reminder (at least to me) that one morning we could wake up and and our world will have changed overnight and without warning. There’s a reason Scripture reminds us of the importance of continued “watchfulness”. The day is eventually going to arrive when each of us will be called to write a check for our share of this profligate behavior. This article from the UK “Spectator” newspaper is eyeopening concerning the persecution of Christians around the world. Here’s the money quote: “According to the International Society for Human Rights, a secular observatory based in Frankfurt, Germany, 80 per cent of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed at Christians. Statistically speaking, that makes Christians by far the most persecuted religious body on the planet.” Speaking of persecution, closer to home, And this is the kind of article that makes me wonder what else may be going on that we haven’t heard about. It amazes me that thirty years after the late Dr. Francis A. Schaeffer wrote about the rise of our post-Christian (i.e., postmodern) culture, we are still talking about it as if it is “new news.” Dr. Geisler is right to observe that American has lost it’s Judeo-Christian basis, but his is 30 years late, and recovering it is questionable at best. As this article from Christianity Today points out, the past several years have been a hard lesson for many believers. Much of American Christianity consists of misplaced faith: faith in the American dream, faith in our economic system, faith in our political system. Difficult times force all of us to re-examine the true nature and focus of our faith. How our hearts complete this thought reveals something of where we are at: I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from (fill in the blank). If the genuine response of our heart is anything other than “the Lord, Who made the heavens and the earth” then we have a misplaced faith. As A. W. Tozer once observed, what a man (or woman) thinks about when he or she is free to think about anything or nothing, reveals the true condition of our hearts. Just my thoughts. Let’s face it. Sexuality and marriage are topics which are dominating the Church’s conversation with our Postmodern culture. In that spirit, here are two excellent articles on Christian sexuality, one from The Christian Pundit and the other from Gentle Reformation. Both quite good. In addition, Southern Seminary President Al Mohler shares some good thoughts on the economic benefits of traditional marriage. Announcing the “happy atheists”! Once you’ve accepted the premise of contemporary moralistic, therapeutic deism that the goal of religion is “happiness” or “your best life now,” then this makes sense. Many things can make you happy without resorting to God. Finally, prepare to GROAN!! O.J. Simson a televangelist? Only on “reality” TV. Maybe it will turn out to be a comedy rather than a tragedy. Holding my breath.
Encouragement. Pastor Ronnie Floyd blogs about three ministry lessons we ALL need to learn and apply. This article (“I’m A Christian, And My House Just Burned Down”) is well done, and it’s message has application to many of life’s unexpected turns. Even the non-runners among us can appreciate the encouragement of this experience. Running to find God and for clean water. I love this kind of self awareness: “The race was great. I felt more physical pain than I had ever felt in my life. I got passed by a guy with one leg.” As yourself, “What would you do?” A Female Good Samaritan in a strange land. Which are you? A streaking meteor and a faithful star. The stories of Jim and Bert Elliot. What would you do if your wedding was cancelled after all the preparations had been made? Turning a disaster into a blessing. Prayers not answered yet? Don’t give up. Finally, it’s that time of the year when people wonder, “Why do Autumn leaves change color?”
Miscellaneous Church News. A good reminder for those of us with strong opinions, which we tend to share on Facebook! Remember, an opinion’s like a nose. Everybody has one. Is the church in America dying? Not according to Ed Stetzer. For those of you (us) addicted to links, here’s one “mother lode” and (if that wasn’t enough) another “mother lode”! According to the latest census figures available (2011), the land of John Knox is no longer the land of John Knox. A good article on Billy Graham and America’s fading memory.
I was a young Seminary student at Denver Seminary working a summer job with a friend, Nate, whose brother owned a furniture warehouse. Our job was to move furniture and clean the warehouse. To help pass the time Nate suggested we listen to a set of tapes he had recently acquired featuring a California pastor teaching on the Charismatic gifts. More accurately, it was a pastor railing against the excesses of the Charismatic movement. Since you’ve probably already guessed the Pastor’s name, I suppose it is anti-climatic to say that it was (as you guessed) John MacArthur.
That John MacArthur is a declared “cessationist” (the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit have ceased and are not active today) and a foe of anything and everything Charismatic/Pentecostal is NOT news. My experience with his Cessationism goes back some 30 years. The real news is that Dr. MacArthur has chosen to make a crusade against the Charismatic/Pentecostal movement, and those who don’t share his Cessationism, the “high water mark” of his career by means of the widely publicized “Strange Fire” conference. THAT’s the news. The kind of news that is worth weeping over.
My Observations (for what they’re worth)
Let me begin with some “full disclosure.” I am NOT a Charismatic nor a Pentecostal. I came to faith during the Jesus Movement and was surrounded by Charismatics, Full Gospel folk and others, but I never received the gift of tongues and do not pray in tongues today. I DO believe that all of the New Testament gifts of the Spirit continue on today (making me a “Continuationist”) and are available to all born again believers through the indwelling and empowerment of the Holy Spirit. I have been “Reformed” in my theology since college days. My seminary degree and training is in theology and apologetics. That doesn’t make me an expert, just an amateur with some 30 years of practice. I should also say that I have not been able to watch all of the livestreaming sessions of the Conference, but have closely followed the live blogging provided by Tim Challies. So much for personal background and disclosure. Now for my observations:
Observation # 1: There’s Nothing New - Anyone conversant with the issues surrounding cessationsim and the debate over the supernatural gifts of the Spirit will quickly see that MacArthur’s “Strange Fire” Conference is – for the most part – a rehash of the same cessationist arguments which have been around since the days of B.B. Warfield. This quickly becomes clear in Tom Pennington’s presentation, “A Case For Cessationism”. Pennington attempts to offer 7 “biblical” arguments for Cessationism. In his first argument, “The unique role of miracles,” he declares that there were only 3 primary periods in which God worked miracles through unique men. The problem here is that this isn’t a “biblical” argument. Rather, it is an argument borrowed straight out of B.B. Warfield’s 1918 treatise, “Counterfeit Miracles”. Warfield is the source for many Cessationist arguments. Indeed all 7 of Penningtons arguments, which are more quasi-historical/philosophical as opposed to biblical, are standard cessationist arguments which have been presented a refuted numerous times (for a complete treatment of all seven arguments, see Jack Deere, “Surprised By The Power Of The Spirit”, specifically “Appendix B: Did Miraculous Gifts Cease With The Apostles,” where he addresses MacArthur’s – and Pennington’s – arguments directly). In other words, in terms of biblical, theological arguments for Cessationism and against Continuationism, NOTHING new was offered.
Observation # 2: Walking Backwards From Sensationalism To Cessationism - Every student of debate knows that the quickest and most effective means of getting an audience on your side is to troll out egregious, even gut-wrenching examples of bad behavior on the part of those whose position you are attacking. The argument is simple, effective and not very subtle: “People who believe this nonsense act badly, ERGO, what they believe caused this bad behavior and is, therefore, wrong. Continuationism produces bad results, therefore, it is wrong. Cessationism produces good results, therefore, it is true.” There is a certain degree of emotional power behind such an argument, especially after you listen to the talk by Conrad Mwebe concerning what is taking place in Africa. Let’s face it. Who among us DOESN’T have a favorite Pentecostal/Charismatic faith healer or televangelist we would like to see boiled in a vat of his own “imported-from-Israel” anointing oil, preferably live on TBN (you know, to set an example and deter any newcomers). I’ve got my short list, and you probably do to.
This is what I call “walking backwards from Sensationalism to Cessationism.” Begin your argument with examples of sensationally bad behavior. Proceed by declaring those bad examples to be representative of everyone who holds to a Continuationist theology. Set the stage that any theology which produces such bad fruit is wrong. Conclude that Continuationism is false theology and Cessationism is true theology because Continuationism produces bad fruit and Cessationism produces good fruit. Done. Everyone go home.
The problems with this emotionally popular approach are legion, but I only have time to mention a couple. First, whether Continuationism or Cessation are true is NOT a matter of public opinion concerning bad behavior (on BOTH sides). It is a matter of careful, biblical study and exegesis. In a related theme, which theological formulation is true CANNOT be determined by an appeal to “the Reformers” such as John Calvin, but to the Scriptures. Our doctrine of Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) does NOT include the writings of either John Calvin or John MacArthur. Second, biblically speaking, fruit has to do with people, not theological formulations. Bearing good fruit is a defining characteristic of a genuine disciple. Bearing bad fruit (or no fruit) is a defining characteristic of someone in whom the seed of God’s Word has not sprouted and come to fruition. Fruitfulness is about relationship (see John 15), not theology. Fruit in the New Testament is about people, not theological formulations. I have seen much good fruit and much bad fruit among BOTH Cessationists and the Continuationists. We do one another no favors by making broad misrepresentations based on examples of bad fruit.
Observation # 3: An Open Declaration of War - For John MacArthur, this conference represents a “parting shot”. By age alone he is approaching the end of his ministry. It is sad that this is how he has chosen to spend his latter years. But the truly unfortunate reality is that by holding and promoting this conference (and his new soon-to-be-released book on the subject), MacArthur may well be opening a new declaration of war for a battle that will far out-live him. Here are a couple of the “battle lines” of “MacArthur’s War” as I see them:
1. If you are a “Continuationist,” you are a theological heretic and a fraud. The gifts ceased in the 1st Century, ERGO: everything you claim to believe and experience concerning the gifts is false. Granted, Dr. MacArthur is a little more diplomatic than that in public, but not much. In his opening address of the Conference he stated that the Charismatic movement dishonors God and engages in false worship on the same level as Nadab and Abihu (see Leviticus 10. I treat this episode in Chapter 6 of my book on holiness, “The Inextinguishable Blaze”). He further declared that “nothing good has come out of the charismatic movement that is attributable to charismatic theology.” There’s more, but I think you get the point. This is a declaration of war. It’s “us” against “them.” We’re good. They’re bad. Take no prisoners.
