(This blog is part 3 of a series of blogs on “the Gospel and power”).
The first blog in this series addressed the “upside-down” nature of the Gospel—namely, that the kingdom of God comes through faithful, sacrificial, and loving witness. I, also, addressed matters of church discipline. And thirdly, I referred to a documentary that focused on a movement among some Christians to influence the world by placing godly men in positions of power around the world.
The third point—putting godly men in positions of power—seems like a good idea to many. I, however, am deeply troubled by this idea. In addition to what I wrote earlier, I am troubled because I believe that it is in direct conflict with the Gospel and the mission of God’s people.
God’s people are to advance the kingdom of God through their faithful, loving, and sacrificial witness. To say it again: the gospel advances when God’s people faithfully, lovingly, and sacrificially witness for the kingdom. That is, we do so the same way Jesus did—by dying!
Now, it may seem incredulous to suppose that the kingdom of God advances through the death of God’s people. And that is the point! The kingdom of God doesn’t advance its empire the way the world’s empires advance! This may be hard to swallow but it is the absolute message of Scripture and it is supported by church history.
The thinking behind those who aim to place godly men in power, then, falsely assumes that it is God’s desire to place Christians in power so that they can affect Christian laws upon a secular society. Now, this might be a noble endeavor. But I would vigorously contend that it is an inherently non-Christian endeavor.
For one, the endeavor to impose Christian laws and ethics upon a culture does not make Christians, nor a Christian empire. It may make for a society with good laws. But it doesn’t necessarily make a society of good people.
Now, do not misunderstand. I am not saying that Christian men (and women) cannot or should not be in positions of power. Nor, am I saying that making good laws is not a noble endeavor.
What I am saying is that God’s desire for His people is to work for His kingdom. There will indeed be a day when Jesus will rule all the nations. But it will not be by placing Christians in power in this age. Instead, the ruler of this age (the devil) must be permanently cast aside; and, death and sin must be eradicated. Until that happens, which I would affirm takes place at the second coming of Christ (but if you want to push it to the end of the millenium it doesn’t matter to me), the people of God are called to lives of faithful, loving, and sacrificial witness.
Until then, the people of God may attempt to influence the nations of the world. We may seek positions of power. But we must understand that it is not through power, force, or military might that the kingdom of God comes. It is through a faithful, loving, and sacrificial witness. As a result, our deeds are just as important as a words.
Thus, when Christian leaders in power fall from grace and commit blatant sins, they should model repentance and contrition, and they should step down. After all, if a pastor or other leader did such, we have already agreed that they should step down.
For some reason, there is a fear among Christians that we cannot have Christian political leaders step down because someone who is not a Christian—someone who doesn’t share Christian values—might step in and fill the office.
This line of thinking is seriously in error. Our Christian witness is of greater importance that having Christians in seats of power. “They will know you are my disciples” not because you made Christians laws, but because of your conduct and character. When Christians hide their sins, or confess them, and, yet, do not step down, they are testifying to the world that their power is more important than their character.
When they don’t do what we would expect any other Christian in leadership to do, then we have placed too great an emphasis on the position and the power. And we have failed to understand that this is not the way the kingdom of God comes.
Hence, the documentary; which was produced to warn people about the Christian agenda to rule the world and influence the nations for their cause.
In the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7) Jesus explains that in the Old Testament law one was not permitted to murder, commit adultery, or lie. But, in His kingdom, Jesus explains, doing any of these in one’s heart was equal to doing them in one’s actions.
The point is that having good laws does not make one Christian. The nature of the Gospel is to have one’s heart transformed.
When we endeavor to force Christian values on others through power, it often repels people from the Gospel. When Christians are respected for being Christians and for living according to their ideals—which are predicated on a faithful, loving, and sacrificial witness—then the Gospel flourishes.
 In my upcoming book I spend much time defending this statement.
(This blog is part 2 of a series of blogs on “the Gospel and power”).
The first blog in this series addressed the “upside-down” nature of the Gospel—namely, that the kingdom of God comes through faithful, sacrificial, and loving witness; and matters of church discipline; and a documentary that focused on a movement among some Christians to influence the world by placing godly men in positions of power around the world.
The third point—putting godly men in positions of power—seems like a good idea to many.
I, however, am troubled by this idea. I am troubled because I believe that it is in direct conflict with the Gospel. In this blog, I will contend that putting Christian people in positions of power may well lead situations that conflict with the Gospel.
The aforementioned documentary went on to show that those values sometimes went ignored if/when they were transgressed. For example, when men committed acts of adultery, instead of doing the very things we should expect men of God to do, they were protected by the Christian establishment.
From the vantage point of those producing the documentary this was the height of hypocrisy. From their perspective, these Christian organizations were trying to obtain power in order to impose their social, economic, political, and moral standards on others (which to some in the secular world, appears cultic). Yet, these men of Christian ideals were not willing to live up to those very same standards when they violated them. They wanted to impose Christian values on the world, in other words, but they were not willing to follow them themselves.
Many of you may be reading this and conclude that there is nothing wrong here. These men, at least some of them, were contrite and repentant. They probably sought reconciliation. They likely tried to do the right thing.
Let’s assume for a minute that this were true in all cases. We have already established that Christian leaders need to be held to a higher ethical standard than others. Furthermore, for their own sake, and for the sake of others who have been injured by the leader’s fall from grace, and for the sake of the church’s witness to the world, these men need more help. To allow them to remain in their positions of power after a significant sin conveys the message to all that these men are to be treated differently from the rest because of their positions of power. This is precisely the opposite of what I set forth in the first blog. When leaders sin, the consequences need to be more severe.
What, in effect, is happening in these cases is that keeping men in positions of power is deemed more important than the Gospel. This might sound outrageous. But the Gospel, which includes our witness to the world, is adversely affected when Christians, especially Christians in places of power, sin.
Not only that, but allowing them to remain in positions of power sends a message to the leaders themselves that they are special and need to be treated as such. Consequently, they do not receive all of the consequences for their sins that others might. The result is that they fail to get the necessary counseling and help that they need. Instead, they retain their positions of power, and begin to live with a sense that they are above the law. Because they do not face the necessary consequences of their sin, they often continue living unscrupulously. The end result is that the very law that they are put in positions of power to impose on others does not, in effect, apply to them.
Another effect of this special treatment for those in power is that sin itself is often minimized. This is used to justify the softer punishment for the leader who has sinned. In order to minimize the sin, however, the victim is often pushed aside. After all, giving the victim the necessary care they deserved, would only validate the severity of the sin.
Why do good Christian leaders in positions of power compromise their own core Christian values? More importantly, how can the Church not stand up and object when this happens?
The answer is, of course, complex, but a key catalyst is the conviction that it is deemed more important to have such men in positions of power, than it is to impose Christian discipline. In other words, the desire to have men who espouse Christian ideals in power is deemed more important than having men who actually live them out on a consistent basis.
There is another, and more significant, flaw with this approach to power. Namely, that it is in direct conflict with the Gospel of Christ.
The Gospel is that Jesus is Lord and that through His life, death, resurrection, and ascension, He has become the world’s true Lord. Jesus presently reigns as king through His people, who are called to proclaim His kingdom to the world. We proclaim the kingdom by imitating Jesus. The overriding ethic of Jesus’ kingdom is love! Thus, just as Jesus overcame power through faithful, loving, and sacrificial witness, so shall we. (In the book I am currently writing I spend 60-100 pages laying this out and defending this thesis. But I suspect that you expect a blog to be a bit shorter). At some point in the future, Scripture indicates that Jesus will return, vindicate His people, and establish His kingdom in full. At that time, death, sin, and corruption will vanish.
The Gospel has often been referred to as the "upside-down Gospel." Jesus’ way of doing things doesn’t fit with the world’s way. The world uses power. Jesus uses love. The world demands that we look out for number one. Jesus demands that we look out for the other—especially the one that others won’t look out for.
I suspect that most of you who are reading this will have no trouble with this notion. Well, we at least have no problem with this in theory. We all recognize the difficulty in living it out.
. . . .
If a pastor or church leader were involved in some form of moral failure, I suspect that most everyone reading this would recommend some form of pastoral care for the afflicted and church discipline for the offender. Such discipline should, in the least, include confronting the offender so that he/she repent, demanding that they obtain counseling and other help, and then aiming for eventual reconciliation.
Most would agree—depending on the nature and severity of the sin—that the pastor or leader should step away from ministry for at least some specified period of time, if not forever—depending of the seriousness and length of the sin, as well as how well the pastor or leader has received help.
In such instances, church discipline is intended to address issues of sin on at least three levels.
First, there is the care for those injured by the pastor or leader’s sins.
Secondly, it is designed to help the pastor or leader who committed such acts.
Finally, there is the witness of the church to the world. Certainly, this third level is only secondary to helping those who have suffered recover, and those who have sinned get well. Nonetheless, when the church deals with sin in a congregation, especially when that sin is committed by a leader, it must be cognizant that the world is watching.
I suspect that most of you who are reading this will have no trouble with what I have just set forth—other than the fact that such situations are difficult and grieving and because of this we often fail to do it out well.
. . . .
I recently watched a troubling documentary. Apparently there are Christians who perceive that God desires to place Christian men in leadership positions around the world in order that they may influence the world for the gospel. Their motive is certainly fine. And, I suspect, their hearts are in the right place.
I suspect that most of you who are reading this will have no trouble with this notion. In fact, I suspect that most of you think that this is a good thing.
 This is what is supposed to happen. We all, likely, know of instances in which this process wasn’t followed. In effect, once you have finished this book you might see why.
 The documentary was presented from a secular perspective and aimed to expose the movement and its agenda. I am not addressing whether or not it was good. My point is in regard to the concept that Christians should aim to advance the kingdom by putting people in positions of power.
I would like to take our discussion of what is the Gospel further. In doing so, we need to ask two questions: First, what is the goal of the Christian life? Secondly, what is the purpose of the Christian life? The first question pertains to the topic of personal discipleship. The second question to the mission of God’s people. It is essential, however, to note that the answers to these two questions are intricately interwoven. We must not, and cannot, separate our growth as disciples from our call to fulfill our mission.
