The Social Gospel | The Voice 10.27: July 05, 2020

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The Voice

The Social Gospel

Boundless optimism about the improvement of the condition of man; noble and democratic aspirations for better living for individuals and society; a can-do attitude: the “Social Gospel” is a uniquely American creation, and has powerfully and profoundly shaped aspects of American religious life and culture.

In a historical and formal sense, the Social Gospel movement took place in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century among many Protestant churches in the United States. It grew out of the reform traditions of Western Christendom and the social movements of the antebellum period. “Social Gospelers” wished to emphasize Jesus’ concerns for the poor and marginalized in society, and advocated and worked for direct assistance to the needy through various social organizations and programs and for systemic change on a local, state, and national level. “Social Gospelers” tended to be among the clergy more than the laity and of the “respectable” middle class. In eschatological outlook they tended toward postmillennialism, believing their efforts to improve society would inaugurate the Kingdom of God on earth; many maintained a highly progressive view of history and theology, enamored with the most recent theories of science, psychology, and Continental Biblical studies. Some were highly influenced by Marx; others more lightly so, endorsing co-operatives and modified versions of capitalism. Their influence peaked in the years before World War I, and they would have supported much of the legislation of the Progressive Era.

Even though the Social Gospel movement would fade after World War I, its influence would be felt in the theology and practice of the Civil Rights Movement of the middle of the twentieth century, Liberation theology in Latin American Catholicism, and many aspects of engagement with society and politics within Protestantism and its Evangelical subset, even among those who would have vociferously denounced many of the aspects of the Social Gospel movement in previous generations. Therefore, in an informal, continuing sense, the social gospel thus involves heavy participation by churches in political and social causes.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ speaks to many societal and cultural conditions. Jesus went about doing good for people (Acts 10:38); Christians are called upon to do good to all men, especially those of the household of faith, and to visit widows and orphans in their distress (Galatians 6:10, James 1:27). Jesus described the decision of the day of judgment in terms of whether people had fed, given drink, clothed, or visited “the least of these” or not: in doing (or not doing) so, they did (or did not) so to Him (Matthew 25:31-46), testifying to Jesus’ concern not merely for the spiritual but also the material condition of the impoverished, oppressed, and marginalized. To divide the sacred from the secular is a deception and a lie: Jesus is Lord of heaven and earth, and His lordship should be brought to bear in every aspect of life and society (Matthew 28:18). Christianity can never be a merely private, individual affair: Christians represent a city set on a hill, the light of the world, to embody Jesus to all those in a sin sick and dying world (Matthew 5:13-16), and God’s purpose realized in Christ is not mere individual salvation for the sake of saving individuals, but the reconciliation of individuals with God and one another in Jesus to develop perichoretic relational unity as God shares within Himself (John 14:1-3, 20-23, 17:20-23, Ephesians 2:1-3:12). Christians are to love one another as Jesus has loved them (John 13:31-35): such love cannot be expressed in only “spiritual” terms, but ought to be manifest in material care and concern for the welfare of one another (1 John 3:15-18). The church represents the manifest domain of Jesus’ Kingdom (Ephesians 1:21-23, Colossians 1:13), yet Christians must render service to Jesus their King in every aspect and domain of their lives, thus bringing Jesus’ lordship to bear in their families, their friendships, their business dealings, their employment, and in their civic and national participation (e.g. Romans 13:1-7, Ephesians 5:22-6:9, 1 Peter 2:11-3:8). Jesus is not glorified by a faith so heavenly minded that it proves no earthly good.

And yet there has always been a tendency for the social gospel to become far more “social” than “gospel.” Many “social gospelers” remain on the liberal and progressive end of the doctrinal and theological spectrum, rejecting the traditional sexual ethics of the Christian faith as well as many its principal confessions. It is appropriate for advocates of the social gospel to critique others for how their faith was so focused upward they did not do much to reflect Jesus to the rest of the world (the “vertical” over the “horizontal”); likewise, it is appropriate for us to critique advocates of the social gospel to be so focused on assisting others that they do not pursue personal growth in holiness and adherence to the core doctrines of the faith (the “horizontal” over the “vertical”). The Apostles expected the Christian who became relationally one with God and His people to become a powerful witness and light to the world in their love and good deeds, growing and developing relationally both “horizontally” and “vertically” (Matthew 5:13-16, John 13:31-35, 1 Peter 2:11-18, 1 John 3:15-4:21). Jesus did not sacrifice His relationship with God to serve people; the Christian witness to the world means little without its anchoring in the Gospel of Jesus. The Gospel is the means by which God saves and rescues (Romans 1:16); no matter how effectively Christians champion various social causes, if no one is rescued from their sins and restored in relationship with God in Christ, the work ultimately proves futile. Nations rise and fall; what is done politically can be undone politically; yet the Word of God endures forever, and eternal life in the resurrection can only be found through relational unity with God in Christ, not in shared social causes (John 14:1-23, 17:20-23, 1 Peter 1:23-25).

The process by which many churches became essentially non-governmental religious humanitarian organizations began before the Social Gospel movement, but the movement certainly accelerated the trend. These days most people not associated with much Christian faith look to churches to do all kinds of social work in their communities; not a few governments do the same. While these works may do good, assisting many people, they do not represent the work God has given for local churches to accomplish. These good works become distractions for the local church as it seeks to do the great work of representing the pillar and support of the truth of what God accomplished in Jesus, and the work of building up of the Body of Christ in its time and place (Ephesians 4:11-16, 1 Timothy 3:15). Individual Christians ought to visit widows and orphans in their distress and do good to those in the community, thus embodying Jesus to the community and welcoming those in the community to come and share in the Body of Christ (Matthew 28:18-20, Galatians 6:10, James 1:27). Local churches must dedicate their limited resources to the needs of the saints, the promotion of the Gospel, and the building up of the body of Christ; in the process it should become attractive for others to wish to join in order to share in relational unity with God in Christ and with fellow Christians to share in what is truly life, just as it was at the beginning (cf. Acts 2:41-48).

Christians do well to hear and consider the challenge and critique of the social gospel and to find some ways to embody social justice as individuals manifesting the Lord Jesus to the world. Nevertheless, all the social justice in the world will not transform the powers and principalities to be like Jesus; Jesus did not die and rise again to establish a kingdom like other kingdoms (John 18:36). We must bear witness to Jesus to the world in word and deed, but must remember how Jesus and the Apostles turned the world upside down not by social advocacy but by embodying the Kingdom of Jesus in the midst of the kingdoms of the world, rooted and anchored in Christ. May we proclaim and embody the Gospel and obtain the resurrection of life in Jesus!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Christian Participation in a Representative Republic | The Voice 10.26: June 28, 2020

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The Voice

Christian Participation in a Representative Republic

Jesus lived, died, arose, ascended, and was made Lord and Christ during the days of the Roman Empire; His Apostles proclaimed the good news of these things in various villages, towns, and cities of the Roman world. The Roman Empire pretended to still represent the Senatus populusque Romanus (SPQR), the “Senate and people of Rome,” as if it remained a republic; many cities maintained a republican or democratic style of self-government regarding local matters (cf. Acts 19:39); nevertheless, Rome had become an empire under an imperial system of rule, with the Emperor’s will as sovereign and governors eager to plunder the wealth of subject peoples. Today, however, few Christians live under an empire with an imperial system of rule. In America, Christians live in a representative republic in which the government is presumed to be by the people, of the people, and for the people. What can we gain from the Scriptures regarding how Christians ought to participate in a representative republic?

The New Testament described governing authorities as maintaining two minds. On one hand, all governing authorities exist from God and are given authority by God (Romans 13:1-2): they are God’s agents to establish justice on the earth, to honor good conduct and punish evil conduct, and thus Christians were to give honor to governing authorities, to submit to their rule and laws, and to pay their taxes (Romans 13:3-7, 1 Peter 2:11-17). On the other hand, all governing authorities fall prey to the influence of the Evil One and the powers and principalities, and thus prove likely to glorify itself above all else, to perpetuate injustice to the benefit of some at the expense of others and to persecute the people of God who cry out for justice and righteousness to be done on the earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 4:8-9, 2 Corinthians 4:4, Revelation 13:1-18); to this end Christians might well be called upon to have to obey God rather than man, to love not their lives even unto death, and suffer hostility from governing authorities (Acts 5:29, Revelation 12:11). While the specific contextual application of these refer to the Emperor and governors of the Roman Empire, they are written on a grander scale: Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:11-17 would prove true of any governing authorities, and John saw Roman power in terms of the powers of previous nations, suggesting Rome was just the most recent avatar of a worldly power arrogating itself against God and His purposes. Therefore, we should expect our representative republic, even though it is theoretically “by the people, of the people, and for the people,” to reflect this same dual dynamic.

