Whenever one takes a journey or goes out for an adventure, one encounters things unexpected. There might not be time to stop and fully enjoy or explore these discoveries, so one must make the time to return and explore more thoroughly. Such happened along the way in studying Mark 4 and the topic of Evangelism and Social Action as I prepared and developed my recent paper for the Evangelical Theological Society’s (ETS) 2008 November conference in Rhode Island. This discovery is the Biblical juxtosposition of warnings against idolatry and the caveats and stipulations regarding the poor. Interestingly, almost a seeming divine timing, has also occurred: there seems to be a rather curious new-found interest in the topic of idolatry. A few books have recently popped up on the subject—two specifically on a biblical theology of idolatry (one by my former teacher and mentor, G. K. Beale, We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry and the other by Edward Meadors, Idolatry and the Hardening of the Heart). I also sat through two presentations (i.e., papers) on the subject of idolatry in the Old Testament at the recent ETS conference as well. The timing also heightened this discovery for me—and my curiosity.
References to what I call the vulnerable trio, the widow, orphan, and alien/stranger are scattered throughout the Old Testament, particularly in contexts that concern God’s covenant with His people or a reaffirmation of that covenant (cf. Ex 22:22, Dt 10:18; 14:29; 16:11, 14; 24:17, 19, 20, 21; 26:12, 13; 27:19; Jer 7:6; 22:3; Zech 7:10; Mal 3:5; cf. Lev 19:34; Isa 1:17, 23; 10:2; Ps 94:6; as well, cf. Ex 23:12; Lev 19:10; 23:22; Dt 14:29; 15:9ff; 24:19ff; 26:12ff). What is interesting is that in many of these texts, within the contexts is mentioned the concept of idolatry—warnings, consequences, references, etc. It all begins in the first covenant stipulations given to Israel as they were poised to enter the promised land:
He who sacrifices to any god, other than to the LORD alone, shall be utterly destroyed. You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. If you afflict him at all, and if he does cry out to Me, I will surely hear his cry; and My anger will be kindled, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless. If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, you are not to act as a creditor to him; you shall not charge him interest (Ex 22:20-25).
This is repeated in various ways throughout the exodus journey story and then is repeated throughout the Old Testament in places that recall this first juxtaposition and warning regarding idolatry and the poor. Even toward the end of the Old Testament Israel story, the two themes—idolatry and the vulnerable/poor—are brought together:
“Assyria will not save us,
We will not ride on horses;
Nor will we say again, ‘Our god,’
To the work of our hands;
For in You the orphan finds mercy.”
I will heal their apostasy,
I will love them freely,
For My anger has turned away from them.
I will be like the dew to Israel;
He will blossom like the lily,
And he will take root like the cedars of Lebanon.
His shoots will sprout,
And his beauty will be like the olive tree
And his fragrance like the cedars of Lebanon.
Those who live in his shadow
Will again raise grain,
And they will blossom like the vine.
His renown will be like the wine of Lebanon.
O Ephraim, what more have I to do with idols?” (Hosea 14:3-8a)
Thus, I am preparing another paper for next year’s ETS annual meeting. Next year’s conference topic is “Personal and Social Ethics” and is appropriately taking place in the city of New Orleans (LA). The paper I am preparing and beginning to research is not necessarily part two of the Wasted Evangelism paper I presented this past November (2008), but it certainly stems from it—or is an off shoot from some of the “discoveries” and conclusions I made from the research of that paper. The working title for the paper right now is “Idolatry & Poverty: Where Public vs. Private Isn’t Enough.” So I begin…studying idolatry and poverty together…and seeing where that takes me.
Two of the first idolatries I am investigating concern the notion or myth of the progress of history and the myth of the “Private vs. the Public.” I hope to post, soon, a thread of thoughts on “The Private vs. Public Dualism: A Convenient Idolatry.” And then as we move into the new year, some thoughts in a thread on the idolatry of being “progressive.” Hopefully, in all this, I will bring out a few implications of such idolatry on the topic of poverty. One of these areas falls more in the right and red column, and the other into the left and blue. Both sides of the aisle, as it were, are idolatrous—neither, in the end, are helpful to the poor in America. Kept popping on…I suspect this weekend I’ll be working on the first thread…
A while back I presented a message called, What if God has not spoken? Not only does it have some choice quotes from well worth while writers...I make some good points well myself on the subject of God’s existence and the reliability of the Bible. Originally I prepared and delivered this message as a three part series for a church in Calgary, AB, later at Prairie Bible College chapel message, and most recently at a church in Fairfield, CT. Seems timeless to me and worth presenting over again. Please feel free to download and pass around if it is a helpful piece.