Here again, the Gospel of personal salvation becomes problematic. I suspect that if we were to ask most western Christians what the goal and the purpose of the Christian life are the answers would be something along the lines of: “to accept Jesus so we can go to heaven when we die.” For most, this is both the goal and the purpose.
As a result, it is not uncommon for Christians to consider Christianity as a one-day-a-week, or even a one-day-a-month thing. Most Christians have little sense that there is much beyond accepting Jesus as their savior. Pastors struggle to get their members to come, to be engaged in Bible studies, to engage in outreach, and to serve. As long as Christianity and being a Christian is defined in terms of my personal salvation alone, then the struggle to help Christians understand that there is more and to experience this more will be ever present.
In order then to understand the Gospel further we must explore what discipleship is and what it means to be a disciple. This will be our next series of posts.
The Gospel and the Kingdom
To this point we have established that the gospel in its simplest expression is “Jesus is Lord” and that it is to be believed because it is the truth. In order to further our understanding of the Gospel, it is, also, necessary to observe the relationship between the gospel and the kingdom of God!
The gospel and the Kingdom of God are deeply intertwined in the NT. We see this in Mark’s opening description of the ministry of Jesus: “Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel’” (Mark 1:14-15). Though some might suggest here that Jesus was referring to two related but different things—first, Jesus was “preaching the gospel of God” (Mark 1:14), and secondly, He was also “saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand’” (Mark 1:15)—the Greek construction indicates that these two elements are in fact one. That is, Jesus was “preaching the gospel of God,” and what He was saying (i.e., what constitutes the gospel of God) was: “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.” In this statement, then, we see a clear connection between the gospel and the Kingdom of God.
The Gospel of Matthew, likewise, connects the gospel with the Kingdom of God. Matthew uses the word “gospel” (euangellion) four times (Matt 4:23; 9:35; 24:14; and 26:13). In each of the first three occurences (Matt 4:23; 9:35; 24:14) the gospel is directly connected with “the kingdom.”
Matthew’s first two uses (Matt 4:23; 9:35) are especially significance for our sake. A comparison of Matthew 4:23 and 9:35 shows that these two verses are virtually identical:
“Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people” (4:23)
“Jesus was going through all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness” (9:35).
The repetition of virtually identical statements, as we see in Matthew 4:23 and 9:35, forms what is known as an “inclusio.” An inclusio is one of the primary means by which an ancient author identifies the beginning and ending of a section or an entire work. The use of an inclusio not only serves as a way of indentifying the beginning and ending of a section, but also serves to indicate its key purpose—somewhat like what we do with a “thesis statement.” This means that Matthew 4:23-9:35 should be viewed as one extended section. The central themes of which are Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom and His doing the work of the kingdom. We see then that one cannot separate the proclamation of the Kingdom of God from the acts of the kingdom.
This means that the gospel is “Jesus is Lord”; and, this proclamation is directly correlated with both the proclamation and the doing of the Kingdom of God.
Of course, this means that in order to comprehend the gospel more fully we must gain an understanding of the kingdom of God. (to which we will turn in a future post)!
NB: if you like these posts and find them helpful please let others know!
 This understanding is reflected in the NET, NIV, and NLT translations: NET “Now after John was imprisoned, Jesus went into Galilee and proclaimed the gospel of God. He said, ‘The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the gospel!’”; NIV “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’”; NLT “Later on, after John was arrested, Jesus went into Galilee, where he preached God's Good News. ‘The time promised by God has come at last!’ he announced. ‘The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!’” The key here is that the Greek will often introduce a quote by utilizing two references to “saying.” For example, the Greek NT will often state, “Jesus was teaching and saying.” In such cases, we are not to suppose that Jesus was doing two different things here: namely, teaching and saying. Instead, the second verb “saying” is just the ancient writers way of introducing the content of the speaking. Note, they didn’t use quotation marks. So, the second verb often serves as our English equivalent of quotation marks.
 Note the NAS translates the identical construction in the Greek of Matt 4:23; 9:35; and 24:14 slightly different in 24:14: “this gospel of the kingdom”; instead of, “the gospel of the kingdom.” Of course, “this” and “the” are grammatically interrelated.
 There was no need to be absolutely identical. We must bear in mind that Matthew was read aloud. The hearers of the text, upon hearing Matthew 9:35, would recall the earlier statement of Matthew 4:23: even even if they were not able to recall if the statements were identical.
 Since the ancient text was read aloud and most were “hearers”, the use of paragraph breaks and chapter headings wouldn’t have been useful. In addition, the cost of paper was such that the ancient authors were in need of saving space. As a result, ancient writings not only lacked paragraph breaks and section headings, they often lacked space even between words. Verbal markers, that is things that could be heard, were the primary means of assisting the ancient hearer in regard to structure and flow of thought.
What is the Gospel?
A look into the NT shows that the word “gospel” is used in a basic sense to announce the “good news.” The “gospel” is a proclamation of good news! Now, this is a good start, but we still need to declare what the “good news” is about.
In its simplest expression the gospel, or the “good news” is that “Jesus is Lord.” This may seem elementary, but the implications of it are profound. In fact, I would contend that we cannot utter anything more profound than the declaration, “Jesus is Lord!”
If Jesus is Lord, then no other king, president, or world leader is; neither is power, nor military might. If Jesus is Lord, then I am not: neither is pleasure, sex, drugs, nor alcohol. It means that my personal security is not: neither is my accumulation of wealth, my accomplishments, my talents, nor my education, nor, in my case, my good looks! It means that my personal desires are not. It means that my family is not. It means that neither is my house, my car, my clothes, nor any possession. To proclaim that “Jesus is Lord” begins with the acknowledgement that no one or nothing else is!
The confession that “Jesus is Lord” is profoundly simple. Yet, upon further examination, we quickly realize that this is the most difficult task humankind has before them.
Why should someone believe the Gospel?
Now, the "gospel" begins with and extends beyond the proclamation that Jesus is Lord. But, before we proceed, we need to address one somewhat tangential question: “why should someone believe the Gospel?” The answer is simple: because it is the truth. That is it. Jesus is Lord and we are not. And that is the truth. There are no other reasons. We should submit to Jesus as Lord because He is Lord!
The problem is that very rarely is the Gospel presented in our western Christian culture as something to be believed and followed because it is the truth. Instead, we market the Gospel as something to be believed so that you can go to heaven; or so that you won’t have to go to hell; or so that you can get your life back together. In otherwords, we typically present the Gosepl as something that will result in personal gain.
The question, then, becomes: if I believe in Jesus only for my own gain, have I really submitted to Him as Lord?
Now, I recognize that submitting to Jesus as Lord may be a process. Just as we know that it is appropriate to teach a child to do right by offering them a reward, so, also, we may attract youth to a Wednesday night event with ice cream, movies, video games, and whatever is necessary. Even adults are introduced to Jesus or the Church through fun events.
The danger, as I see it, is that when we incentivize the reasons why someone should believe in Jesus, we risk minimizing the Gospel. Sure, there is truth in the notion that: “if you go to Bible study, you will may learn how, through Christ, you can overcome your troubles”; or, “if you cease living immoral lives, you can find true pleasure in Christ.” There is truth in the fact that in coming to Christ we may begin to experience all the blessings that come from being a child of God. But, there is also truth in the fact that the call of Christ is not easy.
Two potential problems arise. First, many churches are only offering more candy: “If you come to church we will make sure you enjoy it.” This makes it very hard for that same church to preach the radical call of Christ. In all honesty, it is a bit hypocritical and unfair to offer them candy one day and then demand that they carry their crosses the next. We lured them in with candy. Then, after they stayed a while, we switched out the candy for green beans!
Secondly, what happens to this person and their faith in Christ when things do not go well? We told them that in believing they would be blessed; they would have peace; God would provide for all their needs. We told them about the good things that would happen if they come to Christ—they will gain wisdom and other spiritual gifts in the present, and they will have comfort knowing that eventually they will be in heaven with Christ forever. We might also tell them a little of the demands of Christ. How they are supposed to bearing their crosses—mostly in the form of moralistic preaching; such as, be sexually pure and do not lie. But, when things don’t go well, they sometimes spiral.
When the Gospel of Jesus as Lord is proclaimed, we can tell them that He remains Lord in the midst of their sufferings, their fears, and their longings. The beauty of the Gospel is that Jesus as Lord entered our sufferings for us in order to redeem us.
The reality, however, and I know you are thinking it, is that if we are more explicit with the nature of and the demands of the Gospel, not as many people will believe.
This is why I believe that the Parable of the Sower is vital for our understanding of the Gospel and the life of the Church. But, that is the subject of another post!
 It has been said that there are two words that cannot be uttered to God in the same sentence: “no” and “Lord.” If Jesus is Lord, then we cannot say “no” to Him. If we say, “no” to Him, then we are denying that He is Lord.
 This fact stands whether or not God is good. If He is Lord, then we should submit. It just so happens that He is good! Thank God! Sorry for the pun!
It doesn’t get more basic to Christianity than to ask: “What is the gospel?” The question is pretty simple. Unfortunately, as I mentioned in part 1, I suspect that many Christians would have a hard time coming up with an answer.
In addition to the alarming reality that many Christians cannot define the Gospel with any clarity, comes the realization that for many the definition of the Gospel is often “me” centric. That is, the Gospel becomes merely something that was done for me. It is common, for example, for someone to define the Gospel as: “Jesus died for my sins.” Or, “if you have faith in Jesus and repent then you shall be saved.” I suspect that defining the Gospel in terms of this “me” centered—how do I personally get saved—approach proliferates Christianity.
One website, in fact, states:
“When Christians refer to the ‘Gospel’ they are referring to the ‘good news’ that Jesus Christ died to pay the penalty for our sin so that we might become the children of God through faith alone in Christ alone. In short, ‘the Gospel’ is the sum total of the saving truth as God has communicated it to lost humanity as it is revealed in the person of His Son and in the Holy Scriptures, the Bible.” In the next sentence, the author of this article encourages readers who are uncertain if they are saved to click on the link to learn more about “God’s plan of salvation.” In addition, The Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia states, “The central truth of the gospel is that God has provided a way of salvation for men through the gift of His son to the world. He suffered as a sacrifice for sin, overcame death, and now offers a share in His triumph to all who will accept it. The gospel is good news because it is a gift of God, not something that must be earned by penance or by self-improvement.”
