Thursday, March 29, 2007

Staring at the Noose

Today I read a typical description of the evanglicical scene. It doesn't seem to matter what denomination or tradition one is in now, the church is dead set on conforming to our present cultural norms and expectations. The Church as a consequence, no longer sounds a clarion call of distinction, but has, like the world around it been carried on by the twin forces of modernity and modernization, buying wholesale the gospel offered therein, and now joins in the cacophany resultiung from the failure of that system. The narcissistic, deconstructionist stepchild of modernism, that is forced to deal with modernization, postmodernity.

The Questions Remaining

We are left to ask some uncomfortable questions. Is it possible, that post-modern culture has infiltrated the evangelical Church so deeply, that it has committed institutional suicide, and come to a crossroads, such as that faced by Judah in Jeremiah 18-19, where it has rejected the word of God, beyond the point of repentance? Can the pottery be remolded, or will God shatter it?

Whether its the churches that are now, or the churches that will be started in the future, the Bible's warning must be acknowledged; "do you not know that friendship with bthe world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God" (James 4:4).

"The world", as David Wells describes in God in the Wasteland: Truth in a World of Fading Dreams, is the "collective expression of every society's refusal to bow before God" (p. 39).

In the Cross and Christian Ministry DA Carson explains how the wisdom of this world is exposed as foolishness by God, in that "the world through its wisdom did not know Him" (I Co. 1:21). He has confounded the wise, that is the worldview expert, and the scholar, the religious scribe, and the debater, the deconstructionist and thus "made foolish the wisdom of this world" (I Co 1:20 cf. Carson p. 18).

For those post-modern Christians, who claim orthodoxy in statement, but believe, along with their culture that truth is no longer the catalist for change, or the foundation for society, God answers, "It pleased God, through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe" (1 Cor. 1:21).

But God's wisdom accomplishes a lot in what that bare statment expresses. In the preaching of reconciliation, God has "destroyed the barrier wall of division" (Eph. 2:14) between Jew and gentile, by creating a holiness apart from the Law contained in commandments in ordinance, but through the cross to "reconcile them both in one body to God" (16).

Thus Christ's ministry of reconciliation brings humanity together and unites them "holy and without blame before God" (Eph 1:4). It is this ministry that is given to the Church, "so that the manifold wisdom of God might be made known through this church" (Eph 3:10).

So, we are left with the question, do we demonstrate the manifold wisdom of God, or the wisdom of this world? Do we attract people with persuasive means of human reason, or with the foolishness of God's message?

The Dangerous Answer

Romans 8:5-7 recounts:

For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on athe things of the
flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, bthe things of the Spirit. 6
For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life
and peace, 7 because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God.

In Jeremiah 18 the prophet pleads with Israel to be faithful. "Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as the potter does?" (v. 6). The potter Jeremiah observed had a pot not pleasing to him and so he remade it into a more pleasing vessel. "Behold like the clay in the potters hand" God declares, "so are you in My hand" (6). If Israel repents, the judgement of the coming exile can be averted, God will "relent" and bless rather than curse them.

In Judah's history however, they continued to follow their wisdom and despise God's word and God's messenger. Jehoiachim burnt the Scroll of the prophecy, and So God hardened His position, in Chapter 19, Jeremiah is to smash a potter's jar, and declare tht the calamity is certain, Israel has been abandandoned to the consequences of their sin, and choice has changed from repent and be saved, to surrender to Babylon and avoid death.

The cultural monolith of Babylon is invading our church, and god calls us to "be seperate" from the practices of the pagans around us. If we are faithful, who knows what times of refreshing may come from the Lord, but consider the seven Churches of Revelation, who refused to hear His plea.

A Bold Conclusion

Are we staring at the noose? Does the Bible offer a compelling meta-narrative in contrast to the nada-narrative of our culture? Does theology matter in our "doing church"? Do the Scritures speak compellingly about the mystery of the Church, the purpose, plan and model for this organization?

I believe the answer to all those questions is "YES". The book of Ephesians is an exposition of the revelation of the mystery of the Church entrusted to Paul (3:1ff). It begins with God's eternal purpose in the Trinity to establish this church, demonstrates what has been accomplished by this plan, ethnically, sociologically, and salvifically in the next two chapters, and then moves into the practical living of the members of that body, so as to "display the manifold wisdom of God in the Church" (3:10).

Yet, shockingly, in the books we read and the classes we take on ecclesiology (study of the church) and church planting, these revelations, from God Himself are largely, if not totally ignored!

Like a condemned man the church stares at the noose, and the Judge offers reprive, if the church will repent and follow Him. But it is Christ, who is building his church, and he will not allow the gates of hell, to consume it, even from within:

Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and arepent and do the deeds
you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your clampstand out
of its place-- unless you repent (Revelation 2:5).