Sunday, July 14, 2013

Rom 1 reply, 38c: The road to reformation (a yet further reply to Patrick White in The Gleaner, July 1, 2013)

So far in this series of responses to an article trying to dismiss the Judaeo-Christian foundations of our civilisation by Mr Patrick White in the Jamaica Gleaner of July 1st, 2013, we have:
1: Exposed and rebutted the agenda of willful defiance of God, his creation order for sexuality and consequential sound principles of morality under false colours of law and "rights."
2: Corrected the misleading historical myth that Christian sexual ethics are part of an inevitably losing war of irrational religion against science and reason.
3: Addressed the issue of grounding ethics and morality in the teeth of the rise of evolutionary materialist scientism, which cloaks atheism and amorality in the lab coat, demanding genuflection.
Now, we must pause from correcting specific errors (DV, much more to come! We will have to range from origin of the cosmos and the earth to life and ourselves and more, so high has the wall of fallacies and myths cloaked in lab coats been made that we need to break down . . . ), to highlight the road to reformation, as we understand nationhood, law, rights, freedoms, responsibilities and government under God and the dynamics of repentance, renewal, revival and reformation leading to God-blessed transformation through key biblical examples and the seminal analysis of Francis Schaeffer a generation ago.  (BTW, his How Should We Then Live videos here will be a good investment, as will be the book. His complete works are here, though the price is a bit stiffish. [I am glad I bought my copy about 20 years ago!])

A good place to begin our reflections is Acts 17, where we see Paul c. AD 50, in Athens. 

For, having gone to Macedonia in answer to a vision that called him to come over to "help us," he had been harried and hounded from one city to the next, through unjust persecution. Now, at length in Athens, this great lion of God turned at bay, having been provoked to his core by seeing this proud capital of learning, freedom and the arts wholly given over to dumb idols and the intellectual and moral chaos that stem from those rotten roots. 

He therefore started in the market place as had Socrates nigh on five hundred years before, and reasoned with passers by. 

Mars Hill, in Athens. The text of Paul's speech in Ac 17
is on a bronze plaque at the foot of the outcrop of rock,
to our right of the cluster of three people

There was puzzlement and debate, and the members of the Areopagus Council invited him to come talk with them. Perhaps on Mars Hill itself, more likely, in the nearby Agora, the marketplace where in C1 that council seemed to habitually meet. Of these learned men, most were apparently only seeking intellectual entertainment at Paul's expense by intending to expose his assumed half-baked ignorance -- they were deriding him as a "spermologos" (a seek-picking sparrow of a dabbler who had only a few half understood scraps of knowledge taken out of context) --  and routing him in debate.

They got more than they bargained for.

A lot more.

For, just as a great lion pushed too far turns at bay and vexes those who unwisely kept on pushing, harrying and pursuing, the apostle took a bold stance before the Areopagus:
Ac 17:16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, his spirit was greatly upset because he saw the city was full of idols. 17 So he was addressing the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles in the synagogue, and in the marketplace [the Agora]  every day those who happened to be there. 18 Also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him, and some were asking, “What does this foolish babbler want to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods.” (They said this because he was proclaiming the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.) 

19 So they took Paul and brought him to the Areopagus [possibly, on Mars Hill itself -- pictured below -- or (more likely)  in the neighbouring Agora], saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are proclaiming? 20 For you are bringing some surprising things to our ears, so we want to know what they mean.” 21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there used to spend their time in nothing else than telling or listening to something new.)

22 So Paul stood before the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I see that you are very religious in all respects. 23 For as I went around and observed closely your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: ‘To an unknown god.’ Therefore what you worship without knowing it, this I proclaim to you.

24 The God who made the world and everything in it, who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by human hands, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives life and breath and everything to everyone.

26 From one man he made every nation of the human race to inhabit the entire earth, determining their set times and the fixed limits of the places where they would live,  27 so that they would search for God and perhaps grope around for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 28 For in him we live and move about and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’

29 So since we are God’s offspring, we should not think the deity is like gold or silver or stone, an image made by human skill and imagination.  30 Therefore, although God has overlooked such times of ignorance, he now commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has set a day on which he is going to judge the world in righteousness, by a man whom he designated, having provided proof to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

32 Now when they heard about the resurrection from the dead, some began to scoff, but others said, “We will hear you again about this.” 33 So Paul left the Areopagus.

