By Spencer D Gear
“When there is no God, everything is permitted. Crime becomes inevitable” (Fyodor Dostoyevski).
But the Lord said to [Jeremiah], “Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord (Jeremiah 1:7-8)
I suggest that the church that becomes a prophetic voice or the person who speaks for God, will demonstrate some of the following:
1. It will speak out on issues.
On all matters affecting the nation (but particularly those involving injustice, unrighteousness, ungodliness, ethics, and proclamation), the church will have a “voice” not an “echo.” It will be a church that takes the initiative and leads the way.
John Anderson wrote:
“Our day calls for resolute involvement. Our world needs the Church doing what only the Church can do: raising a prophetic voice. The Church must forthrightly ask: ‘If not us, who? If not now, when?’ It is time for the Church to take risks, new risks, risks that may threaten reputation, status, programs, finances, even life. It is time to confront secularism, and one risk will be doing so. Our society is reaping a damning harvest. The choice in the risk will be between remaining an ‘echo’ or becoming a ‘voice’.”
Taking risks?? Could it be that there are so few prophetic voices today because we have lost that pioneering spirit which experiments? The Church is never an experiment. But we need a church that will be blazing new paths, seeking to speak the message of reconciliation to our own age.
To deal with issues facing the culture, the Church of the Saviour (Washington D.C., USA) formed mission groups which consisted of two or more people who “have been grasped by the same concept of God’s task for them, and who have been grasped by God, which is deeper and more profound than being grasped by a concept.”
It is interesting that it took an American, John Anderson (who ministers in Australia regularly), to remind me that the Australian motto is “Advance Australia.” One of the common traits of the emu and the kangaroo is that neither will back down; they only go forward.
That is the thrust of a prophetic voice–never retreating.
a. What issues should the church be speaking out on?
b. What would happen in your city if, say, 20% of the pastors and church members raised impassioned prophetic voices (with warning, pleading and compassion)?
Dare we follow John Anderson’s advice and “instead of just building bigger churches, start confronting and shaking society with a prophetic voice?” (p. 179). Anderson predicts that if the church raises a prophetic voice, there will be a great harvest and great persecution (p. 184).
Charles Colson’s assessment of the problem is:
“For effective evangelism we must penetrate the mainstream of thought in secular culture. Much of our Christianity today is, sadly, entertainment for the faithful. We talk in our own language to like-minded friends, and the world is content to let us put on our own show, as long as we don’t bother anyone.
“We are meant to bother the world–bother it by presenting a message which convicts people of their sin, which offers an alternative to the hollowness and nihilism* of secular life.
[* Nihilism is an attitude or doctrine that traditional values and beliefs are unfounded and that existence is senseless and useless.]
Truth demands confrontation. To speak out on issues, one must develop:
2. A Christian mind
If we are going to address political and social issues; if Christianity is true; if we are to live with the perspective of eternity in view, then Christianity applies to all of life. We have got to examine the temporal things of this life in the light of God’s eternal values. We dare not restrict our thinking and action to “matters of faith.” If we do, we will be navel-gazing and speaking only to the church club.
If your Christianity is practised on Sunday, when having a quiet time, when sharing your faith, or when doing other ‘religious’ activities, there is no way that you will be a prophetic voice.
I was speaking to a woman recently who is leaving a mainline Protestant denomination and investigating Islam. Why? She said, “Because it is a total way of life to them.”
If your Christianity is to be something more than an ‘extra’ activity, you will need to develop a Christian mind–a biblical way of looking at all of life.
For me, the best ways to do this are:
a. The Word of God must become my daily diet.
b. Daily time spent in prayer to get God’s perspective.
c. Read extensively (provocative Christian and secular books & magazines).
d. Engage in regular discussion with thoughtful Christians on issues impacting our community.
e. Regularly engage in dialogue with people in the secular world, personally, letters to the editor, public presentations, debates, etc.
Out of this environment, I am able to “contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3) in many areas of life.
Harry Blamires states the problem for the person who is not developing a Christian mind:
“As a thinking being, the modern Christian has succumbed to secularization. He accepts religion–its morality, its worship, its spiritual culture; but he rejects the religious view of life, the view which sets all earthly issues within the context of the eternal.”
At an evangelical church in my city recently, a visiting preacher said that Christians should not engage in theological debate. It’s a waste of time. Question: Is the existence of God a theological issue? What about Christ’s substitutionary atonement? Did he mean to say that if the liberals are attacking the core of Christianity, we keep quiet and let it happen without even a word of confrontation or correction? To do that would be anti-biblical. The Scripture commands us to “contend for the faith.”