2. You cannot be “Reformed” without being a ”Cessationist” because Calvin was a Cessationist. On the opening night of the Conference Steve Lawson spoke on the relationship of “Cessationism versus Continuationism” to “Reformed” theology. More specifically, he argued that those claiming to be Reformed in their faith (i.e., holding to the doctrines of the Protestant Reformation) need to go back to the writings of John Calvin and his struggles with the “charismatics” of his day, namely, small off-shoots of the Anabaptists who also believed in the continuation of the gifts. Lawson’s argument was simple: if we are truly “Reformed” in our faith, we should respond to Charismatic and Pentecostal Continuationists today the same way Calvin responded to them in his day, by rejecting them and their doctrine.
Again, the problems with this approach are legion, but I’m short on time and space. First, whatever happened to “Sola Scriptura,” as opposed to “Sola Calvinus”? I have been “Reformed” in my faith and doctrine since college (some 40 years), NOT because of John Calvin, John MacArthur or anyone else. I am “Reformed” in my faith because I believe that Reformed Theology represents the best formulation of what the Scriptures teach on a wide variety of critical biblical subjects. BTW, that’s the same reason why I am Continuationist rather than a Cessationist. I also reserve the right to criticize various Reformed formulations of doctrine where I believe Scripture teaches something different. Calvin and the Reformers were right on many issues and we are in their debt. But they were also wrong or unclear on others, including (in my opinion) Cessationism. As a “Reformed” Christian, “Sola Scriptura” means that my ultimate appeal-to-authority for my “Reformed” faith is Scripture, not John Calvin or the Westminster Confession or John MacArthur or anyone else. Second, by publicly declaring that Reformed faith and Cessationism are inseparable, Dr. MacArthur has now turned this discussion into an “intra-mural knife fight” within the Reformed and Evangelical communities. This will get both interesting and messy. For example, an evangelcial and pentecostal scholar like Gordon Fee (whose commentary on 1 Corinthians is arguably the best in print) now appears to have more in common with a Reformed theologian like Wayne Grudem (who argues for the continuation of the gifts) than either of them have with John MacArthur on this subject. It’s starting to feel vaguely reminiscent of the Great Papal Schism of the Middle Ages (1378-1410) which saw as many as three rival Popes (and their followers) claiming legitimacy and anathematizing each other. Hopefully we will handle things better than they did. But in a knife fight, anything can happen. Thanks, John. Your parting gift to the Church has been to initiate “The Night of the Long Knives,” an intra-mural knife fight which will outlive you . . . and potentially define your legacy in ways that would surprise you.
A More Excellent Way
“Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.” (1 Corinthians 12:29-31)
The issue of the supernatural gifts of the Spirit – their nature, their use and their misuse – is as old as the New Testament. Students of the New Testament are well aware that the Church in the Greek city of Corinth was perhaps the most spiritually gifted of any Church in the New Testament, and perhaps the most troubled. By the time the Apostle Paul wrote 1st Corinthians, the exercise of those supernatural gifts had become, well, “messy.” In his letter to the Corinthian believers, Paul labored to clean up the “mess” and we find his instructions in Chapters 12-14. In Chapter 12 Paul explains the nature of spiritual gifts by offering the metaphor of a human body and its various parts to explain how all of the different gifts in Christ’s spiritual body need to work together – just as the various parts of the body must work together – in order to be healthy. Later, in Chapter 14, Paul explains how the various gifts are to be utilized when the Church gathers together for corporate worship.
But between these two Chapters on the proper functioning of the supernatural gifts in the Church, Paul inserts 1st Corinthians 13, what most Christians know as “The Love Chapter”. Let’s pause for a moment and ask a simple but obvious question: Why? In the midst of an extended explanation of the nature and role of the supernatural gifts in the life of the Church, why would Paul pen what is arguably the most eloquent description of divine love (agape) in all of Scripture? Answer that question (which I will, shortly), and you will begin to understand Paul’s “more excellent way”. Allow me to offer an answer by way of analogy. If the Church is God’s engine for accomplishing His Kingdom purposes in this world, then God’s love – manifested by and through God’s people in their corporate worship together – is the oil which keeps that engine from destroying itself. And I would further argue that the manifestation of that divine love toward one another in biblical community is as much a supernatural occurrence (unless you know how to produce divine love some other way?) as speaking in tongues or giving a word of prophesy or healing the sick.
The life of the body together, including the manifestation of the various gifts, is messy and produces “friction”. Gifts intended to build up the body can have the opposite effect when exercised without and apart from God’s love toward one another. Love means we exercise patience and kindness toward those who are immature in the exercise of their gift. Love means we do not become irritable at their mistakes, or resentful at their success. Love means we do not envy those whose gifting appears greater than our own, or boastful and arrogant when the opposite is true. Love in community amidst the operation of the supernatural gifts means we bear the burdens of those around us, believe the best about them, hope the best for them while being willing to endure all things on their behalf. That’s what Jesus did for us, and it is what He expects us to do for one another as a community of believers. Yes, even in the midst of the “imperfect” functioning of the gifts He has given us. One of the Cessationists’ favorite passages to use in an attempt to prove that the gifts have ceased is found in three verses in 1st Corinthians, Chapter 13:
“Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.” (1 Corinthians 13:8-10)
To attempt to use this passage to prove the cessation of the supernatural gifts is to completely miss Paul’s message, spread over three chapters. Will the gift of prophecy pass away? Yes. Will the gift of tongues cease? Yes. Will knowledge pass away? Yes. When will these things happen? The answer which is most consistent with New Testament Eschatology is: “When Jesus returns at the end of this present age.” Anything else is speculation in service to an agenda. When Jesus returns and inaugurates “the age to come” and the Kingdom of God, all the supernatural gifts will cease. They will no longer be needed. But unlike the gifts, God’s love will continue on, even in eternity. Until then, in the ongoing life of the Church during this present age, the supernatural gifts continue to function and God’s love manifested in the believing community continues to be the “oil” which enables the gifts and the community to function without destroying itself. And that won’t cease until Jesus returns.
Church News. The big news recently has been the release of the annual lists of the 100 largest and fastest growing churches in America, a joint project of Outreach Magazine and Lifeway Research. You can download the list as a PDF here. Ed Stetzer of LifeWay shares some of his thoughts on the list and what it shows. One of the things it shows is the continued explosive growth of the megachurch model. A recent article by Outreach Magazine suggested 10 trends which are shaping the megachurch of the future. Another trend (unrelated to the annual list) among megachurches appears to be a movement away from “mega” facilities toward “multiple” facilities. In other words, from megachurch to multi-site church (one church in several locations). Does the success or failure of contemporary Christianity rest upon our use of social media? These guys seem to think so. Books Worth Reading Need some good reading material? A couple of ideas. First, I had the privilege of studying under Carl F.H. Henry for a summer school course in Seminary. He was a profound thinker who packed more into a lecture than many professors put into an entire course. I was recently reminded of his seminal work which, in many ways, gave birth to contemporary Evangelical Christianity. Carl F.H. Henry, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism. Second, in The Gospel Call and True Conversion, Paul Washer challenges easy believism as he examines the real meaning of things like faith, repentance, and receiving Christ.
Postcards From The Edge Of A Post Christian Culture.
Mars Hill Senior Pastor Mark Driscoll is warning of darker days ahead for the church. If he is right (and I think he is), then I believe we are going to see a growing conflict which will challenge both our structures (how we do church) and our values (what we believe and why). On a related theme, I have argued that we are witnessing the death of private conscience if the expression of that conscience conflicts with the “politically correct conscience” of our culture. For example, broadcaster Craig James was recently fired by Fox Sports for views he expressed concerning gay marriage during a prior run for political office. Gay activists are training 50 people to work on convincing Evangelical Churches to re-interpret the Scriptures and change their views concerning homosexuality. The Catholic Church recently gave instructions to its military chaplains, barring them from participating in services and ceremonies for gay couples. And a young woman at Smith College is being vilified for suggesting the possibility of a “straight” sorority. On a positive note, Trevin Wax of The Gospel Coalition shares some excellent thoughts on people, church and our desire to remain unchanged by Jesus. And author Jessica Hong shares some reflections on the 50th anniversary of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. Few things in life are harder to refute than a politically correct scientific conclusion: The Earth Hasn’t Warmed In 15 Years. Oopps. Miscellaneous. Having written a brief book on the seven churches of Revelation (“When Jesus Visits His Church” – available on Kindle), I was impressed by this summary of the seven churches by Kevin DeYoung. Well done! Finally, some things are just too good to pass up. Apparently, being a gorilla is no excuse for acting like an animal.
Quote Worth Remembering: Words are cheap. It is by costly, self-denying Christian practice that we show the reality of our faith. —Jonathan Edwards
This article by The Gospel Coalition examines a recent survey by Focus on the Family and offers a more encouraging analysis of who is leaving the Church and why. Blogger David Murrow offers some interesting reflections on “Why Men Have Stopped Singing” in Church. I get it. Hey, let’s spend some quality time speculating on “What Church Will Be Like In 50 Years.” Good luck on that one. Check out “12 Characteristics of All-In Leaders” Really? Who writes this stuff, Zig Ziglar? File this one under “Move over, Jesus. It’s time for us to build your church.” This is why many ministries and churches get built, and why Jesus eventually leaves the building (if He ever bothered to enter in the first place). Are you involved in a multi-site or multi-campus church. This article reflects on whether “McChurch” is the future or a fad. I recently came across this excellent post by Kevin DeYoung on the essentials of Christian faith. This post by The Gospel Coalition reviews the book “The Great Evangelical Recession”. I enjoyed this observation from the review: “As cultural values have shifted, it is hardly surprising that cultural incentive to church participation has evaporated. Folks brought in by attractions other than the gospel and fed a diet hostile to the gospel (e.g., “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism”) can hardly be expected to stick around once church affiliation requires taking up any sort of cross.” Gotta love church humor, posted by Ed Stetzer of LifeWay. Some quick thoughts by John Stott on the missional nature of the Church. Gotta love church humor, posted by Ed Stetzer of LifeWay. Finally, I couldn’t resist this article on small groups and “Jiffy Pop”.
