Reclaiming Christian Witness and Authority
1. A lamentation and a call for God’s people today!
For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.”
2 Corinthians 11: 2-3.
What Paul feared seems to have come true! The church being deceived and thus the minds corrupted from the simplicity in Christ appears to have come true over the last two millenia. As I argued in an earlier article the subversion of the church, for all practical purposes, is complete.
How has it come about that God’s own people have lost their witness and their authority weakened among the nations of the world? Here is Jeremiah’s lamentation of the condition of the people of Israel in Lamentations 4: 1-9:
How the gold has lost its luster,
the fine gold become dull!
The sacred gems are scattered
at every street corner.
How the precious children of Zion,
once worth their weight in gold,
are now considered as pots of clay,
the work of a potter’s hands!
Even jackals offer their breasts
to nurse their young,
but my people have become heartless
like ostriches in the desert.
Because of thirst the infant’s tongue
sticks to the roof of its mouth;
the children beg for bread,
but no one gives it to them.
Those who once ate delicacies
are destitute in the streets.
Those brought up in royal purple
now lie on ash heaps….
Their princes were brighter than snow
and whiter than milk,
their bodies more ruddy than rubies,
their appearance like lapis lazuli.
But now they are blacker than soot;
they are not recognized in the streets.
Their skin has shriveled on their bones;
it has become as dry as a stick.
Those killed by the sword are better off
than those who die of famine;
racked with hunger, they waste away
for lack of food from the field.
Jeremiah’s lamentation of old, is my lamentation today for the people of God, the church!
How has it come about that fine gold has lost its lustre? How is it that the people of God, once worth their weight in gold are considered as pots of clay? And those who ate delicacies are destitute and those brought up in royal purple now lie on ash heaps? How is it that those ruddier than rubies are now blacker than soot and not recognised in the streets, their skin shriveled and sticking to the bones?
Is this not our condition today? Is this not the condition of many churches and many Christians today? Have we no eyes to see? Or have we become so increased with goods gained from our pursuit of the world – what with our state-of-the-art technologies and slick Sunday services and programmes – that we think we are rich and have need of nothing? And do not know that we are wretched, miserable, blind and naked, like the Laodicean church?
Despite all that is going on among Christians worldwide – East or West, I believe the spiritual condition of the church is not in good shape at all. We have become unrecognisable as God’s people and lost our witness. Rather than holding up our reports and statistics, we need to call for fasting and prayer. When Nehemiah heard about the condition of the people and the walls of Jerusalem, he says, “As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” ‘Wall of Jerusalem was broken’ indicates, the line of demarcation between them and the world, the walls of identity and separation were broken and this is what made Nehemiah weep and pray about. And this is what my lamentation is about – we have lost our identity and therefore our witness in the world, as God’s people. We have become one among the nations, in our worship and our lifestyles, therefore our witness is lost.
When and how has this come about?
This has come about precisely because our worship and our understanding of God became distorted.
And the call to the people of God today is the same call that God sent to the church at Laodicea, through His servant John the beloved while he was on the island of Patmos,
“I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.”
Or the same call as given by Haggai, the prophet
“This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,” says the Lord.” (Hag 1: 7,8)
What needs to be lamented about more is the fact of how deficient our understanding of God is and has been for several centuries. I believe that the words in Revelation 3: 18, “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire” and the words of Haggai, “Go up into the mountains and bring down timber” imply similar meaning.
I believe, that the prophets are calling us to seek to have intimate understanding of God, to have personal dealings and experiences with Him and to build our lives and the lives of others based on such intimacy with God.
Even a casual observation of the present condition of many Christians and churches worldwide makes it quite plain that our theologies, namely our understanding of God is very shallow. Hence our worship distorted, our witness weak and our behaviours diseased. The present condition of the loss of Christian witness and authority is because of a deficient understanding of God. And if we are to reclaim or recover our witness then we must rediscover the God of the Bible in such a way that not only our behaviours are healed but we regain our witness as God’s people in the world. We must seek to understand God in all His glory as revealed to us in His word as well as in the incarnation of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
In what way have we been deceived and our minds been corrupted, in the words of apostle Paul? In what way have we been led away from a sincere devotion or single-heartedness to Christ? And what is it that has weakened our witness and made us lose our authority?
Broadly I believe, it has happened in three different areas – both in individual lives of Christians and corporately as church. In the individual lives of Christians this has happened at the level of our discipleship to Christ. This is because of a lack of understanding of who God is and why he makes such demands on us or why the terms of discipleship to Christ are so stringent.
Corporately it has happened at two different levels – in how we express our spirituality in relation to God or at the level of our worship and the second in relation to the way we live in the world. I am referring specifically to the way Christian faith has been reduced to the level of a religion like any other religion and the inroads that modernity or modernisation, as it is known in history, has made and impacted the way we live undermining our calling to live as Christ lived. These two influences have a python-like stranglehold over the church today.
I shall establish how these influences have had a devastating effect on the church and its witness because of a deficient understanding of the God of the Bible and His incarnation in and through His Son, Jesus Christ.
In the rest of my article, we shall seek to understand the implications of knowing God as One, knowing Him as Three and knowing Him as incarnate. In doing so we shall have arrived at knowing how to reclaim our Christian witness and authority among the nations of the world.
NB: To Follow:
2. God is number one. He won’t be number two
3. Invisible, Unrepresentable, Unassimillable
4. One, Three and Many
5. “But a body have you prepared for me”