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I have been working through Galatians with my congregation where the Apostle Paul calls Christians and churches back to the Gospel of Jesus. The Gospel Paul describes is the one they received from him. We find this Gospel in great detail in Romans, where Paul writes to an unfamiliar audience, and offers them the message that he had shared throughout Macedonia, Asia Minor, and northern Israel. In short his Gospel moves us from the wrath of God chs. 1-3 to the glory of spiritual adoption into a glorious relationship with God and the glorious inheritance with Jesus Christ ch. 8. This Gospel is the “power of salvation to all who believe.” 1.16 Believers by faith receive righteousness and gain peace with God. The righteousness of Jesus Christ becomes a dynamic power in the life of the Christian, who no longer serves sin but is raised into a new life, 6.4 no longer mastered by sin but becomes the servant of God and righteousness 6.13. That power described as life in the Spirit gives the believer power to mortify the work of the flesh 8.13. This Gospel stands uniquely powerful in regard to transforming a worldly sinner into “the children of God.”8.14 But the “foolish Galatians” were being “bewitched” into deserting the Gospel of Christ for the weakness of life under the Law. Galatians 1:8-9 warns that anyone who introduces an amended Gospel should be cut off from God – “Anathema”. Some troublemakers among The Galatians attempted to move believers from the Gospel of faith to the Law. Paul argues that the Gospel remains superior in that by faith one is crucified with Christ and takes up a new life in Christ Gal 2.20. Again he argues that the life in the Spirit came through faith in Jesus and not by observing the Law Gal 3.2. So the Gospel transforms the believer through a Spiritual life in Christ, which the Law could never accomplish. His complaint to them stated, “After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal (become righteous) by human effort?” 3.3
The Law was a divine instrument used for a time to train people in regard to God’s holiness and human sin. But the Law could not bring about righteousness. The best that one could do under the Law was to continuously apologize repentantly for sin. Thus the Law had built into it a continual offering of sacrifices. In contrast the Gospel offers life in the Spirit. The Spirit confers God’s graciously offered qualities, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.., and create the possibility of God pleasing conduct. For Paul asserts that, “against such things there is no law.” 5.22-23 His point, the Gospel alone creates righteousness in the believer, and not even a divinely established set of rules will create anything that comes close to what God established in the Gospel. O those foolish Galatians! Why did they even think about turning away from the great salvation that God provides through Jesus!
O you foolish Evangelicals, who has bewitched you? My concern for the Evangelical Church coincides with Paul’s writing to Galatia. His concern that Christians were abandoning the basic principle of faith for appeasing Jews who loved the Law. My concern that Evangelicals bow to the principles of psychology because our culture embraces them. I will not exhaust my concerns regarding the incongruity between the Gospel and Freudian, Rodgerian, or other psychological disciplines which deny the presence of sin, and encourage an embracing of deviant behaviors as “normal” or “good”. Or that the practice of dredging up the past to deal with the present stands in stark contrast to Biblical principles. In this article I wish to take exception with the use of the 12 step programs, which too many have baptized and claimed to be Christian. First, the 12 steps were spawned from the mind of men, Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, and not from God.
Done without dependence upon Scripture these steps sprang from a human desire for transforming addicts. The steps create a never ending cycle of inventory confession and repentance with step 10. For the Biblical scholar this repeats the example of the Law, where adherents constantly laid a dead foundation of repentance. The redundant repentance could not please God because it served only to establish that the relationship between the penitent and God remained broken. Even if this strategy were effective in helping an addict to “overcome addiction” they still remain separate from God. I know of cases where a person stops drinking and by this assumes that the work is done. But sin runs deep, and there is no substitute of actual righteousness before God. No righteousness may be established apart from the penitent believing in Jesus’ power to release one from the power of sin, Satan, and death. The 12 steps do not do this! I know that Christians have tried to squeeze the steps into the Gospel or squeeze the Gospel into the steps – but it does not fit. The steps never allow one to proclaim, I am “raised with Christ into a new life” (Ro.6.4), I now “offer my members to serve righteousness” (Ro. 6.13), or “I am a new creature in Christ – the old person is dead” (cf. 2Co 5.17. Gal 6.15, Ep 4.24, Col 3.10). Like the Law the steps fall short of the Gospel’s power to transform. But the modern Evangelical remains enamored by the prospect of expanding our ministries to include every kind of 12 step support group. And this without thinking that these steps teach a righteousness that better fits the Law than the Gospel. The Law cannot save the Gospel alone saves.