Peter invited the Christians of Asia Minor to consider themselves as exiles and sojourners, very much like Israel during the Babylonian captivity (1 Peter 1:1-2, 17, 2:11-12, 5:13). Paul called upon the Philippian Christians, many of whom likely held Roman citizenship, to consider themselves primarily as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, and to behave as citizens of that kingdom (Philippians 1:27, 3:20-21). Christians in a representative republic must therefore always remember they are never quite at home in that republic, even if they were born there and participate in its culture. The United States of America as a power desires full loyalty and complete commitment, just as Rome did; Christians will seek to honor its authorities, but must uphold the values of the Kingdom of Jesus above all else. To this end many have fully renounced participation in the customs and traditions of America’s representative republic. While there is no mandate to vote, or to involve oneself in the politics of the day, there does remain the command to do good to everyone (Galatians 6:10), and Jeremiah’s premise to “seek the welfare of the city” remains in alignment with that vision (cf. Jeremiah 29:7): any renunciation of participation in politics cannot extend to renunciation of participation in society or the manifestation of care and concern for one’s fellow citizens. At the same time, Christians must always be aware of the totalizing claims of the propaganda of the United States of America and the seductiveness of the idol of nationalism; much damage has been done to the Kingdom of Jesus by those who have sought to baptize America and its ideals in the blood of the Lamb and have thus strayed from the ways of the Crucified One. The United States of America is as the grass of the field: it will die and fade away one day, but the word of God endures forever (1 Peter 1:24-25).

In order to do what is honorable in the sight of all men, and to show appropriate honor to civil authority, Christians in representative republics do well to participate as called upon in ways which glorify God in Christ.

Christians should pay all appropriate taxes without grumbling (Romans 13:6-7). If Christians get a say in how and whether taxes should or should not be levied, they ought not consider the matter simply in terms of what would benefit them personally, but to also consider the needs of others and the common good (Romans 12:16-17, Philippians 2:1-4).

Christians must continually pray and make supplication for all of their fellow citizens in America, particularly those in authority, so that we might live in tranquility and peace and for all to come to a knowledge of the truth and be saved (1 Timothy 2:1-4). Paul leveraged his Roman citizenship to provide the opportunity to proclaim the Gospel to many people and those in authority (Acts 21:37-40, 24:1-21, 25:1-26:32); we should leverage the freedoms given to us to proclaim the Gospel to others, and make appeal for rulers to consider Jesus as Lord and to uphold righteousness and justice. We may exercise voting privileges to the end of living in tranquility and peace and to uphold righteousness and justice, understanding that we will be held accountable for those whom we empower by our endorsement with that vote.

The state may make request of Christians to participate in its use of coercive force, be it through the police force or through military endeavors. Christians must live according to their consciences in Christ regarding such matters and ought to give serious consideration regarding how they can glorify God and participate in such things. Christians must ask themselves if they can continue to love their fellow humans as themselves and to value each human as made in God’s image as part of those forces (Genesis 1:26-27, Luke 6:27, 32, 10:25-37), and perhaps look for ways to serve in ways that demonstrate how their primary loyalty is to Jesus, as Cornelius did before them (cf. Acts 10:1-48).

For any representative republic to function as intended requires participation by its citizens. Christians do well to find ways to participate in the public life of their place to seek its shalom, peace and wholeness: to do good to those around them, to speak up for justice and righteousness, and to provide material, mental, emotional, and spiritual support to the poor, marginalized, and downtrodden among them (Matthew 25:31-46, Luke 6:27-37, Galatians 6:10, Romans 12:9, 17-18). Some may serve as elected officials if they can do so in ways that glorify God in Christ like Erastus of Corinth before them (Romans 16:23). Most early Christians were numbered among the poor, and might well have participated in creative nonviolent resistance to expose the injustice and shame of those who oppressed them (Matthew 5:38-42); James prophetically denounced their wealthy oppressors (James 5:1-6). Christians among the poor and marginalized ought to find support and strength from their fellow people of God, and not shame and abuse (1 Corinthians 12:12-28); Christians with material wealth, power, and influence do well to leverage their resources to serve, advocate, and assist those who do not (Ephesians 4:28, 1 Timothy 6:17-19, 1 Peter 4:10-11). In this way Christians ought to be seen as lights in their community, known for their good works and their stand for justice and righteousness in Christ (Matthew 5:13-16).

Christians loyal to the Lord Jesus Christ may live and even flourish in a representative republic like the United States of America, but they must never be primarily of such a republic. They must always prioritize their loyalty to Jesus and strive in every respect to bring His lordship to bear on their engagement with their fellow citizens and their nation. May we serve and glorify the Lord Jesus in the midst of this representative republic and obtain the resurrection of life in Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Sects | The Voice 10:25: June 21, 2020

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Works of the Flesh: Sects

The Apostle Paul proved as concerned for the general conduct of the Christians in Galatia as he did the particular challenges of the “Judaizers”; he wanted them to avoid the “works of the flesh” and to manifest the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:17-24). He listed the condemned “works of the flesh” in Galatians 5:19-21:

Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, parties, envyings, drunkenness, revellings, and such like; of which I forewarn you, even as I did forewarn you, that they who practise such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

Many of the first “works of the flesh” centered on challenges and temptations which would prove especially acute for Christians who had recently come out of the Greco-Roman pagan milieu: sexual temptations like sexually deviant behavior, uncleanness, and lasciviousness; idolatry; and sorcery. Paul has now turned to discuss “works of the flesh” which prove especially pernicious in relationships: enmities, strife, jealousy, wrath, and rivalries.

As we explored divisions, we noted its Greek term, dichostasia, is similar in meaning to hairesis, variously translated as “sects,” “factions,” “parties,” or, when dichostasia is translated “dissensions,” “divisions.” Our English term “heresy” derives from Greek hairesis; the latter is defined by Thayer as:

1) act of taking, capture: e.g. storming a city
2) choosing, choice
3) that which is chosen
4) a body of men following their own tenets (sect or party)
5) dissensions arising from diversity of opinions and aims

The core idea of hairesis is a choice: thus, to choose to take a city, or to choose to follow after another path from what has been accepted. In 1 Corinthians 11:9, Paul declared how factions (hairesis) had become evident within the church in Corinth; in 1 Corinthians 3:3, Paul had chastised them for manifesting dissension (dichostasia), both relating to the party spirit described in 1 Corinthians 1:11-12: “I am of Apollos”; “I am of Cephas”; “I am of Paul”; “I am of Christ.” In the New Testament hairesis is generally used to describe various “sects,” or “factions” within a greater whole: the sect of the Sadducees (Acts 5:17), the sect of the Pharisees (Acts 26:5), and twice to refer to “the Way” of the Christians while they were considered to be a sect among Jewish people (Acts 24:14, 28:22). Thus, while hairesis can refer to factions or parties within a congregation, we will speak of it primarily in terms of the development of full-fledged sectarianism: the formation of rival groups and the doctrinal disagreements that lead to those developments (as Peter warned against in 2 Peter 2:1).

From the beginning God’s purpose has been to reconcile all people to Himself and to one another in Christ (John 14:1-3, 20-23, Ephesians 1:1-3:12). Paul strongly exhorted Christians to be diligent to maintain the unity of the Spirit (Ephesians 4:3), indicating unity in the faith was not a given or guaranteed. Just as Jesus had endured disagreement and disputations with fellow Israelites in His life, so after His death and resurrection false doctrines would proliferate alongside the truth of the Gospel. The Galatian letter itself warned its recipients to not fall prey to false teachers promoting a false gospel that would lead away from Christ and toward condemnation (Galatians 1:1-5:15). The Apostle John would have to warn Christians to reject any who denied Jesus’ incarnation and considered them as antichrist (1 John 4:1-6). John presumed many such persons had “gone out” from among Christians (1 John 2:18-23); Jude was concerned that similar false teachers would attempt to remain among faithful Christians, seeking to encourage some to go astray (Jude 1:3-16).

