Continuation . . .

The Apostle John highlights the tension that exists for all Christians between this world and our eschatological future:

Do not love the world or anything in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For everything in the world – the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does – comes not from the Father but from the world.  The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:15-17)

Machen was right when he said that it is the ‘thought of eternity’ that defines Christian orthodoxy.

Interestingly, it is this commitment to eternity that transforms Christian living in a very practical way in day-to-day life.  No doubt critics will complain that focussing exclusively on eternity will lead inevitably to a vague otherworldliness that will render Christians useless during their time on earth.  This, however, could not be further from the truth.  The Apostle Peter argues that it is because Christians have their hope anchored in the future that they can lead such good lives now.  He writes:

Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.  Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, that they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter 2:11-12)

Later he writes that:

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?  You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming . . . So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him (2 Peter 3:11-14)

Far from removing motivation to live worthwhile lives, the Christian focus on eternity actually inspires us to live truly godly lives in a very practical way.

The problem for much of the Church is that it has forgotten that Christianity is inherently eschatological.  Therefore, whilst the Church is engaged in many good activities we might legitimately ask if they are genuinely Christian.

For many Christians, particularly in affluent congregations in the West, this world, and not eternity, is at the centre of their thinking.  They have abandoned any sense in themselves that they are in fact strangers and aliens and have become so immersed in the world that the faith to which they adhere no longer resembles anything found in the New Testament.  What religion they have is, in the words of Machen, ‘merely a means for the betterment of conditions upon this earth.’

When this happens Christianity ceases to be the counter-cultural and subversive movement it started out as.  So identified is it with the here-and-now and with ameliorating the worst effects of human sin that it is inevitably embraced by the powers-that-be as a vehicle through which society can be transformed.  Machen describes it this way:

Thus religion has become a mere function of the community or of the state.  So it is looked upon by the men of the present day.  Even hard-headed business men and politicians have become convinced that religion is needed.  But it is thought to be needed merely as a means to an end.  We have tried to get along without religion, it is said, but the experiment was a failure, and now religion must be called in to help.

This of course is a far cry from the Christianity of the New Testament where the Apostle John warns Christians not to be surprised if the world hates them (1 John 3:13).

Machen’s words, first published in 1923, describe accurately, however, the position of much of the Church in the West today consumed as it is with programs for social improvement.  No doubt many of the programs are good but are they really Christian?  It is our conviction that much of the social justice movement is rooted in an un-eschatological vision of Christianity.

The temptation for the Church to throw in her lot with other earthly agents will no doubt increase as western governments look for ways to cut spending whilst maintaining public services.  We will doubtless be told, even by Christians, that this represents a great opportunity to show how relevant Christianity is and will increase the popularity and cultural acceptance of the Church thereby giving her greater opportunity to present the Gospel.

The danger of course in throwing in one’s lot with the world is that the Gospel you end up presenting is really no gospel at all and that the eschatological dimension of Christianity is lost amidst the work of social transformation.

Whilst we would never encourage Christians to isolate themselves from the society in which they live and would always be eager to love our neighbours as Jesus commanded we must endeavour to do so within the parameters of Christian orthodoxy.

We are never more than temporary residents in this world and it is our eschatological hope for the future, namely the return of Jesus and the consummation of his Kingdom, which makes us Christian in a genuinely biblical sense.

The Apostle Peter repeatedly urges us to take the future into account and tells us to set our hope ‘fully’ on the grace we shall receive ‘when Jesus Christ is revealed’ (1 Peter 1:13).

C S Lewis expresses this truth with clarity and ease:

Hope is one of the Theological virtues.  This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do . . . It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.   

Ironically perhaps it is as we orientate ourselves toward the future that we become most effective in the present.  Lewis was right to say that:

If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.    

Few Church leaders it seems are confident enough to boldly proclaim the reality of the return of Jesus, the awful judgement of both the living and dead and the creation of new heavens and a new earth.  That, however, is the only context within which the Gospel makes any lasting sense and is perhaps why so many in Britain today feel so at ease with their sinful condition.

It's our conviction that if we want to see the lost saved, churches grow and the Kingdom of God advance in this nation we must recapture our eschatological focus.  If we don’t the Church will slide further into irrelevance and her message will continue to be met with shrugs of indifference.

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