A Post-Church Society

“…so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love…” (Ephesians 3:17, ESV).

I have been conscious for years that we live in a post-Christian world. The values of American society that used to be rooted in a Judeo-Christian worldview have eroded into a largely secular philosophy. This has happened in the last sixty years, but it has been amplified by the postmodernism of the past 25 years. Recently, however, I heard our world described as a “post-church” society.

The post-Christian moniker alarms me, but God’s people have always thrived when there has been a sharp distinction between our values and those of the world. I admit, however, that I am more disturbed by the “post-church” label. It seems that many today think that they can meet and be close to Christ without joining with a community of believers.

When Paul wrote to the Christians in Ephesus, he included two classic prayers, one in the first chapter and one in the third chapter. Unlike our prayers, they had little to do with someone’s health concerns or financial struggles. One phrase of the prayer in chapter 3 calls upon God to cause the people be “rooted and grounded in love.”

The imagery suggests a plant that grows because of the healthy soil in which it is planted. It draws nourishment from what surrounds it. If it is not in an environment that is conducive to healthy development, it will shrivel up and die.

When I lived in South Carolina many years ago I tried to duplicate my dad’s spectacular garden which was in downstate Illinois. My attempt was an utter failure because the sandy soil had few nutrients, especially compared to my dad’s garden which he planted near the old barn that had been where he had raised his hogs.

The technology of our day is a wonderful thing, but is no substitute for the rich wealth of the inter-generational relationships developed in the local church, especially in a church that feeds upon the richness of the Scripture. Yet, more and more, I hear of people who are turning away from the church. As I grow older, I understand the stress of people who tune in to some form of media because their physical condition limits their ability to assemble with the community of believers. But I am more disturbed by those who choose their “Lone Ranger” Christianity because the Church has been linked to right-wing politics or, worse, because they cannot forgive a hurt they experienced in the church in times past.

The Church has never been perfect; there have always been conflicts. Nuances in teaching can be sources of conflict, and hurtful comments over music, decorations, or architecture will always exist. Martin Luther is reported to have said, “When the devil was kicked out of heaven, he landed in the choir loft.” Even in Luther’s day, apparently, there was disagreement over the church music.

But the Church is the soil in which the nutritional benefits of the Word are best assimilated into a believer’s heart. It is here, in an atmosphere of forgiveness and compassion, that the Lord can create healthy disciples. Here, He can encourage us, rebuke us when necessary, and strengthen us to grow in the harsh environment of a hostile world. Without the Church (yes, and the Word), Christians shrivel up and die.

A Father’s Love

Just as a father has compassion on his children, So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him (Psalm 103:13).

Often when I share the Gospel with people in our day, the question arises concerning the character of God. In the popular mind there seems to be the idea that a God of love cannot be a God of justice. The two qualities are mutually exclusive.But the popular idea is wrong.

Perhaps that is why our Creator placed us in families – to offer us a perfect example of the balance of these two attributes. As a father, there were times when I wrapped my kids in my arms and loved them. If You could be a fly on the wall observing us, you would conclude, “There’s a dad who loves his kids” (and you would have been correct). But it wasn’t unknown, when I released them from my hug, for my mischievous son to irritate his sister or brother or do some other forbidden action. My next move might have been to discipline that son firmly (depending upon the severity of the offense).  As the observant “fly on the wall,” you might conclude, “There’s a dad that has a wrath against sin” (again, you would have observed correctly).

Does a father stop loving when he disciplines? Does he set aside his standards when he loves? NEVER! A parent knows that he can love his child infinitely and unconditionally and still express his anger over sin. Indeed, as I used to tell my kids, “I love you too much to allow you to  think you can get away with [whatever attitude or offense he committed] when you get older. Because I love you I want you to know that this attitude will result in pain for you.”