Books Worth Reading
I recently came across several books to help you better understand how the Old Testament relates to the New Testament and the person of Christ. First, in Jesus On Every Page: 10 Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament, Dr. David Murray takes the reader on a “Road to Emmaus” journey to discover how to find Jesus in the Old Testament. Second, in “The Unfolding Mystery” Dr. Edmund Clowney takes a fascinating walk through the Old Testament, beginning with Adam and Eve and closing with the last of the prophets, revealing Christ in places where he is usually overlooked. Finally, a third book along this same line is Christ Crucified: The Once For All Sacrifice by 17th Century Puritan Stephen Charnock, republished with an introduction by J.I. Packer.
Is there a “best” way to share your faith? Well, there’s a “worst” way, and that’s to not do it. One of the “genius” moments of organizations like Cru (hate that name, formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) was to teach their staff and their participants to write out and memorize their testimony in a two-minute format that could be shared anywhere at any time. Most professing Christians have at least one of three problems: 1) they have no testimony to give, 2) they have a testimony but don’t know how to articulate it, 3) they are untrained in how to respond to questions and objections. This article deals with only the third issue. My encouragement? Give your testimony to those who will listen, and then see where the conversation goes from there. Your greatest “apologetic” will be the long-term authenticity of your life and witness.
Todd Engstrom shares his thoughts on why small groups don’t work. I’m not a regular follower of Frank Viola’s ministry, but when this showed up in my newsfeed (via another site), I had to admit he has some good points: “Advice To New Christians”. For those of us Westerners who thought we were doing ministry “outside the box,” this story of ministry in Thailand puts us in our place and challenges us to do more. Disciple making is the discussion topic de jour at church conferences and on Christian blogs today. Unfortunately, much of that discussion represents little more than re-packaged church programs with “Discipleship” now printed on the label. But I found this article somewhat refreshing and encouraging as it suggests that there are some fundamental shifts taking place when it comes to making disciples.
Postcards From The Edge Of A Post Christian Culture
What’s the balance between biblical love and biblical outrage in our digital world. “Outrage begins to eat us alive when it is not channeled into creative love. It does not produce the righteousness we rightly seek (James 1:20). And there is only so much love you can demonstrate in 140 characters on a glowing screen.” Here’s a good question: Is mass evangelism still relevant. This article suggests ten reasons why it may be (although I don’t find them overly convincing, myself). Our Postmodern culture doesn’t understand that our message is why we do what we do. So, what happens when we must choose between our message and our outreach? In the 1960s Francis Schaeffer, in books like “Death In the City,” was warning the Church that Western Culture had entered a Post-Christian era. Recently, Dr. Russell Moore has begun recovering that theme and speaking on the end of “cultural Christianity.” The Church has always been called to be a “peculiar” people. The rise of our Post Christian, Postmodern culture simply guarantees that our “peculiar-ness” will be more pronounced. In a related article Dr. Moore argues that, “The ongoing collapse of the Bible Belt will help the church recover its oddness and thereby further its mission.” On a related cultural note, Wallace Henley at The Christian Post as done and excellent 3-Part series of articles (“Millennium Fading, Tribulation Rising”: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) on the changing situation of the Church in Western Culture. And this article on Freedom of expression versus religious intolerance emphasizes this point. The man, the Ten Commandments and the American Culture. Before you watch “The Ten Commandments” again you should read this background article on Cecil B. DeMille. Now you know the rest of the story! There have been growing indications for years that the U.S. Military is turning openly hostile toward Christianity. And this article by Dr. Al Mohler of Southern Seminary gives an excellent summary of the crisis now fomenting in the U.S. military over the future of Evangelical Chaplains.
“Let Me Help”
It is known as the “penultimate” Star Trek episode; simply the best episode ever made. To StarTrek afficianados it is known as Season One, Episode 28, airdate April 6, 1967. To collectors of the boxed DVD set it is known as “The City On The Edge Of Forever.” While the Enterprise is investigating temporal disturbances from a nearby planet, Mr. Sulu is injured by a shock wave and explosion. Dr. McCoy gives Sulu a shot of cordrazine which saves his life. But when another shock wave rocks the Enterprise, Dr. McCoy accidentally injects himself with an overdose, rendering him delusional. He flees from the Bridge to the Transporter Room and beams himself down to the planet. Kirk and a landing party beam down to the planet surface where they find both Dr. McCoy and the source of the time distortions. An ancient glowing ring located among ageless ruins speaks and introduces itself and the “Guardian of Forever,” a gateway to other times and places. Escaping the clutches of the distracted landing party, McCoy jumps through the portal. Suddenly the landing party loses contact with the Enterprise. The Guardian explains that the past has been altered and the Enterprise no longer exists. In order to repair the timeline, Kirk and Spock must use the Guardian to go in search of McCoy. Passing through the Guardian, Kirk and Spock arrive in New York City during the 1930s Great Depression. After stealing some clothes to blend in, and running from the Police, they take refuge in the 21st Street Rescue Mission run by a woman named Edith Keeler (played by Joan Collins). They go to work for Ms. Keeler, who knows theses two are different, but doesn’t know why or how. Spock devotes his time and energy to building a computer (“out of stone knives and bear skins”) in order to read information stored on his tricorder which might explain what McCoy has done to alter history. Kirk begins to fall in love with Edith, whom he finds remarkable. On an evening stroll together, Edith expresses her desire to help Kirk with whatever trouble he may be in. “Let me help,” she implores. Kirk responds by pointing Edith to a star on Orion’s belt and telling her that a 100 years from then an author from a planet circling that star will write a best selling book based upon those three words, “Let Me Help,” even recommending them over “I love you.” There’s more to the episode, but I’ll leave it to you to find a copy and watch for yourself.
The “Let Me Help” of Biblical Community
By now you should be asking yourself, “How in the name of Star Fleet is he going to tie this together?” Thanks. I was hoping you would ask. The New Testament actually has a lot to say on the topic of “Let Me Help.” It simply expresses it in different language.
First, the New Testament approach to “Let Me Help” begins with those individuals whom God has gifted as leaders in the Church, specifically the itinerant 5-Fold leadership gifts: Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers (described in Ephesians 4:11-16). With every gift comes a responsibility. The 5-fold calling and responsibility is to “help” by “equipping” believers for the work of service (Eph. 4:12). The Greek word translated “equip” is katartidzo, meaning “to render (something) fit”. It is used in Matthew 4:21-22 & Mark 1:19-20 to describe the disciples “mending” their nets. I like to describe the role of the 5-Fold leadership gifts as teaching the church “the fine art of mending one another’s nets”. Let’s face reality for a moment, shall we. The stress of life and ministry in this present evil age shreds our nets, sometimes beyond our ability to mend them without help, producing the messiness of life both inside and outside of the ekklesia. The calling of the 5-fold gifts is to come alongside the Church – both individually and corporately – and to say, “Let me help. I see your nets are torn in this area. Let me help you mend them.”
Second, the New Testament approach to “Let Me Help” is expressed in what I call the “One Anothers” of biblical community. The role of 5-fold leaders is to be the “tuning fork” of the Church; to set the tone of “Let Me Help,” a tone which then resonates throughout the community of believers. But the real work of building biblical community is expressed in the “One Anothers” of the New Testament. Throughout the New Testament we find commands expressly given to the Church regarding how believers are to behave toward “one another.” I have found roughly 38 of them. The most famous and most repeated “one another” is the admonition to “love one another,” which occurs some 20 times. Here is a sample of a dozen “One Anothers” (remember, there are 25 more where these came from!):
1. Love One Another
2. Be Devoted To One Another
3. Live In Harmony With One Another
4. Welcome One Another
5. Give Preference To One Another
6. Be of The Same Mind Toward One Another
7. Owe Nothing To One Another
8. Do Not Judge One Another
9. Build Up One Another
10. Accept One Another
11. Admonish One Another
12. Serve One Another
Quite frankly, these sound very “churchy,” even down right “platitudinal.” A platitude is “a remark or statement, especially one with a moral content, that has been used too often to be interesting or thoughtful.” Another definition says a platitude is “a flat, dull, or trite remark, especially one uttered as if it were fresh or profound.” Sound familiar? It should. That’s exactly how most believers treat the “one anothers” of Scripture. We’ve heard them so often that they no longer interest or challenge us. They have become trite and dull. And that goes a long way toward explaining why we have so little genuine biblical community in “church.” But what if we were to take a cue from StarTrek? What if we were to think of the “one anothers” of Scripture in the personalized terms of “Let Me Help.” Then the “one anothers” of Scripture might look and sound a bit more interesting, not to mention more personally challenging:
1. Let Me Love You
2. Let Me Be Devoted To You
3. Let Me Live In Harmony With You
4. Let Me Welcome You Into My Home And My Life
5. Let Me Prefer You Over Others
6. Let Me Be of One Mind With You
7. Let Me Owe You Nothing, And Absolve You Of Any Debt To Me But Love
8. Let Me Not Judge You
9. Let Me Build You Up
10. Let Me Accept You For Who You Are
11. Let Me Admonish You
12. Let Me Serve You
Sound better? The “one anothers” of biblical community (or perhaps we should call them the “Let Me Helps” of biblical community) are, first and foremost, personal admonitions, guiding individual believers in how we are to act toward other fellow believers. Expressed this way, the “Let Me Helps” of biblical community are almost embarrassingly personal. For this reason alone it is difficult to see how genuine biblical community can exist and thrive among believers in groups larger than 15-to-20 people, or about the maximum size of an organic house church. Think about it. Just how many people can you meaningfully love, or be devoted to, or live in harmony with, or welcome into your home and life, or be of one mind with, or build up, or admonish, or serve, etc.? Yes, we can preach these values and behaviors to a mega church of 25,000 people, or to an average size American church of 360 people, but the personal and practical nature of their real-life application requires a relatively small group of 15-to-20 believers. If we need “proof” of this reality, we shouldn’t need to look further than the example of Jesus. All of these “one anothers” can be seen at work in His ministry to His twelve disciples. And I should add at this point that these “Let Me Helps” are given specifically to believers to guide their relationships with other believers. These are the values of life in the Kingdom given to guide disciples of the Kingdom in their life with one another. Their application toward unbelievers is secondary, if not tangential. If we can’t “get it right” within the Church, what hope do we have of manifesting it to unbelievers in any meaningful way?
Welcome to the “Let Me Helps” of biblical community. I’ll bet you never imagined that being a “Trekkie” could be so biblical.