If Australia is to be turned around, I believe the church will need a good percentage of
3. Christian activists
John Whitehead believes
“it will take Christian rebels to stem the tide of the humanistic state–rebels in the sense that they will resist, challenge, or protest all institutions and thought forms that are at variance with the Bible… It is not foreign to Christianity to protest the illegitimate acts of civil government. Total silence by the church is received as an endorsement of all the state does. But it is viewed as an act of treason by God.”
4. The Church must not be a reflection of the values of society.
The more like the world it is, the more marginal the church becomes.
a. In what ways is the Australian church adopting society’s secular views and actions?
Colson observed that:
“Too often in recent years the church has suffered from the same collapse of character that is so widespread in our culture… If the church today is to be the church, it must diligently protect its spiritual integrity.”
The church needs to be a radical community of repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. What an example that would by to a hostile world!
5. It will make a solid stand for biblical revelation
On radio recently, I heard a discussion of the Ten Commandments. The host was maintaining they were no longer relevant. The emphasis was: okay once, but outdated now. We must object to and reject such reasoning because God’s Word is not for some historically pious, irrelevant people. No matter how often it is broken, God’s Word stands forever and people will be judged by how they measure up to it.
I Peter 1:24-25 reads: “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of the Lord stands for ever.”
The Christian mind judges abortion, euthanasia, pornography, prostitution, adultery, poverty, the environment, etc., according to God’s infallible standard–the Bible. But the Christian mind also judges the value systems perpetrated by government, media, education, and all other people or organisations impacting our culture.
It used to be that people allowed God’s Word to break them. Now people are wanting to break the Word of God. “Your word is truth” (John 17:17).
It will mean being hard when the world wants us to be soft. It may mean being soft when the culture wants hardness. It will mean condemning the homosexual lifestyle and being labelled as bigots, but compassionately leading people out of the lifestyle and ministering to homosexuals and AIDS patients. It will mean respecting the law in a lawless culture.
We must stand for and on the authority of Scripture.
6. One person can make a difference.
It is men and women, under the sovereign hand of God, who write history. People make choices. We never know if a small courageous action, a word spoken in defence of truth, a letter written, or a public statement made might swing the balance and change the world. Hitler? Luther? Wilberforce? Mother Teresa? Napoleon? Individuals who made a difference–for better or for ill.
Edmund Burke pointed out that
“The death of a man at a critical juncture, his disgust, his retreat, his disgrace, have brought innumerable calamities on a whole nation. A common soldier, a child, a girl at the door of an inn, have changed the face of fortune, and almost of Nature.”
7. Christians standing for truth in all areas of society
How we need Christians who will promote God’s standards of righteousness and justice in parliament, law courts, mass media, education, health–all areas of society. It is critical that prophetic voices be heard in community affairs.
One of the most titanic struggles and compelling examples of a prophetic voice was the work of William Wilberforce in the British Parliament in the 18th century to abolish the slave trade. (An excellent chapter, “For the Good of the Nation,” is in Charles Colson, Kingdoms in Conflict, p. 95f.)
It is a myth to say that ‘you cannot legislate morality.’ Morality is legislated all the time, based on some value system. The question is not whether we will legislate morality or not, but whose morality will be legislated.
Fence-sitting and waffling have never been part of godliness. Where is the robust vision of the gospel that affects every area of life today? Franky Schaeffer believes “a gospel preached without the duties of the gospel being taught along with salvation is not the true gospel.”
John Whitehead writes that:
“We as Christians must once again commit ourselves to the whole view of Christianity. We must influence all areas of life including law and politics. We can leave nothing untouched by the Bible. We must begin anew to study all intellectual disciplines and apply the Bible to them. We must prepare to be the warrior we should be…
8. Churches equipping Christians to live as a minority in a secular culture
We must equip Christians to understand the issues of the day from a distinctly Christian point of view. They must be armed or they will be slaughtered by the secularists. How could we do this? Mission groups? Sunday school and cell group classes with a title like: “Living consistently as a Christian minority in a secular world.” Colson and Klug have study guides on “Transforming Society”, “Political Action”, and “Justice.” Preaching from the pulpit is needed.
Personally, this is where I see many of our Bible and ministry colleges failing. We are not equipping our people to “earnestly contend for the faith.” This means that apologetics (including cultural apologetics) must be an essential part of the Bible college curriculum. Practical issues relating to ethics and counselling should also be high on the agenda.
But we are too busy deciding whether we are Calvinist or Arminian, filled with the Holy Spirit or not, pre-, mid- or post-tribulation, to be engaged in our dying, secular culture.
Any other ideas?