But I also have observed over the years that there is a difference between the love (compassion) of a father and that of a mother. Though my characterization is not absolute, Mom is often there to soothe the hurts and to comfort a child; Dad is often the one to tell a child to endure a hardship for the reward that will follow. Hence, he disciplines and the child “runs to Mama.”

According to David’s Psalm (quoted above) God’s compassion for men is more properly characterized as a father’s compassion. He has standards and expectations and He knows that those standards require obedience and discipline. He doesn’t just ooze with good intentions and sentimentality.

As a man Dad recognizes that he has a task to do that gives him fulfillment and gladness, and he knows that his greatest joy is found when he is able to provide for those he loves through that purposeful work. It is this sense of purpose and fulfillment that he desires for his child – male or female – so that his discipline reflects that desire.

The God of the Bible is like that. There is a larger purpose behind His discipline and the whole correctional process. That discipline – wrath, if it must be so severe – is really a function of His love.

 

 

Take Hold of Instruction

Take hold of instruction; do not let go. Guard her for she is your life (Prov 4:13)

Being instructed is hard. It rubs against our pride by forcing us to admit that there is something lacking in us, and everything in our society tells us that we are complete and adequate in ourselves, just as we are. There is nothing in us that requires instruction, at least not morally; men are basically good in themselves. If there is a flaw, society will take care of that through its Department of Corrections. The emphasis in public education upon “self-esteem” undermines real instruction. No longer does a student have to master a certain body of material; he is given passing marks so that he will feel good about himself. As a result of this unBiblical philosophy, larger numbers of our society are having to be “corrected.”

But Solomon’s words to us – if they are followed – actually help us live satisfying lives, because they keep us humble. We don’t think “more highly of ourselves than we ought to think” (Rom 12:3). We recognize in these words that there is real life…satisfying life…fulfilling life…abundant life, not a pretense of life like we see in the characters on TV and the movies. That’s why Solomon tells us to “guard her.”

Primarily Solomon has the informal instruction of a parent to his child in mind, but it is not outside the meaning here to think of formal instruction. Some professions expect a certain amount of “Continuing Education” or “Professional Development” of their members. My own course in seminary is stretching me to read things that I might otherwise have set aside. In some cases I have read books that I had not known existed, books confirming certain convictions in me but which I had no idea had been put into print. The confirming of those convictions has been a great encouragement to me, in some cases delivering me from an “Elijah Syndrome,” the feeling of being all alone in my ministry.

I’m glad I “[took] hold of instruction.”

Take Hold of Instruction

Take hold of instruction; do not let go. Guard her for she is your life (Prov 4:13)

Being instructed is hard. It rubs against our pride by forcing us to admit that there is something lacking in us, and everything in our society tells us that we are complete and adequate in ourselves, just as we are. There is nothing in us that requires instruction, at least not morally; men are basically good in themselves. If there is a flaw, society will take care of that through its Department of Corrections. The emphasis in public education upon “self-esteem” undermines real instruction. No longer does a student have to master a certain body of material; he is given passing marks so that he will feel good about himself. As a result of this unBiblical philosophy, larger numbers of our society are having to be “corrected.”

But Solomon’s words to us – if they are followed – actually help us live satisfying lives, because they keep us humble. We don’t think “more highly of ourselves than we ought to think” (Rom 12:3). We recognize in these words that there is real life…satisfying life…fulfilling life…abundant life, not a pretense of life like we see in the characters on TV and the movies. That’s why Solomon tells us to “guard her.”

Primarily Solomon has the informal instruction of a parent to his child in mind, but it is not outside the meaning here to think of formal instruction. Some professions expect a certain amount of “Continuing Education” or “Professional Development” of their members. My own course in seminary is stretching me to read things that I might otherwise have set aside. In some cases I have read books that I had not known existed, books confirming certain convictions in me but which I had no idea had been put into print. The confirming of those convictions has been a great encouragement to me, in some cases delivering me from an “Elijah Syndrome,” the feeling of being all alone in my ministry.

I’m glad I “[took] hold of instruction.”