Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Evangelicalism's Abandonement of Truth

Evangelical Christianity is dying. The glory of God is ready to depart. As a movement, we’re growing more and more content in the world. Rather than prefer be absent from the body and present with the Lord, far too many of us prefer to be present with the body and with our future plans. We attend church. But mainly our interest is to learn how to improve our own lots in life. We’re repeating the error of the impenitent thief on the cross to whom Jesus was only a matter of convenience. You can hear it in our prayers. Entreaties and petitions that once reflected verses of the Bible are now strangely at odds with Holy writ. The way He taught us to pray, with hearts submitted to his Kingdom rule, are more and more becoming images of modern man and his quest for successful living.

What has become of the spirit of brokenness and humility in our churches? We are forgetting to bow the knee. What has happened to the cry of the penitent thief who, in all unassuming contrition, cried from the depths of his sin-sick soul, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” We are forgetting we are thieves. Daily repentance and walking in true faith and holiness before God are being pushed aside to make room for the idols of personal relevance and the settled life.

What has become of our commitment to the crucified life? Have we forgotten His promise that we’ll be persecuted for the sake of righteousness? To scores of Protestant believers the cross is a symbol, but that is all. What was once our joy to bear His cross turned to apprehension of it, and in our apprehension of it, we soon came to revile the very thought of losing face for His gospel. We are losing our saltiness.

Once there was a highway to heaven, full of born again souls set on pilgrimage to their heavenly Zion, a place not of this world. But now the highway is quickly being paved over with the veneer of casual Christianity. Other than the remaining trappings of ecclesiastical tradition found in some of our churches, or the name of Jesus heard through the loud speakers of culturally sensitive extravaganzas called worship services found in others, very little evidence remains in the evangelical movement of what might be coined “evangelical.”

A once powerful advance of bold, gospel proclamation, of men and woman pouring out their hearts and souls in prayer to God, of a willingness to be a peculiar people amidst a world that knows not God, retains but the shell of its former self.

What is the cause of our sickness? Evangelical leaders, and their followers are relinquishing their commitment to the fundamentals of the Bible in order to induce church growth regardless of the cost to the purity of the Church. As a result, though many of our churches look prosperous on the outside, they are dying on the inside. What’s so very sad is how few know it, and if they do know it, are unwillingly to admit it.

The only answer is Holy Spirit-empowered revival and reformation for our churches.

Friday, April 17, 2009

An American Sounds Off

I am a 70 year old American. Yesterday I took part in the first political demonstration that I've cared enough to join since 1961. I went to a TEA party. In my career I was fortunate enough to travel to over 50 foreign countries, and I developed a deep respect and love for the greatest country on the planet, the United States of America.

My feelings now are for my government, not my country. They are anger, frustration and shame:

• Anger that my government, the administration and the Congress are spending money at a rate that will destroy the future of my children and grandchildren.

• Anger that my government, Democrat and Republican alike, will not exercise the fiscal responsibility that we private citizens must.

• Frustration that my government will not listen to the warnings.

• Frustration that politicians promise reform and responsibility, and once in office, these promises are forgotten.

• Frustration that our elected officials are more concerned with re-election than the welfare of the country.

• Shame that my government is again going down the road of appeasement. Any day I expect to see the president or secretary of state come home from abroad waving a paper and proclaiming “Peace in our time.” It didn’t work before and never will.

• Shame that my government is abandoning the principals and documents upon which it was founded.

• Shame that my government has lost its moral compass.

I fear for my country. It cannot survive on its present course. It will come under the control of the countries that hold our enormous debt or we will be forced to devalue our currency until it is no longer the world standard. We will have hyper-inflation that will destroy us.

Therefore, I solemnly promise you, my elected president, senators, representatives, governor and all officials, federal, state, and local, charged with fiscal responsibility, that I will watch your voting record, and if you continue this insanity, I will vote you OUT. I will join with others and urge everyone that I know to do the same. I will no longer be part of the SILENT majority. God bless and God save America

James Zetler
Jupiter Florida

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

God's Sovereignty in the Culture-War

In thinking a bit more on the tenuous state of the culture-war, and many Christian’s weariness in it, we should think on a comment by my old friend, Dr. John Frame [Professor of Philosophy and Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida] on the efficacy of God’s control over his creation. Frame notes,

"To say that God’s controlling power is efficacious is simply to say that it always accomplishes its purposes. God never fails to accomplish what he sets out to do. Creatures may oppose him, to be sure, but they cannot prevail. For his own reasons, he has chosen to delay the fulfillment of his intentions for the end of history, and to bring about those intentions through a complicated historical sequence of events. In that sequence, his purposes appear sometimes to suffer defeat, sometimes to achieve victory. But…each apparent defeat actually makes his eventual victory all the more glorious. The cross of Jesus is, of course, the chief example of this principle" [The Doctrine of God: a Theology of Lordship, P&R Publishing, Phillipsburg, New Jersey, 2002. 47].

