Storm Clouds overhead

Birth Pangs of the Messiah
Matthew 24:7-8

​​Jesus in Matthew 24 lays out a time-line of events that herald the on-set of the Tribulation - events that even now are clearly visible on the prophetic oscilloscope. Still the church pays no attention - leaving believers unready and unprepared for what lies ahead.

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The Church under Attack

​​​​Church in America Facing Hostility
Up until very recently American evangelicals have, by and large, been immersed in a secular culture that fully endorsed the moral imperatives of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Secular culture has been benign at worst and congenial at best.

The Ten Commandments were posted not only in churches, but in public buildings as well: on court room walls; in the hallowed chambers of legislative bodies; in the offices of governors and presidents; and, of course, in school classrooms throughout the country. In short, a moral consensus blanketed America.

There was no moral cleavage between church and state. With few exceptions, the state upheld the church’s definition of sin and punished its transgressions with both criminal and civil sanctions. However, over the last forty to fifty years that ethical consensus has slowly passed into oblivion. It’s gone the way of the woolly mammoth and the passenger pigeon. Moral relativism now reigns supreme, leaving the church more often than not at odds with the state and frequently bringing the two into open conflict. More and more Christians are reluctantly concluding that hostility now characterizes the relationship between church and state here in America.

Some Christian leaders have sought to ameliorate that hostility by playing down the church’s historic emphasis on sin, divine justice, and God’s wrath. Brian McLaren, for example, a bright light within the “Emergent Church” movement and immensely popular with “millennials,” has shied away from calling homosexuality a sin - to the point that he actually presided over his own son’s same sex wedding. 

Tony Jones, another emergent church leader, recently declared, “I now believe that GLBTQ (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual and queer) persons can live in accord with biblical Christianity, at least as much as any of us can.”

But if sin is played down, where’s the need for a savior? No sin, no need for a savior! It’s that simple; and McLaren and Jones, both of whom claim to be evangelical Christians, know that. They’ve therefore reinterpreted Jesus - both his person and his mission: the Christian message is no longer cast in the guise of “sinners in need of a savior,” but instead “seekers looking for a guide” - a mentor to lead them down the path to self-awareness, self affirmation, and self-fulfillment: what they claim is an exciting and uplifting journey toward the truth.

Most emergent church leaders, including both McLaren and Jones, resist establishing boundaries that define orthodox belief and that determine “who’s in” and “who’s out,” “who belongs” and “who doesn’t.” For them, the Christian faith is an “ongoing narrative” that has yet to be fully told, and all of us are invited to write bits and pieces of that narrative, to, in short, conform its meaning to our own personal concerns and sensitivities.

But on a deeper level - and here I’m giving them no benefit of the doubt - what they’re really up to is far less heroic and uplifting: it’s cowardly. They want desperately to fit in with a secular culture now at war with Christians who still hold to a faith that casts humans in the guise of condemned sinners. A faith that, moreover, doesn’t back down on underscoring the many specific sins that call for that condemnation - sins which the secular elites here in America now not only condone but actually endorse; e.g., homosexuality, same sex marriage, abortion, euthanasia, recreational drug use, etc. McLaren and Jones know clinging to that faith will elicit not just ridicule, but in-your-face hostility. And they’re unwilling to expose themselves to that kind of risk. And there we have the real truth!

Four hundred years in a sheltered hot house! Protected from the scorn and outright persecution that Christians face in so many other parts of the world, especially in the Middle East and in parts of Africa and Asia! The result: the emergent church replete with all its compromises.

Admittedly, not all evangelical churches are “emergent.” Still ...

  • the same penchant for playing down the significance of sin is at work in far too many of them;
  • the same bent toward preaching a gospel message that soft peddles the theme of “sinners in need of a savior,” and, instead, plays up the theme of “seekers looking for self affirmation and personal fulfillment;”
  • the same tendency to avoid calling out for condemnation sins apt to incur the hostility of government officials and the secular elites.
It’s all too easy to forget that the mercy, grace, and love of God can only be grasped against the backdrop of God’s wrath, arising, of course, from his hatred of sin: specifically, the unspeakable cost God paid to ransom our souls from the claims of divine justice: the death of Christ on the cross.

The vast difference between the faith so characteristic of Christians facing daily hostility and Christians who have been protected from such hostility is reflected in a letter sent by an African bishop to the head of the Episcopal Church, USA. The head of the American church had promised the African prelate financial aid if he could overcome his aversion to the ordination of Gene Robinson, a practicing homosexual. Dr. Nkoyoyo, the African prelate, replied:

“The gospel of Jesus Christ is not for sale, even among the poorest of us who have no money. Eternal life, obedience to Jesus Christ, and conforming to his Word are more important. The Word of God makes it clear that you have chosen a course ... that leads to spiritual destruction. Because we love you, we cannot let that go unanswered ... As a result, any delegation you send cannot be welcomed, received, or seated. Neither can we share fellowship nor even receive (the) desperately needed resources (you’ve offered). If, however, you repent and return to the Lord, it will be an occasion of great joy."
Dr. Nkoyoyo

The power, authority, and majesty of the gospel message are revealed in Dr. Nkoyoyo’s reply. Against that backdrop, the compromises of McLaren and Jones seem woefully pathetic.

The peace bubble here in America has burst. Christians can no longer expect a sympathetic secular culture to guard them from hostility. And the temptation to downplay whatever in the gospel message elicits that hostility is even now splitting churches here in America. Are we ready for that? The prophetic scriptures are very clear: it’s unavoidable. That’s why the prophetic scriptures are so important - especially for the complacent evangelical church here in America!

