Part 1 of 3
Future historians will undoubtedly shake their heads in amazement at our cultural conditions. Think about the scenario we're providing for them:
Non-Christians who don't believe in absolute truth, and in some cases even reject the concept of truth, are busily trying one idea after another in an effort to bring about cultural improvements. Meanwhile, Christians, who do believe in absolute truth and in a purposeful cause-and-effect creation, are not attempting to do anything to bring about positive changes in our culture. In other words, non-Christians, who believe they are biological accidents in a random and chance creation, are living like Christians with the expectations that their behaviors will bring about hoped-for results, and Christians are living like non-Christians by having no expectations that their obedient and God-honoring behaviors will produce positive consequences for their culture, and, in effect, are depending upon a sudden, random act from Jesus to deliver (and excuse) them from their commanded responsibilities!
This is not to say that non-Christians have any desire to live like Christians. They most certainly don't. Nor is it to say that Christians have any desire to live like non-Christians; we don't. But this is what is happening. Future historians may well conclude that the world of twenty-first-century America was turned "upside down." They may also ask, "Why did American Christians ignore the core theological answers to life's questions that non-Christian worldly philosophers had given up on answering?" In addition, they may wonder, "What were Bible teachers teaching to cause Christians to live in such a manner?" and, "Why didn't Christians make it a priority to disciple each other by explaining these fundamental answers to life?"
This series looks to God's Word for His prescription on what we can do to stop living like non-Christians, and to begin living like Christians. The framework for the answer of turning our world "rightside up" includes three parts:
Part One: Conforming our Little Picture of Life to God's Big Picture.
Part Two: Changing the paradigm of how we view the church and our role in it from "Library Science," to "Life Science."
Part Three: Assisting fellow Christians to Re-suppose what we Pre-suppose by interpreting the Bible in terms of our Present Days, instead of according to the Last Days.
Let's begin by looking at these primary answers to life that we for one reason or another are hiding from each other.1
1. Who are we? ("A chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.") 1 Peter 2:9
2. What are we supposed to do? ("Rule the earth," and be "ambassadors for Christ.") Gen. 1:26-28; 2 Cor. 5:20
3. When are we supposed to apply God's Word? ("Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.") 2 Timothy 4:2
4. Where are we supposed to apply God's Word? (Everywhere! "Walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.") Colossians 1:10
5. Why can we expect to be successful by conforming our lifestyle to Biblical ethics? ("Those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me shall be lightly esteemed.") 1 Samuel 2:30
6. How are we supposed to do it? (Present a godly lifestyle [testimony] for our non-Christian neighbors to observe; share the Gospel; and teach God's ethics for living to our families and others.) Luke 10:27
What a blessing it is to be an adopted member of God's family and Christ's Kingdom! With the "veil" that used to cloud our understanding having been "lifted," we now have the matchless advantage of being able to know how to live as our Creator desires, and commands2-indeed, how we would naturally live had not Adam and Eve sinned. However, in contrast to our sure, certain and never-changing answers to life, our non-Christian neighbors, cannot escape the fact that they are attempting to bring about a rational understanding to a world that in their view came about in an irrational manner. King Solomon captures the view of non-Christians by stating,
"What profit has a man from all his labor in which he toils under the sun? One generation passes away, and another generation comes ... the sun also rises, and the sun goes down... there is nothing new under the sun." Ecclesiastes 1:3-9
The only thing about which they can be certain is the current "moment," which means that tomorrow's "moment" is an entirely different and separate entity, with no connection to today's moment. We only need to remember how we approached life before our conversion to recall how frustrating, confusing, and ultimately hopeless the non-Christian lifestyle is.
By God's grace, we have been enabled to see history as a slow and steady unfolding of His eternally perfect plan for His creation. We understand that time is linear and meaningful, not cyclical and meaningless, and we can point to numerous civilizations that have flourished and been able to sustain themselves by living in obedience to His rules. In stark contrast to this, non-Christians can point to no civilization that has been able to sustain itself by following man's rules. Yes, wars and various other unpleasant potholes are included along life's highway, but their root cause is man's sinfulness, and not the mindless workings of a random, haphazard universe.