Listen to What if God has not spoken?
PS I am open to presenting the series or this message elselwhere...just let me know ().
“Calvin DeWitt, professor of environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a leading evangelical supporter of various environmental causes, called the NAE statement “a retreat and a defeat.” He predicted “negative consequences for the ability of evangelicals to influence the White House, unfortunately and sadly.” Should influencing the White House be the primary or even a major objective for evangelicals, or should their goal be to please God?
“A better objective would be to follow another statement made not by a committee but by a single individual who claims ownership of His church and requires obedience to all who would follow Him: “Go and make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28:19) Jesus also called on His disciples - then and now - “to obey everything I have commanded you.” A quick look does not reveal those teachings as having anything to do with global warming or the environment. Rather, He calls individuals to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those in prison and pray for those who persecute them. Evangelicals should pursue these higher virtues instead of settling for the lower life of politics” [Cal Thomas, “The agenda-driven life,” in Townhall.com (Feb 13, 2006)].
I certainly hope there are some evangelical Christians involved with environmental issues. And some, I hope, are lobbying politicians for legislation that is reasonable and actually helps protect our environment. But this is crazy. Now evangelicals are seeking to be known as “green.” Don’t they know the verdict is not out on whether there really is a man-made global warming, let alone if we can gauge how much, or whether it is something we (man) can stop? (Read Michael Crichton’s State of Fear that exposes the weak, but agenda-driven green movement’s argument and its manipulating the evidence for global warming.) I think I am mostly bothered because there are other “causes” which there is clearly a need and clearly presented in Scripture. I am speaking specifically about the issues of poverty. Where is the same outcry and desire to end poverty right here in America? Let’s see a “Call to Action” from these same 86 evangelicals to end poverty. I guess it is not sexy enough of an issue, especially since it is in their own backyard. Let’s see these 86 signers of the green evangelical magna carta call on the President to fight the war on poverty right here in the United States. Plead with him, lobby him to restore full funding to the Community Services Block Grant program, the primary Federal instrument that has as its mission and purpose “to alleviate the causes and conditions of poverty.”
A New York Time’s essay also highlights some of the concerns other evangelical have on the evangelical switch to green (selected paragraphs):
“Despite opposition from some of their colleagues, 86 evangelical Christian leaders have decided to back a major initiative to fight global warming, saying ‘millions of people could die in this century because of climate change, most of them our poorest global neighbors’.”
“Among signers of the statement, which will be released in Washington on Wednesday, are the presidents of 39 evangelical colleges, leaders of aid groups and churches, like the Salvation Army, and pastors of megachurches, including Rick Warren, author of the best seller ‘The Purpose-Driven Life’.”
“’For most of us, until recently this has not been treated as a pressing issue or major priority,’ the statement said. ‘Indeed, many of us have required considerable convincing before becoming persuaded that climate change is a real problem and that it ought to matter to us as Christians. But now we have seen and heard enough’.”
“Some of the nation’s most high-profile evangelical leaders, however, have tried to derail such action. Twenty-two of them signed a letter in January declaring, ‘Global warming is not a consensus issue.’ Among the signers were Charles W. Colson, the founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries; James C. Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family; and Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.”
“E. Calvin Beisner, associate professor of historical theology at Knox Theological Seminary in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., helped organize the opposition into a group called the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance. He said Tuesday that ‘the science is not settled’ on whether global warming was actually a problem or even that human beings were causing it. And he said that the solutions advocated by global warming opponents would only cause the cost of energy to rise, with the burden falling most heavily on the poor” [“Evangelical Leaders Join Global Warming Initiative,” by Laurie Goodstien in the NY Times (February 8, 2006)].
