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“To arms! To arms! The Christians are attacking!” Prince Valiant (?)

“The Church is not the Church unless it is the Church militant”. R.C. Sproul

 

It is easy to understand that the Church is an institution ordained and formed by Christ to invade the realm of hell, extinguishing it from the earth. Our Lord himself says that the “gates of hell shall not prevail” against us. Paul concludes his letter to the Ephesians, after he has expressed the power and benefits of Christ given to all who have been delivered through his exodus from death and sin, with an appeal to put on the whole armor of God, Ephesians 6. The Church is indeed an army and all who are called by Christ have been commissioned into its service. The vocational callings of the Church such as pastors and teachers are ordained for the dedicated job of equipping the saints for the battle, the labor of the ministry, Ephesians 4. It is important to express that the battle we fight is not with guns and smart bombs, but with the power of the message that Jesus is the victorious King of the nations. In our fight we are ordered to “overcome evil with good”, and to “love our enemies”.

I have heard it said by many, I do not know by who originally, that the Church is the only army that shoots its own soldiers. This is a sad reality. I myself have seen this done. The Church is not only an institution called for battle, it is also a community formed for service and renewal. I would actually go so far as to suggest that the Church cannot succeed in the battle if it does not also fully embrace its calling to be a hospital, caring for the wounded and broken, regardless of who they are or how they got there. The same Apostle who calls us to gird our loins for the battle also calls us to be a people that gently and humbly restore our fallen brethren, Galatians 6.

The ability to fight the good fight, while caring for the wounded is a mark of maturity and wisdom according to the New testament. Jesus was a master of this. Dispelling evil and humiliating it, while restoring the woman caught in adultery so that she would “sin no more”.

So is the Church an Army or a hospital? According to Scripture it is both, and this is part of its practical strength. May we who are called to serve the Kingdom of God, fight the good fight as we serve and renew our world.

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Years ago I worked as an associate in a Christian bookstore. As with most retail businesses, Christmas season was a busy time. During one busy day, as a cashier at one of the registers I smiled and greeted an older woman with a friendly, “Happy Holidays! Did you find everything you were looking for?” Her response was not something I had expected from a lady that had just placed greeting cards and many other gifts she was looking to give in this season of giving on my counter for purchase. Her already sour face became even more so, “Happy Holidays!? You mean Merry Christmas! CHRIST-mas! What is wrong with you? Working here and saying “Happy Holidays”!?” It was then that I first experienced a culture war on a phrase “happy holidays” that I was before then totally oblivious to. I knew that many Christians were into picketing abortion clinics and protesting gay marriage but being against happy holidays? I remember thinking after the lady had left me there in disbelief, after the shock had worn off, “What have I gotten myself into?”

In the few years I had been a Christian before that incident I had learned that many churches and Christians believed they had a duty to fight for social causes without really fighting. What I mean is that I had found that many I knew would get angry and talk doom and gloom when it came to cultural differences (homosexuality, certain types of art, Democrats) yet I saw very little when it came to actual justice issues like fighting poverty, violence, inequality and other causes I saw as focal points of action in the New Testament. I had become numb to the “culture war” and didn’t really want anything to do with it, until that “Christian” lady came into my store and made me a target of her rage against the evil of “happy holidays”. That day I became a Christian against the Culture War.

I believe that “Happy Holidays” is a great way to speak and greet one another this season, “Happy holy days”. For far too long there has been a chip on the shoulder of the Christian culture in America and perhaps that chip is the real issue, not some plot to “take Christ out of Christmas”. If that was really a concern then perhaps we would focus on the extreme commercialism that has become the core of our society. This core reaches its fever pitch in the holiday season and we seem to have no problem with it whatsoever, though this American attitude and deeply dedicated custom of consuming is very much opposite of the teaching of the Jesus of the New Testament. In fact the Evangelical bubble seems to be inflated with the American Dream of consuming and autonomy rather than the Ruach Elohim that brings “good news” of the Kingdom of God. Many find their Christian identity in what they hate and are against rather than in the joy and love of their Savior, who I think would never be offended by someone wishing him “happy holidays”. He was a man who was acquainted with grief and yet was completely dedicated to forgiving his enemies. This season is after all about him.

