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In 1966, I joined Operation Mobilization for a year of ministry in France, but spent two years in India instead. While in London in the summer of ‘66 at a one-month OM orientation, I volunteered to work on a clean-up crew late one night. Around 12:30 am, I was sweeping the front steps of the conference center when an older gentleman approached and asked if this was the OM conference. I told him it was, but that almost everyone was in bed.
He had a small bag with him and was dressed very simply. He said he was attending the conference, so I said, “Let me see if I can find you a place to sleep.” Since there were many different age groups at OM, I thought he was an older OMer. I took him to the room where I had been sleeping on the floor with about 50 others and seeing that he had nothing to sleep on laid some padding and a blanket on the floor and gave him a towel for a pillow. He said it would be fine and that he appreciated it very much.
As he was preparing for bed, I asked him if he had eaten. He had not, as he had been traveling all day. I took him to the dining room, but it was locked, so after picking the lock, I found corn flakes, milk, bread, butter and jam – all of which he thanked me for.
As he ate and we began to fellowship, I asked where he was from. He said he and his wife had been working in Switzerland for several years in a ministry mainly to hippies and travelers. It was wonderful to talk to him and hear about his work and those who had come to Christ. When he finished eating, we turned in for the night.
The next day I was in trouble! The leaders of OM really got on my case. “Don’t you know who that man is on the floor next to you? It is Dr. Francis Schaeffer, the speaker for the conference!” I did not know we were going to have a speaker, nor did I know who Francis Schaeffer was, nor did I know they had a special room for him!
After Francis Schaeffer became well known because of his books and I had read more about him, I thought about this occasion many times – this gracious, kind, humble man of God sleeping on the floor with OM recruits! This was the kind of man I wanted to be.
Of course, I will never obtain the intellect, knowledge, or wisdom of Francis Schaeffer, but I can reach out to younger people and humbly minister to them in Christ’s name by living a life of humility. What about you?
In the first chapter of Genesis, the name Elohim is used to speak of God. This serves to portray God in His relationship to the universe as the great Creator. But then, beginning at chapter 2:4b, the composite name of God (YHWH) occurs. This speaks more specifically of God in His relationship to mankind as the One who lovingly cares and provides for them.
God did not just wind up a big clock and then step back and let it go. He sustains all things by the Word of His power. Everything. All the time! As Spurgeon said, “The omniscient Lord of providence tracks each molecule of matter, and knows its position and history as a shepherd knows his sheep;”.
This is an incredible thing. Any reflection on it throws me into worship. I want to try and begin everyday with that thought. As the psalmist says,
“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them. How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand” (Psa 139:13-18).
We read the famous words, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1). God’s immense sovereignty should be at the forefront of our minds. Arthur Pink says the following;
“In His sovereign majesty, God dwelt all alone. We refer to that far distant period before the heavens and the earth were created. There were then no angels to hymn God’s praises, no creatures to occupy His notice, no rebels to be brought to subjection…But even at that time, if time it could be called, God was sovereign. He might create or not create according to His own good pleasure. He might create this way or that way; He might create one world or one million worlds, and who was there to resist His will? …It was His sovereign right to create, on the one hand, the exalted seraphim to burn around his throne, and on the other hand, the tiny insect which dies the same hour that it is born. If the mighty God chose to have one vast gradation in His universe, from loftiest seraph to creeping reptile, from revolving worlds to floating atoms, from macrocosm to microcosm, instead of making everything uniform, who was there to question His sovereign pleasure? Behold then the exercise of divine sovereignty long before man ever saw the light.”
It is only with this properly in place, that we can start to process the account of creation. In fact, whenever we use the term ‘creation’, we typically use it to talk about something that we might have made (e.g., a painting, building, machinery etc). However, this is not the case when we refer to God’s creation. When speaking of God’s ‘creation’ in Genesis, we need to remember that none of it existed before! First, there was nothing – and then, there was… not a hand…or tools…but the royal decree of the King!
Any person who says something, causing it to ‘just happen’, gives the immediate impression of power and authority. When people obey a superior without any challenge, it shouts the concept of “sovereignty’. How much more when things that are not – are called into being by utterance – and made into the things that are! And what sort of analogy could we even use to describe the sovereignty of Him who not only created all things by His decree – but sustains every second of it, merely by His Word?
Behold the glory of our sovereign Lord – whom the authors of the NT identify as Jesus.
“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb 1:3).
