30 April 2013

Vocation and the False Kingdom: Worldliness Masquerading as Piety

If success is our goal and success is defined by the culture I contend we have a real problem. Either we are faithful to the Pilgrim ethic of the New Testament or we abandon it in order to succeed in the world.

While some would label this a false dichotomy I think there is abundant evidence to prove otherwise. The New Testament data is clear in identifying worldliness as embracing the wisdom of fallen man. James 4 tells us that friendship with the world is to be God’s enemy. We are told by John to not love the world and the pride it celebrates. This same pride I would argue is necessary in order to be ‘successful’, again as the world defines that term.
To flourish in Babylon we must become man-pleasers and in doing so embrace what Luke 16 calls abomination. When we earn the accolades of men Paul says in Galatians 1 we cease to be servants of Christ.
Is there a way in which we may live our lives, run our businesses and experience success? Are we condemned to poverty and obscurity? Some have thought so and I greatly empathize with their views, but I can’t quite go that far at least in the sense of mandating it.
Abundant evidence can be found in the Proverbs indicating that hard work and diligence bring rewards but even within the Proverbs, riches and wealth, gold and treasure are often defined in terms of Wisdom not in material wealth. We are to rejoice in knowing God (Jeremiah 9) and the treasures we lay up are the fruits of the Spirit, not the results of labouring hands.
Ecclesiastes teaches us we may find joy and purpose in our life but only because we look beyond this world to the Eternal realm. And yet the design of Providence and the outworking of the Divine agenda are often obscured. Under the sun, there is little comfort and much futility. The world is under curse and ultimately will be subject to Divine Fire.
Clearly it is possible for a Christian to make a decent enough living (again we have to define that) and some are placed in unique circumstances that allow them to do very well. But largely, in fact I think I would argue the normative model is that we are despised fools, hated by the world, and not only will they find us strange and offensive since we refuse to 'run riot' with them...that is reject their values, they will ultimately seek our destruction (1 Peter 4).
There are tensions of course. Common Grace by delaying Judgment allows even the unregenerate to show kindness and consideration to the people of God. Not everyone is equally handed over. Not all are reprobate. If we are indeed humble and walk with integrity there are some who will appreciate us and respect us...to a point. Ultimately the Gospel and certainly its claims and demands are offensive. No veneer we place on it can change that fact unless we redefine it entirely as many are wont to do. Christians are often disliked because they seek to tell others what to do, they judge and condemn, offering vinegar and acid instead of salt and light. Their persecution does not result from Gospel fidelity but is the fruit of their trying to persecute others (1 Peter 4.15).
In the end the Christian who has open eyes will rightly assess and understand the world and will seek ways to function within it and yet not be part of it. The road can be a hard one. An ethic that tells us to give recklessly to our own hurt, to reject all pride, to refuse all vengeance, and to care nothing for the thoughts, desires, and aspirations of the world is to reject the world and all its values wholesale. A person following through on this ethic, even imperfectly, even with failings and inconsistencies, will not earn respect, nor flourish in Babylon. Yea all who would live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. Woe unto you if all men think well of you. (2 Timothy 3.12 and Luke 6.26)
Dare I go so far as to say it? If we live in a society that categorizes people as ‘winners’ and ‘losers’…where do you think Christians are likely to end up?
Can we be successful in the culture, in a fallen world while really and truly following the Christian ethic?
There is nothing inherently wrong with producing a product or providing a service and desiring compensation. But how many have taken this basic and necessary function and have transformed it into avarice and lust and yet convince themselves they have not done so?
And because of Sacralism, the Church long ago embraced a theological framework which assuages guilt and allows them to ignore the primary and virtually ubiquitous ethical categories and demands of the New Testament. The cheek no longer is turned, the cloak is no longer given, the ethics of money and the sword are embraced, ratified, and justified by a host of secondary doctrines foreign to the spirit of the New Covenant. In the name of politics and economics we no longer treat others as we would wish to be treated. Wisdom is exchanged for manipulation, marketing, plotting, scheming and murder.
How many desiring respectability which itself is a form of security engage in endless justification for their actions? Many divorce themselves from larger questions, merely viewing themselves as cogs in a great machine. The machine is corrupt, but in their micro-realm they remain relatively unpolluted. How many working for industries which they know are sleazy and corrupt justify their own profits because they’re not the ones actually involved in the ‘bad stuff’? Or are they? I wrestled with this in the military as I was but a couple of steps away from the button that was dropping the bombs. I handled the bombs and missiles, gave them to the munitions crews, who loaded them on the planes wherein the pilots pressed the buttons. Was I killing? Was I at least in some way culpable? Could I totally divest myself of all responsibility because I wasn’t the one who actually pushed the button? What about all the others who collaborated along the way?
