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Volume 13, Issue 3: Recipio

Saluting the Church

Ben Merkle

Jim Jordan wrote in his theses on worship that "we are moving into an era of hardened materialism in the United States, and one of the effects of this will be the increasing impotence of parachurch evangelistic movements and `method' evangelism."

Until recent decades, America has been a Christian nation of sorts. Whether we were regenerate or not, there was a time when most Americans had been seasoned with a bit of Christianity somewhere in their lives. There was a time when sitting through a flannel-graph presentation was as common an experience as having the chicken pox. But this is becoming more and more rare.
America has become a post-Christian nation. We see a good picture of our apostasy every year at Christmas. Every December across the nation the question rings out, "What is the true meaning of Christmas?" Our movies, our television shows, and our greeting cards all seem to be scraping to provide some sort of answer. But why is there even a question? How many other holidays provoke this question? Does America beat itself up wondering what is the true meaning of Halloween? President's Day? Secretaries Day? For some reason Christmas rings hollow in a way that it didn't use to in America. The problem is Christmas celebrates something that doesn't exist in America. As a nation, we no longer have a conception of Christianity. And, as Jordan points out, this means we must take a new look at the way we approach evangelism. We are no longer speaking to an informed audience. There were certain presuppositions that we used to be able to get away with that we can no longer make. Evangelism must begin in a totally new place.
For instance, when an officer in the military approaches an enlisted man, there is a certain amount of respect he immediately receives from the enlisted. The officer doesn't need to personally establish his authority with every individual soldier, but that's not to say the work of establishing the authority of officers didn't ever have to be done. This work was done back in boot camp when the private learned to salute anything shiny. But say an officer was given a company of men who had lost all respect for authority. Then this unfortunate officer would need to reestablish the authority of an officer over his company before any real work could ever be done. He must start over.
The American church finds itself in the place of this unfortunate officer. We must minister to a culture that has no concept of true religion. We have lost all of our capital and have become a bankrupt church. When we give gospel presentations beginning with "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life," we are trying to draw on a religious sensibility that just isn't there anymore. We are writing checks on an account that has been cleared out. We must start over.
James tells us that "Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world" (Jas. 1:27). We prove our religion by serving and remembering the antithesis. Jesus makes a similar point in Matthew 25 when He distinguishes the sheep from the goats by seeing who gave food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, took in strangers, clothed the naked, and visited prisoners. When we do these things to the least, we do them to Christ. Service ought to characterize the Church. Until it does, America will have no concept of true religion and no reason to listen to the Church.
Oddly enough, it would seem that a recovery of service within evangelical churches would fix another seemingly unrelated problem. We are quite vocal in our requirement that women not be allowed into positions of authority within the Church. And we are justified in this position (1 Tim. 2:11_15 and 1 Cor. 14:34). But we frequently offer no other avenue of involvement to women. By not giving an alternative, we end up with a picture of the Church that is essentially hostile to women. How is the feminine incorporated in the Church? Quite often we have no answer.
But Scripture gives us many indicators. Peter tells us that a woman is a daughter of Sarah when she does good (1 Pet. 3:6). Paul describes the kind of widow that the Church ought to care for as one who is "well reported for good works: if she has brought up children, if she has lodged strangers, if she has washed the saints' feet, if she has relieved the afflicted, if she has diligently followed every good work" (1 Tim. 5:10).
There is a kind of service that a woman is particularly gifted to perform. We have only told them what not to do. We ought to be able to give positive instructions—do this. Not only is the woman gifted in the arena of service, but she is commanded to excell in this way. This service is to be given to the Church first, but when the Church is full, it may spill over into the unbelieving world around us. When the good works of the Church spill over into the pagan world around us, we can expect to see a recovery of the Church's position of authority in this world.
When the Church feeds the hungry, visits the sick, and cares for widows and orphans, we can expect to have a potent gospel. Until then we shouldn't be surprised to find that nobody salutes our shiny gold bars.

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