Categories
Commentary

The United States Is Mortal

I was struck this morning reading Psalm 9 at the way the psalmist wrote about the nations of the world.

In verses 19-20, he writes:

Arise, Lord, do not let mortals triumph;
    let the nations be judged in your presence.
Strike them with terror, Lord;
    let the nations know they are only mortal.

The psalmist is crying out to God for help and deliverance from his enemies. The surrounding nations are harassing God’s people. Yet the psalmist knows God is a refuge for the afflicted.

The plea for the nations to know their mortality is a plea for the nations to understand that Yahweh is God, not the nations. No king, sultan, pharaoh, emperor, prime minister, or president is mightier than the Mighty One.

The nations here, and throughout the Psalms, is used in contrast to Israel–God’s people. Israel was a geo-political nation defined by borders and a particular piece of real estate in the world. But it was also more than that. It was a nation ruled directly by Yahweh, their true king.

Israel’s central statement of faith (known as the Shema) was a simple declaration of allegiance to God: “Yahweh our God, Yahweh is the only one!” The nations are anyone and everyone whose allegiance is to something other than Yahweh.

As we come to the New Testament, we see that this extends to God’s people in the Church. The Church is God’s new thing–a new people, a new nation.

The Church’s central statement of faith was three simple words: “Jesus is Lord.” In the first century context, that emphatically meant “Caesar is not.” (A profoundly politically statement!)

The Church is not defined by political policies or geographic borders, but by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

No geo-political nation on earth today is ruled by the God of the Bible like Israel was. Not one. Not even the United States.

Yet it’s easy for Christians in the United States to read a prayer like Psalm 9 and pray as if the United States is God’s chosen nation. Many Christians believe the U.S. is exempt from being judged by the Lord. That we are, somehow, not a part of “the nations.”

When a Christian believes this and then comes to Psalm 9, they are likely to pray something like this: “Lord, bless the United States and strike all the other nations with terror. Make all the other nations know that they are mortal.”

But the United States is part of the nations. Like all other nations, it will be judged in God’s presence. The United States is mortal and, one day, it will know it. This is not something our country can escape.

“Wait!” you may say. “What about Psalm 33 and ‘blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord’? Our nation can make the Lord our God!”

Well, the context of Psalm 33 reveals “the nation” is God’s people Israel–not just any nation. The rest of the verse goes like this: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!”

Let me say it again. In the Old Testament, that heritage is Israel, and through the Gospel, we see that the Church is God’s new people, his heirs through the work of Jesus (see Romans 2-4, Ephesians 2, and the entire book of Galatians).

What’s the point here? Failing to understand all of this is one of the first steps toward Christian Nationalism. It leads to an unbiblical view of how the gospel and the kingdom of God intersect with and “converse with” the kingdoms of this world.

God’s Kingdom is distinct from this world. It’s altogether it’s own thing and it will never end. The United States, however? It will fade and in the end, its mortality will be plain for all to see.

“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:28)

Categories
Ministry

For What It’s Worth: Multi-Site Churches

A church can best reach a city when it “goes to the people” rather than expecting the people to come to it.  This means that a church in a metropolitan area should seek to multiply, not by building a bigger building, but by taking new ground for the kingdom through opening up new, smaller gathering places throughout the city.

There is biblical evidence for “multi-site” churches, as Gregg Allison writes about.  In addition to Allison’s blog, notice how Paul speaks to Titus: “This is why I left you in Crete [one church] so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders [plural] in every town [multi-site] as I directed you” (Titus 1:5). It seems that Titus was to serve as a sort of “theological overseer/shepherd” on the island of Crete. Consider, too, that Timothy was charged to lead the church in Ephesus through theological shepherding (1 Tim. 1:3).  Ephesus was one city and no doubt had many sites–which is made clear by Paul’s exhortation to Timothy to keep men from preaching unsound doctrine (1:3-7) and to appoint qualified leaders in Ephesus (3:1-7).

But there is the practical element of reaching as many people as possible that makes a difference as well. All truth is God’s truth, but not all truth is contained in Scripture (advanced physics isn’t in there, neither is English grammar). God has providentially given us wisdom, by his Spirit, and wisdom is always intensely practical.  Here are five practical benefits of multi-site churches:

  • More, smaller facilities are cost-effective (you can find cheaper, even foreclosed, space to buy and remodel).
  • Different “tribes” and “peoples” will be reached (because some people will refuse to drive to the ‘burbs and attend services at the nice, comfy, predominately white church).
  • More intimate fellowship between God’s people (and people will still recognize they are a part of a bigger body and movement, but they won’t get lost in the shuffle–their name and face matter).
  • Ability to focus on reaching particular neighborhoods (cities change when neighborhoods change, not the other way around).
  • Ability to gear non-essential, stylistic issues toward the culture of the neighborhood (e.g. music, etc; as opposed to causing a stink at the “building” where old fogies and young hotheads clash).