For the last thirty-five years or so, evangelical pastors have been working hard to afford believers protection from the dangers inherent in a culture that’s becoming ever more hostile to the Christian faith. The "fix" they've concocted has been simple, and, on the face of it, quite reasonable: to transform the church into a fortress, where believers can find refuge from the scorn and antagonism building against them and their families. But it's a fix that runs counter to God's intention. Nowhere in scripture is the church likened to a fortress. It's a metaphor that's often used for God, but never for the church. Indeed, quite the contrary: Jesus, in his first mention of the church ...

I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
                         Matthew 16:19

… likens her not to a fortress, but to a plundering army. It's hell that he casts in the guise of a fortress, with the devil and his minions cowering behind its walls and the church furiously and relentlessly attacking it.

Pastors have reversed the roles; and, in doing so, they have weakened the church - the very opposite of what they intended. It's a simple truth clearly underscored in scripture ...

  • The church affords believers effective protection only when she is on the attack.
  • The moment she retreats into a defensive posture her enemies are emboldened and believers are exposed to terrible danger.

It's not likely that pastors alone can rebuild the church. The very nature of a pastor - the gift itself - militates against that possibility. A pastor's primary task - the first concern that springs to his mind - is to shelter and protect his congregation, not lead it into battle. It's far too easy for most pastors to both ...

  1. lose sight of the church's most important single task: the salvation of the lost; and
  2. ignore the significance of whatever historical circumstances are besetting her.

The first is the task of the evangelist and the second is the task of the prophet. 

That's not to suggest that the pastoral ministry is unimportant; quite the contrary: it's vital. Believers need the sympathetic care and tender shepherding that pastors are best equipped to provide. But whenever evangelists are pushed aside and prophets are shunned, the church loses her militant edge. She becomes soft and flabby, unable to go over to the attack, unwilling to take risks, unwilling to sacrifice, and, lastly, unable to either grasp the prophetic significance of the moment or to galvanize believers around it. It's the Laodician Church! Quite frankly, it’s the American evangelical church!

The pulpit ministry must make room once again for evangelists and prophets if the church is to awaken from her Laodician slumber, dismantle the fortress she's made of herself, and once again go over to the attack, preaching a message of “sinners in desperate need of redemption.”

Alarm bells heralding the approach of the Tribulation have been clanging for well over four decades; yet today’s church pays scant heed. And at least part of the reason is obvious: pastors, not evangelists and prophets, are at the helm.

And so the church sleeps on, with genuine conversions at an all time low, with almost 85% of her youth packing off after graduating from high school, and with little or no sense of direction other than "keeping on with the keeping on." Hardly any mention is made of the rebirth of Israel; or the capture of Jerusalem; or the ever growing turmoil in the Middle East; or the social, political, and cultural polarization that has immobilized the governments of the United States and Western Europe; or even the global economic crisis now underway and plainly obvious to everyone. The prophetic import of it all is shrugged off. Once again, it's just "keeping on with the keeping on," building higher walls to hold the rabble at bay, and pressing down lower and lower into an unholy “holy huddle.”

The church’s siege mindset poses a special danger for our children, who, despite the millions of dollars spent each year on youth programs, are being swept up into the wake of a seductive immorality that no one, Christian or otherwise, could possibly have imagined fifty to sixty years ago. 

We aren’t toughening up our children; we’re turning them into wimps. We’re teaching them to “duck and cover,” not to openly contend for the faith. Our junior and senior high programs fit a fairly predictable pattern …

  • fifteen or twenty minutes of socializing with one another;
  • another fifteen or twenty minutes of a “feel good” teaching - sometimes preceded by a songfest that passes for worship; and then
  • an hour or so of fun and frolic with the youth pastor, always dressed in torn jeans and a t-shirt, who leads everyone in a game of basketball, or pie throwing, or toe fencing, or human bingo, etc.

Even the few youth projects that go beyond fun and frolic - even they seldom revolve around the gospel. They consist mostly of “public service” projects: feeding the poor, building shelters for the homeless, park cleanups, save the whale campaigns, and, of course, expensive “mercy missions” to foreign countries where the gospel is more of a secondary feature than the primary objective, and where sightseeing consumes most of the time. 

Hardly vision raising! Hardly what will prepare them for a world that’s being torn apart by conflict and that’s becoming ever more hostile to Christians! Hardly what will enable them to hold on tightly to their faith, let alone actually contend for it - especially after graduating from high school, aging out of their hermetically sealed youth programs, and moving away from their parents!

Unlike their gen-X parents, the millennials sense intuitively that a cataclysm is heading straight toward them - and at breakneck speed. What’s more, many of them are vaguely aware that the Bible has answers, but answers their leaders refuse to take up with them; and, so, it’s back to toe fencing, feel-good platitudes, and “ultimate frisbee.” For many of them, the explanations they crave will have to wait until college, when what they get will be cast in secular terms that are largely antithetical to the Christian Faith.

It's time to call evangelists and prophets back to the pulpit, not shunning the pastoral ministry, but providing a balance that has been missing for far too long. It’s time for the church to go back over to the attack - to reclaim the “public square,” most especially our schools, at one time the most fertile of all the church’s harvest fields. 

But that can only be done if our church leaders openly embrace the inevitability of conflict and lead their congregations to do likewise. And when will that happen? When the prophetic scriptures are once again taught from our pulpits with passion and conviction. Only then will the church in America stop trying to placate an enemy that cannot be won over. Only then will our churches cease cuddling up to the state and trying to befriend it. 

Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.
    James 4:4

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