In the early 1970’s already the great Welsh preacher Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones, in an interview challenging the ‘rationality’ of the Church, declared that it was in fact ‘the world’ that had become ‘irrational’ and ‘gone completely mad.’ Over forty years later, would any serious disciple of Christ differ? Think of the present American and North Korean war-mongering, the Manchester terrorist bombing at a pop concert a few days ago, leaving scores seriously injured and twenty-two (mostly young people) dead, including an eight-year old girl. Think of our own country (South Africa) – many, even in our ruling party, now freely speak of ‘state capture,’ a ‘mafia state’ and a nation which has lost its moral compass. We bleed when we hear of yet another toddler raped, murdered and disposed of in a shallow grave. Violent protests over governmental non-service delivery as to basic housing, water, electricity, health-care and education have increased by 80% in the past year.
Also over forty years ago, renowned Christian apologist Dr. Francis Schaeffer of L’Abri fame published his thoughts on the rise and decline of Western thought and culture in a masterpiece, How Should We Then Live?’ That’s the question we posed recently at a Sunday morning house church gathering. Given a nation and world gone mad, a largely nominal Church paralysed by institutionalism, how should we then live?? We had great inter-action on the subject. We had also invited a good friend, Prof. Rob Snelgar, to introduce the topic, and with his blessing I share just a little of his input.
Rob took us to Psalm 11, written by David amid great national wickedness, aptly drawing our attention to v. 3-4, “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do? The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD is on his heavenly throne.”
- We need to think biblically rather than ideologically (i.e. according to a system of thought that justifies certain group-interests over against others). The biblical idea of crisis is captured in the Greek word kairos, i.e. a merciful, God-given opportunity in the face of judgment and disaster. South Africans had a kairos moment in 1994, we have one once more. At such a time as this we must choose truth over corruption, good over evil, and action over passivity. We were reminded of Hos. 10:12ff, “Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love… break up your unploughed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers righteousness on you.”
- We need to fix our eyes on Yahweh, the Creator-God of the nations, who is on his throne, still in charge of the universe. This means that we don’t panic, that we call out what is evil, face reality full-on (vs the modern Church’s gnostic, head-in-the-sand, ‘positive confession’ nonsense), and look up to see God on his throne and things from his perspective.
- We need to pray, not only re-actively for the downfall of evil but pro-actively in the pursuit of justice (v. 11). We must live our prayers daily, speaking up and standing up for the truth. As South Africans have been doing of late, we can pour into the streets and besiege parliament in the hundreds of thousands, NOT in the name of a political party but in the name of Christ and his justice and righteousness. The Koreans recently dethroned their corrupt president and so can we. To pray is to trust God and live in peace. If we pray for principled leadership and good government as commanded in 1 Tim. 2:1ff, God will give those to us.
- We need to re-discover God’s Word. Rob mentioned Josiah, King of Judah, who reigned from c. 639-609 BC. He became king at eight, sought God at fifteen and cleansed the temple in his twenties. In the process he found the dusty volume of the law of God, long missing and forgotten. Note the law was lost in ‘the house of God.’ When that happens today, there is no clear message nor divine authority. We have in fact lost God (Jesus) in the ‘temple!’ We have ‘domesticated God,’ diluted his Word and made him our servant and that of our culture. [Noting King Josiah’s actions, I couldn’t help thinking of William Wilberforce. At age fourteen he wrote to a York newspaper about the evils of slave trade. Encouraged by John Newton and others, he gave his life to lobbying the upper class and parliament until the slave trade was abolished. Among other things, he helped found the British & Foreign Bible Society and the CMS]
- The Church needs to obey God’s Word, bringing people together as a multi-cultural, multi-lingual group of people in order to reconcile and unite. [here Erroll notes Paul’s great reconciliation mandate in 2 Cor. 5:11ff, a reconciliation both vertical and horizontal through the cross of Christ]
We concluded the morning with a reference to the prophecy of Micah, 6:6-8, c. 700’s BC. Israel is the defendant, accused of exploiting the under-privileged and the poor, imagining that God would protect Jerusalem irrespective of her social conduct. God is the prosecutor and judge, judging his people in the light of their gracious redemption-history from the exodus to the present: “With what shall I come before the LORD & bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? … he has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly before your God.” He requires that his people walk in the ‘good way:’ by way of righteous actions, merciful treatment of others and a humble relationship with God. God calls not so much for ‘gifts’ as the giver, in the the totality of who we are. This involves three life-areas: (1) our standards of conduct [note the almost total disconnect today between believers’ profession and conduct]; (2) our personal relationships; (3) our innermost spiritual life. God requires these three things in balance. How do we, and our faith community, measure up to these requirements? Recently an estimated one million believers (!!) converged on a Free State farm to repent before God and pray for divine intervention in our nation. One has to commend such an action – however, unless professions made at that remarkable event are not translated into changed hearts and lives on a daily basis, our nation will continue as it is. I love the writings and ministries of Shane Claiborn who recently challenged American Christians, ‘Let’s get our hands dirty… doing something good together… something concrete to help somebody.’ When we get involved with the poor and the outcasts of society, abundant opportunities and blessings will open up for those who dare!
Last but not least, lest we default once again to eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (‘the gospel of trying harder’) rather than the Tree of Life, let’s look to Jesus alone. Let’s abide in Jesus as he abides in us. Let’s live in the power of the new covenant (Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8:7-13; Jn. 15:1-17) which changes us inwardly. We desperately need today, in the Church of Jesus Christ, a fundamental return to Jesus as revealed in the Bible.
So, as the old hymn, so beloved by Martyn Lloyd-Jones, puts it,
‘Stand up, stand up for Jesus!
Stand in his strength alone;
The arm of flesh will fail you
Ye dare not trust your own.
Put on the Gospel armour,
Each piece put on with prayer;
Where duty calls or danger,
Be never wanting there!’
(George Duffield, 1818-1888)