Well, my goodness. Haven’t they seen enough of poverty? Haven’t they heard enough? Isn’t the Bible full of agenda regarding the Christian community’s responsibility to the poor? This climate thing is still an unknown. But, what is known is that people are poor and Christians are supposed to do something about it...no need for research on this issue.
Andreas Kosternberger and Peter O’Brien, in their book Salvation to the Ends of the Earth: A Biblical Theology of Mission, make the observation that in Genesis 1-11, the word curse is used five times and that these five “curses” are met with the five times “blessing” is used in Genesis 12:1-3, Abram’s call to go. We should be thankful that there are those who discover and observe what might be glossed over in causal reading. We have here “in the summons of Abram [soon to become father Abraham]…the divine response to the human disaster of Genesis 3-11.”
“The LORD God said to the serpent, ‘Because you have done this, cursed are you more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; on your belly you will go, and dust you will eat all the days of your life’” (Genesis 3:14).
“Then to Adam He said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, “You shall not eat from it”; cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you will eat of it all the days of your life’” (Genesis 3:17).
“Now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand” (Genesis 4:11).
“Now he called his name Noah, saying, ‘This one will give us rest from our work and from the toil of our hands arising from the ground which the LORD has cursed’” (Genesis 5:29).
“So he said, ‘cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants He shall be to his brothers” (Genesis 9:25).
“Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse and in you all the families of the earth will be blessing’” (Genesis 12:1-3).
God, through the calling of Abraham, would make “His blessings flow far as the curse is found” as the Christmas Hymn “Joy to the World” reminds us. The effects of the devil (i.e., the serpent), the consequence of sin on the workings of the world, and the results of sin in the heart and outcomes of man find their reversal in God’s redemptive narrative, actuated in the call of Abraham and moved through human history. The calling of Abraham is both promise and prophecy. God promises to bring redemptive blessing through the human narrative—through history, culminating in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ—and has indicated that His mission is to bring salvation to the ends of the earth—to all the families of the earth.
“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” - C. S. Lewis
There is no remembrance of earlier things;
And also of the later things which will occur,
There will be for them no remembrance
Among those who will come later still. (Eccl 1:11)
Almost everything fades—especially our memories. The fifteen minutes of fame comes and goes. Worse, as someone said (now long ago) at our growth group, it is apparent that we don’t learn from our collective body of knowledge and experience. I said, “Yeah, you would think that after all these years we’d get it: greed is bad, hatred is bad, stealing is bad.” But—we don’t learn. The writer of Ecclesiastes wrote on this centuries ago. The endless cycle of human history where one closes God out of the picture is doomed to repeat its sins over and over. Steve Turner, an English poet wrote:
History repeats itself.
I recall once, during worship, I watched and listened to our wonderful children’s choir, knowing full-well that they were singing words beyond their age, maturity and time. But words of hope, nonetheless. They sang, “Give us pure hearts, give us clean hands, let us not lift our soul to another” (based on Psalm 24). The only way to keep from this endless cycle of repeating sins generation after generation is for these children to discover, early, these words in their youth. No wonder the aged writer of Ecclesiastes began his conclusion:
Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near when you will say, “I have no delight in them” (Eccl 12:1).
On this special day, I’d can’t help by be reminded of Lucy Shaw’s poem, “Mary’s Song.” I first heard the poem while I was a student at Crown College (back then it was called, St. Paul Bible College) and it was read, I believe by Mr. Larson one of my English teachers as a Christmas evening event in my junior year. I originally posted it a while back. It is worth you clicking over to it once again..Mary’s Song. Enjoy. Be blessed.
Merry Christmas from Words’nTone . . .
Posted by Chip Anderson at 05:28 AM.
