Patriotism or Idolatry (Part 2)
Our discomfort-and perhaps rebellion-at what such illustrations imply is itself indicative of the situation. We are accustomed to denouncing communism as atheistic, devilish, and totally false, while hailing the United States as so nearly perfect that we will unquestioningly lay down our lives for it when called upon to do so. Certainly communism is grave menace to the free world-probably as grave as any that has yet threatened the peace. Certainly the United States of America is a great nation and in many ways a “good” nation. But are we ready to give our nation supreme allegiance, and to depend upon it for all our needs? To do so is to attribute to it the power and perfection that only GOD possesses. God stands in judgment upon both Russia and the United States. My fundamental standard of judgment is not the aspiration of the United States, but the obligation of my faith in God.
When I look at it in this way I soon see that, frightening as is the threat from communism, even more awesome is the danger of so idolizing my nation as to put it above the guidance even of Almighty God! As we continue to build larger and larger “barns” for our surpluses and piles of armaments, are we willing to face the fact that God may be speaking to our country with the SHOCKING WORDS OF JESUS: “FOOL! THIS NIGHT YOUR SOUL IS REQUIRED OF YOU; AND THE THINGS YOU HAVE PREPAIRED, WHOS WILL THEY BE?!” (LUKE 12:20) or “WHAT DOES IT PROFET A MAN, TO GAIN THE WHOLE WORLD AND FORFIET HIS LIFE?!” (MARK 8:36)
This does not mean that I cannot be both an American and a Christian. The question is one of priority. Am I a Christian first, and then an American? Or am I an American first, and then a Christian? Do I give supreme devotion to my nation’s interest, shaping my religion to conform to it? Or do I acknowledge God as supreme, constantly striving to help to make my nation more godly – to make it conform more nearly to THE WILL AND WAY OF GOD?
(The Decision Maker, by Willard W. Wetzel; 1963)
Patriotism or Idolatry (Part 2)
“Patriotism” can be a valuable servant of men who seek to make their nation as righteous as possible in the service of God, but it may also become a pseudo-religion in which God is considered the servant of a particular nation and culture.
We are always faced with the temptation to equate Christianity and Americanism, and to feel that almost anything is Christianity if it is in the best interest of America. At its worst, the danger may cause us to revise the elements of our faith (unconsciously of course) in order to make them blend harmoniously with the “American way of life.” Perhaps this is why many Americans feel that there is nothing distinctive about the Christian faith. What they think is Christianity is really Americanism – patriotism raised to an improper position of supremacy over the Creator Himself.
Examples are not difficult to uncover, although usually they go undetected and unchallenged. A barbershop discussion brought forth the apparently not uncommon opinion that no foreign-made automobiles should be permitted to be sold in the United States “because we need the work for our own people. So let’s keep American money from going to ‘foreigners’.” Passionate was the resistance to the suggestion that the issue was not as simple as that, since American cars are sold in other countries. Equally passionate was the opposition to a suggestion that the matter ought to be viewed primarily through Christianity glasses, a difference with vast consequences.
In another instance a pastor reported that a member of his church refused to continue attending worship services because the congregation voted to give the place of honor in the sanctuary to the Christian flag rather than the American flag. He added that on the Fourth of July he had a near rebellion on his hands when he failed to ask the congregation to stand for the singing of the hymn” America the Beautiful,” while no one objected to remaining seated to sing “Our God, Our Help in Age Past.”
This week I came across an article that one of my Christian education professor posted to my Missions and Evangelism professor’s Facebook wall. It amazes me to write that this is how I came across the article, because the article itself is about how the church has changed, and how the younger, technologically savvy, generation is rejecting the evangelical church for more traditional theology. (“Young Evangelicals are Getting High” can be found on The Christian Pundit.)
Evangelicals have been writing for years about how the church is losing the younger generation to the world. Churches have therefore been striving to become more “relevant,” in order to keep these young people in the pews. But a new trend is emerging. Instead of rejecting the faith outright, many youths are turning to the high theology of the Catholic, Angelical, and Lutheran traditions.
“The kids who leave evangelical Protestantism are looking for something the world can’t give them. The world can give them hotter jeans, better coffee, bands, speakers, and book clubs than a congregation can. What it can’t give them is theology… What the kids leaving generic evangelicalism seem to want is something the world can never give them–a holy Father who demands reverence, a Savior who requires careful worship, and a Spirit who must be obeyed. They are looking for true, deep, intellectually robust spirituality in their parents’ churches and not finding it.”