The word “makes” from the above quote is pregnant with meaning. It’s not the apparent defeat of God’s purposes in the creation which makes victory all the more glorious. It’s the sovereign God working in each apparent defeat which assures ultimate victory. To faithfully interpret Frame’s meaning we could say that all that happens on the stage of culture, whether good or bad, is eschatologically oriented toward a final goal – the ultimate victory of God at the consummation of time. Things are this way because God is at work in each event. So, though God’s children may suffer persecution and loss in this life; though it may appear that Satan and his evil minions are gaining the upper hand on the world-stage, God is in control, using all things together to serve His eternal ends. Despite the ups and downs of our cultural labor together, God’s sovereignty assures us that the Church is on the winning side of history.

That God uses “defeat” in his own purposes in history ought to encourage Christians not to live in isolationist occupation in the world, but as a community bent on obedience to the Great Commission and the Cultural Mandate of the Bible. This obedience counters the popular model that would have us wringing our hands waiting for escape from this “vale of tears.” Ours is not a “polishing of the brass on the Titanic” but a living out of a tangible expression of the “conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). We are always about our Father’s work: on the side of justice; showing mercy to the sick of heart and body, teaching the eternal truths of knowing Him and making Him known at every level of culture, and humbly proclaiming the transforming message of reconciliation to all. Such a life is facilitated as we tarry in prayer and seek to model the life of Christ.

Finally, I take from Dr. Frame the amazing encouragement that we must interpret even our supposed failures at attempting to affect the culture for Christ as successes. In recent years, many Christians have abandoned efforts at direct cultural engagement out a deep sense that their work has produced few results. But if Frame is right, and indeed he is, that God is at work in our failures, then not only does this change our definition of “success” in the struggle for cultural renewal, but also it tells us that we must remain vigilant in the struggle, for how else will God be at work in our failures unless we are there to fail?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The End of Christian America? Not Yet

Jon Meacham’s article in Newsweek Magazine, “The End of Christian America,” triggered a fresh debate regarding the state of the Christian consensus in America and its future. No doubt a lot of Christian people felt a range of emotions after either reading the article first hand or hearing something of its contents. While the 2009 American Religious Identification Survey, which is at the core of Meacham’s thoughts, claims to have its finger on the pulse of what is oft called “Christian America,” and many are seeing this survey as a prescient indicator of things to come, we should take a step back and try to look at the gist of the article through the lens of God’s sovereignty in history. Perhaps the exercise will make us a little less pessimistic about the future of Christianity in America.

There are many errors and false assumptions Meacham extrapolates from the Survey but I will focus here on but one. He fails to consider what history teaches us: that the ebb and flow of a nation’s commitment to Christian principles, though unfortunate, is often typical. Just why this is the case is a matter I will not take up here. But suffice it to say that I don’t believe that God is not done with America.

Think back to the time of the European Reformation. This great move of God literally transformed Europe. It brought massive change in a number of ways, including cultural. By the 1550s, the nation of Holland was literally reformed. Phillip II of Spain, in a failed attempt to stop the rising tide of biblical Christianity, invaded the Netherlands, killing thousands of Protestants. England also was transformed in virtually every area of public life and France was moving in the new direction as well. In 1555, John Calvin was at Geneva. His burden for the French people motivated him to urge men to go to France to preach the gospel. In the same year there were only five Protestant, Reformed churches in France. Seven years later, as a result of God blessing the labor of Christian missionaries, there were 2,150 such churches. In just seven years, 3 million people, or 15 %, of the French population had been converted to Christ. By 1561, the number of churches throughout Europe had grown so rapidly that a unified confession of faith was needed, whereby the churches adopted the Belgic Confession.

By the early seventeenth century, however, radical change was on the horizon. The rising sun of the Reformation that had shown such promise of being the standard-bearer of the light of the gospel to the nations had, within just several decades of the deaths of Calvin and Luther, been eclipsed by a false gospel – the “light” of reason. In the hands of Descartes and Locke, this light was said to aid men in their search for the truth of Christianity. In the hands of Tillotson and Toland, however, this light became the grid through which all biblical revelation was to be judged. By the mid-eighteenth century the gloves were off. When the Virtuosi and men of letters referred to their activities as promoting the “Enlightenment” they meant that they were replacing what they perceived as the darkness, ignorance, and grip of Christianity that had ruled men’s minds from the Middle Ages to the Thirty Years War with the “light” of human reason, autonomy, and tolerance.

