Anarchy Not an Option

1 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

Romans 13:1-5

From the city park camps of the Occupy movement to impromptu protests organized by the leaderless Internet-based group Anonymous, a distinctive mask has been showing up everywhere, one identified with Guy Fawkes, a terrorist who attempted to blow up the houses of Parliament in 1605.1 Those who wear it are not known so much for a particular cause, but for a general contempt for authority, and that puts them at odds with the teaching of Scripture.

guyfawkesWhen Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, the Emperor Nero was on the throne, the Nero infamous for his persecution of Christians. One might expect Paul to speak dismissively of the emperor, reserving his call to submit for believers in happier realms. But in the face of great difficulty under Roman rule, the apostle pressed his fellow saints to be respectful citizens as best they could, even though this was the very state which had crucified their Savior, Jesus.

Perhaps this was simply the counsel of prudence, given the numerical weakness of the Christians in the empire. Or perhaps it was a matter of priority, with evangelism and church planting coming first. By this interpretation, Paul was concerned that the nascent church not waste its time and energy on good projects while neglecting the best project for its day. But Paul does not ground his command in peculiar circumstances; rather, he ties this duty to the revealed truth that government, per se, is God-ordained.

Of course, this command is not an absolute, for the same passage provides a job description for the emperor, one which could render his rule illegitimate should it become so devoid of justice and decency that it resembled, for example, the Third Reich or ISIS. Thus Christians rightly praise Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s fatal effort to eliminate Hitler. But the default position must be one of obedience to law and deference to authority. Accordingly, the burden of proof lies upon the one who urges civil disobedience over one issue or another in the name of righteousness, and not upon the one who says his fellow citizens should comply with the government’s directives.

In this vein, the pastor must not stir the pot of insolence or lawlessness when riots are impending, but rather appeal to cooler thinking, due process, and patience, pointing to the opening verses of Romans 13 for the higher authority which authorizes the lower authority. Yes, there is a time for resistance and even revolution, but that time comes much later rather than sooner. And whatever protest God’s people may mount—unlike the “Guy Fawkes” crowd—they don’t wear masks, but rather stand and let themselves be identified as voices of dissent, not as self-indulgent, even cowardly, belligerents without constraint.

 

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Endnote:

1 The popularity of this mask stems from the 1980s, when Alan Moore and David Lloyd created a series of graphic novels, from which issued the movie V for Vendetta. The main character, an anarchist, wore a Guy Fawkes mask featuring a big grin, big mustache, and rosy cheeks. “How Guy Fawkes Became the Face of Post-Modern Protest,” Economist, November 4, 2014, http://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2014/11/economist-explains-3 (accessed February 26, 2015).

What Is the Role of Faith in Salvation?

In reading Luke’s Gospel recently, a phrase stood out that Jesus repeated on four occasions: “Your faith has saved you” (Luke 7:50; 8:48; 17:19; 18:42). Three times He spoke it to someone who had received physical healing and once to a sinful woman who received forgiveness after anointing His feet with her tears along with expensive ointment. faithVarious translations of Scripture render some of the four occurrences as “your faith has made you well,” but it is always the same Greek construction: “Your faith has saved you.” And in each instance, Luke seems to have eternal salvation in view, not just physical healing. When examined carefully, this one phrase tells us much about the role of faith in salvation.

It rules out the doctrines of religious pluralism and inclusivism. Both popular today, pluralism teaches that faith in any sort of deity will save. It’s not so much the object of the faith that’s important, but the sincerity. Inclusivism teaches that Jesus is the only person who can secure eternal salvation for humans, but in order to be saved explicit faith in Him is not required. Acting in faith on whatever spiritual knowledge one has is sufficient to be saved, according to the inclusivist. In contrast to both of these doctrines, the saving faith described in these four passages was intentionally and explicitly directed at Jesus.

It rules out “word of faith” theology’s teaching that a person’s words literally construct the fabric of reality. According to word of faith teachers, physical healing and financial prosperity are always God’s will for believers and are in a sense created by the believing words of anyone willing to claim these blessings. Of course, God does grant physical healing and wealth at times. But these passages from Luke demonstrate that Jesus brings about deliverance from danger and affliction, not faith itself. There was no forgiveness for the sinful woman in Luke 7 until Jesus pronounced it, and there was no healing for the blind beggar in Luke 18 until Jesus decreed it. The initiative and power that brings about salvation of various sorts is His, not that of the person exercising faith.

