23 September 2010

Advancing the Kingdom- (Part 5) Building the Kingdom by Ordinary Means

Christian Life and the Kingdom

Part 5 of my 4 part series (?) on Advancing the Kingdom.

Thus far I've been critical of what I deem to be serious errors in defining the Kingdom and thus building of it. Now, I wish to turn to some of the positive aspects of Kingdom building....

It has been rightly argued that Self-denial is the sum of the Christian life. Only then can we rightly love God and neighbour, only then can we die to sin. Mortification a concept both unfamiliar and unpopular is an essential component of the overall picture of salvation.

For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. (Romans 8.13)

Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Colossians 3.5)

We are told to examine ourselves, test ourselves whether we be in the faith, and we need to not proceed blindly. A right self-examination exposes sin and corruption in the heart. Legalistic self-examination focuses on conformity to man-made commandments, and rests content when the Christian 'feels' in compliance. Rather than self-denial, we find self-pride. And rather than a love rooted in self-denial when it comes to others, we find prideful judgment. Pietism is dangerous because in reality it inverts the means of pursuing godliness (Biblical piety) and instead results in glorification of the flesh. Rather than putting off anger, malice, and wrath, and putting on charity/love, the Pietist judges others by their contrived standards and exhibits the 'worldly' heart they hope to avoid by their outward standards which they believe protect them from it.

Sometimes this legalism can take on a more sinister aspect:

1 Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;

2  Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;

3  Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.

4  For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving:

5  For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.

6  ¶If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained.

7  But refuse profane and old wives' fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness.

8  For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.

9  This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation.

(1 Timothy 4.1-9)

Paul here was battling a false spirituality, a false piety which rather than focusing on Christ, engaged in speculative cultural-philosophical based argument. These men whom Paul combats taught the Christian life was dependent on rejecting certain physical or material things in order to rightly worship God.

God can issue commands for us to accept certain things or reject others, but the commands of this nature are rooted in symbol or typology. Think for example of the Mosaic laws pertaining to clothing, diet, and sacrifice.

Some moral commandments are intrinsic, rooted in who God is, while others are temporary, picturing something, modeling something, and can thus be temporary. Murder is intrinsically moral, reflecting a violation of God's character, while burning incense in the temple becomes moral because God commanded it, pointing to Christ. It was temporary, not intrinsic.

These false teachers were teaching that it was Moral to abstain from certain foods, that is was Moral to not marry, or forbid certain members from marriage. At that point, Paul calls it demonic. This type of legalism misunderstands the nature of Creation, the concept of Kingdom and in some cases the very nature and character of God himself.

Coming from the other side….

Wielding guilt as a weapon, the Transformationalist spurs believers into action, convincing them that the normal seemingly mundane aspects of the Christian life are insufficient to please God.

The daily life of prayer, meditation on the Word, worship, and self-mortification, namely the demands of the gospel are decried as not enough. Make sure you catch that when you hear them…the Gospel is not enough. Colson openly says so in those very words. The late Falwell did as well.

Merely living our lives in a fallen world, trusting in Providence to guide our steps is attacked as retreatism.

We are told that in order to be leaven, salt and light, we must engage in active culture-building and/or political activism. Since the New Testament does not support this definition of salt, light, or leaven, figures from Church history and the Old Testament are often appealed to. Daniel was a statesman, Nehemiah a diplomat, and Jeremiah was a cultural commentator.

Yet, when examined closer we realize these interpretations are misguided. Providence may place people in peculiar situations. Daniel and Nehemiah were captives, Jeremiah's task was special, a holy calling from God, and dealing within the covenant context it is not applicable to the Common Grace culture of today. Its parallel application is within the confines of the Body of Christ. Unless you adopt a Sacralist construct and conflate a nation like America with the Body…then you cannot appeal to Jeremiah as an example. The same would be true for John the Baptist, another Biblical figure they often appeal to. His challenges to Herod were within the confines of Israel. John nor Jesus directly challenged the political power of Rome. Spiritual power? That's another matter, but it's a different war and a different means of warfare.

