|by Rev. Sterling Durgy
How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news,
who announces peace and brings good news of happiness,
Who announces salvation, and says to Zion, "Your God reigns!"
A marked contrast exists in the book of Isaiah between the terrible warnings of judgment and the beautiful promises of God's blessings. The sovereignty of God is the basis for the confidence of His people in all circumstances (Psalm 115:1-15). The joy that lives in the hearts of His people is both the joy of present confidence in the Lord and the joy of viewing the coming of the blessings that God will bring to His people. In Isaiah 52, even the coming of the one who announces these blessings is a source of great joy.
The confidence of God's people lifts them above the problems of human existence. God reigns now, but His complete sovereignty will be demonstrated in the future, as seen in Isaiah 24:23 and similar passages. From the time of Isaiah on, Israel was to be subjected to the control of a number of pagan powers: Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Macedonian, Ptolemaic, Seleucid, and Roman. The Babylonians and later the Romans destroyed the Temple and drove the Jews from their primary city, Jerusalem. Antiochus Epiphanes desecrated the altar at Jerusalem, bringing the revolt of the Maccabees. Nevertheless, the God of Israel was sovereign in all of those times. The complete rule of God, and all the blessings promised in Isaiah, would still come on time according to God's timetable.
Today we see new theologies, "Latter Rain," "Manifest Sons of God," "Kingdom Now," and "Dominion" theologies, that proclaim that Christ will completely rule the world through the church prior to His return. These unBiblical theologies fail to recognize that God's sovereignty is a present fact, and is the reason for the confidence of His people now, no matter what happens in the world around us (Hebrews 2:8, Romans 8:35-39). Peter expressly tells Christians to place their hopes for the realization of full sovereignty at the physical return of Christ (I Peter 1:3-13).
Not only does our faith in God's sovereignty influence our expectations and faith, it strongly influences culture as well. One of the deficiencies of modern culture is a lack of that which uplifts the soul. The very foulest language, thoughts, and practices are continually served up as "art" and "culture." The result of this cultural diet is debasement, a downward pressure pushing everyone down towards the lowest level of human practice. This not only destroys beauty and nobility, it destroys hope. The God who reigns pulls His people up, exalts His people, without deprecating humanness in any way. God showed His complete acceptance of all that is human in the incarnation and life of Jesus Christ. At the same time, the sure foundation of God's presence and sovereignty ennobles, uplifts, and enriches human existence in ways that mankind cannot reach without His influence.
Handel's Messiah is a good example of how God inspires the best. The entire work is based upon Scripture and, with the exception of certain instrumental passages, consists of the arrangement of passages of Scripture to music. The majesty and beauty of God and the Gospel provided the inspiration for Handel's musical arrangement. The Messiah is so great a work of art that it is loved even by unbelievers, who gather together to play and sing this work for the sheer joy of performing it. There could not have been such a work to bring them such pleasure, however, if there had not been a Gospel to inspire it, and there would not have been a Gospel if it were not for the graciousness and power of the living God.
The graveyards of those soldiers who died for the end of slavery in the United States and the speeches of Abraham Lincoln and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. are testimony to the ability of Christianity to challenge culture in fundamental ways that improve the life of a society. It was not ancient Athens, the "cradle of democracy" that called for slavery and prejudice to end, Hinduism did not demand the end of the caste system, and in many Moslem countries women are still second-class citizens. It is the teachings of the Old and New Testament that not only argue for but demand respect for every human being.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus described Christianity as "salt" and "light," which change the nature of those things that they penetrate. Likewise, Jesus described Christianity as "leaven," which also changes the very nature of that which is combined with it. The Gospel, and the presence of God working through His people, are thus described as that which penetrates society and directs it toward a new and higher nature after the higher nature of the only true God.
