Our Great Commission Freedoms!

us flag

With Memorial Day on May 30th and Independence Day on the Fourth of July, I have heard winds of hesitancy from Millennials as to whether or not to include patriotic songs in their worship services.

The arguments go something like this: We worship Jesus in our worship services, not the U.S. flag. We are countrymen of a different country (heaven) therefore it is improper for us to show allegiance to the United States, especially within the framework of our worship services. After all, did not Adolf Hitler demand a commitment to the Third Reich from pastors in Germany?

Then comes the argument that America has never been a “Christian” nation. Moreover, it was not proper for John Winthrop to consider the Massachusetts Bay Colony as a “City on a Hill.” Or again, as my college history professor explained with glee: “The American Experiment did not work!” Rather, say these antagonists, the Puritans who settled Massachusetts possessed an inflated self-importance and a misconstrued interpretive model of Christ and culture for even trying to shape a nation from the teachings of the Bible.

Meanwhile U.S. Evangelical Christians are told to mind their own business and keep their religious views out of the political process.

As to the U.S. being a Christian nation, let us remember that the current Pope is calling for “Christian Europe” to accept the immigrant refugees, supposedly buttressed by the teachings of the Bible. Surely the Pope cannot be misinterpreting Scripture when he considers Western and Central Europe to be “Christian.” Interestingly, many Evangelical missiologists consider Western Europe to be “post-Christian.”

Further, the same liberal theologians who deride conservatives for “imposing their morality” every election cycle—simply for voting their conscience—are the same liberals who impose their political views in the name of Christianity. Is it not liberal theologians that invoke “love” and “acceptance of others” from the Bible to allow unhindered access of our public schools to the LGBTQ lobby? Is it not the same liberals who call for civil disobedience if illegal immigrants are kept from entering our country?

They cannot have it both ways: (1) Use the Bible to underpin and buttress their political views and (2) tell conservatives who want to vote and voice their conscience that they are imposing their morality on others.

It is interesting that all students at Wheaton College were required to take a first year Bible class entitled, “Christ and Culture.” The required text for this class was H. Richard Niebuhr’s book, Christ and Culture (1951). Niebuhr skillfully framed out of the question the most obvious biblical view in light of the cross of Jesus: “Culture against Christ.”

It is this same “Culture against Christ” view that is being skillfully framed out of the debate in today’s arguments. First of all, America’s unique Christian history and heritage is underreported and virtually ignored. And secondly, the constitutional right that conservative Evangelicals have to voice and vote their conscience is maligned.

Let us remember that U.S. political and judicial framework still retains a remnant of Christian conviction from the Puritans and Pilgrims, from the First Great Awakening, and from our Bill of Rights and the freedoms that we are granted by them.

Do we come to church to worship Jesus? Absolutely. He is the reason that we come together to worship. However, we also live in a country whose laws allow us to freely share the gospel and peaceably assemble. These Great Commission Rights have provided a framework for wonderful seasons of gospel harvest in our history.

It is quite unique in the history of the world that the Lord has allowed us such freedom “from sea to shining sea.” I think America is still something to celebrate. And I am grateful to live in America as an American Born Abroad. And I believe that it is perfectly appropriate in our worship services to thank the Lord for the freedoms that we have in these United States of America!

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Three Types of Evangelism to Avoid

Johnny Appleseed

This morning I purchased flowers for my wife because our 31st Anniversary is tomorrow. The florist, however, appeared condescending and unhelpful. It was not a great experience. I was reminded about the importance of being loving, genuine, and caring in evangelism. With these attitudes in mind, let me share about some unhelpful approaches to evangelism.

1) Patronizing Evangelism

Patronizing Evangelism comes from an “I’m better than you” attitude. In Patronizing Evangelism we forget that we are sinners saved by God’s grace alone. We do not merit salvation any more than the next person. So, why be proud of being born again and look down on others?

“For if I evangelize*, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I evangelize* not!” (1 Cor 9:16)

*The phrase “preach the gospel” is often used to translate the 55 New Testament uses of the Greek verb “evangelize.”

Paul had no reason to be inflated in his evangelism. Rather, he made himself “a servant of all to win the more.” (1 Cor 9:19) Paul’s evangelism kept him humble!

While it is far less stressful to evangelize children (especially inside a church or at VBS), poor people from a different country, or those who we are serving in some way, it does not make these the preferable or only means of evangelizing. While reaching out to children, the poor, and needy is valid and necessary, we must avoid becoming patronizing as we share the good news of Jesus.

