Wednesday, January 16, 2019 -
I have been discussing and quoting extensively from Herbert Schlossberg’s superb book, Idols for Destruction, which my friend, William J. Olson, sent me. The last chapter discussed the role of the remnant, who remain faithful to the Lord, rejecting the idols that can so deceptively creep into our lives, often in the forms of political or religious deceptions.
That is why it is so important we turn solely to God’s Word for guidance and to test the spirits and teachings we hear. We must understand that much of the world’s solutions do not jive with, and are often contradictory to God’s law – the standards He provides us in Scripture. We as the church of Christ in modern society must examine ourselves, our thoughts lives, and habits, in search of the idols in our lives, or the subtle ways we fall into their deception without ever realizing it.
From this, we must repent. God does not want idols in our lives. He is a jealous God, We “Christians must learn to recognize when idolatry dons the guise of the Christian virtues.” We “must stop lauding the evil impulses of envy and hatred that often lurk behind such phrases as ‘social justice.’”
It is up to the church to unmask these modern idols and expose them for what they are. James 4:4 says, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” “The world is identified (in the New Testament) as the system of political, cultural, and religious leadership that arranged itself against God and refused to listen to the prophetic word that exposed its wrongdoings,” Schlossberg says. He claims it is easier for us today, however, to find the New Testament especially meaningful because it was written in a pre-Christian world. “We are in a position to read it with more comprehension, perhaps, than any generation of Western Christians in a millennium and a half. We can gain from it some of the peculiar understandings that Africans and Asians in the last few generations have been able to derive: the understanding of subversions in an alien culture.” “Save yourselves from this crooked generation,” Peter said in Acts 2:40.
That means we as Christian MUST REFUSE to think and act like those around us. Schlossberg warns, “Society’s most important institutions serve the socializing function, making people better balanced and adjusted to the way things are. And that is why they are so dangerous.” Public education is a prime example!
Schlossberg continues, “The biblical norm requires that we renounce this kind of socialization. In the societies described in the Old Testament, the people of God who withdrew from the practices of an idolatrous society were called the remnant. In the New Testament, the believers in Christ were urged to live as pilgrims, strangers, and exiles in the midst of an evil society (I Peter 2:11; Hebrews 11:13). Christians, thus, are to be subversives refusing to conform to the norms of their surroundings. Far from allying themselves with the ‘best’ of the dominant culture, they must recognize that what is thought to be best is so only by comparison with a set of standards that is unacceptable. The appropriate response in the dominant culture, then, is to refuse subservience to it, to reject the domination of its norms, to withdraw support selectively from all institutions that base their activities on the idolatries that control American life. In short, to rebel.
“In the apocalyptic vision, it’s the kings of the earth that represent ultimate evil (Revelations 18:9), and so it may be with authorities with which we have to deal. There is no official edict that cannot be abrogated by the refusal of people to obey it. The choice was faced and stated starkly by the early leaders of the church: “we must obey God rather than men” Acts (5:29).”
One idol that has permeated the church and its thinking is the idol of mammon, which I’ve already discussed at length a previous day. Schlossberg warns us in this final chapter that “materialism, coupled with the productivity of machinery and electronics, has brought us to the universal expectation of more, first rising expectations and then rising entitlements. This is what the Bible refers to as covetousness, which is condemned from the original Ten Commandments through the whole biblical literature. The common observation that prosperity tends to bring spiritual complacency, pride, and moral decline goes back at least as far as the Pentateuch (Deut. 8:11-14). The wicked are identified as those who trust in riches rather than God. “After wealth’s ‘initial flash of gratification,’” Schlossberg continues, “they fail to satisfy, leading us to seek the next bauble...For the greedy, there is no conceivable level of wealth that would be enough, for greed is insatiable. That is why trying to satisfy it, giving into the love of money, causes intense suffering (1 Tim. 6:10)… Greed is the governing emotion of those who desire to be rich, and contentment is that of those who refuse to enter the blind alley of the envious. ‘If we have food and clothing,’ declared the apostle, ‘with these we shall be content’ (1 Tim. 6:8). But to preach this to the poor without taking it to heart oneself is to be accused, rightly, of hypocrisy. The injunction to be content, to avoid envy, is for all, irrespective of class or position.
“Christians need to renounce the systems by which their fellow systems plunder each other, either within or outside the law. They should earn their livings by providing goods or services to people who find them valuable enough to pay for them willingly. But in order to validate their contention that economics is not conterminous with life, they should also learn to give without receiving anything in return, reversing the process by which society is reducing itself to poverty. They should be wary of the temptation to have even more of the world’s goods, for that desire is what takes away personal freedom, delivering people into the clutches of those who want power.”
