RESTORING CHRISTIAN LIVING AND WORSHIP
Calling the Twenty-First Century Church To Decision–The Either/Or of Scripture
The preface is a quotation from Humiliation of the Word, by Jacques Ellul. Ellul is responding to criticism of himself as a negative writer. He says, “Yes, it’s true.” To set people free one must smash their chains. That is a negative act. But its result is a person who is unfettered, can stand and make free choices. His question for the critics: Can you risk freedom?
EITHER/OR suggests a choice between two alternatives. The introduction establishes that a choice exists. That choice is compelled upon the modern church and there are critical moral consequences. Over the last few centuries, the influence of humanism has been evident in American culture and religion. It is now appearing in the evangelical church. Through a series of questions, the introduction places before the reader the possibility that the tide of secular humanism is flooding the church.
I. The Tribe and The City 1-9
This chapter introduces the major problem of today’s evangelical church and the only solution. It opens with the story of an aboriginal tribe which is mesmerized by the introduction of the electric lightbulb. As a result, the tribe suffers devastating consequences not imagined by government or tribal leaders. The story is a parable of the church. Has the church, perhaps, innocently permitted similar, unintended consequences through the adoption of modernity’s methods and values? The major premise is affirmative—it has. The city is also a parable. It is the story of Nineveh and God’s grace in its behalf. Regardless of the church’s condition, God has not abandoned the church. He offers unconditional grace and forgiveness. As with Nineveh, He requires repentance.
II. Worldly Enticement 10-18
The nature of worldly enticement is evaluated from the perspective of Scripture. Its nature is seen in the selection of a king by Israel. The exodus from Egypt and events that follow imprint forever God’s relationship with Israel: They are His people. Israel’s conflict with God over selecting a king underscores this book’s major premise: Israel wanted a success measured apart from God’s instructions. They wanted freedom and success. No quarrel there. But they wanted it without Him.
III. Culture and God’s Character 19-28
The conflict between God and humanity arises from two differing positions: God’s holy character and humanity’s sinful condition. To have reconciliation, one of the two must move to the other. Since God cannot change, if we desire to stick with our sins, we develop an image of God that will accommodate our conduct. Secular culture is not in the business of reconciliation to God. Our modern culture is aggressively secular. It can only attempt to make us feel comfortable about our sin.
IV. Culture’s Corrosive Potential 29-45
From the Old Testament story about Lot and the account of Ananias and Sapphira in the New Testament, this chapter outlines culture’s potential to corrupt. In both cases, conduct that was acceptable in the immediate culture were rejected by God. As culture becomes more gross, mediocre can begin to look good. Regardless, culture’s standards are unreliable.
V. Two Opposing Views of Culture 46-62
Two opposing viewpoints of secular culture are clearly defined by Jesus in His message to the church at Laodicea. In the heavenly audit of seven churches in Revelation, several churches are warned that they were taking on the color of their surroundings. While their culture might have admired them, the Lord of the Church declared they were in grave danger. As Jesus said, the Christian is to be salt and light to the surrounding secular culture. Yet, these and other New Testament churches seemed unaware of the danger. The cross and culture will be in conflict. We must be “in the world” but “not of the world” like Jesus.
VI. Patterns of Conflict 63-72
Using Old and New Testament examples, specific patterns of conflict between secular culture and the people of God are identified. King Saul partially obeyed the Lord’s command regarding the Amalekites. Even at the beginning of human history, Adam and Eve shaded so slightly God’s instructions about the garden. King David argued with his generals over God’s instructions. Jesus, the eternal Word, relied on what God had said. We, too, will be tested over which road to follow. It’s tough to stay on the narrow one; the other is so popular.
VII. The Church of Modernity 73-86
The contrast between eternity and modernity is displayed. God is the author of the first. The second is of human origin and interest. Technology and education exemplify the power of modernity. The Church of Modernity is identified by its treatment of God’s Word, conviction and commitment. In our day, modernity presents a comfortable gospel.
VIII. Our Culture’s Gospel 87-103
Unlike the New Testament, our culture’s gospel is distinguished by convenience rather than commitment. Jesus’ call to disciple or follower was always full commitment. It was crucial. Our culture promotes a Christianity-lite characterized by entertainment. Jesus was always interesting but never entertaining. Evangelism becomes a marketing program in our culture. Growth is measured by numbers, not maturity. This gospel has humanism at its roots.
IX. The Church’s Power 104-119
Jesus is consistently presented in the New Testament as the Founder/Owner, Builder/Leader of the Church. Nothing in Scripture defines the Church stronger than does its source of power. The current testing of Jesus’ position as the Head of the Church has historical precedent. The lst century religious leaders in Israel enlisted Saul to do away with the church. By shifting the grounds of authority for the church, the present day church is following the same pattern. Human effort is creating a humanistic church.
X. The Church’s Perspective 120-153
The definition of reality also identifies the nature of the Church. Is the American church adopting the perspective of the material/secular world as its definition of reality? While there is an enormous power in the material/visible perspective, the invisible is the eternal. God’s truth and the Word are eternal. Contemporary orthodoxy is slipping into a relative treatment of truth. God’s truth is not about emotional impact, entertainment and convenience. It is about conviction and commitment.
Defining success, likewise, identifies the nature of the Church. What is the purpose of the Church? What do we view the Body of Christ? When Saul attacked Christians, who did Jesus say he was hurting? What is the use of Scripture and prayer? Is the Word theater? Is prayer programming? The answers to these questions reveal the church’s perspective.
XI. Resurrection Comes After the Cross 154-171
The only things that can change the church’s perspective is resurrection which begins with the cross. Jesus called the disciples to the cross—dying to their personal ambitions. The cross needs to be applied to the “church” structures of the Church of Modernity. The church today demands structure and visibility. The New Testament church had identity without structure and presence without visibility. Those principles were spelled out by Jesus to the woman of Samaria at the well of Sychar. Jesus’ statements and her example reveal the true incarnation of Christian living and worship. The present church leader is not exempt from the cross. His power in resurrection comes after joining Jesus in crucifixion.
XII. Resurrection for the Church 172-194
Where does the church begin? We either take Jesus’ teaching seriously or we fall back to human reason. Restoration to His agenda begins with repentance followed by making His Word preeminent in our living. Following personal restoration, we can recover the purpose of the church. That well involve painful choices: Structure or body? Attachment or vital connection? Institution or relationship? Biblical action on these questions lead to restoring the house/neighborhood fellowship, the model of New Testament churches. That is the Church of the Firstborn.
XIII. Steps to Restoration 195-213
A Biblical pattern for restoration for us to follow: King Josiah facing Either/Or. He started with a proper attitude towards God and His Word. He did not sidestep personal responsibility, humbling himself privately and publicly. He gave opportunity for others to hear God’s Word and respond as he did. He then led the nation in bringing restoration of God’s ways to the land. The example of King Josiah is a foreshadow of Jesus’ call to His churches in the book of Revelation. He asks them to follow in similar steps. That narrows the focus to us in our time in our homes to restore the Church of the Firstborn to a functioning body. The Scriptures say it OK. The Apostles taught it and practiced it. It was followed for 300 years. Now, it’s time for our Either/Or. There is a choice: Take God and His Word seriously, or remain in the grip of our secular culture’s grip.
XIV. Making the Choice 214-218
The choice to restore the home/neighborhood fellowship is not an easy one for anyone. Two foundational question remain: Has God revealed Himself and His will in His Word? and, What is the function and purpose of the Church? If those two questions can be answered honestly, we can gain the courage to move ahead. Making the right choice deserves taking the time necessary to complete the process.