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THE LAMB'S AGENDAWHY JESUS IS CALLING YOU TO A LIFE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS AND JUSTICE
By SAMUEL RODRIGUEZ
THOMAS NELSONCopyright © 2013 Samuel Rodriguez
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA Cross Movement, Vertical and Horizontal
Life is a cross. No other symbol incorporates passion and promise like the crossa simple symbol depicting two pieces of wood, one vertical and the other horizontal, successfully branded the eternal hope of glory to all mankind.
Madison Avenue and multimillion-dollar campaigns have not been able to reproduce any comparable symbol. The loyalty, commitment, and even, to a great degree, the multigenerational allegiance to a message has been conveyed via the humble conduit of this brand. It is not written on the wood, but instead it is incarnated in the spirit of what it representsgrace and eternal life.
That universal Christian symbol, vociferously and with unbridled persuasion, not only conveys a message of what is to come, but also what life truly is: a cross. Jesus said, "Carry your cross daily and follow me."
The cross is both vertical and horizontal. Vertically, we stand connected to God, his kingdom, eternal life, spiritual truths, divine principles, and glory. Horizontally, to our left and to our right, we exist surrounded by and revealed through community, relationships, family, culture, and society.
Simply stated, the cross is both vertical and horizontal, redemption and relationship, holiness and humility, covenant and community, kingdom and society, righteousness and justice, salvation and transformation, ethos and pathos; it is John 3:16 and Luke 4, orthodoxy and orthopraxy, Billy Graham and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., faith and public policy, imago dei and habitus Christus, prayers and activism, sanctification and service, the New Jerusalem and Washington DC.
For too long, people have lived either vertically or horizontally. Few, even in Christian leadership, have succeeded in living, speaking, and ministering from where the vertical and horizontal planes of the cross intersectthe nexus of Christianity, the womb from which the Lamb's agenda flows.
The Nexus of the Cross
Historically, white evangelicals have focused primarily on two major issues: life and family. Understandably, black Christians have tended to focus on the social justice elements of the gospel message that speak to issues of poverty, education, and racism. The Agenda of the Lamb reconciles both the vertical and horizontal elements of the cross, a platform of righteousness and justice. In other words, the Christian nexus of a kingdom-culture ethos and a transformational mission directive that is not either-or but both-and.
This nexus is the place where conviction marries compassion, where the fish intersect with the bread, where truth joins hands with mercy. The next great transformative and prophetic movement in our nation must stand committed to the vertical and horizontal cross, the place where we reconcile the optics of redemption with the metrics of reconciliation.
We need a church committed to saving the lost and transforming our communities, addressing sin while confronting injustice. We need a church that will be pro-life and antipoverty, that will strengthen marriage and end human trafficking. A church is not an either-or proposition; it is a both-and community. It is righteousness and justice.
Life is both vertical and horizontala cross. The individual can live on one plane or, if a pure nihilist, on no plane at all. But why do either when one can dwell at the strongest pointthe center? The balanced soul finds its home at the nexus where faith meets action, righteousness meets justice, and the prophetic intersects with the practical.
A Church-led Movement
These converging conduits of righteousness and justice serve as the platform for the most powerful and catalytic entity on the planet, the church of Jesus Christ. While institutions, nations, governments, and corporations fail, one institution will always live: the church of Christ. Matthew 16:18 says it clearly, "And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it."
The Agenda of the Lamb can only succeed when the Christ-centered, Bible-believing church leads the way. Why? Never in American history have we experienced long-term sustainable change without the Christ-following community igniting the righteous flame. From the abolitionist movement to the civil rights movement to the pro-life movement, the Christian community has led the way. Christians have always been in the vanguard. Our faith provides the moral imperative. Our Godeveryone's Godprovides the grace to hear the call and the courage to act. Now more than ever, the Agenda of the Lamb requires the Bible-believing church to rise up once again.
Today, we face at least four major threats to Christianity in America:
spiritual apathy, and
ecclesiastical indifference (the reigning spirit of the
Of all these threats, none is more subversive than an indifferent congregation in a lukewarm church.
