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The Tasteless White of an Egg
Once More Church and Culture
“Can that which is unsavoury be eaten without salt? or is there any taste in the white of an egg?” ~Job
If the rod is for the back of fools, we shouldn't be surprised that we are taking a beating. This regnant folly has plunged the whole of civilization into chaos. In our rush to abdicate all responsibility, we have unwittingly turned over the rule of the insane asylum to the inmates. And we haven’t just given them the keys—we’ve given them our guns.
This type of cultural chaos was foreseeable but only to those who know the value of looking behind them. We got here because this is where this road has taken us. It was well marked. The signs were clear. But we are men. We hate asking for directions.
Chaos feeds on fear and breathes out despair. Our culture is now haunted by epistemological despair, a despair which cannot be buried, shouted down, turned aside, waved on, or simply ignored. It’s always there, even when we may prefer to deny it. We don’t know why we are here, where we are supposed to go, or how to act while on our way. But in the meantime, our schools teach third graders how to use contraceptives. Countless fathers desert their wives and children. Pastors dishonor their calling through their rampant adulteries. Thieving representatives of a thieving people plunder the widow. The drunkards of Ephraim vomit on the table. The approaching night is not the kind that can just be danced away.
Why? This has happened because, over the last century and a half, the Church has allowed herself to be corrupted by the various forms of unbelieving -isms which surround her—egalitarianism, feminism, Marxism, environmentalism, you-name-it-ism. The contemporary Church consequently has no answers for those questioning, no light for those stumbling, and no life for those who are dying. The Church, which God ordained as the pillar and ground of the truth, now finds herself echoing that ancient relativistic aside of Pilate—quod veritas? What is truth?
In a world of pagan despair, the epistemological corruptions and compromises of the Church have blurred and distorted the clarity of the biblical message. And as circumstances continue to deteriorate, the silent presence of a bystanding, impotent Church has merely added to the weight and burden of our cultural despair.
To the extent that the symptoms of our disease are undeniable, the world does offer some suggestions. A common method solves the problem by admitting that it exists, but it’s not that serious. As soon as the fat-cat prophets see that God’s people are on the verge of a deep and real repentance, they will not be long in coming forward. And when they come forward they will heal the hurt of the people slightly; they will speak peace when there is no peace. They will do nothing more than take a damp washcloth and dab around the edges of our gangrenous wounds with a lot of “there, there’s” and “now, now’s”. But there will be no peace. Until we see that God is true, and that we have been lying to ourselves, we will not have any peace worthy of the name.
Christians must obediently and humbly return to the triune God of Scripture. We must return to the fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of all true wisdom and the end to our folly. This must be our epistemology, our apologetic, our hermeneutic—thorough-going obedience to the will of God through Christ in the fear of God. This, and only this, will enable us to become like the men of Isaachar, who understood the times and knew what Israel should do.
By the grace of the Lord, we must resolve to be faithful to every word that proceeds from the mouth of God, from the first “in” of Genesis to the last “amen” of Revelation. We must not be embarrassed by any passage of Scripture. And once we have submissively ascertained its meaning through careful study, we must seek to put it into practice the day before yesterday.
No Tables for One!
The reformation of the Church begins with individuals. It will be as individuals that we appear before the bar of God to be gathered with the sheep or scattered with the goats. Individuals will give an account for all their idle words, lustful and covetous thoughts, squandered talents that turned no profit, and now vain excuses. Individuals will enter into blessedness or banishment all by ones. There won’t be any shirttails to cling to on that day.
All who name the name of Christ must therefore depart from all forms of wickedness, especially the secret sin which has been hidden from every eye but God’s. Individual Christians must repent of the sin of autonomous individualism, the belief that our lives and thoughts are our own property and that our relationships with others are simply a matter of our own voluntary arrangements. As the Lord liveth, they are not. We have been bought with a price; we are not our own. Having been redeemed by Christ, we have been placed by God under various corporate authorities to obey Him through faithful service according to the law He has established for the governance of these institutions.
These institutions (familial, civil, and ecclesiastical) rise and fall together. Lately, just fall together. The Church is, simultaneously, prow, rudder, engine and anchor. The only way to stay out of the reefs and off the rocks is to have the nose of the Ship pointed in the right direction. The best way to keep bodies out of the reefs and off the rocks is to keep them out of the water. Knowing that some might miss the metaphor, let me take it a step farther. The Ship might be manned by brigands and pirates but there are sharks in the water. We don’t think it wise to jump overboard.
