The Great Christian Metanarrative

The-Adoration-of-the-Lamb

The Essence of the Faith and Why it Matters

Christianity is grounded in history.  While some might think of the Bible as a disjointed collection of ancient writings, the events recorded in the Bible really happened, and there is an overarching, central theme and message.  It is in understanding this theme, this metanarrative, that we find God’s purpose for humanity, and by extension for each of us as we seek to make sense of the world and find meaning for our lives. 

The writers of the biblical texts never attempt to show any beginning for God; they simply posit that He exists.  “In the beginning, God.”  He preexists creation.  (“He” because the Bible uses male pronouns.  “He” although God of course does not have a human body, incarnate God – Jesus – was a man.)  As God, the eternally existing God, the One by whom and through whom and for whom all things exist, God’s great design in all His works is the manifestation of His own glory.  Properly so; God is God.  

The Introduction – Creation

The Bible teaches us that we were created “in God’s image,” in some limited sense corresponding to Him and resembling Him, able to reason, able to choose, able to and meant to live in relationship with Him as well as with each other.  God created mankind out of His love and goodness in a condition of communication with Him and knowing Him.  It is here that we find the introduction to the grand story of human existence.

It is easy for those of us who accept creation as fact to get caught up in debates about details (and the details are not unimportant) and miss the point that ultimately cannot and must not be missed.  Eternal God, for His own purposes and in great display of ability, power, knowledge, and wisdom, created by fiat what we know as creation.  He created the physical universe substantially as it is, the celestial bodies, the earth, all designed and created as part of His plan.  He created the earth substantially as it is (great geological changes have occurred).  He created life on the earth, plants as plants, animals as animals.  All of this creation was designed as a home for humanity.  And he created humans – as humans.  Innocent of evil, in the image of God, mentally, morally, socially able to interact with Him, created for His divine purpose.  The Bible says in Colossians 1:16-17, “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers.  All things were created through Him and for Him.   And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.”  This truth is both assumed and restated throughout scripture.

The Conflict – The Fall

Everywhere around us we see the manifestation of God in creation.  The world as we know it, humanity as we know it, all that we can perceive, is simply unimaginable without a Creator far beyond anything we can contemplate, far beyond anything of the natural world, far beyond chance development from eternal space-plus-time-plus-energy/matter.  Simultaneously, all around us we see disaster and destruction.  We sense the obvious, that something is not at all right.  The Genesis story of the creation of man is quickly followed by the story of man’s rebellion against God.  Made in God’s image, Adam had the capacity to make free choices.  Fully in relationship with their Creator, Adam and Eve made the disastrous choice to rebel against their Creator.  Life in obedience and harmony with God was an existence of enjoyment, life, knowledge, and achievement, but sin – disobedience to the Creator – brought disaster, loss of life, eternal death. 

The aftermath and consequences of that rebellion against God is the story of human history.  The earth itself became tainted, a punishment to mankind for sin, becoming less hospitable to humankind, with famines, plagues, pestilence, earthquakes, floods, droughts and disasters and hardships throughout time.  Disease, various maladies, and physical death became the fate of all.  Genesis chapter 6 records the great Flood, a dramatic act of divine destruction against an ancient world deeply in sin.  Untold millions have died in wars.  Persecution against perceived enemies, greed, selfishness, pride, murder, human sacrifice, and slavery, have characterized human history. 

Humanity exists amid this Fall, the great rebellion against the Creator.  The divine nature demands justice and judgement against that rebellion; God’s nature as God demands that He doesn’t merely tolerate rebellion.  Humans are not somehow merely flawed yet perfectible.  We are rebels against God.     

None of this came as a surprise to God.  The scriptures help us to understand that God is not the cause of sin, but for His own divine purposes allowed sin.  He is all-knowing and all-powerful, who exists outside of creation, outside of time.  As difficult as it might be at first to accept, God knew when He created man “in His own image” that man would sin and rebel against Him.  That rebellion, and more importantly the solution to that rebellion, is the heart of the great metanarrative. 

The Resolution – Redemption

God in His grace provided the way that we can be forgiven and restored.  The apostle Paul wrote of Christ in Colossians 1:19-21, “For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.   And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled . . .”  This was the plan of God, for His own glory, before creation, before time began.  Ephesians 1:4 reminds that God “chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world.”  It is here we find the culmination of history, the grand purpose of God, the reason for human existence. 

Jesus is God incarnate, born into humanity for the express purpose of dying for us, to demonstrate the consequences of sin and to pay the penalty for our sins.  After His death on the cross, Jesus rose again from the dead in triumph over death that came with human sin.  All who trust Him for salvation will be forgiven and made new, as Jesus’ death was the payment and full atonement on behalf of the people of all nations and of all history who turn from their sins and embrace Christ as Savior.  This is, essentially, the gospel, the essence of Christian teaching.  The gospel is based on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 15 and elsewhere in his writings.  For since by sinful man death and destruction came, by the incarnate God Man came resurrection and restoration.  In Adam all died, even so in Christ we are made alive.  God created man, physical death and destruction came because of disobedience, and the Cross brought atonement, reconciliation, and the promise of a new heaven and earth.  The solution to human estrangement from God is not to be found in sacramentalism, ceremony, religion, or reformation.  Jesus Christ did the only needed and acceptable work.  What is required of us is acknowledgement of our guilt, humble admission of our rebellion both individually and as a human, and acknowledgement of Christ as Savior and Lord.  We must admit that we are rebels who must lay down our arms.

It is “The Cross” and what happened there that is the centerpiece of the metanarrative. The Old Testament points to and predicts it, the New Testament presents and explains it.  By it the sins of Christ’s people are atoned for; they are reconciled to God.  Everything else is subordinate to this plan, put in place by God’s providence for the sake of this plan.  In Jesus Christ on the cross divine holiness was demonstrated and justice was carried out.  God put the punishment of all our sins on Him, so that He might freely and graciously pardon believers, to the honor and exaltation of His justice, grace, and mercy, as Paul explained in Romans 3.

We should and must also consider the earthly ministry and teaching of Jesus and live our present lives in light of his teaching, but we should always remember that the purpose for which Jesus came was to die on the cross.  In the Bible’s book of Acts, chapter two, recording a sermon of the apostle Peter, one reads,  “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know— Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, . . .”  The reason for the incarnation and death of Jesus plainly centered around His death for us.  He was not merely a great leader or teacher or martyr who died for a cause.  It is here – the incarnation and the cross – that we begin to understand the grand plan for humanity.  Creation showed his abilities and much of what characterizes God as God, but it only went so far.  God’s ultimate purpose was not merely creation; it was Jesus Christ on the cross and on His eternal throne worshipped as savior by His redeemed for all eternity. 

The Bible indicates that outside of the creation we inhabit, there are “the hosts of heaven,” other created beings such as angels.  We might expect that an eternally existent infinite God would create throughout timeless eternity.  And in Christ and what He came to do God uniquely manifested Himself not only to humankind but to these numberless created beings.  When man sinned, God did something startling, grand, unexpected.  He demonstrated divine grace and love.  Infinite holy God provided a way for humans to be saved by the sacrificial substitutionary death of Christ.  It is here that we find the grand purpose for human existence.  God vividly displayed His infinite grace, love, mercy, and forgiveness.

