Many of us have “coached” a group at one time or another. It may have been a youth athletic team, a chorus, a discussion group, or a team of fellow employees on a particular project. As different as these “coaching situations” are, each coach has one common denominator that is missing among most Christian brothers and sisters, and especially among church pastors and officers: a clear expectation of the goal.
As a coach, we may or may not have achieved our goal in the above examples, but at least we knew whether or not we had achieved it. Indeed, we seem to have clear expectations about every area of our life except what is our purpose as a Christian. When we are single, we expect to find a great spouse. We expect to train up our children to be successful and honorable adults. We expect to be successful in our vocation. We expect our favorite sports team to be successful. We expect our church to be faithful in accurately teaching us God’s Word.
But we don’t seem to have any expectations about what our obedience to God’s Word will accomplish!
Week in and week out we attend worship service expecting to “Listen and Learn” about God. On the way home, we may make a passing comment about some point the pastor made that was “really good,” yet after a brief discussion, we will put his message behind us and carry on with life without making any significant effort to incorporate into our lifestyle the truths he presented. During the ensuing week we will make a zillion decisions, seldom, if ever, stopping to reflect on whether our decisions conform to the Biblical truths we claim to hold so dearly. Before you know it, it’s Sunday once again and time to learn more about God. While there is certainly nothing wrong with increasing our knowledge of God, as Rev. R. J. Rushdoony points out:
Somewhere along the line our pastors have stopped instructing us in how to apply our faith.1
The preaching of the Puritans “Christianized” Western civilization because their teaching paradigm included “Listening, Learning, and Doing.” During the last century or two our pastors have pretty much neglected the “Doing” part. The consequence is that American Christians are well informed about God, but poorly instructed in what to do with our knowledge of God. It’s troubling enough when we learn that the estimated percentage of American Christians who have a Christian worldview is five percent. However, when we put that into historical context and find that this is one percentage point less than the estimated amount of German pastors who stood against Chancellor Hitler in the 1930s, it is downright scary!
What can we do to repair the ruins of our culture (Ezra 9:9; Isa. 61:4; Amos 9:11) when few of our fellow Christians have any expectation that we can make a positive difference?
First is to understand that the “Listening and Learning” preaching paradigm we have grown up with is not Biblical. Until we do, we will have no reason to question it, much less to change it. Since many pastors do not emphasize how the Biblical truths in their sermons should impact our worldview and lifestyle, most of us conclude that our basic responsibility is to continue to store up knowledge about God and confine it inside our homes and churches, thereby allowing non-Christians to run amuck with their cultural agenda. This was most certainly not the case with those who listened to the Puritans. Their pastors were not only zealous for the expansion of Christ’s Kingdom, but for their members to experience the truths of Scripture in their everyday situations and circumstances.
By carefully explaining the text of their sermon and then presenting examples of how it could be applied to the lives of their members, the Puritan pastors enabled their listeners to discern whether the types of daily decisions they were making were in sync with God’s revealed will.
As the Prophet Isaiah states, if our daily decisions do not conform “[t]o the law and to the testimony,” this can only mean that “there is no light in them” (Isa. 8:20). Today’s post-Puritan preaching paradigm of providing sound Biblical exegesis without also including practical ideas on how to incorporate Biblical truths into their members’ worldview and lifestyle has proven to be a pietistic paralysis to well-intentioned members, as far as living out their faith.
Why should pastors lead us to conclude that the application of Biblical truths can only be carried out by para-church organizations and/or political action groups?
A friend who runs a well-respected conservative organization made the remark, “We have a long way to go!” as we discussed various solutions for our culture war. She has a Christian worldview, which is why she could make what appears to be a very basic and common-sense statement. However, if she were like most of our fellow Christians, this statement wouldn’t have come to her mind because she wouldn’t know where it is that God wants us to be, and without knowing that, it would be impossible for her to conclude that we have a long way to go to get there.
