Thursday, June 16, 2016

Speaking With Authority In an Opinionated World

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, …”
Romans 1:16a ESV
I have opinions about Islam, terrorism, border control, gun control, and most of the political talking points surrounding the terrorist attack in Orlando Sunday morning. However, the last thing we need is another opinion. What is glaringly obvious is that no one, including our most informed officials at the highest level, seems to be able to speak with any level of authority. As I was watching and reading the news over the last couple of days, it became increasingly obvious that we have a complete void when it comes to people who can speak with any significant level of authority on most of the social issues we are facing in our culture. Even the President, the supposed most powerful man in the world, was largely dismissed after he shared his “opinion” on the issue. Beyond political rhetoric, his comments were irrelevant. A steady dose of relativism over the last few decades has finally eroded the ability of anyone in the public arena to speak to any issue with any significant level of authority or conviction. Especially when it comes to moral issues. What is needed today is leadership that can speak to the issues with clarity, conviction, competency and authority. Enter, the Christian preacher.
The one person in our country who can come out of the crowd of opinionators and speak with the kind of authority that is essential in this day, is the gospel preacher. It is in our day, like it was in the Apostle Paul’s day, that we need preachers to step out of the crowd of rhetorical voices and speak with “all authority.”[1] An authority that comes from God, not man. For it is God who “commands all people everywhere to repent.”[2] It is the gospel preacher who speaks the one message that all men everywhere are commanded to believe and obey and it is the gospel preacher who has been specifically commissioned with the task to proclaim this message everywhere. There is no authority on earth, that can silence him. His authority comes from the giver of all authority and cannot be usurped. Furthermore, the gospel message is the one message that can actually transform a culture and address the real needs of men and women. The primitive cultural decadence of the world around the Apostle Paul was radically transformed, not by political or community activism, but by the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Romans 1:18-32 describes the destructive effect of sin on a culture without the influence of God’s restraining graces. It reads like the USA Today. While many lament the social woes of our culture and either seek to change them by some form of activism or relegate our culture to a lost cause, they are powerless to save it. Or so they think. Paul’s description of the decadent culture he found himself in follows his well-known confident assertion about the power of the gospel. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”[3] Paul’s ministry in a culture that was enslaved to sin was to preach the gospel. He had a one issue platform. He went everywhere “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness.”[4] Following the singular focus of the other Apostles, who had “filled Jerusalem” [5] with this teaching, Paul went throughout the Roman empire armed with nothing but the power of the gospel and in one lifetime built the framework of a church that would become the foundation for western civilization to be built upon.
The mission of the church is not cultural change, but the effects of the gospel will inevitably change the culture. Our goal is not to save America, but rather, to build the kingdom of God. As the kingdom of God grows, the kingdoms of men will be brought into subjection. Every sin, the root cause of all social woes, is dealt with in the gospel. To the intellectuals, the ignorant, the rich, the poor, the immoral, the self-righteous, the sexually immoral, the terrorist, the politician, etc. ad infinitum, we preach Christ. The gospel is not an opinion. It is a command from the Holy Creator to his sinful creatures. Turn from your sin of self-government and to Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Trusting in him alone for your salvation. “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”[6]

[1] Titus 2:15: Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you. ESV
[2] Acts 17:30
[3] Romans 1:16 ESV
[4] Acts 28:31
[5] Acts 5:28
[6] Acts 4:12 ESV

Friday, March 4, 2016

Hope for America

My momma told me a little secret. She said that when she was young they knew all about sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Imagine my shock at learning that this younger generation had not invented rebellion. Furthermore, my history books exposed the nasty reality that America has always had serious problems with sin and depravity. The “greed” was a huge motivating factor in the settling of the colonies. The curse of the slave trade hung around our necks for generations before the bloodiest war in American history finally ended it, while the rest of the west ended it without war. Reading the dialog between politicians and leaders of the revolution make it clear that the rhetoric of their day was not a bit more civil than it is today. Fast forward through the 1960’s and you’ll find plenty to make you think that each generation was dealing with, what they believed, was the most depraved generation in our history. In short, this nostalgic idea that America was a “Christian” nation back in the good old days is a myth. Every generation has manifested new ways of expressing a sinful nature and this one is no more or less lost than the others. The hope for this generation remains the same. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Most likely you’ve heard a preacher proclaim, “We are living in Romans 1” because of the decay of our culture and the slide of this current generation into sin and depravity. Exclaiming with great conviction that we’ve been handed over to a debased mind to experience the wrath of God. Well, the rhetoric does sound convincing and we certainly have our share of open depravity today. However, Romans 1 was not written to cause us as believers to throw our hands up in despair and lead us to start looking for the next new world. It was written to teach us just how powerful the gospel of Jesus Christ was in dealing with the cultural decay of the first century.[1] In fact, reading Romans 1 should be one of the most encouraging chapters in the Bible to Americans for three reasons.
First, Romans 1 is an historical description of culture, not a prophetic one.[2] Certainly human depravity will run its course in each generation and any culture left to itself by God would come apart at the seams. However, as the Apostle Paul writes the first chapter of Romans he is describing a culture right in front of him and explaining how it came to be the way it was. He was not writing a prophetic description of America 2,000 years ahead of time. Get this! America today is a far better place to live than first century Rome was and being a Christian in America today is much easier than it was during the reigns of Nero and Domitian. Believe it or not, America is way more “Christian” today than any place on the planet during the Apostolic age. Romans 1 describes a culture with even greater challenges than we face today.
Second, the Apostle Paul saw the gospel as the only remedy for such a culture. It is the power of God unto salvation. The Apostles went into a depraved culture without the Bill of Rights, armed with nothing but the gospel and prayer, and in one generation turned the world as they knew it on its head. The effect the gospel and Christianity has had on the development of western civilization is impossible to measure. You simply do not have the West of today without it. The atheist, Friedrich Nietzsche, once observed that Gandhi would not have been successful at achieving India’s freedom had he not been appealing to a nation with a Christian conscience. He was right and it is equally true that the world would not know the blessings of western civilization had it not been for the influence of this same conscience. The gospel has saved billions of souls over the last 2,000 years and the influence of those souls on their surrounding culture has permeated every fiber of society for the good.
Thirdly, Romans 1 teaches us that there is hope for even the most depraved communities. Communities are made up of sinful individuals. Those individuals make up sinful communities. The remedy for the manifestation of sin in culture is to address it at its heart. The heart of a sinful community is the heart of its sinful people. The only remedy for a sinful heart is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Today, as in our father’s day, what is needed is the gospel. If we, like the Apostles, will devote ourselves to supporting the ministry of the Word and prayer[3], we will be doing the one and only thing that is effective at transforming a sinful culture. We must take to the sinful hearts of our culture the hope that is found only in Jesus Christ. As we lead others to Christ and assimilate them into local churches and teach them to live in Spirit-filled churches/communities we will build the cities on the hills of our land that will be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
In conclusion, the good old days didn’t exist. Sin has always manifested itself in every culture and in every generation. However, the influence of the gospel and the church has had such a profound effect on our culture that it is a far better place to live than anywhere on earth has ever been that has not enjoyed its permeating influence. The hope for America is the gospel. Always has been, always will be.

[1] Romans 1:16-17
[2] 1:21-32
[3] Acts 6:2-4

Thursday, February 18, 2016