Since we agree that God's Word is true and without errors or contradictions, a question that should haunt us is: "Why don't we trust in God enough to conform our lifestyle to His perfect counsel?"3 Why do we apparently believe more in what our non-Christian neighbors say about how we should live than we do in what God says? With the significant number of Americans who profess to be Christians, the cultural condition of our country would certainly be dramatically different if we trusted in God's wisdom more than we apparently trust in our own wisdom.
Conforming Our Little Picture of Life to God's Big Picture
There are two things we must do, to successfully carry out our calling:
1. Think God's thoughts after Him (by consistently studying in His Word).
2. Fit our Little Picture (immediate circumstances) into God's Big Picture (His revealed will for earth) so that we are certain we are attacking the taproot of an issue and not just an isolated branch.
Jesus intends for us to go about our daily tasks by viewing the world through God's eyes, not our eyes. This is the only way we will be able to shift our focus from one that is primarily concerned with the Little Picture that focuses primarily on our situations and circumstances, to God's Big Picture that focuses on His plan for a redeemed earth. There are two ways of viewing these questions: horizontally (man-centered), or vertically (God-centered). Seven fundamental lifestyle questions are listed under these two headings:
LITTLE PICTURE QUESTIONS: Our Time-Oriented Priorities
1. What should a Christian think about a particular topic, situation or circumstance?
2. How can I (with God's help) improve my culture?
3. Which heroes provide role models for me, my spouse, or my family?
4. Should I participate in politics?
BIG PICTURE QUESTIONS: God's Life-Oriented Priorities
5. What is God's perfect and unchanging plan for mankind?
6. How does each area of my life conform to Biblical ethics?
7. Am I providing a consistent lifestyle testimony for those with whom I come in contact?
To view these questions through our eyes would be to see them in two horizontal groupings, with our Little Picture time-oriented priorities nearest to us, and God's Big Picture priorities grouped behind them. We know that God's Big Picture life-oriented priorities are "out there," but since they are obscured from our line of sight they remain fuzzy in our thought processes. All are good questions and need to be asked and answered. However, by beginning our focus with questions 1-4, our tendency is to try to fit God's priorities (questions 5-7) into our overall thoughts and plans as best we can.
For proof that such an approach will fail, we only have to think about our daily spiritual practice. Anyone who has attempted to "add" a few minutes with God to either the beginning or end of a day has likely experienced unsatisfactory "hit and miss" results. May we not forget that God is not some subjective Being on the periphery of our life; He is our life. There is no Scriptural justification for beginning each day with a "To Do" list that does not have serving God at the top. Hoping to fit God in "between the cracks" of our routine demonstrates that our priorities come first, and that His priorities come in a distant second. Such an attitude clearly demeans God's importance in our life and testifies to our non-Christian neighbors that He has nothing important to do with our daily actions and decision-making, since our lifestyle is so similar to theirs.
If we're not careful, the Little Picture questions will serve to block out the Big Picture questions by conning us into thinking we're living for God when we're really only being "busy" for Him.
The preferred way of viewing life and these questions is to look at them from a vertical perspective because that enables us to constantly have all seven questions clearly in view. This way we are reminded to sift our various daily decisions and priorities through God's overarching priorities to make certain that our actions conform to His revealed ethics. By doing this we are not only able to carry out His will, but we also present to our neighbors a lifestyle that is distinctively different, attractive (and Christian!).4
We should never forget that God is concerned first and foremost about His will being done on earth.5 He's interested in our being "more than conquerors through Christ,"6 not busying ourselves in church-sponsored activities and events that may have little to do with bringing about His will on earth. God doesn't simply want a portion of our valuable time, He demands and commands our entire life! Since questions 5-7 are life-oriented, keeping a clear focus on them enables us also to deal consistently with questions 1-4. May we therefore be careful to view life through God's eyes, from a vertical perspective, instead of from the fallen horizontal perspective of our non-Christian neighbors. This is why the apostle Paul says we should be:
Casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled. (2 Cor. 10:5-6)
How Did We Become So Near-Sighted?
