The Church of Jesus Christ enters today into the year of her Lord 1972. It is well for us, through our periodical, to pause for a few moments and ponder some significant events which relate so directly to the history of the Church of Jesus Christ. For the history of the world is God’s history; and, because it is God’s history, it is the Church’s history—above all else. What has history been saying to us who are called to walk as pilgrims and strangers in the earth? What can we learn which will enable us to continue our sojourn with steadfastness in the year which lies ahead? There is some value to be gained, it seems, in attempting to look at the past year as a whole. We see only snapshots as we pass from one day to the next. It is well that we sit alongside of the road for a few minutes and try to see the sweeping panorama of the past year in its whole and in its relationships. We must be sure, however, that we look at the way we have traversed in the light of the unfailing Word of God.
It is, in the nature of the case, impossible to discuss all that has happened. It has been a momentous year with countless events crowding in upon us from every side. There are too many things which have happened and we are still too near the year to weigh it all and put it all together into a coherent whole. But some things stand out with clarity and sharpness. And these we do well to ponder.
Casting about in our minds to recall the events which particularly made a deep impression upon us as we read the daily newspapers and news weeklies to learn of what was happening in the affairs of the nations, we are impressed with the steady and relentless drift into moral chaos which characterizes the lives of men. Crime rises steadily; disrespect for authority grows by leaps and bounds; lawlessness is the order of the day both in our own land and abroad; principle is sacrificed daily on the altar of expediency; cynical disregard for principles of right and wrong mark indelibly the actions of men in high places and low. Paul writes to the Thessalonians: “And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity (better, “lawlessness”, cf. the RV) cloth already work: only he who now letteth will let until he be taken out of the way. And then shall that Wicked be revealed (again, “Lawless One” is the better translation), whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.” II Thessalonians 2:6-10.
While wars continue throughout the world (signs, according to the Lord Jesus, of His return, Cf.Matthew 24:6), major breakthroughs have been accomplished to bring the world into one universal empire. The European common market flourishes. President Nixon is going on a trip of peace to America’s archenemy in the Orient. Peace talks seem to be bearing some fruit between America and Russia. Harbingers of the universal kingdom of Antichrist remind the oftentimes weary pilgrim that grim days lie ahead.
One development of tremendous importance which cannot help but fill the soul of the Christian with alarm is the devastating attack which has been launched against the home and which reached alarming proportions in the past year. As the whole relationship of authority and obedience breaks down in every area of life, this pillar of the home is also undermined. Rebelliousness, disregard for authority, disobedience, failure to exercise authority—these are the things which have invaded the home and brought it nigh to ruin. What contributes to it? A host of things. Women working, woman’s liberation, youth protest, antiestablishment sentiment among the young, immature youth given the responsibilities of adulthood and considered legally to be adults, permissiveness, materialism and pleasure-seeking. The sanctity of marriage is mocked openly as divorce laws are liberalized. The home is subjected to an incessant bombardment of sex—as if sex is the end-all and be-all of life. Abortion is made legally acceptable in a world which cannot be bothered with the responsibilities of child-bearing and child-training. The pilgrim must see all this and resolve, by the grace of Almighty God, to fight with every ounce of his strength against the corrosive and eroding influences which threaten his home and family.
But the pilgrim is eminently a member of the Church of Jesus Christ. And, as he stands at the beginning of another year and another stretch of road which lies yet between him and his eternal destination, he cannot but consider what is happening in the Church about him.
It is easy to see that things are not well in the Church. Apostasy has always characterized the history of the Church; this is no less true today. Apostasy has made deep inroads into every denomination, and the pilgrim sees that churches which were once strong are not such any longer. They have capitulated in whole or in large measure to the enemy. They have become like frail ships on the seas of history tossed about by every wind of doctrine. There are, however, a couple of errors which seem especially significant in the light of apostasy which has raged throughout time. The most important is that the devastating work of the higher criticism the 18th and 19th centuries is bearing much fruit in the church. And this results in the severest and most reprehensible attacks on the sole authority of Scripture. It is Scripture itself which is under attack. This has not happened heretofore—at least in the measure in which it is happening in our day. There are many ways in which this can be done and is being done; and the pilgrim scarcely has the time or inclination to keep up on them all. But he knows with an unshakeable certainty that his Bible which he carries in all his pilgrimage as his dearest treasure is being snatched from the hands of many; and that he must cling to it with all his might if he is to preserve it and walk in its light. What was it Jesus Himself said? The words bring a chill. “Nevertheless, when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” Luke 18:8b.
But the relentless attacks on the authority of Scripture, he notices, are closely intertwined with a growing confidence in the authority of science. The Christian is not fooled by this. To ascribe final authority to science is to ascribe authority to man. It is a particularly deadly kind of rationalism and humanism; and the ungodly have so many products of science and technology which make life so pleasant and with which they prove, to the destruction of many, the mighty power which science has. But when such authority is ascribed to science, then evil philosophies rush in to take the place of sober Scriptural truth. The teachings of creation and the miracles of Christ and His atoning work are discarded as outmoded beliefs of a superstitious and unscientific past in favor of fables and myths of modern invention. And along with this goes that terrible perversion of the Christian’s calling. It is a perversion which denies the very heart of the pilgrim’s life—that he is called to be a stranger in the earth. It teaches, with a conviction that tugs at the heart of many, that this life is all we know now or ever shall know. It propagates the vain philosophy that there is no life beyond death, that our calling is to make this world the kingdom of Christ, for that is all we can expect. It becomes a social gospel in an age in which “sociology” is considered a science and which distracts completely the minds of men from the “city which hath foundations.”
