Heralding the Gospel in Times of Crisis: Covenant Enforcement
Sometimes people wonder why such a large number of essays at Monergism.com target contemporary evangelicalism and its culture rather than the rampant sin among non-christians outside the church. Perhaps the main reason we do this is because it follows biblical precedent. The prophets, the apostles and Jesus spend very little time complaining about the sins of foreigners or the pantheon of Roman gods and culture. Instead, all of these persons spend the vast majority of their time criticizing the covenant people of God. If you take note of the prophets they are continually sounding the alarm to Israel of impending divine wrath and judgment upon them, whenever they fail to live in the covenant. They are highly critical of Israelâ€™s presuppositions, habits, assumptions, worldliness, lifestyle and Israelâ€™s worship of foreign gods like Baal. The brunt of Jesusâ€™ rebukes is saved for the Jewish religious establishment, not the Roman occupation. But there is an obvious reason for all of the in-house complaints: when Godâ€™s covenant people are faithful to the truth about who He is, and remember who they are (the redeemed people of God), then they fulfill their calling to be a light among the nations. People come to Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit when Godâ€™s people are worshipping Him according to His blueprint, not our plans.
One of the things that I really appreciated in seminary was my class by Richard Pratt on the Prophets. It opened my eyes to see the unity of Scripture in understanding that the prophetsâ€™ message was all rooted in Deuteronomy and Mosaic Law. The message they spoke was contiguous with the message of Moses. They were hashing out the stipulations of the covenant. This can be easily seen in the language they use of blessings and curses for either obeying or rebelling against Godâ€™s law. It is lifted directly from the Pentateuch. Likewise, the preaching and teaching of the Apostles were rooted in Jesusâ€™ teaching. The people of Israel many times presumed on Godâ€™s grace thinking that simply being in the covenant meant they were elect because we know that â€œâ€¦not all who descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspringâ€¦â€ (Rom 9:6, 7) These are the ones both the prophets and Jesus give their harshest criticism to. Jesus is not out to reform the Romans but to deliver the gospel, and Godâ€™s people will not be a light as long as they misapprehend and thus misrepresent Godâ€™s grace to the world. We are always called back to the Scriptures original intent and that should be one of our major callings as Christians. In times of crisis in the church, such as these, we ought to give all effort to re-evangelizing the church. That is one of our greatest tasks because the gospel simply is not being preached in most assemblies. I have been in many gatherings where the message is simply like a pep-talk or a call to live under the example of some Bible hero, as if we could ever live up to God's law. Jesus Christ is almost entirely missing except to say he will help you ... but rather his cross should be the center of all sermons from Old and New Testaments, for only in the gospel is the power of God to set us free. Also when we spend 90% of our time as evangelicals sounding like a political lobby who merely wants to change the laws of the land, it gives the distinct impression to the world that we actually believe that if they just changed their behavior, all would be well. Is this redemption? No, this is a total misunderstanding of the depths of our depravity and our need for grace. This modern message is often seen as redemption via moralistic behaviorism. Reformation of society is not wrong but should begin with the gospel for only regenerate people can have affection for the things of God. The Law is good for restraining evil but when the world sees that as the entire message they know it is hopeless and they cannot live up to it.
Our wrong thinking about God (hence idolatry), our lack of faithfulness and love, our lack of embodying the covenant of grace, our religious syncretism and gross injustice is a failure to be a light to the nations. There is a lot of activity among us â€¦ like church-going and prayer meetings, politicking, but if we have forgotten the covenant, that God looks on Christâ€™s blood and does not treat us as our sins deserve, then all the rest is a lot of meaningless activity that angers God. Such a time requires that all who love the Lord make sure we enforce Godâ€™s truth by heralding the grace of Christ in-house. Then and only then we will be a light to the nations. As a missionary for about 10 years, I saw many missionaries come and go who had little idea of Godâ€™s grace. They felt they were serving the Lord by obeying the great commission all the while not knowing the message of Godâ€™s grace in Christ which is connected with the great commission. But God used it in spite of its weakness and for this I rejoice, but most of the local people were left with an inconsistent confused â€œgospelâ€ and many false teachings consequently sprung up. Evangelism is not just hit and run, but of â€œmaking disciplesâ€. Otherwise the persons may often be worse off than they were to begin with. In making disciples we need to faithfully interpret the law and the gospel from Jesus all the way back. We need to talk and boast in Godâ€™s redemptive work in history and what he has accomplished. Innovation, if not rooted in Scripture, is almost always the enemy of the gospel. The message of the cross is all Paul said he knew and all we should know. It is the power of this gospel which the Spirit uses to quicken the dead.
If we look to proclaim the gospel faithfully, we do not just throw some four-point presentation at someone. Notice that the Apostles and the Prophets ALL recited Godâ€™s work in redemptive history when they preached. That is, what God has accomplished for us first, not what we do for him. In doing so we proclaim the Kingship, authority and holiness of the Trinity. Then we issue forth the covenant obligations, that is Godâ€™s holy requirements for us. Then the Lawâ€™s claim over them, how it indicts all men and the inevitable curse that comes upon those who refuse Christ, who is coming with his army to trample down his enemies in the winepress of his fury, but grants forgiveness to those He makes conscripts â€¦ i.e., those who are believing the promises of the gospel in Christ. It is they and they alone who can know their sins are forgiven.
YHWHs call to reflect His character to the nations will bring many to faith because; along with the gospel message the Spirit will use our faithfulness as an instrument to do a work of grace in their hearts. (Deut 4:6) The church in the USA is currently not growing but is flat. You would not know this from the enormous â€œgrowthâ€ taking place in some mega-churches, but this is not because numbers are being added among unbelievers. The statistics say that evangelical Christianity is not growing overall. So what is happening in these big churches? The same thing that happens when Wal-Mart moves into a small town. All the mom and pop shops close up because all their needs can be met in one place. It is not because people are convicted of sin and saying â€œI have no hope save in Jesus Christâ€. Such messages are most often muted in such churches. Well, just as the prophets interpreted events, so it is an obvious sign of the times today that the lack of a work of the Spirit among this country is partially due to our our absurd self-centered worship. We need to pick up the Word and proclaim it fearlessly, yet with gentleness and respect in the hope that God may â€œgrant repentance [to many] leading to knowledge of the truthâ€. ( 2 Tim 2:25). Many of those in modern churches love the Lord. I know many of them. But the compromise in such places is pronounced and if nothing is done about it then one wonders what will become of us. That is why we need to encourage the church to always be reforming its thoughts in order to be more God-honoring & consistent with the Word of God. To teach the whole counsel of God, and not be â€œsalad-bar Christiansâ€ as the late Dr. James Montgomery Boice used to say.