The Apostles maintained a consistent witness about the dangers in the future from false teachers and thus sectarianism (1 Timothy 4:1-5, 2 Timothy 4:1-6, 2 Peter 3:1-4, Jude 1:3ff). We have records from early Christians in their disputes and arguments against those who taught falsely and had developed various factions and sects: the Montanists, the Marcionites, and the various Gnostic groups, all in the second century. Early Catholicism would develop from false teachings and practices beginning at this time and following; for most of the first millennium sects developed on the basis of various teachings regarding the nature of God and the nature of Jesus (e.g. Arianism, Nestorianism, Monophysitism).

The Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church separated in 1054; in the West various movements and sects would arise throughout the medieval period, culminating in the Reformation in the sixteenth century. Beforehand Catholics maintained the conceit of representing the bulk of Christendom; within a century after the Reformation it could no longer seriously be maintained. From the 1600s to the present day we have witnessed the proliferation of denominations and denominationalism in Western Christendom: all kinds of different religious organizations professing the name of Christ, divided by all kinds of reasons which might be imagined under the sun. Many bear the names of their founders: Lutherans, Calvinists, Mennonites, Wesleyans. Many are marked and named by church organization: Congregationalists, Presbyerians, Episcopalians. Some bear the names of distinctive doctrines or practices: Baptists, Anabaptists, Methodists, Pentecostals, Pietists. Many factions and parties remain underneath each umbrella: many different associations and organizations often divided by geography or culture as much as any doctrinal particularity.

Thus the world of Christendom provides a sad testimony to the power of sectarianism and the party spirit; in the eyes of many “Christianity” is a hodgepodge of different groups all arguing and fighting with one another over all kinds of details. Thus it is not surprising to see the cultivation of a spirit of ecumenism among many such denominational groups: a form of “unity-in-diversity,” the belief that the differences in doctrines and practices between various denominations are not a roadblock to unity, that different denominations can recognize the “diversity” within “various Christian tradition” and can respect these differences, and therefore that all these Christian denominations, despite the differences in doctrine and practice, are all valid portions of the Body of Christ and their members are true and faithful Christians.

It is good for Christians to strive diligently to maintain the unity of the Spirit; unfortunately, ecumenism does not strive for true unity, settling by declaring as “essential” what already finds broad agreement, and considering matters of liberty all the things which continue to divide the various denominations. This is not the relational unity for which Jesus prayed in John 17:20-23. It is declaring victory in defeat, for these groups are not really one. We will not find those for whom Jesus prayed in the sectarian thicket of modern “Christendom.”

We do well to remember that the factional and party spirit is condemned as a “work of the flesh” in Galatians 5:20; we must not give it justification or quarter. The response to the prevalence of denominationalism ought not to be the creation of a new sect for those “of Christ.” Paul provided no praise or commendation to the party in Corinth which declared, “I am of Christ”; they were found as guilty of carnal thinking and sectarianism as the others (1 Corinthians 1:10-4:21). We must recognize and confess how the party and factional spirit which led to the tangled thicket of modern “Christendom” is the problem, and to thus resist any call to maintain a party and factional spirit against “the denominations.” God is not glorified if we fall prey to the very spirit we are called upon to reject.

Instead, we must strive to be the people for whom Jesus prayed in John 17:20-23. We must listen to what the Apostles testified regarding Jesus and His Kingdom, trust in Jesus, and strive to become one with Him and with one another as God is one within Himself. We then can strive to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, to seek what is good for one another, care for and love one another, and embody Jesus toward one another and those beyond (1 Corinthians 12:12-28, Ephesians 4:1-3, 11-16). We should not yoke ourselves with those who have not accepted the Gospel in Christ but have pursued false gospels; we also should not reckon ourselves as just another sect among sects, but welcome all who will put aside all other names and parties so as to glorify God in Christ together in one voice. God in Christ is honored in relational unity; only the Evil One is glorified in sectarianism and division. May we become one with God in Christ and one another now and for eternity in the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

“Good” and “Bad” People? | The Voice 10.24: June 14, 2020

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“Good” and “Bad” People?

In the world we often hear people categorized according to a binary: there are “good” people and there are “bad” people, the “good guys” and the “bad guys.” We have been told, for instance, that the only thing that will stop a “bad guy with a gun” is “a good guy with a gun”; there are “good cops” and “bad cops”; politicians and their supporters will attempt to persuade the “good people” of the nation regarding the dangers that the malevolent Other would like to impose upon the nation. It seems convenient that the “good” people are those who are with us, and those who are against “us” are made to look “bad” in various ways. It is always tempting and seductive to maintain the childhood simplicity and fantasy of the world and categorize people as either “good” or “bad.” As Christians we must be extremely wary regarding this temptation.

God has maintained a consistent witness in the New Testament regarding humanity: they have all done badly. In Luke 11:13 Jesus spoke of His disciples as being “evil,” particularly in comparison with God and the good gifts He gives. The Apostle Paul powerfully demonstrated in his argument from Romans 1:18-3:8 the conclusion found in Romans 3:9: all are under sin. In Romans 3:10-19 Paul arranged a pastiche of quotations from the Hebrew Bible testifying to humanity’s participation in evil, leading to the pithy declaration of Romans 3:23: all have sinned. Paul attested in Romans 1:18-32 the sad state of humanity lost and given over to depravity in their minds in their sinfulness without repentance. In the sinful condition all submit to the powers and principalities of this present darkness, live in the passions of their flesh as children of wrath, hate others and are hated in turn (Ephesians 2:1-3, Titus 3:3). The wages of such sin is death, and humanity experiences such pain, distress, and death in spades (Romans 6:23). To this end we can appreciate and understand the possibly apocryphal story told of G.K. Chesterton, who, having heard of an inquiry by The Times of London asking what was wrong with the world today, responded simply, “I am.”

While the Scriptures attest that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, to declare humans as totally depraved and incapable of good on their own goes well beyond what is written. When Jesus spoke of His disciples as “evil,” He did so in the context of describing how they would themselves do good for and give good things to their children (Luke 11:11-13). Jesus recognized and confessed that sinners, tax collectors, and Gentiles love those who love them and do good for those who do good to them (Matthew 5:46-47, Luke 6:31-33).

Thus the Scriptures testify to our condition: none of us is good; only God is good (Mark 10:18). Yet we are not entirely evil, either. No doubt some people are more marked by good than evil, and others by more evil than good; thus Jesus can speak of “the good and the evil, the just and the unjust” in such an accommodative way in Matthew 5:45. Christians therefore must not fall prey to the easy and simplistic binary of “good” people and “bad” people: there are only people, capable of great good and unimaginable evil. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn declared in The Gulag Archipelago, “the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained.” Men convicted of terrible crimes still love their mamas. The saintliest person you know still struggles with various forms of temptation to do what is wrong, and sometimes falls short.

Yet should not Christians, at least, be “good people”? Those who are in Christ must never forget from what they have been redeemed: they were sinful, participants in evil, and received cleansing and forgiveness from sins not because of anything they did to deserve it but through the sheer act of grace, mercy, and love displayed by God through Christ on the cross (Ephesians 2:1-10, Titus 3:3-8). Christians should grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, manifesting the fruit of the Spirit and not the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:17-24, 2 Peter 3:1-8). Yet any Christian who says that he or she no longer sins is deceived and the truth is not in them (1 John 1:8 in the present tense; 1 John 1:10 testifies to the same regarding the past). Jesus spoke of the people of God, even His own disciples, as “evil” in Luke 11:13; many of the texts quoted by Paul in Romans 3:10-19 spoke of the people of God at the time. Paul addressed the Corinthian Christians as “saints” in 1 Corinthians 1:2, yet his two letters attested to less than saintly behavior and conduct throughout. Even within mature congregations there would be Christians who generally sought the will of the Lord but would have some dispute or disagreement with fellow Christians, or some would be walking disorderly (e.g. Euodia and Syntyche, Philippians 4:2, 2 Thessalonians 3:1-15). In these letters the Apostle Paul called on all such Christians to repent and change their behavior; nevertheless, for good reason did Paul exhort Christians to faithful conduct in Jesus in every letter he wrote, for a person is not made intrinsically good by becoming a Christian.

