The church should be an instrument of redemption and practice redemptive socialism.
It is impossible to read the New Testament and not see the theme of redemption through faith in Jesus Christ. In fact, that is the exclusive theme in both the Old and New Testament. The sacrifice of God’s Son upon the cross provided redemption for whosoever will believe. And yes, we can understand that now, but our understanding with be much greater and soaked in experience when we one day lay eyes upon the Risen Christ! What a glorious day of promise.
But there is an interesting subplot that makes much more than a minor cameo appearance throughout the New Testament. And this supportive theme many times is minimized if not wholly ignored. Again, it is impossible to read through the New Testament and not see this continuing exhortation. And this theme is designed to uphold, empower, and aid in the spreading of the gospel of redemption. As believing followers of the Lord Jesus, we are personally called to lives of moderation.
But it goes much deeper than that. Even in that moderation and personal sacrifice, we are called to minister to the people of this world. And when I say minister, I mean more than just teaching and preaching. So often we have isolated teaching and preaching and walked away with a feeling of religious fulfillment and a faithful dispatch of our New Testament duties. But in so doing we are ignoring the Scriptural outline for a disciple’s behavior.
Capitalism, nationalism, and hedonism has captured and imprisoned the western evangelical marketplace. And if you are “orthodox” in your doctrine, then the fringe issues seem negotiable. Therefore, if you believe in the deity of Christ, and salvation by grace through faith, and a few other pillars of the doctrinal faith, then you stand in fulfillment of the teachings of Christ. You are a disciple.
But wait a minute.
Matt.28:18-20 – And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.
19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
Many of our ultra-orthodox (whatever that is) friends have long since made the point that we are to make disciples, not just believers. Personally I believe there is a touch of semantics in that, however they bring up a valid point. Verse 20 states that we should teach the converts. And so we have Sunday Schools and Christian books and statements of faith and systematic theologies. And ultimately we consider a mature believer as one who can articulate an orthodox systematic theology.
But that is not what Christ is saying in the Great Commission. Jesus commands us to teach believers to observe – or DO – what He has commanded us to do. That is profoundly different than saying teach the great doctrines of the faith. The words “observe” and “command” indicate something much greater than just learning truths. They indicate a doing and an obedience to the commands of Jesus, not just a learning of what He said and what He taught. If knowing all the core doctrines of the faith is the indispensable element of being a disciple, then there were not many disciples until recently since millions of believers were illiterate and perhaps millions still are today. And none of His commands had anything to do with enhancing and elevating our own lives.
Ask the average western theologian about what constitutes the foundational truths of Christianity and he will inevitably give you a list like this:
Deity of Christ
The virgin birth
Salvation by faith alone
The Atonement through the blood
Now those things are important and do provide a foundation for understanding eternal redemption. But missing are the “to do” commands of Jesus, which must be important to Him since He included them in the Great Commission. Where are these in such lists:
Feed the poor
Minister to the sick
Visit the prisoners
Clothe the needy
Give water to the thirsty
Do good to your enemies
Rejoice in persecution
Bless them which curse you
Take up your cross
Be clothed with humility
Where aren’t those things in any list of approved orthodoxy? Why is humility an elective? Why is humanitarianism not an orthodox doctrine? We seem to be content, and even prideful, when we can regurgitate the written doctrines while seemingly ignoring the commands. And because many are prideful about their orthodoxy and their carefully exegeted doctrines of the faith, they step lightly on the commands of Christ concerning humility, humanitarian deeds, and being kind to our enemies. They are wary about others misjudging them as liberal or emergent because they feed the poor, etc..
But in downplaying such deeds the church has done substantial damage to the faith. The Christian faith was never meant to be an SAT test. It was birthed as a living exhibition of the Person of Christ and the redemptive heart of God. We were never meant to gloat in our literal interpretation of the Scriptures concerning a certain set of truths, while we place other Scriptures in a more casual light and in effect eviscerate their substance.
But, sadly, the average evangelical church stands upon its statement of faith as proof of its Biblical alignment, but the lives and behavior of its congregation are no more remarkable than the average “I believe in God” kind and nice person. The distinctives of a believers life have become so shallow and so unremarkable, that when we have a four sentence conversation with a stranger and he does not curse we think he might be a believer. Really? So a disciple is recognized by the things he does not do, and not so much by the things he does do? How pitiful!
Where is that light that shines in the world? That light that Jesus spoke of as shining through us, that isn’t placed inside a book of theology and encouraged to shine at preacher’s conventions and discussion forums and in pastor‘s libraries. That light is action; it is deeds. And those deeds must be uncomfortable and selfless and aimed at sinners from all stripes. Those deeds must have the love of Jesus Christ as their power and message. And those deeds are living epistles, ripped from the walls of doctrinal taxidermists and infused with His life they go without the camp, bearing His cross and washing the feet of leprous sinners.
We are to observe all things that He commanded of us. To love the Lord your God is more than doctrinal purity; it is more than just a great worship service; it goes way beyond mere words. Loving God cannot be separated from loving your fellow man. When you did not do it to the least of these you did not do it to Him. What a profound mystery, and yet no one can pretend ignorance. Christianity is more than just a religion. It is a life. And that life is an instrument of redemption, broken and spilled out, and stooping down so low so as to minister to the scabrous, the repugnant, the immoral, and in reality the dead corpses that walk among us every single day.
Let us come down from our doctrinal pedestals. Let us repent of the ways in which we have created a system that is so aloof and comfortable. Let us leave the redundant regurgitations that praise what we know and ignore what we must do. The church is so stagnant, so insulated, and so immobilized even while exhibiting a form of godliness within a myriad of activities while millions die physically and spiritually.
Redemption required blood. Read James once more and see that spreading that gospel message requires more than words. How much does He require of us who bear His name?
Nothing more, nothing less.
Posted by Rick Frueh at 6:50 PM