If God is a faithful King who is not offended by “happy holidays”, why should I be offended? If not a friendly phrase, what does offend God? The Bible speaks of God being greatly offended by his people following after idols and other gods, Exodus 32. The Bible elsewhere paints a picture of God, the Great King on a throne who, upon hearing the cries of the oppressed and the poor, stands up and takes action to provide for them “safety”, Psalm 12:5. It is my hope that we would have the same mind and heart of the one we claim to worship. If God is offended by idols and other gods, what idols have been created that we conveniently pretend are okay because they are the norm? Do we go into debt to compete in the Christmas frenzy of gift buying as a show of status? Do we do whatever it takes to get that parking spot, even if we have to cut off and fight someone outside of Dillard’s?  Do we casually pass by the poor without offering “safety” and help because of some unbiblical socio-political justification to assure us that they are on drugs or have gotten themselves in this mess because of bad decisions or laziness? By the way, the Bible doesn’t allow for God’s Spirit filled people to not have compassion even when those assumptions are correct. We are called to help the addict, the lazy, the dirty, the wretched, and the sinner. We are after all, dirty, broken sinners as well. Do not all good and perfect gifts come from God, James 1:17? Yet we will follow after other gods who convince us that we have what we have because of our work and goodness? Do clean clothes and a job really make us better than those without? Is one addiction better than another? When we pass by without compassion, humans created and loved by God we are acting antithetical to the God of the Bible. Let us be authentic disciples. This world has enough pretenders fighting the Culture War, it needs more servants to work the harvest and live out the Kingdom through restorative justice, actions of compassion and the true communicating of the Gospel.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Happy Hanukkah, for all these greetings presuppose a Sovereign God Who is Holy and involved with this world. Whether ordaining a small amount of oil to last through the darkness or by sending a Messiah through whom to fulfill his promise to make this broken world right again. The time of Advent is a time to reflect on the God who sent his Glory to us in a Rabbi from Nazareth, who then gave that glory to his people in order to bring his restorative justice for healing to all peoples and nations. May we be a people who realize our place as citizens of the Kingdom of God and therefore live according to that Land, the Glory of God to a broken world. Happy Holidays. Grace and peace.

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This is a great video from The Work of the People on women in the church and culture.

Resurrected Identity

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I just wanted to announce that I have come to terms with hypocrisy, that of others and mine own. I am not by any means embracing hypocrisy. I still, like many of you, find it to be a terrible sin and I mourn its existence in the world, in our hearts and in our Church.

I spent most of my twenties in a hedonistic slumber. When I came to, I was horrified by what I had become. The worst realization being that I was a hypocrite. I was raised in the church, the son of a minister and yet was one of the biggest hypocrites I knew of, and there were many who shared my opinion of me. I went to the Church as a hypocrite and was disciplined and restored. I must confess however that I am still a hypocrite. I talk about things that are wrong with society, but I am not doing everything I can to help. I believe the Christian worldview and seek to demonstrare and live by it, yet I am in so many ways a failure. I must go to God constantly for mercy and forgiveness. I am a sinner that is more desperate for God’s grace every day. I believe a lot that I do not do. I am a hypocrite.

I am not alone. You are a hypocrite too. We are a species cursed with all the potential of the gods and yet will never live up to even the minutest fraction of what we could be. As good as you are , as hard as you try, you still fall short.

Which is why I say I have come to terms. I was a very vocal critic of the church’s hypocrisy. Every person I have talked to about God, Jesus, religion in general or going to church have said that they don’t believe, or don’t want to be involved with the church, or don’t read the Bible because the “Church is full of hypocrites”. I have always been able to empathize being that when I was young a church fired and then evicted my Dad and his four children out on the streets leaving us to live in a basement, which was a great blessing. I was angry at that pastor and that church and that anger became aimed at the Church and God as a whole. It is true, the Church is full of hypocrites.