Christians easily deceive themselves into thinking they have fully overcome challenges and temptations as they have matured and grown in the Lord Jesus. And yet consider the Apostle Peter. He was appointed by the Lord and the Holy Spirit to be the first to associate with Gentiles and proclaim the Gospel to them (Acts 10:1-48); his testimony proved decisive in recognizing God granted Gentiles access to repentance that leads to life in Christ, and even to remain as Gentiles (Acts 11:1-18, 15:7-11). Peter continued, at times, to associate with Gentile Christians (Galatians 2:12a). Yet even the Apostle Peter in a moment of weakness in fear and anxiety displayed prejudice against Gentile Christians when Jewish Christians arrived in Antioch from Jerusalem and was rebuked by Paul (Galatians 2:11-14). Likewise, the Christians of Ephesus had stood firm in the truth for years, and yet their love for the Lord had grown cold; the Lord warned them they would lose their standing before Him if they did not repent (Revelation 2:1-8). One thus does not become intrinsically good by growing and maturing in the faith. Christians will continually be beset by sin and struggle with temptations to sin. Those temptations may shift and change over time. In times of anxiety, fear, and/or stress, Christians may find themselves succumbing again to temptations to sin they had successfully suppressed for years. As long as we are in the flesh we must stand firm in our faith and be on guard against the wiles of the Evil One (Ephesians 6:10-18, 1 Peter 5:8-9); we are never too old or too mature in the faith to fully transcend the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:13).

When we were children it made sense for us to categorize people as “good” or “bad”; now that we have grown up to adulthood, we must set aside childish things. There are no truly “good” or “bad” people; there are just people. People who often want to do good but trap themselves in webs of anxiety, deceit, fear, and pleasure (Romans 7:5-25, Hebrews 2:14-15); people who may be relatively self-absorbed but who also want good things for those whom they love and know (Matthew 5:46-47, Luke 6:31-33); and people who are self-deceived into thinking they are what they are not (James 1:22-25). To follow the Lord Jesus in obedient faith will lead to cleansing and forgiveness, and ought to be manifest in righteous thinking, feeling, and acting, but in the flesh Christians remain tempted to sin, have parts of their lives that are not as reformed as others, and are just as able to remain deceived by the powers and principalities and perpetuate various kinds of sins. God is good; may we trust in God in Christ, love one another as God has loved us, and obtain life in Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Relational Evangelism | The Voice 10.23: June 07, 2020

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Relational Evangelism

In Christ God has worked powerfully in order to reconcile people to Himself (Ephesians 2:1-3:12); as God is One in relational unity, thus He desires to share in relational unity with mankind and for people to share in relational unity with one another (John 14:1-3, 21-23, 17:20-23).

Modern Christendom has made much of the vertical aspect of this relational unity: most forms of Gospel proclamation are to the end of encouraging a person to “make a decision for Christ,” to “get saved.” Such an emphasis makes sense in a culture which exalts the individual as him or herself, but it sits uncomfortably with the message of the Gospel itself. We can see why when we consider what happens to a good number of those people who make that decision for Christ and “get saved” in the moment of crisis: they are made to feel comfortable with their standing with the Lord, and do not participate in the life of the Lord’s Body, the church (Ephesians 1:20-23). Their individual condition and standing has been addressed, or so it would seem.

None should minimize the importance of a person making themselves right with God in Christ and coming to faith in Him; and yet the Gospel consistently calls for people to jointly participate in the life of faith with one another (Ephesians 2:1-3:12). Jesus’ prayer in John 17:20-23 is for people to be relationally unified with one another in God in Christ; not for nothing did Paul emphasize how all who are baptized are baptized in one Spirit into one body, and are to jointly participate in that body (1 Corinthians 12:12-28). Any Gospel which does not direct the hearer to relational unity with his or her fellow man in God in Christ is not sufficient or complete.

To this end relational evangelism is a powerful means by which the Gospel is communicated and embodied. Relational evangelism involves fostering and nurturing relationships in order to embody and proclaim Jesus as Lord and Christ.

Relational evangelism might well be a primary posture of evangelism for many toward those in their community. To this end Christians develop associations and connections with the people around them. They get to know these people and allow these people to get to know them. They can embody Jesus’ essential character toward their neighbors, manifesting sacrificial love among one another and toward their fellow community members (cf. John 13:31-35). In so doing they can gain the trust of those around them; if they gain trust, they will then look for the opportunity to share the good news of the life, death, resurrection, ascension, lordship, and imminent return of Jesus of Nazareth with them. That moment might come because enough trust has been generated that the message can be heard. Perhaps the people themselves wanted to hear it because they noticed the distinctiveness of the life and ways of the Christian. Perhaps they would not otherwise listen but experience a crisis moment and turn to the Christian for wisdom and guidance. Regardless, the proclamation of the Gospel will come with greater power and influence in these situations because of the trust built up in the relationship: people anymore are inundated with information; they seek to figure out who to trust, and they will give a lot of credence to anything said by those in whom they have placed this trust.

Yet relational evangelism will also prove important for those who have heard the Gospel through other means. No matter how one has heard of what God has accomplished in Jesus, at some point the person must connect with the people of God in order to continue to grow in relational unity with God and with fellow Christians (John 17:20-23, Hebrews 10:19-25). A person who has come to faith through hearing the Gospel in a “cold call” situation, has been invited to hear of Jesus, or through any other means will develop some kind of spiritual relationship with the ones with whom they study or hear of Jesus. If no deliberate action is taken to incorporate such people into the lives of fellow Christians in faith, far too many will prove rocky or thorny soils, and the implanted Word will not bear fruit (cf. Matthew 13:1-8). Newer Christians must be incorporated into the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-28); it is incumbent on more mature Christians to display the hospitality required to foster and nurture those relationships (1 Peter 4:9).

Relational evangelism proves powerful in its working; yet we must be on guard regarding the pitfalls of maintaining the pretense of relational evangelism without the substance thereof. We must be on guard lest we look at fellow human beings as “prospects” and develop transactional or utilitarian relationships in which our only purpose is to evangelize them. Our love for others must be without hypocrisy; we must show genuine love and interest in other people in our community, and prove willing to maintain that relationship even if the proclamation of the Gospel is rebuffed at first. If people have felt used as we have tried to proclaim Jesus to them, we have not represented Jesus well in our efforts. We must also keep the “evangelism” in relational evangelism: we should never assume that just embodying Jesus to people is sufficient for them to come to a saving faith in His name. We must look for the opportunity given in trust to actually tell the people with whom we have developed these relationships about Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension, lordship, and imminent return. Knowing how and when requires patience, discretion, faith, and wisdom from the Lord; but if we never tell the people with whom we have developed relationships about Jesus, we have not truly participated in relational evangelism.

Ultimately, all evangelism ought to be seen in relational terms: Jesus lived, died, rose, ascended, rules, and will return soon in order to reconcile us all to God and to one another (Romans 5:1-11, 1 John 4:7-21). If our efforts in evangelism do not direct people to share in relational unity with God in Christ through the Spirit and also with one another in Jesus, then our evangelism is not accomplishing its mission (Ephesians 2:1-3:12). If we are not growing in relational unity with God in Christ and with one another in Jesus, our faith is not productive, and we cannot truly and effectively embody Jesus toward others in the proclamation of the Gospel (John 15:1-11, 17:20-23, Ephesians 4:11-16). Evangelism is never an end unto itself; to proclaim the Gospel is to invite our fellow man to share in life with us in Christ. God Himself, after all, is one in relational unity, and we are made in His image (Genesis 1:26-27); the portrayal of the consummation of all things features redeemed humanity in the resurrection basking in the continual presence and glory of God (Revelation 21:1-22:6). May we proclaim the Gospel of the Lord Jesus to all, manifesting relational unity with God and one another, and inviting others to share in that relational unity now and forevermore!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Assyria | The Voice 10:22: May 31, 2020

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Assyria

It is a rich and fertile land, fed by the Tigris and Euphrates as they descend from the mountains. The people living there would develop a fighting force which instilled dread and fear throughout the ancient Near Eastern world. They would redefine what an empire looked like and prove the catalyst for the dominance of empires over the Middle East for almost 2700 years. Assyria dominated the ancient Near East until it was humiliated in drastic and shocking fashion. The Assyrians had served YHWH’s purposes; they would eventually obtain a blessing in Christ.