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Perhaps because I am busy with Christmas. Maybe I have writer’s block (though I doubt that!). Well, whatever the reason, it is Christmas Eve and today and tomorrow I have some previous thoughts to remind you of. Today’s somewhat follows the previous Chesterton quote as we consider the actual Christmas story… please click on the following for two previous, but still relevant Gemara expository notes on Luke 2:
Un-taming the Christmas story (1 of 2)
Exchanging the wonder and worship for commercialism (2 of 2)
“If man would stop gazing and staring like the donkey by the manger, he would realize that he has been placed in a storm on the Spirit, and that God’s wonder is the element of his life.” ~Hendrikus Berkhof
The cold is getting more and more unbearable for me. Of course the snow is beautiful, but at what cost? Shoveling—backaches. Vehicles to scrap—and break because of the cold. But it is Christmas time and I get to give presents (of course a smaller total this year). My daughter visits her mom and Minnesota family every other Christmas, so she is joininng them, flying out on Tuesday. My stepsons are going to their dad’s on Christmas Eve. So, as a family we all decided that we’d celebrate Christmas on Sunday, today. So the tree is lit and there are presents under it. I just finished putting the stockings together. I love doing stockings. Smaller, more thoughtful presents, some needed, some cute, some gag-ish, but always fun and well appreciated. Stockings are my family’s Christmas trademark. And then there is always the grouch pills that show up in someone’s stocking—the top prize of the year! I always give the “kids” (now teenagers) comic books and a cast model car of some sort. This year Amanda gets a Volkswagen camper, like the one I used to go camping in with my grandma-Kay and pop when I was a kid. Michael gets an old wagon with a surfboard on top. And, Robert (the one who actually collects them) gets an old fashion Pepsi-Cola truck. My daughter always gets something Indian (she is part Delaware Indian from my side of the family) each year. And we’ve started a father-daughter tradition of collecting coins—not so much for value, but for some form or significant reason or memory. So, I have a set of coins, some old (as far back as 1800), some new for her in her stocking. My folks and Lisa’s step-mom will be here; our oldest step-daughter, too. It feels like Christmas. We’ll do church this morning and then after around 2ish everyone will be over and it is present time. Of course there will be food—just a little finger stuff. I already cried, holding my daughter and telling her I love her and am so glad she is my daughter. She was the best present ever! After all the presents are open and stories are told why someone got whatever for someone, there will be joy in the Anderson house this afternoon. Not unnoticed, nor forgotten will be the reason we do all this. We will remember that somewhere out there, long ago, in the back of an inn, in a stable, a young once out-of-wedlock pregnant girl, probably 13 or so years old, with the world on her shoulders, and nearby her faithful husband who kept her from social shame, with the cows and sheep and chickens and the unwashed tired shepherds will worship in amazement at a small, helpless new born babe in a feeding trough who will bear the burdens of this world on his shoulders one day. We will not forget this in the midst of our joy today as my family celebrates our Christmas.
Posted by Chip Anderson at 10:26 AM.
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“Young people will give their lives for an exclamation point, but they will not give their lives for a question mark, not for very long anyway” ~Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck in Why We’re Not Emergent
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).
“Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).
In the previous post, I suggested two overlooked aspects to consider when reading Matthew 5, verses 3 and 5. I continue with two more points:
3) I use the New American Standard Bible above, where in Matthew 5:5, the word under consideration is translated gentle. The New International Version and the King James Version render the Greek, meek.
NIV—“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth”
KJV—“Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.”
The Message, a paraphrased interpretation, not a translation of the Greek—and sometimes a poor one at that—destroys all of Jesus’ intention and causes barriers to any original understanding or historic meaning:
TM—“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.”
The TM rendering makes me ill, actually. Not only does it take the poor out of “poor” and the meek out of “meek,” it tells the actual poor and meek to accept their status and us poor rich folk and everyone else should, too. (The more I dig, the more these verses really deserve a Rough Cut exegetical essay—but, still, for another time.) The word used here (Matt 5:5) for meek/gentle is praus (πραΰς) and its Old Testament (Hebrew) equivalents are ΄ānî and more generally ΄ānāw. The sense of meek/gentle for both the Hebrew and the Greek is actually poor, afflicted, humble, and meek. Never “strong,” nor “strong under control”! The connotation is of one who is disenfranchised, someone without a voice to advocate on one’s behalf, without means, and functionally, one who lacks owned property. (I won’t go into the word in Matt 5:3 for “poor” (πτωχοὶ), which I only hope is somewhat self-explanatory at this point—the πτωχοὶ means poor!) An OT example of meek can be found in Psalm 37:11 and 14:
“But the humble will inherit the land and will delight themselves in abundant prosperity” (v 11).