2) Johnny Appleseed Evangelism

Johnny Appleseed Evangelism encapsulates the feeling of “having a positive view of the future.” Perhaps giving out apple seeds was Johnny’s introduction to evangelism, and if so, I do not want to demean his method. But on the other hand, if his main message was “plant an apple seed and smile at the future,” then the message avoids the death and resurrection of Christ as the foundation.*

*Further research leads me to the insight that John Chapman, aka. Johnny Appleseed, was a Swedenborgian missionary. This group apparently denies the Vicarious Atonement and the Trinity among other things.

It seems like Johnny Appleseed Evangelism remains stuck on God sending rains and harvests, without moving into the message of Jesus. Yes, Paul did use the message of God’s sovereign care over mankind through nature when addressing the Gentiles in Acts 14 and 17. But he followed it up with the person and work of Christ, when he was given that opportunity.

In Acts 14 Paul’s healing of a lame man, his stopping the sacrifice of a bull to himself, his message of God’s creative care, and his call to “turn from these vain things” led him to be stoned and left for dead. In Acts 17, in Paul’s famous Mars Hill sermon, when he spoke of the resurrection of Christ he was interrupted by hecklers.

Johnny Appleseed Evangelism in and of itself is not enough. We must go beyond God’s creative care in nature and move to the death and resurrection of Christ even if we face ostracism and persecution.

3) Mister Rogers Evangelism

Another form of evangelism that is easy to fall into is a Mister Rogers approach to evangelizing (no offense to the late Mister Rogers).* In what I am calling the “Mister Rogers Approach” we seek only to put a smile on the face of those with whom we share. A discussion of sin and judgment are not a part of the Mister Rogers Approach, because these topics may offend the person with whom we are sharing.

*Apparently Fred Rogers, aka. Mister Rogers, was an ordained Presbyterian minister.

However, when Paul spoke of evangelizing, he wrote to the Galatians:

“For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.” (Gal 1:10)

While being cheerful and friendly are important in evangelism, we must avoid merely tickling the ears of those with whom we are speaking. Ultimately we must please Christ who sent us out—and be willing to call men to repentance:

“Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent.” (Acts 17:30)

Christ calls us to share His death and resurrection with love and humility, as well as power and boldness. So let’s also obey the Great Commission as communicated off the pen of Luke:

“Then He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.’” (Luke 24:46-47)

Two Harlots and the Fate of the Evangelist

Solomon showed his amazing wisdom in helping distinguish between the mother of a dead child and the mother of a living child. It is actually an interesting account with ramifications to evangelism:

“And the king said, ‘The one says, “This is my son, who lives, and your son is the dead one”; and the other says, “No! But your son is the dead one, and my son is the living one.”’” Then the king said, “Bring me a sword.” So they brought a sword before the king. And the king said, “Divide the living child in two, and give half to one, and half to the other.” Then the woman whose son was living spoke to the king, for she yearned with compassion for her son; and she said, “O my lord, give her the living child, and by no means kill him!” But the other said, “Let him be neither mine nor yours, but divide him.” So the king answered and said, “Give the first woman the living child, and by no means kill him; she is his mother.” (1 Kings 3:23-27)

Here, the mother that bore the child had compassion for her child. The mother who did not bear the child had no concern for the life and development of the living child.

These two mothers are actually examples of two types of Christian leaders. There are leaders who have enough love to lead people to Christ. To become their “father” as it were. Paul said the same in 1 Corinthians 4:

“For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel” (1 Cor 4:15)

And yet already in the days of Paul, certain leaders, who had not “begotten them through the gospel” came in by stealth. They sought to rob these newly born Christians—and to take away from them any gratitude they had toward the person who had “begotten them through the gospel.”

Solomon needed to ask a question to distinguish between the true mother and the false mother. Likewise, Paul set up a dichotomy in 1 Corinthians 4: the true father and the instructor; the evangelist through whom they came to Christ and someone else.

Notice then how he came back to this same idea in 1 Corinthians 9:

“If others are partakers of this right over you, are we not even more? Nevertheless we have not used this right, but endure all things lest we hinder the gospel of Christ” (1 Cor 9:12)

Just like the true mother in Solomon’s wise counsel, Paul did not want to take advantage of his “right in the gospel.” His concern was for the unhindered spiritual growth of the newly converted Corinthian believers.

However, the other teachers, “ten thousand instructors,” had little care for the spiritual welfare of those led to Christ by Paul. Their primary care was for themselves. In this way, this second group of teachers is more like the heartless harlot who wanted the living child to be cut in half.

Is a heart for evangelism important for the Christian leader? Yes, it is! It is urgently necessary. For, a lack of evangelistic fervor may lead a Christian leader to become like the heartless harlot—fleecing the sheep led to Christ by someone else. Meanwhile, sometimes, the true evangelist must needs be willing to step aside in follow-up, agreeing with the harlot of the living son, “O my lord, give her the living child, and by no means kill him!”

