|by Rev. Sterling Durgy
It doesn't take a rocket scientist or a great intellectual to know that we are living in tumultuous times. Society is changing rapidly. When the book of Revelation mentions "the sea" in chapter 13, it is using "sea" to symbolize humanity. Like the sea, turmoil in human affairs waxes and wanes, but is never still. Right now, the sea is becoming increasingly active, and in many places there are deadly storms.
Those who live near the sea understand how powerful it is. Even normal weather can cause beach erosion, and the deposit of silt at the mouth of rivers can, over time, change the whole nature of the area surrounding it; as, for instance, with the Nile in Egypt over the centuries. However, powerful storms can change the shoreline in a matter of days or even hours, taking huge quantities of beach and depositing them in other places. Channels that were once navigable are no longer so, not having enough water to float vessels over them. New channels open where there were once sandbars and shoals.
What is happening in our time is more like a hurricane than an accumulation of smaller storms. Our time is a pivotal one in the history of mankind. If the Lord tarries, these years will be seen as a time when the entire world changed direction - for good or for ill.
Unlike many non-Christian world views, Christianity does not see history as a series of cycles. History certainly does repeat itself in various ways, and yet, history always moves forward. Today is never exactly like the past. There are situations, problems, and opportunities today that never existed before. Previous societies could do selective breeding, for example, but no previous generation has had to deal with the morality of genetic engineering. This does not mean that previous generations did not have to face some very large and critical issues. It does mean that they didn't face issues such as this one in the past, or at least not in the same way and under the same circumstances.
We did not get where we are in an instant. The situation in the world today is the result of several hundred years of colliding ideas and values; part of a larger conflict that has continued for thousands of years. While not diminishing the role of human beings in what has taken place, it is nevertheless true that there is a spiritual struggle that underlies all of human history.
Scripture teaches us that there are two great spiritual forces orchestrating the events of this world. The New Testament everywhere assumes the reality of a spiritual kingdom of darkness led by Satan. Crafty beyond the ability of human reasoning, Satan not only works on the level of individual human experience, presenting temptations and false reasoning to lure individuals away from God, he works over the centuries to manipulate movements, seeking to turn all people against the Creator of the Universe. The other and more powerful spiritual force in this world is God, the Creator and Sovereign of the universe. Paul told those gathered on Mars Hill that,
The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is the Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all life and breath and all things; and He made from one, every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times, and the boundaries of their habitation, that they should seek after God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, "For we also are His offspring." Acts 17:24-28
Further, all of history is moving toward a conclusion where God directly rules all once again, and Satan has no place; the time when, as Paul wrote to the Philippians, "at the name of Jesus every knee should bow . . . and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:10-11, cf. Acts 17:30-31).
By default, those individuals who serve themselves serve Satan, because they refuse to submit to the leadership of God. The world can be divided into two groups, those who serve God, and those who do not. Each group is denoted by the basic values that govern its life.
The places where major bodies of water collide or weather systems meet are places of great storminess and great danger. The Tiero del Fuego at the southern tip of South America, the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa, Cape Hatteras, North Carolina where the historic ship Monitor sank; all of these are "ship graveyards" that collect the wrecks of vessels caught in the greatness of their storms. It is no less stormy and dangerous when the two great kingdoms of this age, the kingdom of darkness and the Kingdom of God, collide. The movements within and without the Body of Christ in the world are now coming together in great conflict. The time is ripe for extreme measures and extreme movements because of the significance given by all mankind to the end of one millennium and the beginning of another. We should, therefore, expect a certain level of high emotion and even insanity at this time. But the milestone of another millennium passing at this time also marks the collision of two great ways of thinking in relation to God.