The pilgrim resolves, by the grace of the Lord Christ, to give serious attention to his calling to be a stranger in a strange land. He must spend some time, and very shortly, in rereading I Peter, for it is the handbook of the sojourner.
Yet there is another element which came to the fore in the past year which deserves more than passing notice. He who journeys to the new Jerusalem has noticed that there are many within the Church who speak of revival in the world and a return to the principles of Christianity. Such news is to be taken with utmost seriousness and ought to be investigated closely. What constitutes the reason for such optimism on the part of so many? Why is it that normally sober men in the Church can suddenly become very excited about a resurgence of religion and a revival of national and international proportions?
The answer to this question is disappointing. For, upon closer study, one finds that the excitement is about very strange movements which are different from anything the Church has ever seen. There is the Jesus-movement so-called. The name already arouses suspicion. The pilgrim senses that His Lord and Master would not like it to have a true religious movement called by that name. But, we cannot be misled by names always. It is a movement which sweeps especially over the youth and which has so many different forms about it that it is hard to get a good hold on what it is all about. There is a lot of slang involved in it. There is a lot of excitement and noise. There is a lot of religious fervor and unusual zeal. Is the excitement about the right things? Is one, to use the words of Paul, zealous about the good things? Here is where the movement falls so far short. It defines religion in ways quite contrary to the Word of God. It defines religion in terms of “feeling,” of “a high” like a man on a drug trip; it speaks of religion in terms of emotions and uncontrolled passions. But lacking so very badly in the movement is the solemn and sober call to sound doctrine which Scripture so often urges upon the people of God. It ignores the church institute and runs roughshod over the solemn injunction of the apostle to do all things decently and in order. It cuts the heart out of true religion for it forgets the words of the Lord: “They that worship God must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” It is a religion of hypnotic suggestion; of Jesus Christ, Superstar; of a substitute for drugs and sex while preserving the same kind of fleshly thrills. It is a religion which reduces revelation to experience and the knowledge of God to an emotional roller coaster.
And closely related to all this is what goes under the catch-all name of NeoPentecostalism. The soberminded pilgrim is disturbed that ordinarily soberminded people are so taken in with this sort of thing. Cannot they see that Scripture never reduces religion to such things as tongue-speaking, faith-healing, prophesying, hypnotic enthrallment with the inexplicable?
The trouble is that these things have great appeal and the temptation is strong to leave the narrow path which leads to life and to follow the road of those whose way is so easy. There is something in all of us, the pilgrim muses, which likes to capture thrills and be excited. And if religion can be made to do this, one can have his thrills and heaven too. And indeed, so often we are responsible for making religion as Scripture characterizes it, a grim and distasteful thing. The danger is ever lurking of dead orthodoxy; and the devil is adept at holding up the bug-bear of this evil to frighten us into sensationalism.
But, the Christian ponders within his troubled soul, life is not a toboggan slide where the air is rent with the screams of excited people having a good time. Life for the pilgrim is a battle, and the noise is the shouting and din of life-and-death struggle. Ecstasy is out of place here and distracting.
The pilgrim reminds himself that he shall have to be at pains to remind his children and his fellow saints that it is well, in the year ahead, to emphasize the true joy of salvation and the knowledge of God and to speak more of the true and abiding fruits of the Spirit. He shall have to see that his sword and shield are in his hand and that his armor is firmly buckled into place. For his weapons are the Word of God and the lofty and eternal truths of the Scriptures. And the battle is very fierce. It will, beyond doubt grow worse. He shall have to remind himself and his fellow travelers that he cannot afford to miss, even once, the meeting of God’s people in worship services; for these are oases in the wilderness.
But there are also rays of hope and reasons for joy in the things which have transpired. For the pressures of false doctrine and the threatening tides of false ecumenism have served to remind the faithful that their calling to be steadfast is very urgent. He hears from many parts of his own country and the world, that there are pilgrims like himself who are set upon the path of a sojourner, who are content to live in spiritual tents, whose eyes are lit, not with the fanaticism of emotional kicks, but with the light of the Jerusalem above. And these pilgrims are prepared to engage in the battle at whatever the cost. They are weary of their denominations and the silly subterfuges of their leaders. They are desperately tired of the hopeless drift towards evil philosophy in their churches. They are determined to stand fast.
And these faithful, wherever they may be, see increasingly the need of seeking out those who are of a like mind and who are faithful as they are. The calls go out throughout the world. They are not large in number. But they are there—in many places. And they see, increasingly, the need of each other. For them there are no lofty dreams of a super church. They are content to know each other and encourage each other and help one another in the difficulties of the way. The words of Paul to Timothy ring through his soul: “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” II Timothy 2:19.
And so he turns to the future, to the year of his Lord, 1972. The events which he has pondered all speak, after all, one truth: Christ is coming! His journey will soon be over and the reward of life will be his in the kingdom of his Father. What shall we say to all these things? “The end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.”