Meanwhile, back in America, it’s a stunning fact that within two generations after the Puritans and Separatists settled New England, the land in which they had hoped to create a visible expression of the Kingdom of God on earth was already showing signs of spiritual decline. Spiritual conditions in New England were so poor that even many pastors held to nominal belief. Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and Gilbert Tennent addressed the dangers of unconverted clergymen. God also used these men, and others, to spark the First Great Awakening in America, whereby scores of people became Christians, others renewed their commitment to Christ, and the cultural landscape was dramatically altered.

Within a few short decades after the First Great Awakening the doctrines of the European Enlightenment reached the shores of America. By the late-eighteenth century, the best and brightest of our still young nation were being captivated by its seductive grip. It’s believed that by the time Timothy Dwight became the 8th President of Yale, in 1795, there were fewer than twenty Christians in the entire college.

No doubt, had the American Religious Identification Survey been in existence at this time, it would have reported far gloomier trends than those indicated by the 2009 report. And no doubt, if Jon Meacham had been on the scene, he would have reported, “I think this is a good thing – good for our political culture, which, as the American Founders saw, is complex and charged enough without attempting to compel or coerce religious belief or observance.”

But what did God think of the dismal spiritual state of affairs in late eighteenth-century America? In response to the prayers, fasting, and supplications of godly men and women in Scotland, and in the American Colonies, He raised up mighty, Spirit-filled preachers of the gospel, men such as Daniel Baker and Asahel Nettleton, to usher in the Second Great Awakening. Like its eighteenth-century predecessor, this powerful revival of Christianity touched every area of public life, from education to politics. As if on cue, decades later, the potency and public effects of the Second Great Awakening began to wane. But this ebbing of personal Christian commitment and the resultant decline of the Christian consciousness in American public life was no different in nature than the deterioration of the Christian values which happened earlier in American history, and which we see repeatedly in the biblical record of ancient Israel.

Nonetheless, the record of Scripture, and that of more recent history, indicates that though a nation turns from God, God has, in times past, sent a Spirit of revival and reformation to dramatically change hearts and reshape public life (in addition American religious history, see Exodus 29-30, Joshua. 24, and 2 Chronicles. 34). He does it not because we are worthy. He does it to vindicate his holy Name among the nations. As God said through the mouth of the prophet, “Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went” (Ezekiel 32:22).

So while I share the deep concern about the tearing of the Christian fabric in our national consciousness, I am not ready to sit in sack-cloth and ashes or agree with Christian leaders who loathingly acknowledge “a new narrative, a post-Christian narrative, that is animating large portions of this society.” The One who continues to animate our society is God.

There is, of course, a further question. Are we Christians willing to pay the price for a fresh wind of spiritual revival in America? By this, I mean, are we willing to seek Him for it, to be stripped of everything, if necessary, to see God move mightily in our day? True, historical revival is at God’s discretion. Yet, His prerogative is not to the exclusion of His people earnestly seeking Him for it. The Psalmist pleads, “O God, restore us. And cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved” (Psalm 80:3). God is still on His throne and delights to bare His mighty arm in revival when His people get serious with Him.

But somehow I doubt that we’re at this point. If there is a silver lining to be found in the 2009 Survey, it’s that it ought to spur us to do a little house cleaning. Let’s be frank. The American Church is not the biblical movement it was at one time. Even if the recent Survey had reported an upsurge in the number of self-identified Christians, we would very likely find them connected with a modern, evangelical movement that long ago had traded the biblical disciplines of true repentance, faith, and holiness of life for the secular principles of personal success and stress-free living. Add to this the facts that only about 2 percent of believes actively share their faith and about the same percentage show any active interest in the Cultural Mandate, what else ought we to expect than what the Survey yields?

In a time of extreme, spiritual apathy among Christian people, let us be heavily burdened for a fresh manifestation of God in our land such, that the words of our mouths echo those of the prophet Isaiah, "Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down, That the mountains might quake at Your presence" (Isaiah 64:1).

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Truth and Error

One of my favorite saying comes from John Murray. “The difference between truth and error is not a chasm but a razor’s edge.” Spurgeon said something like it too: “Discernment is not a matter of simply telling the difference between what is right and wrong; rather, it is the difference between right and almost right.”