How can we reach people and transform a city if we just build bigger buildings? There can be more services, but will we really reach people from 20 miles away in the ghetto with our giant, suburban buildings? Probably not. If churches are to transform cities (as they were expected to do in the New Testament) then we must go to where the people are, and we must keep people on mission in their part of town.  That means if you live in the ghetto, you are on mission there.  If you live in the ‘burbs, it means you are on mission there. If you live in the urban center, you are on mission there. And if you live on the outskirts of town, then you are on mission there.

I realize this is not possible for all churches for a variety of reasons. But it should at least be on the radar and a future goal. If a church isn’t there yet, there should be, by God’s grace, a concerted effort to get there.

What are your thoughts about multi-site churches?

Categories
Life

America, Christians, Glenn Beck, and the Gospel

Russell Moore writes about Christianity and American politics on his blog.  The problem isn’t the politicians or entertainers (like Glenn Beck, who inspired this post) or their banter.  The problem is Christian churches in the United States and how they respond.  Here’s a taste of Moore’s article:

Too often, and for too long, American “Christianity” has been a political agenda in search of a gospel useful enough to accommodate it. There is a liberation theology of the Left, and there is also a liberation theology of the Right, and both are at heart mammon worship. The liberation theology of the Left often wants a Barabbas, to fight off the oppressors as though our ultimate problem were the reign of Rome and not the reign of death. The liberation theology of the Right wants a golden calf, to represent religion and to remind us of all the economic security we had in Egypt. Both want a Caesar or a Pharaoh, not a Messiah.

…Where there is no gospel, something else will fill the void: therapy, consumerism, racial or class resentment, utopian politics, crazy conspiracy theories of the left, crazy conspiracy theories of the right; anything will do. The prophet Isaiah warned us of such conspiracies replacing the Word of God centuries ago (Is. 8:12–20). As long as the Serpent’s voice is heard, “You shall not surely die,” the powers are comfortable.

This is, of course, not new. Our Lord Jesus faced this test when Satan took him to a high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the earth, and their glory. Satan did not mind surrendering his authority to Jesus. He didn’t mind a universe without pornography or Islam or abortion or nuclear weaponry. Satan did not mind Judeo-Christian values. He wasn’t worried about “revival” or “getting back to God.” What he opposes was the gospel of Christ crucified and resurrected for the sins of the world.

Read the whole thing.

(HT: Bryan Lilly)

Categories
Theology

The Church as the Ultimate Barrier Breaker

I often find myself forgetting that I am one individual member of an absolutely enormous body called the Church. Still more, I forget this Church is a Body that is incredibly diverse.  Spending 2009 in South Africa helped me in this, but I’m still learning to think outside of my own little kingdom.  This Body isn’t diverse just because it has hands and feet and ears.  It’s diverse because the hands are African and the ears are Latino and the feet are Asian, along with a thousand other races, people groups, and languages.

Wayne Grudem reminded me of this today in his Systematic Theology:

When Paul preaches the gospel both to Jews and to Gentiles, and they become unified in the one body of Christ (Eph. 3:6), the incredible “mystery” that was “hidden for ages in God who created all things” (Eph. 3:9) is plain for all to see, namely, that in Christ such totally diverse people become unified…If the Christian church is faithful to God’s wise plan, it will be always in the forefront in breaking down racial and social barriers in societies around the world, and will thus be a visible manifestation of God’s amazingly wise plan to bring great unity out of great diversity and thereby to cause all creation to honor him (emphasis added).

God is more glorified in redeeming a diverse people and bringing them to unity.  Yet God spares us from uniformity, unlike other religions.  That’s the great thing about the Church: oneness in the midst of difference.  And what is our unity centered upon?  None other than the Lord Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church.

I want to be more diligent in praying that the Church would be at the forefront of race reconciliation and social justice.  The world really is watching.