In our time, however, even some in Christian leadership are portraying Christianity as if it is a ship that rides lightly upon the culture of humanity, rising and falling with the changes in culture as if riding on the swells of the ocean, and sinking if it tries to affect humanity to any depth. As if it were not enough to portray God as unable to act as powerfully as in the past, these same people depart from the traditional understanding of man as well, creating an entirely new Christian anthropology (doctrine of man). According to this new doctrine, contemporary people are incapable of responding to the Gospel as in they did in the past. In this view it is useless to present Scripture, sermons, or hymns to contemporary, post-modern people, who are more oriented towards feeling than thinking. Not only must Christians change their evangelism to accommodate this new kind of person, Christian life and worship are to accommodate this new person as well. The church, it would seem, is dependent upon culture for its survival, not the transcendence of God. Almost everything cognitive is supposed to be thrown overboard to keep the church afloat in this new culture.
However, Scripture's portrayal of human beings is as accurate today as ever. Although beloved of God and the objects of His redemptive work, mankind tends to be sinful, hedonistic, materialistic - fleshly - governed by earthbound desires without the direction, cleansing, and influence of God's Spirit -- ignoring God, His Word, and His Christ. Too often, the ways of mankind can be described as "anti-Christ," for a principle force orchestrating the actions of those who do not know God is the Prince of Darkness (Ephesians 2:1-3, I John 2:18).
Those who preached the Gospel in New Testament times saw no need to bend the message to their culture. By the time the Gospel was first brought to the world, Greek and Roman life had followed a general pattern that had not changed for hundreds of years. They worshipped their gods with the telling of myths, sculpture, architecture, drama, music and music competition, athletic competition, and dance. The New Testament indicates that the apostles did not make use of any of these to proclaim of the Gospel. They did not invite their pagan friends to great dramatic presentations, or music, or drama, or athletic competitions, or dance, nor build statues, nor create impressive architecture, nor enter into the pagan festivals to present the Good News of Jesus Christ. They preached, taught, and reasoned from the Scriptures. If, as some modern analysts contend, the way to reach people of a different culture is to accommodate that culture, and if many more people could have been brought into the church and the Kingdom of God if the apostles had done these things, who bears responsibility for their failure to do so? Did the Spirit of God misdirect or did the apostles disobey? If so, why did God allow this to happen? Would God give us the Holy Spirit and withhold the wisdom that would prevent a massive blunder of missionary strategy?
In truth, the foundation of the Christian church was not built in a careless manner nor by ignorance of the proper means. Neither was God absent nor neglectful. The apostles did not accommodate pagan culture because to do so would have been to abandon their message and their faith for the very culture they were seeking to change. If it is true that American missionaries error when they try to force those of other cultures to embrace American culture as well as the Gospel of Christ, it is equally true that missionaries error if they pretend that Christianity doesn't affect everyone's culture. There is much in every human culture that can be brought into the service of God - there is no culture that does not need to be redirected, cleansed, and sanctified if God is to be truly honored. Most of the fine arts can and should be used to express our faith. But we go too far when we use them to replace the clear preaching and teaching of the Word of God and our testimony to God's saving grace through Jesus Christ.
If we examine the reason for the modern diagnosis that people have changed and the church must accommodate the culture or die, I believe that we will find that there is, at the very root of it, a failure of faith in the sovereignty of God - a failure to believe that He can deliver on His promises. When Jesus delivered the Great Commission to His disciples He said, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations . . ." (Matthew 28:18-19). He promised, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself" (John 12:32). He told Peter, ". . . I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it" (Matthew 16:18). Probably with these thoughts like these in mind Paul wrote, ". . . be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might" (Ephesians 6:10).
John wrote, "And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude and as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty peals of thunder saying, 'Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty reigns'" (Revelation 19:6). That time has not come yet, and will not until Jesus physically returns. But until then it is the privilege of all Christians to live in the confidence that it will and that God exercises His sovereignty as He wills in every age - even now.
First printed in The American Night Watch Newsletter, Volume V, Part 1, February 1997.
Copyright © 1999 Sterling M. Durgy. All Rights Reserved.
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