To live without a Christian worldview means that a person is, for all intents and purposes, taking an existential view of life. He takes each day as it comes and tries to make the best of it, but doesn’t have any long-range plans or goals about how he should live because in order to have those, he would have to have an overall purpose in mind. Without that overriding purpose, his Christian lifestyle is reduced to attempting to live a morally upstanding life, being courteous to everyone, and doing what he can to help those in need. While each of these character traits is admirable, they provide an incomplete answer for why God calls us into Christ’s Kingdom.
- We know that God works “all things … together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28), but we aren’t certain what His purpose is.
- Still, we take comfort in the fact that God is smarter than we are and knows what He is doing, even though it can be frustrating to live in a culture in which fellow Christians are timidly allowing non-Christians to “call the shots.”
The “It’s as Simple as 1-3-2” list illustrates our predicament as well as our path to winning the culture war.
It’s as Simple as 1-3-2!
Step #1 – We know where we are.
We know we’re losing the culture war.
Step #3 – We don’t know where we’re going.
We don’t know what our culture can become.
Step #2 – We don’t know how to get there.
We’re confused about which strategies and tactics to use to get to where God wants us to be.
Every Christian is well acquainted with Step #1. We know without a doubt that we are losing the culture war, and unless the Christian is young, he also knows that our cultural situation has only gotten worse during his lifetime. Since most pastors don’t explain Step #3, most of us neither know what God has in store for the earth, nor the important and most significant purpose for which He has called us into His Kingdom. Obviously, if we don’t know where we’re going, we’re not going to be able to determine how to get there (Step #2). If a person has an unclear picture of Step #3, his view of Step #2 will also be fuzzy, if visible at all! This means that many of us are trapped in Step #1 with no idea of what to do to next, or even if there is a next step. As a result of this void that pastors have created by refusing to teach the whole counsel of God (knowledge and application), two camps of Christians have arisen, with neither being able to solve our cultural issues because what they are doing, even though well-intended, does not conform to God’s prescribed solutions in His revealed Word.
One group has decided to go through life as mere spectators while they wait for Jesus to return to rescue them supernaturally from this cultural mess. The other group recognizes that there is no Biblical warrant to wait for Jesus to rescue us from our commanded duties (Matt. 25:14–30; Luke 19:11–27), so they join a conservative political organization or a para-church group, or both. But, again, conservative solutions are not necessarily Christian, and since ONLY God’s Word works, their well-intentioned, man-created plans never achieve the hoped-for results.
For pastors (as well as parents and disciplers) to be able to offer a viable explanation of why it is necessary for all Christians to incorporate Biblical truths into their everyday decision-making, they must paint a clear mental picture of what God promises that our culture can become (Step #3). Once fellow Christians understand this, they will be ready to develop various strategies and tactics to incorporate into their worldview and lifestyle (Step #2). As pastors (and parents and mentors) explain how various spiritual gifts of individuals can be used to combat the elements of the non-Christian cultural agenda, their members will be able to connect their spiritual dots and recognize how they can use the gifts and abilities that God has given them.
Puritan pastors recognized that they were God’s “messengers and mediators” to show their listeners their “uprightness” (Job 33:23). They knew that their calling involved teaching their congregation and praying for them. To do this, they got to know their members, often through catechizing them in their homes. I can imagine many pastors saying, “Buddy, that might have worked in the eighteenth century, but there is no way I could do that in our fast-paced twenty-first century!” My response to that is, how do you know what your members need to be taught and/or for what they need prayer? Are you admitting that for the sake of convenience you are merely going to preach generic sermons and pray generic prayers? If so, you are ignoring the two most basic questions on the minds of everyone who listens to your sermons:
- What does this message mean for me?
- How should these Biblical truths impact my worldview and lifestyle?
Christians of all ages will be excited to find that they have been called into Christ’s Kingdom with a most important purpose, which is to restore our culture to its pre-Fall condition (Gen. 3:15). Our triune God of the Bible certainly doesn’t need to work His will for the earth through our obedience. If He wanted, He could wiggle His nose (if He had one) and instantly have the world Christianized. In this scenario, we could merely sit on the sidelines of life and watch this unfold. However, praise God, this is not the scenario that God created. His design includes us in the thick of things, “working out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12), while we “crush Satan under [our] feet!” (Rom. 16:20 NKJV).
