(Third in a series.)
It’s long seemed America has been invaded, then occupied, by a foreign empire intent on destroying our heritage and nation from within by dismantling, then torching, every last one of our nation’s Biblical commitments. Many have settled on labelling this empire an impersonal “secularism,” allowing us to evade the fact that it’s men with names and families who carried out the attack and are now the occupying forces persecuting and taxing us to keep their apparatus of destruction up and running. We don’t like to admit it is brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, aunts and uncles, and neighbors who share with us the image of God, who are destroying our heritage, so we attribute the destruction to some impersonal “secularism.”
False ideologies are useful, but they’re never the agents of destruction. Our Lord’s warning is not “offenses must come, but woe to that philosophy by which the offense comes,” but rather:
Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes!
It can be helpful to label and work to understand the nature of destructive ideologies and philosophies, but only so long as the discussion isn’t allowed to decay into disquisitions devoid of the sinful purposes and actions of individuals, and their responsibility for them.
Woe to that man.
Take for instance Marxism. Marxism will never stand before Almighty God and give an account for the oppression and bloodshed it committed. Marxism didn’t avail itself of Mao, Pol Pot, Lenin, and Stalin to serve as its host agents. Mao and Stalin availed themselves of Marxism.
The destruction of the moral capital and rule of law of our United States has never been the work of “secularism.” One might acknowledge the personal agency of America’s destroyers by instead speaking of “secularists,” but even that modification concedes too much, as I see it. These men are not united by their commitment to remove God from the public square, for instance. Their battle plan is not to remove religion or its gods from our corporations, entertainment, social media, government, courts, and schools.
America’s patrimony is not the victim of any ideology. Rather, America’s Divinely wrought exceptionalism has been destroyed by evil men and women who hate God. Viscerally. Hatred of God is their passion. When they get up in the morning, they hate God’s Name; when they eat lunch, they hate His Word; during dinner, they hate His Son; and while they sleep, their dreams are inspired by hatred of His law (which is His character).
Transgression speaks to the ungodly within his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes. For it flatters him in his own eyes concerning the discovery of his iniquity and the hatred of it.
The words of his mouth are wickedness and deceit; he has ceased to be wise and to do good. He plans wickedness upon his bed… (Psalm 36:1-4)
Maybe the reader is sceptical of our mention of men and women who hate His Name. If so, really?
His Name is “Father Almighty.” At this late day, is it really hard to see or understand this hatred?
To repeat, our nation and its institutions are not under the tyranny of any philosophy seeking to displace religion and god in our national and local lives. Those destroying our Christian capital and replacing it with censorship, sodomy, bloodshed, and irony are too hateful to be irreligious.
Irreligion is an effete force.
The truer explanation is that the the sinews, ligaments, muscles, and spines of the destroyers is hatred. As Chesterton put it, “the anti-Christian is always a half-Christian gone mad.”
Their motivation isn’t flowing from any religious vacuum. Their souls are not empty of the knowledge of God. They know Him and hate Him.
Our nation is a half-Christian people who have gone mad, and truth be told, many of the anti-Christians are safely ensconced within the Church of Jesus Christ named by the Apostle Paul, “the pillar and foundation of the truth.”
How can this be?
We’ve read this confrontation between our Lord and the church officers of His time, but maybe we’ve forgotten it? Certainly we haven’t applied it to the churches we live within and serve today:
Then they said to Him, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father—God.”Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; nor have I come of Myself, but He sent Me. Why do you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word. You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it. (John 8:41-44)
Jesus wasn’t sent and didn’t come to explain secularism and lead a movement to crush it. Jesus was sent and came to do the will of His Father, and that will was to crush the works of that immoral agent, The Devil. Our Lord came to restore the hearts of the children to their fathers and the hearts of their fathers to their Father in Heaven. His Messianic mission assigned Him by His Father was not philosophical or ideological battle, but battle always deeply personal.