I find this extremely interesting, and I wholeheartedly agree. The church is missing something. That something is a sound theology of God, the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, and holiness in Christian living. It is missing intellectual integrity, as existential thought swept through and mutated the church into a place of ecstatic emotionalism. Church today is more about how I feel that who God is and how he is worthy of our worship. Holiness is lost also as we wrestle with our experience of sin in the world. But what do you expect when you take away the theology of a holy God and replace it with a genie in a bottle who exists to grant me my every wish and fancy? Church is no longer about meeting God but about God meeting my needs. Prosperity theology has been the greatest perversion of theology to date.
“Perhaps if Protestant churches began acting more like dutiful mothers instead of fun babysitters, there would be fewer youth leaving their ecclesiastical homes as soon as they are out of the house.”
I have heard it said over and over again, trumpeted by pastors and evangelists alike, that the church must become “relevant” to reach our culture. Such statements lead me to ask one question: Was the Lord Jesus Christ relevant?
I only see the Lord being relevant in two ways. He fed the crowds and healed all their diseases, meeting their physical needs. And he told parables using illustrations that his listeners would understand and relate to, taking example from farming and shepherding to explain the Kingdom of God. Nothing else.
He didn’t host organized rallies, play popular music, or do anything else to make the people “happy.” He didn’t draw anyone by worldly means, but it was the Holy Spirit that drew the elect. It is true that some people came only to get their fill, but they left just as quickly as they gathered. The true followers remained, and when asked if they too would be leaving, declared: “To whom shall we go? You have the words of life!” There was nothing keeping the disciples except the conviction that the Lord Jesus Christ is indeed the Way, the Truth, and the Life. They looked for no worldly reward or praise from men, but sought wholly after the knowledge of the truth.
This too should be our motive.
I spent Saturday afternoon glued to CNN, and was watching as verdict for the George Zimmerman trial was read. I found myself pondering the different possible outcomes, and the different reasons why it ended up the way it did. To many it seems unjust that someone who took the life of another gets to walk away without punishment. Many are asking, where is the justice in that? Cases like these provoke much emotion.
It is easy to look at these things and ask, as the prophet Habakkuk did, “Why do you tolerate wrong?… The law is paralyzed and justice never prevails” (Habakkuk 1:3). I am reminded of the words of Romans 12:19, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay.’”
I do not say this with hatred, or with a particular view of who is at fault or what should have happened today. I am only stating that in a world of sin, God will sort it out in the end. He is Judge. And on the Day of Judgment there will be no jury to vote on what man thinks should be.
According to the Lord Almighty it is not those who have had more experiences in life that have the most wisdom or advise to offer. Sure, we can learn from someone who has lived through a whole lot of error by learning to not follow in their footsteps. But it is not for that reason that they are wise. Regretting your mistakes does not give you wisdom for someone else’s future. The Word of God says,
“But it is the Spiritin a person,
the breath of the Almighty, that gives them understanding.
It is not only the old who are wise,
not only the aged who understand what is right”
It is the Spirit of God that gives wisdom. It is God alone who has perfect wisdom for his creation. What would this world of people look like if it always referred to the wisdom of God – who is eternal – instead of settling for a hundred and twenty years of experience? Who do you get your advise from? It shows by the way you live your life.
God, show me where I have sought advise from the wrong voices, voices which have lead me away from you. Teach me to hear the one voice that brings me close to you. Teach me to avoid all the other distorted voices of the world.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight”
The article quoted from is “Pulpit Force” by Robert Hart, From Touchstone, June 2007, page 5.
“It is not the duty of the clergy to blunt the sharpness, to soften the hammer, to quench the fire. Woe to the preacher who protects the people from the Word that kills, because he protects them also from being made alive – truly and forever alive. Woe to the preacher who acts as a buffer, deflecting the force of the Scriptures to soften the blow, because in protecting the people from the stroke, he prevents their healing” (Robert Hart).
This is a woe that cannot be misunderstood. We’re not talking about preaching. This is talking about proclaiming. And what’s being proclaimed is the very Word of God.
We read in the book of Ezekiel, Chapter 2, how the Lord God himself challenges Ezekiel in this same manner:
“1 He said to me, “Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you.” 2 As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me.
