Without reformation, Chattanooga should not expect a better local economy and more free markets.
These two items are a fruit of a gospel message that in some fellowships is half taught.
By David Tulis / Noogaradio 12040 AM 101.1 FM
One reason God’s blessings are being withheld is that Christianity in many churches is shorn of its greatest impulse. That is the thrilling promise and means of national revival and cultural rebuilding that demonstrate the progress of the faithful preaching of the Word. This impulse makes much of God’s law as the template for everything from charity for the poor and the honest operation of banks to the blessing — or cursing — of standing armies and debt for college.
God’s law is the schoolmaster driving us to repentance, and is the light unto our path for personal reformation as well as city, county, state and national rebuilding.
The church in America has fallen to the premillennial dispensationalist line of thinking developed by J.N. Darby in the 1800s. This novel movement eclipses the hope of the gospel’s success over time, envisages the progress of evil, sees the Christian’s greatest hope is Christ’s return and an escape from death, pours pessimism into Christian endeavor, rejects God’s law as a standard for national ethics and shifts missionary goals from national repentance a la William Carey in India to chiefly the conversion of individual souls. Pessimillenialism, as it’s fair to call American baptistic Christianity, rejects the concept of Christendom. Christ doesn’t rule; Satan does, and because the Satan has won we should view Christian rebuilding of anything beyond our personal walks with God as futile and worldly.
This bleak evangelical system in Chattanooga makes Christians impractical and disconnected. Whether talking about commercial government, constitutional rights or penal reform, they are at a loss about how to think or what to say. Their beliefs make them retreatist and concerned only with personal piety and personal relationships. Nothing more is to be built than personal relationships in which to spread the cheer, joy and promise of Christian living.
The larger problems in society such as corporate cartelism, licensure of innocent occupations, the police state, the war on honest money and the slaughter of the unborn are problems that we Christians are not here to solve. Rather, personal piety is the chief end and fruit of the Christian life; this assurance is reinforced by Chattanooga Christian media — pulpit, radio, TV and print (the Internet, thankfully, offers relief from this monotony).
An exploration in Chattanooga
To see how vigorously the gospel are being pushed in Chattanooga, I skipped my regular reformed Presbyterian church this Lord’s day and worshipped with fellow believers at a church described by one minister as a “safe space” and another clergyman, during the Lord’s Supper, as “a safe place.” The Bible readings were on screens; few bothered with the Bible, of which I saw few copies. Lyrics were on screens, too, without musical notes, the subject of these emotional pieces being the believer himself and that place as being welcoming both to God and to the Holy Spirit. In the middle of God’s service the worship service broke up for a round of handshakes, conversation and fresh half-cups of coffee.
The sermon on John 4 about the encounter between Jesus and Samaritan woman at the well was competent. The minister twice got chuckles when he said that Christ introduced “alternative facts” to the woman, pointing out that salvation is from Israel and that in the future God will be worshipped from everywhere, not just the temple in Jerusalem. He opened up the idea that the promise is given initially and exclusively to Israel, would be opened to every tongue, race, tribe, nation, and people’s.
The minister said that God wants relationships with Americans, Africans, Indians, Singaporeans, Russians, and everyone else (evidently as individual human beings, not as nation-states or through national covenants). The promises of God are extended through the resurrection to all the peoples of the Earth. The speaker asked his listeners if they are open to the Holy Spirit telling us about our own situation as sinners, just as Christ pointed out to the woman that she was in her fifth sinful relationship with one who is not her husband.
The import of his message was upon me, the individual listener. While the speaker pointed out that Christ intends to save all the nations over time, the point of the message was personal and individualistic to me.
Working to improve my personal relationship with Christ
In this vein, he said we need the power of the Holy Spirit every day so he can lead and guide us. We should have a relationship with God as we do our own mom and dad. The Holy Spirit will help us in our problems with other people. God does not ultimately care about these details, he said; the question is: How are we doing with God?
Can we improve our personal piety? the speaker demanded. Christ gives himself as food and drink for the journey of the Christian life. “I love you and I’m bread that you need. I am the drink you need,” the Lord says. Christ’s will is our food, and that food is do the will of the Father.
God is interested in each person. Our duty is to engage every individual we meet just as Christ engaged the Samaritan woman. In other words, in our personal lives we are to have interactions with all kinds of people, all kinds of sinners, reprobates and those who need to repent. Is our life splashing and rich with the everlasting water? he asked. Or is it a dry gulch?
I need to get right with Jesus, he exhorted me. Christ’s encounter with the Samaritan woman is a model of how we are to work and interact with the world: “How does Christ work in your life by the power of the Holy Spirit to bless other people?”
Is there more?
I assure you I was blessed to hear this sermon. But the question remains about Christendom. Is the extent of my knowledge of the gospel to be personal only? Or is it to be cultural and to consider every part of human society?
To get greater blessings in Chattanooga, could we examine some of our presuppositions about the claims of Jesus? Is the Bible all about the individual?