So sadly, the religious hypocrites have kept untold numbers of persons from being involved in the community of faith and even from worshiping the God who created them. If only he would cleanse his church somehow, get those nasty sinners out of there then maybe those who are so hurt and offended would find a place worthy of their dedication and service. That would however, be hypocritical.

I began asking questions recently when this subject comes up, “What do you find important in the world that needs attention? What are some things that could be done to help? What are you doing about it? In light of the rampant hypocrisy in the Church, what are you doing that is different than those sinners? What causes have you taken up? What people are you giving yourself and your resources to?” The discussion that results has concluded with a laugh and an understanding that we are a couple of hypocrites discussing hypocrisy. We are all hypocrites.

Is it really fair to call out the church as if it is the only place where hypocrites hang out? Is the church like a hobby club where instead of meeting to trade stamps or make crafts, people meet to hypocrisai (a real word?)? Are there no hypocrites at grocery stores, in schools, at our places of employment? If so do we stop buying groceries, drop out of classes or stop working for a living? Do hypocrites avoid the banks and the Atheist clubs? If we think about it, they are everywhere, not just in the Church but in our circles of influence, our friendships, our partnerships. Hypocrites are everywhere.

Moving on. What does another’s hypocrisy have to do with us? Many of us say that hypocrites are the main reason why we don’t believe in Jesus, but that makes no sense…its actually nonsense. Jesus led a movement to restore Israel as their long promised and hoped for King. He believed he was the anointed one (Christ) chosen to be the Messiah. The Bible claims that Jesus was indeed this person and that he was crucified because of this. The early church claims that Jesus then resurrected from the grave three days later. This Jewish Messiah was now the King of all the nations. This is the basic story which Christians claim and live by. There is a lot of room for life and messing up within this story. Some nice people will live by it and some not so nice people will live by and believe it. It is true that Christianity believes that those who believe it, nice or not, will be cared for and made better by God himself, but that is besides the point. Are we really still thinking that this story is made true or untrue based on the hypocrisy or lack thereof of others?

If what Christianity claims, despite the hypocrites, is true then we are all held accountable to the Jewish Messiah, for he is our King. I know this sounds a lot like Pascal’s argument, but think about it. How does the hypocrite change this reality? If every person is responsible for their own sin before a Holy God, what does a hypocrite in the Church have to do with you?

If you are concerned because the hypocrite was how you were learning about Jesus, then find another way to learn. Jesus is a very popular person. There are books upon books written, many learned teachers and pastors, find a non hypocrite and have a chat. If you are sincere, you want to learn but hypocrites have kept you away from Jesus then go to the early Christian source for yourself, read the Gospels.

I want to offer one way of seeing the presence of hypocrites in the church as a good thing. Jesus died for hypocrites and sinners of all types. Hypocrisy does nothing to diminish his love for the hypocrite. He loves the liar and the pervert as well. He loves the criminally insane and he loves the greedy. He proves this not only by accepting all of these, but also by not leaving them there. All who come to him will find transformation. This is what love does. Love accepts us as we are but does not leave us that way. Love makes us better. So hypocrisy in the church means that God will accept all of us as well… and will conform us into his image, Romans 8:28-30. The hypocrite who comes to Jesus will not be a hypocrite forever. Jesus changes everything.

So push those hypocrites out of your way and, though you yourself are not perfect, come to the One who is. Jesus has defeated death itself and is therefore your rightful King. He is the person missing in your life and once you have him, no hypocrite, or anything in your past or even within your heart, can keep you from him. Come to Jesus and obey his call to be free and forgiven.

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Great article. Evil would love for us to be in discord and categorized. The beginning of the Biblical story has evil as an agent of disunity. May we realize this and live dedicated to the reversing of this agenda. Be reconciled to God and one another. Grace and peace.
We are all Rawandans

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My friend Uri has some great things to say about why being like the first century church should not be something to ascribe to. Grace and peace.The False Promises of the Early Church

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This talk by Timothy Keller is wonderful. He has a great perspective on the jealousy of God and how that applies to life and relationships. Be encouraged and challenged!

Jealousy of God

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