In the Bible’s book of The Revelation, we observe that the “hosts of heaven” worship this “Lamb that was slain.”  The centerpiece of worship in heaven for eternity will be the display of the glory of the grace of God in the “Lamb that was slain.”   The suffering of Jesus Christ will be at the center of our worship and our wonder forever.  This is not an afterthought of God.  This was the plan before creation, the goal and purpose of creation and human existence, the reason why we exist.  The sacrifice of Christ is the focal point of the ages and of eternity for us.  It forever removed the sins of those who believe.  Angels and the redeemed of earth will sing of the suffering of this sacrificed Lamb forever; the suffering of the Son of God will never be forgotten.  We exist for God.  Jesus satisfied the Father’s justice, made the necessary atonement for sins, and created a people for God.   

The Epilogue – The Consummation

Over the last two thousand years, in the wake of the life of Jesus and the spread of Christianity, the gospel has been taught, people throughout the ages have believed that gospel and entered the spiritual kingdom of Christ’s followers.  Millions have believed the gospel, and in His divine plan God continues to add to the ranks of His eternal worshippers.  They have physically died but live on as worshippers of God, as subjects of His eternal kingdom.  They have left this life and entered a new existence with their Savior.  There is a consummation for each of us individually – we will all pass from this world and enter the eternal state.    

But the world still “groans” as the Bible says, still largely existing in the consequences of the Fall.  Of Christ’s first coming, Paul wrote in Galatians 4 that “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.”  Christ came “in the fullness of time,” at the time planned from the beginning.  After His resurrection, as He prepared to ascend into heaven, Jesus told His assembled disciples (Acts 1:6-11),

 Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”  And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.  But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.  Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.   And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven?  This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.” 

The epilogue of the metanarrative tells us that in God’s divine plan the present age will end at a divinely chosen time.  In His time, Christ will return suddenly and dramatically, as Earth’s rightful King to reclaim His country.  Judgement on the sins of the unrepentant will come.  God will intervene and bring righteousness, equity, and justice to the world, and believers will live eternally in unending praise of the One who died for their sins, in a world free from sin and its effects on a restored earth that will be ours to inhabit for eternity. 

Revelation 5:12-14 tells, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, And strength and honor and glory and blessing!” And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: “Blessing and honor and glory and power Be to Him who sits on the throne, And to the Lamb, forever and ever!”  Believers of the ages will eternally worship, thank, and praise the Lamb who was sacrificed for our salvation.  This is the eternal plan and purpose of God.

This is essentially Christianity 101.  But, one might ask, so what? 

The Implications

For the Individual.  Creation in its grandeur displays something far beyond natural processes.  Observing creation, one does not necessarily come to conclude that the God of the Bible exists, but one must at least be open to the existence of a creator beyond creation.  The Bible causes us to understand that it is more God who seeks man rather than man seeking God, but observation of God demonstrated in creation and the created world coupled with the human conscience to some degree makes it incumbent that men do seek Him.  “God . . . now commands all men everywhere to repent.”

Those who have come to Christ and understand the great story of God’s plan for human redemption begin to understand that there is meaning and purpose to the world, to life, and to themselves.  Life is moving forward and heading toward an ultimate perfect eternal existence with God.  Our faith dictates the way we see the world, our attitudes and actions toward others, and our view of our self.  Individuals find their significance in knowing God.  Our existence has meaning; therefore, my existence has meaning.  As a believer, one comes to understand that we as human are sinful and fundamentally flawed, acknowledge our sin and rebellion, and humbly come to God.  We must live a repentant life, forming our attitudes and behavior in obedience to Him.  We understand that God our creator loves us so much that Christ died for us, and therefore we can and should live joyous, purposeful lives.  “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.”  Despite difficulties, or enjoying positive circumstances, we live with an eternal perspective, understanding that our losses and our gains are both transitory.  God is sovereign and ultimately in control of His great grand purpose for creation and in His presence and purpose for us individually.  We are eternal worshippers of God; that is at the center of His reason for creating us, and we worship Him now in the totality of life.  As followers of Christ, it is He whom we worship in attitudes and actions, in giving excellence to the tasks in life, and serving those around us.  We worship Him when we learn and practice His ways outlined for us in the Bible.  While secularism and postmodernism cannot adequately answer the quest and longing for significance, meaning, and worth, Christianity with the unchanging central theme of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior brings the answer to those questions.    

 There is an eternal Creator who has created and expressed His love toward us; thus, He is the source and definition of truth and knowledge.  Truth becomes absolute, not relative, in the Christian metanarrative, and this profoundly affects our perspectives and our behavior.  Our understanding about reality and how we see the world and therefore how we live, becomes completely different from those who have a different worldview not informed by an understanding of God’s program.  The great Christian metanarrative is the source of concepts long taken for granted in western culture, like human dignity and basic human rights.  The cultures and nations influenced by Christian teaching have historically developed in expression of those virtues.  Believers are uniquely able to be a positive force in society. 

Benevolence, charity, equity, fairness, justice, deference, humility, and respect for rights, are ultimately rooted in this understanding that God created and loves people.  Christ’s followers should love those who like us are created in God’s image.  Our virtues are to be an expression of our identity as a follower of Christ, and our desire to demonstrate the love of Christ is the primary motivation for expressing those virtues.  Christ died for sinners, so we declare the gospel, persuade, and convince sinners to end their rebellion and acknowledge Christ as Lord and become worshippers of Him.    

Paul wrote in Philippians 2 that ultimately every knee will bow at the name of Jesus Who humbled Himself to death on the cross.   All of creation—in heaven and on earth—ultimately will bow before Jesus Christ and Him alone (Philippians 2:10).  Believers will worship Him eternally and are called to worship Him supremely in this present life.  We live in anticipation.  We live with hope and optimism.    

For the Church.  Biblical churches are assemblies of followers of Christ, and churches have been found in cultures and societies throughout the centuries.  There is no liturgy given in the New Testament for the assembly of the local church, and those assemblies are very different in various circumstances and times.  Two ordinances have been given to the church, baptism and communion, and the central feature of both is the central truth of Christ.  In baptism, the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is pictured, and the individual being baptized identifies with Christ and with the church.  In communion, the broken body and blood of Jesus is vividly remembered.  These ordinances are acts of worship, remembering and commemorating Christ as the atonement for one’s sin.  They put the work of Christ in the central place in the church.  That centrality is to be present in everything that the church is and does.    

It might be easier for a persecuted church to remain focused on Who God is and what Christ has done for us.  But too often the American church seems to have set the central metanarrative aside.  In previous decades especially, many in Fundamental and Evangelical circles embraced a decisional approach that often used some combination of ease and convenience, guilt, and emotion to elicit a “repeat after me” prayer that would then pronounce the convert as “saved.”  The danger here is that the person fails to understand the gospel, understand true repentance, and genuinely turn to Christ as Lord and Savior. 

The bigger failure today is the failure of churches to emphasize anything of the gospel at all.  Too often the concept of Jesus that is presented is as a great teacher, a martyr, an affirmer, a friend, a social reformer.  He is a source for inspiration, principles of success, and prosperity.  He condemns no sin, instead affirms every action and choice.  The Jesus that might be put forward is “radical” or “revolutionary,” with an emphasis on various social issues. The church assembles more to be entertained than to glorify God and commune with Him.