In the meantime each of us must recognize the necessity of always weaving God’s Big Picture of where we’re going (Step #3) into our Bible lessons so our listeners will understand their purpose in life and how to go about accomplishing it (Step #2). Whether we are a pastor, parent, or a discipler, we must guard against placing all of our efforts and emphasis on filling our listener’s tanks with spiritual fuel, without giving any instructions on where we’re supposed to go and/or how we’re supposed to get there. As a result of operating according to this “Teaching and Learning” paradigm, the church has become little more than a theological filling station on a mental island surrounded by roads with no destination signs. The result is that when we pull out of the church parking lot, it doesn’t matter which direction we go because we’re going nowhere in particular, which means, as the Cheshire cat tells Alice, “[A]ny road will take us there.”2
- Does your congregation (and family) have a clear idea of which direction it should go?
- Does it know why it should go in that direction?
- Do your members know how to use their spiritual gifts along the way?
- Do your church and family members understand that their main goal is to conform their daily decisions to God’s Word and then trust in and rely upon God’s sovereign control of His creation to bring about His eternally perfect plan according to His eternally perfect timetable?
[S]eek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness … (Mt. 6:33, emphasis added)
When Jesus commands us to “seek ye first the kingdom of God,” He is talking about the personal salvation aspect of our life. And when He adds that we should seek “his righteousness,” He is referring to the public demonstration aspect. Whenever we prepare a lesson, whether it is for a formal sermon, an informal small group, or a family lesson around our kitchen table, we must make sure that it includes both of these aspects, or else we are not presenting a complete picture of our commanded duties (the whole counsel of God).
Since only God’s Word is true, we must rely on His perfect Word to define our terms, otherwise we will end up with an incomplete or erroneous description. To correctly live the “righteous” lifestyle of which Jesus speaks, we must obey God’s commands. The Apostle Paul adds another key term for our lifestyle when he urges us to“[p]ursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14 NKJV, emphasis added). Since we “won’t see the Lord” without being holy, we need to make certain that we know the correct definition of this all-important word, and once again, the only way to be certain of that is to define it according to God’s terms. This, of course, Paul does at length in his letters to the churches at Galatia, Ephesus, and Colosse. Indeed, in his letter to the church at Rome, Paul states: “[T]he kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17 NKJV, emphasis added).
It is very clear that being “holy” and “righteous” are nonnegotiable elements of being a member of Christ’s Kingdom, therefore Bible teachers have no excuse for neglecting to provide clear examples of how to incorporate the Biblical truths in their lessons into the lifestyles of their listeners.
This explains why Paul cautions us to “work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). His point is not that we should work to “get” our salvation, since he explains to the church of Ephesus that we “have been saved through faith” and that “it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8 NKJV), but that we should “work” to become holy by conforming our daily decision-making to the Biblical truths in which we profess to believe. Once again we see that the Christian life is not a one-time “me and Jesus” event, but a life-long testimony of the grace of God by which we daily demonstrate answers to our non-Christian neighbors for questions they may not even know to ask about how to live. But even in this ongoing process of living out our faith, we are told that God “works in [us] both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13 NKJV). What this means is that with the new spiritual heart that the Holy Spirit gives to us with God’s law written on it (Jer. 31:33; Ezek. 36:26–27; Heb. 8:9–10) is a built-in motivator to “put off” our former ungodly behaviors and to “put on” new godly behaviors (Eph. 4:22–24; Col. 3:8–11)!
Whether you are a pastor, parent, or discipler, or all three, you should challenge yourself to see whether your lessons are following the current “Listening and Learning” model or the Puritan (and Biblical) “Listening, Learning, and Doing” model. Notice how Jesus, in His Sermon on the Mount, frequently uses word pictures to bring home His points about how to “do” His Word (Matt. 5–7).
- After listing the Beatitudes, He illustrates what it means to live according to them by using the metaphor of their being “salt and light” (Matt. 5:13–16).
