Instead of a stand-alone “state of the church” message this year, as has been our custom, I want to spend a number of weeks on the topic. Lord willing, I intend to drill down into the subject, and I trust that the reasons for doing so will become increasingly apparent as we work through the series. The point of these messages will be to help you to better understand the crisis of our times, along with the demeanor we as Christians are called to cultivate in the course of such a crisis. This will have particular application to you all as members of Christ Church.
We also must include an explication of the basic strategy that we have been using here in our community for a number of decades now. This is because we have been greatly blessed in our community, and so it is absolutely necessary for us to equip ourselves in two areas. We must educate our immigrants, and we must educate the next generation. If we do not do this, then we will be faced with two disasters. The first is what might be called “Californians moving to Texas, but continuing to vote like Californians.” The second is the son of a billionaire growing up without ever breaking a sweat, or knowing what having calluses might be like.
Experiencing blessings without understanding the foundation of those blessing is to dance blindfold along the edge of a precipice. As Cotton Mather put it, faithfulness begat prosperity, and the daughter devoured the mother. Or as Moses put it, Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked (Dt. 32:15). Moses knew that once you are well into a blessing, it is perilously easy to take it all for granted, and simply to assume that continuation of that blessing is your irrevocable birthright (Dr. 8: 1-20). The apostle Paul saw what had happened to the Jews in this, and warned the Gentile Christians in Rome about committing the very same sin (Rom. 11:19-21). And he issued the same stern warning to the Gentile Christians at Corinth (1 Cor. 10:1-11).
“Under three things the earth trembles; under four it cannot bear up: a slave when he becomes king, and a fool when he is filled with food; an unloved woman when she gets a husband, and a maidservant when she displaces her mistress.” (Proverbs 30:21–23, ESV).
There is a pressing temptation, whenever someone unexpectedly comes into great blessing, to react thoughtlessly and glibly, like some cracker redneck who won big at Powerball. We handle it the way a two-year-old would handle a glass of whiskey. Whatever you do, whatever you say, however you think, don’t be that guy.
As If There Were No Text:
As you know, at this place on the outline, it is our practice to quote the text that the message is designed to unfold or unpack and then apply. There is no text here today, not because we will not be bringing Scripture to bear shortly, but rather to illustrate the fundamental disease of our time. As a people, we have wanted to pretend to ourselves that a secular order is even possible. We have pretended that a people can exist without a transcendent Word. The deeper we descend into this folly the higher our impudence grows. To be without God is to be without hope in the world (Eph. 2:12).
In the spirit of having no text, here is a text:
“Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, That I will send a famine in the land, Not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord: And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it” (Amos 8:11–12).
And as John Calvin put it to the King of France, in the introduction to his Institutes:
“The characteristic of a true sovereign is, to acknowledge that, in the administration of his kingdom, he is a minister of God. He who does not make his reign subservient to the divine glory, acts the part not of a king, but a robber. He, moreover, deceives himself who anticipates long prosperity to any kingdom which is not ruled by the scepter of God, that is, by his divine word.”
A Minister’s Task:
The message a minister is appointed to proclaim is the basic gospel message—the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor. 15:1-4)—oriented, as it necessarily must be, to the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). This is not a message torn out of the Scriptures, but rather a message that is situated at the center of all Scripture.
But the wisdom of God is not placed in our trust so that we may speak it into a void. The preacher is not supposed to learn what he is supposed to say the same way a parrot does, or an answering machine, and then say that, regardless of the circumstances. No matter who calls, the answering machine says the same thing. This is not the commission of a minister of the Word.
No. Preachers of the gospel must also be students of the culture they are sent to. A minister must be a student of the Word, but he must also be a student of men. He must study them—not just men generally, but the men of his own era, the men to whom he is charged to bring the gospel. When the Lord speaks to each of the angels of the seven churches of Asia, the message for each church is different. Same gospel, different sins, and so different message applying that gospel.
And men are not to be studied so that the minister might best know how to flatter them. “For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness” (1 Thess. 2:5, ESV). Rather, they must be studied because their sins are different, their blind spots vary, and this is why their fortifications against the Spirit of God must be attacked differently.
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:3–5).
A man who is charged with pulling down strongholds must be a student, therefore, of two things. He must be a student of the gear he is using, and he must be a student of the tower he is charged with toppling. He must know the gospel, and the Scripture that houses it, and he must also know the state of the current imaginations, whether those imaginations are healthy or diseased. He needs to know where to attach the ropes.
Our Culture, What Remains of It
We are in the midst of a massive religious/political/cultural transformation. But we cannot assume that this is all downside. God shakes what can be shaken so that what cannot be shaken may remain (Heb. 12:27). This turmoil is rattling things that need to be rattled, and also rattling things that need to be understood, so that they might be defended in wisdom, and not maintained on cruise control.
In the meantime, speaking of traditions, there are no pacifist traditions left. All worthy traditions must be militant in order to survive this time of upheaval.
And in such a time, Christians must be conservative when it comes to everything that the Spirit has accomplished in the history of our civilization. And we must be progressive with regard to all the things He has yet to do.
The Sinful Symptoms:
It is difficult to make it through the evening news without encountering multiple examples of our contemporary follies—the blood guilt of abortion on demand, the insanity of transgenderism, the idea that more government can save us from the weather, the acceptance of socialist collectivism, the indulgence of snowflakes, the incompetence of modern educators, the epidemic of food guilt, the pandemic of father hunger, and more. The disease lies within, but the splotches on the skin are pretty ugly.
The Disease Within:
The root of every rebellion (in every culture) must always be identified as pride, and the lust for autonomy. But this central sin manifests itself in different ways in different times, using different methods, concepts, and techniques. These are the tools that are currently being used on us. Please be aware that there are areas of overlap between these.
- Secularism—the idea that a culture can be religiously neutral;
- Darwinism—the idea that we somehow arrived here by ourselves, and which makes secularism a scientifically respectable concept;
- Egalitarianism—the idea that blessings for others are tantamount to oppression for me;
- Value/Fact Distinction—the idea that “reality” is divisible;
- Relativism, subjectivism, the despotism of feelings—the idea that the world of facts is not the controlling reality. Reality, in other words, is optional;
- Admiration of the Cool Kids—the idea that what matters is copping a pose.
Some might worry that I am adding “intellectual” requirements to the simple gospel of Christ. Don’t worry—it is actually the reverse. You generally need a couple years of grad school before you can really buy into any of these mistakes.
So keep in mind that when we answer these challenges in the way we must—in the name of Jesus Christ—we are not supplying Christ as the solution to the problems as posed by these idolatries. He does not give us answers to their questions. He gives us His answers to His questions. Christ is the one who frees us from these idolatries by toppling all six of them, burning them at the Kidron Brook, crushing them to powder, and scattering the dust on the graves of the people (2 Kings 23:6-7).