The lines between these two groups run in the minds of individuals, not between formal groups. It is possible for those who claim to be of the Body of Christ to manifest thinking that is just like the secular world. On the other hand, the world often adopts some of the more attractive parts of the thinking of the Body of Christ - like taking care of the poor. Even those who promote terrible evils, such as using abortion as a means of birth control, seek to justify them today by appealing to such normally Christian values as being considerate of women. This complicates matters. But this is to be expected. As with the analogy of the sea, where various waters collide, and wave-forms cross, who can say which water comes from which direction and where it is going? And yet, the collision and the dangerous chop of the sea are obvious to all. And it is difficult to dismiss when we see others capsizing, foundering, and sinking in the chaos of the colliding seas - in our case, in the collision of peoples and ideas in the world in which we live. Bosnia-Herzegovina, Lebanon, Palestine, India, Indonesia, the former Soviet Union, Hong Kong, the turmoil these places and others are merely the more obvious manifestations of the coming together of two great forms of thinking that involve us all.
Those who do not set a direction are subject to whichever wave breaking over them seems stronger. Jesus spoke of this in a slightly different way, thinking in terms of houses built near the place where storms break. Those built on sand are sooner or later undermined. Only those built firmly on solid rock remain. The only solution, according to Christ, is to build a life on His teachings: ignoring the consequences and the storms, paying close attention to what Jesus taught, and applying it rigorously to our lives (Matthew 7).
It is exactly at this point, however, that the Christian church faces its greatest danger today. Both secular and Christian sources agree that Biblical illiteracy today is high both among Americans and among those throughout the world. This illiteracy involves not just ignorance of what the Scriptures say, but perhaps even more importantly, a lack of knowledge and care in the application of those Scriptures to thought and life. The result is disastrous, people living their lives ignorant of God's ways, but confident of their own righteousness. As happened in the French Revolution, the promise of peace and freedom coupled with a hatred of Christianity leads to violence, chaos, and bloodshed because there is no unifying factor that is objective for all mankind -- one that pulls individuals away from their own subjective, self-serving goals and unites them in the source of universal blessing: Jesus Christ. Importantly, if there is no one source of respect for all human beings, those with power will begin to persecute or eliminate those they find inconvenient to keep around. God, especially as He reveals Himself through the redeeming work of Christ at Calvary, is the only argument for the value of all human beings that no one can counter. Once God is not revered, pain and violence soon follow.
When the human body is weakened by illness, it becomes prone to what medical doctors call "opportunistic infections." These infections would not cause illness if the body's immune system were not already weakened. When it is, these infections take advantage of the opportunity to "take root" and thrive, often causing great damage. Many of the most feared diseases, such as rheumatic fever, are opportunistic infections, following other diseases and causing further, and sometimes fatal, harm. Diseases are not the only ones to take advantage of the weak. Many predators count on encountering the lame and weak, culling them out of herds and feeding on them before they are dead.
The Biblical illiteracy of today's church is the perfect situation for religious ideas that are doctrinal "opportunistic infections." In other words, the introduction of teachings that violate the teachings of Christianity, but seem right to the foolish and ignorant. Likewise, the church is ripe for predators, those that swoop down on the church to hasten the death of the spiritually weak. Chief among these are those who seek financial gain from their ministry - to be carefully distinguished from those who simply seek to have their legitimate needs and the needs of their families met so that they may minister to others. Jesus warned that some would die because of the "thorns and rocks" that were encountered, the troubles of this world that can choke off faith, and others because Satan and his workers rob them of faith (Matthew 13:18-30). This is another way of putting what we have described -- the vulnerability of those who do not build their lives firmly upon the Word of God. Some of the wild changes taking place in Christianity today are not an evidence of new life but an evidence that vultures and parasites are already preying on a weakened form of true Christianity.
The apostle Peter wrote of those who promise freedom but deliver spiritual bondage (II Peter 2:19). Paul wrote that the goal of the church must be maturity so that "as a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine (teaching) by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming" (Ephesians 4:14).
The unique characteristics of our age are manifest everywhere. There is, for instance, the dominance of "American pragmatism." According to American pragmatism, if something works, it must be good. The spiritual equivalent that is commonly found in the church today is that if it works, it must be of God. If something appears successful, the mouths of its critics are supposed to be closed. No further moral or spiritual measures are applied.