- In explaining that keeping the law involves more than literally refraining from a certain behavior, He tells them that murder and adultery begin “in the heart” (Matt. 5:21–30).
- He next points out the wide-ranging consequences of marriage and personal oaths (Matt. 5:31–37) and what it is to relate to our non-Christian neighbors in a manner that brings honor to God (Matt. 5:38–6:4).
- Upon concluding His outline for how we are to pray, Jesus goes into another series of brief explanations of basing our behavior upon what God commands instead of what man demands (Matt. 6:16–34).
- In describing how to judge others correctly, Jesus tells us to“[r]emove the plank from [our] own eye” before attempting to “remove the speck from [our] brother’s eye” (Matt. 7:1–6 NKJV).
- He also likens persistence in praying to how we answer the requests from our children (Matt. 7:7–12).
- Jesus concludes His sermon by painting a contrasting word picture of a person who builds his house upon a rock (His Word) and a person who builds his house upon sand (man’s word) (Matt. 7:24–27).
Jesus’ goal was not to make His listeners feel good via humorous anecdotes, but rather to make them feel good because they had an accurate understanding of how they should live and govern themselves.
How is it with you?
- As you teach the various Biblical truths, are you careful to point out that the Christian lifestyle is far more glorious than adding a few moralistic character traits to our former non-Christian lifestyle?
- Do you make clear that, as Christians, we are expected to completely transform our lifestyle so that our non-Christian neighbors will have no doubt that we march to a very different ethical drummer?
- As you prepare for your next sermon, or small group study, are you making certain that you help your listeners answer the all-important question about how they can present a Biblical antithesis to the cultural agenda of non-Christians?
- If your message doesn’t answer this question, why doesn’t it?
How to Demonstrate the Faith
Whether your teaching role is a pastor, parent, or discipler, you can carry out your calling by following the four points that enabled the Puritans to “win the West” for God. Including these four points in our teaching, parenting, and discipling will not only help us to prevent Western civilization from its continuing slide toward the non-Christian ethics of the East, but in God’s timing, to “win the East!”
D – Help your listeners discern which commandment applies to a cultural situation.
E – Present several ways of incorporating God’s ethics into their worldview and lifestyle.
M – Contrast non-Christian behavior with God’s mandatory model of behavior.
O – Reinforce the truth that Christianity is a complete transformation of one’s worldview and lifestyle, not merely the addition of a few moralistic behaviors to our former worldview and lifestyle. Emphasize that the only way to achieve this is to put off our former ungodly habits and to put on new godly habits based upon the laws that the Holy Spirit has written on our heart.
This Sounds Great, but How Do I Get Started?
Life, like sports, is all about momentum. We don’t have to be convinced that non-Christians had “Big Mo” on their side in the early years of the twenty-first century. What’s needed is to convince our fellow Christians that we can take “Big Mo” away from the bad guys and that doing so is not all that difficult. All that is needed is to select one of Paul’s divinely inspired Obedience Starters and do it! Then select another and do it! Then select another and do it! By then, you will not have to force yourself to select an Obedience Starter because you will have “Big Mo” on your side and will be anxiously looking for an opportunity to put another one in play in your daily situations and circumstances. Paul’s Obedience Starters will enable you to get you and your listeners’ minds focused on serving God and to realize the “aahs” of an experiential Christianity, instead of the “blahs” of a mental Christianity.
Demonstrate one of these to the next person in your path!
- Tender mercies
- Forgiving one another
- Above all, put on love (which is obeying God’s law)
“Love … does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, thinks no evil.”
1 Cor. 13:4–5 NKJV
- Honor your father and your mother …
- You shall not murder.
- You shall not commit adultery.
- You shall not steal.
- You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
- You shall not covet.
Exod. 20:12–17 NKJV
1. R. J. Rushdoony, Systematic Theology, Vol. 2 (Ross House Books, 1994), 670–671; Vol. 1, pp. 66, 82, 99, 103–104.
2. Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Chronicle Books, 2002).