Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Spirit of Social Consciousness

In his classic book, Knowing God, J I Packer speaks about the true spirit of social consciousness, where it originates, and what its desire should be.  The following is taken from that book, pages 63-64.  There is, of course, much wisdom and insight in what he says:

"We see now what it meant for the Son of God to empty himself and become poor.  It meant a laying aside of glory (the real kenosis); a voluntary restraint of power; an acceptance of hardship, isolation, ill-treatment, malice and misunderstanding; finally, a death that involved such agony--spiritual even more than physical--that his mind nearly broke under the prospect of it.  (See Lk 12:50 and the Gethsemane story).  It meant love to the uttermost for unlovely human beings, that they through his poverty might become rich.  The Christmas message is that there is hope for a ruined humanity--hope of pardon, hope of peace with God, hope of glory--because at the Father's will Jesus Christ became poor and was born in a stable so that thirty years later he might hang on a cross.  It is the most wonderful message that the world has ever heard, or will hear.

We talk glibly of the "Christmas spirit," rarely meaning more by this than sentimental jollity on a family basis. But what we have said makes it clear that the phrase should in fact carry a tremendous weight of meaning.  It ought to mean the reproducing in human lives of the temper of him who for our sakes became poor at the first Christmas.  And the Christmas spirit itself ought to be the mark of every Christian all the year around.

It is our shame and disgrace today that so many Christians--I will be more specific:  so many of the soundest and most orthodox Christians--go through this world in the spirit of the priest and the Levite in our Lord's parable, seeing human needs all around them, but (after a pious wish, and perhaps a prayer, that God might meet those needs) averting their eyes and passing by on the other side.  That is not the Christmas spirit.  Nor is it the spirit of those Christians--alas, they are many--whose ambition in life seems limited to building a nice middle-class Christian home, and making nice middle-class Christian friends, and bringing up their children in nice middle-class Christian ways, and who leave the submiddle-class sections of the community, Christian and non-Christian, to get on by themselves.

The Christmas spirit does not shine out in the Christian snob.  For the Christmas spirit is the spirit of those who, like their Master, live their whole lives on the principle of making themselves poor--spending and being spent--to enrich their fellow humans, giving time, trouble, care and concern, to do good to others--and not just their own friends--in whatever way there seems need.

There are not as many who show this spirit as there should be.  If God in mercy revives us, one of the things he will do will be to work more of this spirit in our hearts and lives.  If we desire spiritual quickening for ourselves individually, one step we should take is to seek to cultivate this spirit. 'You know the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich' (2 Cor 8:9).  'Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus' (Phil 2:5). 'I will run the way of thy commandments, when thou shalt enlarge my heart' (Ps 119:32)"

This section gives us great insight into where the true spirit of social consciousness resides, and what its motivation is.  Good food for thought as we consider this whole issue of social justice and what social consciousness should look like in the church.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Social Consciousness, Social Justice, Bandwagon

In giving the current concern ie current emphasis on social justice more thought, it seems that somewhere along the line, in the church, there has been a bit of disconnect regarding social justice issues.  I am in no way attempting to play down the need for the church, as a whole, to have a social consciouness; nor to play down the importance of the church (made up of its individual members) pursuing, championing, and being involved in social justice concerns.  For example, I think the church (its individual members) should be active in opposing abortion, just as William Wilberforce was active in his opposition to the slave trade.  But social justice issues should not be the focus of the church (as a whole) nor the focus of individual churches. 

The concern for social justice issues should come as a result of the out-flowing of the love and mercy of God in the lives of each individual Christian.  This will naturally occur if the church keeps its focus on its main task, which is the making of disciples.  The main thrust of the earthly ministry of Jesus was not feeding the poor, healing the sick, casting out demons, or making the earthly lives of the Israelites better.  His focus was preaching the gospel to bring people into the kingdom and then teaching them to observe all He commanded them, as He was going on His way to the cross to pay for their other words, making disciples.  The mandate Christ gave to the church is to make disciples, and in doing so there will be all forms of ministry take place as the Spirit of Christ works out the life of Christ in and through His people.  The Church is not, and never has been, a one size fits all in regards to its ministries.

The more mature the Christian the more sensitive they are to the Holy Spirit; and when under the Spirit's leading they don't have to be guilt whipped, guilt tripped, coerced, or manipulated.  They will have the love and active compassion that will both compel and sustain a social justice ministry.

