Free Indeed

Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, The people whom He has chosen for His own inheritance (Psalm 33:12)

This morning I saw a bumper sticker that said, “Restore America.” I don’t know if the sentiment is a faith-based one or merely the patriotism of conservative politics. I know I am on many email loops that complain about what is happening to our country, so maybe my eye is more attuned to these sentiments on various platforms, but there seems to be a lot of them these days. I am sure that if we polled each of the sources, we would come up with a couple dozen or more solutions to our country’s plight. They likely would all overlap on the plank of changing the residents of Washington, DC, but beyond that every opinion would be different.

The men and women that founded this country were people of rare courage, a courage that we don’t see duplicated in our day. The tyranny they fought against cost them “[their] lives, [their] fortunes and [their] sacred honor.” And it wasn’t just the men and women who used to be named in our history books; they included the unnamed minutemen in Massachusetts and the anonymous soldiers at Valley Forge, not to mention their wives and children that tended their homes and farms while they were away. But today, precious few of us have the courage to sacrifice the material substance that we have accumulated to stand against the re-energized forces of tyranny that have emerged in our country. What is the difference between then and now? What was the source of their courage in that day? Can it be recovered, and if so, how?

I submit that the source of that courage was the revival known as the Great Awakening that swept through Colonial America 25 – 30 years prior to the Revolution. This Revival, the chief spokesman of which was Jonathan Edwards (although there were many others), restored the spiritual foundation to the American Colonies that had led to the founding of most of them. That spiritual foundation was distinctively Christian – not Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu or even secular. Men and women were set free from the bondage of sin in their hearts and realized they were created to be free from every kind of bondage. Consider the famous words of Jesus: “If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed (John 8:36). Paul said it differently, but the meaning was the same: “who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us out of this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Galatians 1:4).

Men who have never been set free from sin are seldom willing to risk their lives and livelihoods to be set free politically. They are far more likely to learn to manage their bondage and make the best of it because they have no assurance, indeed no real hope, that their sacrifice would result in any substantive change. At best they would join a movement of others toward freedom, which is why we know the name of Thomas Paine and those of a few other humanists of that era (but none from any other religious system).

The cry in America for restoration will be just an impotent cry until there is a genuine revival of Christianity in America. The only source of the courage we need in an oppressive age is one that transcends time because the restoration we seek will not happen overnight and few of us  – outside of authentic relationships with Jesus – are willing to sacrifice for something that will not benefit us personally.

Worshipping and Fasting

 Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off (Acts 13:1-3 ESV)

Many churches hold up the first century church as the standard to live up to, and they are correct. Some think that if they celebrate the Lord’s Supper in a certain way or frequency, they are following the first century pattern. Some think that if they preach from the Scripture they are following the pattern to the full. Still others imagine that if they experience the signs and wonders that accompanied the apostles’ ministry, they can make the claim to be the “true church.”

Few however in our day follow the pattern set by the Church at Antioch. We don’t know how regularly they met for worship and fasting; this incident in Acts 13 may have been the only time. But personally, I think it was a regular thing.

Worship” here is mentioned because they were honoring His Person. Worship is not just a rehearsal of all the things God has done for us; it is extolling His virtues, praising His character. It’s the difference between saying to your spouse, “Thanks for the good meal” and “You are a great cook!” Both are appropriate in the right context, but  the praise goes to character. The Scripture speaks of “seek[ing] His face” (Ps 27:8) (who He is) versus seeking His hands (what He does).

“Fasting” is usually associated with an intense need. The incidents of fasting throughout the Scripture are usually connected with a threat to the well being of the nation or the individual. In this case (Acts 13:3) it seems they fasted for the purpose of getting the next step right as the Church was going forward.

As the Church in America becomes more marginalized in the society, many who are earnestly seeking revival are returning to these practices. It is not enough to merely acknowledge His provisions to us; we are being drawn to worship Him, to adopt His values, to wait for His voice. I heard recently a comparison of worship to an orchestra whose Composer and Conductor is the Lord Himself. Sometimes He calls upon our “voices” to play a supportive role; at other times to play the melody; still other times we are to remain silent.

But turning from this metaphor, He has created us in His image so that we can be His partners in the grand cause of world evangelization, “that the whole world may know that He is God.” Just as the Church in Antioch expressed their urgency through fasting, it needs to be revived in the Church again. We need to fall on our faces before Him that all men everywhere would repent and seek Him.

Wikipedia Christians

In January, 2001 Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger launched a new kind of information source called “Wikipedia.” In the 13 years since it’s inception it has become the fifth most popular website with about 500 million unique visitors each month. Of course, most know that the special characteristic of the site is that volunteers – not professionals – update the information. As such, some question the accuracy and consistency of the articles. Still, many of us use the site as a quick source of information, much like we used to trust the nerdy student in high school rather than taking the time to research a question on our own.

I fear that the Church in America is becoming “wikipediated.” As a matter of convenience or laziness, we trust others to inform us about the God that created and redeemed us – before Whom we will one day give an account.

Both Testaments testify to the accuracy and authority of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures. For more than 2 millennia the Church has judged the accuracy of its theology against the text of the Bible. The revival known as The Reformation was accelerated by Gutenberg’s printing press giving the common man the Scriptures in his own language, and even though distributors of the Scriptures were oppressed and persecuted, the Bible became the best-selling book of all time. As people read it, they were transformed.

But people no longer read the Bible. We get our theological information from our religious leaders, but we rarely check out the substance of that information. We trust the theological institutions that gave them degrees or the ecclesiastical organizations that ordained them. What we don’t realize is that many of these institutions and organizations have watered down their standards, being more concerned about “bottom line” issues than they are about Truth. We are “wikipediated.”

Or we get our theology from the media. Prime time television brought the subject of “angels” into our homes in several shows a few years back, but it is likely that very few people compared the portrayal of these characters with the Biblical teachings. I remember raising this idea to a friend of mine – a pastor’s wife – who defended their viewership with the comment, “But there is nothing else that is wholesome on TV!” Television has “wikipediated” us.

Movies are no better. I cannot count the number of times I have seen Charleton Heston portray Moses in “The Ten Commandments” and though Cecil B. DeMille used many lines directly from the Scripture, it is impossible to re-tell 40 years of Biblical history (and 4 books of the Bible) in a 3 hour movie. And that movie was produced in an era where the Bible was largely considered to be accurate. Bible-themed movies since are geared to audiences that have questioned or even rejected the inspiration and authority of the Scripture. In our day theological understanding is more conditioned by Mark Burnett, Roma Downey and Mel Gibson than it is by Peter, Paul and John. I have no beef with the producers of these movies. My beef is that we are “wikipediated.”

The answer to this trend is obvious: we must return to the Book. Like the English teacher that criticizes a term paper for relying on secondary sources rather than primary ones, God will ask us why we didn’t consult His Book. Our denomination proudly claims AW Tozer who wrote The Pursuit of God. Can we really say we are pursuing Him if we fail to consider – even, meditate on – what He said directly to us?

Of course, we are not the first. The Hebrews that followed Moses out of Egypt didn’t want to hear directly from God either (look up Exodus 20:19 – don’t just take my word for it), so they asked Moses to listen to Him and tell them what God said. They allowed themselves to be “wikipediated” – and we know what happened to them.