O.K., fair warning. This article is best read over a cup of good coffee, or, if that’s unavailable, a steaming pot of Twinings English Breakfast Tea, preferably with cream and sugar, and made with rolled leaves, not that ground up stuff the American tea critics quite properly tossed into Boston harbor in 1773, rendering it undrinkable, even for Americans. Your choice. Ready? Then let’s get started.
If you and I were ancient Romans living in the 1st Century, and assuming we had survived until our 5th birthday (appallingly high infant morality rate and all), chances were good that we would live an additional 50 years. That would be a total life expectancy of around 55 years. Now, that didn’t mean people didn’t live longer. Even the Psalmist knew that there were people who lived longer when he observed, “The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.” (Psalm 90:10) But those were the upper boundaries, not the averages. From the time of Jesus until the early 20th Century, and the advent of modern medicine, the average life expectancy remained essentially unchanged. What modern medicine has been able to achieve is basically two-fold. First, it has dramatically reduced the rate of infant mortality, and that alone has been profound. When 50-to-75% of those born no longer die in the first five years of life, it skews the averages upwards in a significant way! But, second, modern medicine has been able to treat those chronic “issues” which historically begin to catch up with all of us somewhere in our 50s (things like cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, common cancers), and to mitigate their impact on our mortality. The net effect of all this is that more people than ever in human history are making it to that biblical “mile marker” of “fourscore” (i.e., 80, and, yes, there are even more centenarians – people living to 100). All of this “longevity,” however, has come at a cost. The mast majority of health care dollars are spent on the elderly and others with chronic conditions. It cost money to beat the averages. Even biblical boundaries come at a price.
So, what’s with all this existential navel gazing (say that three times real fast) over morbidity and mortality. No, I’m not dying, at least not immediately. Sorry to disappoint. But the reality is that somewhere in our 50s – assuming we’re paying attention to both the calendar and our condition – we begin to experience what a recent writer called “The Ache Of Mortality.” It is an “ache” which has been brought home to me and Gale as we have spent the past 2+ years caring for her parents. We have been in and out of hospitals, nursing homes and retirement homes more times than either of us can count or remember. And our experience has been “mild” compared with that of others we know (knowing other’s situations are worse is no comfort at all, trust me). We have seen first-hand the ability of modern medicine to manage people’s issues and symptoms in order to extend their lives so they can spend another day or week in a nursing home watching “The Price Is Right” and “Jeopardy”. And we have had doctors tell us honestly, “This is how people used to die. Now we manage their issues and keep them alive.” Welcome to “the ache of mortality.” For the Christian, the “ache of mortality” is particularly acute. Having been “born from above” and granted the gift of eternal life in the Kingdom of God, it reminds us that we are eternal souls in earth-bound bodies. But God has placed the “ache for eternity” so deep in the human soul that even a philosopher like Friedrich Nietszhe – the godfather of nihilism and the “death of God” movement – could write as follows,
O man! Attend!
What does deep midnight’s voice contend?
‘I slept my sleep,
‘And now awake at dreaming’s end:
‘The world is deep,
‘And deeper than day can comprehend.
‘Deep is its woe,
‘Joy—deeper than heart’s agony:
‘Woe says: Fade! Go!
‘But all joy wants eternity,
‘Wants deep, deep, deep eternity!’
(R. J. Hollingdale’s translation of “Zarathustra’s Roundelay” from Thus Spoke Zarathustra, by Friedrich Nietzsche.)
The ache of mortality and the longing for eternity is the silent tug inside every human heart, even inside those which ultimately deny it. The Apostle Paul understood “the ache of mortality” and the tension it creates within the believing heart. Paul was in his mid 50s when he wrote from Ephesus in Asia Minor to the Christians living in the Greek city of Corinth. This second letter to the Corinthian believers is one of the most intimate and personally revealing of Paul’s letters. And one of the things he reveals is his own “ache of mortality.” Here is what he says:
“Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven; inasmuch as we, having put it on, shall not be found naked. For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed, but to be clothed, in order that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” (2 Corinthians 4:16 – 5:4)
Paul’s vocabulary is revealing, reminding the Corinthians (and us) that – regardless of its length – this life is “temporary” (proskairos), literally, “for a season” (2 Corinth. 4:18). Next Paul describes our present bodies as a “tent dwelling” (Greek: oikia skēnos). He contrasts this temporary “tent dwelling” with the “built dwelling” (Greek: oikodome oikia) which awaits us in the Kingdom. Rather than being “for a season,” it will be “eternal” (Greek: aionios). In the interim, as we await the ending of this temporary season, we “groan” and are “burdened” (literally, “weighed down”) by the the ache of our own mortality. We look forward to the day when we are absent from the body and are present with the Lord, when we are “unclothed” from this temporary tent and are clothed with our permanent dwelling. Until that day arrives, our calling is to please Him and to prepare to acquit ourselves on that day when we must appear “before the judgment seat of Christ” in order to “receive what is due for what (we have) done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:9-10).
Here Are My “Take Aways”
Allow me to suggest five potential “take aways” or “responses” from all of this.
1. Reflect - Take some time to reflect on the brevity of our sojourn here. Regardless of however long it lasts, whatever the number of our days may be, life is “temporary”. Our sojourn here is “for a season”. Use it wisely, with an eye to what follows . . . and what lasts. Spend time reflecting on the words of Jim Elliott who, though he died “early,” made an impact which lasted far beyond him: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
2. Be Expectant - As Disciples of the Kingdom the ache of our mortality reminds us of that coming day when “No more shall there be . . . an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days, for the young man shall die a hundred years old, and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed” (Isaiah 65:20). We long for that day, and in our longing we are reminded of the brevity of this life and the unending glory of the life to come. I am not hoping for “pie in the sky by and by,” but I am looking forward to a Messianic Banquet in the Kingdom with Him Whom my soul loves (Isaiah 25).
3. Live well. The goal of life is not to live long, but to live well. In the Kingdom of God, life is measured by faith and impact, not by fear and length. Many young men died before their 30th birthday in 18th Century America, but few are remembered like David Brainerd. Why? Because his life was measured by his faith and its impact, not by its length.
4. Stay focused. Life is short, and much of it is outside of your control. Neither you nor I have unlimited time to do what God has called us to do. The Psalmist who understood the boundaries of our mortality also understood the importance of staying focused when he said, “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12) Let others live distracted lives. Not you.
5. Make disciples - Our Kingdom goal in this life should be obedience to what Jesus commanded us to do, and to leave a legacy that will out live us in time and meet us in eternity. Only disciples will do that. Not buildings. Not ministries. Not degrees. Not possessions. None of those things will follow you into eternity. Only disciples. So make MORE of them.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts. – Maurice
I thought I would experiment with a return to something I did years ago on our first ministry website. Hyperlinks were a new thing then and I did a running commentary with embedded hyperlinks to each of the news stories I mentioned. It was novel then. Now everyone does it. I’m considering doing this again once a week here just to highlight stories and issues of interest I’ve come across in my newsfeed. Consider this my “Back to the Future” first trial run. Randy Alcorn. Wowzers! After reading this article, my respect for Randy Alcorn just went through the roof! Keep up the great work! Gay marriage and the death of conscience. I have warned for years that the day would come when to act on the basis of one’s conscience, as informed by one’s biblical convictions, would be illegal if one’s conscience violated politically correct public policy. That day has arrived. Al Mohler of Southern Baptist Seminary comments on the recent New Mexico Supreme Court decision involving a Christian photographer who was sued for refusing to photograph a gay wedding ceremony. This is just breath-taking and has the potential to impact affect every church and Christian business in America. A similar case has developed in Oregon involving a Christian owned bakery which refused to bake the cake for a gay wedding. It reminds me of a quote from the movie, ”A Man For All Seasons,” about the life of Sir Thomas More. “When statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their own public duties they lead their country by a short route to chaos.” Should I Or Shouldn’t I? Some theological issues are simply timeless. The question is, should I grow my beard again. Decisions, decisions. Our Children Understand More Than We Thing They Do! This was one of those stories that was just too good to pass up. Rejoicing In Our Own Demise? Generally speaking, we should be very careful about rejoicing in our own demise. Columnist Wallace Henley has written a very good two part series on the profound cultural changes confronting the Evangelical Church. Part 1 is about the the decline of Christian influence in our Culture, while Part 2 examines the rise of anti-Christian antagonism. Before you rejoice in your own demise, you might want to give them a read. “All Thy Breakers.” Feeling challenged and “sifted” by God’s dealings in your life? Then you might want to read the stories of this Church, their struggles and their faith. The Duck Men Strike Again. There is perhaps no greater “Oxymoron” than “Reality Television.” This article is a MUST read, even if you aren’t a fan of “Duck Dynasty”. The Drums of War (Again). The National Association of Evangelical (representing 40 of Evangelical Churches in America) recently polled pastors concerning whether or not they support air strikes against Syria. 62% said “No”. How dare those warmongering Christians nix a perfectly good opportunity to bomb a bunch of people! After ten years of war, and the prospect of more to come, I can’t help but remember Simon & Garfunkel (I was in High School when this came out). After everyone has forgotten Miley Cyrus, and Lady Gaga has joined her “meat dress” in the dumpster, people will still be reflecting on this. To Bomb Or Not To Bomb, What Is The Lesson? Joel Rosenberg muses on lessons Israeli leaders are learning from President’s Obama’s vacillations on Syria. No Intelligent Design? Really? An excellent article on the symmetry of the universe. My “take away” was that the secularist places his (or her) “faith” in the mysteries of the Universe, rather than God; while the Christian places his (or her) “faith” in the mysteries of God, rather than the Universe. Protecting the digital identity of your children. And excellent article about how one couple is protecting their new daughter’s digital identity and privacy.
Maurice’s Musings For Tuesday, August 6, 2013
I’m somewhat of a late comer to this discussion. Just over a week ago (July 27, to be exact) blogger/author Rachel Held Evans wrote a guest piece for CNN’s Belief Blog entitled Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church. I’ve followed Ms. Evan’s blogging for some time, and this article didn’t really break any new ground, either for her, or for the Church. But the appearance of the article on a “larger platform” such as CNN gave it wider-than-normal exposure, which generated more-than-normal attention. Not to mention more responses. One of the benefits of not being a “millennial” is, well, the ability to offer a little perspective. At least I hope so. But before I can do that, I need to offer a disclosure and a definition.