Christianity is not to be lived in quiet seclusion with the only application of the truths we believe taking place inside our homes and churches. On the contrary, we are commanded to approach everyday tasks within a corporate or covenantal context. The pietistic attitude of "not forcing our beliefs on others" is not Biblical. It was the seventeenth-century English philosopher John Locke who popularized the idea that Christianity is a private concern. Since Locke and other Enlightenment leaders thought man's reason ruled supreme, it was only logical for them to encourage Christians to remain silent when it came to cultural matters, because in their view, "spiritual thoughts" were not relevant to "real life."
During this time frame, the term "soul saving" took on an unbiblical meaning. Rushdoony notes, "Soul in Scripture means very commonly the life of man, so that Biblical soul-saving is concerned with the total life and being of a man, and soul-saving means the regeneration of the whole man. Salvation now was by implication limited to one side of a man, his soul or spirit, and salvation had an inner meaning rather than a total and cosmic meaning."7
The truth of the matter is that every day at every point someone is attempting to influence someone else according to his worldview. This means that if we don't demonstrate our beliefs to those with whom we come in contact, we will very likely be the only persons who aren't living according to our worldview. The same lesson holds for churches. If the pastor and other church officers are not presenting a thorough and on-going Biblical analysis of how their congregation can apply God's Word to current events, they are not doing their job.
Helping Fellow Christians Identify Spiritual Gifts
Our fellow Christians desperately need to be instructed about God's Big Picture for the earth. They need assistance in identifying their Spiritual gifts so they can set Little Picture goals for themselves and their family. It is also important for them to understand that when they study the Bible, whether in private, in a small group, or a worship service, their goal should be to learn how to serve Jesus more faithfully and consistently, because Christianity is a "Life Science," and not merely to continue to add up more knowledge about God, as though Christianity is a "Library Science." Finally, they need to understand that their submission to God's revealed counsel, combined with the submission and obedience of Christians across the world, will assist in completing Satan's defeat.8
Changing the Paradigm of How We View the Church and Our Role in It from "Library Science," to "Life Science"
People who attend the "good guy" churches come with an expectation to hear an exegetically sound sermon. When they do, they leave satisfied and probably forget the message during their drive back home. Why? Because most of the "good guy" sermons, while filled with solid Biblical truths, have little explicit connection to the learners' everyday situations and circumstances. At most, the truths in the sermon provide a level of comfort by reminding us that God is in charge of His creation, but since the pastor isn't likely to provide practical suggestions on how to live out those truths, we continue to view ourselves as spiritual outsiders on earth, instead of spiritual providers on how to successfully make the most of life for our non-Christian neighbors.
I've heard friends brag that the sermons at their church are longer than the typical sermons at other churches. But the solution to America's ills is not the length of our sermons, but that we come away with at least one Biblical ethic to incorporate into our lifestyle today.
Sports coaches don't care how much their players know about playing the game, but how well they play it. Successful sports coaches win not because their players know the "X's & O's," but because they have systematically instructed their "Jimmy's & Joe's" how to perform the basic fundamentals of the game.
Can we not say that God thinks the same way about us in terms of how we live for Him, instead of how much we know about Him?9 Christianity should not be thought of as a "Library Science" whereby we study Scripture with the purpose of simply adding to our knowledge about God, but as a "Life Science" whereby we study God's Word in order to be a more consistent servant in Christ's Kingdom. Can we as Bible teachers confidently say that we have done our best to systematically teach learners the fundamentals of how to live, work, play, raise our children, self-govern ourselves, and worship God?