It is important we as believers remember the constant biblical witness concerning poverty is directed toward those who have difficulty sustaining themselves with food and shelter (Lev. 25:25; James 2:15). “It had nothing to do with ‘poverty’ that is based on visions of affluence, the kind that has difficulty, securing a car or television set, for that is a vision based on envy,” Schlossberg warns. He also warns that “To oppress the poor, in the biblical sense, does not mean to maintain a social system of inequality, but to despoil people and reduce them to poverty by means of false measures, oppressive laws, and corrupt judges.”
Schlossberg affirms “Rich people who oppressed the poor were condemned (James 2:6, 5:1), but it was acknowledged that the rich could be righteous (Psalms 112, Job). There was to be a recognition that the amount of wealth was of little importance in assessing a person. ‘Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation’ (James 1:9). Thus, poverty and wealth are immorally neutral: neither one is an evil to be ashamed of nor a sign of special worth or transcending glory. Both ideas are illusions shared by most of the idolatries.”
Keep in mind Schlossberg also warms, “Serving the poor is a euphemism for destroying the poor unless it includes with it the intention of seeing the poor begin to serve others, and thereby validate the words of Jesus that it is better to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). Whereas humanitarian social policy keeps people helplessly dependent, Christians should seek to remove them from that status and return them to productive capacity. Serving is a higher calling than being served.”
Kathie and I have many times been the recipients of what was given to us from their poverty when visiting homes of families from poverty-stricken areas such as the bush of Africa, where they’d never before seen white people, in India, Nepal, and Eastern Europe.
The pattern of giving generously to our brothers and sisters who are in need is a predominant one throughout the New Testament. Generous, charitable giving was considered imperative for both the Old Testament prophets and the early church. Schlossberg aptly reminds us the besetting sin of Sodom was not sexual perversion, according to Ezekiel, but rather unconcern for the destitute: “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom; she and her daughters had pride, surfeit of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy” (Ezekiel 16:49). Yet in the New Testament, Christians were asked to contribute “not as an exaction but as a willing gift” (2 Corinthians 9:5). It is not a matter of compulsion, “Distributary justice then occurs when people redistribute their own property, not that of others. When they do this, they can and ought to discern the difference between making someone a permanent dependent and helping him over a rough spot,” reminds Schlossberg.
Remember, you and I are merely stewards, caretakers of property that really belongs to God (Lev. 25:25). It is our responsibility to manage what God has entrusted to us in the interests of the Creator. Schlossberg includes in such “capital” we’re entrusted with to include the family structure, intellectual competence, legal foundations, and economic base – all the biblical norms increasingly spurned by an idolatrous society. He suggests, as these are all rapidly decaying in our society we ought to explore once again the meaning of the expression Jesus used in describing the function of Christians in our society: “You are the salt of the earth” (Matt. 5:13).
Increasingly, as the church becomes more and more secularized, it is essential the remnant, comprised of the increasingly few who recognize God as their Lord, Jesus as the only way, and follow them with their entire being, becomes more united – what Schlossberg calls a community, with one responsibility of “exemplifying corporate spiritual life in the midst of a decaying civilization.” Schlossberg says, “Self-sufficiency is swallowed up in mutual dependence. Marks of talent or genius are recognized as more than merely a general fault, being the specific betrayal of a portion of the body of Christ that needs the gifts a particular person has to offer it.”
I personally believe, as patterned in the New Testament, this sharing of gifts and resources God has entrusted to you and me should be done not merely on a local level, but a global scale – for the need is much greater outside of our nation. Those considered poor in North America are extremely wealthy compared to the average believer in poor nations – particularly those who have committed their lives to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who have never had opportunity to hear. Kathie and I have been in their homes. Romans 10:15 says, “How shall they preach unless they are sent.” That is our function. I remember us being in Jammu-Kashmir in 1985, in the Himalayan Mountains at a Hindu pilgrimage site, where people hiked up the mountain in their bare feet to visit the shrine of a false god they worshipped. They were coming back with bloody feet, somehow, I suppose, being beneficial to their soul. But this couple was there planting a church and reaching these lost pilgrims with the freedom they could only find in Jesus Christ. The wife fed us and insisted we sleep the night in their “bed,” and they would sleep on the floor. “No, we couldn’t do that,” we told them. But they persisted. The wife was 9 months pregnant! How shocked we were to learn their “bed” was merely a board on some cinderblocks. These are those we should be helping (go to www.advancingnativemissions.com).
Schlossberg says these new “communities,” if they are churches, “must exemplify the organic bond that can only be found in the body of Christ.” He contends that this kind of community is a quality difficult to find in the typical American church where members meet a mere few hours a week, which “reinforces the fragmentation of the individual’s life among numerous loyalties and make it virtually impossible to build genuine community. The resulting privatized kind of religion tends to be completely ineffectual.” He continues, “Deviant subcultures can survive only if they form permanent and effective communities to stand in opposition to the larger society.” We will function as an effectual community only when we acknowledge the bankruptcy of the larger culture, as the church has done in the communist world. The caution is, says Schlossberg, that “since ours is not so much a pagan (which is to say pre-Christian) society as it is a post-Christian one, the dangers are all the more serious. The forces of idolatry do not urge us to worship Zeus but rather use the language that for many centuries has been associated with the Christian church, “like ‘social justice’ and ‘humanitarianism.’”