“Millennials” Versus “Boomers”
Let me begin with a shameless personal disclosure: I am a “Boomer”. This means I am part of that Post-World War 2 generation born between about 1946 and 1960. I was born in 1954. Mine is the generation of the VietNam War, the draft (yes, I had a draft card), the Beatles, the Cold War, Flower Power, free love, Haight-Asbury, Berkley Free Speech, The Black Panthers, “Love Story,” and The Jesus Movement. I was raised as a United Methodist (yep, the “liberal” guys), made a profession of faith the summer between my Junior and Senior years of High School at a small Southern Baptist Church outside of Fayetteville, North Carolina and did street ministry for a year among GIs returning from Southeast Asia. I went on to the University of North Carolina where, along with a group of committed believers, I helped lead a campus-wide outreach and spiritual awakening in the Spring of 1975. My reason for sharing this (beside the fact that I said it would be a “shameless personal disclosure”) is to make a point: Millennials, such as Ms. Evans, are not the first generation of believers to confront the task of reaching their unique generation for the Kingdom of God. Indeed, it is the task of every generation to do so. So, consider what follows to be the reflections of an aging spiritual “Boomer,” taking what little he has learned and passing it on from one generation to the next.
OK, about Millennials. They represent the largest single generation since the Post-World War 2 “Boomers”. Born between roughly 1981 and 1995 they number something on the order of 76 million. They represent a highly diverse generation that welcomes, accepts and celebrates both diversity and equality. Millennials are highly empowered by technology. In a very real sense, theirs is the first true “digital generation”. Every aspect of their lives is entwined with technology, hence the descriptive phrase, “Digital Natives.” Ms. Evans sums it up well, ”I wrote my first essay with a pen and paper, but by the time I graduated from college, I owned a cell phone and used Google as a verb. I still remember the home phone numbers of my old high school friends, but don’t ask me to recite my husband’s without checking my contacts first. I own mix tapes that include selections from Nirvana and Pearl Jam, but I’ve never planned a trip without Travelocity.” Interesting. I prefer Expedia and Kayak over Travelocity, but I remember rotary dial phones and the three letter phone prefix for the phone in the home where I grew up (HUD was the prefix, referring to the “Hudson” exchange). I went through Seminary with a SmithCorona Super 12 electric typewriter, but I’m writing this newsletter on Gmail with a laptop. Yep, things have changed.
As a result of their digital addictions, Millennials frequently develop and manage their identities on line. Theirs is “the Facebook Generation” in which friends, interests, aspirations, spirituality and more are all on display on social networks for everyone to see. This has also fostered a change in relationships. Millennials have replaced dating with “hooking up,” relationships which are much more casual and involve no commitment, summarized by the phrase “Friends with benefits” (i.e., friends who have sex, in case you’re wondering). Millennials tend to be a highly passionate and positive generation which believes they can make a difference in the world. So much for
“Millennial” generalities. Let’s look at specifics, as Ms. Evans explains them to us.
The Church And Millennials
OK, it’s time to dig into “the meat of the matter.” Let’s begin with the topic itself, “Why Millennials Are Leaving The Church”. The topic of “church leavers” certainly isn’t new. Over ten years ago a New Zealand doctoral student in Sociology named Alan Jaimieson was writing about “The Ten Myths Of Church Leavers.” (Alan’s book, A Churchless Faith: Faith Journey’s Beyond The Churches,” based on his doctoral work, is available on Amazon). Some 13 years ago, about the time Ms Evans was looking forward to graduation from college, my wife and I left the traditional institutional church and began a journey into “organic church” and service among “the least of these.” Simply put, Millennials are not the first generation of believers to go in search of the Kingdom of God outside the walls of the institutional church. Many of us have been on that journey longer than most Millennials.
Survey Says . . . Ms. Evans Millennial critique of evangelicalism includes a reference to “survey” results. Surveys can be helpful tools. The Barna organization has been doing them and writing books about them for 20 years. If you want a church run by survey results and marketing, join the Willow Creek Association. They’re experts at it. But be warned: there are problems. Surveys give you a snapshot in time concerning people’s wants and desires. Studies, on the other hand, show the results of implementing those surveys. And the studies done throughout the Willow Creek network reveal that while the model is effective at attracting Millennials (and others), it fails at the most basic task assigned to the Church, namely, the making of committed disciples (for more, click here). There is a significant danger in attempting to build your “Ecclesiology” on surveys. Better to disciple a handful of Millennials who “get it,” than to fill a megachurch building with hundreds of Millennials who don’t. Get it?
What Millennials Think. Ms. Evans proceeds with an overview of how Millennials view Evangelical Christianity: too political, too exclusive, old-fashioned, unconcerned with social justice and hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. She goes on to observe that, according to research (read “surveys”), “young evangelicals often feel they have to choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith, between science and Christianity, between compassion and holiness.” She concludes by observing how “the evangelical obsession with sex can make Christian living seem like little more than sticking to a list of rules.”
It is difficult to respond accurately to such wide-ranging observations, which include both truth and misrepresentation. Evangelical Churches are too political, but so are liberal non-Evangelical Churches. The condemnation of one for being “too political” must apply equally to the other. Before accusing Evangelicals of being unconcerned with “social Justice” it might be helpful to define the term (more about this below). For the past 200 years – in response to the vitriolic attacks of philosophical “modernism” – Evangelical Christians have been forced to defend both their intellectual integrity and their faith. Many of us were engaged in defending both our intellectual integrity and our faith (that’s called “apologetics”) in hostile Post-Christian environments on secular University campuses before Ms. Evans parents even considered having kids. It’s what Tertullian did in response to inquisitive Romans of the Third Century, and it’s what we do in response to inquisitive postmodern Millennials of the 21st Century. It is a timeless – and apparently thankless – task. Get used to it, because it isn’t going away any time soon. And as for sex, “obsession with sex” didn’t start with Evangelicals, not unless Hugh Heffner was an Evangelical. The “sexual boundaries” of biblical faith were well established for 3,000 years (no sex before marriage, no sex outside of marriage, no sex with family members, no sex inside your gender, no sex outside your species). The “sexual revolution” of the 60s (and beyond), led by such people as Hugh Heffner and Helen Gurley Brown, challenged those boundaries. The Evangelical Church found itself challenged and forced to defend its beliefs by an increasingly sex-obsessed culture determined to eliminate all sexual boundaries. Sexual purity Biblically defined (by the 5 boundaries I listed above) has been a characteristic of biblical faith for 3,000 years. If anyone is “obsessed” with sex, it appears to be those seeking to overturn 3,000 years of biblical teaching.
What Millennials Want. Now, this is where things get, well, interesting. Ms. Evans offers a list of things Millennials want, spiritually speaking, introduced with a call to “substance” over “style” (Amen to that!). I want to comment on Ms. Evans list of Millennial wants,” and I will try to be brief:
1) We want an end to the culture wars. As noted above, Millennials want greater involvement in “social justice” but an end to “culture wars.” If only it were that simple. The problem is that one person’s “social justice” is someone else’s “culture war.” For example, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., preached from the pulpit of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta against racial discrimination, was that a call to “social justice” or a call to war against a white-dominated culture of discrimination? Yes, it was. And there’s the rub. You aren’t ending the culture wars. You’re simply changing labels and adopting different issues. One person’s “social justice” is someone else’s “culture war.” The difference is often one of perspective.
2) We want a truce between science and faith. Sorry. It simply isn’t going to happen, not as long as the Hitchins and Dawkins (et. al.) of the world continue to publicly attack Christianity as being “anti-intellectual” or “anti-science” or whatever pejorative they choose to use. Those of us who have been engaged in philosophical apologetics over the past 40 years have known that “modern science” (or more properly, “postmodern science”) has been predicated on certain “axioms,” including the following: 1) there is no God; 2) the universe is a closed system of materialistic cause and effect; 3) miracles are not possible. Given these three “axioms,” Christianity and biblical faith are – by definition – myths, or dangerous delusions. In his book, “Why I Am Not A Christian,” British mathematician and atheist Bertrand Russell asked rhetorically, “Do I have to believe in talking donkeys in order to be a Christian?” The answer, of course is “No.” But you DO have to believe in a God who is able to make a donkey talk if He chooses to do so. The same is true in the realm of faith and science. Do Millennials (or anyone else) have to believe in a literal 7-day creation in order to be a Christian? No, they don’t. But they MUST believe in a God who is able to create the universe in seven days if He chose to do so. And there’s the rub. Our problem isn’t necessarily with science, but with our view of God. And that is where Millennials (like the rest of us) must begin in order to resolve this tension.
3) We want to be known for what we stand for, not what we are against. Amen! And in a perfect world, that would be the case. In a perfect world we would be known only for the salt and light of our good deeds performed in the name of Jesus. But in this imperfect world we will be known for both. There are numerous reasons, including the reality that to stand for one thing is to oppose its opposite. To stand for biblical righteousness is to stand against those things which offend that righteousness. To stand for the Kingdom of God and its values is to also stand against the kingdoms of men who have no interest in the values of the Kingdom or in Jesus being their King. To be “pro-life” and to stand for the rights of the unborn is to stand against those who would insist that the unborn have no rights. And the list goes on, as it always has.