It rules out a form of hyper-Calvinism that insists no human action is involved in salvation. While Jesus is indeed the “founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2), and while every aspect of salvation is “the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9), the salvation described in Luke was not accomplished apart from human faith. Though Jesus enacted the deliverance, “your faith” was an essential component of the transaction in all four passages.

The correct view of faith’s role in salvation—as illustrated by these four passages in Luke—is that trust in Jesus’ ability to deliver us from the ruinous effects of our sin is essential for rescue from condemnation. Jesus is the object of our faith. And He is the initiator of the saving power, not the one exercising faith or even the faith itself. Still, salvation does not occur apart from faith.

Other passages in the New Testament confirm this reality. For instance, “By grace you have been saved through faith” (Ephesians 2:8). “Without faith it is impossible to please [God], for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (Romans 1:16-17).

As the Westminster Divines well put it more than three centuries ago, “Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and His righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification.”

A Prayer for the Muslim World—Samuel Zwemer (1867-1952)

zwemerThe great historian of Christian mission, Kenneth Scott Latourette, once said that no man deserved the title “The Apostle to Islam” more than Samuel Zwemer.1 The 13th of 15 children born to a Dutch Reformed immigrant family in Michigan, Zwemer gave his life to the evangelization of Muslim peoples. For 40 years he worked in Iraq, Bahrain, and Egypt. In his extensive travels throughout Asia, India, Africa, and North America he presented the needs of Muslims to Christians and the gospel of Christ to Muslims.

A plea for persistent prayer for Muslim peoples and lands was a constant theme in his public speaking and writing.

Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, who hast made of one blood all nations and hast promised that many shall come from the East and sit down with Abraham in thy kingdom: We pray for thy prodigal children in Muslim lands who are still afar off, that they may be brought nigh by the blood of Christ. Look upon them in pity, because they are ignorant of thy truth.

Take away pride of intellect and blindness of heart, and reveal to them the surpassing beauty and power of thy Son Jesus Christ. Convince them of their sin in rejecting the atonement of the only Savior. Give moral courage to those who love thee, that they may boldly confess thy name.

Untergehende SonneHasten the day of religious freedom in Turkey, Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and North Africa. Send forth reapers where the harvest is ripe, and faithful plowmen to break furrows in lands still neglected. May the tribes of Africa and Malaysia not fall prey to Islam but be won for Christ. Bless the ministry of healing in every hospital, and the ministry of love at every church and mission. May all Muslim children in mission schools be led to Christ and accept him as their personal Savior.

Strengthen converts, restore backsliders, and give all those who labor among Muslims the tenderness of Christ, so that bruised reeds may become pillars of his church, and smoking flaxwicks burning and shining lights. Make bare thine arm, O God, and show thy power. All our expectation is from thee.

Father, the hour has come; glorify thy Son in the Muslim world, and fulfill through him the prayer of Abraham thy friend, “O, that Ishmael might live before thee.” For Jesus’ sake. Amen.2

 

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Endnotes:

1 In the preface to J. Christy Wilson, Apostle to Islam (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1952).

2 Samuel M. Zwemer, Islam and the Cross: Selections from “The Apostle to Islam,” ed. Roger S. Greenway (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 2002), 153-154.

Campuses Aflame with Revival

In 1787, a few concerned students met for prayer at Virginia’s Hampden-Sydney College. None were particularly active Christians, yet their concern for the college’s low moral state led them to beseech God’s help. Initially it did not go well. Disturbed by a band of unruly classmates, they locked themselves in a room. Eventually the institution’s president rebuked the rowdies and invited the prayer warriors into his study. There they prayed until revival fell and more than half of the student body professed conversion to faith in Christ. Unbeknownst to those students, the spiritual awakening at Hampden-Sydney would spark similar revivals on college campuses across America.1

Jonathan_EdwardsDecades earlier, America’s First Great Awakening produced evangelical conversions in droves as preachers like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield called sinners to faith in Christ. A byproduct of those conversions was the establishment of colleges to train young people for ministry, leadership, and godly living. Rutgers University, Dartmouth College, and Brown University were just a few of the institutions to emerge. Yet as the eighteenth century progressed, the spiritual fervor in America’s halls of higher learning declined into apathy and immorality. Things changed only when God brought a national revival known as the Second Great Awakening, a revival that had a massive impact on college campuses.