It has been said that the strength of the Whitefield and Wesley revivals of the 18th century was that they did apply the teachings of Scripture to the generation in which they lived.
9. People with a moral vision for society
Providing such a vision does not belong to the government, but to the church. We saw this in Poland where the government over-stepped its authority and the church became an effective means of moral resistance.
John Anderson says that:
“We sow death in the womb and try to reap life in society. We will not accept the proposition that releasing inhumanity in the womb has any effect on releasing inhumanity in society, that there is any connection with the concurrent rise of violence against the unborn and violence against children and women…
The correlation between religious values and public order has been dramatically demonstrated during religious revivals. When men and women profess new life in Christ, they become models of decency for the rest of society.
Secular historians, Will and Ariel Durant made this telling remark:
“We will find it no easy task to mold a natural ethic strong enough to maintain moral restraint and social order without the support of supernatural consolations, hopes, and fears…
Will the church set the moral agenda, or will we leave it to the government, media and public education?
Yes, the church must be the instrument of nurture, evangelisation, service, ministering to the spiritual needs of people, but it must also be the conscience of society, the instrument of moral accountability.
As a moral conscience, Charles Colson believes the church’s role in society is to:
a. Publicly expose the state’s immorality,
b. Refuse to have any part in the state’s immorality,
d. At this time in our history, protest is our most viable alternative.
This amounts to asserting the Lordship of Christ in all areas of life. To become Christian means that the living Christ rules the whole of life. Everything must change–values, goals, priorities, desires and habits. If our own lordship supersedes Christ’s Lordship, then our Christian conversion must be called into question.
10. People with a commitment to the value of human life
Since one of the surest signs of the decay of a society is the disregard of the elderly, the unborn and the handicapped, the ‘Elijah’ church will have a commitment to the sanctity of human life (human beings made in the image of God). I am convinced that as Christians we must be unapologetically pro-life.
11. Serious about sin
We often talk readily about people’s problems, hassles, demons. But what about sin? How dare we talk about defacto relationships, pre- or extra-marital sex, materialism, greed, gossip, swearing, etc., when God calls it all sin.
Since there is little awareness of sin in our society, people see little need for repentance. This is speeding them towards judgment. God hates sin, and the prophetic voice, a person or church, will name it for what it is.
There are too many easy invitations, “Come to Jesus,” without calling people to repent of their sin, and warning about the cost of following Jesus. God is love, but he is precise about evil and sin. There is no salvation without acknowledgment of sin. There is no salvation without repentance from sin.
12. An action church
Matthew 5:13 makes it clear that a church that is not “salty” is “no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.” The silent church cannot hide behind the guise of non-involvement. Non-involvement is not neutral. It is a choice. A silent church will sooner or later submit to and be dominated by the secular culture which will not tolerate Christianity.
John Whitehead stressed:
“The church cannot be timid in the face of crises. One strong local church can demand respect from the entire community. The world is looking for someone or something that will take a stand. Moreover, the bolder the church becomes, the stronger Christians in general become. The church is not to have a spirit of timidity but of power: the power of God, which is at the church’s disposal.
Let me share with you an example from the Teen Challenge campaign against the decriminalisation of marijuana, in which I was involved, in the ACT. This was the churches’ response:
We contacted four denominational headquarters, two of them very large, provided them with information and asked them to make a public statement about the drug situation, but no statement came forth.
At the burial of the suicide victim I buried on the day the ACT decriminalised marijuana, the funeral director asked me a very penetrating question: Isn’t the church supposed to be the moral conscience of the nation?
I believe the church needs to stand up and be counted. This nation will continue to go downhill morally if we are not the “salt of the earth” to stop the rot, and the “light of the world” to direct the way.
The illicit drug problem is ruining our nation. Will you join me in standing against the drug monster, to save our youth, our nation? Or will you sit silently by and let the youth be led astray by the lies from the politicians and media–and the sin of omission by a silent church?
This is a day for determined involvement. Australia needs a church that will do what only the church can do: raise a prophetic voice. The church must speak out. It is time for the church to take risks. Will the church remain an “echo” or become a voice? A relevant church is one that speaks up.
Martin Luther said:
“If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”
The need is desperate. It is imperative that we start confronting and shaking society with a prophetic voice. What would happen in any community if the pastors and people raised impassioned prophetic voices and cried against the injustice and immorality in our society, while at the same time proclaiming hope and salvation in Jesus Christ?
We are aware that the church needs to be educated about drugs, their impact on the individual, the family, the church and society, and how people can be set free in Jesus’ name. I am ready and willing to equip churches in this needy area.
