“For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God.” –1 Peter 4:17a (ESV)
This passage from 1 Peter has always intrigued me. Now, it convicts me and moves me to speak my heart regarding the evangelical church in the current cultural climate. As one pastor put it, “The culture is corrupt; the church is confused”. Just in my neighborhood alone the following slogans can be seen on signs in front of churches: “All paths are legitimate”. “Jesus may be our way, but He is not the only way.” “What the Bible says about homosexuality: ‘God loves everyone and so should we’”.
The Church Must Know & Preach the God of the Bible
Clearly the cultural decay we see running rampant around us is living proof of what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:4—“…the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers…” But to what extent has the confused state of the church contributed to this decay? David Wells addresses what he calls “the church’s parlous state” in God in the Whirlwind. Says Dr. Wells, “The more I have been engaged with what has happened in Western culture, the clearer has become my understanding of what has been principally lost in the evangelical church.
It is our understanding of God’s character but an understanding in which that character has ‘weight’. We now need to return, as God’s people have done so often in the past, to find again what has been lost. Faith lives along this line between Christ and culture.” Listen to his remarks about the pastor of America’s largest church audience: “In his (this particular pastor’s) saccharin-like view, God is our greatest booster who, sadly, is frustrated that He cannot shower on us more health, wealth, happiness, and self-fulfillment.” Because of the confusion being propagated by the church, what many Americans think about God is a distortion of what is true and biblical.
How long has it been since you and I have heard pastors and leaders in the church exhorting their flocks to righteousness and personal holiness as the way of life for the truly committed follower of the Lord Jesus Christ? I see a striking absence of accountability, mentorship, discipleship. Robert Murray McCheyne, pastor of Charlotte Chapel in Edinburgh in another era, commented that the greatest need of his congregation was his personal holiness. How is the church going to be salt and light in this dark world unless the truth about God’s perfect holiness and His demands on His people are preached and modeled?
I very much appreciate the ministry of Pastor Jeff Crippen in Oregon. In addressing the issue of the lack of holiness and righteousness among those who profess to be followers of Christ he asks, “Why is there such an absence of righteous anger among those who claim to serve Christ? We must consider this subject of the anger of God as we continue to grow wise as serpents in regard to evil, yet remaining innocent as doves in respect to any of evil’s guilt. That is to say, we must know evil, but in the right way. That was Adam and Eve’s downfall you remember –‘But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” ’(Gen 3:4-5)”.
Crippen goes on to say, “When the church becomes apostate so that Christ’s truth has been abandoned and Christ Himself has departed, you can be sure that there will be no zeal for God’s truth, no sense of indignation against evildoers, and instead an accusing of the righteous. God’s true people detest wickedness as He does (Psalm 5:5; 26:5)”. Why then is there such a void of this holy hatred in the visible church today? Listen to this excellent summation of the state of the church today:
“I, too, have been accused of being angry and bitter, when in reality I am longing for righteousness and justice and truth. I’m tired. I’m weary. I’m disgusted. I’m grieving. I have a knot in my stomach most of the time when going to church, & it feels like watching a B-movie with a lousy script that can’t decide on comedy or drama. It’s not that I think I’m better or more pious, but rather, that I am thirsty & I have to spit out the lukewarm water. That, or go make a whip……
I am no longer content with the superficial platitudes of silly sheep who follow blind guides and belch ‘sunday school’ prattle while they plan their predictable little parties and pretend to be holy. I’m sick of the charade. I’m sick of the pretense. I’m sick of the shallowness. And I am angry.”
Psalm 26:4-5 says, “I do not sit with men of falsehood, nor do I consort with hypocrites. I hate the assembly of evildoers, and I will not sit with the wicked.” And this hatred is particularly directed against the wicked who pretend to belong to the people of God. They come and sit as an assembly. We must read this entire Psalm to see a person after God’s own heart express His plea. Here you have God’s own description of a true Christian. Notice how very different this picture is than what we see so typically today in so many people who claim to follow Christ. Christ described His people this way: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6).
We Must Despise Evil Because God Despises Evil
Says Pastor Crippen, “When we see the wicked, when we see evil creeping in with all its deceptions and abusive tactics, the people of God rise up against it in protest. We hunger and we thirst for what is right and we hate what is evil and those who do it. Why? Because God does and we are His children. We share His nature. All of the pressure put upon us by apostate Christianity today—that tells us that we must not hate anyone, and that we must love and accept everyone— is evil in itself. ” It is the holy, righteous anger and wrath of God that is the true Christian’s hope.
So, what is the solution? Allow me to share some wisdom from Ravi Zacharias as he provides a formula to get our nation back on track. I believe this will work for the church as well.
- Sound, biblical leadership is essential
- Self-aggrandizement is fatal
- Obedience and submission to truth is crucial
- Responsibility is personal
God always brings it down to the personal (1 Peter 4:17a). It must begin with my life and with yours. Is righteousness and holiness from God the foundation of my life? Is God’s voice present in my life? To quote Dr. Zacharias, “If there is darkness it could be from the dust of the herd running in the wrong direction. Are you & I willing to stand alone if need be and move in the direction where the darkness dissipates and the light of Christ shines brightly?” God grant us the desire to make that personal step now.