© Greg Austin 2009
A prophetic cry is rising from within the community of the American Christian Church in the closing days of the first decade of the twenty-first century. Embedded in the diverse spiritual/religious languages according to the particular posture of each voice is the promise of the impending arrival and administration of God’s vengeance and the terror of His judgment which must be visited upon a wicked and perverse nation. God’s wrath, the prophetic voices warn, must surely fall upon a godless generation who flaunt their sins while denying even the existence of an Almighty God. Ghastly images of Sodom and Gomorrah are not absent in the descriptions of what we are warned is about to occur.
In a strange, but predictable amalgamation of patriotic fervor and spiritual desire, America has witnessed the emergence of the “New Christian:” A politico-spiritual creature who has seamlessly integrated love for nation and love for God until the two are inseparably co-joined. This is not an unheard of merger. The disciples came to Jesus following His resurrection and asked with innocent and intense national zeal, “Will You at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus' followers, while grateful for discovering a Kingdom not of this world, very much wanted to experience a kingdom (Israel) within the Kingdom of Heaven. These men were weary of living under the yoke of Roman brutality. They loved God, but they loved Israel, and they had not yet learned the meaning of the Savior’s words, “My Kingdom is not of this world.”
We would do well in America to listen intently to Jesus’ words and to understand His meanings. Having thus distinguished between national zeal and our spiritual lives, allow me to suggest that if we love God; if we have been born from above, we should support, seek to improve and to work towards righteousness in whatever sphere of life we encounter, including the government under which we live, whether in America or in any other part of the earth. We are instructed to “pray for those in authority.” The Scripture counsels us to “render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and to God that which is God’s.” The truth remains, “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice but when a wicked man rules, the people groan.”
But the secret is in the balance. The key to getting it right is in finding a way to be “in” the world while not becoming part “of” the world. James established the balance when he wrote, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” The secret is to engage society with righteousness and mercy while keeping our minds, our “affections” “on things above, not on things on the earth.”
At its core, the New Testament draws the believer towards mercy and not judgment. Consider those gospel verses which display God’s character, purpose and plan. Those verses include such words as “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but should have everlasting life.” Adjacent to that verse is this one, “God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world, through Him, might be saved.”
A right understanding of the believer’s “place” within the Body of Christ is to emphasize in our behavior and conduct the mercy of God and leave judgment and wrath and vengeance to the One Who said, “Vengeance is Mine . . .” There is a discernable “No Trespassing” sign posted at the perimeter of the territory of judgment.
So allow me to begin with this statement, cocooned in mercy: I am weary of the church failing to live before God and man in integrity and in responsibility while simultaneously blaming the "world" and an ungodly society around the church for all evils of society.
It is simple truth: Sinners sin because it is their nature to do so: To break God’s laws, to rebel, to live as though there were no God. It follows that the redeemed soul has been given a new nature, and an ability to live beyond sin. If there is room for any blame casting – and I think there is not – the blame must go to those who have power to live righteous lives, not to those who carry the disease of sin innately in their souls.
Perhaps the greatest single failure of the church from the 1970's "Jesus Movement" until now has been a failure to be merciful, to be just, to recognize that America needed a Savior, and not a Sermon.
The American church of the 1980’s got caught up in the tidal wave that washed over our nation manifesting in the Moral Majority and myriad other political-spiritual entities. (I confess that I once served as a member of a denominational “Legal and Legislative Awareness Committee,” and as a board member of a national conservative political action organization).
We, the self-labeled "Righteous Right" cozied up to politicians and embraced governmental issues, enhancing, in our minds, our moral and societal authority when we should have learned the power of intercession and the humility of repentance.
We should have cleaned up our act when God gave us both space and continual reminder that we were first in need of repentance. Our pulpits were run-through with the very sins we pointed the accusatory finger at the world for committing. We promoted hypocritical leaders who exuded a magnetism we mistook for anointing and who sacrificed virtue at the expense of losing our voice and our relevance in society.
Media investigative programs, Dateline, 20/20, 60 Minutes and the like enjoyed huge audiences by exposing the exorbitant lifestyles of headline evangelists who floated across platforms, played to their audiences, and claimed healings that couldn’t be substantiated, while piling up the bucks as the believing and trusting faithful willingly sacrificed of their means to encourage and increase the ministries of the “rich and famous.” The private jets that God dictated these privileged preachers “must have,” the multiple mansions needed to represent the One Who “had no place to lay His head,” the luxury automobiles, the gold, silver and precious stones that adorned the “gifted” elite few served as obvious but unheeded warnings that something was seriously amiss in the American church.
