Seven challenges face the church as it enters a new millennium. How will we respond?Guest editorial by Jay Kesler, president of Taylor University in Upland, Indiana.
The burden of leadership is to plan and prepare for something impossible to know—the future. But while we may not know the details, the general character of future challenges are clear. Following, as a companion to CT Institute essays beginning on page 20, are the issues evangelicals must face.
1. Privatization and entrepreneurship. The doctrine of the priesthood of all believers does not imply that each believer is to set up a god shop with himself or herself as the sole proprietor. We must infuse biblical, fiscal, moral, and social accountability into evangelicalism. Every disagreement must not be allowed to express itself in the formation of a new church or movement. Far too much is at stake in the church to allow narrow motives and thoughtless passions to rule. Since no ecclesiastical or civil organization can enforce accountability in our pluralistic democracy, we must encourage it on a voluntary basis and pray the Holy Spirit to guide congregations to demand, at minimum, New Testament standards and structures.
2. Biotechnology and human responsibility. Between the excuses, “You are not wrong, God made you what you are” and “You are not wrong, society has shaped what you are,” much of what once brought about conviction and repentance has been lost in the evangelical church. In many settings, the therapeutic approach has replaced the call to conversion. This complex and ambiguous situation must be patiently, compassionately, and biblically addressed before we sink into a quagmire of false compassion.
We are in the midst of a sophisticated political, scientific, and theological debate, whether we are discussing alcoholism, drug addiction, sexual compulsion, homosexuality, serial murder, or grand theft. If we are to hold firmly to our Bibles and our science, we must determine where will, moral responsibility, and sin fit into a world of genetics, trace chemicals, brain structures, and multiple-personality disorders. Psychiatrist Karl Menninger asked the right question in his book Whatever Became of Sin? Evangelicals must continue to press the issue of moral responsibility and, above all, the gospel that Jesus Christ came to save us from our sins.
3. Pluralism and ethnicity. The trend today is to forget civility while magnifying your group’s distinctives. Gender, race, nationality, culture, language, class, and even abledness and disabledness divide us into warring factions. Northern Ireland, Lebanon, and South Africa were once thought to be aberrations in human relations. Now Eastern Europe is rebalkanizing into ethnic, racial, and religious factions. Can the U.S. be far behind? Did we already see the future in Los Angeles last spring?
In the midst of pain, anger, and division, the church has a mandate and a model in the New Testament. In Christ “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28, NIV).
4. Authority and individual freedom. Watergate, Irangate, and the abortion debate have a common thread, an underlying question: Should conduct be governed by any larger consideration than one’s own political commitment or personal choice? If our lives are our own to do with as we please, then expediency, self-interest, and pragmatism rule. But if there is a God, then a transcendent dimension must govern our choices. And if Christ is God’s Son, then the church must echo his voice on earth. Who will speak for the helpless, the poor, the disenfranchised, and the cloutless? Who says “ought” in a fragmented society if the church cannot or, worse, will not?
5. Environmentalism and stewardship. Jesus, who withered a fig tree, may not have been fully green; but his choice of words—shepherd, husbandman, steward—connote responsible conservation of the earth. Jesus showed that no more profound statement can be made in the environmental debate than “This is our Father’s world.” The church must resist the irresponsible and shortsighted use of natural resources. At the same time, it must not fall captive to any single political party or movement on this issue, since no one has ownership of the subject and the whole created order has a stake in the outcome. The church must raise the argument above economics, political rhetoric, or even survival of the species. God has made us stewards and given us responsibility over his creation.
6. Haves and have-nots. The once-deserved criticism of evangelicals being too otherworldly has been redressed by the emergence of myriad evangelical social ministries such as World Vision, World Concern, Prison Fellowship, Compassion, and Sojourners, to name a few. Still, there is more to be done. Ron Sider, Wes Granberg-Michaelson, and a few others have sometimes seemed to be voices in the wilderness, crying for an evangelical rethinking of the distribution of our global resources to insure survival for the needy. After theories have been propounded and sides taken, it is still the church that must respond with the cup of cold water and minister to the least of Christ’s brethren.
7. Church and parachurch. The proliferation of parachurch ministries seems to have reached the saturation point, or perhaps run up against the barrier of economic resources. The cleavage and competition between church and parachurch must end, and both accountability and resources must come from a gathered, spiritually united church. Specialized ministries, be they to those stricken with AIDS, to single parents, to disadvantaged youth, through the whole range of human need, have been isolated and addressed in the parachurch. By joining hands across these too-rigid categories, we can make a difference in contemporary society.
Meeting the challenges
How will the evangelical church respond to these and other challenges? One thing is clear: The answer will not depend on the many insubstantial debates that preoccupy the church, such as whether on Sunday we lift our eyes to sing choruses projected on the sanctuary wall or bury our faces in books to sing traditional hymns. Rather, the future depends on the centrality of Jesus Christ to our commitments, the seriousness with which we approach his Word, and the readiness of our obedience to his voice.
There is plenty of reason for hope. Evangelicals believe that God has spoken through his Word, his Son, and his creation. The needs are obvious, the mandate is clear, the structure is in place, and in the Savior’s own words, “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
I Am Man, Hear Me Roar
Heavyweight champion Mike Tyson rapes a beauty-pageant participant. Basketball star Magic Johnson confesses he has the virus that causes AIDS due to his sexual promiscuity. A Newsweek cover shouts: “Deadbeat Dads: Wanted for Failure to Pay Child Support.” Crime statistics correlate violent crime with maleness more than with any other factor. Every month, it seems, CT’s own pages announce that some Christian leader has to leave the ministry because of his sexual infidelity.
These are just some of the images of maleness we are bombarded with daily. One wonders: Are men doomed? Destined by a Y-chromosome to commit scandalous acts and heinous crimes?
When something happens that interrupts the bad-news litany about men, we are tempted to shout about it. Such an event occurred in Boulder, Colorado, in July (CT News, Sept. 14, 1992, p. 57), when 22,000 men gathered for the first national Promise Keepers conference. They came to learn about and be encouraged in fulfilling their responsibilities, loving their wives, and being involved with their children—a radical agenda by today’s selfist standards.
To emphasize character—as Promise Keepers does—is the biblical approach to family values. Scripture has little to say about the division of labor in marriage, perhaps because carrying out garbage is not truly related to gender. But the willingness to work and sacrifice, honesty, responsibility, dependability, gentleness, firmness—these are qualities that husbands and fathers can use build strong families.
The brainchild of University of Colorado football coach Bill McCartney, Promise Keepers hopes to encourage men through annual conferences, books, newsletters, and possibly radio and TV programs. McCartney feels men have been passive and indifferent to the social disintegration going on around them. It is time for men “to take inventory,” he says, and become godly leaders of home, church, and culture.
We are enthusiastic about Promise Keepers because it is good news, and its efforts are needed. In a day when male strength has become axiomatically suspect, it is hard to stay quiet about an effort to encourage men, in the name of Christ, to use their God-given power as a force for righteousness.
By Michael G. Maudlin.
No Comment Department
Acivil lawsuit involving televangelist Robert Tilton and a Dallas TV station was scheduled to go before a jury recently. But, according to the Dallas Morning News, members of the 42-person jury panel expressed such deep resentment toward television evangelists that an impartial, 12-person jury could not be selected.
When asked if they could set aside their feelings to decide the case on its merits, one potential juror after another said no. “It’s a gigantic rip-off,” said one. “I think they’re thieves,” said another. The case will be decided by a district court judge.
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