At some point you can make yourself mad and be forced into a total withdrawal. It’s not easy. The only ethic or rule I can formulate is one of cognizance. When we have knowledge and know better, we should act accordingly. Whatsoever is not of faith is sin.
I know quite a few people who live by the rule of ignorance being bliss. I suppose that’s their choice. But these are some of the same people that are the most gullible when it comes to propaganda, gossip, and conspiratorial fear.
Ultimately society itself is a corrupted machine and functioning within it will have a corrupting influence. Lot was vexed (2 Peter 2.7) and tormented by the cultural cesspool of Sodom and yet Paul said that it will be impossible for us to disassociate ourselves with such people for in doing so we would have to abandon the Earth (1 Corinthians 5).
Yet, obviously we are called to something more than merely 'getting along'. I will not play the legalist and tell specific people they must quit certain jobs, and yet we all draw the line somewhere. Certain occupations are inherently sinful and thus off limits. Others are a bit ‘more hazy’. I perhaps would extend that 'hazy' category quite a bit further. We all draw the line somewhere. We all have our limits. But have we given them due thought?
My purpose is not to provoke people to quit their jobs or to drive them to guilt and misery in continuing what they do. I believe work has meaning for us as Christians. Living in this world has meaning and our sin-cursed work serves a purpose. The key is to understand the work itself is not redemptive. It's not part of the Gospel, the salvation message, the Kingdom of grace or reconciliation with God. The works of this world, even those that help to demonstrate the longsuffering of God in giving man more time (and more culpability) to repent will in the end be burned up. And as 2 Peter 3 goes on to say, what manner of lives should we lead in light of that? What should our conduct look like? Living our lives looking for the coming Day, and knowing what awaits this fallen world, how does that affect our values? Our hopes and expectations for this life? Suddenly just about everything our neighbours think about, obsess about, doesn’t seem to matter much. How does that affect how we use our time? In Ephesians 5 we’re commanded to redeem it in these evil days.
Redeem it how? Does that mean work more hours? Does that mean strive for greater riches and security? Does that mean help fallen man build his Towers of Babel…to what end? Will our labours somehow plant a cross on top of it?[i]
Or does redeeming the time, mean turning away from a culture that demands our total subjection and seeks to dominate our time? Should our time be used differently even if that means ‘losing’ in the culture’s eyes? A Sacralist cannot say so. Not only would this violate Vocation, it’s a defeatist view of the Kingdom and won’t provide the ways and means to transform culture. While they need a good number of average folk, what they really desire is movers and shakers, type-A personalities who will lead and command.
If the Church values fellowship, study, prayer and conversation in a coffee shop or park more than building up a business then the Sacral dream is as good as dead. Sacralism has made work into worship in order to counter this. Our lives are worship and that affects our work to be sure, but they have sought to express reconciliation with God by the works of their hands. We don’t worship God through works of our own devising. We have nothing to offer. They have sanctified man-hewn stones (Exodus 20.25) and have traded a Biblical concept of all of life being conducted to the glory of God…for a lie that says the cares and entanglements of this life, the concerns of Babylon and success within it are acts of worship and contribute to the Kingdom. In doing so, they’ve created parallel ethics and generated a host of false obligations, concerns, motivations and desires. I’m reminded of Isaiah 29…
13 Therefore the Lord said:
“Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths
And honor Me with their lips,
But have removed their hearts far from Me,
And their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men,
14 Therefore, behold, I will again do a marvelous work
Among this people,
A marvelous work and a wonder;
For the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,
And the understanding of their prudent men shall be hidden.”
15 Woe to those who seek deep to hide their counsel far from the Lord,
And their works are in the dark;
They say, “Who sees us?” and, “Who knows us?”
16 Surely you have things turned around!
Shall the potter be esteemed as the clay;
For shall the thing made say of him who made it,
“He did not make me”?
Or shall the thing formed say of him who formed it,
“He has no understanding”?
In Psalm 94 it is written:
12 Blessed is the man whom You instruct, O Lord,
And teach out of Your law,
13 That You may give him rest from the days of adversity,
Until the pit is dug for the wicked.
14 For the Lord will not cast off His people,
Nor will He forsake His inheritance.
15 But judgment will return to righteousness,
And all the upright in heart will follow it.