Asshur is identified as the son of Shem, the son of Noah, in Genesis 10:22; in Genesis 10:8-12 Nimrod the son of Cush, son of Ham, son of Noah, a mighty warrior before God, was credited with expanding his empire from Babylon/Shinar into Assyria, building Nineveh, Rehoboth-Ir, Calah, and Resen. According to archaeologists the land which would become known as Assyria saw major cities established by the middle of the third millennium BCE. Assyria was known as Subartu to the Sumerians, and they did claim to expand their power and influence over the area of Assyria in the 2500s BCE; nevertheless, the names which begin the Assyrian King List from this time are Semitic in origin, all suggesting some basis in fact for the stories preserved in the Genesis record.

Abraham lived during the days of what has become known as the Old Assyrian Empire which grew and maintained control over a large portion of northern Mesopotamia and would have exerted influence over Haran (ca. 2025-1750 BCE; cf. Genesis 11:31-32). The power of Assyria would be reduced by the invading Mitanni, leading to a period of relative weakness and decline.

During the days of the judges Assyrian power and strength re-asserted itself in what is known as the Middle Assyrian Empire (1392-1056 BCE). The Assyrians destroyed the Mitanni Empire and took its place among the grand empires of the Late Bronze Age. In response the Hittites and Egyptians, who had been at enmity, established an alliance. The 13th century BCE Assyrian kings Shalmaneser I and Tukulti-Ninurta I defeated both the Hittites and the Babylonians; they imposed direct rule over Babylon. As the other kingdoms of the Late Bronze Age collapsed, Assyria maintained a dominant position. Only with the invasion of Arameans into the Levant in the 11th century BCE would Assyrian power again wane, although remaining a strong and well-defended kingdom in its own right.

The Assyria we find most often in Scripture is what is deemed the Neo-Assyrian Empire, begun with Adad-nirari II in 911 BCE, and enduring until the destruction of Nineveh in 609 BCE. Throughout this time a pattern would develop: a strong king would arise and would exert his authority over Assyria’s neighbors; kings afterward would then have a platform on which to make even greater incursions. Nevertheless, at some point a weaker king would come to the throne: internal instability would abound, and client kinds would reassert independence. Later another strong king would ascend, and the cycle would begin anew.

Shalmaneser III fought against Hadadezer of Aram and Ahab of Israel at Qarqar in 853 BCE, likely to a draw; the “Black Obelisk” from later in his reign testifies to Jehu as king of Israel around 841 BCE. Within three generations Assyria would again suffer a time of internal instability; during the latter end of this period Jonah would have traveled to Nineveh.

All that would change with the ascent of Tiglath-pileser III to the Assyrian throne in 745 BCE. Ahaz king of Judah hired Tiglath-pileser III against the Arameans and the Israelites; in 732 he would eliminate Aram as a going concern and conquered most of Israel (cf. 2 Kings 15:29, 16:6-20). Tiglath-pileser III established the first professional army and instituted the policies of direct governance of client states and the practice of exiling recalcitrant peoples to differing parts of his empire. His reforms paved the way for the bureaucratic administration of empires which would mark the next 2,700 years.

Tiglath-pileser III’s son Shalmaneser V would begin the siege of Samaria which would eliminate the Kingdom of Israel as a going concern; the likely usurper Sargon II would complete it (2 Kings 17:3-6). Sargon II’s son Sennacherib would invade Judah and surround Jerusalem; the Rabshakeh’s speech around the walls of Jerusalem did not contain many idle boasts, for by this time the Assyrians had conquered almost all of Mesopotamia, the Levant, and parts of modern day Turkey (2 Kings 18:9-19:37, Isaiah 36:1-37:38). “Sennacherib’s Prism” maintained a record of the events according to Sennacherib’s perspective, celebrating the conquest of Judah and the siege of Jerusalem; that he did not claim to have conquered the city is quite telling. Sennacherib’s son Esarhaddon would conquer Egypt, destroying the Kushite Empire, and re-settle the land of Israel with exiles from Mesopotamia (cf. Ezra 4:9-10). Esarhaddon’s son Ashurbanipal reigned at the height of Assyrian power and influence (ca. 669-627 BCE). He was literate and scholarly, rare for the time; he would build a fantastic library of Mesopotamian literature, knowledge, and wisdom in Nineveh.

In a world full of brutal wars and violence, the Assyrians became infamous for even greater effectiveness in violence and cruelty. Their military was feared around the ancient Near Eastern world. At home the Assyrians enjoyed a fertile land that did not require the intense irrigation of Babylon to its south and which proved a bit more temperate. As befitting those who sat upon the northern portion of Mesopotamia, Assyria was a major trading center and both influenced and were influenced by southern Mesopotamia and the Levant around them. Asshur was their primary god; they served the host of Mesopotamia, but also Aramaean gods as well. Assyrian language was a dialect of Akkadian, but Aramaic grew to become widespread because of the exiling of Aramean people and the embrace of Aramaic as the language of diplomacy by Tiglath-pileser III, which it would remain until the days of the Greeks. And yet the Assyrian leaders saw themselves primarily as the inheritors of the great powers which had ruled over Mesopotamia all the way back to Sargon of Akkad.

Isaiah and Nahum predicted a humiliating fall for Assyria; everyone was shocked by how quickly it would come to pass. After Ashurbanipal’s death Assyria entered a period of instability and weakness at an inopportune time. Cyaxares of Media attacked in 615 and destroyed Kalhu/Calah/Nimrud; in 612 a grand coalition attacked Nineveh and destroyed it, killing its king in street fighting. The final Assyrian king Ashur-uballit II would fall in 609 BCE; Egypt attempted to prop up the remnants of the state against Chaldean Babylon until its defeat at Carchemish in 605 BCE, at which point the Assyrian Empire was eliminated as a going concern.

The land of Assyria would be made part of empires built using its models and reforms: the Neo-Babylonians, Persians, Seleucids, Parthians, Romans, Sassanids, and then under successive Islamic empires until becoming part of modern Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. The God of Israel had promised a blessing for Assyria as part of the people of God with Egypt and Israel (Isaiah 19:23-25); it would come to pass in the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ which took firm root in Assyrian lands in the second century and afterward. As the Nestorian Church of the East, Assyrian Christianity remains until this day, still using the Bible in Syriac, preserving the last vestiges of Assyrian culture.

Assyria had been the rod of YHWH’s anger, a terrifying power which maintained great influence over the ancient Near East for almost two millennia (cf. Isaiah 10:5). Yet YHWH, not Assyria, was not all-powerful; as she had been lifted up and humiliated many, so in turn she also would be humiliated in the same way. We have learned much about ancient Mesopotamia from the libraries found in her ruins; a fitting testimony both to Assyrian pretense and her ultimate end. Ezekiel’s description of Assyria for Egypt was, and remains, telling: a great nation greatly humiliated and cast down to Sheol (Ezekiel 31:1-18). No nation is indestructible; all nations eventually collapse into dust. God is Sovereign, and His purposes will remain forever. May we put our trust in God in Christ and find life in Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Christians, the Church, and the Community | The Voice 10.21: May 24, 2020

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Christians, the Church, and the Community

Even in the twenty-first century there remains truth in the mantra that “all politics is local.” Nation-states attempt to impose their authority as they will, yet it is really in local communities where actions and change can happen.

People jointly participate in communities in order to manifest some form of relational unity for the betterment of those involved. Those who live in a similar geographic area must cooperate with one another in some way if they would enjoy some level of security in life.

Communities are right, good, and appropriate in the sight of God. One can even understand the local church as a kind of community: a group of people in a given time and place who jointly participate in the faith that is in Christ (e.g. 1 Timothy 3:14-16). The Lord Jesus Himself grew up in Nazareth of Galilee and was well-known there: too well-known, in fact, to be able to accomplish much (cf. Matthew 13:53-58, Luke 4:16-30). Ever since all Christians and all local churches have existed within communities and were expected to engage with the members of their local communities in ways which would glorify God in Christ.