4) We want to ask questions that don’t have predetermined answers. This is a nuanced statement which requires a nuanced response. Actually, it requires a story. In his book, “The Case For Faith,” author Lee Strobel tells the story of two men – two preaching colleagues. In 1949 Billy Graham and Charles Templeton were preaching colleagues with Youth For Christ. Their ministries were booming, but both me were wrestling with “questions” they could not answer. Doubts they could not resolve. Finally, at a Bible conference with Henrietta Mears in the late Summer of 1949, Billy Graham took a long walk with God and made a personal commitment to accept the Bible as God’s authoritative word by faith, in spite of his unresolved questions. The following month Graham undertook his Greater Los Angeles Crusade which catapulted him to national prominence as an evangelist. Charles Templeton, on the other hand, was unable to make such a commitment of faith. Overwhelmed by his own questions and doubts, Templeton eventually left the ministry. In 1957 he declared himself an agnostic. Christians – including Millennials – should never be afraid to ask questions. But neither should they be afraid of “predetermined answers.” The existence of a “predetermined answer” simply means that you are NOT the first person to ask or wrestle with that question. Other pilgrims have trod this road, and have left markers (“predetermined answers”) to guide those of us who follow behind them. Sometimes their “predetermined answers” are correct. But embracing them requires a degree of humility, and a faith on our part that precedes understanding. Like Anselm, we must believe in order that we might understand. Humility and caution would remind us that life, ministry and eternity are not determined by the questions we ask, but by the answers we choose to embrace, to believe and to build our lives upon. And that makes “predetermined answers” to critical questions of more than passing significance.
5) We want churches that emphasize an allegiance to the kingdom of God over an allegiance to a single political party or a single nation. Again, Amen! But beware the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God as proclaimed by Jesus places high demands upon all who would be disciples of that Kingdom. The Kingdom demands that we repent of our sin and rebellion, submit the totality of our lives to the King, and take up His cross daily in order to follow Him. Like all of us who have responded to Jesus’ call to “follow me,” Millennials must give up their “wants” in exchange for the Kingdom’s “demands.” Jesus does not give us what we “want,” but in the call of the Kingdom He offers us what we “need”: pardon for our rebellion, forgiveness for our sin, reconciliation with God, redemption from the marketplace of slavery to unrighteousness, along with a yoke which is comparatively easy and burden which is comparatively light. He offers us a Jesus-shaped spirituality, but that’s a discussion for another day.
6) We want our LGBT friends to feel truly welcome in our faith communities. I agree . . . to a point. Jesus loved and embraced the marginalized, irrespective of their condition. Indeed, because He embraced the marginalized, He was frequently accused of spending too much time with “tax collectors and sinners.” But neither Jesus nor the Kingdom ever left people in the same condition in which He found them. For this reason, the Kingdom is a “discomforting” place. It is constantly confronting our sin and rebellion, while challenging us to greater faith and obedience. Jesus embraced the marginalized Samaritan woman at the well of Sychar (John 4), but He did not leave her as He found her. He confronted her lifestyle and challenged her to greater faith and obedience. As a result of her faith and obedience, her entire village came to a knowledge of Jesus as the Messiah. Can the same be said concerning your faith community and your LGBT friends? Are they (and you) experiencing the challenge of the Kingdom to greater faith and obedience? Are you, at some point, being as forthright in your response to their questions regarding their faith and sexuality as Ravi Zacharias is to this questioning student?
7) We want to be challenged to live lives of holiness, not only when it comes to sex, but also when it comes to living simply, caring for the poor and oppressed, pursuing reconciliation, engaging in creation care and becoming peacemakers. Again, AMEN! Here’s the problem. Holiness is unrelated to any of the things mentioned here (that’ll ruffle some traditional feathers). There are non-believers who do everything on this list (and more) but who are not “holy” in any Biblically meaningful way. Holiness isn’t about what you do our don’t do. Holiness is about Who you are, Who you know, Who knows you, and into whose image you and I are being transformed. We aren’t holy because we serve “the least of these.” We are holy because our lives are in submission to the God Who is “Holy, Holy, Holy.” But genuine holiness in the life of the believer will eventually express itself in the obedience of seeking, embracing and serving the marginalized (along with other good deeds of “salt” and “light”). If Millennials want to be more holy, then they – like the reset of us – must start by submitting their lives to the Messiah-King. Obedience to His commands will do the rest.
She Nails The Truth Of The Matter
Finally, Ms. Evans summarizes her observations concerning Millennials and the Church with a statement that deserves our undivided attention:“We’re not leaving the church because we don’t find the cool factor there; we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there. Like every generation before ours and every generation after, deep down, we long for Jesus.” And that, friends, is “the money quote” and the whole heart of the matter. For all of her existential meanderings in her post, Ms. Evans has nailed it here. Virtually every study done of church-leavers over the past decade or so has come to the same conclusion. Author Reggie McNeal, Director of leadership development for the South Carolina Baptist Convention stated it this way some 10 years ago:
“A growing number of people are leaving the institutional church for a new reason. They are not leaving because they have lost faith. They are leaving the church to preserve their faith. They contend that the church no longer contributes to their spiritual development. In fact, they say, quite the opposite. The number of “post-generational” Christians is growing. David Barrett, author of the World Christian Encyclopedia, estimates that there are about 112 million “churchless Christians” world wide, and about 5 percent of all adherents, but he projects that number will double in the next twenty five years!”
Again, people (including Millennials, but not exclusively) are leaving the church as we and they have known it, not because they have lost their faith but in order to preserve their faith, or to find it outside the walls of organized religion. In the words of the late Michael Spencer, they are in search of a Jesus-shaped spirituality as opposed to the religion-shaped spirituality they were offered. They left in search of Jesus. Our task for this generation – as in every generation – is to help them find Him.
Chapter 8 - The Things That Shape Us
“We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.”
- Sir Winston Churchill
In the Battle of Britain during World War 2 the British House of Commons sustained heavy bomb damage. On October 28, 1944, during the rebuilding of the House of Commons, Winston Churchill spoke to Parliament and made the above observation. I would suggest that Churchill’s observation was probably more insightful than even he understood. We all begin with values which guide us as we shape our buildings, our “structures.” But at some point along the way, our buildings – our “structures” – begin to shape our values. The same truth applies to our spiritual lives, what I refer to throughout this book as our “spirituality.” When it comes to matters involving our “spirituality” – how we understand such things as God, faith, obedience, etc. – we are generally shaped by one of two things: values or structures. This is as true for you and me as it was for Jesus’ first disciples.
Our spirituality represents the embodiment and our daily expression of everything we believe concerning Scripture, God, worship, truth, sin, redemption, faith, obedience and our life in the Kingdom of God. The people of God had begun their spiritual journey some 20 centuries before Jesus with a faith-driven Jehovah-shaped spirituality embodied by Abraham. The spiritual values of that Jehovah-shaped spirituality were later codified by God through Moses in “the Law,” forged in the fires of faith, holiness, and obedience upon Mount Sinai. But over the intervening centuries the fires of that Jehovah-shaped spirituality had gone cold. The values of the Law had been superceded by a religious structure and a religious legalism, devoid of faith. Personal faith and obedience to God had become lost in a religion-shaped spirituality fashioned around structures rather than values, law rather than grace, sacrifice rather than mercy, outward conformity rather than inward transformation and tradition rather than truth. By the time of Jesus, the embodiment of that religion-shaped spirituality could be seen on full display in the religious leadership of 1st Century institutional Judaism. The religion-shaped spirituality they had created and the religious structures they controlled had become more important to them than the faith they had lost or the God they claimed to worship. By the time Jesus came on the scene, the religion-shaped spirituality of 1st Century Judaism was simply unsuited for the Kingdom. It represented the structure of an old wineskin which could not hold the new wine and values of the Kingdom. It must be challenged and eventually laid aside. This is frequently true of wineskins which men create. It is even true today.
Jesus Versus The Disciples
When Jesus first called His disciples, they were men with a deeply ingrained religion-shaped spirituality, bequeathed to them by 1st Century Judaism. Nearly everything they thought they knew about the God of Israel they had learned from the institutional religious structure of 1st Century Judaism. And it showed. They regarded all Gentiles (non-Jews) as “unclean” and refused to associate with them (Acts 10:28), because that’s what Judaism taught. They despised Samaritans (John Chapter 4), just as they had been taught, and were ready on a moment’s notice to call down fire from heaven to consume them (Luke 9:52-54). Their religion-shaped spirituality told them to avoid all Gentiles, most women (outside of family members), lepers and tax-collectors in particular and “sinners” in general. It was a sin to heal anyone on the Sabbath, and a man was probably born blind because either he or his parents had sinned (John 9:2). According to what they had been taught, God was a “legalist,” and one could not be truly religious or spiritual without obeying the more than 5,000 religious rules and regulations (“traditions of the elders”) which governed 1st Century Judaism.
Then they met Jesus. And for the next three-and-a-half years He would shake and bend their religion-shaped spirituality to the breaking point. As they traveled with Him along the highways and byways of Israel, they watched in stunned disbelief as He ministered to both women AND Samaritans, and allowed a woman of questionable character (“a sinner”) to minister to Him (Luke 7:36-39). They watched Him heal lepers with a touch, when a spoken word would have accomplished the same thing. They even joined Him as He dined in their homes (Matthew 26:6) because He wanted to make a point about ministry to “the least of these.” They accompanied Him as He dined in the homes of tax-collectors, “hung out” with assorted “sinners” and ministered to a gentile woman and her daughter (Matthew 15:22-28). They watched as He healed on the Sabbath in order to provoke a confrontation with the leaders of institutional Judaism (Matthew 12:10; Mark 3:2; Luke 14:3). There was more, but you get the point.
For three-and-a-half years Jesus challenged everything His disciples knew about God, faith, religion and spirituality. Jesus challenged their understanding of God until He was their understanding of God. He challenged their understanding of religious authority until He was their understanding of religious authority. He challenged their understanding of obedience to God until they understood that obedience to Him WAS obedience to God. And He challenged their understanding of spirituality and religion until He embodied their understanding of spirituality and religion. He challenged them to rid themselves of all “other things” in their spiritual lives until He and He alone was “the main thing” in their spiritual lives.
Twelve Changed Men
After spending three-and-a-half years with Jesus, the disciples emerged from the events of the crucifixion and resurrection as profoundly changed men. Gone was the religion-shaped spirituality inherited from 1st Century Judaism. In its place was a Jesus-shaped spirituality fashioned by Jesus and suited for life, ministry and discipleship in the Kingdom of God. Scripture recognizes and points out this profound change early in the Book of Acts. In their first post-resurrection encounter with the disciples, the Jewish religious authorities found themselves at a loss to explain who these people were until they “began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13) The disciples had been changed beyond recognition. They were no longer the obedient Jewish religionists Jesus had first called along the shores of Galilee. They were now men who had been profoundly transformed by a Jesus-shaped spirituality. They were now disciples of the Kingdom.