We seek rest from the days of adversity waiting for the pit of judgment to be dug for the wicked. Who are the wicked? Mind you this context is within Israel, within the land of the covenant. The verses earlier in the Psalm tell us what is happening.
4 They utter speech, and speak insolent things;
All the workers of iniquity boast in themselves.
5 They break in pieces Your people, O Lord,
And afflict Your heritage.
6 They slay the widow and the stranger,
And murder the fatherless.
7 Yet they say, “The Lord does not see,
Nor does the God of Jacob understand.”
These passages are being misapplied someone might say. Are Christians doing this? Are they really boasting against God? Openly boasting? Of course not. I don’t think the apostates in Israel openly denounced YHWH either. Even the apostate kings named their sons invoking His name. The point is the heart and its motivations. We can only ‘see’ the fruit. It’s interesting to hear them twist Scripture, flip verses on their heads, redefine terms. Some are true believers in the ideology, others have merely blinded themselves to what they are doing. But their hearts tell them differently and condemn them.
Sacralism has provided us with a twisted doctrine of Vocation that allows the Christian through Just War doctrine and the Constantinian concept of ‘office’  or the ‘Lesser Magistrate’ to take up the sword, wielding power, threat and violence. And they glory in it.
Under the guise of Stewardship they embrace economic and social systems that seek riches and pride in status (exploiting and often destroying others in the process[ii]). They work for industries rooted in exploitation and manipulation, and are entrenched in businesses built on false promises and often false premise. Don’t forget what they do to others beyond the nation’s borders. Christians are engaged in the lies and treachery inherent in political machination, justifying deceit to destroy others, and seek glory and power under some deluded notion of ‘restoration’, ‘reconstruction’, ‘Exceptionalism’, or a Cultural Mandate which ignores the effects of the fall and the fact that our work is cursed and reduced to futility.[iii]The entire book of Ecclesiastes is a refutation of their understanding of work, the world and what we’re here to do. The city they seek is here not in heaven.
Well do the words and woes of Isaiah 5 apply. As you read them do make the error of applying these passages of lawsuit, judgment and denunciation to the context of America, Britain or any other nation. It’s the covenant people, the Church of that day and in that context can indeed be applied to the covenant community of our own day. Of Sacralism has also muddied these waters confusing Church, culture and nation to the point that it’s hard to make any distinction. Turning back to the Bible the lines become clear.
Repeatedly the harlot in the Old Testament is the covenant community in a state of apostasy. The harlot in Revelation is the woman who fled into the wilderness in a state of apostasy (Revelation 12). And it is this harlot, this false Church from the wilderness which rides the Imperial deified Beast. (Revelation 17) The harlot is not the United Nations or just the world system. The imagery is well known from the Old Testament and yet few wish to apply it. The implications of this destroy both their understanding of history and their hopes for today.
What a recasting of Church History! What a denunciation of Christendom and the great Western empires. For that’s what the harlot does. It joins with the Rome of its day and builds a glorious pseudo-Zion, a counterfeit Kingdom rooted in worldly desire, riches and power. Will the faithful flourish in this venue? Considering that in the next chapter we’re told:
4 And I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues. 5 For her sins have reached to heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities. 6 Render to her just as she rendered to you, and repay her double according to her works; in the cup which she has mixed, mix double for her. 7 In the measure that she glorified herself and lived luxuriously, in the same measure give her torment and sorrow; for she says in her heart, ‘I sit as queen, and am no widow, and will not see sorrow.’ 8 Therefore her plagues will come in one day—death and mourning and famine. And she will be utterly burned with fire, for strong is the Lord God who judges her.
Let’s make sure we’re not part of that system, glorifying it by singing hymns to this idol in the midst of the holy assembly. I would want to be certain I’m not a servant of this empire. I live in it but my whole posture toward it should be one of antithesis. I don’t have a ‘vision’ for America.[iv] I don’t believe God is going to ‘bless’ it except through large scale repentance which ultimately would not lead to flourishing but a dismantling and deconstruction.
Some thoughts to conclude this section, if we work in Heaven (and I'm inclined to think so, but I don't believe the word will carry the same meaning,) it will be completely different. With sin eliminated, the nature of work will be different. It won't be to provide basic needs. We won't be labouring for a family or even to help to help the orphan and widow. These categories won't exist in the Age to Come. Anything else is pretty much speculation.
