Anno Domini: King Jesus
Something went terribly wrong with the Christian faith in the 19th century, and we’re paying the price for it today.
Mind you, as a believer, I know that nothing can stop Christ’s true church, the great invisible army led by the Lord of Hosts, as it marches to victory through the ages — but men of the pulpit fall victim to bad teaching, to sloth, to their own private spiritual addictions, and when that happens, it cannot be stated too dramatically: civilization suffers, children die, women are raped, the Islamic horde rages, and politicians sell their souls for another few years in office.
To understand the church’s present sickness, we need to remember its true role. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus describes His church as being so strong “the gates of hell” will not prevail against it. Since gates aren’t generally designed to march, that’s a picture of a church literally knocking down the gates of the evil empire, and replacing it with the Kingdom of God.
But, you might object, “that’s all in the future, that’s all in heaven. It’s a spiritual kingdom, brother. It’s not of this earth.”
..and that would be what you call a “half truth.”
God’s kingdom is heavenly but it’s also being built right here. You see glimpses of it when you teach your children, when you protect the innocent, when you speak for the unborn, when you vote for honest politicians.
When Jesus teaches us to pray, what does He tell us? He commands us to ask God that “His will” be done “on earth, as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10) After His resurrection he told the disciples “all authority (power) is given unto me in heaven and on earth.” (Matthew 28:18) And he doesn’t horde that authority either. He freely shares it with His disciples — all those throughout time who truly follow Him. “And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven..” (Matthew 16:19)
For centuries of Western Civilization the church has taken this building of the kingdom very seriously, and why not? The words “Kingdom of God” and “Kingdom of Heaven” appear more than 100 times in the New Testament. Ronald Reagan’s “City on a Hill” reaches back further than Winthrop’s New England and right into the Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus was promising a radiant kingdom, one to come, and one here.
And guess what? Throughout history, kings and soldiers and statesmen and engineers — influenced by the proper teaching of God’s word — have been building that kingdom. Christians have built hospitals, universities, roads, schools and massive, million volume libraries. (Christianity, truth be told, is the polar opposite of the savage “Boko Horun” — no books.) We drill through the crust of the earth, to extract oil and heat homes. We demanded literacy, that every man might know his Bible and through that literacy, the sciences have flourished, giving us everything from life-saving antibiotics to improved grain yields. The climate of inquiry and fair competition, even for those techy-geeks who claim no faith, dropped an iPhone on my desk, and my daughter, several cities away, texts me this message: “I love you, Dad.”
Our lives, in short, are better, and richer, because “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son.” That message literally sent priests across raging oceans, to be tortured and killed as they witnessed to the savages, winning hearts and minds with their unflinching faith.
Has the record of Christian conquest been spotless? Of course not. We’re depraved, wicked men after all.
But am I glad Christian warriors destroyed the bloodthirsty Aztec empire? Am I happy North Americans don’t wander across the cold Nebraska plains chasing Bison with spears? Am I happy that Charles Martel beat back the merciless Islamic hordes? Am I pleased that Japan is now a modern western state, and not a feudal, death-worshipping backwater?
You bet I am.
As believers, we should be proud of the conquering, heart-winning, mind-enlarging Christian tradition. If you don’t think so, I pose a few alternatives. Would you rather live in Yemen or in New Mexico? Would you rather live in Manchester, England or Northern Iraq? Would you be more able to express yourself freely in Miami, Florida or Beijing, China? This isn’t just for Sunday School, folks. “..where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Cor 3:17)
But you might recall my problem with the 19th century and the church. Why is the church now in neutral? Why is the church in hiding? What happened?
It’s a long story, but the church got too holy, and too cloistered, for its own good. With the advent of pietism, Christians began to see themselves as removed entirely from the culture; they began seeing political involvement and sometimes even service in the military as unholy. They adopted all sorts of non-Biblical dietary rules. Denying the wine Jesus made from water, they avoided alcohol, and even celebration. The great failed experiment of Prohibition, and the massive expansion of the state to pursue this unbiblical restriction were the results. Jesus — who now rules at the right hand of the Father — became a small bottle of spiritual medicine on Sunday. The great political sermons of the American Revolution gave way, eventually, to insular, personal spiritual devotions. Jesus was no longer King, but the shepherd of a very small flock. The Christian faith had nothing to do, anymore, with our political or economic decisions.
Today, you’ll hear versions of this in the notion that “all we need to do is win souls, and then everything will get better.”
If that were the case why did St. Paul spend so much of his time, in divine scripture, telling Christians how to live? Why did he tell even the pagan Roman magistrates, that they were “ministers of God?” Why did he insist that a soldier, a magistrate, a king “bears not the sword in vain?” Why did he insist that “rulers” put fear in evil doers? Why did He yell “I appeal to Caesar?”
It’s quite simple: God is King of both believers and unbelievers. God demands that ALL government officials be just, and if not just, then replaced, violently if necessary.
But still we hear the modern neo-pietist, who doesn’t go to movies, who doesn’t drink beer, who doesn’t dance, who hates modern culture and political strife say things like “leave it all up to Jesus, brother; our weapons are spiritual.”
Again, a half-truth. Of course, our weapons are spiritual, but Jesus turned over the tables of the money changers. He warned His disciples to buy swords if they didn’t have them. He promised a millstone around the neck for those who offended His little ones.
And, as to whether or not tent-meetings and evangelism perform all the work by themselves? Does “winning souls for Christ” come to an end after the message has been given? Do we share the good news and expect God to do all the rest of the work?
Let’s consider some professed believers. Jimmy Carter talks about his faith openly, but he justified abortion and his naive pacifism turned an entire nation — Iran — into a savage Islamic theocracy. Bill Clinton gets tearful at “Amazing Grace,” but he was such a public liar even Congress was forced to recognize it. George W. Bush, certainly a well meaning believer, has such a shallow understanding of Christian history that he called Islam a “religion of peace” and sent soldiers off to fight without knowing the true nature of their enemy. Finally, Barack Obama, another professed believer, is the most strident defender of killing the unborn in the history of the presidency, to name just one of his many shortcomings as a “Christian.”
And what else would we expect? The church is afraid to speak about art, about education, about politics, and it believes its obligation to the IRS is so holy, it can’t even mention bad men by name anymore. The church has turned itself into a social club and not the army of God.
Is that too much for you to take? Consider something:
They don’t call Jesus “The Lord of Hosts” for nothin’…
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