The Main Course
The first duty of all Christian churches is to proclaim the gospel clearly. All of it. And the gospel is much broader than we think. It must be in order to accomplish everything that it is going to accomplish. It is not just about individual salvation. It’s about the redemption of the world. The whole world. The gospel is the glorious announcement that Israel’s God has at last returned to Zion (Isa 40:9) in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, who has been declared with power to be Israel’s true King and the world’s true Lord and Judge (Rom 1:1-6); that this Man is great David’s Greater Son, and has now been exalted to sit on David’s throne (1 Tim 2:8); that therefore the creation which was once ruled by a rebellious man of sin and dust and death is now ruled by a perfect Man of righteousness and glory and life (Gen 1-3; Rom 5; 8; 1 Cor 15); and that this Man commands all people and all nations to bow before him and receive from him forgiveness of their sins, adoption into God’s family, empowering by the Holy Spirit, and a renewed vocation to bring every aspect of their lives into conformity with God’s inspired and infallible word, the Bible. The gospel of Jesus is a “Kingdom” gospel. When we hear the word “gospel” we should think every bit as much about the reign of Christ as we do the redemption of Christ.
But this in no way diminishes the necessity of individual salvation. Man by nature is a deserving object of God’s wrath, utterly without hope of saving himself. Dead in his filthiness, he is without God and without hope in the world. But before all worlds, God the Father selected by name a people for His name, the number of whom cannot be increased, diminished or counted by man. When the appointed time of their redemption came, God the Son took on human flesh and was born of a woman. According to the determinate counsel of God, the eternal Word of God died on a tree as a perfect efficacious substitute for His people, those whom the Father had given Him. As this message progresses throughout the world, God the Spirit comes upon men and women selected for salvation and in a wonderful and effectual way, regenerates them; those whom God has ordained to eternal life believe. This being the case, what shall we say then to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? If we were to stumble and fall, underneath are the everlasting arms. This too is the gospel. We need to herald a full-orbed gospel. We need have no fear of preaching any facet of this message. We need only to tremble for having neglected it for so long.
As the Church returns to a clear understanding of the gospel message, other important reformations will follow. We may even call these “transformations.” Our chief concern is the reformation of the Church, not the transformation of nations and cultures. But chief’s have indians. If the Church were to be reformed, it would have a dramatic impact on the surrounding nations and cultures.
So reformation is the task before us. Ah yes, I see that hand. Of course, evangelism is very important. The Christian faith calls us to nothing short of world conquest. This means that we have to take seriously the task of world evangelism. And taking it seriously often means that we have to cool our jets and stop carpet-bombing Baghdad with Chick Tracts. We can only export what we have on hand. Allegiance to King Jesus requires checking all imports and refusing all counterfeit goods. Before we compass land and sea to make one proselyte, we need to make sure that what we are sending out is actually the gospel and not our own sins and follies. The objective is to make disciples, not two-fold children of hell.
This is also why we can’t just all love Jesus, whoever He is, and provide folks who wander in with a hot latte in a cozy little ecclesial safe-space. First, because this is pragmatism. Second, because pragmatism can be readily condemned out of its own mouth. Pragmatism doesn’t work. We must recover the teaching of Scripture, know it to be the teaching of Scripture, and let our methods be shaped by it.
But none of this can be powered by the arm of the flesh alone. We need God to breathe on the desert bones as we prophesy to them. Preaching to the dead only gets you so far. Ezekiel’s bones came together and made noise but they were still very dead. Apparently, being assembled isn't the same as being alive. Without the power of the Spirit of God, our sanctuaries are just mortuaries.
Many Christians are praying for revival, but we also need to be careful how we pray. The Church today is a lightweight operation, like a stack of dried twigs, soaked in lighter fluid. The consuming fire of the Holy Spirit would not burn for long and certainly wouldn't leave much behind. This is why we pray and labor toward a doctrinal reformation that will cut and split a lot of hardwood—green logs that burn for a long time.
Needs more salt…
While a lost world has been wandering blindly in the arrogance of sin, we have taken our ease in Zion, seeking our own pleasure and comfort, rather than seeking first the kingdom of God. And those Christians who have been “activists'' have largely done so in ignorance. They have been trying to slay the Dragon, armed only with slingshots and trashcan lids. The only thing that has eclipsed our folly has been our failure. We must confess our impotence.
Jesus warned us about these dangers. “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt has lost its savor, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under the the feet of men: (Mt. 5:13). Here we are; bland, “good for nothing,” with bootprints on our foreheads. We are the Church trampled instead of the Church triumphant. We have no potency and we defend ourselves by attacking the corruption. When salt loses its savor, it does no good for the salt to start blaming the meat.
We must repent of our saltless ways. We have been the bland leading the bland. Perishables need preservatives. Society needs salt. Culture needs Christ. The Church has been given what the world needs. All of the salt has just settled at the bottom. Thankfully, God is in the habit of shaking things up (Heb. 12:26).
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