The metanarrative with the central truth of Christ as Savior and Lord are to be the core subject of what the church teaches, the superstructure on which all else is supported.  Scripture addresses a vast number of subjects, helps us understand how we should live, and so the church continuously addresses those topics.  We must learn to live successfully in the present world as a believer, to overcome the corruption present in society, to live out our faith in the totality of life.  We should enjoy interactions with other believers and help each other in life.  But if one attends a church and does not regularly hear of human sin, the need for repentance and faith, and the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the atonement for human sin, there is something wrong in that church.  If the themes and concerns of contemporary society crowd out the centrality of Christ, there is something wrong.  If the corrupt entertainment of the world is used in place of congregational singing of the gospel, there is something wrong.  If the blood of Christ is thought to be unattractive to a target audience and so is never mentioned, is never remembered in song, something is wrong.  The Lamb is the subject of the eternal “new” song and so should be now.         

Jesus at Calvary is the center point of human existence.  It is the theme of human sin and Christ as the solution to that sin that is to remain central – to the individual believer, and to a church.   

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, And strength and honor and glory and blessing!”

 

Music, Vacations, and Pandemics

Music is a powerful influence in both the life of an individual and of a society, and the music of a culture or subculture is a deep and profound reflection of that culture, its values, its underpinnings, and its perspectives on life.  The music one listens to demonstrates to some degree who that person is.  It is an expression of the soul.  Further, the kind of music one listens to ultimately shapes what that person is becoming; it has a definite effect on people.  We are constantly surrounded by music when we are in public places.  On a recent vacation, we went to play miniature golf at a course near our hotel, and a group of workers were performing maintenance on a small restaurant building near the course.  They were listening, perhaps on a local radio station, to music that was blaring, not quite deafening as we played the holes nearest to them.  I am not sure of the genre, perhaps rap and hip-hop, and it was loud, certainly featuring no pleasing melody or harmony, the lyrics generally indiscernible and when occasionally understandable the words were unsavory at best.  I silently wondered why one would listen to such, and what effect it might have on a person.

Often in stores, restaurants, and places of business, sometimes in public conveyances, certainly in current movies or entertainment, we are confronted by the music of the society and various subcultures.  If one is fortunate, perhaps it is merely “elevator music,” perhaps banal and benign country, or “soft” rock.  Less fortunately, one might be subjected to excessive volume, a driving beat and percussion, noise, and lyrics that are raunchy.  Hollywood, rock, hip-hop, rap, shock radio, and a host of other pop culture obsessions, helped by mainstream media and the general secular academy, have indoctrinated recent generations to encourage depravity and distract from that which is important, worthwhile, and virtuous.  Everywhere it seems we are surrounded by the music that is one of the manifestations of the self-destructive nature of morally deviant pop culture.

__________

When we returned home from the vacation, we went to church on the next Sunday.  As a believer, it was a joy to be assembled with other believers, singing words expressing Christian doctrine, singing the gospel, singing biblical themes with joy and reverence, with music featuring pleasing sounds of melody and harmony.  Singing that proclaimed the gospel, that expressed corporate worship to the Lord, that spoke “to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.”  Not the music of movie themes, not of a contemporary subculture, but of a profoundly different culture – the body of Christ.

During the early days of the Covid panic, we were of course unable to gather on Sunday with other Christians in church.  Our church was able to go online with the Sunday services from a nearly empty auditorium, but it was not close to the same.  A big part of what was lacking was the experience of reverent, orderly, joyful congregational singing.  The Bible says much about the subject of music, and there are perhaps five hundred references to music in the Bible.  The Creator knows that music has an effect on people’s lives.  He is worshipped when the assembled church sings of who He is and what He has done for us in Christ with mindful, joyful reverence.

In Revelation 5:9, the Bible depicts a scene in heaven for us and tells us, “And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation . . .“  This is not a “new” song merely in chronology; it is “new” in kind and substance, recognizably different in nature from something else of a similar type.  Different than the old songs of the earth.  Just as in heaven, so it can and should be in this life.  The psalmist speaks of a “new song” in, for instance, Psalm 40:3, 96:1, and 98:1, a song that reflects the direction of our heart, a song that reminds us of Who God Is and, now in this age after the cross, what He has done for us in Christ.

“And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God.  (Ephesians 5:18-21)”

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.  And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.  (Colossians 3:16-17)”

Joining the Jesus Movement

Months ago I received an e-mail from a post-christian Protestant denomination.  Titled “Welcoming Others to Join Our Jesus Movement,” it included an appeal to support “Ministries that make a difference in our world and propel us forward to walk in the way of Jesus.”  Bullet points pointing to these ministries included: Creation Care – advocating for the care of God’s creation; Evangelism – welcoming others to join our Jesus Movement; and Racial Reconciliation – working to create a Beloved Community for all citizens.  Essentially, “jump on the Jesus train, become an environmentalist, and focus on social justice.”  On Easter Sunday, many in the broad spectrum of christianity who attended a church or listened online heard sermons on subjects similar to the above, as they do most weeks, while many heard themes like Spring, victory following defeat, happiness and prosperity and success, or affirmation coming from the inspiring story of Jesus.

The “gospel” so often referenced on Easter and in other sermons, the messages that are the focus of the entertainment-modeled music heard in the typical evangelical, are “gospels” featuring themes of self-affirmation, prosperity, happiness, success, triumph, self-reform, or calls to societal change inspired by “Jesus.”  The approach is usually happy, upbeat, and affirming rather than reverent, repentant, and truly joyful.  The focus becomes “who I am” or “who I can become” because of God.  That, however, is not the Gospel of the Jesus of the Bible.  It is a deception.  It is a “pied piper” gospel, strong and delusive, making irresponsible promises, attracting followers, but not focusing on grace, faith, regeneration, and repentance.  It robs God of the glory rightfully His.  And, by not declaring the Gospel of scripture, it does not address the true need of the human heart.

__________

The local church we are part of had both an Easter/Resurrection Sunday service and a service on Friday evening.  The Friday service was memorable and was the perfect pattern for a church service.  The account of the trial, crucifixion, and burial of Jesus from Matthew 26 and 27 was read in sections, with a traditional hymn or gospel song appropriate to the occasion sung by the congregation between each reading.  The ordinance of Communion was observed, with time devoted to individual reflection and prayer, and the congregation was lead in corporate prayer.  Attendance by visitors outside of the congregation had been encouraged, and the Gospel was clearly proclaimed, from the scriptures, in song, in the observance of Communion, and in brief remarks by the pastor.  On Sunday morning, the pastor spoke from the resurrection account in Matthew 28, completing the account of the death, burial, and resurrection from Matthew’s gospel.  True worship draws the attention of the worshipper to God, to His nature, to His majesty, to who He is and what He has done for us in Christ.  What our church did that weekend did just that.  

The message of “Good Friday” and “Easter” is not primarily “me” focused.  It is not merely “By Your spirit I will rise from the ashes of defeat, the resurrected king is resurrecting me.”  No, the message of “Easter” is ultimately God-focused, Christ-focused, Gospel focused.  It is the message of sin and the wrath of God against human sin demonstrated and satisfied by Christ on the cross.  It is the message of the literal resurrection of Jesus Christ in victory over sin and death.  It is the message of the salvation of those who in repentance and in faith believe the Gospel and turn to Him.  And yet, paradoxically, it is only when we realize this, when we focus on God, Christ, and His Gospel, that we attain fulfilment, joy, and eternal life.  In John 14:19, it is recorded that Jesus told the disciples, “A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me.  Because I live, you will live also.”

