It seems like more and more people catch themselves between a rock and a hard place – the rock being the Church and that hard place being their head. It is in one sense displaced sentiment toward Christianity as a whole juxtaposed with a misrepresented understanding of a church and its role. That is one way to say people tend to blame ‘the Church’ or even God in place of human nature. The accusation frequently ascribed as “the Church hurt me”, or shouted, “You have no right to judge me”, is often followed with a departure from church fellowship, or worse, loathing the Church in its entirety. Notwithstanding, this inadvertent justification not only exposes a desire to remove human responsibility by personifying the Church to bare the brunt of human conduct, it exemplifies a black and white generalization of the global church by placing all churches under one roof as equal partakers in judgment. Even so the misinterpreted Biblical aphorism ‘do not cast judgment’ is more so in linear apposition to ‘do not cast condemnation’ holding a soteriological or spiritual connotation; a confusion radical secularized society adopts full-heartedly. Are we not to ever draw conclusions again? I believe the answer goes without saying.
On the cusp of East and West, nearly one thousand years before Jesus Christ (c.4 BC–AD 30) and roughly four hundred years before ancient Ionian philosopher, Thales of Miletus (c.620–?540 BC), who is generally credited as the first of his kind (specifically natural philosophy, distinct from the poets and “myth-makers”), the industrious yet sapient thinker and perhaps more reputably known as the world’s first philosopher king reigned over ancient Israel during the Golden Age of the unified Davidic monarchy. As history would herald and legend surround, he supposedly studied all things from architecture, politics, the arts and poetry to the nature of plants and animals with an emphasis in the humanities and metaphysics for an explanation of things unseen (extra-biblical legends attempt to expand the scope of his knowledge as a mystic, exorcist and astrologer) insomuch that his reign was globally acknowledged (1 Kings 4:29-34) – I say that loosely – for his unorthodox yet profound earthly wisdom, a capacity prayed for in his youth. He is on one hand the principal author of practical wisdom literature, particularly, the Book of Proverbs, and on the other he juggles everyday behaviour with ultimate deductions in the Book of Ecclesiastes, which would largely be a weeping account of nihilism if God were unaccounted for. King Solomon (c.970-?931 BC), son of David, was and still is recognized for his piercing intelligibility and equitable judgment, bearing the earmarks of ancient ‘philosophical’ wisdom.
With the escalation of terrorism running rampant across the West, Britain suffered its third major attack in the past three months, Bastille recuperating from the eighty-six massacred, Paris, Normandy, Stockholm, Brussels and Berlin all under surveillance from terror attacks and civil unrest – just to name a few – the atrocities committed by such extremism seem to be snowballing by the day. It is easy for us to forget what Jesus Christ said when attacked: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you?” (Matthew 5:43-46) Summarized on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). I’m sure at times we wish that claim were circumstantial at best, yet it remains an important reminder that there is something greater than this world, and the actions we take here affect there (John 18:36). This does not suggest however we wait around and twiddle our thumbs. Far from it! It means given the situation at large, act in the way that will substantiate the greater testimony to the unbeliever – since it is their soul at stake, and not the believer – this is the crux of the Great Commission.
In early October, the Hembree boys and I had the opportunity to commemorate the Protestant Reformation 500 Conference at Wycliffe College in the heart of downtown, Toronto. Chocked full of Reformation scholars, each presentation respectively and diligently underscored contextual juxtaposition between the contemporary, or better, modernized sense of Church theology and Protestant tradition to its intellectual forefathers: the sixteenth century scholarship of John Calvin, Martin Luther, John Wycliffe, Huldrych Zwingli, William Tyndale, Erasmus of Rotterdam, among others. Unlike today, in 1517 Europe the Church and State were married, for better or for worse. The Catholic Church had its hand in every back pocket and its face in every bedroom, so the level of impact that the Reformation had on the social, political and economic scale, and especially that of Christian missiology, was colossal. Now with the Gospel in every hand and household, propagation was personal and easily accessible. For those who, perhaps, have never been acquainted with the term missiology, it is a branch of practical theology that explicitly deals with a wide variety of evangelism from interpersonal to mass forms of communication. In laymen, it is known as the Great Commission; in scholarship, its core concept is referred to as the Missio Dei (“Mission of God”), where the sole purpose, mandate and duty for each missionary is to spread the Gospel: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15) as well as “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20). As simple as this may sound, its scope is so pervasive that people often get their knots tied up on how to do it right, specifically in relation to God’s Will in the Old Testament. And, like most Reformation scholars, temptation to isolate the Epistles in place of the Gospel and favour theology over the historical narrative is readily available.
It seems like more and more people nowadays are just saying they only do ‘what the Bible says’ because the ‘Bible says so’ and they ‘believe in the Bible’ while the opinion, interpretation and application of what select Biblical texts might mean varies from Christian to Christian, denomination to denomination – most of whom appear to be followers of Christ, or at the very least, dedicated to good works. In light of the burst of moral and intellectual relativism infecting the Western world, I’m surprised to say that legalism with it’s younger brother literalism are running rampant in the modern church.