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The Christmas season is once again upon us and with it overwhelming encouragement from Madison Avenue to spend what we have not earned to buy what we cannot afford. This Christmas let us not be swept away by the illusory claims of consumerism; instead, let us revel in God’s gracious gifts, to drink deeply the wonder of relationships and life and every moment of this season—these will leave you truly satisfied and debt free!
As we, once again, approach this national day of “thanksgiving” I thought it necessary to reflect upon our nation’s long history of acknowledging and giving thanks to Almighty God. On October 3, 1789 George Washington issued the nation’s first presidential proclamation in which he called the nation to set aside a day for giving thanks to that “great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be….”
I have been writing my weekly commentaries for nearly ten years now and I remain amazed and humbled by the scope and audience the Lord has granted. However, for those of you who have been following my ministry for at least the last couple of years, you know that I have recently added a new ministry direction. I will henceforth soften my self-imposed commitment to publishing an article each and every week.
Your immediate response may be, “What does Christianity have to do with economics?” In response, I would say: everything, if you think of economics as the system and means of production and exchange whereby people meet their own and each other’s essential needs. What qualifies Christianity to speak on economics? Simply put, to properly understand economics, you must begin with a proper understanding of man.
Does theology matter? It does when you consider that poor theology leads to a less than adequate understanding of what it means to be Christian, which in turns leads to a less than adequate witness of the gospel. In J. I. Packer’s 1973 classic Knowing God, he points out that “ignorance of God—ignorance both of his ways and of the practice of communion with him—lies at the root of much of the church’s weakness today.” The ignorance to which Packer refers is first and foremost theological.
A key hindrance to the community of today’s church is not a weakness of the institutional church and its leadership but rather the radical individualism of its members. This is not simply a matter of concern over sporadic church attendance or mediocre participation in the church potluck dinner; the absence of visible community is a central underlying principle that undermines the witness of God’s people and opposes the redemptive mission of God!
As Americans, we enter the church with nearly overpowering individualistic inclinations. We come with and cling to expectations and demands that are centered on ourselves. We want people to talk to us but we are unwilling to talk to strangers. We have a myriad of personal preferences that we impose on the church about worship styles, music, and the like. We grade the pastor on whether or not he has met our needs through his sermon. And we certainly aren’t interested in anyone getting in our business! We don’t humbly submit to one another. We argue and divide over inconsequential issues.
Under the institutionalized church-centric model, the church’sde facto mission was focused mostly on recruiting “members” through evangelism while “mission” was understood to be a program of the church. The goal or mission really settled on the institutional maintenance of the local church, whose success or failure was inevitably, and I dare say exclusively, measured by the number of members. However, as I pointed out earlier, “the church of Jesus Christ is not the purpose or goal of the gospel, but rather its instrument and witness.” This brings us to our second question: What exactly is the church’s mission?
I do not think it too strong or sensational to say that we are witnessing the collapse of Western civilization. Across the Western world, the fruits of apostasy and secularism are manifesting themselves in overwhelmingly destructive ways. The church—which was once the moral authority in the West—has rendered itself irrelevant and marginalized in the public square. What is to become of a culture whose conscience is paralyzed?
In the age of Christendom, the church occupied a central and influential place in society and the Western world considered itself both formally and officially Christian. So when we speak of post-Christendom, we are making the point that the church no longer occupies this central place of social and cultural hegemony and Western civilization no longer considers itself to be formally or officially Christian. This represents a monumental shift in the cultural context into which the Western, and specifically American, church is now attempting to carry out its mission.
The “modern” idea of church, or ecclesiology, it seems is that the church exists as a venue to “attract” the lost through dynamic programs, performances and events—the more dynamic the better. What one pastor friend of mine referred to as “theo-tainment.” The problem with emphasizing this approach exclusively is that a disproportionate amount of the church’s time and resources go into these efforts at the expense of discipleship and training the already saved. The result is the proverbial church that “is a mile wide and inch deep.”
In so many churches today we have unwittingly reduced the gospel to a “come to Jesus and be happy” proposition (the therapeutic Jesus) rather than a “call on the name of the Lord and be saved” reality. Additionally, many churches have become so reliant upon modern methodologies, growth strategies, and best practices that they operate like well-ordered corporations that, practically speaking, think they have no need of God. I would argue that the “world come to us” approach has largely stripped the church of authentic faith in Jesus Christ and replaced it with a club mentality that seeks like-minded club members, people who already share our values and are looking to be with their own kind.
It seems necessary to address why and even if Christians should be involved in redeeming society and culture. There are many who deride such activity as being a diversion from the “real” work of the church, which in their minds is nothing more than articulating the personal plan of salvation (or “gospel,” very narrowly understood). However, I would counter by saying that such a distinction is more accurately rooted in pagan dualism than scripture. Platonism divides reality into two spheres: the material and the nonmaterial—with the nonmaterial, or spiritual, being superior. This classical Greek view offers a completely unbiblical understanding of reality.