This was highlighted to me last fall when I was visiting a church in another city.  The whole service was geared towards a particular social justice issue, from the stage props, the song selections, all the way through the sermon.  It included cajoling, emotional appeals, and rank manipulation.  The little bit of Scripture that was used was pulled out of context so badly that it had absolutely no application.  Now, this particular church is admittedly a seeker oriented church.  Their empahsis is on "reaching" the unbeliever, so they deliberately don't teach doctrine.  When you are dealing with spiritually immature people at best, and dealing with people who have been led to believe that church is all about them, you are fighting against the selfishness that is ingrained in all of us; and the deck is pretty well stacked against you. That is why this church has to go to such a great lengths to get people involved in an issue that doesn't have to do with them.  In addition to this, this was the social justice issue that the leaders of the church had chosen for their church, so they were having to "sell" it to the congregation. 

The concern for social justice and the emphasis on developing a social consciousness is admirable, but, again, I think this is axiomatic in the maturation process of a Christian.  More important, however, is the concern not just for the physical well-being of those less fortunate, but the spiritual well-being and eternal destiny of those same people.  What good is it for a man to gain the whole world (to be well-fed, well-clothed, well-educated, have clean drinking water, have a roof over his head, be sickness free, free from civil war, and prosperous) if he loses his soul and dies the eternal death?  What good is it for us to provide those things and not give them the bread of life and the living water of the Savior, so that they can be clothed in the eternal white robes of His righteousness? What good is it for them to have a roof over their head in this life, if they do not have a place prepared for them by Christ in the Father's mansion? We will do nothing but help them on their way to hell, better off physically, but still in spiritual famine, if we do not share the gospel with them as well.  They will enter the gates of hell a well-fed, well-educated, and well-clothed pagan having no hope and the grimmest possible eternity.

This whole social consciousness movement has its roots and its catalyst in Bono, yes, that Bono.  His concern for the plight of the Africans is admirable, but it is not a concern for their spiritual well-being, just a concern for their physical and social plight.  As he has gone around the world using his celebrity status to bring attention to the ills in Africa, having concerts and meeting with the UN and national leaders(even Christian leaders), it has caused of wave of social concern that has made its way into the church.  Now, again, I am not saying that we as the church should not be socially consciousness, on the contrary, we should be among the most socially conscious; but not at the expense or neglect of the gospel.  The church, in way too many instances, has adopted and is operating in the spirit of Bono, not in the Spirit of Christ.  When our concern is more for the physical and social welfare of the people rather than for their spiritual condition; when our concern is more for their temporal well-being rather than their eternal well-being, then we are operating in the spirit of Bono, and not in the Spirit of Christ. When physical and social concerns trump eternal concerns, the church has jumped on the wrong bandwagon, and it needs to wake up and get off.

My other concern about this social justice bandwagon is that it is fueled by being the in cause du jour, and when the next in cause comes along it will die a quick death.  Then what witness will that leave for the church?  Instead, let us get on the bandwagon of spiritual maturity, not of life change, but of Christ-likeness.  Let us seek to walk in love, as He walked in love, and see what effects that has on our life, and our attitudes and actions towards others.  Let our compassion be fueled by the love and compassion of Christ, and be guided by the Holy Spirit, in response to the calling of God and the assumption of the stewardship of a God given ministry.

Social Consciousness, Social Justice, and the Church

It seems, that among many, social consciousness has become not only the new mantra, but also the new litmus test for the church. David Platt's new book "Radical" has been the buzz as of late and has supposedly stepped on many a toe regarding this issue.  As with most bandwagons, those who have climbed aboard the social consciousness/social justice bandwagon:

               1. Don't understand why everyone doesn't see it the
                   same way they do.
               2. Stand in judgment of those who aren't on the bandwagon.
               3. Feel morally superior because they are on the bandwagon.
               4. Are overemphazing one area of ministry to the
                   detriment of others.

In my mind, the issue is not what is the church doing or not doing, but what is each one of us doing, personally, right where God has put us here in the US? Each community has its own share of the poor, and each church has its own share of the poor.  It is easy to beat the drum and chide the church, while we are doing nothing personally. What about the poor in our own churches, are we looking for ways to help them, do we even know who they are? And when we know who they are, do we look for ways to assist, giving directly out of our own personal means? Not to be jaded, but I have seen far too many on the social concious band-wagon get all worked up about Africa, Asia, Appalachia,etc, while ignoring the people right under their nose.