Later in the book of Acts we read, “and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch” (Acts 11:26). The Greek word for “Christians” is what we call a “diminutive” – a word formed by adding a suffix to a root word in order to indicate “smallness”. The Greek term “Christians” literally means “little Christ-ones”. We don’t know who first referred to the disciples in Antioch as “Christians.” I suspect it was people outside the Church who intended the label as something approaching a slur. If so, they unwittingly paid those early disciples the highest possible compliment. They accused them of looking like Jesus. They accused them of manifesting a Jesus-shaped spirituality.
Today, we are very loose with our terminology. We describe someone as a “Christian” simply because they attend a church service and make some nominal profession of faith. Our standards for what constitutes a “Christian” are really quite low. Not so in the early church. “Christian” was the label given by unbelievers who watched the early disciples manifest a Jesus-shaped spirituality in their daily lives, and in the face of mounting persecution. We could restate it this way. Biblically speaking, “A Christian is a disciple of the Kingdom who manifests a Jesus-shaped spirituality”.
What Shapes You?
At the end of the day you and I embody the things we believe and which have shaped us. We are either the living embodiment of a set of religious rules and beliefs given to us by the religious structures which have shaped us, or we are the embodiment of a daily relationship with the living, risen Jesus. We are either disciples of the Kingdom of God and its values or we are disciples of a religious organization and its values. We are either the embodiment of a Jesus-shaped spirituality, fashioned around Jesus and the values of the Kingdom, or we are the embodiment of a religion-shaped spirituality, fashioned around the values and structures of someone or something else.
What is a Jesus-shaped spirituality? It is the life of a disciple who looks like Jesus and who sounds like the Kingdom of God, as opposed to looking and sounding like some religious leader and his (or her) organization. A Jesus-shaped spirituality is one which challenges us to become disciples of the Kingdom by submitting our lives to the Lordship of Jesus, the Messiah-King, and to follow him in daily obedience. Jesus wants to challenge our understanding of God until He IS our understanding of God. He wants to challenge our understanding of religious authority until He IS our understanding of religious authority. He wants to challenge our understanding of obedience to God until we understand that obedience to Him IS obedience to God. And He wants to challenge our understanding of spirituality and religion until He IS our understanding of spirituality and religion. In short, Jesus wants to challenge us to rid ourselves of all “other things” in our spiritual lives until He and He alone is “the main thing” in our spiritual lives.
The pursuit of a Jesus-shaped spirituality means cutting our ties with the comfortable and safe religious traditions, customs and assumptions we may have known, and embracing the wildness of the Kingdom of God as proclaimed by an itinerant Rabbi and carpenter from Nazareth Who now rules as Messiah and King. The religion-shaped spirituality you may have known in the past is not a reliable guide to who Jesus is, or what He wants you to do today. A Jesus-shaped spirituality must be pursued on Jesus’ terms and no others. That was the first lesson Jesus’ disciples had to learn, and it is a lesson we need to learn (again) as well.
Values, Structure And Discipleship
“You never change a structure until you change a value. We do not transplant systems and structures. We transplant values and life.” – William Beckham
Reflecting on the current state of the church in the early years of the 21st Century, there is a fundamental reality which confronts us regarding our lack of disciple-making in the church today. The nature of discipleship – the relationship between a teacher and a student – presents the contemporary church with a conundrum. Specifically, it presents us with a fundamental conflict between our values on the one hand (i.e., making disciples as Jesus commanded) and our structure on the other (large organized churches led by paid staff). Our structures are designed to attract and entertain the masses. They are not designed to make disciples. According to the National Congregations Study conducted at Duke University, 90% of all church congregations in America have 350 or fewer people. Using this as a benchmark, the pastor of such a church would need to be roughly thirty times more effective than Jesus in order to disciple his (or her) congregation the way Jesus did (that’s 30 X 12 = 360) . Simply stated, our current church structure all but guarantees that the vast majority of the people attending our churches will never be discipled in any biblically meaningful way, so long as they are part of that structure. Our structure guarantees our failure at the primary task we have been given to accomplish, the impartation of Kingdom values to the next generation of believers and disciples.
If discipleship as modeled and commanded by Jesus is one of our core “values,” and if our current “structure” of church guarantees our inability to implement that value, then we are confronted with a fundamental crisis which demands a choice on our part. We must choose either to embrace the “value” of discipleship and allow that value to shape and change our structures, or to admit to ourselves that our structures have become our value and that we have, indeed, been conquered by our structures and the religion-shaped spirituality which they inevitable produce.
If our goal is to attract and entertain the masses, and to lead them into some form of nominal “belief,” then the megachurch model is by far the best methodology. It works, at least for that purpose. But if our goal is to follow the example and command of Jesus to make disciples, then we must do things differently. Jesus lived His life to please an audience of One, to train an audience of twelve and to proclaim the Kingdom of God to an audience of whoever would listen. But Jesus focused His time and effort on a handful of disciples, challenging them to examine their lives in the mirror of truth which He held up to them, and to radically alter their values and their lives accordingly. He challenged their religion-shaped spirituality – inherited from 1st Century Judaism – to it’s breaking point. And in it’s place He shaped them with a spirituality molded around Himself and the values of the Kingdom.
Jesus didn’t raise up and train “worker bees” for a religious program, not even a “missions” program. He ushered in a Kingdom by investing Himself in twelve key people. They were His plan, and the Kingdom of God was His program. Jesus’ goal was to establish the Kingdom of God in the hearts, minds and lives of a handful of men. And He chose the methodology best suited to achieving that goal. That’s how Jesus made disciples of the Kingdom of God. I believe that is what He would do if He were making Kingdom disciples today. And that is what we must do, too. The remainder of this book is devoted to examining the ministry of Jesus with those twelve men and the values He sought to teach them.
Questions For Reflection
Spend some time reflecting on your own discipleship. What are the “values” which have shaped your discipleship? Where did you learn those values, from Jesus and the Kingdom or from someone or something else? How are you imparting those values to others? What is the difference between a “value” and an “activity”?
Key Thought: You and I are the embodiment of what we believe and the values which have shaped us. We are either the living embodiment of a set of religious rules and beliefs given to us by the religious structures which have shaped us, or we are the embodiment of a daily relationship with the living, risen Jesus.
And They Dreamt Of A Kingdom
Biblical Studies On Discipleship And The Kingdom Of God
© 2013 Copyright Rising River Media. All Rights Reserved
Chapter 2 – The Kingdom
© 2013 Copyright Rising River Media. All Rights Reserved
The Kingdom of God has always existed.
During ages long enough for mountains to crumble and for stars to burn cold in the heavens, had they existed, but short enough to seem like a hand full of days had God chosen to record them, the Kingdom of God stretched like a seamless canvass through eternity past. Before there was time, before the worlds were created and the morning stars sang together, the Kingdom of God had existed. It existed in the person of the King, the Triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – Who among themselves exercised kingly power, dominion and rule within the God-head. Like a boundless, limitless and undisturbed ocean of divine Presence the God-head existed in perfection of beauty, love, glory, honor, blessing, power and dominion. Kingship exists in the ability to exercise kingly dominion and rule over oneself, and this the Lord God, the Almighty, the One-in-Three and Three-in-One, did with that perfection of holiness and beauty which belongs to Him alone. Then, from within that perfection of self-dominion, and for reasons we are never given, He spoke those words which would forever change all that followed.
“Let there be light,” were the simple words uttered by the Most High. And there was light, for in Him is no darkness at all. Now, like mixed fabrics upon a weavers loom, the time of men and angels intruded upon the eternity of God. Worlds came into being by the power of His word, and the Lord God, the Almighty, wore His creation like a newly spun garment perfectly befitting the Kingly wearer. Like a traveler inhabiting a spacious tent, God’s kingly Presence inhabited His freshly created universe where newly created beings attended Him and experienced His kingly power and dominion. Myriads times myriads upon countless myriads of angels, perfect and incorporeal in their being, now worshiped the One Who called them into existence and Who now called them to serve His Kingdom purposes with spiritual power which reflected their maker. They would be His emissaries, servants and messengers to bear His Name and to do His bidding in this newly created universe which would soon be populated by another created being.
In the midst of countless galaxies, and stars without number, spread over unimaginable light-years of time and space, spanning little more than their Maker’s handbreadth, hung a world of unique significance. The Lord God had spoken existence, order and life into empty space. But now the music and power of His spoken word focused upon this tiny blue globe, turning chaos into order, darkness into light and a formless void into timeless beauty. At His command empty sea-beds filled with water and dry land called “earth” appeared. He spoke and this once-barren world brought forth vegetation of every kind. He spoke again and the music of His spoken word caused living creatures to appear in the sea, in the air and on the land.
Then, on the sixth and final day of His creative song, the Lord God created a being different from all the rest. This one He created without a word. While angelic majesties watched in wonder, the Lord God fashioned this one with His own hands from the dust of His newly created world. And with His own mouth He breathed life into this creature of clay and spittle. Unlike the angels or any other created being, this one – this “Ish” and his “Isha,” this man and this woman – together would bear the very image of their Creator, a free will and moral agency unknown by any other creature. In His kingly dominion the Lord God would now rule a realm inhabited not just by angels but also by men and women created in his own image. They would be His unique creatures and He would pursue a unique and intimate relationship with them. They would walk together, God and man, in the beauty of this newly created world. Together they would experience the morning dews, the glorious days and the indescribable sunsets. God and man would experience the joy of one another’s company – a unique fellowship of creature and Creator, of subject and King. His Kingdom would come and His kingly will would be done on this newly created world, and these two – the man and the woman – would be the beginning of a Kingly rule which would know no end.