Now, let me be clear: the gospel is certainly the good news of God’s gracious gift for those who believe that we might be saved. It absolutely entails the finished work of Christ. The result includes the restoration of our relationship with the Father. But it is much more! And, in fact, I would contend that when it comes to defining the Gospel I am not sure that this is the best place to start.
For one, defining the Gospel solely in terms of what it does for me fails to account for the most fundamental element of the Gospel: namely, the sovereignty of Christ. The Gospel is not about us, it is about Him. The Gospel begins and ends with: “Jesus is Lord.”
Secondly, defining the Gospel in terms of what it means for my salvation makes salvation the focus, or the goal. The problem, as we will explore in the following chapters, with making salvation the goal, is that once a person is saved all is completed! This leaves the process of discipleship!—the very thing Jesus commanded us to do (Matt 28:19)—out of the picture. I will contend that if our understanding of the Gospel only entails that which corresponds to our personal salvation, then what we are left with is a truncated gospel; one that serves to facilitate our western, individualistic, consumerist, and self (me)-centered worldview. We must ask how much a “me” centered gospel is really the Gospel? After all, can we reconcile the summons to follow Jesus, which begins and ends with, one must “deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me” (Mark 8:34), the very epitome of self-denial, with a “me” centered version?
There is a third problem that arises from a “me” centered definition of the Gospel. Namely, that is leaves out the mission of God’s people! A good definition of the Gospel captures the fact that Jesus is Lord, that He not only rules as “King of kings,” and that He has called us to be the means through which He establishes His kingdom! Perhaps the clearest support of this comes from 1 Peter 2:9: “But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God's OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” God has chosen us, Peter says, “so that” we may “proclaim” His excellencies!
 See: https://bible.org/article/what-gospel. viewed 3-28-18.
 Charles F. Pfeiffer, Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia, (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1975), electronic media. Cited in bible.org. https://bible.org/article/what-gospel 3-28-18.
 For an excellent discussion of the Gospel see Tim Keller, Center Church, parts 1-2.
 The Greek uses hopos, which, in constructions such as this, indicates purpose.
In this final post I wish to ask the question: What does this mean for the Church today?
I will contend that the Sabbath is indeed an abiding provision. The fulfillment has begun in Jesus, and it continues through the present day. The Sabbath was fulfilled in Jesus, but not abolished by Him. It is through the work of God’s people that the fulfillment of the Sabbath continues. What might this mean?
First, just as communion reminds us of what God through Christ has done for us, so also, the Sabbath is a reminder that God has rescued us. In addition, just as taking communion looks forward to the eternal banquet in God’s kingdom, so also, practicing the Sabbath looks forward to the eternal rest awaiting us. Practicing the Sabbath reminds us that God has set us free from slavery. In fact, to not practice the Sabbath is to reject the notion that God had rescued us. It is a flagrant denial of the fact that we were in slavery and have been set free.
Secondly, a theology of the Sabbath means that we are to recognize the holiness of the day. This is best done in the weekly gathering of God’s people. For those who work on a Sunday maybe it means attending a weekly Bible study or some form of corporate fellowship, worship, and study.
Thirdly, we can rest and take time off weekly, because God is our source. The Sabbath reminds us that God’s economy does not follow the economics of the world. God blesses His people because they are obedient and because they practice justice. It is the economics of the kingdom of this world that begs us to work too much. In taking a day off each week, we are living out the Kingdom of God and confirming He is Lord and will provide. Consequently, we can take a day off each week to worship and serve the true King of kings. In doing so, we have no concerns about wealth—losing income or productivity—because our King reminds us that He is the provider. Practicing the Sabbath is a weekly reminder that God is in control.
Finally, to practice the Sabbath means to ensure that justice is done. This means that we are not engaging in activities that foster inequity and that we are actively seeking to eradicate injustice. Boy did I just opened up a can of worms! Having a kingdom ethic and engaging in kingdom practices means that we must ask the tough questions and put the answers into practice.
 I highly recommend the very challenging book by Richard Foster, The Freedom of Simplicity.
Jesus asserts, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). What He means here is that the Sabbath was made to protect people from being exploited. We were not made to observe the Sabbath (“not man for the Sabbath”). Instead, the Sabbath was made to be a blessing to humanity (“the Sabbath was made for man”); especially those who were being exploited.
If the Sabbath was pointing us to Christ, then, with the coming of Christ, the end of oppression is at hand! This is what Jesus means when He enters the Nazareth synagogue and asserts that, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor” (Luke 4:18-19). Now, what better day was there for Jesus to demonstrate this than on the Sabbath! The very day that was established to prevent injustices.
Therefore, contrary to popular perceptions, Jesus was not proclaiming that the Sabbath no longer applies. He was confirming that it was fulfilled. In Him, all injustices are being eradicated. This is exemplified in Jesus’ healing on the Sabbath in Luke 13. “When Jesus saw her, He called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your sickness’” (Luke 13:12). She was freed! Just as the Israelites were slaves in Egypt and freed, so also, this woman has been set free! This healing, then, provides an affirmation that Jesus has come to set the captives free! Indeed, the prophecies are being fulfilled. The healing of this oppressed woman is precisely what the Sabbath was for! In healing this woman, Jesus is demonstrating that the fulfillment has begun! The healing of this woman didn’t violate the Sabbath; it was exactly what the Sabbath was for! Consequently, despite the religious leaders’ objections to Jesus’ actions on the Sabbath, His actions were in accord with the very nature and purpose of the Sabbath!
Jesus was not denying that He was working on the Sabbath. He was indeed working. His work, however, was not in violation of the Sabbath—though it was in their mind. Instead, it was fully in accord with the Sabbath.
Sabbath as Holy
Now, in order to complete a theology of the Sabbath it is important to also note that practicing the Sabbath is also a holy act. Genesis says, “Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done” (Genesis 2:3). While the first six days of creation are called “good”, the seventh day is blessed by God and made holy. To be made “holy” or “sanctified” means to be “set apart.”
It is also important to place the Sabbath discussion in the discussion of God’s economy! Throughout Scripture we see that in God’s economy He provides for His people as an act of grace. That is, God’s people will succeed because they are blessed by God. They do not get ahead because of their hard work, or their ingenuity. They certainly will not get ahead because they abuse their workers!
Another way to understand how the economy of God is directly related to the issue of the Sabbath is to note that the land was also supposed to enjoy the Sabbath.
“You shall sow your land for six years and gather in its yield, but on the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the needy of your people may eat; and whatever they leave the beast of the field may eat. You are to do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove. Six days you are to do your work, but on the seventh day you shall cease from labor so that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the son of your female slave, as well as your stranger, may refresh themselves.” (Exodus 23:10-12).
It is very important to note that the provision of letting the land rest is also in accord with providing for the poor and the needy: “so that the needy of your people may eat” (Exodus 23:12).
Now, if one thinks about it, this doesn’t appear to be the best way to reap an economic boom. After all, only sowing in six out of seven parts of the field will not reap as large a harvest as sowing on all seven parts. Sure there are studies that have concluded that the land is actually more productive when it is allowed a year of rest. But we must wonder if the ancient Israelites knew this. There were simply instructed to give the land a rest every seven years. How were they to find provisions during the seventh year? God will provide!
This is how the economy of God operates. God provides and His people are blessed. They are blessed not because they followed the economic ideals of the world. Instead, they are blessed because they have been obedient to God.
In Luke 13, Jesus heals a woman who was crippled by an evil spirit for eighteen years. The problem, at least from the perspective of the local synagogue official, was that the healing took place on the Sabbath. The official remarks to the people, “There are six days in which work should be done; so come during them and get healed, and not on the Sabbath day” (Luke 13:14). His statement has a clear allusion to Deuteronomy 5:13: “Six days you shall labor and do all your work.”
Now it must be understood that the official’s complaint seems reasonable. The woman could have found Jesus the next day. After all, if she has been troubled by this spirit for eighteen years, then what is one more day? And if healing someone is indeed a work, and there is no absolute standard to say that it is or it isn’t, then Jesus’ healing was a violation of the Sabbath.
What many Christians attempt to do at this point is to justify Jesus’ actions on the basis that healing someone is not “work” and, therefore, He didn’t violate the Sabbath. Is this, however, the best way to read the passage? Was Jesus quibbling with them over the definition of “work.”? No. In fact, His reply seems to suggest that He was working, but so were they.
On another occasion, Jesus unequivocally acknowledges that He was working on the Sabbath. The Gospel of John notes, that “the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because He was doing these things on the Sabbath” (John 5:16). Jesus, then, replies, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working” (John 5:17). Instead of quibbling over what is work and what is not work, Jesus’ defense is that they do not understand the purpose of the Sabbath.
Thus, in Luke 13:15-16, Jesus replies to the official, “You hypocrites, does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the stall and lead him away to water him? And this woman, a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?” (Luke 13:15-16).
Note that Jesus’ reply alludes to Deuteronomy 5:14—recall that the synagogue official had cited Deuteronomy 5:13 in his exhortation to the people. Jesus was, in effect, saying that he should have kept reading. After all, according to Deuteronomy 5:14, the Sabbath also applies to one’s ox, donkey, and cattle: “but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant or your ox or your donkey or any of your cattle.” Jesus is pointing out that they were willing to untie a donkey and lead it out to water on the Sabbath so that it may drink—something that was not life-threatening. If they are able to do so for an animal, and the Sabbath applies to their animals, then shouldn’t He be able to set this woman free on the Sabbath?
Now, if Jesus were merely arguing, “well, I am working but so are you,” the official might well respond by acknowledging: “yeah, you got us. We probably shouldn’t be leading our animals to drink on the sabbath. Thanks for pointing out our inconsistency.” This would leave Jesus in a corner. He would then have to submit to the Sabbath regulations that prohibit work; including healing. Clearly there is something more going on in Jesus’ argumentation. And discerning such, will help us determine our theology of the Sabbath.