He came to liberate those held captive by their father, the Devil. He didn’t come to expose globalism or racism or sexism, but to expose this man and this woman here and now to their bondage to their father, Satan. And He singled out for special attention the elders, pastors, and seminary professors who claimed Abraham—and thus God—as their father.
Pastors young and old are tempted to think their job is just to love people, starting with the people of the church. And if their church is small and needs fresh blood, they think their job is not to limit their love to those paying their salary, but rather, to go outside and find people needing love and love them, too. Then maybe they’ll be drawn into that circle of love which we are making “our” church into.
Love is all they need. Love is all the church needs. Didn’t Jesus say, “This is My command, that you love one another?” Doesn’t the Bible say, “love covers a multitude of sins?”
So now, let’s get busy,” says the young pastor. And fresh out of seminary, the dude starts in on preaching love. God is love, he preaches and teaches and counsels and assures those inside and outside the church endlessly. He knows the truth that God is also other things, but he keeps this as his own private truth. He knows God is not love without wrath; love without justice and holiness. He knows Jesus is not gentle and lowly any more than jealous and wrathful.
Was Jesus gentle and lowly when He contradicted the officers of God’s church claiming God as their Father? Was He gentle and lowly when He publicly condemned them, telling them their Father was not God, but the Devil?
Yes, men are drawn to our Lord by His Holy Spirit demonstrating His gentleness and lowliness; by the Holy Spirit revealing the kindness of God to them. But this kindness of God doesn’t draw us into a steady state of peaceful slumber. His kindness leads us to repentance, and repentance is mediated to us by the preaching of God’s character revealed by His holy Law.
Love is not all we need. Love is not all the pastor should preach. Love without law is just one more deception of the father of those Pharisees, Sadducees, and elders, the Devil.
“Love your enemies” does not mean to me that we must love the demons and the powers in revolt… Now many Christians succumb precisely to that temptation. They want to love the people who are the enemies of the Church, and with that in view they take on their way of thinking and acting, as well as their judgments…
The temptation of a newly ordained and installed pastor is to think he himself is God’s message, so he burnishes his appearance, taste, conversation, clothing, educational credentials, and most especially his sermons, to the end that his present and prospective customers will see his desire to please them, which he thinks of as his desire to love them.
But true love is discriminating in the objects it chooses as well as the work it does, and true love never forsakes God’s “no” in service to God’s “yes.”
But consider that new, young pastors, still wet behind the ears, have not been taught by their seminary profs to implement in their pulpits any diet for their sheep which includes the grace of the Law, which is God’s “no.” Quite rare is the newly MDiv’d pastor who has a vision for using the Law as God decreed it—the “schoolmaster” which leads us under the cross of Jesus.
Again, from Ellul’s False Presence of the Kingdom:
When we appeal to people, it is not merely to assure them of God’s great “Yes” over their lives and work. That “Yes” makes no sense unless there is also the “No,” and I regret to point out that the “No” comes first, that death comes before resurrection. If the “No” is not lived in its reality, the “Yes” is a nice pleasantry, a comfort which one adds to one’s material comfort… [T]he “No” is included in the Gospel. …One cannot really proclaim the Gospel without also proclaiming the “No” included in it, and which is also itself a gospel.
But, obviously, man expects something quite other than that from the Church! When it is said that we should give people what they expect of us, I am puzzled; it is as though man were not fundamentally a sinner, as though he were looking for the good news of God’s forgiveness!
Here’s something that shocked me awake from my slumber in my first month or two of ministry.
One of my woman elders (yup, it’s true, but that’s another story) asked me to visit her husband. He was in his late sixties and was laid up in his easy chair in the living room, waiting for his feet to heal from hammertoe surgery. He rarely attended church with his wife, and she was hopeful my visit would change that (and I’m sure, much more).
Knocking on this door, he called me in and I went and sat down on a straight chair to his right, about four feet away. After some pleasantries, he began to talk about God. Or rather, he began to attack God. As he started in, I sat upright and thought, “Now this is something!”