34 But some people joined him and believed. Among them were Dionysius, who was a member of the Areopagus, a woman named Damaris, and others with them. [NET]
 Paul's approach gives us some key examples and ideas:
1 --> As we have already outlined, he first found a culturally bridging point of contact, the now famous altar to the unknown god that points to the rhetorical kairos, the opportunity and occasion that focuses attention and opens the way for the speech to effect a breakthrough.  So, while he is going to do a "look at the foundations and their cracks" radical critique, he is not introducing something utterly strange, but is explaining what the unknown God honoured in a municipal monument right there in their city has told him to say to the Athenians (and through them, to all peoples).

2 --> Subtly, he is also reminding the Athenians -- proud guardians of Greece's intellectual heritage (which is the heart of our own intellectual culture) -- that on the most important point of knowledge, the foundational ground of reality, the root of being, they have had to build a public monument to their ignorance. Craaack . . . the foundations of the pagan, cynical, skeptical worldview and culture -- "the common people thought the stories of the gods were equally true, the philosophers that they were equally false, the politicians that they were equally useful" [cf. Gibbon et al.]  --  have a fatal structural flaw.

3 --> He then proceeded to correct common misunderstandings: the Creator of the cosmos is not dependent on us, nor is he confined to temples like the idols are. Instead, we depend on him, and as their own poets have put it we are his sons and daughters; it is in him that we live, move and have our being.

4 --> He is the creator of nationhood, and is Lord of the times, places and resources we have as nations; so supervising the course of history that from time to time, in the face of pivotal moments [kairous], we are moved to grope for him, however blindly.

5 --> In this time, he has decisively intervened in history, showing us that we will stand before the bar of eternal judgement by raising  Jesus (the one who will be our Judge, having felt the full force of human frailty and temptation) from the dead.

6 --> Accordingly, he calls us to face and acknowledge the credible truth, repent and put our trust in God in the face of Christ.:
 It is worth pausing to read here on in context, and (esp. if we have not yet done so . . . ) to  watch here, to flesh this out:

The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel from Slaves4Christ on Vimeo.

Thus, Paul -- as do today's Christian thinkers -- found an acceptable point of contact, pointed to the key error he would correct, outlined our status as creatures and nations accountable before our common Creator, Sustainer, Lord and Father, then introduced the gospel. The key point of warrant for the gospel (and thus for the reality of that hitherto unknown God) is the resurrection, as attested by over five hundred eyewitnesses and the fulfillment of scriptural prophecies given in the key case some seven hundred years beforehand.  And, in light of that gospel, we are all called to repentance.

Alas, as outlined, that was the sticking point. 

For, the idea of a bodily resurrection cut across deeply entrenched worldview assumptions. 

So, many in the audience in effect said: never mind our acknowledged ignorance and whatever evidence you may present, we don't accept that God can be like that. 

The immediate results were therefore scanty, and Paul was literally laughed out of court. 

The plaque, at the foot of Mars Hill (HT: Ben & Kristy )
But, today, Dionysius the Areopagite (one of the few who heeded the gospel call that day) is remembered as the first bishop of Athens, and as its patron saint. 

Indeed, from a map of modern Athens, we can see that the road by Mars Hill is now called Apostle Paul Street. Its continuation by the Acropolis is Dionysius the Areopagite street. Behind the Agora is Holy Apostle church.
 To cap it all off, the above once- mocked Mars Hill speech is on a man-sized bronze plaque affixed at the foot of the hill itself. 

The verdict of history is in: the future belonged to the Apostle and even more to the gospel he proclaimed that decisive day

Not to  the skeptical scholars or to cynical politicians of the ilk of a Pilate: "what is 'truth'?"

Just so, in our day, by God's grace the well-warranted truth of the gospel will again prevail. For:

7 --> as Paul put it in Acts 17, God created the nations, and so controls our places and times [kairous], that we are forced to grope (however blindly and ignorantly) for him in the midst of crises.