At Yale, awakening peaked in 1802. In part through the inspired preaching of President Timothy Dwight, the Lord converted a third of the student body that year. And similar instances of revival hit at other schools – Andover, Princeton, Washington, and Amherst. As a result, men of God were appointed college presidents, campuses established regular prayer days during the academic term, and the college sermon became a fixture of university life.

Unfortunately, the revival fires burned out over time. But over the next 200 years, God graciously brought a series of campus awakenings, just when higher education seemed to need them. For instance, in 1857 a revival that began with noon prayer meetings among businessmen in New York drove university students nationwide to prayer, repentance, and conversion. In 1858 alone, one third of Middlebury’s undergraduates professed conversion, almost half of Yale’s student body confessed faith in Christ, and only three or four of Amherst’s graduating seniors remained unconverted. A wave of students undertook missionary work overseas while college YMCAs formed to continue campus evangelism at home.

The first 15 years of the twentieth century brought additional awakenings at schools like MIT, Cornell, and Rutgers. Revivals in 1905 led to widespread adoption of the honor system for college exams and to enrollment gains in voluntary campus Bible studies. Then, after World War II, revival stirred again in America. A chapel service at Kentucky’s Asbury College lasted 118 consecutive hours. On the West Coast, Campus Crusade for Christ was founded. The ministries of the Navigators and of Billy Graham expanded, with strong impact on the campuses.

Sporadically through the 1960s campuses reported revivals, with another wave coming in 1970.14 At Asbury, for example, a chapel service transformed into a spontaneous wave of repentance and worship.2 In 1995, a movement of God began at Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Texas, and it spread to many schools throughout the nation, including Wheaton College in Illinois.3 As recently as 2006, Asbury reported hundreds of students for days on end remaining in the school’s chapel for prayer and praise.

These revivals happen only by the sovereign work of God’s hand. That is why Scripture counsels those who hunger for revival to “humble themselves, and pray and seek [God’s] face and turn from their wicked ways.” Only then will He “hear from heaven and … forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chron. 7:14). Because of God’s power, even campuses filled with contempt for God’s standards can experience revival fires once more. Indeed, He may still move in stunning ways.

 

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Endnotes

1 J. Edwin Orr, Campus Aflame: Evangelical Awakenings in Collegiate Communities (Glendale, CA: Regal, 1971), 25.

2 Lewis A. Drummond, The Awakening That Must Come (Nashville: Broadman, 1978), 94-96. See also Robert E. Coleman, One Divine Moment (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1970).

3 Timothy K. Beougher and Lyle W. Dorsett, Accounts of a Campus Revival: Wheaton College, 1995 (Wheaton, IL: Harold Shaw, 1995).

A Prophet Visits Harvard (1978)

Before his 1978 Harvard commencement address, Russian exile Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was the darling of the American liberal intelligentsia; when he finished, he was a pariah. (The New York Times called him “dangerous” and a “zealot.”1) They were expecting a grateful message, worshipful of their “Great Society.” Instead, he rebuked them for their cowardice, legalism, superficiality, herd instinct, materialism, humanism, and flirtation with socialism.

Aleksandr_SolzhenitsynSolzhenitsyn’s message might have seemed a good fit for a school whose early seals bore the words, In Christi Gloriam (1650) and Christo et Ecclesiae (1692)2. But the school has long since sold its Christian birthright for a “mess of [secular] pottage.”

The founders were long dead when Solzhenitsyn came to the microphone for the 327th commencement. His hearers had little use for talk about “for the glory of Christ” or “for Christ and the Church.” Instead, they were primed to receive a word on “free expression in the face of tyranny” or “the splendor of the unconquerable soul” from this longtime prisoner of the Soviet gulag. They were not at all prepared for the Russian’s prophetic words, such as these that follow:3

This tilt of freedom toward evil has come about gradually, but it evidently stems from a humanistic and benevolent concept according to which man—the master of this world—does not bear any evil within himself, and all the defects of life are caused by misguided social systems, which must therefore be corrected.

The West has finally achieved the rights of man, and even to excess, but man’s sense of responsibility to God and society has grown dimmer and dimmer.

Socialism of any type and shade leads to a total destruction of the human spirit and to a leveling of mankind into death.

