ReChurch is a landing site for resources on rethinking the church in the light of Scripture.
Saturday, June 29, 2013
The Church in the World
The Kingdom Question
Do you long for a stronger economy? safer cities and neighborhoods? better education? more integrity in politics? more respect for traditional values? a greater respect for Christians? more godly laws? cleaner television and movies? an end to abortion, pornography homosexuality, and violence? In short, a better world?
Do these longings represent your hopes for the future? If so, why? Do you believe we as Christians have a right to expect these things from society? Do you believe that the Lord even expects His people to demand them? And if they are not forthcoming, to fight for them?
The Lord promises a new heaven and a new earth. To long for them is normal and even right. But what exactly do we have a right to expect while in this world, in its present condition – besides animosity, hostility, and tribulation, that is? Do we have a right to expect any of the societal improvements mentioned above? If so, on what Scriptural basis?
The Early Church
Do our national problems hinder anyone from exercising faith? or love? or holiness? or repentance? or from pursuing a relationship with the living God? The early church had all of our national woes times ten – and was only stronger for it. Not only that, but they exerted no energy other than fervent prayer, sincere love and faithful witness to effect a change.
Did they place their hope in a better Rome? a more righteous Galatia? a Christian Corinth? Or was their hope solely “in the grace to be revealed at the revelation of Christ Jesus” (I Pet. 1:5)? Indeed it was, and that hope is still the calling to which we must be faithful. The world’s need for moral reformation is not our mission – any more than reforming Egypt was Israel’s responsibility in the days of Moses.
Battle Lines in the Sand
Even as I write, the “Christian Right” is drawing battle lines, setting themselves against the President of the United States, his Administration, the “media elite,” the Liberals in Congress, and just about all of the special interest groups known to man. They are leading tens of thousands of well intentioned Christians into a virtual mine field of fear, mistrust, and intolerance – bordering on hatred. This is inexcusable, and will backfire with devastating results. It is especially odious in light of the words and lives of Jesus and His apostles. Our calling to be salt and light isn’t even remotely related to the vociferous attacks being clamored about these days in the name of what’s “right and decent.” Proponents of this kind of action seem to be Americans first and Christians second, do they not?
The cause of Christ, as it was once called, is spiritual in its essence and should today, as in its early days, move forward on its knees with its soul open heavenward, guided by inward precepts like unconditional love, patience, humility, peaceableness, compassion, and the like. And although we can never tolerate evil in any form, in our midst or in our hearts, neither can we demand that the world be anything other than what it is. We have no directive from God, much less a mandate, to try and “stiff arm” this world, its systems and people, into conformity with God’s ways. What purpose is there in having the world imitate the kingdom of light externally while their hearts remain in the kingdom of darkness! To militantly and aggressively take on the world with an eye to changing it, seems to me to display a naiveté as to this world’s nature.
Lights in the Darkness
Someone may ask, “But are we not to do good deeds?” I will answer, “Yes, of course!” Again, someone may ask, “Doesn’t that mean we should be working to end pornography, and such?” I must answer, “Not necessarily.” Doing good certainly includes a wide variety of activities. But our deeds must reflect not only the character of God, but must be in line with his revealed purposes. “But surely God does not approve pornography and abortion!” Of course He doesn’t. He wants all men, women, boys and girls to know the Truth, for it is the Truth alone that can set them free from all burdens and bondages.
To be “lights amidst the darkness” is a worthy role. To raise society’s standard of righteousness with our own lives is certainly appropriate. To bear witness with a lump in our throat and a tear in our eye to the gospel that calls men, women, boys and girls to restoration and peace through repentance and belief is indeed our mission. And to intercede in prayer for the Lord to have His will done on earth as it is in heaven is not only our privilege, but our responsibility. But to pursue any course of action that attempts to change society’s moral character ,while their hearts are still in unbelief is, frankly, a waste of time and effort. Nor can those who pursue such objectives expect much help from the God of the Bible.