I Work in the inner city of Detroit where we share the Gospel at every opportunity. We use the Scripture as our foundation to address all types of human problems, including the sin of addiction. I bear witness to the effectiveness of the Gospel and the lack of effectiveness of the steps. I am not ashamed to stand up for what God created and established as the only means for creating righteousness – faith in the cross of Jesus our Lord and Savior. Through over 20 years in Detroit, sharing the Gospel with thousands of people buried under many sins, I am confident that the Gospel alone is sufficient to heal sin. Several men and women have called upon the name of Jesus and found in Him the power to be made new in Christ – freedom from addiction. They no longer testify, “I am an addict.” Their confession is, “Jesus Christ has made me a new person, I now serve Him.” The transformation is not always a clear cut change from one day to the next but it is a transformation. They stand in the strength of Jesus able to withstand temptation, and overcome their old ways, because they live in the Spirit. Many of them take turns mocking the 12 step groups where they witness the weakness of the steps, and sometimes the outlandish foolishness of it. Those who know the power of Jesus to deliver from even the deepest seeded sin would never go back to weakness of the Law.
In Galatians Paul reminds his listeners that Peter was swept up in the error of demonstrating a hypocritical adherence to the Law in order to maintain favor with the Jewish community. No way do we believe that Peter would ever intentionally supplant his devotion to Jesus and His Cross. But Paul stood up to him and showed him his error. If an Apostle who loved the Lord could stray into error, why should we think we are immune? And if we thoughtlessly compromise the Gospel for the cause of getting along with the secular society, where does this leave us? Would Paul stand us up and show us our error? Would he write us saying, “Who has bewitched you?”
I am part of the E.P.C. Thirty some years ago before college, before seminary, at a small house church where I became a Christian, there were certain things that were apparent to my untrained theological mind. One of the most apparent being that Jesus wants His church to share the Gospel. Back at that time guided only by my reading of Scripture, I knew that evangelism remained an imperative for His people. I had not heard the term “Evangelical” but when first I heard that term – I thought it defined me as a Christian. To be one who tells everyone who Jesus is, how He came and lived a perfect life and became a perfect sacrifice for sin. So that those who believe in Him may receive authority to become the children of God, born by God’s will. Yes, Evangelical, that defines me well.
Lately, the Evangelical Church, of which I am a part, finds compromise easy. I empathise with Dr. David Wells who in “The Courage to be Protestant” says that he does not know what to call himself. As the term Evangelical currently associates one with churches where the Word of God no longer stands center stage, entertainment replaces worship, and there is little connection with the historical Evangelical standards. Wells considers adding “classical” Evangelical to more clearly define himself in lines with the classical meaning of the title. All of this touches on a problem in the modern Evangelical church. Our “Evangelicalness” seems to fade in the face of a culture that has no place for our message. So many colleagues market the church, soften the message, change their style, all in the hope that people will not be repulsed at the old Evangelical message. So the Evangelicals become less Evangelical or redefine Evangelical to a historically unrecognizable form of Christianity. Again Wells argues this point in five books which document the transformation of the Church. For my point I want to say that Evangelicals are disappearing at an alarming rate.
I see another side of this question, which glares at the church among the poor, an all out war against the Gospel. Some have said that I picture the world as an us against them situation, and indeed it is so. Our secular culture applies financial pressure upon us to compromise our Classic Evangelical position. I mention this in my book ’Justice Matters’, how the financial streams directed toward the poor discriminate against Classic Evangelicals. Under the protection of a value of separation of church and culture many grants offered by business and definitely the government have a “non-religious, non-proselytizing” clause. In short if you share the Gospel the grant is not available to you. Our Church has personally been rejected under such clauses by AmeriCorps, Pfizer, Microsoft, the United States Government, and are now in a struggle with a local food bank. We could receive their financial help if we do not share the Gospel. This causes many who minister in the name of Christ to muzzle their witness in order to keep their lights on. By creative compromise job descriptions are created to eliminate an Evangelical witness from a person’s duties – so they are wholly separate from any Gospel witness, for financial survival. This discriminatory practice also gives a decided advantage to any group Christian or secular who do not share the Gospel. A secular humanist, a pro abortionists, psychologizing advisor, or a compromised Christian may receive financial support - but not a Classically Evangelical Christian. Such discriminatory action directed at any other sector of our society would make headlines. But for the most part these acts go unnoticed and unchallenged. For now only the church among the poor receives such overt discrimination. But I believe only a matter of time remains between the action described above and actions that will attempt to stop our witness altogether.
