The first of 2 connected teachings
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, [even] to the end of the age.” Amen.
– Matthew 28:19-20 NKJV
The Great Commission that the Lord Jesus Christ gave His Apostles from Matthew 28:19, 20 calls us first to make disciples of all nations. His staggering command not only challenges us to reach individuals for Christ but also to reach the larger culture or, “people groups.” The Greek word for “nations” is “ethos” where we get our word, ethic. When a culture is reached for Christ, behavioral patterns across the board change for righteousness in the various arenas of a given group of people. Christ’s influence and biblical truths become operative in regard to such areas as:
• Business practices such as the proper use of interest, honestly in negotiations, keeping one’s word, and fair wage etc.
• Social agencies are influenced with biblical principles. The practices of caring for the poor are implemented, which includes equipping the poor to be successful and productive in work. To only give handouts to people in need will only promote a class of entitled individuals.
• Just labor laws that give a fair wage for a diligent effort according to skills learned and practiced.
• The judicial system is fair and equitable whether a person is rich, poor, educated, or uneducated.
• Social Justice which is demonstrated by caring individuals who help others to be successful. This is not government programs which seek to give food and funds away, but by common citizens helping and holding people accountable for making an effort to better themselves.
• Righteous Judges who render biblical verdicts by dispensing fair and just punishments and rewards based on moral laws and practices.
When a significant percentage of those in a people group become disciples of Christ, the whole of that society begins to reflect godly behaviors and patterns, which then becomes evident to outsiders.
Like Erwin McManus has said:
“God sent His Son not only to call individuals to Himself, but also to transform culture!”
An Unstoppable Force, p. 95
Making disciples of Christ includes equipping them to advance the Kingdom of God into every arena of life including, but not exclusively, our financial institutions, the halls of academia, social structures, the chambers of government, people’s manners, and customs.
I have found the following three-fold description of the Kingdom of God to be helpful in thinking of all this:
1. It is the Rule and Reign of Christ in us (Luke 17:21),
2. It is extending His Kingdom power into all aspects of life.
3. It will be finalized when Jesus Christ returns and sets up His literal Kingdom here on earth.
In modern Christendom the basic assumption is: if a person’s heart is changed, then people will naturally transform the culture. I do not believe this is an accurate assumption. As a result, here in America, evangelicals have essentially bypassed the notion that we ought to engage in cultural issues. We have pretty much privatized our Faith. (Notice I have capitalized the word Faith for when it is capitalized it represents the whole body of doctrine, teaching or Truth, not our personal trust or dependence in and on Christ).
I believe that to only focus on one’s personal walk with Christ — without expecting and equipping Christians to biblically speak into and engage with the broader culture — has and is doing demonstrative damage to the advancement of the transforming message of the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Private belief is somewhat easy, but to act publicly on those beliefs amidst a culture that pushes against us, can cause many of us to recoil, grow silent, or become disengaged from pursuing cultural transformation.
There is a glaring reason for this detachment, which we see in the Gospel of John:
42 “Many people did believe in him, however, including some of the Jewish leaders. But they wouldn’t admit it for fear that the Pharisees would expel them from the synagogue. 43 For they loved human praise more than the praise of God”
— John 12:42-43 NLT
Actually, these two verses are staggering! The reason we can believe and not confess (or act out our beliefs in public), is fear. We are afraid of how we will be treated amidst a culture that is radically opposed to Christianity and biblical values.
From the passage in John 12, it is important to understand that there were three levels of being expelled from the synagogue:
#1 “Nosipho” which meant removal from the synagogue for 7 days
#2 “Niddue” which was expulsion for 30 days
#3 “Cherem” which was the total expulsion
Remember, being part of the synagogue entitled participants to social connections, religious expression, access to educational opportunities and economic benefits. If they were excommunicated from the synagogue system, not only did it mean they couldn’t worship there, but that they would become poorer and poorer, less educated, and ostracized from their social network. Can you imagine the cost this would be if you or I chose to follow Christ at that time in history? You would potentially lose everything as many in Jesus’ day did. This is the reason that the parents of the blind man, who was healed by Christ, would not confess the reality of the miracle of their son being restored to sight! They knew they would be kicked out, Cherem, of the synagogue and lose their ability to live a normal and productive life.
“His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who had announced that anyone saying Jesus was the Messiah would be expelled from the synagogue” — John 9:22 NLT
This is so sobering isn’t it?
This is what happened to Jews in occupied Germany, and is happening now to Christians in Iran, Iraq, and even in Israel in the predominantly Islamic city of Bethlehem. There are reports of Muslims restricting Christians who own businesses in Bethlehem forcing them to leave unless they submit to Islam.
A Cultural Shove
As Linda and I continue to carry on in our ministry of organic discipleship, I constantly hear concerns about the shift of our culture, as a whole, towards secularism. This has bred indifference and, in many cases, downright hostility toward the message of the Good News of Jesus Christ. Sadly, I am not hearing much, especially from my Christian friends and pastors, about HOW we are to address the cultural with a biblical worldview. Since we so rarely use Biblical Truth to address the whole of reality, Christianity is losing major ground in the public square, and our message is becoming increasingly marginalized.