Related Post

Categories
Ministry

Church Tour Stop #1

Evangelical Free Church in America
Congregation Size: 250

As my friend Rylan and I walked into the theater where church met in downtown Lincoln on Sunday morning, not much was going on.  Is this church or nap time? Well, we were 35 minutes early.  Oops.  We were able to hang out and talk with the pastor for a few minutes before the 11 am service started.  He’s a large guy, an extrovert to be sure with quite the sense of humor, has a good memory, but he gets distracted easily.  It was good to talk to him about our upcoming trip to South Africa.  He was genuinely excited for us.

This church could have been mistaken for mini Mars Hill (Seattle).  It’s hip, young, cool, urban, and quite trendy.  We walked into a dark room.  I needed a flashlight to read my Bible during the sermon (I didn’t actually have one).  Candles lined the side of the stage near the speakers.  The communion table sat below the stage with a Celtic cross in the center, surrounded by crackers and grape juice cups.  Communion is informally offered each week.  The congregates can go up at any time during the singing as they please.  No offering was taken during the service.  There’s a box near the entrance of the theater where people can drop off their money.

We sat down in a old, grungy couch and I wanted to move because I’m kind of obsessive about germs.  We moved to a table with metal chairs — I felt a lot better after that.  The service started with six-member band that played “Jesus Lord of Heaven.”  That song lasted for about 10 minutes.  Their style had alternative and acoustic influences, with a little electronic/techno taste as well.  They rounded out their first set with “Right By My Side.”

After the announcements, the pastor came up for the sermon.  He mentioned a membership class during the announcements and said, “We don’t like membership here, but we know we have to do it.”  I don’t really know what he meant and I didn’t have a chance to ask him.  Perhaps I’ll email him and let you know his answer.

He wore a polo and jeans and sat on a bar stool the whole time.  He looked relaxed, though his speaking style was intense and his voice rather loud.  This week he was finishing a sermon series on the life of David.  He preached from 2 Samuel 11, about David and Bathsheba.  The comparison to Mars Hill stopped when he started preaching, however.  One thing that was particularly dissatisfying was the fact that Jesus wasn’t really talked about in the sermon to a great extent.  There was no mention of his atonement for our sin (which would have been particularly helpful with such a depressing chapter as 2 Samuel 11).  There was no invitation to come to Jesus after the sermon.  He talked a lot about God and being humble before God.  His main point of the message was that we need to “be willing to admit that you are unwilling to follow God.”  Even though David was a man after God’s heart, he proposed, he struggled like we do to truly, humbly follow God.  Still, after David was confronted by Nathan, he confessed and was willing to admit, the pastor proposed, that he was unwilling to follow God.

He used humor quite a bit during the sermon.  The best line being (about Bathsheba): “It’s not like Rosanne Barr [was] up there…Bathsheba’s not a B+, she was ‘very beautiful.'”  The sermon, however, was very serious in tone, which was good considering the topic, yet I was bothered by the lack of a focus on Jesus.  When we are caught in sin and convicted, it’s not enough to say, “I’m willing to admit I’m unwilling.”  We need to run to Jesus and the cross and confess and repent in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Perhaps that was implied, but we should never assume that everyone knows what what we are saying.  Non-Christians were most likely present, and even some Christians are confused as to what a sanctified life looks like.  It’s not moralism or legalism.  It’s Christ and Christ alone.

He prayed to end the sermon (he did not pray beforehand).  The band prayed quite a bit during their time on stage.  One thing of note: there seemed to be an inordinate amount of time placed on music compared to the sermon.  The service lasted for about one hour and 20 minutes.  The sermon was around 35 minutes long.  I’d say the band played music for 40-45 minutes total.

The service finished with a stirring musical set of “None Like You,” “All Creatures of Our God and King,” and “Take My Life and Let It Be.”  The music was not effeminate or emotionalistic.  That’s something I pay particular attention to and will make sure to examine at every church I visit.  Churches are very “chickified” (made for women and their children).  Men, particularly men 18-35, are not interested in going to a church that’s made for a 40-year-old women.  This church service didn’t seem to cater to women or men.

Overall, it was a good experience.  This wasn’t my first time visiting, but it was better than before (when I’ve visited without the Bible even being opened).  When you’re done reading this blog, take a minute to pray for this church, that Jesus would be the center.  Pray that culture wouldn’t be the driving force for this young, urban church, but that a love for Jesus would.  This church reaches culture and has great community within but seems to lack a strong hold on the gospel.  Therefore, we would call this is a liberal church.  Pray that gospel, culture, and community would gel together so that Christ would be glorified and people would come to know Jesus.