“He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent”. (Col 1:15-18)
I worship God. It’s something that I virtually take for granted. But I shouldn’t. It took blood for this to happen.
In Old Testament, the Azazel goat (which symbolically took the sins of Israel out into the wilderness) spoke powerfully of the sufferings of Christ (outside the Jerusalem city gate). Also, there was powerful symbolism in the blood. In Leviticus, blood is stated to be the carrier of life, and for this reason is said to be the symbol of a substitutionary death.
Throughout the Old Testament, without the shedding of blood, God could not be approached. The idea was that if they were to live (even though they had sinned), then something must be made to die in their place. In this way, the blood of animals were made to represent the life of the worshiper. The blood sacrifices would be a continual reminder to Israel of the true penalty for their sin. It is something that would look upon time and time again.
In all of these things, the Old Testament shadows and types pointed to Christ, who substituted his life-blood for that of his people, so as to overcome the alienation from God that sin had caused.
It took the blood of the perfect, sinless Son, so that I could approach God this morning. I can not take this for granted.
In reading again through Francis Schaeffer’s great book “The God Who Is There”, I’ve been struck afresh with this thought:
Atheists have no true and consistent basis upon which to distinguish between right and wrong. Though they might argue tooth-and-nail to the contrary, the reality is that they cannot make truly reasonable decisions concerning that which is ethical or non-ethical. At best, a basis is found by mutual agreement for the betterment of society. But as soon as one society disagrees with another about what is ethical, an unavoidable contradiction emerges. Moreover, history has shown that a ‘survival of the species’ approach does not give society a sufficient base for determining that which is ethical and that which is not.
This in contrast to the reality of a theistic worldview: Ethics flow from the basis of God’s revealed law. God’s law, in turn flows from His unchanging, constituent being–the very bedrock of reality, truth and holiness.
Can we feel our way toward the unknown God? Paul’s rhetoric to the Athenians at Areopagus (Acts 17:15-34) is very interesting.
The logic of his argument is clear. During his time among the Athenians, he observed the many objects of their worship. The reality of the religious nature of the people was undeniable. And yet, along with the many objects of worship in the city, there was also an altar to ‘the unknown God’ (Acts 17:23).
This is where it gets interesting. Paul explained that this limit to their knowledge was by God’s own design. God had sovereignly placed them within the “boundaries of their dwelling place” so that “they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him” (Acts 17:27). What is interesting, then, is that the language that Paul uses here. It seems to convey that there is indeed some ability for men to feel their way toward God. But, is that really what he is saying?
Though the Athenians might well “perhaps feel their way” (Acts 17:27, emphasis added), the point he is making is that that they would never actually be able to arrive at any degree of certainly (as attested by the ‘mystery’ alter), unless God came to them and further revealed himself. Paul’s words are not intended to theologise man’s ability to seek God. Quite the opposite. They are part of his rhetoric, powerfully highlighting the relevance of his message. God had indeed revealed himself in Jesus Christ, and had proven so by the reality of the resurrection. This was the very reason that his message had implications for all men (not Jews only). God now commanded “all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30).
The realities that are evidenced in the religious activity of the Athenians, serve as a microcosm for humanity at large. Certainly Paul believed that humanity does have an innate sense spirituality. And indeed this spirituality does allow him, in some way, to seek for God. This seeking, however, is part of man’s dilemma, not his hope. He can seek only as a blind man seeks. He gropes in the darkness while looking for something that he cannot see, feel or touch. The reality of this kind of seeking does not show man’s ability to get to God, but rather his total dependence on God’s revelation in and through the Christ.
In the last post I summarised a New Testament missional philosophy as ‘Closed-hand, Opened-hand, Go”. This is a truly important paradigm, and it presents many different facets of application. To begin with then, I’ll highlight one of these as it relates to the idea of ‘closed-hand’.
Remember that in talking about our ‘closed hand’ we are speaking about all things relating to the sphere of the sacred (and yes, contra to all that popular folk-theology out there, there is a very real distinction between sacred and secular in the Christian life). One of the main things in this ‘sacred’ hand, then, is our doctrine. We have an ironclad grip on our theology. No negotiating.
But just as surely, this means a willingness to swim against the stream. Missional philosophy these days will typically argue that in order to do mission well, we need to dumb everything down and restrict our theology to the basic essentials. If it’s not both absolutely vital and easy to understand at the same time, it has to go. Put another way, this approach asks the church to relax its ‘sacred’ grip, and like sand running through loosened fingers, let all the richness of biblical teaching fall to the earth. Only the pebbles remain, and even among these the sharp ones are jettisoned. This is the idea behind everything from liberalism to seeker-sensitivism: the sacred hand is opened for the sake of mission. But it never goes well.
