May 2016
Pastor's Perspective. . .

 
It is said that political battles are won by those who have the power to establish the meaning of words.  The American Church had the authority to establish meaning for most of the 20th Century and defined morality by the standards of the Church and the Bible.  This changed rapidly in the final decades of the 20th Century, causing the Church and many who would affirm the Biblical morality of our traditional culture to suffer the pangs of disorientation in regards to a coarsening culture and declining morality.  By the opening decades of the 21st Century the Church lost control of the words themselves, as culturally established terms like marriage and family were radically transformed. 

Many of us find ourselves ramming our heads against the brick wall of the cultural leviathan, hoping to reclaim the authority to define life and meaning for our families, neighbors, and nation.  The ugly undercurrent of this movement is that many of us simply want our fellow citizens to behave, with all of the simplistic coercive morality that this entails.  Christian morality, however, is not something that can be expected of those who are not Christian, and sadly our current cultural transformation is due to the fact that a large majority of Americans no longer follow Jesus.   

Furthermore, this nation will never be won for Christ if we maintain our assumptions concerning the dominance and superiority of Christians.  Like it or not, people have a very negative opinion of Christians, much of which was rightly earned during the glory days of the 20th Century.  The best thing for the Church to do, in my opinion, is to follow the biblical example of the early Church; with special attention given to the ministry of Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, who through the power of the Holy Spirit showed us how to reach the majority culture from the place of the minority.

In order to embrace the missionary work of Paul and the early Church we must acknowledge that not only have we lost the culture war, but that we were wrong to fight it in the first place.  The culture war was the attempt of the Christian culture to stand without the strength of a Christian population.  We must repent from the spirit of control that caused us to fight for a culture instead of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ in love for the sake of the people trapped in a culture of death and sin. 

Paul and the early Church understood that they did not establish the terms and the conditions of life.   They knew that it was Rome that dominated the world and established the terms of morality and true religion.  Paul does not attempt to fight this, instead he utilizes the strengths of the system to speak in the language of Rome, and share the gospel in a way that understood and respected Roman political dominance while maintaining the supremacy of Christ in all things.   Let me make it clear, Paul did not LIKE Rome’s influence, but he understood it and used it to communicate salvation in Jesus Christ.

This was done by maintaining a level of humility and equality with the people of Rome.  The conceit of the Hebrews (a people called to show the way as a nation) was significantly diminished in the letters of Paul, and where it can be found it is turned against itself (as when Paul recognizes himself as a Pharisee or Pharisees in order to argue AGAINST the cultural assimilation of Gentile converts).  Instead of arguing that bad Romans need to learn from good Jews, Paul’s writes that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). 

This claim, which actually begins in the first and second chapters of Romans is an argument from beneath, not from above.  In this line of debate Paul is not claiming superiority to the Romans, but equality.  Paul has abandoned his authority as a Jew and the purity established in the Jewish cultural codes.  Even Paul’s listing of sinful behaviors (in Romans chapter 1) is addressed with a level of humility that was absent from the dominant established Church of the 20th Century.   After all of the words concerning the sinfulness of humanity in chapter one, Paul begins chapter two with these words, “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” (Romans 2: 1)  For all of the sinfulness of humanity, Paul’s vitriol is not poured out upon the sinners, but upon those who think they are superior.  What a perfect reflection of the ministry of Jesus found in the gospels.

If no one is righteous, then what does this do to our cultural Christianity that calls people to be like us and to live righteously like good Christians and good Americans?  In a world in which philosophers debated the merits and effectiveness of their philosophy, Paul and the early Church, surrenders the lifestyle metric as the first shot.   Not only does he reject the argument that he is better than those he is sharing the gospel with, Paul calls himself the chief of sinners.  He is not alone in this.  The early gospels are very clear that the Apostles are not wise men, nor are they brave.  They are in fact flawed and certainly less heroic than the prototypical Jewish zealot or Roman stoic.  For the early Church all of the good in them was due to the workings of God in Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit.  They would only personally claim their failures.  The only righteous One is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who died so that the world might be saved.

Paul understood the dangers of pride and haughty righteousness, which had led him down the road of religious intolerance and domination.  Paul’s pride had made him an enemy of the very God he sought to honor.  This was not the type of passion that he desired to create in the Church in the Gentile world.  Paul’s conversion also taught him and the Church a valuable lesson about enemies.  The one who had been an enemy (Saul) became transformed into an Apostle (Paul).  The Church must always remember that the enemy is not a person or a group.  The enemy is spiritual and is found in the powers and principalities that rule this world.  The more the Church attacks people as the enemy the more we align ourselves against the very God we seek to serve. 

The Holy Spirit is moving powerfully in the world today.  God is using a persecuted Church to share the gospel of Jesus Christ without the burdens of cultural control.  God is using a broken Church to show the world that joy is not found in material wealth, but in the presence of God.  God is showing us definitively that one can gain the world and lose our hope, joy, and our very souls.  God is asking us to redefine our OWN lives and morality, and to live as we are called, not as the world expects. 

How can we do this?  Ask God to open the eyes of Church to the revealed Truth of the scriptures.  Pray that God will help us to see those outside of the body of Christ, not as enemy, but as victims of the enemy.  We need to stop attacking the possessed and attack the spirits that are enslaving them.  This means that we must be people of prayer (so that we might understand the spiritual realm) and people of love (so that we might be compassionate to our wounded neighbors).

Reclaim humility as a virtue.  Stop trying to gain the attention of the world for your goodness.  Simply do good works in the name of Jesus.  There are two lessons here.  Live your faith is lesson number one, but the forgotten lesson is that you do not live your faith for yourself or your Church.  The work that we accomplish is for the glory of God in Jesus Christ. 

Make sharing the gospel more important than winning the argument.  This one might be the most difficult for many of us.   As our resources decline and our voice is diminished in the culture, it is more important than ever to make sure that every word that we use counts.  Let us endeavor to have our words and actions glorify God and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

God is calling the 21st Century Church to once again do the work of the gospel.  Come and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit as we walk with Jesus and share the saving power of the gospel with our neighbors in love. 
 
Pastor Dan