8 --> Then, as Paul’s presence in Athens exemplifies, God sends his spokesmen into such places at such times with the call to repentance, renewal and reformation, opening the door --

“so that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles [εθνη -- ethne, from  ἔθνος -- ethnos  n. 1. a race (as of the same habit), i.e. a tribe] through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Holy Spirit.”[Gal. 3:14, NIV '84] 
9 --> Therefore, following Eph 4:9 - 16, "[Jesus] . . . gave" leaders to the church, "to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up . . . attaining to the whole measure of the fulness of Christ." [NIV '84]

10 --> So, God is now sending the gospel of blessing to the nations of the Caribbean in our time of kairos, thus calling out, creating, building and equipping his body, the church “the fulness of him who fills everything in every way” as the means of blessing for our region and beyond, to the wider world.  It is worth pausing to list some follow up resources here, on:
  1. The gospel as an historical fact-anchored, life- and community- transforming game changer "of first importance"
  2. The six first principles foundational discipleship teachings of Heb 6:1 - 2 . . . lay and build on these
  3. The Fulness of Christ vision (cf. Eph 1:17 - 23 & 4:9 - 24), discipleship, working with the cell dynamic (N.B. Manual) and godly transformation. (Cf. also reference note, here and a discussion in light of the issue of the sins of Christendom etc, here.)
11 --> Thus, God is sending us out as his disciples, into — and beyond — the local community as “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

12 --> Consequently, as we live, love, evangelise, disciple, serve, and provide high integrity leadership, Christ’s reforming and transforming redemptive fullness will naturally, often invisibly and imperceptibly, spread through "all things" across the Caribbean Basin and beyond.

13 --> This promotes truly sustainable -- God-blessed -- development under the vision of Psalm 127:
 PS 127:1 Unless the LORD builds the house,     
its builders labor in vain.   
Unless the LORD watches over the city,     

the watchmen stand guard in vain. [NIV '84]

We see here a picture of the God who is not only Creator and Lord, but enters into  history, bringing us to repentance and reconciliation, graciously opening the doors for a mutual agreement -- a covenant -- with promises, conditions and blessings.  Thus, opening the door for the four R's of reformation:
R1 Repentance: True revivals start here.  As we repent, we "put off [our] old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires . . . [and will] be made new in the attitude of [our] minds . . . put[ting] on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness."  [Eph. 4:18, 20 - 24.]
R2 Renewal: this is the living out of repentance as we learn and live by the light of God’s word and the power of God’s Spirit. "Don't let the world squeeze you into its mould.  Instead, be transformed from within by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is." 
R3 Revival, proper: the pouring out of God's Spirit in times of refreshing.  Thus, we receive anointed power from God to walk in good works in the face of a deceived, corrupt world. "In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people," so we are called to "Repent . . . and turn to God, so that [our] sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord."
R4 Reformation: the transformation of a community, its institutions and culture under the impact of the Lordship of Jesus as those who surrender to him fill their lives and ways with his fulness.  Of course, this threatens those who draw pleasure and power from sin (or even make their living from it), so revivals will also face persecution.One man's revival and renewal of life and culture is another man's rebuke and challenge to power base, pleasures, favourite sins or profits.
That is exactly the challenge that faced Nehemiah, in the aftermath of the exile and an only partly successful resettlement, when he learned about the broken down walls of Jerusalem. After prayer of identification and repentance, he obtained the permission of the King, and letters of authority. Then, he arrived and did not announce himself, quietly surveying the damage for himself.

He then called a public meeting:
Nehemiah's night tour (HT: BSO)
Neh 2:11 . . . I went to Jerusalem and was there three days. 12 Then I arose in the night, I and a few men with me. And I told no one what my God had put into my heart to do for Jerusalem. There was no animal with me but the one on which I rode.
13 I went out by night by the Valley Gate to the Dragon Spring and to the Dung Gate, and I inspected the walls of Jerusalem that were broken down and its gates that had been destroyed by fire. 14 Then I went on to the Fountain Gate and to the King's Pool, but there was no room for the animal that was under me to pass. 15 Then I went up in the night by the valley and inspected the wall, and I turned back and entered by the Valley Gate, and so returned. 16 And the officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, and I had not yet told the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials, and the rest who were to do the work.
17 Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision.” 18 And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work. [ESV]

But of course, there were those who from v. 10 had been greatly displeased  "that someone had come to seek the welfare of the people of Israel."

Cleverly, they showed up with an offer to "help" -- as in, stop the suicidal rebellion that "obviously" was being plotted. (Just as, the serpent in the Garden showed up with an offer to "help" Eve and Adam.)
Neh 2:19 But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they jeered at us and despised us and said, “What is this thing that you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?” 20 Then I replied to them, “The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build, but you have no portion or right or claim[a] in Jerusalem.” [ESV]
They set out to rebuild, amidst difficulties, internal divisions, entrenched sins that had to be exposed and corrected,  and in the face of slander and threats from without (with collaborators from within!). Eventually, they had to set a guard even as they built, but then:
Neh 6:15 So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty-two days. 16 And when all our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem, for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God. [ESV]
(Sadly, our own case is so much more devastated that it cannot be fundamentally corrected in seven and a half weeks! But, we can use this little exercise as a break in project, to begin by scoping out the problem and seeing what we will need to do to begin to fix it, if we will.)

But the matter did not stop there, repentance and renewal led to a breakthrough of revival that led on to reformation for Israel.  This we can see in Chs 8 - 9, esp:

Neh 8:1 And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law . . . . 

And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites,[a] helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly,[b] and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading . . .

And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. 10 Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” [ESV]
 This is the spiritual breakthrough moment. 

Hearing and heeding the Word of God read and expounded so they could understand their covenant of nationhood under God, the people were broken in heart, and turned, in a Spirit-inspired resolve to restore their nation under God.  From this moment, the reformations led by Ezra and Nehemiah came that would restore the nation to spiritual and moral health, through the power of the truth that is the Word of God.

But, there was an enduring consequence of national sin: never again was Israel wholly free from foreign, pagan dominion or overlordship, until that sad generation came when Messiah came, but was rejected by leadership gone astray, ending in exile and dispersal. Which has been restored from only in our time, nearly two thousand years later.

Sins have consequences, and national sins have national consequences.

So also, we see the significance of prophetic intellectual and cultural leadership in the name of God, and with the intellectual horsepower to challenge and break entrenched unbelief. 

This, in the past generation, Francis Schaeffer emphasised, and we can illustrate this by adapting one of his diagrams, taking the roof off of a worldview:

Schaeffer -- cf. here on -- also provided another pivotal diagram that we can adapt (with the correction of his error on the role of Aquinas), the line of despair, which will help us understand key intellectual currents over the past centuries and their consequences in our civilisation:

The key force of the line of despair is that it invites the lower storey to eat up the upper one, as Schaeffer often said, when nature is made artificially autonomous from the union with the Grace that gives us truth from God by authenticated revelation, nature eats up grace:

No wonder, the serpent in the garden always wants us to reject the Word of God and turn to the things we see around us, refusing to heed the authenticating sign of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead with 500+ witnesses.

In reply, let us determine to apply the scripture principle, as taught by Paul:
2 Tim 3:12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom[a] you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God[b] may be complete, equipped for every good work. [ESV]
Peter speaks likewise, in the face of impending unjust execution at Nero's hand:
2 Pet 1:15 And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 

17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son,[i] with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 

19 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. 

21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. [ESV]
We must never underestimate the significance and power of the Word of God. 

But for those who have been misled to suspect, deride and dismiss it, we must be willing and able to provide both warrant for confidence in the gospel and the wider word of God, and a solid worldviews case

Sometimes, things are so bad that we have to start where Paul started in Athens, with key cultural markers that can be used to anchor a worldview case, from the ground up.

But once that has been put in place, we can tehn ser about the worlk of discipleship of individuals and fsamilies in communites and nations, which "naturally" leads to reformation as a community and then indeed a nation is more and more filled with Christ and his gracious blessing by the power of the gospel. Indeed, that is actually an overlooked part of both the gospel call to repentance and a part of our discipling mandate:

Eph 2:But[c] God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  

10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. 
Titus 2:But as for you, teach what accords with sound[a] doctrine . . . . 

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

15 Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority . . . 
Matt 28:18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[b] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”[All ESV]
So, our work is cut out for us, to provide godly, prophetic intellectual and cultural leadership that restores our understanding across our region and the wider world that we are nations under God, with government, laws and cultures under God. In that context, we are called to build our worldviews and lives on a sound foundation, informed by the gospel. 

Through this same gospel, we are led to repentance, renewal, revival and reformation, issuing in God-blessed transformation.

Any who would lead us away from this sure anchor for our souls, lives, families, churches, communities and nations speak with the voice of the snake in the Garden. A voice that -- whether or not they know it -- echoes the lies of the Dragon. From such let us turn away.  lest we become like those Jesus had to rebuke:

Jn 8:43 Why do you not understand what I say?
It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.
44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me . . .   47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” [ESV]

It is time, high time, to turn from destructive apostasy cloaked in a lab coat, to the truth from God that gives us life, transformation, blessing and hope. END