When people are surveyed and asked the question: Does religion play a significant part of your private life? The response is actually positive! Even though evangelical church attendance is dropping at an ever-increasing rate, many churches are vibrant and thriving. These churches tend to be selective, however, in deciding which portions of Scripture they teach, and typically opt for messages centered on personal growth in Christ and in building healthy relationships.
Most organized churches have a great focus on building strong marriages, providing programs for youth, serving in local communities, and addressing the needs of the poor. The successful evangelical churches are definitely teaching God’s Word, some even verse by verse, but very few are teaching a robust biblical view which will help people respond to cultural challenges.
For example, very little attention is given to a Biblical Perspective about:
- The Biblical role of Judges…
• What should be some of the Christian actions in regard to politics?
Even more germane in view of our abdication from the arena of politics— should Christians even address the political challenges from a biblical perspective? Should a Christian vote? Should we evaluate a candidate and a particular political party’s platform from a biblical perspective?
— What about the influence of Islam in politics, academia, and social agencies? Even a more foundational question is: What does the Koran teach and are we educating our Christian brothers and sisters of this false ideology?
— Since our children are being educated (indoctrinated), probably at this very moment, about the strengths of socialism and the negative aspects of America as a capitalistic society, what ought to be our response from what the Bible teaches with regard to these issues? Does the Bible support a certain form of government?
— How do we confront the false notions of evolution and what is a biblical perspective with regard to the avalanche of indoctrination of Darwinian evolution?
— MANY people talk to me about the “poor” and how we should care for them. There are Biblical guidelines from the Scriptures — especially the Torah — about how to address this growing crisis. It seems like everyone has an opinion about how to provide for illegal immigrants, the homeless, and a variety of other needy groups of people. But what does the Bible say about such topics?
The above questions are only a sampling of topics that pertain to our present experience. I have listened to and interacted with non-Christians and Christians alike on all of the above issues, while giving significant Biblical answers and solutions.
Just imagine if our pastors integrated into every message an apologia (a logical reason for believing) in regard to the biblical content that was just taught? Imagine also that they gave suggested action steps for how people could influence the broader culture?
Here are some action-oriented suggestions:
• If there is a food bank in your church then encourage people in the congregation to adopt a family in their community with the caveat that if they would like food they must be working or be making an effort to find work. Help these people manage their money, get a meaningful job, hire their kids to do jobs around the house and be there with them teaching them basic skills like cleaning windows, washing a car inside and out, caring for your yard, putting together furniture, fixing cars, etc. etc. Help people balance a checkbook, keep a budget and save 10% each month. (By the way if more churches did such things, they would find more masculine MEN willing to engage in these types of ministries. Most men know how to do basic skills to carry on life.
• Encourage congregants to run for the local school board, or go to the school board and ask to be placed on the curriculum committee.
• I just hung up the phone with one of our grandsons who is going to Portland State University. The teacher and many in the class are continually ridiculing white men for sexually dominating their wives after WWII. The teacher is vicious, mean, lying and condescending across the board. Many evangelical pastors would simply suggest that we need to be kind and loving to malicious opposition like this. Actually, I think that such a response screams of cowardliness, and we ought to be equipping people to address such lies.
• Evaluate each political party’s platform according to the Scriptures and then encourage Christians to vote according to their Biblical conscience and the objective Truth of Scripture.
• Enlist the congregation to register to vote, and sign petitions that have direct moral implications (e.g. abortion, gender identity legislation, etc.)
• Encourage people in the congregation to give financially to organizations that are attempting to transform our culture.
If you have a Bible handy turn with me to: 1 Chronicles 12:32
“Of the sons of Issachar, men who understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do, their chiefs were two hundred; and all their kinsmen were at their command.” – 1 Chronicles 12:32
This verse is so insightful because it is teaching that there were people who were commissioned to understand the events, circumstances, and situations of the day, and could therefore instruct Israel as to how she was to respond. The point is: these people had a macro view (large view) of the world around them and how God’s people were to act.
Our Lord Jesus Christ reaffirmed this function for the general population when he exhorted and expected the “crowd” to discern and interpret the times in which they lived (Luke 12:56).
“You fools! You know how to interpret the weather signs of the earth and sky, but you don’t know how to interpret the present times.” – Luke 12:56
What I am suggesting is that we need to be godly people with the spirit of Issachar who not only develop our private walk with Christ, but who also develop an understanding of the broader cultural and a global understanding, informing each of these with a biblical viewpoint. Even more important–we must know what we can and ought to do in view of the present circumstances.
I listed a variety of ways to participate in cultural change because verse 20 of Matthew 28 states: “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” – Matthew 28:20
Hey, Gang, let’s be up for the formidable challenges that we face—and let’s get on the playing field.