Towards a theology of the Sabbath
In order to discern a theology of the Sabbath, we must first understand that the Sabbath was pointing us to Christ. Paul affirms this directly in Colossians 2:16-17, “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.”
In saying that the Sabbath was pointing us to Christ, we mean that the nature and purpose of the Sabbath finds its fulfillment in Jesus. It is important to note that in saying that the Sabbath finds its fulfillment in Jesus does not mean that it is eradicated. Instead, it means that the very purpose for which the Sabbath was established finds its fulfillment in Jesus. What, then, is the purpose of the Sabbath? Is it not simply a day for rest? The answer is that the Sabbath is much more than that!
The key for understanding what Jesus was doing in healing on the Sabbath, as well as, for our understanding of the nature and purpose of the Sabbath, and, consequently, for our discerning a theology of the Sabbath is that the Sabbath rest is a matter of justice. The Sabbath, along with the rest of the ten commandments, was established in accord with creating an economy of justice. All one has to do to understand this point is to ask: who wants the workers to work seven days a week: the owners of the field, or the workers in the field? The Sabbath was established in order to protect those who were most likely to be exploited: namely, the working class.
That the Sabbath was intended to create an economy of justice—i.e., it was designed to protect those who were most vulnerable—is why, after the Sabbath law is stated in Deuteronomy 5:14, the next verse reminds them that they were slaves in Egypt: “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to observe the sabbath day” (Deut 5:15). The Sabbath, then, is a way of saying “you will not exploit your workers; after all, you should remember what it was like when you were exploited.” The Sabbath law, then, points us to the time when injustices and oppression will cease!
 It is intriguing that the official does not address Jesus.
 The plural “hypocrites” suggests that Jesus was addressing more than just the official.
Donald Trump is no Saint
I received the following note (italics) and thought it was necessary to respond:
“Throughout Biblical history God has chosen very flawed men and women to lead:
[NB: In writing this I am making no assertions as to whether Donald Trump is a good president or not. Frankly, that is very far from my concern. My concern has always focused on the people of God. Are they growing in Christ and fulfilling their mission of making God known to the nations? Of course, by “making God known” I mean is the Church doing so effectively?: that is, are we demonstrating love and grace?; showing compassion and advocating for justice?; etc. I am writing this because I believe that the evangelical right’s unapologetic support for Donald Trump as president is downright shameful and often extremely hypocritical; not because he is a bad president, but because he is exemplifying a seriously flawed character that in now way should be affirmed by the Christian community. Again, let me reiterate, my focus is on the Church being the church that Christ called us to be in whatever country we might live in and under whatever laws that country may wish to impose.]
It must be noted at the outset that the basic premise of this argument is seriously in error. For one, unlike many evangelicals, I am not looking for a saint to be our president; nor, am I expecting the President to be our savior. I am constantly bewildered how western evangelical Christianity continues to look to a secular state and its political leaders as though they will be the salvation for the Church. One reading of the book of Revelation provides us with an indication that the state is not the means of the salvation for the people of God. This conception seriously confuses a secular office with a religious person and the kingdoms of the world with the kingdom of God. [This error is perhaps the most serious error reflected in the assertion above and in the evangelical communities embrace of Trump; but, it is beyond the scope of this response.] Thus, I have a pastoral concern for you and others who minimize Trump’s sin and behavior. My concern is that you are minimizing sin which diminishes what Christ has done for us, as well as, diminishing our witness to a hostile world. I hope that you are putting your trust in Christ as our king and not any politician, nation, or government.
It is worth noting that the line of reasoning presented in this letter inherently contains a concession that Donald Trump is “very flawed.” The argument seems to be that though Trump is seriously flawed, so also were these many biblical men and women, as is all of humanity, yet, God used them, so, also, God can use Trump.
Furthermore, the implied, if not stated, assertion that Trump is no more flawed that the biblical persons mentioned above is seriously suspect. The basic premise is that we are all “very flawed” people. The use of “very” seems a little loose here. If we accept the premise, then it could be used to suggest that even people such as Stalin, Hitler, and Pol Pot may be used by God “to get us back on track.” After all, they were “very flawed” men too. But, if we are going to use “very flawed” for Stalin, Hitler, and Pol Pot, then I would suggest that its application to all people is inappropriate. After all, we have to have some means of distinguishing Hitler from Mother Teresa. One may absolutely affirm that all persons are flawed, with varying degrees of flawedness, but not all are “very flawed.”
Additionally, the letter used “very flawed” in regard to Moses, Noah, Rahab, and the above list of biblical men and women. Although the point that God has used flawed people, and continues to do so, is a valid point, I am not sure that “very flawed” is appropriate for most, if not all, of the biblical characters listed. Neither does it seem valid to equate the sins and character flaws of these biblical persons to Trump.
For one, the sins of most of the biblical characters listed above probably do not qualify them as “very flawed” persons. The assertion that Noah was a drunk is simply unfounded. Noah got drunk. But, that doesn’t make him a drunk. In fact, Scripture says that, “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God” (Gen 6:9). The author of Hebrews speaks of Noah in the following terms, he “in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith” (Heb 11:7). Sure, Noah had flaws. We all do. But I dare say that comparing the flaws of “a righteous man” to Trump, or most any other person, is quite dubious.
Including Moses as “very flawed” is likewise highly questionable. Yes, he committed murder. Though the act was in response to an abusive Egyptian who was beating one of his kinsman. Luke records Stephen’s speech in Acts 7 in which Stephen contends, “And when he saw one of them being treated unjustly, he defended him and took vengeance for the oppressed by striking down the Egyptian. And he supposed that his brethren understood that God was granting them deliverance through him, but they did not understand” (Acts 7:24-25). This one time act, which we may well consider horrific—though we must acknowledge the fact that the Jewish world had come to consider Moses as a rescuer of the Jewish people—hardly qualifies Moses as “very flawed.”
Perhaps, we could contend that Moses was “very flawed” because he struck the rock twice in anger (Num 20). This, also, appears to be stretching things a bit too much. Sure, he got angry. We all do. This is hardly enough to constitute him as “very flawed.” The author of Hebrews, in fact, also describes Moses in quite glowing terms, which hardly befits considering him “very flawed.” Hebrews says, “choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen. By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of the blood, so that he who destroyed the firstborn would not touch them” (Heb 11:25-28).
Finally, I am not sure how one can say “worst of all” was Paul. For one, the “character flaws” of Paul listed was that he persecuted Christians. This hardly seems to qualify as a character flaw. He was doing his job. In fact, he references his actions as a Jewish leader prior to his conversion to Christ as religious zeal (Phil 3:6). He likely held the conviction, derived from the OT law, that blasphemers within the people of God must be punished lest God punish the nation: “Moreover, the one who blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall certainly stone him. The alien as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death” (Lev 24:16). There is no doubt that Paul had flaws—as we all do—but in terms of Christian character, I think we are safe to say that Paul was one of the most exemplary persons in history. I don’t think many Christians in history would dare make the assertion that Paul does: “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1).
We could do the same exercise with each of the persons listed above. Thus, I am not sure that “very flawed” is an appropriate designation (with the possible exception of Gideon—though that brings into the discussion the purpose of the book of Judges, which will take us too far afield). As suggested above, we should reserve “very flawed” for persons such as Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, and the like, in order to distinguish them from the rest of humanity.
Now, at this point, those who were attempting to promote the supposition that Trump is “very flawed” just as the following biblical characters are may attempt to backtrack and contend that perhaps, then, Trump is not “very flawed.” It is not necessary, of course, to get into a semantic war. The interesting point is that those who make this argument appeared content to acknowledge and accept Trump’s flaws when they were thought to have been no worse than Noah’s, Moses’, and Paul’s. I dare suggest that even an effort to backtrack and contend that Trump isn’t that bad, is not going to result in an adequate comparison between Trump and any of the biblical characters listed in the above argument.
Moreover, there are other significant difficulties in the above reasoning. Most notably, and this really is the bottom line, the biblical characters above, and even others not listed, all repented. They recognized God’s sovereignty in their lives. They, indeed, were flawed—though I would hesitate to use “very flawed”—but they sought God. Trump has shown no genuine indication that he is seeking after God. Nor, has he shown any sign of repentance for groping women, demeaning foreigners and the less fortunate, mocking handicapped persons, his acts of belittling others, etc.
Furthermore, and what is most significant from my perspective, is that the above argument appears to be employed in order to justify Trump’s ill behaviors. The argument, appears to acknowledge Trump’s sins, but this passing concession becomes a seeming acceptance of them. It is sort of a “yeah, well so did Noah, Moses, and Paul.” But should we so quickly accede such ill behavior? Should we laud a leader who has grossly abused women, mocked handicapped persons, and displayed blatant disrespect for so many? I dare suggest that if this behavior were to come from persons who were not republican leaders, then these very same evangelicals would cry out against them. Evangelicals would quickly assert: “How could someone lead our country and be so unChristlike and irreverent?” But since the offender is of the same political persuasion as those making the argument, somehow, the offenses are acceptable—after all, God used Moses!
Now, it must be said that I do not agree with the approach of the so-called Moral Majority (though I admit that I once did). I do not believe that the Church’s role is to be moral police of a secular state. We are to be the bearers of light and the source of hope. Sure, we are the source of truth. But when truth puts out our light/witness, then the truth (which is a ultimately a person) has become a weapon and not a source of life. The western, evangelical church must wake up to the reality that their efforts as the moral police within a secular nation have done more harm than good.
It is bewildering and grieving that the very same people who have decried the immoral behavior of those they oppose (especially homosexuals and advocates of abortion), have been so quick to accept, and even at times justify, the behavior of Trump. If evangelicals are going to speak against the sins of others, and I am not convinced that they are going about this in any way that conforms to the imperative of following Jesus, then why are they so quick to overlook and even ignore the blatant and despicable acts of Trump?
My question is why are evangelical Christians endorsing this man and his character? Why are they not speaking out when it comes to his harsh and sexist attitudes towards women, minorities (inside and outside our country), and the handicapped? Let me note again: you may like him as a President. You may consider him the greatest president of all time if you’d like. You may endorse his foreign policies. You may support his judicial appointments. But we cannot endorse this man as a champion of the Christian values and convictions. He is not, nor can any secular leader ever be, the savior of the Church. To suggest that God uses “very flawed” persons should in no way be used to endorse this man’s moral failings.