“The wicked have drawn the sword and bent their bow to cast down the afflicted and the needy, to slay those who are upright in conduct” (14).
The Hebrew understanding gives the sense that the poor and meek were those in Israel who were without property (read through Exodus and Deuteronomy!). They are wrongly disinherited and deprived of status, even of the appearance of God’s blessing. They are often victims of exploitation (Isaiah 32:7, Job 24:4, and as mentioned already, Ps 37:14). In OT language, the poor and meek change from being the earth’s needy to those who humbly cry out for the help only God can give, or the ones who have found that help. In Matthew, some commentators have posited that the poor of verse 3 and the gentle/meek of verse 5 are both actually the poor (I agree actually).
4) We understand that Jesus became poor on our behalf. In Matthew 11:29, He also explains that He is “gentle” (meek) (ὅτι πραΰς εἰμι) and “humble in heart” (ταπεινὸς τῇ καρδίᾳ), and by yoking ourselves to Him and learning from Him we will “find rest for our souls” (probably a reference to Isaiah 66:2). The attributes of humility and meekness attributed to Jesus are, not because He is strong, yet controlling His attitudes, but because, in His messiah status, He too is without inheritance, “with no place to lay His head” (Matt 8:20). Like Jesus, those who follow Him, that is His disciples, will find that they might be bereft of status and place in this life, but theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven and they will inherit the earth. This is why they are blessed, namely because eyes of flesh and the pride of life offer place and status in this life, but those—even those who are without status and place—who follow the Messiah and His ways will find ultimate reward in the end of days.
The Sermon on the Mount turns everything in this earthly life on its head. I am wondering why we keep turning it back? I believe we, as modern American Christians, are so far from the intentions of Jesus’ words here that we need to take out the sting and replace it with modern, more comfortable concepts. Perhaps we are afraid that these verses might not apply to us because we are the opposite of the actual poor and meek who are refrences in the Sermon on the Mount text—namely we prize and treasure ownership of the things of earth and crave the status we have “in the flesh” in the world. No wonder we change the meaning of the verses and words and the intentions of Jesus. We like our status in this world and want to feel good about it—and we make the Sermon on the Mount affirm that good feeling we need to continue in our comfort, turning it 180 degress away from where Jesus directed it on that mount far away.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).
“Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).
Deserving a more thorough Rough Cut, suffice here to say, it is wrong to take the poor out of the poor in spirit and to make the meek anything but the meek. I have heard from those speaking in God’s place and from the “Beatitudes” that the “poor in spirit” referred to by Jesus on that hill far away were not really poor (economically), but those who are poor in their spirit:
“blessed are the poor in spirit who are depressed and feeling bad about themselves, for the kingdom of God belongs to them.”
And to make matters worse, I heard that the meek referred to by Jesus on that same hill were really not the meek but “the strong who are in control of their attitudes”—it will be those who will inherit the earth. These changes to the meaning of the words and to the objects of Jesus’ description changes everything that Jesus said and meant. We are now to understand the Sermon on the Mount wholly different—just to suit our needs and times and ease and middle class life…
“Blessed are those who feel bad about themselves for the kingdom of God belongs to them…Blessed are the strong who control their attitudes for they will inherit the earth.”
This poor interpretation and the exchanging of the meanings of poor and meek turns Jesus’ words on their head, making them actually the complete opposite of their original intention. A few factors are overlooked, forgotten, or even ignored in hearing these texts.
1) First, we know from Luke’s account, the “Sermon on the Mount” took place as Jesus was finishing up some direct-contact ministry:
“Jesus came down with them and stood on a level place; and there was a large crowd of His disciples, and a great throng of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear Him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were being cured. And all the people were trying to touch Him, for power was coming from Him and healing them all. And turning His gaze toward His disciples, He began to say, ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God…’” (Luke 6:17-20).