Our challenge to the magistrate and the culture is- Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand, or even Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

Kline writes about the Sethite altar communities of the antediluvian (pre-Flood) period. Living alongside the Cainites, their very presence, the declaration of the Seed to come, their declaration that they were Pilgrims, citizens of a heavenly city, was sufficient.

Transformationalism has misidentified the nature of the Kingdom and thus has misunderstood the tools. We do all to the glory of God, but it is our love and self-denial put into practice that builds the Kingdom, the physical tasks are incidental. They contribute to the Common order, the restraint, which we also very much want, but they are not eternal. It is entirely legitimate to work as an accountant, carpenter, pilot, or seamstress, but those tasks build the Common order which in the end will be destroyed. The farmer plows in hope, not for this life, but the one to come. This life is one in which we are called to die to self, suffer for Christ, and weep for the sorrows of this fallen world. But though sorrowful we always rejoice because we have hope….hope not grounded in this world.

The tools for building the Kingdom are spiritual. Though tired, frustrated, and burdened by the cares of this life, you sit down and read the Scriptures…you build the Kingdom of God. When in a moment of anger, you stop and turn to prayer, you strike a mighty blow against the dominion of the Dark One.

When you stop and help a lady change the tire on the side of the road, if rightly motivated, you deny self and glorify God by showing the love of Christ. In that sense you build the Kingdom even if the door is not opened to speak of God's Kingdom. But often enough in those circumstances the door is opened. Rather than proffer cheap grace and try to look for a quick decision, it is often wiser to sow seeds. Whether those seeds bear fruit and blessing, or die and thus end up being a curse to the hearer, an increase in judgment, you are doing God's work.

Much is said in the Scriptures regarding our words. We are told to use them carefully and wisely, we are to speak the councils and oracles of God. Even in casual exchanges, God may grant wisdom allowing us to drop seeds. We can make small comments, ask the right question, give encouragement, and though we may not see it, it may very well bear rich fruit. Perhaps it won't be my word alone, but a combination of things, other conversations, things heard and seen. We are but part of God's mechanism. Sometimes I wonder if there's not a great deal of arrogance in the minds and hearts of those who insist they are 'doing' something. God builds the Kingdom, we need to humble ourselves into the dust, and Providence will make use of us…never fear.

Even when people reject what we say, we're doing God's work. Our lives speak very loudly. Returning a phone call, stopping to help a neighbour trying to set up a ladder, being seen spending time with your kids. I'm not saying you go out of your way to be seen as a Pharisee would. I'm saying….live your life to God's glory. You never know how He will use you. In this day and age, there are some things that are really pretty easy. Just the fact that my young children can sit calmly with self-control in a restaurant… immediately people know there's something different about us. I'm not trying to call attention to us, we're just out and about living our lives and people are constantly coming up to us.

More to come…..


Victoria said...

Thank you for this little sermon. We often need an adjustment of focus and perspective. In self-absorption of doing "geat things for God" can we completely bypass humble love? I think so. And this may be why so much of American Christianity seems totally irrelevant to those on the outside.

Much of the church seems to want to rule the world before it has suffered, sacrified, or died for it as Jesus did.

I once heard someone point out that Jesus said, "I will build my church. . ." emphasis on "I." We don't "build" His Kingdom, rather He brings it. But we are the heralds, the ambassadors, the midwives of His Holy Spirit; and we are witnesses to the world of the Kingdom ruling in US.

Anonymous said...

Very good. Can truly see the difference between pietism and Biblical piety in this writing. Also, although my children are grown, with families of their own, could really apprectiate when you said,"Just the fact that my young children can sit calmly with self-control in a restaurant… immediately people know there's something different about us". Children calm and self controled?, wow, what a concept! Wonderful, as it should be. Really enjoying this series.