It was all accusatory. The usual theodicy stuff: if God is good, why all the suffering in the world? Children die. People suffer. Men kill. Women have too many children and drown under their workload. The workers are oppressed by the rich. Think about our awful trashing of the environment. Look at the shortage of food—people are starving!
As he talked, his face clouded over in anger and the hatred became visible. He was not a secularist trying to remove God from his life, home, and community. He hated God and was out to kill Him.
Wise enough to know it was no use arguing the particulars of his diatribe, I waited until he slowed down, then asked him, “You are accusing God of evil, aren’t you?”
“You bet!” he responded.
My eyes opened to the wickedness of this parishioner sitting there before me, so I summoned all I could of any faith, courage, and zeal that had survived seminary, and I said to him: “I warn you that God is not Someone you can accuse. He will not hold you guiltless for your hatred and slander spoken against Him. If you do not repent of your wicked thoughts and words, He will consume you in the fire of His wrath! My dear man, turn and flee His wrath. Turn from your pride and anger against God, and plead with Him for the washing of the blood of His righteous Son.”
The above two paragraphs are put inside quote marks, not because I remember our actual words, but because I remember enough of them that I’m certain you won’t be misled by this recalling of them.
Leaving the house, I was shaken. Never in my life had I ever experienced personally such blasphemy and wickedness. Sure, I knew it was out there in the world, but writing it in a book or music, or painting it on a canvas, is a far cry from saying it one on one, and to one’s own pastor!
But something was clarified for me, which since has served as my inoculation against the cloying “love them into the Kingdom” of all Evangelicalism at the time—particularly that of Evangelicalism’s high citadel of pastoral training presided over by Harold John Ockenga and Billy Graham, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.
At least concerning the duties and responsibilities of the pastorate, love is most surely not all we need.
Contrary to all the precious nostrums dispensed through the books, counseling, and preaching of our modern-day elders and rabbis, the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit is convicting the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment.
Nowhere does God call us to “just love men and women into the Kingdom, telling them about the love of Jesus—men and women who already know they’re sinners and just need to be told the good news of how much Jesus loved, and still loves, them.”
No, we are called to be God’s agents of reconciliation to men and women who are God’s enemies; men and women whose father is the Devil, and who thus hate the Father Almighty. We are called by God to serve as the Holy Spirit’s mouthpieces, convicting men and women, boys and girls, grandfathers and grandmothers, gays and lesbians, adulterers and adulteresses of sin, righteousness, and judgment.
I didn’t go out to find a blasphemer I could warn. I was thirty and I went out on one of my first home visits in the first months of my ministry, and behold! There sitting all by himself in the perfect safety of his own castle, not able to get up but very much able to blaspheme the Living God Who Is Judge of the Whole Earth, was a soul needing, not my sartorial taste or patience and gentleness, but words similar to, for instance, what the Apostle Peter said at the end of his Pentecost sermon:
Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.
And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!”
Don’t fool yourself. No one ever is eager to give warnings. Warnings aren’t condemnations. Condemnations are often justified as warnings, but you know the difference because condemnations cost preachers nothing. Rather, in his own and others’ eyes, they gain him the confirmation of his moral and spiritual superiority.
Condemnations come from pride whereas warnings come from love. So may it’s actually true to say all you need is love? Maybe Lennon was right after all, but he didn’t know what love was?
Warnings take a toll on you because they leave you vulnerable to anger, hatred, conflict, and division. They also leave you vulnerable to the warned repenting, and that might infuriate you just as it infuriated the Prophet Jonah.
But there he was blaspheming the Living God in my presence, and he was certainly my own sheep, my own responsibility, my own duty. It was quite clear.
So God through His Holy Spirit pulled me past my temptations to be a monkey-see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, do-no-evil Evangelical kind of shepherd, and I’ve never forgotten that moment of God’s kindness leading me to repentance.
(Third in a series.)
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