3 He said: “Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me; they and their fathers have been in revolt against me to this very day. 4 The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn. Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says.’ 5 And whether they listen or fail to listen—for they are a rebellious house—they will know that a prophet has been among them. 6 And you, son of man, do not be afraid of them or their words. Do not be afraid, though briers and thorns are all around you and you live among scorpions. Do not be afraid of what they say or terrified by them, though they are a rebellious house. 7 You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen, for they are rebellious. 8 But you, son of man, listen to what I say to you. Do not rebel like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you.”
9 Then I looked, and I saw a hand stretched out to me. In it was a scroll, 10 which he unrolled before me. On both sides of it were written words of lament and mourning and woe.”
We notice the similar warnings between Mr. Hart’s words and what the Lord proclaimed over 2000 years ago in the book of Ezekiel. The warnings are similar in the sense that they challenge the speaker to not hold back what needs to be said; to not be complacent in the words that need to burn; and to not be afraid of the fire that comes out of his mouth.
“Woe to preacher who acts as a buffer, deflecting the force of the Scriptures to soften the blow.” This is the reason why the prophet must never look to speak for his own interests but for the interests of God. For the Lord said to Ezekiel, “You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen, for they are rebellious.”
“If his labors in the pulpit amount to a lifetime of standing between the people and the word of God, reducing its effect, taming it and making it polite, presentable, and harmless, he will have nothing to show for it in the end but wood, hay, and stubble, instead of gold, silver, and precious stones” (Hart).
This second paragraph of the article takes me directly to Ezekiel 37. Here we will see a bridge that is very much built of the same message that Mr. Hart is saying.
“1 The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “O Sovereign LORD, you alone know.”
4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! 5 This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.’”
7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.”
Oh the sadness of the man who spends hours in prayer and meditation, seeking the Lord for a word to his people, and the moment he receives it he assumes to be ready for the task. He prepares the passage, he sets the time and the hour where he will bring this word of God. He waits for the introduction. He’s brought to the altar of God behind the pulpit. And instead of releasing the sweet fragrance and aroma of sacrifice to the living God he brings the sacrifice of Cain, that which in God’s eyes is despicable and not accepted. And we look among the congregations of today and the dry bones of the valley are no more alive after the man has stepped down from failing to offer the proper sacrifice. And the Lord says to him as he said to Cain, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?” The goal of God is that the word of prophecy should do exactly what the word did when Ezekiel proclaimed it. “Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to these bones and say to them, “Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.”‘ So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, “This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.”‘ So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.”
“He will have nothing to show for it in the end but wood, hay, and stubble, instead of gold, silver, and precious stones” (Hart).
“If the passages that have been read speak of life and death, then elaborate on life and death. If they speak of repentance, then preach that men should repent. When they encourage faith, proclaim faith. When they warn of hell and the judgment to come, then blow the trumpet as a faithful watchman on the walls. When they comfort, speak as a pastor who feeds the sheep” (Hart).
This third section of this message is clear as the Word of God says in 2 Timothy 4:
“1 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.”
The reason the Lord God Almighty commands us not to mask the words that he puts on our tongues, not to put flowers on them and make them sound sweet and delightful, is because of the warning of what is yet to come. Verses 3 and 4 say “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” God is making it clear that this will happen in the last days. He warns that foolish, sweet-talking, delightful expression are the very thing that people are going to want to hear. Sad to say they are already doing it. Their itching ears have been scratched for them. And the church is responsible for doing it.
“Let the meaning of the Scriptures be expounded to their full effect; proclaim from them the truth that affects the eternal destiny of the souls in your care. It is far easier to preach if a man will ride the Scriptures like a wave, letting them make their own point and arrive at their own destination” (Hart).
And finally, how is it that the prophet or man of God should carry out the proclamations that God has put on his tongue? The Word of God is very clear. 1 Corinthians 2:6-16 says:
“6 We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 However, as it is written:
‘No eye has seen,
no ear has heard,
no mind has conceived
what God has prepared for those who love him’—
10 but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.
The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. 14 The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment:
16 ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord
that he may instruct him?’
But we have the mind of Christ.”
And the reason it is important to ride the wave of the Word of God, it is for God to expose the man who has not the Spirit of God. “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (v. 14). And in this day and age it’s sad to hear and to even say, that it’s no longer the listener who suffers from not having the Spirit of God. It is the speaker that has failed to have it and to receive it to begin with.