So work, but don't put your hopes in the results. Don't gauge your status in the Kingdom by your status in the business world. Don't find your identity in your work. If you love being a bus driver, do it and do it well, but be a Christian first. For some work is a burden, a daily defeat. If Kingdom building is tied to success some would be driven to despair and rightly so. That in itself is not an argument but it is a consequence.
What a commentary on their understanding of the Kingdom and the work of the Holy Spirit to tie victory or success to our cultural endeavours. And some have done this very thing and suggested the Church has been defeated thus far, it has failed to accomplish what it was meant to do. If only the Church could shed defeatism and embrace the transformation of culture then indeed a golden age would be upon us.
Kline was correct to refer to this type of thinking as blaspheming the Holy Spirit. For that is what they’ve done. Not understanding the nature of the Kingdom and the work of the Spirit, and the glory of the remnant persecuted Church, they have impugned the true Church and cursed it.
And indeed Sacralists at present might and perhaps ought to be in a state of despair. Their Babel is crumbling and soon will be gone. Heaven rejoices (Revelation 18).
A Spiritual Kingdom, a Remnant, Pilgrims on the earth saved from the fire, a Kingdom of righteousness, peace and joy. What do they know of this Kingdom? They do not. They do not even ‘see’ it as Christ declared to Nicodemus. Something to ponder.
It’s easy to say don’t find your identity in the work for an occupation like a bus driver. What about a doctor or a lawyer, a politician, or for that matter a simple businessman?
It's much harder. There are some jobs which you take home with you. And even if you're not actually crunching numbers or researching, you're thinking about it. It consumes you. The job is your life, your task.
Is it wrong to be so engaged? Isn't that a sign of diligence?
Maybe. But what if that job is taking you away from time in the Word, time to think and meditate, time to fellowship with other Christians, with your wife, time with your children?
Have you made your job into an idol? Have you embraced the thinking and desires of the world?
What about your gifts? It's a topic so confused and muddled by the modern church I hesitate to raise the issue and won't dwell on it. But what about it? What if you have a job that requires such engagement and energy that you can't effectively live the Christian life you're called to?
What if your so-called Vocation has trumped your Biblical calling to be first and foremost a Christian?
Though I will be accused of erecting a straw man, I contend the Protestant teaching being rooted in Constantinian thought, is in conflict with Scripture. Vocational advocates will certainly affirm the balance is a difficult one. But I think they have lost the balance altogether. By redefining the Kingdom their teaching recasts the entire question. They have given people a means to embrace worldliness and call it piety.

[i] The city of Rome is filled with many examples of this symbolism. Egyptian obelisks and Roman monuments are crowned with crosses demonstrating the Sacral conquest and act of vanquishing and yet ironically claiming and integrating of these pagan ideals.
In the past Protestants would have torn them down. Today, they would prefer the Roman imagery. I see them for what they are, and certainly wouldn’t tear them down. And yet they are far better without a cross on top. I mean that in every sense.
[ii] I heard a recent podcast celebrating the fact that Augustine helped move the Church away from its pre-Constantinian ethic concerning money and possessions. In order to build a Christian social order, the concept of stewardship was developed and formulated allowing wealth to be managed and used to construct and support the Christian empire.
Augustine with all his brilliance was deeply flawed and has rightly been called both the father of Medieval Catholicism and the Reformation. That his thinking was profound cannot be denied and I won’t deny I think he was right on some points. The host and guest on the show were celebrating this stroke of socio-economic brilliance. I saw it as yet another blight on his record and the beginning of a long sad chapter in the history of the Church. As far as the programme it was just another sad commentary on the state of the Church.
[iii] Genesis 3 demonstrates this and even the reiteration in Genesis 9 casts the ‘cultural mandate’ in a different light. Now there is fear and blood. No longer does man dwell in the garden with the promise of the Tree of Life. Now he lives under the shadow of curse. To find eternal life the heart must be set beyond the circles of this earth which will be destroyed not by floodwaters but by fire. While work was redemptive in the Garden of Eden, no longer is it so. Tending the garden so to speak no longer applies to earthly works but to heavenly.
[iv] There are numerous ‘vision’ ministries at present which greatly emphasize multi-generational planning and/or the need for a cultural agenda, a ‘vision’ as it were. They’re referring to Proverbs 29.18 which says that where there is no vision the people will perish. Of course a few minutes with a commentary or concordance will demonstrate the ‘vision’ being spoken of, keeping with its use elsewhere in the Old Testament, has to do with the prophetic voice of revelation, Divine vision signifying God’s Word among them. It has absolutely nothing to do with these Dominionist twists on the word.

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