Finally, the task for the people of God is to be God’s witnesses. Our task is to make Christ known. It is not to live in peace and security. If our nation allows us such, then so be it. But we are called to live for Christ. Endorsing a person because of their political abilities is one thing; but to laud a person who has shown serious character defects, and then to dismiss them as acceptable because God has used others with such flaws is deplorable.
Tragically, and this is my most important point, the evangelical church’s endorsement of this man’s many moral failings and character flaws, has had a significant impact on the church’s witness in the world. This alone would suggest that this is not the hand of God, but the hand of the enemy.
[NB: as for the notion that one can see the hand of God in our founding documents let me note briefly a few points. First, the founding documents of this country have been influenced greatly by the Scriptures. So, it is not surprising that one might see God’s hand in them. They reflect, to some extent God’s principles. But, I have great hesitation in making this assertion. For one, the notion that this country was founded on the principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all is simply not true. It is not true if you happen to be an American Indian—the original inhabitants of this land; who were displaced and, at times, ruthlessly treated; and finally relegated to “leftover” parcels of land. It is not true if your race did not correspond to that of the founding fathers. Furthermore, the Scriptures do not exhort God’s people to pursue life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in accord with the kingdoms of this world. Instead, we are to forgo the pursuit of such things and take up our crosses and follow the one true King. In doing so, Scripture warns us, we will be persecuted and often killed. So much for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness].
 It is quite interesting to note that evangelicals are often quick to defend Moses’ act, and God’s righteousness in using Moses, lest it be that God use a murder to dispense the law; a law which states, “thou shall not murder.” Yet, many of these same evangelicals then determine that Moses “very flawed” in order that a secular leader like Donald Trump can be seen as “no different than Moses.” You can’t have you cake and eat it too.
It doesn’t get more basic that this: “What is the gospel?” The answer is pretty simple; yet, I suspect that many Christians would have a hard time coming up with an answer. I was at a conference recently with 5,000 church planters—mostly from evangelical backgrounds. During one of the breakout sessions the speaker commented that if he were to ask those in attendance “what is the gospel?”, he would likely get a hundred different answers from the hundred people that were in the room. I was, in one sense, flabergasted, and in another, grieved.
I was flabergasted and grieved by the notion that the church has become so shallow that a hundred pastors and church planters could not come to any consensus on what the gospel is! Now I do believe that this speaker was overstating his point. But, at the same time, I do suspect that many in that room would have had trouble articulating what the gospel is!
If that weren’t enough, I became significantly more flabergasted when this speaker went on to define the gospel. He said, I define the gospel as, “radically transforming the world.” I am serious. This was his answer. Note, there was no Jesus in his answer. I immediately thought to myself, “what makes this statement uniquely Christian?” After all, wouldn’t most religions aspire to “radically transform the world?” I then commented to someone next to me, “Hitler did that!” Which apparently caused them to suddenly realize the emptiness of his defnition.
I am not sure what was worse: his pathetic attempt to define the gospel in such a way it fails to distinguish it from a corporation, tyrant, or any other religious group’s mission statement; or the fact that most of the 100 pastors and church planters “oohed” and “awed” after he made this declaration!
I am not saying that there is one definition of the gospel that all Christians adhere to. Of course, it would be nice if this were so. There are, however, core, essential elements of the gospel that underlie the Christian faith. So, what is the Gospel?
The gospel is quite simply that “Jesus is Lord.” This may seem quite simple, but the implications of it are profound. For one, if Jesus is Lord, then no other king, president, or world leader is! Furthermore, if Jesus is Lord, then I am not! If Jesus is Lord, then neither is wealth, power, sex, drugs, nor alcohol. If Jesus is Lord, then my pride is not.
It seems so easy to acknowledge that Jesus is Lord. Yet, upon further examination, we quickly realize that this is the most difficult task humankind has before them. Will we deny ourselves and take up our crosses and follow Him?
There are two words that cannot be uttered to God in the same sentence: “no” and “Lord.” If He is Lord, then we cannot say “no” to Him. If we say, “no” to Him, then we are denying that He is Lord.
The relationship between doctrines/teaching and obedience is inseparable. Generally speaking, one cannot obey Jesus unless one first knows Jesus; and one cannot do the will of God, unless one knows the will of God.
Now, in saying this, I do not deny that there is a problem on both sides of the spectrum. On one side, there is way to much theological debate within the church and not enough doing the Gospel. On the other side, however, those who are actively doing the “Gospel” apart from theology and knowing Jesus are not any better off.
I hear way too often the notion that we do not need to be concerned with the words of Jesus but with doing the works of Jesus. In fact, just this last week I was at a conference where a speaker gave a impassioned plea to stop worrying about theology and doctrine and to simply get busy doing the work of the kingdom. Now let me acknowledge that there is a sense in which I not only understand the motivation behind the presentation, but even to some extent agree with the thrust of the message.
The problem with this message is that it was presented as an emphatic either-or-proposition. Either we spend our efforts on understanding the teachings of Jesus, or we spend our efforts doing the deeds of Jesus. The problems with this line of thinking are numerous. I will try to keep this brief.
First, there is the logical inconsistency (the argument is self-defeating) in that they must teach us that we don’t need teaching. The presentation I heard this week was a 20 minute passionate plea to stop talking about Jesus and start obeying Him. Hmm?
Secondly, the Scriptures are clear that learning precedes obedience. Ironically, another speaker at the same conference, who not only applauded the previous speaker, but also went on to scorn the role of seminaries in training leaders, used an illustration from the story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42) to support her argument. The problem here, and this speaker apparently failed to notice, that in the story Mary (the learner) was praised by Jesus (“Mary has chosen what is better”), while Martha (the doer) was reproved.
One does not have to look hard to find that the role of preaching is foundational to the Church (see the book of Acts). And we could cite Romans 12:1-2 (“renewing of your mind”) as well as John 8:32 (“and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free”), and 22:27 (“love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”), and a plethora of other such references.
Thirdly, to deny theology its proper place leads quite easily to the problem of identifying what Jesus one is following. If it is true that Jesus is the way, then there remains a valid and necessary place for theological dialogue. (Again, let me affirm that there is indeed to much theological bantering going on in many places within the Church). But it is essential to know which Jesus we are following.
A symptom of the problem inherit in this theology v action thinking was evident in one of the breakouts I attended at this conference. One of the speakers defined the gospel as “radically transforming the world.” What? There was no Jesus or anything explicitly, or implicitly, involved in this definition. Does he not realize that Hitler “radically transformed the world?” Many people radically transform the world. This is not the Gospel! The Gospel is that Jesus is Lord; and Hitler is not! The Gospel includes the fact that Jesus is in process of radically transforming the world. But to leave Jesus out of a definition of the Gospel is incredulous!
Now, I must close by reiterating that I fully affirm that there is way too much debate and theological rancor in many Christian circles. There are many churches that need to get beyond “knowing” Jesus—as regard intellectual assent—and get busy with imitating Jesus. The point is that one cannot do the deeds of Jesus unless one knows Him and are doing His deeds.
Colossians 1:28 “He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.”
I am writing this article on Sept 20, 2017. If you are reading this article after Sept 23, 2017, then I am right again! The world did not end. I knew it! You can tell me later how smart I am! Ok. Just kidding.
In case you are not aware, the latest date for the end of the world is/was Sept 23, 2017. On this date there will be an alignment of the sun, moon, and certain stars that have led some to believe that Revelation 12 is being fulfilled. First off, let me say that Revelation 12 has nothing to do with astronomical features.
Secondly, when it comes to the issue of the Second Coming of Christ, the focus of the New Testament is not the timing of Jesus’ return; nor even, the signs that indicate that His return is near. Instead, the New Testament is far more concerned with: “However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). That is, will we be ready when He returns? So, we must ask ourselves: are we being faithful?; so that, if Christ were to return at this moment, will He find us doing the work of the Kingdom for which we have been assigned?
So, when is Jesus going to return? Well, I can’t actually tell you or I would have to. . . .
Let me just say that the Bible is far more concerned with the mission of God’s people in building His Kingdom. In fact, I would say that the message of the New Testament is clear: the return of Jesus is awaiting the faithfulness of God’s people in accomplishing His mission. Once we have completed such, by His grace, then Christ will return.
The New Testament provides three interrelated reasons for the delay in Jesus’ return. First, the delay in the return of Christ derives from the mercy of God, who is waiting for all men to be saved. In 2 Peter, Peter provides an explanation as to the delay in Christ’s return. Apparently, some skeptics were mocking the Christians because Christ had not returned. Peter replies, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9). Thus, in His infinite mercy, God has determined that the climax of the Kingdom of God will occur when the nations have been redeemed.
A second reason found in the New Testament for the delay in the return of Christ is that God is awaiting the fullness of the suffering of the people of God. This might not come across as good news to the Church, but the Scriptures indicate that Christ will not return until the suffering of God’s people is completed. In Revelation 6, we see the souls of those who have been martyred for the kingdom of God crying out to God, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, wilt Thou refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Rev 6:10). The answer to their prayers comes in the next verse: “And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, should be completed also” (Rev 6:11). That is, Jesus will not return until all those who have been killed for the gospel have been killed.
The third reason found in the New Testament for the delay in Christ’s return is that Christ is awaiting the holiness of God’s people. Second Peter also notes that, “the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, on account of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat” (2 Pet 3:10-12). This is of great importance. Instead of focusing on the newspapers and the signs of times, the Bible exhorts us to live godly lives! In fact, Peter says that the return of Christ is not only awaiting the holiness of His people, but that such holiness among the people of God may even ‘hasten’ (or quicken) the day of His return!
Now, if the readiness of the people of God is understood as their doing the work of the Kingdom of God, then it should not be surprising that the New Testament asserts that the return of Christ is awaiting holiness of the people of God, the conversion of the nations, and the full number of martyrs. These three elements go hand in hand with the return of Christ. After all, the holiness of the people of God, cannot be separated from the faithful proclamation of the Kingdom of God, which will result in both the conversion of the nations and the full number of martyrs! Once all this has been completed, Christ will return!