I have determined that apart from the Gospel I personally am of no use to any one. Any lesson offered to a student, food offered to the hungry, business opportunity to one out of work, without the Gospel really stands as an empty gesture. After thirty years and three theological degrees, I still believe that fundamentally Christians must share their faith. When the contemporary culture reviles us for our message, we are in good company. It costs us something to stand for the Gospel, for in taking our stand it means we stand with only a few. The few who know what it means to be Evangelical.
Barb and I took a once in a decade trip to France in September. We split our time between Paris and Normandy. Of course we went to several of the ancient cathedrals such as Notre Dame, Saint Supplice, and many others. Whenever I enter one of these ancient places of worship, I try to find a quiet place to pray. Often on these occasions what struck me was the lack of reverence by others who came to these sites. People talking, taking pictures, and treating these once sacred sites as a mere tourist attraction. Grieved by the lack of spirituality and reverence, I thought of Jesus’ word, “You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.” (Matthew 23:27) Whatever caused these cathedrals to be erected, the worship and honor of God, or the vanity of a king, they now stand as a haunting specter of a people who are spiritually separated from God. Missionaries testify that Christians are looked upon as “stupid” by the French. An attitude clearly demonstrated in the way they treat the ancient places of worship.
While I did enjoy fresh French bread, a few exquisite meals, and the company of my wonderful wife – I also at times was quite grieved by the dead spirituality of France. When we came home we enjoyed our first worship service in two weeks. Similar to a starving person grabbing and eating without thought of chewing – we worshipped God with fervor and great joy. I told our congregation that one must come to Detroit to know the joy of sincere spiritual worship. We should never take for granted the grace we receive in worship. So many people do not have what we have. Thank you Father that You show us constant mercy and grace. You have taught us to worship in Spirit and truth. Let us continue under your grace.
Markets remain volatile, nations falling into bankruptcy, unemployment is steadily high, and the 24 hour news cycle constantly reminds us that indeed the world is coming to an end. Being an ardent student of Revelation, the idea of the world's systems shaking (if not falling) does not come as a surprise. God explains that the corruption of humanity on the whole will expand until it spoils every aspect of life as we know it. All the world's systems; economic, political, and even religious, crumble and crash until the message resounds "Babylon the great has fallen". And we have a front row seat to the end.
Well I am not saying this current financial crisis shall conclude in the final collapse of the world system. Remember, those who dwell on the earth (earth-dwellers) celebrate in amazement when the wounded beast recovers.(Revelation 12) And so our world is brought to the brink of the end, but maybe this will not be the end. To say the end remains in the distant future also does not ring true. Look at what brought us to the edge of ruin. Sin. Sin of greedy banking institutions giving out unsecured loans, sin of governments spending money that was not theirs, sin of greed from financial firms, and the sin of billions of people without moral restraint trying to get their hands on bigger homes and flat screen tvs which they could not afford. The end of the age shall come because of the rise of this kind of sin, godless self-seeking unrestrained ego, greed, and selfishness.
Now of course the Church stands in the midst of this rise of degradation calling for moral transformation, right? No. In the past the Church may have been the voice of restraint and the voice of godly reason but not so much today. The Church has a new Gospel, the Gospel of psycho-Bible that only seeks the hearer’s happiness. The Gospel of cultural relevance which reflects so much of the world’s values that there is little to no difference between the message of the Church and the world. Remember Paul warned that at the end of the age the Church would be filled with people who, “gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Tim. 4:3) Such doctrine only supports the degradation that ultimately causes the world to crumble.
The values of Christianity should directly counter the values of the earth-dwellers who destroy this age. But when the message is compromised, as Paul says it shall be, Christian influence shall wane and sin shall finish its destructive work. And so shall the end come. Europe is a hundred or so years ahead of us teaching us that moral bankruptcy and financial bankruptcy go hand in hand. Yes, the world is coming to an end, the light is fading, the salt is losing its saltiness.
How do we stop the end? Simply obey Jesus’ commission, “go make disciples.” Disciples learn to obey all the Scriptures and to live a transformed life. They become different as the Scripture permeates their heart and mind. The mature disciple forms all opinions and makes all decisions under the guidance of the rightly divided Word. Such Disciples do not share the values of the earth-dwellers, and become a stinging salt to the sinner, and a bright light too. These disciples transform and preserve the world from its sinful end.
With all the strategies of the modern Church to keep our place through marketing and worldly methodology – it is time to save the world by making disciples.
There is a time for football in Detroit. For 22 years I have managed and refereed a little football league during our VBS. This year the hottest year ever around 60 boys ages 10 to 15 have joined us every day. We teach them our special rules – like counting 3 dogs before you rush the QB, and low contact between bigger players against smaller players. The boys receive points for saying memory verses, doing workbooks, and winning football game – the boys with the greatest accumulated points receive the coveted football trophies we pass out at the end of the program.