Here then is a better way. Despite this constant pressure upon churches and ministers (the pressure of true wordiness), we must move in the opposite direction. Rather than open our ‘sacred’ hand, we close it — and tightly. Moreover, we must work daily to strengthen this grip. We study our Bibles. We want more doctrine, not less. We want all of our theology, and we’ll even contend for it. We want the big, historic confessions–not the small, stupid DIY ones. We want deep Bible exposition on Sundays, not moralistic, therapeutic ‘Christian’ TED talks. We want the whole Bible and all of its teaching, not a post-modern form of resurrected fundamentalism.
The goal of the survey thus far has been to show how the biblical story informs our missional philosophy of cultural engagement. By distinguishing between times of theocracy and pilgrimage we find differing principles for life and mission among the people of God.
In this regard, hopefully the point has been sufficiently made that as a New Covenant people we are no longer under a land-principle, but instead under a pilgrim-principle. This means that our philosophy of cultural engagement stands in stark contrast to that of the Old Covenant community as they dwelt in the land of Canaan.
Israel, under a time of theocracy, were called to be physically separate from the world. While this period would indeed serve the purposes of mission, it did so in such a manner that anticipated further and final fulfilment of the Abrahamic Promise. I.e., Israel’s theocratic rule would show forth the glory of God’s foreshadowed kingdom to all the surrounding peoples, bringing them to marvel in awe at its splendour (e.g., those such as the Queen of Sheba, who would stand amazed, and give glory to God).
Israel’s missional philosophy, then, was ‘come and see’, rather than a ‘go and tell’. To have the required effect, they were not to allow any devision between sacred and secular. They were not to participate in any common grace interactions. They were to picture a time that both echoed the garden paradise, and looked forward to the final consummated kingdom.
Of course, all of this would change at the end of this theocracy and at the inauguration of New Covenant. If we summarise Israel’s missional model as: “Closed hand. Closed hand. Stay”. Then the church’s model is this: “Closed hand. Opened Hand. Go!“. That is to say, on the one hand, we stand in complete alignment with Israel in terms of our ironclad grip upon all that God requires in the realm of the sacred (keeping watch over our life and doctrine). But on the other hand, where the Old Covenant people were restricted from participation in common grace activity, this is no longer the case for us in the New Covenant. No longer do we have a closed hand on cultural engagement. If anything, as per my previous post, the very idea behind mission now requires that we open this hand as widely as possible, and that we go into the world (not merely the Christian ghettos).
This point, I believe, has two massive implications for the mission of the church. We’ll talk about those in the next post.
In the last post, I spoke about the way that the Pharisees were guilty of misrepresenting God and His mission. Unfortunately this misrepresentation did not end after the coming of Christ. Soon it would infiltrate the church as well.
We read in history of the monastic movements that started to emerge after the time of the apostles. They would withdraw from the world for reasons similar to that of the Pharisees–they did not want to be compromised. They did not want to be ‘worldly’. This idea has repeated itself throughout, in a host of different forms.
Fundamentalism might be said to be the latest culprit. But that’s probably too easy. The reality is that this repeats in all of us, no matter the denomination or movement. And although we might not as easily be tempted to the old ways of ceremonial strictness or monastic retreat, we are quite content to live our whole lives in sub-cultural ‘Christian’ ghettos. We don’t even think twice about it.
Make no mistake, Christianity has its ghettos. Christian sub-culture is a beast, and there’s a hungry market out there. We don’t want pop. Oh no of course not, that’s too ‘worldly’. It’s got to be ‘Christian’ pop (!). We don’t want rock-concerts. Nope, too worldly; but we’ll definitely take Christian bands, and we love worship-concert services with strobe lights. We don’t want movies. No, no, no. Not the worldly kind anyway. But of course, movies are perfectly acceptable as long as they’re the super-corny, B-grade, ‘Christian’-movie kind. We don’t want malls and coffee shops, but we love those mega-churches, with their big mugs of only slightly cheaper ‘Christian’ coffee. And on and on we go. You get the picture–it reduces to absurdity.
Although this might well succeed in creating bad taste and weird people, it does not in any way move forward with the mission; it does not understand the nature of the church; and it is not what Jesus commanded.