We know from Matthew’s own account that Jesus had attracted crowds that followed him, multitudes made up from the sick, those suffering from diseases and pain, those possessed, and the lame. Both accounts tell us that there were even those from Gentile (pagan) territories such as Tyre and Sidon and Syria:
“Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people. The news about Him spread throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all who were ill, those suffering with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, paralytics; and He healed them. Large crowds followed Him from Galilee and the Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and from beyond the Jordan” (Matthew 4:23-25).
The crowds who listened in that day would have been surprised to find out that Jesus wasn’t speaking to them or about them, nor promising them anything.
2) Jesus wasn’t speaking to a 21st century audience of self-reflecting, introspective Americans. No, he was—as the above indicates—speaking to the crowds of people who were attracted to his ministry and words who lived in that day and time. We know the crowds were the people of the land, the politically weak and powerless, the voiceless, and economically dependent on the alms of two governments with powerful structures for the elite and privileged (i.e., the Roman and the other, the Sanhedrin). These who gladly heard His voice were those who didn’t who were without landed property, those without status or without a stake in the land. It would be to them the Kingdom of God belongs and it was promised to them that they’d inherit the earth. It was to them, and their poor and humble status, that Jesus spoke of a new kingdom for which there would be a place for them. Jesus promised that they’d “inherit the earth,” not the rich and powerful. Jesus, the new king, would turn everything on its head.
As I conclude my thoughts on this thread, I am drawn to the familiar story of the “Rich Young Property Owner” (or more commonly referred to as “the Rich Young Ruler"):
“As He [Jesus] was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, ‘Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments, DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, Do not defraud, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.’ And he said to Him, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.’ Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, ‘One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’ But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property. And Jesus, looking around, said to His disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!’ The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’ They were even more astonished and said to Him, ‘Then who can be saved?’ Looking at them, Jesus said, ‘With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.’ Peter began to say to Him, ‘Behold, we have left everything and followed You.’ Jesus said, ‘Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last, first’” (Mark 10:17-30).
In the “rich young property owner” lesson above, there is a progression of thought that most overlook or ignore—which is actually kind of scarey.
We obviously start with how one inherits eternal life, but we end with the disciples questioning who, then, can be saved. Sandwiched in the middle here is the concept of the Kingdom of God. So—either Jesus is changing the subject in order to get the rich young guy to ask the right question or Jesus (and Mark) is linking the concepts of “eternal life,” “the kingdom of God,” and being “saved” as basically the same thing. Either way, Mark, here, has linked for us entering into the Kingdom as being the same as or at least the means for one being saved. Once settled on this, the rest of the parable clearly sets out that one cannot be a consumer and enter into the Kingdom (at least easily).
As I have written in the 1 and 2 posts of this thread, I doubt very much that a consumer of the Gospel is actually a saved individual in the biblical sense. But, rather than appearing too judgmental, let me say it this way—there is no assurance that a consumer of the Gospel who makes some form of confession of the Gospel and perhaps is in regular attendance at a church is a born-again Christian. The problem is our churches are filled with consumers of the Gospel. The question should be, how do we reach those, who are by nature and cultural conditioning, consumers (of everything) and turn them into disciples? Or, how do we turn consumers into, as my pastor likes to repeat, “faithful followers of Jesus”?
The “commodity” of the Gospel is not purchased by anyone; but one’s citizenship in the Kingdom is noticeable. When Jesus responds to the nice rich guy, at first He reminds him of keeping the Law. This wasn’t far from the idea found in Deuteronomy where Israel understood that keeping the Law leads to “life.” Israel had understood that the Law made them who they were and were to be, and agreeing to it provided the means of life and prosperity in the land they were about to inherit. At the end of the story, while on the banks of the Jordon on the far side of the land of promise, Moses reminded them:
“When Moses had finished speaking all these words to all Israel, he said to them, ‘Take to your heart all the words with which I am warning you today, which you shall command your sons to observe carefully, even all the words of this law. For it is not an idle word for you; indeed it is your life And by this word you will prolong your days in the land, which you are about to cross the Jordan to possess’ (Deuteronomy 32:45-47).