“Because I live, you will live also.”  Christ came in the sovereign plan of God to make human redemption possible.  He defeated death for us.  Because He atoned for my sin, because in His grace He has called me to faith and repentance, because for His own glory He has made me a new creature in Christ, Because He lives, I will live also.

Unworthy

A social media photo of an individual who has been in the news many times in recent months prompted a reaction, as it usually does when I see the person in media.  This individual was the head of the state health department in a large state throughout the virus situation and has been appointed to a high position in the Biden administration.  The individual has shoulder-length curly hair, an obviously male face, dresses in female clothes, and has championed the idea of allowing, even encouraging, children to question and choose their gender and to receive harmful hormone and medical treatments to change their gender.  I am probably not alone among people with traditional values in having a reaction something short of the gag reflex when this person is the subject of a news clip or depiction on a screen. 

The presence of this person in responsible government positions is a symptom of something deeply wrong in post-modern, post-Christian western society.  He is not alone.  A similarly afflicted individual is a state legislator in the state where I reside, and this is by no means rare.  It is an indication of social collapse.  In the not-too-distant past, such individuals might have been considered mentally ill.

I have never and will never meet this person; he has committed no personal offense against me, and yet from a distance I am somewhat repulsed by him, by what he says and believes, and by what he represents.  But as I reacted internally to the photo I saw, I quickly was reminded of something else, something perhaps more relevant to me and to all of us. 

God created human beings and blessed humanity with a marvelous world and environment.  Yet the unthinkable occurred – man rebelled against God, the creature against the Creator.  That rebellion brought disaster to all of creation, to all of humanity.  My reaction to the depravity of another human surely pales beyond measure against the divine reaction to the fact that I am a sinner against God, a sinner both by virtue of the fact that I am part of the rebellious human race, and a sinner by willful choice.  “For all have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God.”  “All.”  Even traditional values, conservative, Republican, church-going Americans.  “The wages of sin is death” – separation from God – for all of us.  We are all repulsive unworthy rebels against God, subject to His righteous anger.  The ancient prophet Isaiah wrote that all our righteous works are but “filthy rags.”  We are all born part of humanity in rebellion against God, an offense of unimaginable magnitude.

But the most astounding thing has occurred.  Despite the repulsiveness of human rebellion, God Himself in Christ has atoned for our sins!  “The Just for the unjust.” 

None of us can redeem ourselves in the economy of God.  We cannot save ourselves from His righteous judgement.  In a real sense all of us should be irredeemable, yet no one is irredeemable.  Can a person become depraved to the point that they will not or cannot be saved?  A case can be made for that from Scripture.  But regardless of our sin and depravity, God is sovereign, God is gracious, and if an individual will but repent of sin, turn to Christ, acknowledge Him as Lord and Savior, that individual will be met with the love and acceptance of God.  Not because of works, not by intrinsic worthiness, despite human depravity, because of divine grace. 

“Salvation is of the Lord (Jonah 2:9).”  Salvation is a work of God, offered not because any of us are worthy – because we are not, but purely of His grace, purely in His sovereignty.  “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new (2 Corinthians 5:17).”  In Christ, we are no longer depraved, no longer repulsive, but accepted.  And that is indeed good news.

Invasive Species

A local media story headlined “Invasive New Zealand mud snails lead to closure,” noted that access to a popular creek area was closed after the discovery of that invasive species in the creek.  The mud snails are about the size of a grain of rice and one can produce a colony of 40 million snails in a year because of their ability to rapidly reproduce through cloning, disrupting aquatic ecosystems, harming fish populations, and displacing native insects.  The species can easily move from one body of water to another by attaching to things like an animal or fishing equipment.  The parks department, struggling with how to manage the presence of the species, urged people to avoid accessing streams or creeks where the snails have been found, to thoroughly clean waders and fishing equipment, and to brush dogs to make sure that they are not carrying any of the snails.  Invasive species like this tiny mud snail can bring great harm.

Our nation is currently in turmoil and in great danger.  Our constitutional republic has seemingly become an oligarchy, ruled by a small Leftist elite.  “Patriot” has become a word considered to be almost hate speech.  Virtue is mocked while immorality is rampant and accepted.  Christianity has largely been abandoned.  This did not happen instantly; it began with small steps that over time grew and ultimately brought about the perilous state in which we find ourselves.

The history of the church is marked by the presence of “invasive species.”  The New Testament writers observed that this was happening and wrote against it.  Theological error was present very early in church history and is addressed in the New Testament.  False teachers and unworthy leaders, full of pride and bad character, were already present before the closing of the writing of the New Testament.  Immorality infected the early church and is denounced by the New Testament writers.  Paul, Peter, and Jude in their writings clearly warned against these “invasive species” and gave instruction to be diligent and to deal with these and other issues.   

This has continued through the centuries.  By the nineteenth century, rationalism and liberalism began to invade many denominations and churches and eventually drove out gospel truth.  In the twentieth century, as theological liberalism continued its destructive path and theological error became widespread, the sins against which the New Testament authors warned became accepted, and by the twenty-first century even unspeakable immorality has become accepted and celebrated.  Slowly at first, in almost imperceptible steps, “invasive species” have infected churches and institutions, diverting them away from truth and true gospel ministry. 

Often there is not much we as individuals can do about these things.  But perhaps more importantly we need to be vigilant about “invasive species” in our own lives, things that distract us, things that will sideline and ultimately do great harm to us.   Anger can become destructive if we nurture it and allow it to grow in our life.  In Ephesians 4:3, Paul instructed, “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.”  Fear and anxiety can grow and sometimes paralyze us, especially when we focus on difficult or disagreeable circumstances.  The Psalmist wrote in the 118th Psalm, “I will not fear.  What can man do to me?”  Envy and jealousy can become poisonous.  Immorality may start out in small, almost imperceptible ways and grow into something that brings disaster.  In the Ten Commandments, there is a prohibition against idolatry and having any sort of other god before God, and this is repeated throughout the Bible.  All sorts of attitudes and actions can grow and become idols and take us away from devotion to the Savior.  Further, in the Commandments we are forbidden to murder, commit adultery, steal or even covet, bear false witness, or dishonor parents.  These forbidden things can become introduced into our lives in small ways.

Philippians 4:8 reminds, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”  The closing of churches in response to the virus disrupted the church life of American believers, and it has become too easy for some to continue to stay away from church and the discipleship and fellowship that is so vital to assist us in the task of “meditate on these things.”  Diligence is required.  Nations – churches – families – individuals – are brought down slowly by the “invasive species” that are everywhere. 

Proverbs 4:3 reminds, “Keep your heart with diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life.”

Not Our Home

An old gospel song begins, “This world is not my home, I’m just a-passing through.”  Perhaps now more than at any time in the history of the United States, Christians can see truth in this sentiment.

The growing disdain that society shows for biblical Christian beliefs and values shouldn’t surprise us, but it is sometimes overwhelming to observe the pace at which western society has rejected and marginalized traditional ideas.  The United States from its founding was profoundly influenced by Christian values, but in the last couple of decades that history has been denounced, marginalized, and swept away in academia, media, entertainment, and government.  Christians and Biblical ideas are now widely rejected and even hated.  Scripture warns us that believers will face such opposition.  In John 3:19-20, Jesus told His disciples, “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.  For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.”  Later, in John 15:18-21, Jesus told His disciples, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.  Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.  But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me.”