One pastor of a prominent church in Canberra who was contacted for support at the time of the campaign against marijuana said, honestly, “This marijuana legislation has crept up on us and caught us unawares,” yet the Legislative Assembly’s Committee report on marijuana was issued (with lots of local publicity) twelve months before the parliamentary debate.
It’s not just drugs. What about youth suicide? Sexual promiscuity, under the illusion of “safe sex.” Abortion and euthanasia. Pornography and prostitution. Homelessness and unemployment. What about the selfish greed in our society? Christians who are more sold out to materialism than Jesus? Christians who are more committed to television than evangelism and social action!
This generation is filling its God-shaped vacuum with all kinds of counterfeits. How dare we sit idly by!
Will the church be an echo or a voice?
a. We can’t retreat.
The times are too perilous and the church’s message too penetrating to become passive and silent. We must continue to analyse and critique the world around us, particularly the media.
I find it amazing that last week a television journalist contacted me for a comment about the porn and violence coming through Internet. Yet that television network pumps out sex and violence, violence and sex, week in and week out, and doesn’t see the paradox. It’s the pot calling the kettle black.
b. Christians need to pull together in solidarity.
Maybe a Christian teacher is sacked for speaking of God in the classroom. An elder’s services are no longer required because he picketed an abortion clinic and ’embarrassed’ the pastor. We need to pull together.
Franky Schaeffer believes:
“We should make our authorities and Christian leaders acutely aware of the presence of many thousands of orthodox Christians who are ready to march, picket, protest, vote, write letters, agitate, impeach officials, preach, donate their time and money, pray, and take strong and decisive action on behalf of all those whose rights of religious liberty, assembly, speaking, conscience, and practice are threatened.”
c. Expect resistance from the secular society.
Heat will be placed on the ‘Elijah’ church. We must not be embarrassed by this. Stand with them and share in their agony.
Charles Colson challenges Christians to take direct action to turn our culture around:
“Believers today have many ancestral radicals in their family tree. In fact, the kingdom of God is full of them. John Wesley passionately argued that there could be ‘no holiness but social holiness…and to turn Christianity into a solitary religion is to destroy it.’ Wesley was branded a radical for his St. Mary’s speech, an angry, but accurate denunciation of his fellow Oxford faculty members for their weak-kneed faith (he was never invited to speak there again). Later he captured the essence of radical holiness when he wrote: ‘Making an open stand against all the ungodliness and unrighteousness, which overspreads our land as a flood, is one of the noblest ways of confessing Christ in the face of his enemies.”
However, we know that when the secular heat increases, we must fall to our knees in spiritual warfare.
I Corinthians 10:3-5:
“For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
Get involved in local community affairs, politics and legal battles. If 20% of Christians in any city would join the political parties of their choice, they could change the policies around to promote righteousness. Perhaps one of the most powerful tools for the individual or organised group is the vote you cast at election time.
Another idea: The ‘Elijah’ church could find out what the “hot issues” are in the community and post or do a letter-box-drop of a specialised newsletter (dealing with one issue) several times a year.
d. The church needs to wake up NOW!
A great deal can be done if the church becomes the ‘Elijah’ church and wakes up NOW. You and I had better do something pretty radical right now. The time to pray, search the Scriptures, and ACT is NOW.
13. THE HOPE
God reigns through political activities, and citizens of the Kingdom of God need to bring His light to bear on the kingdoms of men. However, the most powerful witnesses I have seen are in the individual, ordinary lives of people who have allowed the Lord to break into their terrible situations and bring reconciliation out of violence–forgiveness is powerful. The “little platoons” can live and speak God’s transcendent values by loving God and loving one’s neighbour.
As we approach the twilight of our culture, is there any hope? I endorse what Charles Colson says:
“If there is any hope, it is to be found in a renewed and repentant people possessed of a moral vision informed by Scripture, respecting of tradition, and committed to the recovery of character. We must be a people of conviction, prepared to offer the world a story filled with courage, duty, commitment, and heroic effort–that will inflame the moral imagination of the West.
Will we succeed? That’s in God’s hands. However, we have a duty to be obedient to the King. He says we are salt and light. Let us be that.
C.S. Lewis wrote: “The greatest thing is to be found at one’s post as a child of God, living each day as though it were our last, but planning as though our world might last a hundred years” (in God in the Dock).
Francis of Assisi: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is death, life. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light. Where there is sadness, joy.”
John Greenleaf Whittier:
“Now, when our land to ruin’s brink is verging.
In God’s name let us speak while there is time:
Now, when the padlocks for our lips are forging,
Silence is a crime.”
Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 29 September 2016.