In The Beginning…

This past week a couple of things again demonstrated the need to ask the question as to how the church got to where it is today. The first was the falderal over The Manhattan Declaration. The number of signers is increasing daly and is nearly at 200,000. FOX News is discussing it but as I pointed out in last week’s Crux E-Letter, this is little more than an updated version of the 1984 Evangelicals and Catholics Together: Toward a Common Mission and subsequent attempts, this being the latest incarnation with many of the same signers. William Webster wrote a fairly well done treatment on the previous attempts titled, “The ECT Accords: A Betrayal of the Gospel in the Name of Unity.” Some of the lay people who have contacted us to defend their signing have tried to suggest that this is not a religious statement but a declaration of conservatism and as such all who agree with its values can sign on. Focus on the Family’s email of November 25, 2009 addresses this head on as Jim Daly, President and CEO writes:

It is important, first off, to note that the The Manhattan Declaration is not a partisan or political statement–I shared the podium last Friday at the National Press Club with Republicans and Democrats alike. Instead, it addresses and elevates four specific areas of universal consensus. Some have referred to these as “threshold issues,” meaning they represent the foundation of our faith and the pivot point from which everything else flows. This is the bedrock. If we can’t agree on these areas of doctrine, everything else will be of reduced value. These four areas are:

The sanctity of human life.
The sanctity of marriage
The protection of religious liberty
The rejection of unjust laws

Notice, he is clear it “is not a partisan or political statement.” It is not political in nature. Instead the signers view it as the “foundation of our faith.” It is “the bedrock” and these 4 agreed positions are the “pivot point from which everything else flows.” At one time the “foundation of our faith” was Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:10-11) but that seems to have been long, long ago in a land far away. Sure, Jesus is important, but in today’s church, theology and teaching is no longer Christocentric (Christ centered) but anthropocentric (man centered). So where do we begin answering our question and proposing solutions?

In attempting to undertake a project like this it is at least tempting to want to go back to Adam and Eve when fifty percent of the population was deceived into rebellion and the other fifty percent chose to rebel and attempted to blame their situation on God and to move forward from that event. As tempting as that might be to us, there already exists a very good record of those events recorded in the Scriptures and we do not believe we can really improve upon that.

What we can say is that the Scriptures show us the inability of man to maintain a balance in his relationship with God, each other and his place in creation. When a lawyer, with a view to create a dilemma for the Lord Jesus Christ asked what the greatest commandment was He replied, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and will all thy mind.” (Matt. 22:37) As J.P Moreland points out:

In other words, God is worthy of bring loved with every single facet of our human personality, not simply one or two aspects of our nature.

Over the eons the people of God seem to continually get sidetracked and emphasize one or two of these areas and forget about or abandon the others. To a group of detractors who had pretty well abandoned the heart and soul aspect of the life of faith, Jesus met them on what they assuredly believed was their strongest asset, the mind. J.P. Moreland demonstrates the importance of the mind in the life of our Lord:

We get a hint at what might be included in loving God with the mind in the context preceding Jesus’ answer. In Matthew 22:23-33 (NASB) a group of Sadducees (who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead) tried to trap Jesus with an intellectual argument involving the story of a woman who had successively been married to seven brothers. Whose wife will she be in the resurrection? They asked. Jesus’ options seemed to be: (1) deny the resurrection, (2) accept polygamy and adultery by affirming her marriage to all seven in heaven, or (3) unfairly and arbitrarily limit her marriage to one brother only.

It is interesting to note that Jesus did something His followers should emulate: He intelligently answered the Sadducee’s question! First, He addressed the surface issue by denying the necessary condition for the Sadducees’ argument to get off the ground; that is, He denied that there is marriage in heaven. He then went for the deeper issue about the resurrection, and His strategy is instructive. He cites what on the surface appears to be a verse inadequately related to the issue of the resurrection: “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’ [.] He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” As a young Christian, I was puzzled by Jesus’ response because I myself could have cited better verses than this one, for example, Daniel 12:2, which explicitly affirms the resurrection. Or so I thought. Jesus’ genius is revealed when we recognize that He has studied Sadducean theology and knew that they did not accept the full authority if the prophets, including Daniel. He also knew that the very passage He used was one of the very defining arguments for the entire Sadducean party! His argument hinged on the tense of the Hebrew verb. Jesus does not say, “I was the God of Abraham, etc.,” but, “I am (continue to be) the God of Abraham, et cetera,” a claim that could only be true if Abraham and others continue to exist.

