Today in staff chapel we watched an excellent video about living out the whole gospel by reaching out to the poor and influencing the world. The pastor on the video pointed out that 200 years ago his church in England led the way in developing hospitals, feeding the poor and many other works of following Jesus.
Unfortunately, the church lost it’s way and by the mid 20th C. it was only concerned with Sunday worship, bible lessons, and singing as it fullest (yet relatively pathetic) expression of Christianity—sound familiar?
So what happened? Why did the church get so myopic? It dawned on me that there was a whole constellation of factors that led to an anemic church. Let me name the top four that come to mind.
First, it was pointed out that we have a rather Greek way of looking at the world. Following Plato, we have adopted a world view that names heaven/unseen as good, and eartly/visible as bad. This is light years away from the Hebraic (even Biblical way of thinking), but it leads us to value “getting into heaven” and not value “the body, the world, etc.” The God of scripture gives commandments
about loving God and not making idols and then also talks about mildew (Lev. 14)
The solution to this problem is to choose not to rend the seemless garment of all of God’s creation—earth and heaven. To pray with Jesus, “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
While the first great awakening (1730s – 40s) was clearly a sovereign work of God which resulted in great evangelism and moral change, the second great awakening (1800-1840s) was much more centered around using human means to save souls. As a result the sawdust trails, and worrying benches led men to answer the question of their soul, it did not challenge them to work on their lives in the same way. While it’s leaders probably meant well, they were subtly shifting the game toward saving the invisible heart and blind to the greater issues of the gospel of the kingdom.
The solution to this is to teach the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). Yes we preach that men might be saved, but salvation is much more holistic that getting your soul past the pearly gates.
On top of this, dispensationalism taught that the Kingdom of God had been postponed. That we were in a season between God ruling Israel through theocracy (OT) and Jesus ruling the world (the millenium). This period, the church age (aka, the age of grace) would be marked by the free gospel going to the gentiles, but ending in failure culturally as the gross majority of men (and women) would not receive it. It is actually believed by some that the world has to get worse and worse before Jesus will return. The to engage in culture is to polish brass on a sinking ship!
The solution to this error is to adopt an
optimistic eschatology. Acknowledge that Jesus is king right now! (Acts 2:36) That he rules and reigns over all and is sovereignly causing his kingdom to march forward even in the midst the “already/not-yet.”
But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. Hebrews 10:12-14
Lastly, the gospel was sadly bifurcated when the fundamentalist controversy raged. There’s nothing like division to cause us to walk home with only part of the story. Sadly while the fundamentalists (the predecessors to the evangelicals stressing the five fundamentals: virgin birth, substitutionary atonement, authority of scripture, etc) kept some key doctrines of the bible, they threw the baby out with the bathwater. Over the past 100 years we watches as the conservative church has withdrawn, realized it was wrong to do so, over compensated by reengaging, and driving madly through culture like Jehu son of Nimshi. Not long ago we saw the year of the Evangelical, and now it’s more of a curse word! Yikes…
The solution here is to stand at the crossroads and consider where we’ve been and where we need to go as a church.
Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. Jeremiah 6:16
It took about a hundred years to get this messed up. It will take decades and decades to regain the ground that was lost. But let’s look up and be hopeful. Let us spur one another on toward love and good deeds…let us encourage one another– and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Heb 10:24-25).
What kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. (2 Peter 3:11-12)
Let’s get back to work. We’ve got kingdom business to be about.
Grace and peace,