To work to clean up society’s filth – like pornography, child abuse, homosexuality, and any of their evil cousins, is like trying to clean up the Valdez oil spill with a bottle of Windex and a sponge. Evil deeds are the inevitable consequence of an evil society – “a bad tree cannot bear good fruit” (Mt. 7:18). To fight such evils – especially with the world’s political and legal resources — is but to pull at the strands of abandoned webs and ignore the spiders that spun them.
To show mercy and kindness is our place. To stand for the truth and pronounce the judgment of God on wickedness is imperative. But know this: Satan and his hordes have been building tar-pits of lies and deception throughout history. Their goal has always been to obscure and counterfeit the Truth about the Living God; Who He is, what He is doing. And it is only by His kindness and mercy that anyone is ever delivered from these tar-pits. All the systems of all the societies on earth are in the palm of the Devil’s hand, to be played like a vile symphony. As Satan said to our Lord Jesus, “all the kingdoms of the world have been handed over to me” (Luke 4:5-6). The Lord refused him then – we should refuse him now. We are not here to moralize or transform the world into godliness today any more than they were in the first century. We are here as testimonies of and trophies to the Truth about Who God is; and as instruments of restoration and intercession for the Lord to use as He chooses.
“You are of God, little children, and have overcome them; greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world! ” (I John 4:4)
We are “of God” – no longer of this world. As His people, we are to keep ourselves free from entanglement with the world’s yoke of bondage. We must not allow ourselves to be pulled back into the world’s ways, even though some of its tactics seem useful in accomplishing our desire for a better place. Let us wait instead for the place “not made with hands in the heavenlies,” not strive for a caricature here and now.
It could be said that the motives behind much of this political posturing today may be something less than pure; that much of what’s going on is merely men and women seeking their own interests in the name of Christ. But at best – at very best, what’s going on has more to do with things that are of interest to man than things that interest God. He gains very little, if anything, through all of this political dust stirring.
So let’s be very careful in our pursuits. The Lord calls His people out of this world. To try to make the world a better place may seem noble, but it is not our calling. The world is condemned – don’t be caught in it, especially trying to make it more palatable. Or, like Br’er Rabbit, you’ll find you’ve only been punching a tar-baby.
In my judgment, political activity of almost airy sort is virtually worthless compared to spiritual activity of almost any sort. Perhaps you counter, “Why not both?” I say because they are nearly always mutually exclusive – except, perhaps, under the rarest of circumstances. To be spiritually active, however, is to be socially active. Nearly every page of New Testament and early Church History bears witness to our mandate to focus on people – the victims of sin and bondage, not on the political systems that produce such bondage. Our Lord Jesus, the apostles, the prophets, and the saints of the early Church exemplified this principle with every fiber of their being. Can we really improve on their testimony?
We are to be involved in the deeds ”which God hath before ordained that we should walk in” (Eph. 2:10). Deeds like:
showing hospitality to those who cannot repay
bearing no grudges
taking no offense
not being vindictive, even when it seems justified
being forgiving to all, showing kindness to all
sharing our possessions
being peacemakers to fragmented relationships (especially our own)
exhibiting fairness to all and expecting it from no one
being gentle to the brokenhearted
honoring all men, women, boys and girls
loving one another
binding, loosing, praying, seeking those things which are above
not becoming entangled in the world’s affairs
keeping our hearts from coveting the things of this world
seeking the Kingdom of God primarily
having our concerns coincide with our heavenly Father’s
In summary, ”Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father Who is in Heaven” (Mat. 5.16).
Why, instead do we set ourselves in battle array against men and women whom God loves? As followers of Christ we are from a completely different realm. Why do we have such a fixation on this country, its politics, its news, its tiny happenings? What has so entangled us, deflecting us from our high and holy calling? Why are there popular magazines, TV shows, and even newspapers like The Christian American, all spewing forth bad news – filled with the sordid things of this world rather than things that encourage, bless, comfort and guide. Why are we so obsessed with what “they” (the bad guys) are doing to “us” (the good guys) – often exhibiting the same degree of bias, the same spiteful tone, and the same selfish attitudes as those we accuse? Did not our Brother Paul tell us to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret ” (Eph. 5:11-12)?