Explain What It Means to be Living in a Cause-and-Effect Creation
God created a cause-and-effect creation whereby "good things" happen when we obey Him, and "bad things" happen when we disobey Him. It appears that every vocation "gets this," except Bible teachers. Like Little League baseball coaches we continue to encourage our learners to "throw strikes," and "hit the ball," but unlike college and professional coaches, we rarely tell them how to perform these skills. As a consequence, our learners take away the idea that they should "throw a strike" when they feel like it, or that they should "hit the ball" when they feel like it because these are things that Christians should do (when they feel like it!). But until we change this paradigm of how Christians view the church and their role in God's family and Christ's Kingdom, they will continue to view being a Christian as little more than a positive "add-on" to their lifestyle (when they feel like it), instead of being a "complete transformation" of their lifestyle.
To bring about this needed paradigm shift we must begin by viewing ourselves as Biblical instructors, instead of Biblical informers. Whether we are teaching our family around the kitchen table, leading a small group, or preaching from the pulpit, the best thing that could immediately happen is for us to cut the information in our lessons in half, and use the other half of our time providing practical suggestions on how to apply the truths in our messages. The more word-pictures and practical examples presented the better, because that only puts more ideas into the minds of the learners on how they can be better servants of Christ.
Apparently, not many American Christians see themselves as they really are. For example, how many sermons and/or small group lessons have you heard that explained these two marvelous verses where the Apostle Peter tells us that we are:
A chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own special people, that we may proclaim the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy. (1 Pet. 2:9-10)
Are We Turning Christian Truths into Content-Free Christian Clichés?
Have we taken the time to drive home the truth that we are not "bugs" on God's windshield, but are, in fact "the windshield?" And that it is the non-Christians who are the "bugs"? Or, has our practice been to present an accurate (and rote-sounding) Biblical definition of these verses and move on to another commonly misunderstood verse, such as:
- Be ready in-season and out-2 Timothy 4:2
- No man can serve two masters-Matthew 6:24
- Be salt and light-Matthew 5:13
The negative consequence of teaching as though we are Biblical informers is that our learners know a good deal about God's Word, but without a thorough understanding of how to incorporate it into their lifestyle, these marvelous truths of God become little more than empty Christian clichés that we quote to each other to make various theological points. This is why it is critical to relate God's Big Picture for the earth to our learners' Little Picture role in it.
So as you prepare your next message, I would suggest four things to consider:
- Is the information Biblically accurate?
- How well does it fit the cares and concerns of the learners?
- What practical applications can I present (throughout the message, not just at the end) that connects their cares and concerns to the truths in the message?
- Extend the message throughout the week via email. For example, send an email on Monday recapping the lesson's key points and inviting feedback for the results of their various applications during the week. That would not only help keep the message fresh in their minds, but be a great way to begin the next message by citing some of their responses. Without giving any names, you could say, "Last week we mentioned ... Here are a couple of ways some of you put God's Word to work, and the results of it. It just turns out that these applications were successful, but even when they don't turn out the way we hoped, we often learn a lesson of how to more effectively apply God's truths. Our walk with Christ is a lifelong process, and we have numerous promises from God that "whatever we sow, we will reap,"10 so as adopted members of God's family and Christ's Kingdom let's make certain that we sow bountifully in order that we will reap bountifully!11
In Part Twoo we will continue our suggestions for how to change the paradigm of viewing the church from being "Library Science" whereby we go to church or a small group study to find out additional information about God, to "Life Science" whereby we go to church and small groups to find out how to use the information we learn to be better servants in Christ's Kingdom.
1. See Mark 4:21.
2. See 2 Corinthians 3:13-17.
3. See Psalm 73:28.
4. See Deuteronomy 4:5-7.
5. See Matthew 6:10.
6. See Romans 8:37.
7. R. J. Rushdoony, "Biblical Faith and Armenian History, Part 2, The Present," Chalcedon Report, December 2001.
8. I am referring to His numerous objective promises to bless our obedience, not any particular subjective eschatological view.
9. See John 4:34.
10. See Galatians 6:7.
11. See 2 Corinthians 9:6.