Note: If the world really did end on Sept 23, 2017, please disregard this article!
Note: I discuss these issues in much greater detail in chapter 9 of my book Understanding Eschatology (which is just a fancy word meaning “the end times”)—available on Amazon.com
I was recently having dinner in Jerusalem. Our group had just arrived that day from various part of the States. Though many of the people at the table knew each other from previous relationships, I was just getting to know most everyone at the table. The group decided that we should go around the table and introduce ourselves: tell about our family, etc. Then, they suggested, we had to answer any questions the group wanted to ask over the next three minutes (yeah, they were mostly younger and more adventurous people).
When it came to my turn, I gave the generic info about myself, my wife Toni, and our four kids. (Okay so I probably bragged a little about my family. Okay, a lot). Anyway, during the three minutes of questioning I was asked, “what is the greatest advice you would give you’re your kids?” I replied, fairly quickly, “never be afraid of the truth.”
Now, I must admit that I was a bit surprised by the responses of the others at the table. They were taken aback—in a good way. At was as if I had just given the greatest answer in world history (okay, maybe not the greatest answer, but one of the top ten—or top one hundred). The questions then followed, “what do you mean by that?” “Why would you say that?”
As a Christian, I would state emphatically, that Jesus is the Truth (John 14:6). This is a pillar of my faith. He is not merely the source of truth. He is the Truth. All truth resides in Christ (Colossians 2:3).
Because of this conviction, I believe that all truth will only point me to Christ. If I am in error on something, then, ultimately, I have a weakened understanding of Christ. I need to be corrected and aligned with Christ. (fortunately, this for me this doesn’t happen very often! Maybe I should have said, “hypothetically, if I were in error”!). Yet, I believe that we tend to live in fear of truth. We shelter ourselves (though some might object to this statement, I am convinced that it is far more correct then we are willing to admit).
But, if all truth leads me to Christ, then what am I to fear? I’ll tell you what we are to fear: we should fear being in error. Of course, we will never hold all truth. The sad reality is that some of what I believe now is wrong. I know this because I can tell you a long list of things I used to believe five, ten, and twenty years ago, that I now no longer believe. As a result, I am sure that some of the convictions I hold to now, will change also.
Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that we can’t know anything with certainty. Of course we can (in fact, to say we can’t is a self-refuting statement).
What I am saying is that it is our sacred responsibility to seek the truth. And, as a Christian, I have nothing to fear because all truth will only lead me to Christ. (Oh, how I wish I could stop this blog at this point. But I must say more).
Be forewarned: There is nothing easy with seeking the truth. For one, I have to be willing to admit that I was wrong. We don’t like this. Especially when it comes to issues that that annoying uncle holds to. I’d rather rot in a cave somewhere, than admit that he was right! Never being afraid of the truth means that I will have to face situations like this. What if that Republican, or Democrat, of Libertarian was right after all?
There is another difficulty that comes along with never being afraid of the truth. Namely, that truth always demands a life change. Now, I could always choose to go on living as I am and never face up to that change. That is what we do most of the time. But, if I admit to the truth, then I have to admit that I am not living consistently with what I know.
For example, let’s say that I am a smoker. I could just deny that smoking is harmful. Or, I could try to avoid the question. Or, I could minimize the hazards of smoking. The fact is, however, if I agree that God has given me a responsibility to care for my body, and if smoking is bad (i.e., it is deadly), then I must confront the fact that I should stop smoking—of course, you might say, “many things are harmful and we all do them, this is just my weakness.” (now some of you are probably thinking, “preach it brother.” While others are upset, or frustrated, or wanting to object). (PS whether you quit smoking or not is up to you. I am just using it as an illustration).
The list goes on. If I know that going to church is important to spiritual growth, and I believe that spiritual growth is what Christ calls me to, then I need to change my life and make church attendance a priority. If I know that I should stop (fill in the blank here), or start (fill in the blank here), then I should change my life accordingly.
The problem is huge. The fact is, we simply don’t want to change. We like things the way they are. So, we ignore truth. We deny truth. We resist truth. We spend time, money, and great effort to reinforce our convictions as to what truth is. We bully the other. We demonize the other. We silence the other. We do whatever is necessary to maintain our convictions as to what the truth is and our comfortable way of life.
Now, most of you have read this blog and thought, “well, that is interesting.” Many of you will find this helpful. And that is good. You see, I wasn’t too edgy here. I didn’t challenge you on issues that you hold dearly. I used smoking and church attendance as my illustrations. But what if I used __________ as illustrations? Would your attitude have changed? I hope not. But, let’s be honest, we have core convictions that we don’t want challenged. And then Jesus comes along and says, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6).
Have you ever experienced giants in the land? A time when jobs weren’t opening up and the bills were piling up. A time when the doctors weren’t giving the diagnosis you wanted to hear. A time when relationships were crumbling and you saw no way out. A time when you learned that your beautiful child was addicted and you couldn’t get through to them. A time when your debt was so great you had no idea how you would ever get by. A time when. . . .
In case you don’t know the biblical story, it goes like this.
God’s people go down to Egypt during a famine (end of Genesis). They become enslaved (beginning of Exodus). 400 years later God calls a man named Moses to tell Pharaoh to let His people go and to lead the Israelites back to the land of promise/Canaan (still Exodus). Moses, at first, resists God’s call. Finally, he agrees.
Pharaoh, of course, rejects Moses’ request to let the people go. Why, after all, would he allow hundreds of thousands of slaves go free? God, through Moses, performs a series of miracles; which for the Egyptians were more like plagues (still Exodus). Pharaoh, finally, agrees to let them go.
The Israelites flee Egypt: only to be chased by the Egyptians after Pharaoh changes his mind. The final miracle—that ensure the Israelites escape from Egypt—is the parting of the Red Sea in which the Israelites cross on dry ground and the Egyptians are swallowed in the waters (still Exodus).
The Israelites, however, disobey God and are forced to wander in the wilderness for 40 years (Exodus and the book of Numbers). During this wilderness time, Moses sends 12 spies (one from each of the tribe of Israel) into the land of promise to check out the land before they plan their attack (Numbers 13).
After viewing the land, ten of the spies report back to the Israelites:
“When they returned from spying out the land, at the end of forty days, they proceeded to come to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation of the sons of Israel in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh; and they brought back word to them and to all the congregation and showed them the fruit of the land. Thus, they told him, and said, ‘We went in to the land where you sent us; and it certainly does flow with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. Nevertheless, the people who live in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large; and moreover, we saw the descendants of Anak there’” (Numbers 13:25-28).
Caleb, however, one of the other two spies (along with Joshua), reports: “We should by all means go up and take possession of it, for we will surely overcome it” (Numbers 13:30).
The voice of the ten, of course, overtakes the voices of Caleb and Joshua: “But the men who had gone up with him said, ‘We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us.” So, they gave out to the sons of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, ‘The land through which we have gone, in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size’” (Numbers 13:31-32).
This story reminds us that there are often giants in the land. We all face giants. The fact is that God often calls us into places where the giants are. In fact, it seems like God likes to put giants in our way. We can’t seem to avoid them. Well, we do when we disobey.
But there is something beautiful about giants in the land. When God calls us to something and there appears to be no way that it can be accomplished, it seems that this is the time when God is most active in our lives. At times like this we must rely on Him. We know we can’t do it be ourselves. So, we cry out to Him. Our prayer time increases. Our searching increases. Our walk with Christ increases. Of course, our heart rate, our anxiety, and our stress levels all increase too. But these don’t have to.
When we face giants in the land, maybe we should step back and stand behind the One who rides on the white horse and has a sharp two-edge sword coming from His mouth (Revelation 19:11-16). Maybe if we surrender all things to Him. And in doing so, we can step back and watch Christ slay the giants in our lives.
The beauty of all this is that when we face giants in the land we get to watch the miracles. And when the giants are slain, only God gets the glory for slaying them!
I was asked by a good friend to respond to the following:
“please respond to the those who are citing Ps 33:12 ‘Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, The people whom He has chosen for His own inheritance’ and claiming that God has chosen Trump to save America.”
The context of the Old Testament in general and this Psalm in particular suggests that the nation addressed here was Israel. The Psalmist was writing to encourage the people of Israel to call upon the Lord so that the promised blessing would come to fruition. Of course, one could hypothetically suggest that this promise of blessing applies to any nation. The reality, however, is that only ancient Israel was ever in a position to fulfill this command. For, it is only in the context of ancient Israel that the chosen people of God were essentially identified with a particular nation (of course there were exceptions, such as the Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7); but such exceptions only prove the rule).
Once we reach the Christian era the people of God are now composed of individuals from many nations. Since no one nation today is composed wholly of the people of God, there is simply no way to receive the blessing of this Psalm on a national scale.
Could the blessing of this Psalm be applied to an individual? Sure. In fact, the focus of God’s blessings today applies to the people of God. Note that 1 Peter 2:9 even identifies the people of God in nationalistic terms: “a chosen people and a holy nation.” The NT application of Psalm 33, then, would be, “Blessed are the people whose God is the Lord.”
In conclusion, any attempt to apply this Psalm on a national scale in the contemporary world is simply anachronistic. No secular nation may receive the blessing of this Psalm.
Nota Bene: I was searching images.google for an image to go along with this post (as I usually do) and was surprised when Ps 33:12 showed up in the search box. I was more surprised when the page loaded and hundreds of images with the script of Ps 33:12 and the US flag appeared. I am sorry but in light of my post here I just don't see how this connection can in any way be supported by this text. (note there were also images of the Star of David--the Israeli flag. This has more potential to be correct. The problem here would be twofold: one the modern state of Israel is an avowed secular state. Second, the people of God are defined as those who follow Christ. And though some Jewish people indeed follow Jesus today, the essence of Judaism today is a rejection of Jesus as the Messiah)
I try to stay out of actual political discussions for one reason: too many people in the Church have convictions that are, in my opinion, too deeply held to. The result is that when one speaks something that even appears contrary to these deep-seated convictions one incurs wrath. Not worth it. (unfortunately, I can assure you that many pastors and leaders in the Church feel this way and to some extent it is a great shame!)