It [humanism] started modern Western civilization on the dangerous trend of worshiping man and his material needs.

I am referring to the calamity of an autonomous, irreligious humanistic consciousness. It has made man the measure of all things on earth—imperfect man, who is never free of pride, self-interest, envy, vanity, and dozens of other defects.

Humanism which has lost its Christian heritage cannot prevail in this competition.

We have placed too much hope in politics and social reforms, only to find out that we were being deprived of our most precious possession: our spiritual life.

Alas, neither Harvard nor its adoring constituency fell to its knees in repentance, but prophets are not called to be successful. They are merely called to be faithful, whatever the resistance and reaction. And though their contemporaries may reject their message, their names will enjoy honor where and when honor counts.

Perhaps God will grant Harvard repentance. Perhaps revival will begin with another shocking commencement address, a guest column in the student newspaper, or the conversion of a popular professor. In God’s providence and in God’s time, it doesn’t take much. The founders knew this when they chose Zechariah 4:10 for the title page of the first “catalogue” of their fledgling school—“Who hath despised the Day of small things?”4

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Endnotes

1 Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Solzhenitsyn at Harvard: The Address, Twelve Early Responses, and Six Later Reflections (Washington, D.C.: Ethics and Public Policy Center, 1980). 3-20.

2 Samuel Eliot Morison, The Founding of Harvard College (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1935), 330.

3 Solzhenitsyn, 23-24.

4 Morison, 420.

The Discipline of Getting Back on Your Feet

24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.

2 Corinthians 11:24-28 (ESV)

SinglenessOn March 12, 1812, the long building housing William Carey’s translation work burned to the ground in Serampore, India. Lost in the fire were, among other works, a Kararnese New Testament, Bengali and Sanskirt dictionaries, much of a Punjabi grammar, hundreds of reams of English paper, and many foreign-language fonts.1 Nevertheless, he reconstituted his workshop and eventually published portions of the Bible in 44 languages and dialects. At his death over 20 years later, he was still teaching and preaching, having recently worked on revisions to his Bengali Bible. Here was a man who knew to get back on his feet in the Lord’s service.

In this respect, as in others, Carey was like Paul, who suffered many setbacks, miseries, and blows – but who also persisted with grace and determination. Surprisingly, though Paul was unsurpassed as an apostle, he suffered harsh criticism from some quarters of the Church, so in 2 Corinthians 11, he answered those trying to discredit him. He said he felt like a fool in boasting about his record (2 Cor. 11:21), but they had driven him to it.

His list of sufferings for the gospel is staggering, as is his resiliency. In verse 25, he mentions a stoning in Lystra, one described in Acts 14:19-22. A closer look at the incident shows that as soon as Paul could stand, he went right back into the city and then later, returned to it a second time on missionary work.

That sort of determination to “keep on keeping on” in the face of tragedy and cruelty is rare in the West today; far too many are prone to over-nurse their wounds, to cultivate their victimhood, and to stand down until they are certain that they are feeling rested and chipper. So the Church can scarcely count on them for help or leadership.

Fortunately, this is not the case in the developing world, where the Church would simply disappear if believers stayed down when beaten down. In the missionary briefing book Operation World,2 one reads that, in Bali, “The cost of discipleship is high, and converts to Christianity often face ostracism, persecution and financial loss”; that, in Pakistan, “a whole Christian village of 30,000 was razed by a Muslim mob”; that, in Sudan, “Deliberate attempts to eliminate a viable Christian presence have been extreme, and have included bombing of Sunday church services… killing of pastors and leaders and a food-for-conversion policy for refugees…” These persecuted believers can readily identify with Paul, and many follow his example.

It is said of U.S. postmen, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” Would that all followers of Christ might be so honored, as were circuit-riding preachers of the American frontier, where people remarked, when the weather was miserable, “There’s nobody out today but crows and Methodist preachers.” Despite discomfort, they got back in the saddle – and hit their marks with discipline.

 

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Endnotes

1 Jim Eliff, “Serampore Sorrows: Finding Courage in Catastrophe,” Bulletin Inserts Website, http://bulletininserts.org/bulletininsert.aspx?bulletininsert_id=12 (accessed January 19, 2015).

2 Patrick Johnstone and Jason Mandryk, Operation World: When We Pray God Works, 21st century ed. (Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster, 2001).