The Apostle Peter exhorted the Christians of Asia Minor to see themselves as exiles or sojourners within framework of Israel during the Babylonian exile (1 Peter 1:1-2, 17, 2:11-12, 5:13). A sojourner is a person who has voluntarily left his homeland to live somewhere else; an exile lives somewhere else but involuntarily so. We can profitably consider this as a Jewish Christian giving valuable insight into the experience of the people of God to Gentile Christians who have entered unfamiliar territory spiritually (cf. 1 Peter 2:1-10): most of them live in the midst of their family and people of their tribes and ethnicities, and the only thing now distinguishing them from their fellow community members is their confession of Jesus as Lord and Christ, the Son of God. Jewish Christians were used to constant pressure, intolerance, and times of outright persecution from Gentiles because of their faith in God and adherence to the Law of Moses; religious persecution and pressure was new to Gentile Christians. Thus it remains important for Christians to remember they are as sojourners and exiles, even though they may remain in their “home country” among people of their same nation and ethnicity. Their commitment to Jesus will, at times, invariably sit at odds with the prevailing customs and practices of their culture. Their hesitance to support the grandiosity of the claims of the nation-state will lead to questioning regarding their loyalty. Likewise, local churches ought to be marked in the greater community for their commitment to uphold and affirm the truths of what God has made known in Jesus (cf. 1 Timothy 3:15); to this end they should be seen as distinctive and not just another local social club, fraternity, or harmless cultural artifact. As Israel in Babylon, so Christians and local churches ought to be distinct from the community at large because of their confession of Jesus and commitment to the faith, and accept the likelihood of ostracization, marginalization, and persecution because of it (1 Peter 4:1-19).

At the same time, Christians have no ground upon which to remain distant and aloof from the community because they reckon themselves as sojourners and exiles. Just as Jeremiah exhorted the Israelite exiles in Babylon to seek the welfare of the city in which they are exiled, so Christians ought to seek the welfare of their communities (cf. Jeremiah 29:1-7). Christians ought to do good to all people (Galatians 6:10); it should be taken for granted that they are already feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and visiting the sick and imprisoned among them, and they should display yet greater love and care for their fellow humans by doing the same for those in the community who are not Christians (cf. Matthew 5:43-48, 25:31-46, 1 John 4:7-21). If members of the local community remain hostile to the faith and those who confess it, they should at least be put to shame by the good conduct of Christians (cf. 1 Peter 2:12, 15). Elders of the church ought to have a good reputation even among non-Christians in the community (1 Timothy 3:7); Christians should give the members of their local communities reasons to glorify God (Matthew 5:14-16).

Thus Christians and local churches do well to consider how well or poorly they embody and reflect Jesus to their local communities. It might well be that Christians and local churches are seen as “peculiar” and experience difficulties because they seek to embody those parts of the Christian faith which members of the local community find offensive; such Christians do well to absorb the shame and humiliation and continue to embody the Lord Jesus. Unfortunately all too often Christians and local churches develop less stellar reputations in a local community for the ways in which they fail to embody the Lord Jesus: internal divisions from scandalous or less substantive disagreements; practicing or tolerating sin; aggressively condemning others in uncharitable and unmerciful ways; and so on. The name of God is blasphemed because of such, just as it is written (Isaiah 52:5, Romans 2:24). Communities do not necessarily expect perfection from Christians and local churches, but they do expect humility and some kind of reflection of Jesus, and they have every right to maintain that expectation.

Christians confess the Gospel as God’s power unto salvation; the local church exists not to serve as a local community resource center but as the community of people nourishing and sustaining the embodiment and proclamation of God in Christ in that area (Romans 1:16, Ephesians 4:11-16, 1 Timothy 3:15). Christians understand the authorities, both local and national, to be empowered by God to uphold justice and condemn unrighteousness (Romans 13:1-7). It is not for the government to impose or proclaim the Gospel; nevertheless, Christians have the most effective chance at encouraging real change toward greater justice and righteousness on a local level rather than at a national level. The Apostle Paul counted friends among the Asiarchs in Ephesus (Acts 19:31); Erastus, a Christian in Corinth, served as the aedile, or city treasurer, a prominent civic position (Romans 16:23). It is a good thing for Christians to provide materially for those in need, as in Matthew 25:31-46 and Galatians 6:10; Christians also do well to use whatever advocacy or influence they have to nonviolently resist the powers and principalities that be when they perpetuate injustice and oppression (cf. Matthew 5:38-42, Luke 6:27-36, James 5:1-6). If nothing else, neither Christians nor local churches should gain the reputation in the community of perpetuating injustice or oppression; they should be more identified with the kind of people with whom Jesus identified Himself.

The world has never learned of Jesus in some kind of global or national way; people learn of Jesus from those who would embody and proclaim Jesus in their midst. Christians are the salt of the earth, a city set on a hill (Matthew 5:13-14): members of the community learn about Jesus from their words and deeds, for better or for worse, and part of their acceptance or rejection of Jesus is based on how well or poorly His people embody Him. Neither Christians nor local churches are well-served to have the reputation of representing a hothouse of partisanship; at the same time, it is impossible for either Christians or a local church to maintain a completely apolitical posture, for even the attempt to remain entirely disengaged from local, national, or global politics is itself a political position. Christians and local churches do best when they are seen as bringing the lordship of Jesus to bear in their engagement with local politics and local political authorities: to glorify God through their work and service, to uphold God’s justice and righteousness in Christ in political engagement, to affirm justice and resist oppression. Christians are to be a distinctive people, living as sojourners and exiles, yet committed to the welfare of their community, seeking to proclaim and embody Christ not just in “spiritual” matters, but also to bring Jesus’ lordship to bear in the “secular” domain. May the people in the local community see Jesus in us as Christians and the local church, and may they be given reason to glorify God in Christ on account of us!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Divisions | The Voice 10.20: May 17, 2020

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Works of the Flesh: Divisions

The Apostle Paul encouraged the Christians of Galatia to live according to the Spirit and crucify the flesh and its passions; in so doing Paul set forth contrasting feelings, behaviors, and character traits described as the “works of the flesh” and the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:17-24). Such exhortations are important for Christians of every time and place. Paul deemed the following as the “works of the flesh” in Galatians 5:19-21:

Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, parties, envyings, drunkenness, revellings, and such like; of which I forewarn you, even as I did forewarn you, that they who practise such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

Many of the first “works of the flesh” centered on challenges and temptations which would prove especially acute for Christians who had recently come out of the Greco-Roman pagan milieu: sexual temptations like sexually deviant behavior, uncleanness, and lasciviousness; idolatry; and sorcery. Paul has now turned to discuss “works of the flesh” which prove especially pernicious in relationships: enmities, strife, jealousy, wrath, and rivalries. He continued in the same theme with divisions.

The word translated here as “divisions” is the Greek word dichostasia, defined in Thayer’s Lexicon as “dissension, division.” Paul would use the same term on two other occasions: in encouraging the Christians in Rome to “mark” those causing such “divisions” contrary to the doctrines which they had learned in Romans 16:17, and to indict the Corinthian Christians for having the fleshly influences of jealousy and dissensions as manifest in factionalism in 1 Corinthians 3:3. Dichostasia and hairesis, “parties or sects,” the next listed “work of the flesh,” are extremely similar in meaning, and can refer to different aspects of the same process or event (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:19).

From before the beginning God’s purpose has involved reconciling humanity to Himself and to one another in Jesus (John 14:1-3, 21-23, 17:20-23, Ephesians 1:3-13, 2:11-3:12). Dissension and division work entirely against unity and manifest the work of the powers and principalities (Ephesians 6:12). Division and dissension mean the failure of striving to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3); any time division or dissension rears its head we should lament and mourn.

