Newcomers' Class Make-up and Homework Reading

Week 3: Extending the Gospel

Believing the Gospel

Extending the Gospel to Friends, Neighbors...

...and the Whole World.


Notebook pages: Extending the Gospel's implications to social issues and politics (3-24 to 3-26)

The two articles below are also found in the class notebook.

Brokenhearted joy

Taking the swagger out of Christian cultural influence | John Piper

THE FACT THAT CHRISTIANS ARE EXILES ON THE earth (1 Peter 2:11) does not mean we don't care what becomes of culture. But it does mean that we exert influence as happy, brokenhearted outsiders. We are exiles. "Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Philippians 3:20). "Here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come" (Hebrews 13:14).

We are happy sojourners, though, because we have been commanded by our bloody Champion to rejoice in our exile miseries. "Blessed are you when others ... persecute you ... on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven" (Matthew 5:11-12). We are happy because the Apostle Paul showed us that "the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Romans 8:18). We are happy because there are merciful foretastes everywhere in this fallen world, and God is glad for us to enjoy them (1 Timothy 4:3; 6:17). And we are happy because we know that the exiles will one day inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5). Christ died for sinners so that "all things" might one day belong to his people (Romans 8:32).

But our joy is a brokenhearted joy because Christ is worthy of so much better obedience than we Christians render. Our joy is a brokenhearted joy because so many people around the world have not heard the good news that "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (1 Timothy 1:15). And our joy is a brokenhearted joy because human culture—in every society—dishonors Christ, glories in its shame, and is bent on self-destruction.

This includes America. American culture does not belong to Christians, neither in reality nor in biblical theology. It never has. The present tailspin toward Sodom is not a fall from Christian ownership. "The whole world lies in the power of the evil one" (1 John 5:19). It has since the fall, and it will till Christ comes in open triumph. God's rightful ownership will be manifest in due time. The Lordship of Christ over all creation is being manifest in stages, first the age of groaning, then the age of glory. "We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies" (Romans 8:23). The exiles are groaning with the whole creation. We are waiting.

And yet, Christian exiles are not passive. We do not smirk at the misery or the merrymaking of immoral culture. We weep. Or we should. This is my main point: Being exiles does not mean being cynical. It does not mean being indifferent or uninvolved. The salt of the earth does not mock rotting meat. Where it can, it saves and seasons. And where it can't, it weeps. And the light of the world does not withdraw, saying "good riddance" to godless darkness. It labors to illuminate. But not dominate.

Being Christian exiles in American culture does not end our influence, it takes the swagger out of it. We don't get cranky that our country has been taken away. We don't whine about the triumphs of evil. We are not hardened with anger. We understand. This is not new. This was the way it was in the beginning—Antioch, Corinth, Athens, Rome. The Empire was not just degenerate, it was deadly. For three explosive centuries Christians paid for their Christ-exalting joy with blood. Many still do. More will.

It never occurred to those early exiles that they should rant about the ubiquity of secular humanism. The imperial words of Christ were still ringing in their ears: "You will be hated by all for My name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved" (Mark 13:13). This was a time for indomitable joy and unwavering ministries of mercy.

Yes, it was a time for influence—as it is now. But not with huffing and puffing as if to reclaim our lost laws. Rather with tears and persuasion and perseverance, knowing that the folly of racism, and the exploitation of the poor, and the de-Godding of education, and the horror of abortion, and the collapse of heterosexual marriage, are the tragic death-tremors of joy, not the victory of the left or the right.

The greatness of Christian exiles is not success but service. Whether we win or lose, we witness to the way of truth and beauty and joy. We don't own culture, and we don't rule it. We serve it with brokenhearted joy and longsuffering mercy, for the good of man and the glory of Jesus Christ.

Copyright © 2007 WORLD Magazine
December 13, 2003, Vol. 18, No. 48

Not the church's business

We dilute our message, and we confuse the world | Joel Belz

A statistic I saw last week should embarrass those of us in the Bible belt. When asked the question, "Does your minister ever offer advice and guidance to the congregation on political questions?," 29 percent of all Southerners said yes. Outside the South, the yes responses dropped to 18 percent.

But even the 18 percent answer is too high. An overly close linkage between the organized church and the political process-everywhere in the country-continues to be a blight on the church's core message.

To be sure, we'd better be sure we're using the same language while discussing these issues. The survey I cite here, conducted by the Institute for Research in the Social Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, wasn't as precise as it should have been in asking the question. It didn't adequately distinguish between "political" issues on the one hand and the "moral" discussions that properly lie behind the political issues.

For example, it's hard to find fault with a minister who from his pulpit discusses biblical perspectives on issues like capital punishment, racism, abortion, or gambling. If that's his whole diet, of course, he's hardly doing the Bible justice. But in terms of content, such topics are indeed part of the "whole counsel of God." And if that's the content people had in mind when they were asked the question, "Does your minister ever offer advice and guidance to the congregation on political questions?," then more power to them.

But most of us know how hard it is to stop such discussions at that point. And if we let ourselves-gathered as we ought to for biblical instruction-move on in that same setting to the task of political strategizing, we make a big mistake. For then we are blurring the distinction between the organized church and the work the people of that church are assigned to do.

It is that blurring which columnist Cal Thomas and pastor Ed Dobson critique so severely in their new book, Blinded by Might. WORLD two issues ago summarized the Thomas-Dobson message this way: "The authors call for Christians neither to have faith in government, nor to withdraw from politics, but to develop a 'third way' that emphasizes the character of a society more than the political coloring of its leaders."

But even in critiquing that blurring, I think these good men tend to ignore an even more important issue. The problem isn't so much that Christians have gotten too deeply involved in the political process. The problem is that they've sometimes brought that process right into the middle of the church. One of the reasons Mr. Thomas and Mr. Dobson have the regrets they do-and can speak so urgently about it now-is that they themselves helped launch a political movement two decades ago from the very platform and offices of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va.

Such close association tends first to dilute the primary work of the church, which is to encourage true worship, provide biblical instruction, and engage in direct works of mercy. Those activities are the hub of the wheel, and they exert incredible leverage at the end of the spokes and all along the rim. But the church is not the spokes, and it is not the rim. When we act as if the church includes everything its members do, we confuse the unbelieving world. They can't tell the difference-and the big reason for their confusion is that too often we haven't understood the difference ourselves.

Yes, as we engage in worship, education, and tasks of mercy, we Christians will be encouraged to be obedient people in still other facets of our lives. But that obedience will in large measure take place outside the church-not as one more department of the church.

So, to remind ourselves, and the outside world at the same time, of the church's uniqueness, we'll draw some boundary lines. No political caucus meetings, no announcements about them, no political literature-nothing of any kind about elections or candidates or legislation. Those are all worthy and important activities-but let's save them for someone's private home, or a school assembly room, or the fire hall.

The God we worship and who teaches us about Himself when we gather uniquely as His people is big enough and resourceful enough to win elections and change laws without our using our time in His house for such ends. The next time a pollster asks if your pastor offers political advice from his pulpit, try an answer something like this: "No, he just nourishes our hearts and minds so we can go out and make wise political decisions." You might, of course, end up as an asterisk; the pollster probably won't have a category for an answer like that.

Copyright © 2007 WORLD Magazine
May 29, 1999, Vol. 14, No. 21