Every year tests arise as we challenge the boys to be good sports, to keep their attitudes in check, and to do the work. Some of the fellows just can’t cut the discipline necessary to win the prize or even finish the three-week program. But for those who do, they will fill their shelves with trophies and learn that they are able to succeed. One of our favorite players told me that when life threw him challenges and he thought he would not amount to much, he would look at his little trophy shelf and see his 4 championship trophies, and he would know that indeed he could succeed.
Yesterday I had to kick out one of the boys for his 5th infraction of our rules. Also I had to take points from one of our players whom I hoped would do very well, but is having trouble with attitude. So yesterday was not a good day. We have five more days of football left, and some of the boys continue to do very well. We will hope for better days to finish the year and give the rewards earned at the end. Hum, I wonder if God feels the same way about us and how we are living our lives?
“Why do you call me Lord, and not do what I say?” Jesus said this (Luke 6:46). It is the foundation of Christian discipleship, to listen to or learn the teachings of Jesus for the purpose of putting His thoughts into action. Jesus explains the principle by describing the difference between having a life built on a strong foundation or one that is unstable. (A house built on a rock versus a house built on sand).
A week ago I met with a Christian who asked, “Why don’t Christians minister to the poor in the city? The Bible clearly teaches that we should take care of the ‘least of these’.” He attends a large Evangelical church which follows the modern trend of church growth models. My response to the curious Christian was, “Because we are building churches rather than making disciples.” Which I believe remains the deepest wound in the modern landscape of the church today. For nowhere did Jesus tell us to manufacture churches, though He did tell us to make disciples.
So Jesus would say that the one who calls Him Lord should demonstrate their relationship through Christ-like actions. The purpose of church, Bible Study, worship, fellowship, and everything else God gave us to help us become His people is to learn to do what He says.
Living in the poorest inner city for nearly a quarter century I see the indifference of the Evangelical community to this ravished area as a sign. A sign that our Christian leaders falter when it comes to doing work that does not aggrandize their own position or name. Again being ruled by the modern golden rule: “build or maintain that bigger building”. But what about discipleship? What about teaching people to call Jesus Lord and to do what He said? Should we not be teaching God’s people to do what Jesus taught us to do, to live more as He lived, and to honor God through Christ-like action?
Just a couple of paragraphs following Jesus teaching about the house built on the sand, John the Baptist sends disciples to Jesus to find out if He is the savior. Jesus recites aspects of His ministry to John: “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. (luke 7:22) Now we may be limited in our ability to carry out some of the activities in Jesus’ list. But one stands out as doable – preach the good news to the poor. Evangelicals, for what ever reason, primarily remain entrenched in the middle and upper middle class. We hold most of the churches resources captive to massive egos and monstrous development projects. While we ignore the poor.
Placing ministry to the poor in our land should be a high priority. The fact that it is not is a symptom. Like a fever accompanying the flu taking care of the symptom will not solve the problem. What concerns me more than anything in this monologue is that the Church and its leaders are failing the mission. What we need is DISCIPLESHIP!! We do not need to send people into the streets of the city because someone wrote a blog. We need to go because God’s people want to go and cannot be restrained from obeying the things Jesus said. We need to go apart from programs, and allow Christian action to flow from His church without a marketing strategy or an acronym. We need to answer the call to Make Disciples, and let the disciples call Jesus Lord and have the work behind them to back that up.
Yes MDOT still meets and plots to build a bridge next to our facility. We tried to make our voice heard and received gracious politically correct honey dripping non response. Legislatures assure us they will not support a project that would be bad for the community (of course we differ in our definition of what is “good” for the community). Of course closing the exit next to our church, building a ramp that will hid our facility, and putting us behind concrete walls – I am sure is “good” in the eyes of MDOT and our Legislator. You see our community is really two communities – one more gentrified and filled with the politically in-touch, and another made of the poor, underserved, and wounded. Guess which group has the Legislator’s ear? We of course serve the other. The well-connected part of our community does not like the Maroon bridge project because it affects their community. They support the bridge that will impact the poorest people in our community, and have the Legislator right behind them claiming – “I will not vote for anything that will be bad for our community”.
Excuse me if I decide to refrain from seeking to be heard in public meeting or direct correspondence. I have written the Governor, the head of MDOT, attended public meetings, spoke to our last Legislator, and emailed the current one. The honey keeps dripping, and their plans do not change. So I leave our response to God.