I do not want to be misunderstood. I, too, find the things which are going on in this world truly repulsive, but this is not my kingdom! If it were, I too would fight. I am convinced, however, that it is totally inappropriate for Christians to be so absorbed in the affairs of state. It has become an obsession, and that concerns me. I am not opposed to all involvement in temporal matters, but I believe we must focus primarily on things that concern our Lord Jesus and His kingdom activities and not be unduly caught up in things that primarily concern the natural man.
Remember what our Lord said to Peter when he came dangerously close to trying to deflect the Lamb of God from His redemptive purpose? “Then Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get thee behind me, Satan; thou art an offense unto me, for thou mindest not the things that be of God but those that be of men”‘ (Mat. 16:23)
Was Christ’s goal to Christianize Rome or Judaism? On the contrary, He set out to begin a new culture; one that would be His hands and feet, mouth and heart, in the very middle of Satan’s realm. This new culture is His body on the earth. And it is as His body that we are to effect changes on the earth. As He said, ” Truly I say unto you, whatsoever you shall bind on the earth shall have been bound in the heavenlies; and whatsoever you shall loose on the earth shall have been loosed in the heavenlies.” (Mat. 18:18) Terrestrial change is not only the fruit of a godly life, it is the very will of God. We are called to participate with Him in bringing about lasting changes in this world; eternal, spiritual changes that go far beyond our natural sphere of influence – changes that affect people of every race and language and alter the courses of nations. The key is to learn to be still enough to hear, close enough to understand, and free enough to obey.
Means of Change
To sit at the world’s negotiating table is to play by its rules. We are called to love, the world operates by selfishness; we are called to fairness and equity, they do “whatever it takes to win”; we are called to patience, mercy and meekness, they use intimidation, manipulation and word play. Why, then, are we surprised when we are treated unfairly by the media, the police, the courts – the whole unbelieving world? Ought we not rather to expect nothing less and nothing more?
This does not mean we should have no concern about the things going on around us. It is a matter of appropriate tactics. Our brother Paul gave us some good counsel when he wrote Timothy: “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men, for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; Who desires that all men be delivered [from this world], and come to the knowledge of the truth.” (I Tim. 2:1)
The Lord did call us to pray for peace in the land so that the Gospel may have free course. This is the will of God. He is building an Assembly in the heavenlies for all eternity. He is not trying to bring morality, justice or happiness to a people who hate Him. But He does promise peace and every spiritual blessing to those who love Him.
We must not major on earthly means of change and minor on heavenly means. The omnipotent hand of God moves in response to prayer, not political activism. If your prayers seem ineffective, ask the Lord to show how to pray according to His will and he will surely hear you. The beauty of prayer is its authority and simplicity. It takes the world with all of its complexity and resistance out of the loop; it even takes us out of the loop! We deal directly with Someone completely trustworthy, leaving it with Him. He then takes over. And who knows better? After all, “as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts, says the Lord” (Isa 55:9).
Have we forgotten, or never really understood, that our battle is with the unseen forces of darkness? that weapons like Truth, Prayer, and Fervent Love are not mere adornments, but irresistible armaments when wielded with authority and experience? Why, then, do we sometimes seem to be losing the battle? Why does our invisible enemy seem to be gaining the upper hand? What are we doing wrong? We have changed our tactics, trading “the weapons of our warfare [which] are not earthly” (2 Cor. 10:4) for the weapons of this world. We have swapped one for the other as one might pick and choose at some flea-market. But our Lord has clearly taught us to “put on the whole armor of God, ” and to fight “the good fight of faith.” And, after all, He is our eternal Commander-in-chief. Spiritual people, therefore, require spiritual weapons to be effective.
Gnats and Camels
Many today can be characterized by Jesus’ words, “they strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel” (Mat. 23:24). They attack the armies of pornography, gay rights, liberal politics, Planned Parenthood, Dan Rather & company, the NEA, the NEA et.al., while the armies of materialism, nationalism, racism, bitterness and religious pride infiltrate them from behind, taking many casualties. In my judgment, this second enemy is a much greater threat to the Church than the first, just as Israel learned when the Amalakites attacked them from behind, inflicting great injury. And yet, for many believers, it is the perceived threat from the first camp that attracts all of their attention, while this infiltration from behind goes unnoticed.