Absolutes.  The concepts of objective authority and objective truth have been rejected, while personal autonomy and subjectivism rules the day.  Truth is seen as one’s own truth, what one might personally define as truth.  This is held only in a form, for certain ideas are held to be true because, in effect, the social elite say they are true.  Ideas are repeated as truth over and over until they are accepted as true.  Anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change is one example of this.  Media has come to simply assume and state it as fact.  Anyone questioning it in any way is ridiculed and rejected.  Science supposedly proves it, and it must be accepted and not questioned, contrary evidence is never given credence, and anyone who doubts is dismissed.

Sexual expression and morality are central in this postmodern rejection of objective truth.  The freedom to fornicate is today’s most prized and cherished freedom.  At a recent Senate hearing to confirm a Supreme Court justice, the nominee was castigated by a Senator for using the term “sexual preference” rather than “sexual orientation.”  The assertion is that we must not question one’s rejection of traditional heterosexuality, it must be accepted that the individual has every right to be identified however they feel oriented and practice accordingly; we must not think of it as merely a choice.  At a recent televised event, Democrat candidate former Vice President Joe Biden offered his support for children to undergo gender transition.  Responding to a question from a mother of a supposed transgender child, Biden said, “The idea that an eight year-old child or a ten year-old child decides, ‘you know I decided, I want to be transgender, that’s what I think I’d like to be, it’d make my life a lot easier.’  There should be zero discrimination.”  This was a stunning statement.  Eight-year-old children often cannot make good decisions about picking their nose.  The idea that a child should be guided on a path to receive harmful hormones and later be physically mutilated is akin to offering a child on a pagan altar.

The ideas of Karl Marx are becoming widely accepted to the Left.  Marx as an atheist and a materialist rejected morality as irrelevant and contended that power is everything.  Postmoderns seem to agree, at least that morality is irrelevant and the quest for a socialist order is everything.  “My object is to dethrone God and destroy capitalism,” Marx wrote.  “Keep people from their history and they are easily controlled.”  Forget history, and of course ultimately forget God.

Secularism simply has no place for Christianity, at least in a biblical form.  Some within broad Christianity have imagined that Christianity can somehow be made acceptable to the postmoderns.  This is an error and a deception.  We will either need to embrace most aspects of their philosophy, which is completely antithetical to biblical teaching, or we will face their ridicule and anger.  It is becoming more obvious by the day that churches and believers who hold to Christ and His gospel are simply unacceptable in today’s environment.  This growing hostility takes many forms.

Churches and Christian institutions have been tax-exempt throughout American history.  It may be a matter of time before this is threatened.  In a piece published in “The Denver Post” on July 12, 2020, columnist Bruce DeBoskey wrote,

“In 2019, 29% of all U.S. giving, $128.17 billion, went to religious institutions. Those donations were tax-deductible, resulting in billions of dollars of lost federal and state tax revenue. Unlike nearly all other nonprofits, however, religious nonprofits are not required to file annual tax returns revealing how the donations were spent.  Those expenditures may include leaders’ salaries, benefits and other perks, property holdings, investments, sources of revenue and other facets of the nonprofit’s operation and management.  Although most of us believe that the majority of the 300,000 religious institutions in the U.S. follow the law and are doing good work in, and provide value to, their communities, there is no way to factually evaluate that claim.”

He continued,

“Moreover, in most cases, religious institutions are exempt from paying property taxes, depriving local governments of badly needed income to provide essential services such as public education, law enforcement, fire protection, etc.  Studies estimate that American churches own approximately $300 billion-$500 billion in untaxed property.  New York City alone loses nearly $627 million in annual property tax revenue because of exempted churches in the city.  The triple whammy of deductions for contributions, exemption from paying taxes, and no reporting requirements, leaves us all in the dark about why these organizations deserve such favorable tax treatment.”

When a church simply teaches the scripture authoritatively, there is obvious conflict with new social ideas regarding subjects like sexuality, marriage, and gender roles.  Insistence that marriage is solely to be between one man and one woman, and all sexual expression is to be confined to marriage is widely rejected in thought and in practice.  The Bible teaches male leadership in the church and in the home, hardly a popular idea today, and a biblical church must hold to that in practice and teach it.  The wrath of those who reject the teaching of scripture will inevitably lead to demands to end any favored status for such churches or institutions.

Internet censorship most obviously seen in the political sphere is sure to come against Christians and biblical ideas.  Breitbart recently noted that

“Wikipedia users are no longer allowed to include “user boxes” on their profile page that express opposition to gay marriage following a discussion where predominantly left-wing editors argued such a stance was “discriminatory” and against site policy. Most user boxes pre-dated a U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage and were used by hundreds of editors. This included one expressing a personal view favoring traditional marriage, but advocating for states to decide.”

Beyond the internet, Christian broadcasters are likely to come under pressure.  The airwaves simply cannot be used to promulgate speech that offends.

Christians and Christian ministries are now often attacked with labels of hate and intolerance.  One far-left organization, the Southern Poverty Legal Center, claims to “monitor hate groups and other extremists throughout the United States and expose their activities to the public, the media and law enforcement.”  Some of these “hate groups” are well-known for their hateful rhetoric and actions, but others are Christian or nonprofit groups.  The conservative group Liberty Counsel has reported that many Christian or nonprofit groups have been categorized as “hate groups” by SPLC, given this label because each takes a biblical position on marriage.  Simply holding to biblical and historically Christian views, taken from the Bible, is enough to be called a “hate group.”  These groups don’t call for members to express hatred or commit violent acts; they simply hold to a set of beliefs that Christians, and most others in the Western world, have held to for centuries.  The Sunday service at a Bible-preaching church is essentially, to the far Left, a hate group rally, and the sermon “hate speech.”

The Gospel.  In 1 Peter 4:1-5 we read,

“Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.  For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles – when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries.  In regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you.  They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.”

Ultimately, the real issue at the root of the conflict today is the Gospel.  Unbelievers do not want their sin exposed by the message of Christ and his Word.  They prefer to live in a society where their conduct is praised and accepted, rather than accept the truth that they are sinners in need of a Savior and creatures in rebellion against their Creator who need to turn from sin and turn to Him by grace and faith.  The Gospel is at the center of the church, the central theme of the Bible, the very center of Christian teaching.  The Gospel is Christianity; it is the message that the church has been commissioned to proclaim.  The message of the gospel is the good news of God for everyone who believes, but it starts with the bad news that we are all sinners and deserve the wrath of God, and that is a message people do not want to hear.  Throughout Scripture, God is shown to be a God of love and mercy, and many postmoderns are happy to accept this concept.  But He is likewise a God of holiness and justice, and people are less inclined to accept this.  He loves people, but he also calls all to repent of their sin.  Allowing people to remain lost in sin without warning them of the judgment to come is a disservice to them and an affront to God.

American believers are deeply patriotic.  We love our country, love our history, and are deeply appreciative of our prosperity and of our liberty, even as Christians face growing intolerance and hate from the culture.  We are becoming aliens and outcasts from society in our own beloved earthly country.  The last line of the first verse of that old gospel song reminds us, “And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.”