Even a spiritually-deadened world can tell the difference between the lifestyle of Jesus and the gaudy affluence of today's multi-millionaire preachers. Christian television, that sacred and untouchable domain that we dare not criticize under threat of God’s judgment on our own lives did heaven less service than was advertised. A wonderful idea, to broadcast the good news to the whole world via satellite and receiver went awry somewhere in the glitter and the gold and the Hollywood-esque shimmer of lights and spiritual stardom. Millions of American believers sat back and thanked God that Christian TV would accomplish in short years what the church had been unable to do in two millennia: "Preach this gospel for a witness" and then the end would come; with the end being the rapture of the church. Once the glorious rapture had occurred, who cared what would happen to this godless world?
But something unforeseen happened on the way to glory: We weren't supposed to see all these bad things coming to pass in society and in the earth. We weren't supposed to be touched by the fires of tribulation. We weren't destined to persecution - that stuff was supposed to be reserved for the ungodly and for the Jewish people, the god-haters and the god-rejecters! What happened?
1. Our Theology was Wrong. That's pretty simple and straightforward. It's also true. Western, mostly American Eschatology assumed that since (and it’s a big assumption) we were God's favorite children, we should be exempt from any pain, hurt, anguish, difficulty, persecution or tribulation that the rest of the world (because they were "second class" to God) would taste. We were going to be raptured, caught up in the air to be with the Lord while the rest of the world languished in the horrors of tribulation.
2. Our Mission was Wrong. Instead of seeking the salvation of those around us, we sought to feather our nests, build our glorious sanctuaries and worship ministries and elevate our pulpits and be accepted by the very world we were sent to impact with the Father's love and with the reality of the Cross. We forgot that Redemption and not Recognition was our purpose and cause.
3. Our Priorities were Wrong. The Priority of the Kingdom is "to know Him." With that simple adjunct follows both "in the power of His resurrection" and "in the fellowship of His sufferings." We prioritized elegance, wealth, psycho-babble sermons and easy-believism. We were big on self esteem and small on self-control. We learned how to market "discipleship" but we failed to learn to discipline ourselves. We fit the prophetic words perfectly, "having a form of godliness" while we denied "the power thereof.”
What we now are faced with is a nation in decay, which, the prophetic/judgmental among us might counsel is simply the out-working of God's purpose in the earth: Their discernment may be, "it's bound to happen." But we cannot blame God when our lack of responsibility brings the whirlwind of judgment and pain.
I recall the convening of great assemblies in major cities in the 1970's and early 80's. There was, in those days a singular theme: It was based on 2 Chronicles 7:14. A corollary was noted in the New Testament, in the Book of the Revelation: To the church which had left its first love, Jesus counsels repentance. The result of disobedience would be removal from its place. The effect of repentance? “To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God."
Again and again in chapters 2 and 3 of the Revelation the progression is repeated: Identification of sin and failure, entreaty for repentance, disclosure of the price of disobedience, and the higher call and promise to the overcomer and in each case, the hope, the prayer, the desire is for repentance leading to mercy. The hope and intent of heaven, it was emphasized in the 80’s, was for mercy to trump judgment by the preaching of repentance.
But alas, those days and that subject fell out of vogue with the enlightened "revival" crowd. There was much too much work involved with praying, repenting, confessing, turning, walking, living holy lives. Much easier to pile on the floor and laugh until the cows came home. What the church needed in the 1990s was a little fun and games, and we had our fun and games, and now, the price must be paid and we don't want to admit that we're the generation that must fit the bill.
I can hear the words, ringing out from the convention center in Dallas, Texas. Baptist preachers and Assemblies of God preachers and Lutheran and Methodist preachers and Catholic priests and Presbyterians and Foursquare and Episcopalian preachers stood together, as one and cried out, "If My people, which are called by My name will humble themselves and pray, and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, forgive them of their sins, and heal their land."
The offer, I think still stands. The ball is in our court, not with the Supreme Court. The "house" in question is our house and not the White House. The cry is to "God's people," and not "we the People." It's our turn, and the question is, "will we turn?"
Eternity awaits an answer. Jesus has already cast heaven’s vote: “I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” And what, dear reader is your vote? Judgment, or Mercy?