When we think of dissensions and divisions, matters of doctrinal disagreement often come to mind (Romans 16:17). On the surface it might seem Paul is contradicting himself: if the goal of the faith is to be unified in Christ, how can he exhort the Roman Christians to mark and avoid people? Paul explained well in Romans 16:18: those who foment division and dissension and would cause Christians to stumble no longer serve the Lord Jesus Christ but their own fleshly desires. Jesus indeed died to reconcile all people to and in Himself (Ephesians 2:11-22); the ground of reconciliation is in Christ, and outside of Christ, such reconciliation cannot exist (cf. 1 John 1:1-2:27). To this end Christianity has always been a confessional community, a group of people who have come together as a spiritual family based upon what they share in common confession about Jesus (cf. 1 Timothy 3:15-16). The Apostles and their associates felt compelled to constantly warn Christians about the dangers of these false teachers who would lead Christians away from Jesus in order to satisfy their desires, lusts, and vanity (1 Timothy 4:1-5, 6:3-10, 2 Peter 2:1-22, Jude 1:3-19). Thus, Christians who would remain unified with one another in Christ must mark and separate themselves from anyone who would lead them away from Jesus. In so doing the Christian is not manifesting dissension or division; the one bringing the cause of stumbling bears responsibility, and his or her judgment from God will be sharp.

While doctrine is important in establishing the ground on which we remain one in Christ, relational unity in Christ involves far more than agreement on doctrine (Ephesians 4:1-3, Philippians 2:1-4). Paul upbraided the Christians in Corinth for their worldliness and behavior according to the flesh as divisive (1 Corinthians 3:3): primarily in their factions with each supporting a particular preacher (Apollos, Cephas, Paul), or the “faction” of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:12, 3:21-23), but no less manifest in accepting a man who had his father’s wife (1 Corinthians 5:1-13), taking each other to court (1 Corinthians 6:1-8), the knowledgeable causing those less understanding to stumble (1 Corinthians 8:1-13), displaying class divisions in partaking of the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:17-34), exercising spiritual gifts immaturely (1 Corinthians 14:1-40), and disregarding fellow Christians deemed more common or unpresentable (1 Corinthians 12:12-28). And yet Paul has called the Corinthian Christians to speak the same thing, to have no divisions, and to have the same mind and judgment (1 Corinthians 1:10).

Whereas it is always open season on the Corinthian Christians as the “problem church,” we do well to be careful lest we fall according to the same pattern. We, like them, can fall prey to cults of personalities and give more emphasis to the preacher than is proper. Christians have fallen into sin and have not been disciplined; Christians have taken each other to court; plenty of Christians are made to feel as less than valuable or worthy in the Kingdom. Even as Christians we easily and naturally have disagreements about a host of matters: liberties and things of no consequence to God, as in Romans 14:1-23; the means by which we accomplish what God has commanded for us to do in Christ; personality conflicts; different emphases and priorities based on different experiences and backgrounds; and so on. The very power of the Kingdom in bringing together people from every nation, heritage, and background can be its undoing when its members allow differences and distinctions to overcome the shared faith maintained in Christ. In Philippians 2:1-5 Paul well set forth how it is possible for Christians to be of the same mind and judgment: not in an expectation of agreement on every issue and method, but based in mutual love, care, concern, and respect, marked by a willingness to sublimate one’s own views and desires under that of others for the good of others and the whole.

If we chafe under the suggestion of setting aside our own views for the good of others and the whole, such is most likely our worldly, fleshly nature speaking. American Christians in particular find it challenging to renounce and sacrifice freedoms and liberty for the benefit of the whole; everything in their society exalts freedom and the individual, and thus concern for the community and the common good remains countercultural and counterintuitive. If our ability to work together in Christ is dependent on our full acceptance, agreement, or comfort, we are not considering, honoring, and valuing one another in love. It is when we make peace and no longer insist on our own way that we most fully embody the Lord Jesus (Romans 15:1-3).

For good reason Paul encouraged Christians to be diligent to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3): unity requires great effort. We cannot maintain joint participation with those who do not share in Christ and would turn Christians away from Him. But we also cannot insist on our own way, but must give thought and consideration for what makes for peace among the Lord’s people in joint participation in faith. Unity demands strength in relationships, and strong relationships take time and effort to cultivate. Years of patient, hard work can be easily undone in a few rash moments of dissension and division. May we always be on guard against our tendencies toward division and dissension, and seek to work together in humility and love in Christ to the glory of God the Father!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Lord’s Supper and the Buffered Self | The Voice 10.19: May 10, 2020

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The Lord’s Supper and the Buffered Self

The observance of the Lord’s Supper was among the many difficulties experienced by the church in Corinth. According to Paul they came together to partake of the Lord’s Supper for the worse, not the better; to manifest their divisions, not to overcome them (1 Corinthians 11:17-19). By the time everyone had come together, some had already eaten and were drunk, and others were left with nothing (1 Corinthians 11:21): in this way the class divisions among the Corinthian Christians were being reinforced during the Lord’s Supper, and not set aside according to the Lord’s purposes in His body (cf. Ephesians 2:11-22). Paul reminded the Corinthian Christians of the Lord’s establishment of the Supper, distributing bread and fruit of the vine to all, declaring it the proclamation of the Lord’s death until He returns (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). Yet in their observance the Corinthian Christians despised the church of God: they did not discern the church as the body of Christ as they partook of the elements, and in the process they brought the body and blood of the Lord against themselves (1 Corinthians 11:22, 27-29). If they properly discerned the body of Christ among them, they would not be judged, and they would not have many sick and dying among them (1 Corinthians 11:30-32). They thus were better off eating and drinking to satiety at home so they could soberly and collectively share in the Lord’s Supper in their assemblies (1 Corinthians 11:22, 33-34).

Beyond this Paul spoke of the Lord’s Supper as a joint participation in the body and blood of Christ in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17. The Evangelists record Jesus’ inauguration of the Lord’s Supper in Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-25, and Luke 22:15-20; in Acts 2:42 and Acts 20:7 we most likely have examples of Christians assembling and partaking of the Lord’s Supper. Such is the testimony we have received regarding the Lord’s Supper. And yet many argue the Lord’s Supper is done individually, since individuals purpose to come together, must judge themselves as individuals, and if they were to partake in an unworthy manner, would bring condemnation upon themselves and not others.

Christians certainly make the decision, as individuals, to come together to partake of the Lord’s Supper, just as the Corinthian Christians did before them (1 Corinthians 11:18, 20). Individual Christians must assuredly discern the body as they partake of the elements or they will bring condemnation upon themselves (1 Corinthians 11:27-32). Nevertheless, to suggest the Lord’s Supper is an almost purely individual activity is preposterous in light of the witness of Scripture, the vast majority of which was written precisely to emphasize the shared aspects of the observance. Such a view makes a mockery of the existence of the primary text in question, 1 Corinthians 11:17-34: on what basis would Paul have any criticism of the Corinthian Christians if the Supper is primarily an individual action? Some have brought more and enjoyed it; others had less; what of it? Each came as individuals with their individual serving and partook as individuals. The only way Paul can denounce the Corinthian Christians for their behavior is on the basis of a communal and jointly participatory aspect to the Lord’s Supper: that Christians ought to come together to partake of it, wait for one another to share in it, and that the Lord’s death can only be properly proclaimed when all who have confessed it display the communion they share in Jesus (1 Corinthians 11:17-34). A close reading of Paul’s argument demonstrates that the specific sin which the Corinthian Christians prove guilty of in their observance of the Lord’s Supper is precisely a lack of consideration of one another in partaking of the elements, thus not discerning the body (that is, the church; 1 Corinthians 11:29). Furthermore, what of 1 Corinthians 10:16-17? How can a purely atomistic individual activity display joint participation and sharing in Christ?

Two major challenges present themselves in such a disputation. One is an overreliance on categories and a binary between two options which does not flow from Scripture but is imposed upon it. The Lord’s Supper is neither a purely individual nor a purely communal observance: individual Christians come together to jointly participate in the body and blood of the Lord to as concretely as possible embody Him. The other is the modern conception of each individual in a disenchanted, impermeable, and invulnerable framework: the buffered self.

Charles Taylor set forth the thesis of modern man as the buffered self in A Secular Age as one of the ways to understand the major transformation in thought and perspective in the Western world over the past five hundred years. He did so in contrast to the conception of people beforehand who lived in a world saturated with powers and spirits which would have maintained profound influence in their lives. For our purposes the contrasts between enchantment and disenchantment, permeability and impermeability, the world of the mind and the real world, and the power of enacted ritual merit consideration.