1 Peter 3:14-17 –  “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. “And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.”  But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.”

John 14:2 – “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.”

A place prepared as our home. Our eternal home.

Predictions and Prophecies

Early in the current coronavirus concern, on March 13, I sent an e-mail containing the following:

I just returned from Safeway.  No toilet paper or tissues.  Almost no bread.  Lines at checkout.  Many more people than a usual mid-day Friday.
With testing rolling out, I expect perhaps a quarter of a million confirmed cases in the US within two weeks.  I’d expect maybe 300 deaths in the same time frame.
Panic will continue for the next ten days or so.
Two or three weeks down the road, it will begin to be realized that it isn’t the disaster that some fear.  China first, then Italy, will begin to return to normal.  Things will begin to return to normal in the US.   A month down the road, other events will push to the top of the news cycle.  Economic damage will linger for several months.
Obviously, my predictions were – less than perfect.  I underestimated the spread of the disease, and greatly underestimated the panic.
On March 28, The Denver Post reported

Gov. Jared Polis offered grave predictions and a desperate call to action Friday over the future of the coronavirus, warning that tens of thousands of Coloradans could die if social distancing is not practiced, while reminding people that the effects of his orders restricting contact will not be seen for at least a few weeks.

The news conference marked the governor’s starkest warning to date, as he laid out two scenarios for the COVID-19 crisis — both of which he said could involve serious losses of life if the person-to-person spread of the disease isn’t slowed.

“Colorado hasn’t seen the worst of this. The United States hasn’t seen the worst of this. The world hasn’t seen the worst of this,” Polis said.

Citing modeling by the Colorado School of Public Health, Polis said it’s estimated that each person who contracts COVID-19 in Colorado is infecting an additional three to four people, and each of those infects another three to four — an exponential spread.

Under those two scenarios — depending on whether patients with COVID-19 are infecting three people each or four — either 23,000 or 33,200 people in Colorado could die by June if no social distancing is practiced, Polis said.

But Colorado is doing better than that, Polis noted. About 50% of the population was estimated to be practicing social distancing by avoiding crowds or isolating themselves before he issued his stay-at-home order this week. But that’s not nearly enough, he said.

As I write this, June is six weeks away.  The governor has placed the state on, as I call it, “martial law lite.”  I watched a local newscast last evening that reported on the lack of activity and staff layoffs in hospital emergency rooms and throughout healthcare in general.  The same newscast showed the governor, a politically ambitious progressive, at a news conference in a large convention center, wearing a hard hat and with sleeves rolled up, presiding over the construction of overflow space for hundreds of non-critical patients.  The predicted surge in patients, earlier slated for mid-April, has now been pushed back to May.  Currently nearly three hundred Coloradans who tested positive for the virus have died.  The governor is in a good position with his predictions.  If the number doesn’t continue to grow rapidly, he can take partial credit for his tough social distancing measures, and if perchance the numbers grow rapidly, it will be well within the scope of his projections.  At the national level, projections of deaths of those with positive tests also have been completely unreliable and have moved steadily downward.

In 1798, Thomas Malthus argued that human population always grows more rapidly than the human food supply until war, disease or famine reduces the number of people. He famously predicted that gains in living standards would be undermined as human population growth outstripped food production, and so would drive living standards back toward subsistence.  History has shown that he was completely wrong.  In more recent times, countless projections have been made about climate change originated by human activity.  Next to none have come to pass in predicted time frames.  Thomas Sowell has noted, “What can we be certain of from history? That human beings have been wrong innumerable times, by vast amounts, and with catastrophic results. Yet today there are still people who think that anyone who disagrees with them must be either bad or not know what he is talking about.”

Human predictions, even those based in scientific data, are, well, often wrong.

          

There is a source of predictions, however, that is always accurate.  The Bible is filled with prophecies, principles, and promises that we can see over and over are completely correct.  Upon completion of Solomon’s Temple,

Then the Lord appeared to Solomon by night, and said to him: “I have heard your prayer, and have chosen this place for Myself as a house of sacrifice.  When I shut up heaven and there is no rain, or command the locusts to devour the land, or send pestilence among My people, if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.  Now My eyes will be open and My ears attentive to prayer made in this place.  For now I have chosen and sanctified this house, that My name may be there forever; and My eyes and ]My heart will be there perpetually. As for you, if you walk before Me as your father David walked, and do according to all that I have commanded you, and if you keep My statutes and My judgments, then I will establish the throne of your kingdom, as I covenanted with David your father, saying, ‘You shall not fail to have a man as ruler in Israel.’

 “But if you turn away and forsake My statutes and My commandments which I have set before you, and go and serve other gods, and worship them, then I will uproot them from My land which I have given them; and this house which I have sanctified for My name I will cast out of My sight, and will make it a proverb and a byword among all peoples.”  (2 Chronicles 7:12-19)

The rest of the Old Testament is a fulfillment of this pronouncement by God.  Following Solomon, the kingdom divided.  The northern kingdom of Israel fell away from following God and never returned to following Him.  That kingdom was destroyed some seven centuries before Christ.  The southern kingdom of Judah, headquartered at Jerusalem, also fell into times of apostasy but enjoyed times of revival and sometimes spectacular deliverance over the centuries before being overrun by the Babylonians.  Before the captivity, prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah under divine inspiration made many detailed and accurate prophecies, some fulfilled in their time, some fulfilled later in history, and some yet to be fulfilled.  Even after the fall of the kingdom, God continued to fulfill promises made to Abraham and to the Hebrew nation, preserving the Jews and eventually restoring the nation in their homeland.  During the captivity, Daniel received a vision that, coupled with other scriptures, lays out with stunning accuracy the course of world history, even dating the first advent of Messiah.  While some prophesied events are yet future, the Old Testament is filled with amazing prophesies that have been fulfilled just as they were given.

Jesus spoke words of prophecy.  He knew why He had come; He told the disciples of His impending death.  Mark 10:32-34 records,

Now they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was going before them; and they were amazed. And as they followed they were afraid. Then He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them the things that would happen to Him:  “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and deliver Him to the Gentiles; and they will mock Him, and scourge Him, and spit on Him, and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.”

His death happened just as the Old Testament prophets had foretold, just as Isaiah (chapter 53) graphically described prophetically some seven centuries earlier, just as Jesus on more than one occasion had told His disciples would happen.  And He rose from the grave, in fulfillment of  numerous prophecies, just as He told the disciples that He would.  Following the resurrection, He returned to heaven, and promised to come again:

Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.  (Acts 1:9-11)”

God knows all things.  He created all things that we know and touch and feel and perceive.  He is above space and time.  He can predict with perfect accuracy all that will ever happen.  It should come as no surprise that human predictions are not always so  accurate.  Humans are inherently not only imperfect but sinful and apart from God.  Humans need to be saved from their sins.  The Bible is replete with the message that we are lost, but in His grace God has made a way, the only way, for us to receive a new nature and eternal life.  Jesus Christ, the Son of God incarnate, came to earth as a man, died, and rose again as the only acceptable and necessary atonement for our sin.  In His divine wisdom and grace, God has decreed that if we but end our rebellion against Him, turn from our sins, turn to Him in faith, and accept what Christ has done on our behalf, we can know eternal life.  That is not a human prediction.  That is His promise.