Does not half of the Bible deal with the question of national covenant, national law, national repentance, the role of prophet scolding kings, the ousting of wicked kings, the enslavement of people by foreign powers for national sins? That would be the Old Testament, which is all about God’s interaction with the confederation of the tribes of Israel who finally rejected His government and a decentralized and democratic political order. Israelites rejected Samuel’s warning, became a monarchy, and quickly collapsed into civil war, a divided kingdom and theological harlotry followed by military and cultural enslavement. The Old Testament is about God’s relation with a nation; the new about His claims upon individuals.
Does the God we worship at this worship service care about questions such as collapse of monarchies? Does he care about collapse of currencies? Does he care about whether men act in corporations or in their personal capacity? Does he care about whether we have a common-law or a statutory legal framework? Does he favor one over the other? Does he care about military drafts and makework government jobs to help unemployment? What is the nature of the university and is there a single standard of truth at UTC or Bryan College, or do we live in a multiverse and there is no single standard for truth? What about narcotics and drug wars — is the U.S. drug war a curse or a blessing carrying out God’s law? Are hospitals to be used only for the care and healing of the body, or do they have an obligation before God to care about the soul? May they kill unborn children as a mercy to moms? Is eminent domain something that is acceptable in a holy country — can one homeowner block the path of an interstate highway? Do we need regulation or is a godly court sufficient to oppress an evil polluter who cares nothing about his neighbor’s air or groundwater? Is a great American city one with zoning, or without? Is there an external standard of beauty, or is it laudale for artists to merely express themselves?
Is the income tax that we have today an ungodly judgement from the cup of God’s wrath operating outside of the law, or is it holy and true and the only way God would ever deign to have a people pay for the operation of a national civil magistrate? Does God favor federalism or nationalism? Should Hamilton County Criminal Court bring restitution in crimes rather than prison? Should there be a public school, or should it be abolished as a factory for the creation of manipulated, passive, and obedient consumers and supporters of the state? Should police departments exist, or are they organized by a state that has made itself enemy of the working man incapable of maintaining the peace on his own?
Does the new testament make irrelevant the national perspective and the body of God’s law in the old?
Only one part of Christianity has developed answers. It is the epistemologically self-conscious reformed church, and then only one wing. That is the covenantal wing, also known as the Christian reconstruction movement. The other is the pietistic wing, typified by the Banner of Truth Trust, which publishes Puritan authors such as the beloved Thomas Watson. One explores society, law, culture and economics. The other a believer’s personal walk with God.
Safe space? In a pietist church?
The pietist church at which I worshipped this Lord’s day cares about the personal life of the believer — but only to a point. That point is the making the Lord’s supper a safe space, which should be a safe space only if the work of repentance is taught first.
The Lord’s supper is not a safe place. Before attending the Lord’s Supper, the Christian should repent particularly of his sins. It should be a terrible thing to partake the Lord’s supper with sin of which one has not repented. The fruits of faith and repentance are essential for the Christian Life. Christians who approach the Lord’s Supper who have not been hectored and reminded about their sin natures are playing carelessly with the body and blood of Jesus. He warns against the taking of his supper of any of those who are heedless in their ways and not harshly judgmental against themselves for their sins. Many who abused communion were said to have been asleep (dead).
Better we judge ourselves than the Lord Jesus judge us. That is the message of repentance. Christians should not be accommodated on the Lord stay when they come to receive marching orders worship. Their marching orders should include the work of repentance and the promise of forgiveness by the power of the Holy Spirit and through the blood and body of Jesus Christ. They go to church and worship, to be instructed about the work of building culture, building professions, building businesses and schools and demanding reforms of corrupt government and corrupt institutions such as banks, hospitals and universities.
And to accomplish this work, the Christian needs to be cleansed of his sins. That means a frequent sitting at the Lord’s table and keeping short accounts as part of continuing personal reformation and sanctification. The Lord’s supper is a terrifying engagement. Paul warns that partaking carelessly is jeopardy to my soul.
Worship Sunday spared me the spiritual work of repentance. To be accepting and inclusive, the minister declined to fence the table — to raise a barrier protecting it from those who cling to vices and sins and refuse to repent or who are lost souls alien to God’s grace.
The pietistic church emphasizes the individual. And yet here is a body in that system that declines to remind me of my personal sins for which I need to repent personally. Understood, these ministers preach not against the sins of the nation and do not call for the church’s people to be about the work of cultural transformation and reformation. But it should hammer the individual sin nature in its members and visitors.
An odd lapse. The church with a personalistic bent for privatized Christianity not taking to the necessary extreme the duty to shame me for my sin nature, my sin habits, my selfishness and beastly temper that make me a hypocrite?
Perhaps a reforming church with an optimistic view of the gospel will press for reforms in Chattanooga starting with vast areas of church and family government surrendered to the state. Its members should fight to reclaim these domains such as caring for aged family members and education.
That is reformation. That will bring a stronger local economy. That will bring more free markets — which is to say, more freedom and more opportunity, more grace in the general economy with which the city can withstand a national disaster long in the making, and one day closer today than yesterday. Churches that deal solely with the individual sin problem aggressively will want the help of God’s law to help God’s people judge themselves. Other churches — the more mature ones — will encourage visitors and members to learn how to rebuild a culture and society built to fail, destroy and to prevent godliness from taking any public or institutional form.