That’s why we must use Scriptures as our sole guide. When we hear politicians or even other Christians propose societal programs for the benefits of our citizenry, we must make the extra effort to discriminate between the true and the bogus. “What assumptions lie behind the standard appeals to security and prosperity, justice, and equality? Whose ends are being served? Whose gods are being served? What are the consequences of the measure that this group would like to put in effect?”
Schlossberg says, “Once again Christians can stand in the gap against barbarism (as at the collapse of the Roman Empire)… We must demystify the nation so that patriotism does not serve as an excuse for killing people. We need to demystify the state so that it cannot do evil with impunity. We need to demystify wealth and poverty so that they do not remain principles of human worth.” We need the courage and confidence to stand fast! “The ‘salt’ of people changed by the gospel must change the world,” Schlossberg adds. “Christian revolution begins with the individual and has its concrete effect in the culture. Whether or not it exercises control, it always takes its stand with the eternal requirements of God against the idolatrous attractions of the moment.” We need a transformation of society that results from changed people.
And “contrary to the sense of affliction and defeat that marks so much of the contemporary church in the West, the tone in the New Testament was one of victory.” Indeed, what is happening in the world today in the furtherance of the Gospel in an area where it has previously penetrated little, is truly amazing. Again, two organizations I urge you to become involved with are Advancing Native Missions and Mission India.
Naturally, too, in a Republic such as ours, it is imperative the remnant believers are also active in political life. “They should be working to stop the incessant looting taking place under the banner of redistribution, which at once makes dependents out of all its recipients and destroys the economy by removing the incentives for production… To take the position that faith should not be expected to affect corporate life is to acquiesce to the reigning order. For all its effect on society, it is tantamount to saying that the rule of idolatry is legitimate… If we are to change the temporal in keeping with the eternal, then it will have to be done by changing the powers that control events. This means we must work toward bringing the political, economic, and cultural landscape into conformity with the divine intention.”
When these powers exercise legitimate functions we should recognize them, but refuse them the right to usurp others. For example, they must not be permitted to order family life. They must not be able to play god. Peter said to obey authorities who “punish those who do wrong and…praise those who do right” (I Peter 2:14), not those who foster evil. We as Christians must reject passivity and do every peaceable thing to stand against evil powers. “We are not limited to either acquiescence or law-breaking,” Schlossberg claims, “…there are speeches, demonstrations, petitions, withholding of services, letter-writing, marches, economic boycott, selective disobedience, refusal to serve the state, ignoring of government directives, stalling and obstruction, overloading the system with excessive compliance, and so on. Should the system worsen, of course, there is always the possibility of making yourself vulnerable to prosecution.” Indeed, as I can attest, since I am already such unjustly convicted and imprisoned.
Schlossberg reiterates what I have been telling you, however, that turning the powers away from idolatry and toward the establishment of the biblical route of justice, will not take place without the gospel of Jesus Christ changing hearts and changing lives. “As the idolatries almost universally recognize, changing society without changing people is futile. The church’s teaching function has to include a more biblical understanding of society if it is to influence the provision of justice.”
This does not mean we are to blindly follow one political party over another, but short-term alliances of limited scope are possible, Schlossberg suggests. He also warns, “For Christians to remain faithful to their calling under regimes that are at once idolatrous and unrestrained in power is to invite persecution. These regimes seem to know instinctively that a church which has not been tamed is their most dangerous adversary… This society will have peace and justice when it repents and overthrows its idols, not before.”
Schlossberg continues, “It is absurd that the name ‘Christian’ should be taken by so many as synonymous with respectable, or middle-class, or conventional. It was first used to refer to disciples – those under the discipline of the Master – and it was so coined in the midst of persecution (Acts 11:26). Should we stop accommodating ourselves to the prevailing norms, we can expect to be treated in the same fashion. We have allowed ourselves to be bought odd with our free education, prosperity, and tax deductions. The persecution may begin when we renounce all that and indeed become disciples… While Christ was yet with His disciples, He warned them about what would take place.” “If the world hates you, know that it has hated Me before it hated you… If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you” (John 15:18). My friend, persecution has begun earnestly in this country. But I thank God for you, because your prayers are a major source of strength for me, as are your notes of encouragement.
And so, I echo Paul’s request, “Pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to MAKE KNOWN WITH BOLDNESS THE MYSTERY OF THE GOSPEL, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.” (Ephesians 6:19-20)