Another note, pastorally, this is why Paul admonished Timothy to preach the word, in season and out with mega patience and instruction. People very rarely change in one sermon or one sermon series, or one book. We can put the guilt whip/guilt trip on them to get them to respond for the moment, but the conformational process takes time, and it is way too easy for us as pastors to become impatient and frustrated when the results we are wanting to see aren’t immediately visible.

God typically works at the speed of life and at the pace of people, and still is ultimately sovereign over the lives of all people. Jesus did not heal every disease, cast out every demon, or feed all of the poor as He could do nothing of His own initiative because He sought not His own will, but only the will of Him who sent Him (John 5:30).

We should have a heart of compassion, and be merciful; we need to be generous and ready to share (past what we give to the church/ministries) and rich towards God. This comes about as we move forward in maturity, walk more in love, and become less self-seeking. Selfishness (and we are all selfish pigs) gives way slowly. So let’s have zeal and passion, but temper that with wisdom about the way people truly are, so that we will not grow weary and lose heart, and turn people off with our frustration or condemning attitude.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Matthew 22:36-37

Teacher, which is the great commandment
in the Law?” And He said to him, “You shall
love the Lord your God with all your heart,
and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”

This love that Christ is speaking about is a personal love, an intimate love, a relational love. This love grows out of our knowledge of Him and is basic to our relationship with Him.

To love our God with all our heart, soul, and mind is an unfettered love, a love without restraint, a love without hesitation. It is a full on frontal embrace without reservation and without self-consciousness. It is a love that fully engages the object of its love. It is a love that knows it is accepted and a love that knows it is safe. Therefore it is a love that trusts and a love of confidence; and as such is a love of commitment, and a commitment that entails and engages our total person.

This is a love that brings the fullness of joy; the deep and abiding joy that in and of itself is a source of strength. This joy is not subject to circumstance, but seems to thrive in the worst of circumstances. It is a joy that cannot be shaken, because its foundation is a trusting and confident love involving the entire person, soul, heart, and mind; and the object of this love is Himself immovable, unshakeable, unspeakably good, eternal, immortal, unchanging, and our soul knows it very well.

Let us journey on, let us press on, to know our God and our Lord better…more deeply and more completely. It is in knowing Him and growing in our knowing of Him that our love for Him grows ever stronger and deeper; and in this and through this our lives are enriched and we truly experience the real abundant life.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Knowing Christ and Sanctification

Christ is the mainspring both of doctrinal
and practical Christianity.  A right knowledge
of Christ is essential to a right knowledge of
sanctification as well as justification.  He that
follows after holiness will make no real progress
unless he gives to Christ His rightful place.

J C Ryle
Page 300

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Our Knowledge of the Godhead

Our knowledge of God is incomplete without knowledge of the Son and the Spirit, who are co-equal and consubstantial with the Father.  So for us to know God truly and fully we must know the Godhead which makes up the Trinity. We know that if we have seen Jesus we have seen the Father, that to know Jesus is to know the Father; and that the Holy Spirit is at the same time both the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ.  Knowledge of each has its own special place, function, and application as each member of the Godhead has their own special place, function, and role.

We see their work in salvation (I Peter 1:1-2, Ephesians 1:3-14), creation (Genesis 1:1-2, 26; John 1:1-3),  the earthly ministry of Christ (Matthew 3:16-4:1), and Christ's sacrifice (Hebrews 9:14), just to name a few.  So understanding the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit within the context of their membership in the Godhead, will give us insight into the profoundness of the person of God.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Abundant Life

...I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
John 10:10b

It is out of the measureless fullness of grace and truth,
of wisdom and power, of goodness and love,
of righteousness and faithfulness which resides in Him
that God's people draw for all their need in this life
and for the hope of the life to come.

John Murray
Redemption Accomplished and Applied
Page 171

Friday, January 21, 2011

Fellowship with Christ

It is necessary for us to recognize that there
is an intelligent mysticism in the life of faith.
Believers are called into the fellowship of
Christ and fellowship means communion. 
The life of faith is one of living union and
communion with the exalted and ever-present
Redeemer....It is fellowship with Him who
has an inexhaustible reservoir of sympathy
with His people's temptation, afflictions, and
infirmities because He was tempted in all points
like as they are, yet without sin.