For our purposes, two things are important about the narrative. First, Jesus revealed His intellectual skills in debate by: (1) showing his familiarity with His opponents’ point of view; (2) appealing to common ground (a text all disputants accepted) instead of expressing a biblical text He accepted but they rejected (Daniel 12:2); and (3) deftly used the laws of logic to dissect His opponents’ argument and refute it powerfully.

Although we won’t spend a great deal of time there, we should at least begin in the First Century. I approach this with a bit of caution. As Jonathon pointed out in The Culture Driven Church (or We are of Peace, Always):

Because “where did we go wrong” often leads to restoration movements which is just as effective at abandoning the Gospel as running after the culture.

He is correct. Nearly all cults and false religious movements were developed out of the idea that the church apostatized at some earlier time and they are trying to restore the faith of the First Century Church. The first problem with this claim is the underlying assumption that there was a pristine, unadulterated and lived out faith in the First Century Church. Anyone with a moderate understanding of the New Testament would know this is simply false. The First Century Church was riddled with false teaching, false teachers and bad behavior of all kinds.

The reason is two fold. First, the church was born in the midst of a pagan culture. It was a culture in which there was no sanctity of human life. Abortions and infanticide were rampant. Euthanasia of the elderly, infirmed and others was accepted largely because human life was not high value. Sanctity of marriage was not high on the agenda in that pagan culture. Sure, there was marriage, but prostitution was legal, homosexuality was rampant and pedophilia was a common practice among the men of means who had a catamite which was a young boy, for the purposes of sexual gratification. Much of their culture revolved around their sexual pleasures. Marriage was convenient but not sanctified. Religious liberty was allowed as long as it was a state approved religion and the worshippers agreed that the Caesar was the supreme deity.

The First Century church was made up of those who were formerly pagans, who still dwelt in and interacted with a pagan culture. The majority of the New Testament was written to deal with the problems attendant with living in a pagan culture and recognizing and protecting the flock from false teachers who crept into the church. In some ways we are looking at bookends in time. The church was born into this pagan culture and over the first four centuries transformed culture. We can see the way in which they transformed culture by reading a letter from the last pagan emperor of Rome, Julian the Apostate to a pagan priest in Galatia. Julian was trying to reestablish the pagan religions which once were Rome before it was transformed by Christian thinking and ethos, Julian, in his desire to reestablish the pagan religions instructed his priests to take note of and begin acting like the Christians:

“Why do we not notice that it is their kindness to strangers, their care for the graves of the dead, and the pretended holiness of their lives that have done most to increase atheism [i.e., Christianity]? I believe that we ought really and truly to practice every one of these virtues. And it is not enough for you alone to practice them, but so must all the priests in Galatia, without exception…In the second place admonish them that no priest may enter a theatre or trade that is base and not respectable…in every city establish hostels in order that strangers may profit by our generosity; I do not mean for our own people only, but for others also who are in need of money…for it is disgraceful that, when no Jew ever has to beg and the impious Galileans [Christians] support both their own poor and ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us.”

Christians transformed culture by how they lived, articulated and demonstrated their faith. Over the last two centuries western culture has reverted back to the paganism of the first century with little or no influence from the church. Many churches today are trying to imitate the pagan culture in order to entice them through the doors of their church. Over the next weeks and months we will be looking at particular turning points, individuals and movements which have influenced the church and culture. Some had little or nothing to do with the church initially but have greatly impacted the church in adverse ways. As Jonathon mentioned they surface in five areas, religion, science, economics, politics and psychiatry. They start in different places but all seem to converge in the 1970s in a sort of Perfect Storm.


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