A second major characteristic of our age is subjectivism. Whatever feels right is deemed righteous. Nor is the subjective judgment of another individual to be questioned, all views are held to be equally good. If an activity that seems pleasurable leads to harm, the response is to seek to ameliorate the harm rather than to quit the activity. For any activity that seems pleasurable to lead to harm seems unfair, and profoundly wrong, according to this point of view.
A third major characteristic of our age is the belief that the purpose of life is the pursuit of pleasure. Pleasure and happiness are undifferentiated. People who provide pleasure through entertainment are rewarded by being given the highest pay of any profession. All time that is not devoted to earning the capability to have pleasure is spent in pleasurable activities. Pleasure is seen as an end in itself and the highest good. Even loss is termed good if it results from the "pleasure" of gambling - or so it would seem to the many who deem being robbed of their wealth, with little hope of return, a privilege! The view that pleasure is the highest goal of life is properly called "hedonism," and is, perhaps, the true religion of most Americans today.
Finally, building upon the third belief, each religion that is acceptable is seen as a kind of benign superstition. It gives the person who follows that religion pleasure. It promises the user that the pursuit of one's pleasure is in harmony with the universe. However, it makes no real demands and exacts no cost except that which is rewarded by pleasure and success. It does not interfere with life or values in the real world. Its function is not to help people be good but to help people feel good.
Because entertainment often twists history around to look as if modern values existed in the past, and because of modern Biblical illiteracy, it would come as a surprise to many that these four characteristics were not always true of civilizations of the past; that the goal of life for many was to accomplish great things -- and how great those things were was determined by how well they served God and humanity. Pain was more honorable than pleasure when it was endured to accomplish a great end; and the accomplishment of works greater than oneself, in the service of God or one's nation, was deemed more valuable than the service of self.
In Christianity, the highest measure of good is not whether something "works" but how it will appear from the perspective of eternity before the judgment seat of Christ. The measure of righteousness is not subjective feeling but the life of Christ and the teachings of God's Word, the Holy Scriptures. The purpose of life is happiness, not pleasure (which is not the same as denying that there is a legitimate place for pleasure in life), and happiness follows from the fellowship and the service of Jesus Christ, sometimes calling for the endurance of pain and suffering to achieve the goal of service to Christ. Finally, true religion is not a superstition, a "leap of faith" into a fantasy that seems most agreeable; but trust in the God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead and promises to make us one of His people both here and in the age to come. It is also faith in the presence of a real God who, by His cleansing, forgiveness, and presence, makes us better people in this age as we serve the Master who alone is wholly good, and who makes us more and more like Christ as we serve Him.
The service of Christ and the testimony to His Gospel means opposition and suffering for Christians today, but this has always been true (Acts 14:21-22, John 16:33, Romans 8:18-39, I Peter 1:3-9, 4:1-2, 12-19, I Corinthians 10:13). Although there are new challenges in each new time as we move through human history, there is no new challenge that requires more provision than God has given to us through His Word and the "Promise of the Father," the Holy Spirit given to the church at Pentecost (Acts 2). God has foreseen all that is and all that is going to be, and Has provided what His people need to be victorious until Christ Himself begins to reign over all. This victory, we believe, follows from a determination to learn and be governed by the teachings of God's Word.
"He (God) has told you, O man, what is good;" said Micah, "And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" Jeremiah wrote, "Thus says the Lord, 'Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,' says the Lord." (Jeremiah 9:23-24). Paul wrote, "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Christ Jesus; who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds" (Titus 2:11-14).
Today, as so many are following the conceits of their mind rather than seeking the mind of Christ, it is those who seek the Lord through His Word who will both weather the storm and point others to the living God (Matthew 5-7).
© 1999 Sterling M. Durgy. All Rights Reserved
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