John Murray
Redemption Accomplished and Applied
Page 169

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Effective Preaching

And do not be conformed to this world,
but be transformed by the renewing of
your mind, so that you may prove what
the will of God is, that which is good and
acceptable and perfect.
Romans 12:2

  For our preaching to be effective,
we must reach the heart through
the mind, in order to bend the will.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Our Knowledge of God

On one level, our knowledge of God must lead us to know Him better, to love Him more, and to serve Him more effectively.  Knowing God is not an end unto itself, but is the means through which our fellowship with Him is deepened, broadened, and strengthened.  Our knowledge of God is the key to our relationship with Him.

On another level, our knowledge of God does not occur in a vacum, but is acquired while living a life in a fallen and broken world.  Therefore it is to be applied to our life in the midst of our dealings with life, and our comings and goings in this world. Our knowledge of Him should effect the way we think, thereby influencing and guiding, being intertwined in every decision we make.

Relevant Preaching

Relevance is a trap preachers are forced into
by epidemic demands for over-principalized
teaching. In my estimation, placing too much
emphasis on one's ability to be relevant results
in a peculiar bondage. As one notable scholar
pointed out, "Relevance is relative...The preacher
needs to be aware....Due to our obession with
"relevance," our contemporary mindset fails to
consider the heart in the pew next to us. All we
seem to care about any more are happier
marriages,better sex, and personal contentment.
It's mind-numbing narcissism.

Byron Yawn
Well-Driven Nails
Pages 32 & 33

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Creative Preaching

There is a lot of "creative" preaching out there
worthy of rejection.  Specifically, a type of
preaching that is more dependent upon the
lighting and Christianized fung shui than exegesis.

Byron Yawn
Well-Driven Nails
Page 27

Monday, January 17, 2011

Preaching Christ

To preach Christ is much more than quoting Him and making
reference to Him.  The preacher is to stand in the place of
Christ, and to use such language as this: "We are ambassadors
for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us; we pray you
in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God" (2 Cor. 5:20).
How can this be unless we come from His presence with
something of His heart and Spirit?  How else can we be
possessed with great and high thoughts of Christ?  It can only
be as the Holy Spirit reveals Him to us.  How can we speak of
Christ's love, and of how He satisifies every need, unless we
ourselves have fresh experience of these realities?

Andrew Bonar and Fellowship with Christ
The Banner of Truth
December 2010
Page 13

Saturday, January 15, 2011

A Worthy Read

The year 2011 is well underway and many blogsters have published their list of favorite books they have read over the last year, usually in a top ten format.  There are even a couple of books that have made several of the the lists.  List categories for books that I have not seen were "Most Enjoyable" or "Most Influential" or "Causing the Most Reflection."  The list for these would probably not be as long, but maybe more telling, both about the author and the reader.

I have one book I would recommend, one that would fit into the categories I just mentioned.  It is not a particularly long book, but it took me almost all year to read it.  It is Redemption Accomplished and Applied by John Murray.  John Murray, in his time, was considered one of the foremost conservative theologians in the world.  He was a professor and founder of Westminster Theological Seminary, a Scotsman, single until after his retirement at age 69, when he married and fathered two children.  A unique man, even unique for his time.

Redemption Accomplished and Applied is not a book to be read quickly, at least not a book that I could read quickly, even though it is not a very long book, nor is it a book that is difficult to read.  It just caused to me to think and reflect.  Many times I would only get a couple of paragraphs read because they would be a springboard for meditation.  Because of this there were stretches of time that I did not read it, because I did not have the time to engage the book the way I wanted to.

Our redemption is the greatest subject to reflect upon, and Murray's writing style is very engaging and his treatment of redemption is very thorough.  So I found it enjoyable, in fact joy causing.  It was certainly the one that caused the most reflection; and because it spurred me to spend so much time reflecting upon the greatness of our salvation and the greatness of our Savior, it, therefore, was also the most influential. 

One caveat, however, his last chapter, on glorification, was his weakest.  Not just because of his amillenial views, but also because it lacked the thoroughness of the rest of the chapters.  Nevertheless, this book is a worthy read.  One well worth the time.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

What a Preacher is

...what a preacher is as as Christian
is of greater consequence than
his natural gifts.

Iain Murray
The Banner of Truth
December 2010
Page 8

Father, make us great Christians.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Incarnational Living

So Jesus said, "When you lift up the Son of Man,
then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing
on my own initiative, but I speak these things as the
Father taught Me.  And He who sent Me is with Me;
He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things
that are pleasing to Him."

John 8:28-29

To become like Jesus, then, is to come to the place
where we delight to do the will of God, however
sacrificial or unpleasant that will may seem to us
at the the time, simply because is it His will.

Jerry Bridges
The Discipline of Grace
Page 102