Now you may think it unfair for me to characterize pornography and the rest as “gnats.” I agree that such things are heinous, that they will someday be judged severely by God and should be exposed as evil today. But I do not believe we should be struggling against these things with the weapons of the world like a gladiator against his opponent There are much weightier spiritual matters that ought to concern us. It is when we stoop to the level of the world’s methodologies that we “strain at the gnats.” There is nothing wrong with publicly denouncing such moral evils, but it is when we labor in prayer, beseeching God to change the hearts of men and lovingly minister to those who find themselves caught up in the gears of the world’s evil machinery that we truly make a difference. It is through such spiritual efforts that we are to counter the affect of the evil that is ever present around us.
To speak out against the wrongs and wickednesses of governments and individuals is right and Christian. But why all the fervor for political change? Did the Lord or the apostles adopt this stance? Jesus may have addressed wrongs, but He never sought to redress them, except by laying down His life as the firstborn of a new generation in order “to bring many sons to glory. ” This world is dying and will soon pass away. Christ did not come to reform it but to begin a new creation, the Body of Christ. Romans 8:28 promises that everything will work out for good. but remember that it is a promise “to those who are called according to His Purpose.”
Home Sweet Home?
Why are so many working so hard to change a world that is “under judgment”? Do they think it is their calling to repatriate and reform a condemned world? Have we not been “delivered from the kingdom of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of His dear Son” (Col. 1:13)? Or have we become too at home in this world? Have we become so at ease with the good things it has to offer that we have lost a vision for Kingdom of God? Have we made detente’ with this world in spite of Christ’s warnings that it is our enemy?
We must see the world for what it is, and not become so comfortable and at home in it that we fail to recognize its true character. Jesus said that when He returns to bring judgment on this world, people will be eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. I might add: working, vacationing, retiring, building, pursuing dreams, and on and on. Are any of these things wrong? Only when they unduly distract us from our more eternal spiritual responsibilities. We want to take advantage of the good things of this world and wage war against its evils – hoping, perhaps, to have more good things to enjoy in the present life. If this were the purpose of God, why is it such a foreign concept in Scripture? “Know ye not that friendship with the world is enmity with God” (James 4:4). The Judgment of God is on both the bad and the so-called good of this world . “Love not the world neither the things in the world ” (1 John 2:15), period.
What is it that drives, motivates, even compels us to look to the courts, to Congress, or to the White House for our future? Why are some even demanding a protected minority status for Christians? Why are we knocking on doors to promote political causes when it is the business of the Church of the living God that ought to be our primary concern? Is it because we have become too “entangled in the affairs of this life” (2 Tim. 2:4)? Perhaps a current inventory of our treasure chest is in order. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Mat. 6:21). We are prophets, servants of the Most High God, ambassadors of Christ, agents of reconciliation to bring men back to God, not movers and shakers of society. “Our citizenship is in heaven, from where we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ’ (Phil 3:20).
In my estimation, many professing believers today have become revisionistic in their use of biblical truth. When I read the pages of the New Testament, and then look at today’s Christianity, it is like going to see the movie version of a masterfully written novel. The substance, the genius, the fullness, is missing, only the skeleton remains. There are a few barely recognizable parts, but everything else is changed for the worse. It is but a paltry imitation of the original.
We seem more concerned with the sanctity of the American dollar than with the spiritual bankruptcy of the Lord’s people. We are more concerned with America’s image in the world than with God’s glory on the earth. We are more exercised about perceived encroachments on our civil liberties than we are about using our liberty in Christ to serve others. And we are more alarmed over the outward immorality in America than with the spiritual adultery in Christians’ hearts. “Brethren these things ought not to be.” Our need is not to get prayer back in the schools so much as it is to get prayer back in the churches!
