How the Confessional Reformed Must Be Speak to the Trials of the Day
A subject we started to look into last week is the question of seriousness. If the church is going to take the challenge of the rise of modern Paganism honestly it needs to consider for a moment why it is that the faith once for all delivered to the saints is facing such a challenge when it comes to propagating truths it confesses, especially among young men. The thesis I have come up with for the reasons for our current struggle is that we do not show ourselves in the Church to take our own understanding of Christianity as the foundation for who we are. We love the propositions and the concepts, but fail to live them out, and show that we desire that all men should be as we are. Why should I give myself to a religion that thinks it is ok to not be a part of it? If it’s merely a lifestyle choice folks will, and do, look elsewhere.
Recently there have been two events which illustrate this point. First, you have the Archbishop of Canterbury praising and supporting the Hindu celebration of Diwali. In the second case (while recognizing the difficulties of the current situation in Israel) you had a Twitter eruption over a call to faith for the Jewish people. Some called this anti-Semitic while others questioned the timing and intent of such a thing. Both in their own way exemplify something in regards to the thesis which would be worth our time to consider, each from different ends of the spectrum. Starting with the latter you have an interesting dynamic in that what most American evangelicals consider to be a religious community, Judaism, is in fact not overly spiritual in the way we would define that in our context. It is an ethnic/cultural dynamic. If that is the case you could see then how a person who hears a gospel presentation to Jews would think that such a thing is an attack against their personal identity, regardless if that may not be the honest intent and purpose of the individual making the plea.
In the former situation with the Archbishop you have a man who sees Diwali as primarily a cultural holiday not taking seriously the religious motivations of those celebrating it. He reacts in fear of the way folks may consider his lack of speaking on it as an act of exclusion of a race of people, rather than as a person who represents one theological tradition not engaging in the honoring of gods not in his pantheon. In this situation it is merely another example (see Justin Welby’s dealings with Ramadan) of a magisterial church abandoning the blood of her ancestors for the lukewarm porridge of 2023. Seeing himself as the religious leader of all Britons he must make room for Islam and Hindu’s, despite the reality that his call is to be the Christian bishop of the Church of England. Jesus is pretty clear that He will not share His glory with any.
In each of these cases you have a particular mindset which seems to visage a problem which is not new to the church. In Judges 17 and 18 you have the story of Micah, who by way of heart and time is not the same guy as the writer of the book which bears that name. This Micah is a man with money and a desire for holy things. His problem is that he seems to be unlearned, or at least ignorant, of what the God of His people has taught concerning idols, their making, and their worship. He came into the fortune mentioned at the beginning of the chapter by stealing it from his mother. It is evident that his ma had given her all to the hoarding of wealth and its care. The sins of the mother in this case find their way into the soul of the son. That is not an excuse for Micah’s wickedness, but to explain why he does what he does in making priests those who should not have been so. The kicker in the story is the introduction of a Levite. It’s one thing for Micah, who had not lived in a home grounded in Deuteronomy 6:7, to not know the rule of God. A man particularly set apart by the Lord is a different story, yet it seems he gladly goes along with Micah’s evil for payment and status. No need for the truth to get in the way of complacency.
The following chapter sees the idolatry of Micah spread to the Danites. Now, this happens in a peculiar way. The heart of the Levite is moved by the opportunity to advance into a newer and more prestigious height of place. He goes from merely being the priest for a family to receiving regal privilege as the holy man of a Tribe. In the midst of Samuel’s testimony to the era of the Judges the eighteenth chapter ends with a name, “. . . Jonathan the son of Gershom, the son of Manasseh, and his sons were priests to the tribe of Dan until the day of the captivity of the land.” Just as a point of clarification we are not to understand that Jonathan was of the tribe of Manasseh. He was a Gershomite, of the descendants of Moses See Ex. 2:22. (neither to be confused with the Gershonites, of Aaron’s lineage). I share all this because it highlights for us the problem of our own age. The Christian church is ate up with concerns about financial security and how it is seen in the eyes of the world. The Levite had both cause and opportunity to deal with the underlying problems, yet refused.
Nothing new under the sun. At least no Canaanites were involved in this.
A lot of ink is spilled nearly on a daily basis with the fear that young white men (who always seem to be the people those in comfortable spaces want to harangue for every uncomfortability in existence) are looking for strong men to succor their fears of the changes ongoing in the Western world. While there can be some legitimate reasons to worry about such, much about the content of the criticism testifies to the fact the issue is the very people who spend most of their time pointing the finger. They are the ones failing the seekers the most. Nature abhors a vacuum, and men and women need leadership, or they will find it elsewhere. If you desire Christianity to matter it better matter to you. A mealy mouthed effeminate faith has resulted in the rise of something which takes what it believes with all earnestness. Folks may disagree, but there is no question as to the totality of their understanding of the life they have chosen. It was not accidental that a German higher criticism which neutered the holiness of God led to the philosophical underpinnings that destroyed Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and if the Church in the West doesn’t remember the oneness of the God they supposedly serve it will only end in the same way. Their response in previous decades has only been to throw more ephemeral spirituality into the air, and that’s largely how they’ve dealt with it at present. Neither Taizé nor invitations to struggle sessions will provide what these troubled young white men need.
In closing, everyone sees the clownishness of the Archbishop of Canterbury and knows his ineffectiveness. But he is merely the avatar for the way the evangelical world lacks confidence in its own message. Yet, the danger is not just there. It exists within the confessionally conservative wings as well. Lots of the conversations around the ordinary means of grace in Reformed circles can take on the same kind of tone. It can be an excuse for real-time laziness, the same way “Two Kingdoms” talk often is a way for men not to answer hard questions about the wickedness of the political establishment. Harsher words are present for those within the camp who don’t do things the way we do than for the idolaters destroying culture. While there can be a place for both it’s easier to afflict the liberals in our own denomination than present a positive, robust case for how all men should live. Siloing themselves into a caricature is temporally easier, but presents long-term problems. Polemics has its place, but it is no replacement for a church’s catechism that is meant to provide a whole counsel which highlights differences by its very nature. Good fences make good neighbors.
If the people of God are going to deal with the rise of paganism they need to first assess and deal with their own complacency, and ask how they themselves are responsible for the biblically troublesome leaders who are speaking to the spiritual trials we see, especially since they may be doing so in unhelpful ways.
Choosing to just shame and not provide an actual alternative will only lead to more and more of the same.
I talked too much today, so no extra reading.
Blessings in Christ,
Rev. Benjamin Glaser
Pastor, Bethany ARP Church