For me it is not worth it for another reason. I hope and believe that I have an important voice when it comes to biblical matters and living out the kingdom of God today. I want this voice to be heard. My concern is that if my political opinions do not correspond to the convictions of some, will I lose my voice on matters that I believe are far more significant? If so, why bother?
But I am compelled to speak—fully aware of the implications. I am compelled to speak for one reason because people I love are being slammed for voicing their thoughts! Furthermore, some of these people include young persons who are training for ministry. Do you adults understand what you are doing to our young people? Are we not to teach and encourage such young people to think and process and discern? Furthermore, how can we treat one another with such contempt?
It might also do us well to realize that there are people in Russia, China, and many other countries of the world who are dear brothers and sisters in Christ. The point: such people don’t hold to the same political views that we in the west do.
In fact, to be more provocative, there are people who will vote for Trump, for Clinton, for Johnson, for others, and some who will refuse to vote for any of them, who are dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
When Jesus commanded us to love one another, He didn’t specify that we should qualify our love based on political convictions!
Now this does not mean that we cannot disagree with one another. But the viciousness, and meanness, and unChristlike rhetoric is simply unacceptable! What kind of love is this? What kind of witness is this? Yes, non-Christians read your Facebook posts too.
So where do I stand on the current political landscape?
Simply put (and hear me out before you pour forth scorn), I cannot vote for any of these candidates. Sure there have been candidates in the past, though not perfect, who have displayed the character and qualities necessary to hold the office of President. But I don’t see how this is one of those times. I do not see how any of these candidates for president are worthy of my vote. I cannot stand before God and justify voting for any of them.
That this is so should not surprise us. The people of the nations are most often out for themselves; aiming for power, and greed, and their own self-interest. It is a system such as this that Christians should be very careful about participating in (yes, I am voting for many measures and even some candidates this year: just not for a presidential candidate). Our caution is part of the exhortation to be in the world but not of it!
Now it is true that when this election is over it will be my Christian duty to pray for and submit to their leadership. I will not be a disgruntled citizen who gripes and complains at their poor leadership. I already suspect that they will be poor leaders—though I do think they will do some good also.
Bottom line: the focus for the Church is on the Kingdom of God. This kingdom comes through the sacrificial love of God’s people. It does not and will not come through secular politics. It is the failure to realize this that I believe is causing most of the problems in the Church today.
God’s blessing or judgment on our country?
We are hearing all kinds of rhetoric regarding the potential for God’s curse to be upon our country if the election turns a certain way. This nonsense is radically unbiblical. Let me explain:
1)The nature of God’s blessing is primarily covenantal.
Throughout Scripture God makes a covenant (an agreement) with a people. The stipulations of the covenant include blessings or curses. What is essential to understand for our sakes is that the covenant, and its promise of blessings and curses, are for the people of the covenant—that is, God’s people.
If we are faithful we will experience God’s blessings (which in the New Testament are found in the beatitudes (Matt 5:3-12; Luke 6:20-23); and if we are not faithful we will experience God curses (Luke 6:24-26).
2)People of the covenant are independent of the nations
The people of God today—those who are in covenant with God—are not and cannot be identified with any nation. The people of God are in many nations. But no one nation (e.g., America) is to be identified with the covenant people.
The covenant people of God are those who follow Christ. Christ followers live in many nations of the world and no one nation is exclusively Christian. (That means that the US has never been and never will be a “Christian nation”)
Now, it is true that in the time before Jesus the covenant people were restricted to the nation of Israel. But such is not true today.
This means that the promise of blessings or the threat of curses do not and cannot apply to any nation. To say, then, that America will be blessed if we vote on way and cursed if we vote another is simply not true!
3)What about all those nations that elect corrupt leaders?
Consider this: There are many countries in the world that have elected people far worse than our present candidates. Why don’t we go about warning those countries that they are in danger of God’s judgment?
To this someone might reply: that America is in danger because we are/were a Christian nation and that because we have fallen God is bringing/will bring judgment on America. Sorry this cannot be justified from a biblical perspective. It is simply not true.
4)The nations will face judgment
It is true that the nations of the world will face judgment in the end. They are not judged, however, because they made unchristian laws or elected the wrong person as president.
The judgment of the nations is founded upon one thing: how they have treated the people of God (cf Matt 25:31-46).
If you want the nation you live in to be blessed, then be faithful
To claim then that this or any election is vital for our nation is seriously in error. What is vital is that the people of God are faithful to His mission! That we, the Church, are Jesus to the world. That we are shining the light of Christ to the nations.
If we want the nation that we live in to be blessed, then be faithful. After all, politics always flows downstream from culture! Want to affect politics, then change the culture!
But note: we cannot change the culture through legislation. We change the culture one heart at a time; and this begins with ourselves!
I find it quite interesting that neither Jesus, Paul, nor any other author of the NT addressed Jewish or Roman politics. They didn’t address slavery—there were millions of slaves throughout the empire—nor Roman militarism, nor the many other ills that proliferated throughout the Roman world.
Now one can make the argument that Christians in the US have a different role because we live in a democracy. Certainly, living in a democracy carries with it the responsibility to participate in the political system.
One of the problems I see rising with regard to evangelicalism and politics has been the failure to properly distinguish between the church and the nation. It seems as though many within evangelicalism are convinced that it is necessary to impose Christian laws on the nation. For many, the reasoning is that Christian laws make for a better nation. And though I am certainly inclined to agree with this, my question is whether or not this is the role of the Church?
Is it the job of the Church to make sure the nation has good laws?
I see several weaknesses and unintended consequences that call into question this approach.
First, the people of God need to rise up and follow the law of love, which is THE law for the Church, well ourselves before we seek to legislate it on others. In fact, demanding that others obey what we ourselves do not is the essence of hypocrisy.
Secondly, imposing Christian laws does not address the issues of the heart. And it is the heart that matters. Having godly laws with uncircumcised hearts didn’t do the Israelites any good. Why should we expect things to be different today?
Thirdly, such efforts are more and more impacting our Christian witness in a negative way. Why is it that many Christians are surprised when non-Christians reject Christian laws? After all, if they don’t believe in God, or if they just don’t wish to follow Him, then why should we expect that they would want to follow God’s laws?
This is key. The fact that they have rejected God’s laws and often God Himself means that our efforts to impose such laws on them will often result in a further alienation of individuals from Christ.
This is one of those unintended consequences I was speaking about. The effort to impose Christian laws on a secular society is often received by that society as an attack. It is perceived as an attack on their freedoms; an attack on their convictions; and sometimes an attack on themselves personally. The end result is a further alienation of such people from Christ!
Such efforts have placed our civil responsibilities above our kingdom responsibilities.
Our goal is not to make a Christian nation. Our goal is to reflect Christ to the world in such a way that the world is attracted to Him! If our efforts to impose Christian laws on a society have a negative impact on our witness, then we should discard such efforts.
Now I am not saying that our intentions aren’t good; or that such laws are not good. But if the end result is detrimental to the cause of the kingdom, then we must abandon ship!
Is the Church called to be agents of social change?
Yes, but not by forcing such change on the state. Our means of affecting social change is first by living it out ourselves—regardless of the laws. This is how the early church overthrew Rome.
Finally, many Christians are operating from the perspective that our responsibility is merely to present the Gospel. That is, we are responsible for what we say and not what others hear. But if love is our over-arching ethic, then we must care how others are hearing our presentation of the Gospel. Now, certainly, we cannot control this at all times. But we do bear some measure of burden to communicate and express ourselves in love.
“But, God’s laws are good for society!”
I would agree. But we live in a democracy (a democratic-republic) and the nature of such is that people have the right to vote and decide what they want. We can try to influence their vote. That is true. But we must do so in a way that respects them and their vote!
This, I fear, has not been done well by the Church in recent years.
The Church must proclaim the Gospel in a manner that is relevant and palatable to the culture. Preachers should always speak against injustice. They should exhort the Church to be the people of God in the midst of injustice. This is the Gospel facing culture! We should raise up our congregations to advocate for those who are suffering oppression.
Many Christians are convinced that our country is going downhill and going there fast! This great nation is in decline. Election day is viewed by many as the means of reversing this trend. Folks, election day is not the day to reverse this trend. Every day is. Every day is another chance for us to reflect Jesus to the world. Only He can change hearts!
“They are not of the world, even as I am not of it” (John 17:16).
One of the problems that I see for the Church with regard to politics is the failure to grasp clearly the fundamental distinction that Jesus makes in John 17:16. The Church is in the world, but not of it. The Church is to reach the world and claim it for Christ, yet we have been rescued from the world.
Of course, this verse has been abused by the incursion of secular thinking that proposes the Jesus is saying we are to dwell in the spiritual realm and not in the physical. Time will not allow me to delve into the multitude of errors that come from this thinking. Simply put, Jesus is not telling us to escape the world as though it has nothing to offer. Instead, He is asserting that the people of God, as members of His kingdom, are to stand in distinction from the kingdom of the world. For, as John writes, “The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2:17). The kingdom of God aims to redeem the world and claim it for Him. We do so neither by discarding the world, nor by imposing Christianity on it.
Missions of the Church and the State are Never the Same
It is essential to understand that the mission of the Church and the mission of a nation are never the same. The mission of the Church is to make Christ known; to proclaim Him as Lord! We do so both by loving one another and our neighbor as ourselves. This mission is one of great risk—as any study of Church history will show. That is, we do so knowing that it may cost us our freedoms, our jobs, and possibly our lives.
The mission of the nations may reflect some aspects of the Christian mission—depending on the nation and how much influence the Church has been able to have. But the mission of the nation will always transcend the mission of the Church. After all, they exist with fundamentally different goals: while the Church exists to make Christ known, the state exists to protect its people and to ensure their safety and well-being.
To put it another way: the Church’s main task is to be the means through which God brings the nations to Christ: to make known to them that there is one true Lord, one true King. The nation aims to maintain its own sovereignty and to protect its citizens at all times. There is, therefore, a fundamental tension between the Church and the nations.
