Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Coming to "terms"

I’ve been enjoying Michael Horton’s excellent book, “Putting Amazing Back Into Grace” and am pleasantly surprised to reflect on lessons God has been teaching me and am encouraged (as I’m sure you, too, are) to find others who have arrived at the same conclusions. In short, I will simply say that throughout my life I’ve been through Independent Fundamental Baptist Churches, Non-denominational “Bible” Churches, Interdenominational Bible Churches (I think non- and inter- are the same), a sprinkling of Four-Square and Church of God, the Conservative Baptists, the Christian and Missionary Alliance, and more shades of Southern Baptist Churches than most people need to know about.

The journey through Bible College was a life-changing experience in and of itself and Seminary was certainly fantastic jolt to the system (as much as I wanted to attend, Satan was not all that excited and made this plain to me and my family); but, this last year-and-a-half has been used by God to bring more praise and glory to Himself that ever was expected by me. Life and church and ministry have never been more abundant (notice I did not say “pleasureful” or “enjoyable,” but “abundant”) and with increasing joy I praise God for His faithfulness.

The past few weeks I’ve been lamenting this dreadfully hot weather and have not been able to get out to do much evangelism, so I’ve been restless. While God has used this time to help me think and pray and prepare for the Fall, some notable thoughts have been firmly planted within and are increasingly growing. One notable thought I’ve tried to write about, but each time was met with miserable failure—perhaps today’s the day!

My thoughts begin with a term that is now reaching the point of becoming trite, and that term concerns “the unchurched.” As I dwelt on what that term means and who the term intends to identify, I was quickly reminded the last thing “the unchurched” need is “church.” Who are these people? They are the lost, the unregenerate, the “dead in sin”. Not the “pre-evangelized”. Not a person who can be better than he is, or a “normie.” I don’t believe there is such a thing as “the unchurched” as I can’t find that term or concept for that matter in scripture. The term “unchurched” is wrongly made synonymous with “unreached,” those who do not merely not believe in Jesus, but do not know there is a Jesus to believe in. “Unchurched” (in my understanding) is a marketing term, referring to people who are shopping and have not yet tried a product. Unless I totally missed something in Greek or Hebrew class, I can’t find anything that translates as “unchurched” (or “untabernacled”, “untempled” or “unsynagogued”) in all of scripture.

If the “unchurched” are to be “churched,” what is the source and/or model of this principle? The tabernacle was the last place a stranger would want to go because, face it, only one person enters God’s presence once a year—and he’d better be prayed up! Listen carefully to what pagans and others say about the God of the Bible—they are correct in that He is a terrible God! Who would want to worship Him? What they fail to grasp is all this terrible God has done in order to make fellowship possible, much less tolerable. Paul Washer’s comment to the effect, “I love children; therefore I hate abortion” is an illustration that places that terribleness in the context of love. Leviticus is the instruction book on how to live and enjoy this presence: what man is able and not able to do; and, what God is able to do overall. But I get ahead of myself.

Focusing on America alone, D.L. Moody was one of those great evangelists who made significant contributions to the glory of God; however, he represents one among many who introduced small changes in the gospel that has become our current cascade failure. Moody had the right idea about going out into the highways and byways to bring people in to hear the gospel but like a desert freight train, he roared though town and breezed right on by with his message of instantaneous conversion much akin to slapping band-aids. The Scots were right in their precaution to investigate him out. H.C. Trumbull actually put pen to paper and recorded many of his experiences. Compare his notes with R.A. Torrey, who dug deep with his plow to ensure good seeding (“How to Work for Christ”, Vol. 1, Vol. 2, Vol. 3.)

What I’ve concluded about “the unchurched” is this: they don’t need church. Out of those who do know there is a Jesus to believe in are not even ready for Jesus yet. They need something else. And that “something else” is the same thing that keeps church attendees glued to their pews in fear instead of going out with the gospel. Those who are “churched” know they are lacking something because, though they may be heaven-bound, are tired-before-they-start of explaining why their walk and their talk do not align. See, if the gospel is simply “miss hell, gain heaven,” there is no reason why one who is hell-bound to desire heaven—if he does, it selfish and has nothing to do with God, but what one gains as an individual. This is idolatry.

The “unchurched” looks at himself and sees there is nothing different about him and Joe Pew-warmer except that he hears Joe talk about heaven amongst other wordly things. Joe’s conscience is telling him there must be something else, and he does not see it in the church, so there is no reason to attend. In the same way, Joe knows there must be something that must distinguish him from those “out there” and talking about heaven becomes frustrating because he has to excuse himself more, and this is tiresome.

What church attendees need is the same thing church non-attendees need, and that is righteousness found only in Christ Jesus. This is the truth of the gospel. Here is what Horton says in his chapter, “Jumping Through Hoops is for Circus Animals,:”

“Christians, of all people, should be committed to that pursuit [of truth], regardless of the consequences. Usually we want to control the truth, to decide for ourselves whether it will be helpful, practical, supportive of our general presuppositions. But truth is often unkind to our notions of what is useful knowledge.”

We are comfortable with not simply what we know, but with our traditions, that we’ve allowed to do our thinking for us. We’ve confused that which we’ve grown up in and around with what we know to the point that most don’t know to ask, “what is useful to be known?” Furthermore, consider Horton’s nod to Paul Payne’s observation that “the world does not take the church seriously today because the Church is not serious.” Serious about what? Righteousness.

Test me on this. As a starting point, which occurs more in the Bible: teaching on righteousness and unrighteousness, or heaven and hell? Consider just two verses:

Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death.” (Proverbs 11:4)

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?” (1 Corinthians 6:9)

The Bible emphasizes repeatedly that the believer is one who is accepted by God, ransomed from sin, redeemed from guilt, and rescued from lostness. To be saved is to gain God in Christ Jesus. Missing hell and gaining heaven is an added blessing because it is God who makes Heaven what it is . . . but that’s another blog.

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