Salt and Light
Lest anyone think I am secretly advocating monastic living as opposed to living in the world, let me say that nothing could be further from the truth. We are salt, and as such our godly presence and lives hinder and retard the rolling of society, and we give it flavor from on high. We are light, exposing the deeds of darkness by speaking the truth “as it were, the oracles of God” (1 Pet. 4:11) and lighting the way Home. And we are intercessors, joining with God in seeing His eternal purposes realized on earth. How we pursue these worthy objectives, though vital, is not within the scope of this present writing, though its necessity is beyond debate. We all know we are to be “blameless and harmless, the sons of God in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom you shine as lights in the world’ (Phil. 2:15). How we live out His calling may be a personal matter, but it is also something that must be open to the scrutiny of the whole body of Christ. We must be like-minded in what we believe and of one mind in that which we pursue. Is this not why we have been given all the corrective letters in the New Testament?
Winning the Battle
We may know these things, but look at us! We have allowed the world to enter the sacred places of our hearts to such an extent that our salt has “lost its savor” (Luke 14:34), and the light that is in us has become darkness (Matt 6:23). We have become so entangled in the affairs of this world that we must be reminded again, “So likewise, no one of you can be My disciple who does not give up all that he has. ” (Luke 14:33)
Re-writing the New Testament to fit unsanctioned agendas is taking place in most denominations within the Church in America. We have become obsessed by the notion that our government is taking away our “freedoms,” yet we have barely begun to live in the freedom Christ bought for us at Calvary! We have become so used to, even spoiled by certain privileges we have enjoyed for decades that when they are taken away we complain about losing our “constitutional rights.” Know this: we are completely free in Him, regardless of who or what is in power in any government anywhere on this or any other planet! We can do the will of God and complete the work of God under any regime within any society.
Again, please don’t misunderstand I love the freedoms I’ve enjoyed for forty-five years. Humanly, I wish they could last forever! But what does that have to do with Christianity, the Gospel, and the God of the Bible? We must see our role in this life from a divine perspective. This does not mean that we are exempt from natural concerns, for we are on earth and we are called to be merciful even as our Father is merciful. We are to show forth His compassion and kindness at every opportunity. But the question remains: “Where is your heart?” The rain falls and tile sun shines on sinner and saint alike. We are to show kindness to all men. But we need to remember that this present world is under judgment. God’s heart is set upon the Bride He has chosen for His Son; the House He is building for Himself with living stones. We too must be about our Father’s business. for we have been ‘”called according to His purpose. ” And it is not His purpose that His people should be the keepers of this present sin-cursed earth.
Our error is most likely unwitting. No matter. Just as the Lord called five of the seven churches in Revelation to repent, even so is he perhaps calling five out of every seven professing believers today to a change in perspective. He is not calling us to live a cloistered life. But neither has He called us to clash with men and women in the streets, in the courts, in the nation’s schools – nor anywhere else – except as sinners become offended by our godly lives and faithful witness to the gospel. We have been warned in Ephesians 6 that ours is a battle with unseen foes, that it is a conflict to be waged in the Spirit, cautiously and respectfully as with any powerful enemy. We may find ourselves harassed, mistreated, maligned, mistrusted, misrepresented, dragged into court, thrown in jail – all unjustly, yet we are still “more than conquerors” (Rom 8:37), for the battle is the Lord’s! And His battles are not fought in the courts, nor at the polls, nor in the press, nor with the weapons of war, but by the power of the One who “must reign until he has put all enemies under his feet” (1 Cor. 15:25).
If we must be militant, let it be on our knees.
“All of His battles are won in prayer. Ministry is merely the gathering of the spoils of war” J. S. Carroll
Are you being still enough to listen? Are you close enough to understand Him? Are you free enough to obey? Very serious questions.
A. I believe we are too interested in changing society, specifically the part that offends our values and sensibilities.
B. Mistaking this for our calling, we employ sinful man’s means of change, because our battles are ours and not the Lord’s.
C. All of this is because we have joined our hearts to the idols and darlings of this world. Repent and turn to the Lord with a whole heart – forsaking everything but Him, that we might lay hold of that for which we were laid hold of.
By Tom Frazier, from Searching Together magazine by Jon Zens