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Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.
The Collect.

O LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Daily Bible Verse

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Rich Christians In An Age Of Hunger: Moving From Affluence To Generosity

Somehow I've been reticent about reading Ron Sider's book, Rich Christians In An Age of Hunger: Moving From Affluence To Generosity. Originally published in 1977 it was re-released in 1997 as a twentieth year revision. I've had the book for over 4 years, sitting on my shelf. But recently I decided to risk being convicted and to read it carefully.

Like most Christians I've felt guilty about my relative wealth compared to the rest of the world. By American standards I'm barely middle class. But I have a roof over my head, a decent job, and plenty to eat. I have access to medical care should I really need it. But for the majority of the six billion people on earth life and basic necessities are a struggle.

Unfortunately, middle class Christians are much like the rest of affluent Americans: materialistic and uncaring. Much like watching the evening news about the war in Iraq, we emotionally detach ourselves because we're not there and we're not directly involved. And after all, didn't Jesus say that we would always have the poor with us?

Ron Sider destroys the myth that we can comfortably accommodate ourselves to materialistic American values without guilt. The basic hypocrisy of mainstream Evangelical churches is that they openly criticize mainline denominations and churches for accommodating to secular culture on issues like sexual immorality, premarital sex, homosexuality, abortion, euthanasia, etc., all the while Evangelicalism itself has accommodated itself to easy divorce, materialism/covetousness, opulent lifestyles, and a host of other worldly/secular values.

The church growth movement is a major symptom of this malaise among Evangelicals. Instead of prophetically speaking the truth as God has revealed it in Scripture, most Evangelical churches wish to "tickle the ears" of prospective church members. That is, in order to draw in the "unchurched", Evangelical churches will market the 'gospel' in a way that those who have never heard it before can accept. The question is whether this 'gospel' is the same gospel that Jesus Christ and the apostle Paul preached? Have we made the unchurched ten times more children of the devil by sugar coating what the Bible says? Have we sold them an expurgated version of Holy Scripture in hopes of duping them into becoming nominal members of a Christian church?

Perhaps greed and personal gain motivates the ministers whose only desire is to build the biggest churches and have the biggest television and radio audiences on earth? After all, don't salaries and benefits increase exponentially with the size of the congregation and listening audience? I wonder if Elijah would have accepted such opulence? Wasn't he the prophet who refused a fortune in return for healing Naaman (2 Kings 5:13-16)?

Even more disturbing is the suggestion of some proponents of the church growth movement that doctrine ought to be changed in order to accommodate those who are offended by church doctrine. For example, Dr. George G. Hunter III, the evangelism and church growth professor at Asbury Theological Seminary, Wilmore, Kentucky, has suggested that we dispose of the satisfaction/ penal substitutionary theology of the Protestant Reformation and go back to Abelard's theory of moral influence. Because of Christ's example of love we too should model his life. Christ didn't really die on the cross to atone for our sins or to propitiate God's wrath against sinners. He only died there to show us He loves us and how we ought to live, too.

At any rate, the church growth movement seems to be rooted in pragmatic results, often compromising on moral/ethical issues like opulent living while ignoring the Scriptural imperative to love one's neighbor and take care of the needs of the poor, the widow, the orphan and the alien. Targeting only middle class people often gains great wealth for the local church and the denomination but is it ultimately pleasing to God?

As Mark Noll, Os Guiness and other critics of Evangelicalism have noted, Evangelicals have sold out to the culture every bit as much as mainstream liberal denomations have but they've done it in different ways. Some Evangelicals have for all practical purposes become liberal on doctrinal matters while emphasizing moralism. It's popular to object to abortion and homosexuality. It's also popular to ridicule so-called "heresy hunters" who actually care about what Holy Scripture says about protecting sound doctrine and apostolic teaching. The true church is not just moralistic but orthodox in doctrine and in practice.

The trouble is we've put on our American cultural blinders. We've baptized the American culture and borrowed biblical terms to make it sound religious and holy. The same pastors and churches which emphasize the laws on tithing and giving ignore the texts that require every third year that all the tithes go to the poor, the widow, the orphan and to supporting the priesthood. Ron Sider brings this point out eloquently in his book:

"Israel's laws on tithing and gleaning are part of God's provision for those who temporarily lack productive capital. The law calls for one tenth of all farm produce to be set aside as a tithe. 'At the end of every three years you shall bring forth all the tithe of your produce in the same year; ... and the Levite ...and the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled; that the Lord your God may bless you. ' (Deuteronomy 14:28-29; see also Leviticus 27:30-32; Deuternomy 26:12-15; Numbers 18:21-32)" [Page 74, Rich Christians In An Age of Hunger, 4th edition, Word Publishing, Dallas: 1997].

How many churches which emphasize the law of tithing follow the law's prescription for the use of those funds? I have yet to see a church that gives more than a token offering to help relieve the poor in their own church--if they even exist since most churches don't really want lower class people who might cause their target middle class audience not to show up. Most churches do give a token offering to community food banks and to emergency relief overseas in times of crisis like the tsunami disaster in Southeast Asia last year. However, judging from the expensive buildings and the high salaries of the staff at most megachurches, this is but a small percentage of the total income into the general and special funds of said churches. Television evangelists are some of the worst offenders in this area. Benny Hinn, for example, takes in millions and millions of dollars and spends millions on his own comfort and luxury. His giving to the orphanages in India amounted to only a couple of hundred thousand dollars by comparison. Some of the privileged think they deserve to live a wealthy lifestyle but the Bible says that getting a rich man into heaven is harder that getting a camel through the eye of a needle (Matthew 19:24; Mark 10:25: Luke 18:25).

Evangelical churches for the most part have redefined the gospel to soothe their own consciences. Passages like these are seldom heard in church:

1 Timothy 6:9-11 (NIV)9 People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.

James 1:10-11 (NIV)10 But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower.11 For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.

James 2:5-6 (NIV)5 Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?6 But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court?

James 5:1-5 (NIV)1 Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you.2 Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes.3 Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days.4 Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.5 You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.[1]
[1] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

I'm sorry but preaching the full gospel would also require an adequate preaching of the law. Law and gospel go hand in hand. We cannot continue to preach edited versions of the Bible. We are either teaching and preaching the entire Bible or we are editing it to fit our preconceived doctrines.

2 Timothy 4:1-5 (NIV)1 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge:2 Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.[1]
[1] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Where are the men who truly know the law and the gospel and preach both without compromise? How many Gehazis are in the pulpits of America, having sold out to the temptation of receiving a wealthy church office? Where are the prophets who preach the Word without an interest in personal gain? I grieve for the sheep who have hirelings instead of shepherds. May God send a revival through His true prophets!

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