The Lord’s Day

When we were boys, my mother took my brother and me to Sunday School and church every week. Dad never went to church, but he didn’t discourage us from going. Every Saturday night, I took a bath, filled out my Sunday School quarterly, and often polished my shoes to get ready for Sunday. We had a big Sunday lunch, usually something Mom had prepared and put in the oven or the electric skillet, and during the NFL season Dad was usually watching football when we got home. Sunday was a “different” day, and there never was a debate about going to church, it was just assumed that we would go.

I continued to go to church every Sunday as I grew up. I met my wife at the church we both attended. After we married, we continued to go to church every Sunday morning, usually again on Sunday night. There was never a debate or discussion. We often had lunch with family, we usually took an afternoon nap, and Sunday remained a day different from the rest. It was a day for church, for rest, for family, for remembering the principle of Sabbath to some degree. It was the Lord’s Day. We took both of our children to church the next Sunday after their birth. They grew up attending Sunday School and church every week, just as my wife and I had done when we were growing up.

A number of years ago we visited with my uncle (brother to my mother) and aunt in the small Nebraska town that my mother’s family was from. My uncle and aunt were living in the town while on an extended furlough from Bolivia where they did missionary work. Conversing with them, they noted that they were involved with an effort to oppose the end of business closings on Sunday in the town. Sunday “blue laws” were still in place then. Years earlier, that might have been common in many American cities and towns. Today, that is no longer the case and hasn’t been for a number of years.

In the past, most people did not work on Sunday unless they were involved in agriculture or services like law enforcement or health care, but that is no longer the case. Now, Sunday is a big day for retail, restaurants, entertainment, and in many other fields businesses operate on Sunday as just another day. We live in a busy world, where we have boats to get in the water, home improvement projects to attend to, sporting events and recreational activities to pursue, kids’ ball games to attend, as well as simply leftover tasks we didn’t get to during a busy workweek. It’s been a long week, we’re tired. We simply can’t commit to go to church every week. And yet, a few generations ago, American Christians managed to make it to church. They considered it important to do so. They may have worked sixty hour weeks in a factory, they may have engaged in relentless agricultural tasks seven days a week, but they somehow managed to make it to church. More and more, this is no longer the case.

Recognizing this, many perceived evangelical churches have attempted to make church more attractive to people and help them to make it fit into their schedules. I drove by a church recently with a sign that said something to the effect of “Come on – Give God a Second Chance.” The idea of “stop in and give God a few minutes once a week” is perceived as a big draw. We’ll keep it informal, short, entertaining, and painless, we’ll offer a service on Saturday night so you can sleep in on Sunday morning if you want; just stop by on your way to or from the movies or the restaurant. We’ll have an early Sunday morning service so you can get it over with and have the rest of your day free if that works for you. Shorts and flip-flops are no problem. In many cases, maybe most cases, sound churches have discontinued their Sunday evening services, in part because they were poorly attended.

Worship should be an existential reality for believers. It should be a way of life, an hour-by-hour part of our life. It is not dependent on our physical location, our lot in life, or any external issue. Our personal relationship with God is a constant and ongoing part of life. Similarly, corporate worship is not limited to Sunday. The Lord of the Church resurrected on the first day of the week and so from its earliest days the church came to assemble and worship on Sunday, but believers can assemble and worship together on Saturday or for that matter on, say, Tuesday. Corporate worship can occur whenever the church meets and sinners are warned of judgement to come, Christ and the gospel is proclaimed, the Scripture is studied, believers pray together. In other countries and societies, a Sunday gathering might not even be an option. One wonders, however, when American churches seek to make their meetings completely convenient and informal and easy, if they haven’t lost something.

The New Testament presents to us the importance of being part of a church. We are supposed to gather together with other believers, for instruction and discipleship, for corporate worship, for encouragement and fellowship, for ministry. It isn’t optional, it isn’t something to do occasionally when it is convenient. We are supposed to be a part of each other as the body of Christ in the world. As Americans, we have great freedom to assemble in churches. If we are gathering together with other believers to worship together, to hear a clear exposition of Scripture, to sing songs of worship to God that joyfully and reverently proclaim doctrine and remind of what He has done for us in Christ, it should be a priority that exceeds our need for convenience and comfort. Our heritage as believers living in the United States is a heritage of observing the Lord’s Day, preparing our hearts, putting on some better clothes appropriate to assembling with the body of Christ, and attending church regularly, even if doing so might not always be convenient. This should happen not merely as a ritual or habit, but as a commitment from our heart.

There is no explicit New Testament statement mandating Sunday worship, certainly no limitation to corporate worship on that day, but there are several references indicating that the first day of the week was special for the earliest believers. Matthew 28:1-6 tells us of the Lord’s resurrection on the first day,

“Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men.But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.”

Several other New Testament passages mention the first day. That tradition endured throughout history, and was an important part of American society for most of our history. That tradition and commitment has been slowly abandoned in recent decades. The reasons are many. Liberal churches hold to no message that is worth a zealous devotion to weekly church attendance. Prosperity takes our focus away from spiritual matters. We’re busy, have many activities and commitments. We can worship anywhere and anytime, we reason. Our favorite YouTube church is more entertaining and can be viewed anytime. Many professing Christians simply feel no need or desire to be involved with a local church.

But I’m convinced that Christians and the faithful church in America have lost something, something profound and vital, in losing our commitment to The Lord’s Day.

On Faith and Repentance

In Luke 13, Jesus said, “There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.  And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things?  I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.  Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem?   I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”

I once heard the speaker at a local attractional megachurch reference this passage.  He noted that the world is imperfect, and we should stop asking why and recognize that in this imperfect world, mistakes happen.  Builders make mistakes; the tower fell; and bad things continue to happen in a broken world.  He explained that to repent means to stop and rethink the way you think about God and suffering.  We should align our life toward God, recognize that suffering is not God’s will, and He is not just waiting for you to screw up so He can punish you.  God’s desire is to leverage our suffering, and so we should rethink our thinking about God.  A well-know hypercharismatic personality has said that repentance means to go back to God’s perspective on reality, since “re” means to go back, and “pent” is like the penthouse, the top floor of a building, and so repent means to go back to God’s perspective on reality.

While change of mind toward God is certainly involved in repentance, it strikes me that these are inadequate expressions of the idea of repentance we find presented in Scripture, and further it strikes me that failure to understand true repentance undermines the doctrine of salvation and the very nature of the gospel.  Repentance is an essential part of salvation.  It is essential for a sinner who has offended God to turn from that sin.  The repeated message of the Old Testament prophets centered on the need for repentance.  The first recorded words Jesus preached, in Matthew 4:17, were “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.”  True repentance comes from the awareness that by nature we are fallen and we have done wrong, and repentance produces a desire and commitment to turn from our sin.  The requirement for entrance into the kingdom of God is to repent and believe in the atoning work of Christ; repentance accompanies regeneration.