Spiritualia Seminavimus

In these two words from 1 Corinthians 9:11, spiritualia seminavimus, hangs the essence of Christian ministry. What is meant by “Sowing things spiritual”?

1 Cor 9:11, “If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things?”

Paul here built from the distinction between the spiritual and material also expressed by Moses in the chronologically antecedent Leviticus 10:10-11:

Lev 10:10-11, “that you may distinguish between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean, and that you may teach the children of Israel all the statutes which the Lord has spoken to them by the hand of Moses.”

In order to understand what specifically needs to be “sown” in 1 Corinthians 9, we must understand what is meant by “things spiritual” (or “things holy” in Moses). Primary views can be roughly divided into four main camps, each of which could be subdivided into other camps:

  1. Things spiritual refers to the spoken Word of God;
  2. Things spiritual refers to doing good deeds on behalf of Christ;
  3. Things spiritual refers to enacting the Ordinances of Christ (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper) for a person or group;
  4. Things spiritual refers to calling the power of God down upon the material specimens of the Seven Sacraments on behalf of a person or group.

Clearly all four of these approaches to “things spiritual” are quite different and unique.

However, the issue behind each view lies in several places. Differences relate to what is believed to be the “power of God unto salvation” (Rom 1:16):

Rom 1:16-17, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’”

I argue that the gospel specifically, or the Word of God generally, entails all that is meant by things spiritual. So, if the power of God unto salvation is the spoken Word of God, then “things spiritual” concern the first referent on the list above.

The author of Hebrews explained that the sword of the power of God on this earth is inseparably interconnected with the very words of the Word of God:

Heb 4:12-13, “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”

Such a powerful weapon must-needs be wielded with humility and great care. This power of God found in the words from God can be annulled by one’s own self-aggrandizing “wisdom of words”:

1 Cor 1:17, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect.”

So, how is this power of God communicated to others? Is it not by their first “hearing” it?

Rom 10:17, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

But, does “hearing” automatically produce faith in everyone who hears? No! For Paul explained another type of hearing in verse 16:

Rom 10:16, “But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our report?’”

So, it follows that “sowing things spiritual” means that hearing must be accompanied by a proper reception of the things heard:

1 Thess 2:13, “For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.”

A great example of God both opening and not opening hearts is found in Acts 16. Paul spoke to “women” (plural) assembled at a place of prayer. Yet we find that only the heart of one woman, Lydia of Thyatira, was supernaturally opened by the power of the Holy Spirit working in, with, and by the words communicated by Paul:

Acts 16:13-14, “And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there. Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.”

So, there are different types of hearing. Now, elsewhere, the proper reception of the gospel is described as the “hearing of faith”:

Gal 3:2, 5, “This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? … Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?”

Indeed, the author of Hebrews described this hearing as a hearing “mixed with faith”:

Heb 4:2, “For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it.”

So, this passage refers to another kind of hearing, not resulting in salvation. In fact, this other kind of hearing is a mere carnal hearing. Paralleling the distinction taught by God to Moses in Leviticus 10. Paul explained the blindness of those who cannot understand the gospel being communicated:

2 Cor 4:3-4, “But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.”

God said the same in His calling of Isaiah the prophet:

Isa 6:9-10, “And He said, ‘Go, and tell this people: “Keep on hearing, but do not understand; Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.” Make the heart of this people dull, And their ears heavy, And shut their eyes; Lest they see with their eyes, And hear with their ears, And understand with their heart, And return and be healed.’”

But as to the “hearing of faith,” a clear result of this type of hearing upon the recipient is the reception of the Holy Spirit as a direct result of receiving the words of the Word of God.

That this line of reasoning is a contemporaneous topic of dispute (as noted in the four views listed above) is no surprise. This same topic was also the subject of a major dispute in the Apostolic Age:

Acts 15:7-9, “And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them: ‘Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.’”

Therefore, in conclusion:

  • The Holy Spirit is NOT granted via a secondary material source (e.g. a material Sacrament);
  • NOR is the Holy Spirit is granted through the ordinance of baptism (1 Cor 1:17);
  • NEITHER is the saving work of the Holy Spirit communicated through the good deeds of a Christian toward another person;
  • RATHER, “things spiritual” are sown by speaking the Word of God, with the result that some are granted a hearing of faith, sealed by the reception of the Holy Spirit, and culminating in immediate salvation and the forgiveness of sins!

Eph 1:13, “In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.”

So then, “sowing things spiritual” refers to individual Christians obeying the ordinance of Christ to evangelize, as is commanded in the Great Commission passages, and as is the primary context of 1 Corinthians 9.