The Lord’s Supper should not be construed as a mystical transformation of elements, yet it ought to be recognized as an enchanted moment. Many individuals come together to share in Christ. They remain each members of Christ, but here also manifest connection with one another (Romans 12:5, 1 Corinthians 10:16-17). Should we consider such connection in purely theoretical or mental terms? Such would be according to the “buffered self” that creates such distance between the mind and lived experience. And what if there is an enchanted moment of union in the observance of the Supper, a liminal space in which heaven and earth meet, and Jesus and His people for a moment more concretely embody perichoretic relational unity, the kind which marks the Godhead and is to be maintained between God and believers and believers with one another (John 17:20-23, 1 Corinthians 10:16-17)? What if positive spiritual power exists, conveyed according to the working of God through proclamation of His Word and observance of ritual actions of significance like baptism and the Lord’s Supper? How many among us would dismiss such talk as the “hocus pocus” of superstition, perhaps even a collapse into Roman Catholicism, and yet how strange would it have seemed in the first century, since a possible consequence of improper observance is weakness, illness, and even death (1 Corinthians 11:30)?

The suggestion that the Lord’s Supper is primarily an individual action is sustained by examining the matter through the prism of the modern buffered self; it did not come to ancient Christians, nor is it to be found long before the modern day. To miss the emphasis on the joint participation of Christians in the Lord in the Supper is a result of disenchantment, disconnection between the physical and spiritual realms, the barrier erected between the world of the mind and the world that exists, and the intentional distancing inherent in envisioning oneself as impermeable or invulnerable toward one another. For generations Christians have learned the lesson which Paul intended for the Corinthians to understand: the Lord’s Supper is to display the joint participation and communion of all God’s people in Christ, a display of unity despite all the divisions which might exist in the world. Why now, therefore, would we turn back and prove guilty of the body and blood of the Lord because we have not discerned His body by making the Supper all about each of us as individuals and our present standing before the Lord? We must remember the Lord’s death in His Supper; we must examine ourselves not in some kind of mental exercise as a buffered self, deliberating on whether or not we are worthy to partake based on our conduct throughout the week, but whether we are jointly participating with one another in our communion and thus prove to properly discern His body. May we never neglect the power of the local church manifesting the embodiment of Jesus in the observance of the Lord’s Supper, and thus proclaim His death until He comes!

Ethan R. Longhenry

For Further Reading

Taylor, Charles. Buffered and porous selves (accessed 2020/05/06).

Cold Call Evangelism | The Voice 10.18: May 02, 2020

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The Voice

Cold Call Evangelism

When you hear the word “evangelism,” what comes to mind?

For many people, “evangelism” conjures up images of street preachers telling passers-by about Jesus (when not denouncing them for their sins); when many Christians think about what evangelism ought to look like, they often imagine a situation in which they would have to tell someone they do not know very well about Jesus. In the minds of many people, therefore, evangelism is equated with “cold call” evangelism.

“Cold call” evangelism derives from the common phrase heard in the world of sales. When a salesperson begins calling people in the phone book to buy his or her product, or tries to reach out to people at a booth or table at a store or in a community venue, they participate in “cold call” sales approaches and tactics. In contrast, a “hot call” would feature a person who has been a previous customer, referred by another customer, or personally known to the salesperson. “Hot call” sales would be much easier to accomplish, since there is already some kind of relationship or connection established and interest in the product; nevertheless, the number of good “hot call” prospects is likely few. “Cold call” sales prove much more difficult to close and features a high rate of rejection; the number of “cold call” prospects is much higher, and thus the possibility exists to gain a few sales in the midst of all the rejections.

Evangelism is not exactly like sales, but the concepts of “cold call” and “hot call” map effectively. Those who would be in a “hot call” situation are those who have become receptive to the Gospel on account of some kind of personal crisis, experience, or example of a friend or an associate and have reached out in interest or those known by Christians or a recent convert. Telling such people about Jesus requires a good knowledge of the Gospel and the ability to answer their questions, and often proves very successful. Nevertheless, the number of people in a “hot call” situation in evangelism tends to be few. Those who would be in a “cold call” evangelism situation are those who are not known to the one who would proclaim the Gospel and who have not indicated a strong interest in learning more about Jesus. They might be people with whom we interact in stores, restaurants, or other venues. They may pass by as we seek to proclaim the Gospel in a public area. They might be people who receive a flyer in the mail or on their doorknob; in some areas, they might be people whose doors we knock to help them learn about Jesus. We will come across far more “cold call” people, but it will prove far more difficult to receive a good and fair hearing of the Gospel; we will experience a lot of rejection, but the possibility exists to lead a few people to Jesus in the midst of all of those rejections.

Some Christians prove excellent and effective evangelists among people they do not know or do not know well. They have the gift of relating quickly and easily with people and do well at starting conversations, expressing genuine interest in the person, and communicate warmth, love, humility, and concern. Cold call evangelism comes more naturally to Christians like these, and they do well to glorify God by telling many people about Jesus.

But those who do well with cold call evangelism must be on guard against certain dangers and temptations which go along with the craft. Christians must always proclaim Jesus according to the words and ways of Jesus (cf. 1 Peter 3:15-16). As God is love, and love does not insist on its own way, the proclamation of the Gospel of the love of God in Christ should not be pushed, forced, or imposed upon anyone (1 Corinthians 13:4-8, 1 John 4:8). The Apostles and evangelists of the New Testament only would proclaim the Lord Jesus when given an invitation to do so. The invitation need not be as explicit as “tell me about Jesus”: many times the invitation was mere curiosity regarding events taking place, or polite willingness to hear what they had to say. The goal is to be able to tell someone about Jesus without the person feeling as if the message is being shoved down their throat. Likewise, overly manipulative and aggressive rhetorical postures ought to be avoided: we ought to speak so as to persuade people to believe Jesus is the Christ, but we should not strong arm people into the ways of the Lord. We must also be careful with “bait and switch” techniques; Jesus expected people to appropriately count the cost and understand that His way will involve suffering (cf. Matthew 16:24-28, Luke 14:25-33). We must also remember the goal is not just to encourage people to get baptized: they ought to become disciples of the Lord Jesus, seeking relational unity with Him and His people (John 14:1-3, 20-23, 17:20-23). The relationship between the Christian and the person hearing the Gospel might not be strong at first, but that relationship ought to grow stronger, and the person hearing ought to be encouraged to get to know other Christians as well.

Other Christians find it more challenging to talk to people they do not know well about Jesus. They find it more awkward to attempt to have that conversation, and tend to do better with people they already know or have some kind of pre-existing connection. They may not have the gift of relating with people they do not know well quickly and warmly; they might have more skill at developing longer-term and deeper relationships with people. Christians like these easily find cold call evangelism terrifying.

Christians who struggle with cold call evangelism should not despair. Talking with people they do not know is not their strength; they should not be shamed or regarded as lesser because of it. There are many other means to communicate the Gospel of Jesus that do not involve cold call evangelistic strategies. Many Christians who are strong at cold call techniques may struggle to develop deep relationships with people, and may quickly move on from people who do not respond quickly; Christians who struggle with cold call techniques may excel at developing deeper relationships with Christians and unbelievers, and may have the patience to work with people over time. We should never speak or act as if there is a “one size fits all” means or model to tell people about Jesus as Lord and Risen Christ. Sometimes the same person might need to hear from different people proclaiming Jesus in different ways before they will come to faith in the Lord. It is for us to plant the seed and water it; God gives the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6-8).

Cold call evangelism is a means by which the Gospel may be communicated, but it is not the only way to evangelize, nor should it be considered the default form of evangelism. Those who do well at speaking with almost everyone about Jesus ought to do so and glorify God while recognizing their own weaknesses, limitations, and dangers in their approach. Those who struggle with speaking with those they do not know ought to recognize the difficulty but not close off opportunities which might be presented to them to tell people about Jesus, or to begin developing a connection that would lead to the opportunity to speak about Jesus. Those who do well at cold call evangelism ought not condemn those who tend to be more relational in evangelism; those who are more relational in evangelism ought not look down on those who do well at cold call evangelism. May we all play to our strengths in telling others about the Lord Jesus while seeking opportunities to grow and develop in our faith and abilities in evangelism, and glorify God in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry