The Future of Christianity - RR168A2
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I do recall vividly that episode in Atlanta. The first time to Atlanta they had an ice storm and it was impossible to get around. The second time, of course, the flood. The third time the water pipes in my hotel room broke and left a couple inches of water on the floor. So, any trip to Atlanta seems to be eventful for me. Speaking immediately after lunch, of course, is not my idea of an ideal situation. One feels more like a siesta or at least stretching out and relaxing for a few minutes. So, I will understand if you feel a bit sleepy and get drowsy. I won’t like it but I will understand. Of course, this isn’t as bad as one southern pastor, an older man, told me, oh; it must be twenty-twenty-years ago now. He said, “I have the finest congregation in all the state. They are marvelous people. But, I do believe the devil gets into our women’s group every time they have a dinner and I am about to speak because they serve me corn on the cob and ham. And he said, “Have you ever tried to get up to speak with your teeth full of ham?”
My subject this afternoon is the future of Christianity. Christianity is alive and well. It has receded over the generations into a body that no longer affects life. They just come together to worship and to go out as though hearing the Word of God isn’t a summons to go out and conquer, to change the world around us. But there are those who hear the marching orders. Otto Scott and I, two or three months ago, went to Mexico. I was surprised at the invitation. I had met the pastor but I went there. I was told there I was a grandfather of that particular work. I was amazed at what I saw. There was a pastor in love with the slum area of a city of a million. The slum areas in Mexico are up in the hills; the view lots. But, they are the slum areas because there is no water there. The wealthy live downtown. You walk in order to get your water and haul it up steep hills. This hill now, finally, had some water but only during the winter months. Then, during the dry season there is not enough water pressure to get up there. Some of the homes in the area were made of cardboard and because they had extremes of hot and cold there, elevation of 4,500 feet, many people would routinely freeze to death during the winter. [00:04:17]
But, here was a congregation...
But, here was a congregation; its pastor Jose Lopez had a vision of the faith and the meaning of Christian Reconstruction. They had started a medical center at the church. When we were there they had just finished building a very lovely building for it, to take care of mother’s after delivery and dental patients and so on. Up until then a dental patient stretched out on a school bench and the dentist worked on him. They had a school of eighty children; forty boys, forty girls, grades one through six, orphans. They can house forty more as soon as they get the money for it; $360 a year for each. Those children take care of themselves; their clothing, their rooms and everything and you would think, they are so neat and mannerly, that they came from the best families. They also work because in the basement of the school they have a piñata factory. This year they will manufacture 24,000. Next year they hope to triple that number. They also have an ironworks factory. They make, well, the bunk beds the children sleep in, grill work for gates, bars for the windows which are routine there in Mexico. They are going to start a machine shop and train auto mechanics. They bought land to start some farming. There are a number of areas of manufacturing they are going into and one they are in already is rubber reclamation, taking old tires and reclaiming them. They are working the neighborhood and they have built houses for some of their converts. There is not an area of life this little congregation is not meeting. They are taking Christian Reconstruction very seriously. The pastor said that one of the most discouraging things he encountered was the hostility of so many pastors who felt that anyone who was Bible believing should confine himself to soul saving. But he sees them starving. He sees them freezing to death and he wants to minister to the total life of man. This kind of thing is happening. It tells us that Christianity is alive and well. There could be no doubt as to the future and the total triumph of Christianity. We are told, for example, in Isaiah 11:9, “They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountains for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” That is a vision of total victory. Again, in Habakkuk 2:14, “For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” [00:08:49]
The Lord’s kingdom shall come and His will shall be...
The Lord’s kingdom shall come and His will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven. Of this there can be no doubt for a Christian. The pertinent question for us is somewhat different, “What will be the place of American Christianity in the immediate future? Many, many great centers of Christian faith have come and gone. At one time the near east was the cradle and the center, then Egypt, North Africa, then Ireland, then other areas of Europe, now the United States and tomorrow? Who knows? Too often men and nations have seen themselves as central to God’s purpose only to be shelved or destroyed because God was not central to their plans and goals. We have no assurance that Europe and the United States will not become the Egypt’s of tomorrow. A people’s self-estimate is not God’s estimation. As things stand now a major attack on orthodox Christianity is underway in the United States, in the films and in other media, in novels, in the state schools and in the courts. This is not publicized. Our enemy does not tell us, “I am going to destroy you.” He proceeds to do it. Separation of church and state is coming to mean no freedom of Christian expression and no civil liberties for Christianity and its institutions. We should be grateful when evil and sinning man in the pulpit or in television evangelism are prosecuted but it is curious that with far greater scandals in their midst politicians are only prosecuted when a particular vendetta is under way and to a limited degree. Did Jim Wright go to jail or any of the many others? Persecution is a revelatory fact. First, it tells us that because Christian’s are again becoming relevant and effectual in national affairs and life they are seen as a threat. The first few Christian schools and homeschools of the 1950’s and 1960’s were regarded indulgently most of the time by state authorities. They were seen as curious relics of past creeds. By the 1970’s these schools had become a threat. By the mid 1980’s they commanded thirty-five percent of the school population K-12 and hence the increased hostility. [00:12:49]
Persecution is evidence of relevance, revival and that...
Persecution is evidence of relevance, revival and that we are effectual. Second, persecution is a test of faith. Every faith will be tested. Is it ephemeral or is it deeply rooted? Will men be ready to pay a costly price for their faith? The idea of free salvation is sometimes given a false slant. Our salvation cost our Lord the agony of the cross and a grim death. It costs us the price of the world’s hostility and hatred, often loss, sometimes death. We cannot hold the faith lightly. God and the world both put our faith to the test. We associate purity something newly born or freshly made, cellophane wrapped as it were. For as the Bible connects purity with age and with being refined by fire, Isaiah tells us that God chooses us in the furnace of affliction. Thus to be called and to be chosen by God is not an election to “flowery beds of ease” but to affliction and persecution as the saints from Paul’s day to the present can testify. “Am I a soldier of the cross” has the reference to flowery beds of ease. When you go home take down the hymnal and read that hymn through. You will understand its meaning, its perception of fiery testing as inevitable for the faith. [00:15:28]
This is an interesting thing that although it was written...
This is an interesting thing that although it was written in England the Scots loved it, after all the older Scottish character, the present day Scot is somewhat different, had a love of testing. They had a saying that ‘A man needs salt in his porridge not sugar’. And, the ultimate sin was luxury, putting both butter and jam on your bread. You did not indulge yourself that way. I threw that in because my wife is of a Scottish background and she still has those attributes. Peter tells us,” Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which will try you as though some strange thing happened unto you but rejoice as in much as you are partakers of Christ’s sufferings that when His glory is revealed you may be glad also with exceeding joy.” Our testing may not be of an extreme nature but every faith shall be tested. The day of minimal faith and practice is over. Salvation only Christianity or churchianity has no future because it views Jesus Christ as a great fire and life insurance sales man and not as Lord. Every area of life and thought must be brought into captivity to Jesus Christ. If I may digress for a moment but about two or three years ago I was on a plane flight and this woman of about forty got on the plane at the last minute. There were two vacancies and she was obviously such a cross patch and so picky with regard to the stewardesses and their help that I said to myself, “I hope she isn’t taking this seat.” I busied myself with my book because I always I always read on planes until it came time for lunch and then she proceeded to talk to me. And she identified herself immediately as a Christian and I groaned inwardly because she was not a good advertisement for Christianity. She was always calling the stewardess for something; it was too drafty, it was too warm or something. I said, “I too am a Christian.” But I said, “I suspect we have differences theologically.” She was on the staff of one of the most prominent and financially most secure organizations of the United States, one that has raised as much as fifteen plus million in a year. And she proceeded to talk about salvation and I said, “Salvation is the beginning of the Christian life, not the goal. When we are saved we are to apply our faith in serve to the Lord, to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness”. And I said, “You cannot treat Jesus Christ as the great fire and life insurance agent.” And she beamed immediately. She said, “That is the most beautiful description I have ever heard of our Lord.” I said, “I am trying to tell you that He is MORE than a fire and life insurance agent. He is not just selling you a policy, He is the Lord.” I went into the explanation of what that meant. As soon as she, she was silent then, and as soon as her tray was taken she moved to the other seat. [00:20:23]
Christianity only has succeeded, humanly speaking,...
Christianity only has succeeded, humanly speaking, because its believers felt that faithfulness to the Lord was mandatory. While compromisers were not lacking in the early church, and they had their share of them, the triumph of the faith was made possible by the very many who refused on any ground to renounce the faith. Aspects of their persecution as recorded by Eul Heart tell us of the sacrifices on which our faith and freedom rest; citing just one short passage from Eul Heart. “Christian virgins were condemned to be taken to the public brothels to be abandoned there to the most horrible abuse. The heathen knew how highly the Christians esteemed chastity and that to them its loss was worse than death. And yet when the Christian virgin(Subeena?) in Smyrna was appraised of this sentence she replied, “Whatever God wills.” That was the heroist of martyrdom. That was to conquer all through Christ for the victory was sure and of it could the apostle say, even before the conflict had begun, “Our faith is the victory which has overcome the world.” End of quote. [00:22:15]
I am not asking anyone to prepare for martyrdom...
I am not asking anyone to prepare for martyrdom. It is a possibility but our victory in Christ is a certainty and we must prepare for victory. We begin by knowing the Word of God and applying it to every sphere of life and thought. An early test of our faith is what we do with our money and here most churchmen fail badly. They do not tithe. The tithe must go to the Lord’s work, the Lord’s work of every kind not simply to the church. I think it is revelatory of the Christianity of our day that while some of my books have gone through printing after printing, tens of thousands in a few instances, Tithing and Dominion, published in 1979, is as of 1989 still not sold out from its first printing. When you talk about money you lose the interest of Christians. As a matter of fact one of the first copies purchased was given to an internationally prominent evangelist, one of the three or four best known, and he was immediately enthusiastic and ordered twenty copies for all his staff and associates. And he tried speaking about it and found it was such a wet blanket on the audience that he not only dropped the subject but asked to be dropped from our mailing list. He was afraid that he may pick up something more and wipe out his ministry. I do not believe that in God’s sight pious gush is the substitute for tithing and tithing is God’s tax. A gift to the Lord is above and over the tithe. With the economic problems confronting us in the years ahead nontithing Christianity has a very poor future. We will get in the future what we work for, pay for, and believe in. Almost every Christian ministry in the country now is having a financial problem. It is a test of faith. Debt ridden Christians are poor soldiers for Christ. Ancient Babylon and Assyria had an easy system of conquest. Long before their armies ever marched their state governed, state supported merchants went out to the nation to offer luxurious goods on easy credit terms. [00:25:52]
They knew that a debt ridden people are not free nor...
They knew that a debt ridden people are not free nor morally and mentally capable of strong resistance. We are plainly told in Proverbs 22:7,”A borrower is servant (or slave) to the lender.” If Christians do no more than tithe and get out of debt their power in society will be enormous. Think of what is coming ahead. The possible economic disasters we may be facing. And then realize how deeply in debt most Christians are. Before WW2 long term debt was not common place. It was rare. In most of the country including the south if you borrowed money from a bank it was on a five year note to conform to the Biblical standard of no debts for beyond six years. Now, church members are very heavily in debt. At one time and during most of the churches history Christians provided the health, education and welfare ministries in Christendom. The state provided the courts and the arms. Hospitals, schools and charities, universities and much, much more are of Christian origin. [00:27:58]
We have abandoned these spheres although some reclamation...
We have abandoned these spheres although some reclamation is now under way. How seriously the Christians once took their faith I realized, and I could give you other statistics of this sort. If I was at home I could pull the figures off my desk. But, in St. John Chrysostom’s Diocese there were one hundred thousand Christians. This was in Constantinople. They supported fifty thousand widows and orphans and sickly people and needy people. That is staggering; a hundred thousand supporting fifty thousand. They obviously meant business where their faith was concerned and in one of his sermons Chrysostom warned the people. He said, “Because you are doing this through all the groups you have created through your giving don’t think the Lord will excuse you if you pass up a needy person when you see him. It doesn’t absolve you of your personal day by day responsibilities.” It was a different kind of church was it not? [00:29:32]
For that kind of thing to exist religion is a total...
For that kind of thing to exist religion is a total force, a total faith. It either governs every sphere of life or provides the activity and all or it perishes. Of no religion has this been more true than Christianity. Other religions are incidental. They are under the state. They are confined to a temple and certain practices but not so our faith. Scripture provides the laws and premises for every sphere of life; for health, education, weights and measures, charity, church, state, school, family and much, much more. By reducing the scope of our faith to the inner life and a little more the church has also reduced the relevance and application of the whole Word of God. Salvation begins with us and it continues through us to the total dominion of Jesus Christ over all things without exception. [00:30:48]
Before the Reformation became possible a change was...
Before the Reformation became possible a change was taking place with respect to the faith. Instead of a withdrawal from the world it became more and more concerned with the active application of the faith. The Reformation began a few centuries before it burst into the open. T.S.R. Boase has called attention to the evidence of this change that was taking place. In a work of a sculptor of the tomb of an unknown knight in England, and I quote, “By the end of the 13th century the unknown knight furiously scowling draws his sword from its sheath while his limbs twist in agitation as though struggling to arise from the ground on which he lies. It is a marvelous design. Curiously modern in its contrast of solid and void, it is also a perpetuation of the active life not an aspiration towards divine peace.” Unquote [00:32:17]
This sculptor tells us what is happening...
This sculptor tells us what is happening. Life was conceived of as a battle in which we had to be active. So, even in this sculptor of this dying knight he is trying to pull out his sword to continue the battle. It was this shift, this shift in emphasis, that the life of active faith which governed John Calvin’s return to Geneva from exile in Strasburg. In May 13, 1540, in a letter, Calvin said that the very thought of returning to Geneva made him tremble knowing the opposition and the hostility. The textbooks which picture Calving as a dictator of Geneva are telling lies. They did not even give him a vote. They didn’t make him a citizen until they knew he was dying. When he went out in the street they would sic there dogs after him. Night after night they would come and shot guns under his window to deprive him of rest. Nobody did anything about that. The idea that he was the dictator of Geneva is nonsense. He was a moral force, the godly force in Geneva and was hated for it. Calvin returned to Geneva not because he wanted to but only because Farel told him that if he did not he would be fighting against the Lord. Not the life of a removed scholar but a front line fighting scholar was God’s will for Calvin and he realized it. [00:34:37]
We have journeyed in the other direction since then...
We have journeyed in the other direction since then. As one of my Chalcedon associates remarked after his conversion he began attending churches, reformed churches, only to be amazed and bewildered at the abstractness of the preaching. The sermons could have been delivered in any remote century with equal ease. They made no reference to the problems of a fallen world outside the church doors. This abstractness is a luxury the church cannot afford less now than before. We need to be telling the world, as I said this morning, that all their efforts to destroy the drug curse are futile when done on humanistic grounds and they are wasting their money and ours. In a letter to the faithful in France in 1559 Calvin wrote, “God must win.” As John (Cadiae?) said in his study of Calvin, “God’s sovereignty over every moment of life is clearly opposed to the secularization which is the hallmark of our times. Little by little the whole of our existence has been split off from its deepest roots in God. Religion appears now as a private affair unconnected with public life but it is precisely this secularization that must force the world, force the Christian of our time, to reaffirm the glory of God in a world which fails to recognize Him.” Unquote [00:36:50]
One of the writing projects that I have in mind is...
One of the writing projects that I have in mind is to do, whether it’s a brief one or long at this point, a study of what Calvin wrote on the Lord’s Table. Because, I believe that we do not celebrate the table properly, nor as Calvinists, because Calvin broke both with Rome and with Lutheran at this point. What had developed was a view of the Lord’s Table as a kind of a mystical act in which God and the individual were so united and you enjoyed the bliss of your salvation. But Calvin saw it differently. He saw it as marching orders. He saw it as man being lifted up to be able to go out and do battle; to go out and apply the faith. Calvin wrote much about the office of the deacon, of the ministry to the world, not translated although a book has been written describing what he has to say. He saw the Lord’s Table as important in the Christian victory, the Christian march, to the Christian movement to action. We have a relic of it in the deacons offering after communion, but it is only a relic. We are not told what is being done, what needs to be done, what challenges there are, what the vision of the Christian communion is. “Freely you have received, freely give.” It’s the point where we receive and rejoice in our receiving and go out to give. [00:39:13]
Calvin’s doctrine of the Lord’s Table was unique...
Calvin’s doctrine of the Lord’s Table was unique. Even a contemporary historian has acknowledged how dramatically different it was from all others but you wouldn’t know it to read our reformed thinkers. The secularization of society, the divorce of one sphere of life after another from the Triune God is not merely a fact of the world around us. It marks also the life of the church and its members. Christianity cannot be limited to the church nor to our private personal behavior. Both the humanists who want to block us from having any influence in the world as well as too many churchmen tell us Christianity is a very private thing. John Lofton of our staff two, three years ago during the Reagan administration had a run in with a couple of top ranking White House staffers because he applied Scripture to certain things that were going on and they both told him, they knew him well, it was not appropriate for him to use the Bible and to apply it like that. And John said, “Because I am a Christian I must apply my faith to everything including the White House.” And the answer of both of them was, “Well, I am a Born Again Christian and my faith is a very personal, a very private thing.” And John said, “Well, that is interesting. You are right that it is very private because I have known you for a very long time and I never would have guessed it. And I am wondering at this point if the Lord knows it.” They were not pleased with what he said. Our faith must command the whole world because it’s Lord is He by whom all things were made and to whom all things are accountable. I have made reference to the fact that the persecution that is occurring now is precisely because we are ineffectual, because we are afraid. The last thing the humanists want to see is an effectual Christianity. They are ready to honor a few prominent evangelicals and with good reason. Their faith never causes any problems, they make no waves. When you start making waves for them by making the faith effectual then you will incur their hatred, their hostility, their venomous comments and references. But of course, that is inevitable. They know there is a battle on. Isn’t it time we did also? Thank you [00:43:29]