As Christians, we must reclaim and re-humanize the topic of sex by giving our young people a comprehensive theology of sex that is grounded in the gift of intimacy and relationship, rather than a self-satisfying animalistic act. We must move beyond our prudishness that simply teaches teens what not to do and celebrate the gift of sex as God intended it to be. Until we start teaching the superiority of sex as defined by God, this generation will likely continue to exchange the truth of God for the lie.
As if utterly blind to the past, the American empire is now following the Roman road to self-destruction, proving again what Toynbee said, “Civilizations die from suicide, not by murder.” However, that was not the end of the story, for out of the collapse of one kingdom there arose another kingdom without end: the Kingdom of God. Despite the sexual anarchy of the Roman world, the Christian church stood in stark contrast to the decaying culture and would go on to flourish while the former would fall.
President Obama’s recent statement about ATMs hurting the economy reveals his ideological bias. Implicit in his statement is a suspicion of business, as if business leaders are plotting to replace human workers with machines. Also implicit is the idea that the free market drive to innovate and improve efficiency is harmful to human workers. The solution to the problems facing corporate America will not be found in restricting free markets or limiting the creation of wealth but in recovering the Judeo-Christian view of work and business as a moral enterprise intended to serve others and glorify God.
It is time for fathers to return to honorable manhood and reconsider their priorities and realign them with God’s commands, decrees, and laws, teaching these things to your children “when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise.” It is the father who is essential for sending his children forth with a biblical view of reality and a faith in Jesus Christ that is rooted in solid understanding.
Perhaps one of the most persistent and pervasive myths is that that the world’s population is spiraling out of control. The myth of overpopulation first put forth by Malthus, coupled with Darwinian theories that promote propagation of the “fit” and reduction of the “unfit,” has been instrumental in legitimizing abortion, forced sterilization, government subsidized contraception, and, in the most extreme cases, eugenics as practiced by the Nazis and others.
This Memorial Day I encourage us all to pay homage to those who have given all they have for the unmerited benefit of so many. To give honor to whom honor is due. To Ryan Miller and so many others, we owe a great debt, a debt we can only pay in remembrance. One of the ways we remember them is to preserve the ideals and values they fought to defend and pass them along to our children. Secondly, we must teach our children to remember and honor those who have given so much for their benefit. In the same way we also remember the One who gave of himself for the unmerited benefit of so many.
When pastors and theologians speak of calling, most people think of some loftier spiritual work rather than trudging off to a business office, construction site, or retail store to labor. The same could be said for every mother who trudges off to the kitchen or laundry room each day to work for her family. This tendency reveals a bias among many Christians and clergy to think of full-time ministry as spiritual work while diminishing other forms of work under the rubric of secular.
Christian businesses all too often look indistinguishable from non-Christian businesses in substance. I believe something much deeper and more serious is required. A biblical marketplace missiology does not treat business as merely a means to some other “spiritual” end such as evangelism or giving to ministry. This diminishes the moral potential and contributions of business that God expects.
Matthew Henry, the eighteenth century English preacher and author of the renowned commentary that bears his name, began his examination of Proverbs 31 with the following words: When children are under the mother’s eye, she has an opportunity of fashioning their minds aright. Those who are grown up, should often call to mind the good teaching they received when children. King Lemuel concludes his well-known description of the “virtuous woman” taught to him by his mother and recorded in Proverbs 31 with these words: Give her the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.
What does the economic turmoil of the past few years have to with Christian faith or theology? In short, everything! I believe the free market economic system is the best available for promoting human creativity and flourishing, creating a sustainable and stable society, and alleviating poverty. However, I also believe that free market capitalism is among the most monstrous and oppressive systems when severed from a coherent ethical framework and compelling moral restraint.
As we begin this Holy Week there is no other issue, no other thought more demanding of our attention than that of the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. On these facts—and most especially the resurrection—rest the whole Christian faith, mission, and message. I pray you take time to stop and reflect throughout this week—be reminded of your first love and his kingdom, which you are to seek first as you press into this world bearing witness to the glorious power of the resurrection!
I imagine the folks over at Planned Parenthood are desperately trying to figure how they can best spin the latest results from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), released last month. According to a 2006–2008 survey commissioned by the CDC to the National Center for Health Statistics, sexual activity among teens has dropped dramatically. According to the study, 68 % of boys and 67 % of girls (age 15 to17) have never had sexual intercourse. This information corroborates another CDC report released just last week showing that teen birth rates have reached their “lowest levels in nearly 70 years.”