Efforts to Legislate Christianity Inevitably Fail
We must also recognize that the mission of the Church is not to impose Christianity upon the state Christian. Now on the surface this might seem as something good. History, however, shows that efforts to legislate Christianity always leads to the Church’s demise. Attempts to impose Christian laws on a secular society inevitably drive people away from Christ. Os Guinness in his book The Call notes, “There is a direct and unarguable relationship between the degree of the church’s politicization in a culture and the degree of the church’s rejection by that culture” (168). This is of grave significance. Since our mission is to make God known to the nations for the purpose of their redemption, it is imperative that we do so in such a way that people come to Christ.
In other words, the Church must understand that although the imposition of Christian laws upon a nation may temporarily have good results—including the benefits to the people of God themselves who prosper from living under such laws—the net result is consistently detrimental to the mission of God’s people.
What Then Shall We Do?
How then should the people of God relate to the state? This is not an easy question. I would begin by noting that the fundamental mission of the Church is to work to change the hearts of the people. We know that if the hearts of the people are changed, then the laws of the land will change.
But honestly we shouldn’t care so much about the laws of the land. We should care primarily about the Kingdom of God. Don’t take me wrong here. It is great to live in a country where the laws are good and just. But a country with good and just laws where no one knows Christ is not better than living in a brutal dictatorship with no freedoms and a thriving Church!
Does this means that the Church is only to worry about spiritual things and leave political matters alone? By no means! Never. The Gospel does not work like this. It means that we should we focus on transforming people and not the state. The transformation of the state will happen only when the people have been transformed. To aim to transform the state without addressing the hearts of the people is to put the proverbial cart-before-the-horse. And the result in inevitable: neither is transformed. In fact, as noted earlier, the Church dies in such nations.
OK Church, get over it. The conception that the prophets were like us. We do Bible studies on Isaiah, Amos, Jeremiah, and the like and we think of them as leaders among the people of God. We memorize their words. We cite them in argumentation. We paste Jer 29:11 as a tag line at the end of emails.
But folks. Though they were leaders among God’s people, the prophets were hated. They were outcasts. They were killed!
Stephen, in his debate with the religious leaders shortly after the crucifixion of Jesus states, “Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him” (Acts 7:52).
Yet we read this and assume that Stephen could not be speaking to us. He was speaking to “them” (whoever the “them” may be all we know is that it doesn’t include “us”). Ironically, most of the people to whom Stephen and the prophets were addressing didn’t think they were in the wrong either. They pointed to their fasting and giving and all things apparently religious as proof that they were on the good team. Surely, the people thought, the prophets were speaking to “them” and not “us.”
So, if the “them” back in the day thought that they were the “us”, then shouldn’t we be more cautious about assuming that we the “us” aren’t the “them”? Why should we assume that we are somehow different?
I suppose it all stems from the fact that we always assume that we are the good ones. Since the prophets were the good ones, then they must be part of us. Since the prophets were speaking to the bad ones, they must be talking to “them.”
Jesus Himself warned, “Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city” (Matt 23:34). Here again, when we read Jesus, we of course assume that He was speaking to “them” and not “us.”
You see, we all know that we are in league with Jesus. So, we are part of the “us” and Jesus was definitely speaking to “them!” We may even go so far as to assume that we are the ones about whom Jesus was referring when He says that He will send prophets and wise men!
Now, I am not suggesting that we know who the “them” might be today! I just think we ought to be careful to too quickly assume that it aint us. Something I think we don’t even consider.
So, who might the “them” be? Well, if we think about it, the “them” cannot mean the secular world; the state; the people of other religions. After all, when we look at the text we realize that the “them” to whom Jesus was addressing was some of the religious leadership within Israel (the OT people of God). Does it stands to reason then that, if there is an application today, the “them” would similarly be some of the religious leadership of the church (the NT people of God)?
Ouch, that hurts. Since, I myself as a pastor would have to be considered as one who constitutes the “some” of the religious leadership of the church (the NT people of God). Of course, I am a part of the other “some.” But, no one considers themselves today to be a part of this “some.” Which means that the “some” of the religious leadership of the church (the NT people of God) today are actually “none.”
So, maybe it would be good if we regularly step back and assess our place in God’s household—without always assuming that we are the “good.” Now, I don’t say this to suggest that your salvation must be questioned regularly. Or, to have you constantly being introspective to the point that you live in fear. I am, in fact, not even speaking to you (singular), but to you (plural).
My point: as long as we assume that we are the “us” and do not allow ourselves to consider the possibility that we might be the “them”, we will never hear a prophetic message. As a result, we may well continue the pattern of shooting the messenger! Then we will indeed have become the “them”—the very “them” Jesus was warning against.
PS I chose this particular photo of a prophet to accompany this blog because the prophet here is left-handed! Like me! See, I am definitely one of the “us.”—or is it that he is like me?
Jesus is the center of the Apocalypse. Or, perhaps, it may be better stated—Christ is the Apocalypse.
The Book of Revelation opens with the words: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” (Rev 1:1).
The phrase is actually ambiguous, both in English and in the original Greek. The phrase can be understood to mean: “the revelation that is about Jesus Christ”; or, “the revelation that is from Jesus Christ.” When it comes to something like this the interpreter’s best option is to read the book and see which one makes the most sense. Is the book of Revelation about Jesus or is it from Jesus?
Even after reading the Book of Revelation, however, one is still unsure which option is best. This leads many to conclude, and probably correctly, that John was intentionally unclear and that he wanted us to understand the book of Revelation as both a revelation from Jesus Christ and one that is about Jesus Christ.
But when we say that Revelation is about Jesus what do we mean? Well, that is quite simple: it is about who He is and what He has done. Okay, but what is it that He has done?
Through the pages of the book of Revelation John highlights Jesus’ person and role in terms of three key features: 1) Jesus is God made manifest; and as such He is worthy of the worship due to God alone; 2) Jesus is the fulfiller of God’s promises in that He has accomplished the mission of God’s people; 3) Jesus, as the fulfiller of God’s mission, is the model for the people of God to emulate.
All three of these are vital and will be explored more deeply in future blogs. But for now, I will focus on one aspect of the third point. It is this third point that explains John’s somewhat surprising opening description of Jesus. For, instead of describing Jesus with all the glorious titles that He uses later in the book, John attributes three apparently mundane titles to Jesus: 1) He is “the faithful witness”—likely indicating that He was faithful unto death— 2) He is the One who has overcome death and is therefore “the firstborn from the dead”; 3) He is “the ruler of the kings of the earth” (Rev 1:5).
Of all the titles ascribed to Jesus in the book of Revelation, that these three are the first is somewhat astonishing.
The importance of these three titles, however, cannot be underestimated. They serve to highlight John’s message to the churches—as well as to us today. Namely, that, in the same way that Jesus did, so also the people of God must: 1) persevere as faithful witnesses—despite the fact that this may well result in death— 2) knowing that we will also be raised from the dead, 3) and through all this we will reign as the kings of the earth (as C. S. Lewis put it: “we are kings and queens of Narnia!”).
One of the first principles in understanding the book of Revelation is that the book is about Jesus. Knowing this will help us not only understand the book, but also its message for us today. Jesus is “the faithful witness” (Rev 1:5). And as such He is the model that the people of God are to emulate. If one gets anything from reading the book of Revelation may it be: “Go be faithful witnesses just like Jesus!”
Two questions: What is the “pillar and support of the Truth” according to Scripture? I have asked many biblical scholars this question and I am amazed that they do not know the answer. Many will say, “Jesus” or “love” (after all those answers work to most questions Christians ask).
How about this one: When Jesus returns who is He going to redeem? Tough question and I suspect that many do not have a quick answer.
The answer to both questions is the Church. (see: 1 Tim 3:15 says, “. . . I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.”)
Jesus and Paul had a very high view of the Church. Yet too many think they don’t need the Church. They only need Jesus.
Folks, you cannot have Jesus without the Church. The Church (and here I mean the people of God) is the temple of the living God. The Church is where Christ resides. “I am with you always” (Matt 28:20) refers to the Church. After all, Paul calls it the “household of God” (1 Tim 3:15). The Church is where God dwells.
I’ll say it again: you cannot leave the Church and have Jesus. (I am sure that there are plenty of “but what about . . .” at this moment. So, let me briefly respond to the general premise of many of them.)
Sure, if some person were to know Christ and end up on a deserted island, they would still have Jesus even though they weren’t part of a local community. But, that person is still a part of the Church. Their absence from a local community was not essentially their choice. I am referring to people who live in a community where churches are present and they refuse to fellowship with them, or they choose to start their own church by first leaving the Church. Sorry, can’t do it.
Indeed the Church has many problems. Unfortunately, many Christians in their attempt to find a solution are actually contributing to the problem.
The solution cannot be to leave the Church. Here are four brief thoughts on how we can begin to save the Church.
Solution 1: We must have the same high view of the Church that Jesus and the New Testament have. This doesn’t mean that we must advocate for high church or some old-fashioned definition of what a church must be. But, we must aim to preserve and protect the Church.
Granted, this is a much more difficult task than defending our local church, or even our own Christian life. Nonetheless, it is the Church for which Christ died! And it is the Church for which Christ will return!
Solution 2: We must learn to move away from our self-centeredness. Church is not for me. Christ didn’t call you or me for our own sakes alone. We were called for a mission: as 1 Peter 2:9 says: you were chosen “so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”
Solution 3: We must leave our consumerist mentality behind. We are part of a church because that is what it means to be a Christian. The local church, however, is not for me. The local church is the gathering of God’s people in order that we might serve one another in love and doing so proclaim Christ.
Solution 4: We must understand that the unity of the Church is fundamental to the mission of Christ and the New Testament.
So no more of this: “I just don’t get anything out of it.” I understand that this is a real issue on some cases. But, the solution cannot be to leave the Church!
Now, I respect the fact that some local churches are just not cutting it. Maybe you need to find another local community in which you can best serve and be served so that you will be able to fulfill your mission as a proclaimer “of Him who called you out of darkness and into His marvelous light”! As you make such a move, my encouragement is that you find a local body that is focused on bringing unity to the Church.
The solution must be in our being a solution. We cannot make the problem worse. Maybe it is our job to make the Church better.