But then it happened. No one knows exactly when, but it began among the angelic host. One of their number, Lucifer, the “Light Bearer” and “star of the morning,” who stood, worshiped and served in the very Presence of the Lord God as the greatest of all the angelic beings, chose pride rather than humility and rebellion rather than obedience. “I will make myself like the Most High,” he declared. And with that declaration Lucifer led a third of the numberless angelic host in rebellion against the King of Heaven. But like the pot rebelling against the potter, the creatures were no match for their Creator. The heavens shook as angels battled angels, but with one stroke of His mighty right arm the Lord God gave Himself the victory, vanquishing all opposition and banishing them forever from His Presence. Creatures which had once enjoyed the light of God’s Presence now fell into a darkness of their own making. And a creation which had been brought forth in perfection now experienced the first bitter taste of corruption. Where there had once been only a single Kingdom of light, ruled by the Lord God as King, a new, lesser domain now arose. A domain of darkness, rebellion and corruption ruled by one who was more than a man but less than a god. From the seed of that angelic rebellion, watered by the bitter moisture of unimaginable hatred, emerged the Adversary, the Serpent – Satan – along with his demonic host of fallen angels. He who once bore the light of God’s Presence now ruled a domain of darkness. Together, Satan and his demonic hordes would devote themselves to the destruction of everything the Lord God loved. The creature would challenge the Creator. And he would begin that challenge with that unique creature who inhabited that world of the Lord God’s special attention.
Rebellion breeds rebellion. Fueled and driven by an unbounded hatred of the Lord God and everything He loved, Lucifer now devised a plan to destroy God’s Kingdom rule and dominion over His newly created world. He would work tirelessly to bring unimaginable pain, suffering and misery to the race of men. Diabolically methodical in his planning, Lucifer – the Serpent – was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. He who had once been “the Light Bearer” now plotted to spread spiritual darkness. He would attack God’s creation at its most vulnerable point by questioning the words and the goodness of the Most High. Lucifer would raise the dark cloud of doubt. And he would begin with the woman. “And he said to the woman, ‘Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” The approach of the Serpent was both dark and clever. “That isn’t really what God said, is it?” he whispered into the heart of one who had never before entertained a doubt. The approach had been made. The seed of doubt had been sown in uncorrupted soil. But if it was to sprout and bear its terrible fruit, then it must be watered.
“And the woman said to the serpent, ‘From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, lest you die’” (3:2-3). Eve’s understanding of God’s instructions was faulty. God never said anything about touching the fruit, only that they were not to eat it. Here was the opportunity the Serpent had planned and waited for. He knew that Eve would not die if she touched the fruit. So, to win this argument all he needed to do was to get her to touch it. The weight of a faulty understanding of the Most High would do the rest. It was time to water the seed of doubt and to reap the fruit of dis-trust. “And the serpent said to the woman, ‘You surely shall not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’” The battle over doubt and dis-trust was now underway. “Not only are you not going to die,” the Serpent argued, “but God is holding out on you! The fruit of this tree is beautiful. And its good for food. Why wouldn’t He want you to eat it? Why wouldn’t he want your eyes to be open? Why wouldn’t He want you to have this knowledge? I think you’ve misunderstood what He said, or at least what He meant! If he loves you He couldn’t possibly be so unreasonable about a simple piece of fruit!”
A critical moment had arrived for Eve. Her argument with Satan had momentarily cracked open a previously closed door. She now saw the situation surrounding the tree and its fruit differently. Why wouldn’t God want her and the man to have this food (after all, they needed to eat)? Why wouldn’t He want them to have something that is such a delight to look at. After all, wasn’t it part of this beautiful garden He had given them to tend? And why wouldn’t God want them to be wise? After all, wisdom is a good thing, isn’t it? “When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate” (Genesis 3:6).
We can only wonder what thoughts must have raced through Eve’s mind when she touched the fruit for the first time and did not die. Wrong beliefs poorly applied give birth to doubt, disappointment and confusion. In time they lead to wrong conclusions about ourselves and God. “The Serpent was right!”, she must have thought to herself in that moment. “And if he was right about that, then he must be right about all the other things, too. God is being unfair to withhold this lovely fruit from us”. An emboldened Eve, who had not died when she touched the forbidden fruit, now found encouragement to distrust the other words of her Creator. Eve now took the fateful step and, along with the man, ate the forbidden fruit.
It was done. Satan, the Serpent, appearing as an “angel of light,” had won. All creation fell into sin and darkness that fateful day. And in the darkness of that moment, Eve discovered the awful truth. The “angel of light” she had trusted was, in truth, the darkest of demons. And with his cunning deception he had killed her. She had died, just as God had warned. In that moment, she and the man, who joined her in open disobedience, died to God’s Kingdom and to everything it offered. It was a death far worse than anything they could have imagined or would ever experience in their long lives. Darkness fell. And in the darkness of that moment the man and the woman saw their own nakedness. For the first time since the Lord God had breathed life into them and place them in the Garden, they knew sin, guilt and shame. Not only had they sinned, but they now knew they had sinned, a knowledge which was almost unbearable.
No words can adequately express the moral and spiritual catastrophe which befell both the creature and the creation. The Lord God still ruled as King, but He now ruled over a world in rebellion. In His Kingly authority He banished the man and the woman from the Garden He had created for them. And with that banishment came the spreading corruption of sin which now replaced willful submission with bitter rebellion. A realm of darkness once unknown now fell upon the world of men. Like a drop of India ink falling into clear water, sin and its spreading corruption now tainted God’s creation. And creation itself groaned beneath the weight of the spreading corruption. Fear replaced fellowship. Fig leaves replaced intimacy. Innocence gave way to shame and concupiscence. An earth which once offered up its fruit willingly, now offered up the first fruit of its corruption; thorns and thistles. Unrestrained by submission to their King and Creator, fallen and rebellious creatures now warred with one another. Brother against brother. Men against men. Until rebellion, sin and darkness ruled the world of men.
But the Lord God of all creation was also the God of all hope. He Who had planned creation’s beginnings from eternity past now unfolded His plan for its redemption. Man’s rebellion had taken a mere handful of days to unfold. Man’s redemption would require much longer. He who banished the man and the woman from the Garden as punishment for their rebellion now offered them a promise of a future redemption. A future day would come when one of their offspring would mortally “bruise the head” of the Serpent who had betrayed them. But that day now lay shrouded in a future which only the Lord God Himself could see.
And so it began, the spiritual battle for man’s redemption and restoration to the Kingdom of God. No shadow of doubt clouded the heart of the Triune God concerning the outcome. His Kingdom would come, and His Kingly will would be done on this world of His special favor. Kingdoms of men would rise and fall as God prepared His promised redemption. Generations of men would move forward in their new-found freedom, rebellion and self-worship, building towers, cities and even empires as monuments to their own pseudo-greatness. And through it all the Lord God would search the earth for those individuals to whom He could reveal Himself, those willing to walk in faith and obedience and to experience His favor as they walked in submission to His Kingly rule.
From among all these sons of Adam and daughters of Eve another man and woman would be chosen. Promises would be given to them to guide their journey and to anchor their hope and their faith. A son of promise and laughter would be given to this childless barren couple. And from their offspring a people would be born who would become a great nation. That people and that nation would be set apart from all the people and nations of the earth as the Lord God’s special possession. They would enter into a covenant together. He would be their God, and they would be His people, the sheep of His pasture. He would rule over them as King, and they would learn what it means to be the people of the King of Kings. To them the Lord God would entrust His Laws in order to teach them how to live and not be destroyed with a Holy God dwelling in their midst. Those Laws would teach them that all sin and rebellion against God’s kingly rule must be unflinchingly punished. Over time the people of God would discover the true purpose of the Law, to serve as a tutor and to teach them their need for the promised coming Savior and deliverer from rebellion, sin and death.
But fallen, wayward hearts tend to wander over time. So, the Lord God would raise up messengers to remind, warn and admonish His people. These “prophets” would highlight the sin and disobedience of God’s people, calling them to repent, warning them of the dire consequences which lay in store if they refused, and reminding them of the blessings which lay in store for those willing to walk in faith and obedience. And the prophets would remind God’s people of a coming day when the Kingdom of God would fill the earth, when the knowledge of God would cover the earth as the waters cover the sea, and when the Lord God, through His Messiah, would rule the nations with a scepter of righteousness. The call of God’s prophets represented an on-going call to God’s people to repent, to believe the good news of the coming Kingdom, and to believe in a coming day when the Lord God would make a “new” covenant with them. It would not be like the “old” covenant of outward obedience and conformity to laws written on stone tablets, an old covenant which they and their fathers had broken countless times throughout their generations. The Lord God Himself would make a “new” covenant with all who believed the message of the Kingdom. He would write His Law upon their hearts, and would remember their sin and rebellion no more.
And so the centuries of men would roll forward in their unfolding generations. Kingdoms of men would rise and fall, serving as unknowing instruments in the hands of the Lord God to achieve His Kingdom purposes. Conquerors and oppressors would come and go, because that is what fallen, sinful men do to one another. God’s prophetic voice would fall silent for nearly 400 years as the Lord God quietly worked all things together for His Kingdom purposes and to move all things toward the fullness of His appointed time. Hope of any future Kingdom would grow dim in the hearts of God’s people. But through it all the Lord God would remain faithful to His people and His promises. For though God’s promises may seem slow, as men measure such things, yet they await God’s appointed time. Indeed, God’s promises do not lie, but hasten to their appointed end. Though they seem slow in coming, men must wait for them. They will surely come and will not delay. But as they await the fullness of His promises, the righteous must live by faith, and believe in a Kingdom that is yet to come and which they cannot yet see, except through a glass dimly, or as in a dream.
And then it happened. In the fullness of God’s time the voice of a promised forerunner was heard crying in the wilderness. A prophetic message silent for some 400 years rang out with fresh power and authority, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” (Mark 1:15) The Lord God had remembered both His people and His promises. All His promises of redemption and the coming of His Kingdom now came to be manifested as the Word Who had spoken creation into existence became flesh and dwelt among men. The Kingdom had arrived in the person of the Messiah-King, Who called upon all men to repent of their sin and rebellion and to embrace His Kingly rule and authority. Now, the hopes, the fears and the desires of all the ages came to rest upon the shoulders of a carpenter’s son from Nazareth – an itinerant Rabbi – and the unlikely band of disciples He now called to walk alongside Him in radical faith and radical obedience. His message was profoundly simple, and rang with eternal truth.
“The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe the good news!”