Eventually, as perceived by the rich young man, Israel came to understand that “living in the land of promise” foreshadowed “eternal life.” So to juxtapose the keeping of the Law with the quest for eternal life was not a surprise to him. But, he was sure he had kept them since childhood. So Jesus pressed that matter—not so much adding to the Law or spiritualizing it (or even giving a post-Christian, New Testament spin), but reminding the rich young man that there are stipulations “in the Law” that are needed to be kept as well:
“One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
Besides my interest in “the poor” and issues of poverty, for the wealthy guy asking the question these were perfect stipulations for Jesus to draw from—which are scattered in various texts throughout Exodus (e.g., 22-23), Leviticus (e.g., 14, 19, 22, 25), and Deuteronomy (e.g., 10, 14-15, 24). The implication, in my estimation, to inherit eternal life, to enter the Kingdom, and to possess salvation it is not what is gained (i.e., a good or commodity to possess), but what is given away. (Apparently, so did Jesus.) Of course there is nothing one can do to gain God’s favor or merit His salvation—that is a gift, both in the Old and in the New (by the way). But the illustration set forth in this story is clear that what God possesses—His Gospel in Christ Jesus—is not a commodity or good to be purchased by a consumer, but a life exchanged for one that leads to death so that it may lead to life.
Extending, proclaiming, and receiving the good news of Jesus Christ is not like shopping at Wal-Mart or at the nearby Mall. Churches are not like the chain of stores that attempt to make deals with you, to imply superior products, or less costly goods so you will enter their store and purchase their product. Being in the Kingdom (i.e., being “saved”) means giving away, not acquiring. This is why it is difficult or improbably that consumers of the Gospel are or can be disciples. Making disciples out of the consumers that have come to your church—because you sold something to them that is other than, less than, or not even the Gospel—might mean making them converts first. No wonder in almost every book I read this past year on the subject of evangelism has chapters or portions given over to “evangelizing the churched.” So in the end, how do you—the pastor/church leader—repent of selling the Gospel or selling church as a commodity or good for someone’s personal use and at the same time make disciples out of the consumers that have bought your product?
Hopefully, unlike the young man, we do not hear these words (at least the Words in the Gospel) and become saddened and walk away grieved because we are too rich in things of this world.
Can consumers of the Gospel be disciples? 1
I think most readers of this blog can tell I hate (really, not a strong enough word for how I feel about) the term “consumers,” let alone applying term “consumer” to the non-believer and the unchurched. What makes it worse, although never really talked about or admitted is that when we view the potential church-goer as a consumer, we also mean those in other churches who might prefer our church/gospel product better and be willing to change dispensers (i.e., change churches) of the product. It happens—but church leaders will not admit openly to it. So we know who the consumer is—unbelievers, the unchurched, and believers in other churches. But what is a consumer? The typical dictionary offers three basic definitions
- A consumer is a person or thing that consumers.
- Within an economic sense a consumer is a person or organization that uses a commodity or service.
- Within ecology a consumer is an organism (or animal) that feeds on plants or other animals.
I hope we are not considering the 3rd choice and define the unchurched, non-believer, or believers in other churches who might like our product better as organisms that feed on the product we are trying to sell. Certainly hope not. But the other two (1 and 2) are within the scope of possibilities. One dictionary stated that a consumer is “someone who purchases a good for personal use.” Okay, then, what is a consumer purchasing, consuming, or using? Is the Gospel a thing or service to be purchased? Is the Gospel something that is consumed? Is the Gospel something to be used, a good for personal use? We can make a play on all these words (i.e., purchased, consumed, used, services, product, etc.)—and plenty of church-marketers and pastors do, but in the end none of them, with whatever play on the words is made, ends up actually being the Gospel as set forth in the New Testament. David Wells, in his, The Courage to Be Protestant, rightly says:
“…the product we will seek naturally will not be the gospel. It will be a therapy of some kind, a technique for life, perhaps a way of connecting more deeply with our own spiritual selves on our own terms, terms that require no repentance and no redemption. It will not be the gospel. The gospel cannot be a product that the church sells because there are no consumers for it. When we find consumers, we will find that what they are interested in buying, on their own terms, is not the gospel” (Wells, p. 53).
This is another reason to doubt that consumers of the gospel (since it is not actually the Gospel) are not saved, and thus cannot be disciples.
Can consumers of the Gospel be disciples? 1
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