The Puritan writer Thomas Brooks wrote, “One of the devices of Satan is to persuade the soul that repentance is an easy work.  . . . But repentance is a mighty work, a difficult work, a work beyond our power. . . . Repentance is a turning from darkness to light.  It affects the sinner’s whole heart and life.  It changes the heart from the power of sin unto God.  Every sin strikes at the honor of God, the being of God, the glory of God, the heart of Christ, the joy of the Spirit, and the peace of a man’s conscience.  A truly penitent soul  strikes at all sin, hates all, and will labor to crucify all.”  Second Corinthians 5:17 says,  “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”  Another Puritan, John Owen, reflecting on this passage, wrote that “Regeneration does not consist in a mere moral reformation of life.  It requires the infusion of a new, real, spiritual principle into the soul and its faculties.  It brings spiritual life, light, holiness, righteousness, and the expulsion of the contrary, inbred, habitual principle of sin and enmity against God.  This alone enables true acts of holy obedience.  The principle of true regeneration always, certainly, and infallibly produces the reformation of the life intended. . .  . Regeneration and reformation are inseparable.”

In Luke 18:13, a repentant tax-gatherer pleaded, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner.”  Pastor and author John MacArthur (“The Gospel According to Jesus,” page 32) reflecting on this passage wrote that “Repentance as Jesus characterized it in this incident involves a recognition of one’s utter sinfulness and a turning from self and sin to God (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:9).  Far from being a human work, it is the inevitable result of God’s work in a human heart.  And it always represents the end of any human attempt to earn God’s favor.  It is much more than a mere change of mind – it involves a complete change of heart, attitude, interest, and direction.  It is a conversion in every sense of the word.”  Further, “The Bible does not recognize faith that lacks this active element of active repentance.  True faith is never seen as passive – it is always obedient.”  In a sermon in 2000, MacArthur noted “What the sinner needs to do is not accept Jesus Christ or make a decision for Christ, but to repent and cry out and ask Jesus Christ to accept him in spite of his sin.

Failure to understand the necessity of repentance and the nature of the gospel of  repentant faith has brought all sorts of problems.  Many have been deceived into thinking they have been saved when really they have not.  In recent decades, emotional manipulation was often used to invoke a response from people who really did not understand the gospel but responded to maudlin invitation hymns after being warned of the danger of Hell.  It is relatively easy to “make a decision” to walk an aisle, sign a card, or repeat a repeat-after-me prayer after being handed a tract; it is another thing to acknowledge one’s sin and inability and call out to a Holy God in repentant faith.   While some who responded to such appeals fell away, thankfully many did indeed understand and believe, and many later came to acknowledge the truth of the gospel and were truly born again.

But perhaps of much more danger is the total disregard of the idea of repentance we see today.  Part of the issue is doctrinal; doctrine is seldom taught.  Belief in original sin and the sin nature of humans is not an often-considered topic in the American church today and seems to be doubted by an increasing number of evangelicals.  The holiness and just wrath of God is as likely to be downplayed or ridiculed as it is to be taught from the Bible.  Positive thinking preachers are not likely to call people to repent and believe; they are more inclined to remind people of how much God loves them just as they are and try to motivate them to reach their full potential and be happy and not worry about much beyond that.  Prosperity theology also centers more on human worthiness than on human sinfulness.  The seeker-friendly and attractional church movement are loath to mention sin and judgement; that might offend and won’t help attract a target audience.  People need to be attracted and have fun and be comfortably entertained so they keep coming.  Maybe they’ll be inspired to make a decision and live a better life.

But Jesus came to seek us and save us from our sin.  He did not come merely to save us from the consequences of the bad actions of others.  He did not die on the cross just to aid us in overcoming our problems or circumstances.  He did not die on the cross to make us happy, successful, or wealthy.  He came as the One True Saving Plan of God.  He came to die on the cross to atone for the sin, and the sins, of any and all who would repent and believe.  He came to call us to stop loving sin and start loving God.  He came to call us to both a changed mind and a changed life.

Thus, a repentant sinner should manifest brokenness and remorse over sin, and not just the consequences of sin.  Repentance and renunciation of every sin should become an attitude and a way of life.  Repentance calls us to turn from sin and embrace God.  And when we do that, we will know the life of purpose, joy, and fulfillment God intends for us, both eternally and in the present.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Church as a Corporate Event

An internet Christian-themed video streaming provider recently sent out an invitation for a series from a well-known megachurch pastor.  I decided to watch at least the first session.

The series was recorded as the sermons at the Sunday service at the speaker’s megachurch, reportedly one of the largest evangelical churches in America.  In his introduction to the week one lecture that introduced his theme, the pastor invited hearers to put aside any skepticism about the Bible, and spoke of the conversion of Saul and his transformation to the Apostle Paul in Acts.  The speaker noted, “You don’t have to accept any of this,” “This has nothing to do with believing the Bible,” and “Take this question seriously, even if you are not a Christian.”  He displayed Ephesians 5:15-17, noting that Ephesians was a letter written telling Christians how to live, and introduced his theme for the series, “What’s the Wise Thing to Do?”  Using words from the Ephesians passage as a sort of springboard, he exhorted hearers not to be “unwise,” or careless, but to be “wise,” or careful, and that “the days are evil”, so “don’t let the flow of culture take you where you don’t want to be.”

He then introduced three questions as a formula for making wise decisions.  With the first, “In light of my past experience, what’s the wise thing to do?”, he emphasized that what is ok for one person may not be ok for another because of differing past experiences.  The second question was, “In light of my current circumstances, what’s the wise thing to do?”, and the third, “In light of my future hopes and dreams, what’s the wise thing to do?”, noting that personal vision is often a catalyst for wise decisions.  At the end of the talk, he assigned homework – “Ask it,” noting that in so doing one might learn something about oneself, and that perhaps people don’t always have their own best interests in mind, but maybe God does.

What hit me as I listened was not anything negative about this megachurch pastor’s formula.  He could make a mint as a corporate motivational speaker.  What really hit me was the thought that many hundreds of people had come to this church and its various satellite locations that week, and heard nothing of the gospel, had heard nothing of grace, nothing of faith and repentance, had heard the word “Jesus” mentioned in passing once or twice, had heard nothing from the Bible.  The attenders likely heard a rousing contemporary music concert before this lecture, but at the end of the day they had not in any way worshipped God and had heard nothing from scripture that would impact their lives.  Perhaps subsequent lectures in this series might have clearly included something like scriptural principles for decision-making or the Christian life or even included a clear explanation the gospel, but not this lecture.  I listened to most of the second and last sermons in the series, but never heard anything of sin, salvation, grace, faith, or doctrine, and barely a mention Jesus.

Several weeks earlier, the same megachurch pastor was featured on a nationally syndicated Christian radio broadcast that I passively listen to on occasion.  The two-part broadcast that aired around July 4 featured a sermon delivered at the megachurch, likely delivered the previous year in conjunction with July 4.  He delivered a good lecture concerning American history, the founders, and patriotic themes.  I recall agreeing with what he said almost in total.  But at the time I remember thinking how tragic it was that a few thousand people had attended this man’s megachurch services that week and heard nothing of the gospel, nothing of Christ, nothing really from the Bible.  They went to an event at what was billed as church, but it was devoid of worship and anything distinctly Christian.  It was essentially a corporate event.

We are told that this is the way to “do church” today.  It is surely a road to destruction.  The New Testament book of Jude, verse 4 reminds us,  “For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Verses 12-13 remind, “These are spots in your love feasts, while they feast with you without fear, serving only themselves. They are clouds without water, carried about by the winds; late autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, pulled up by the roots; raging waves of the sea, foaming up their own shame; wandering stars for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.”  Impressive clouds, but empty.