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Friday, July 12, 2013

Does The Gospel Of Individual Salvation Save Us From The Call To Justice?

I have two pet peeves with the American Conservative Christian Church of which I am a member. My first problem with my fellow believers, especially its leaders, is that they tend to confirm rather than disprove the Left's contention that the Church is just another institution of indoctrination for the maintenance of the status quo for the benefit of those with wealth and power. For a large part, my fellow American Conservative Christians show the charge to be true by their silence in the face of domestic and foreign injustice. There is no movement in this church to change a political-economic system that relies on war and exploitation to thrive. There is no call by this church for those who create, maintain, or benefit from this system to repent. Here, the Church is like a dog that is needlessly confined to its yard by an invisible fence since it ignores the stranger lurking outside anyway.

Part of what feeds this apathy to confront the threat of the status quo is my second pet peeve with the same Church. That is that they preach the Gospel in a way that makes believing similar to clicking the "Add To Cart" for a product one is buying online. The American Christian Church has, for the most part, reduced being a follower of Christ to being a consumer. One believes as a way to purchase after-life insurance and then, because of the free grace being preached, one is free to live the life one wants as long as one does not break certain taboos. This blog has addressed this self-centered consumer gospel in past posts such as Righteouosly Selfish and Is The American Dream A Christian's Nightmare.

We are addressing this pet peeve again in this post by reviewing the sermon, Stop Playing At Meetings (click here for the sermon), given by Rev. Steve Constable, the senior pastor from Stony Point Reformed Presbyterian Church just outside of Richmond, Virginia. In this sermon, which was given on March 4, 2012,  Constable, who is originally from England, preached on Amos 5: 14 - 27 and his basic message was to give a moment for pause to those who were comfortable for this is what Amos was doing. Amos wrote during a time of Israel's unfaithfulness to God and their unjust treatment to its vulnerable. Despite their shortcomings, the people felt safe and expected protection from God because of their religiosity.

It is at this point that Constable does us a service as he identifies four groups of people to whom Amos would preach judgment against if he were alive today. Those groups include, religious relativists, Universalists, triumphalists (that is those who believe that all Christians can be healthy and rich), and Evangelicals. But why would Constable include Evangelicals in this list? It is because some of us think that, on one hand, we already have a free get out of God's judgment pass because of our relationship with Jesus but, on the other hand, we live lives of self-indulgence. In other words, many of us Evangelicals could, to our surprise be left behind when the rapture comes. It is by naming this last group as being in danger of wrath that Constable escapes the American Conservative Christian trap of  making the Gospel a consumer good to buy or win. 

By naming Evangelicals as possibly being in danger of facing God's judgment, Constable gives a gift that keeps on giving for it is the first warning in a long time to us evangelicals that we cannot rest on assumptions, especially that of praying the "right" prayer saves us when we live in whichever way we want.

Constable then follows Amos's wakeup call with 3 real life applications of Amos's commands. The first was to seek God first and that this searching might have an inverse relation with how close we are to the Church.  In addition, Constable continues with saying that when you seek God, He might take you to uncomfortable places. For some evangelicals then, God might be leading them to practice activism with atheists who have polar opposite political and world views.  For myself, there are several uncomfortable places outside of activism that I might have to consider if I continue to seek God.

The next of Amos's commands that Constable comments on is the one that says "seek good and not evil." This point must be emphasized because for far too many fellow Christians, our salvation liberates us to enjoy consumption without end as long as, what was mentioned before, what we consume is not on a Christian taboo list. We must also be careful not to substitute practicing religion for seeking for God. That is, we are not to replace seeking God with religious causes or the good things in life. Seeking good rather than evil is comes from seeking God. So Constable substitutes a life of service to and reconciled relationships with others as a sign of a revival that comes from God.

Finally, Constable refers to Martin Luther King in Amos's last command to seek justice. Here, he exhorts us to work for justice and mercy for other people in everyday life. And we should also note that though seeking justice is barely mentioned in the sermon, it is still a command and a necessary part of Amos's message to Israel and God's message to us. Individual salvation does not free us from our obligations to seek justice for others.

To those unbelieving peace activists, this sermon might carry little weight. But it serves as a wakeup call for all of us American Conservative Christians who would be more disturbed over our eternal destination than over the committing of sin. That being broken by our own transgressions rather than merely being relieved from where one is not spending the afterlife is a mark of true belief.  In saying all of this, Constable serves a powerful wakeup call to shake us out of those worldly comforts we often use as a substitute for fellowship with God. To do what Constable does here requires a delicate balancing act. For we must not shape the Gospel so that it is all too accommodating to the consumer enslaved American while stressing that salvation is through faith alone, not by works, and that faith comes from God. 

Though this sermon does not include a call to challenge those benefiting most from the status quo to repent, his message here preserves the Gospel from becoming like any other object to be consumed by an already spoiled people. Such people flock to hear  comfortable message that excuse them from serving God and others.

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