The Lukewarm Church
Why does a lukewarm church pose the greatest danger to the Christian narrative in our lifetime? Simply stated, a lukewarm, sin-tolerant church lacks the moral authority to speak truth to power. It gives only the illusion of being a spiritual force in a material world. As such, it can beand often isco-opted by the forces of evil.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer experienced this firsthand. As a dynamic, Bible-believing Christian in 1930's Germany, Bonhoeffer watched in horror as the "official" German Christian Church cozied up to the National Socialists then in power. As such, that church gave German Christians the illusion that they could be both good Nazis and good Christians. Many fell under Hitler's sway and politely averted their gaze as he proceeded to move from one evil to another.
Bonhoeffer, however, understood the Agenda of the Lamb and the symbolism of the cross. He knew that only through the grace of God and the power of his Word could he find the strength to insist on social justice for his persecuted fellow citizens, many of whom were not even Christians. He understood that the cross's horizontal plane did not stop at the walls of his church.
As Paul argued in Romans 12:18, "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." And as Jesus himself commanded his apostles, "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28:1920).
This was a radical Christian notion, that all of us, regardless of where we live or what we look like, are brothers and sisters in Christ. This is a notion that Bonhoeffer took seriously. For his efforts, as he always knew could happen, Bonhoeffer was imprisoned and executed. He died a saintly death. Many of his fellow Christians died under Hitler's power as well, but too many of them died loathing themselves for their complicity in their own demise.
None of Bonhoeffer's colleagues expressed his regret more poignantly than Lutheran pastor Friedrich Niemöller. In the beginning of Hitler's rise, he frustrated Bonhoeffer with his lukewarmness, his eagerness to be both a good Christian and a good Nazi. To his credit, Niemöller saw the error of his ways. His resistance to Hitler caused him to be imprisoned for eight years, barely escaping execution. About his path to prison Niemöller famously said:
When Hitler attacked the Jews I was not a Jew, therefore I was not concerned. And when Hitler attacked the Catholics, I was not a Catholic, and therefore, I was not concerned. And when Hitler attacked the unions and the industrialists, I was not a member of the unions and I was not concerned. Then Hitler attacked me and the Protestant churchand there was nobody left to be concerned.
Christians in China today face many of the same challenges that Bonhoeffer faced in Germany. The Communists who manage the state tolerate Christian church services in the same way that Hitler once did; that is, within the narrow theological boundaries dictated by the State Administration for Religious Affairs. The Christians who heed the words of Jesus Christ unfiltered by the state face persecution.
Among the more prominent of the resisters is the Shouwang Church. The church first started as a family Bible study group in 1993 and expanded to more than ten fellowships by 2005. In growing so quickly, the Shouwang Church caught the eye of the authorities. They "asked" church leaders to join the so-called "Three-Self Patriotic Movement Church," a state-sanctioned brand of Christianity. When church leaders declined the offer, persecution began in earnest.
Authorities prevented church members from meeting indoors. When they began meeting outdoors, authorities discouraged attendance by having congregants arrested, fired from their jobs, beaten, expelled from their respective cities, imprisoned, and "re-educated." Meanwhile, the lukewarm Chinese Christians attended their own church services and watched the ongoing persecution with eyes downcast and mouths shut. Worse, as in Nazi Germany, "Christian" acquiescence allowed the state to boast to the rest of the world of its religious tolerance.
The United States is not Nazi Germany, nor Communist China, but we may be headed down the same spiritual path. Our lukewarm Christians ignored the abolitionist movement when they weren't denouncing it. They pretended not to see the civil rights movement and could not even understand the need for one. As to the pro-life movement, they have worked to subvert its influence. When religious freedom has been threatened, they encouraged the oppressors through their silence or active complicity.
Cardinal George of Chicago in 2010 said, "I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison, and his successor will die a martyr in the public square." In 2012, when the Obama administration mandated that religious organizations and others cover the cost of contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs in their insurance plans, the Cardinal's pessimism suddenly seemed warranted.
Happily for the administration, there were lukewarm Christians aplenty who found ways to accommodate their beliefs to the dictates of the state. John Wesley, one of the leaders of the first Great Awakening, said, "What one generation tolerates, the next generation will embrace."
Many of the impositions of the state and the culture are less obvious than the contraception mandates. With the intimidating help of groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), local authorities have been whittling away at the rights of Bible-believing Christians for the last century. They have been particularly successful in turning public schools into secular reeducation centers. Here, students are force-fed a godless, sex-drenched, materialistic diet on a daily basis, and if they or their parents protest, they are routinely held up to ridicule.
Consider, for instance, the case of Roger DeHart. A high school biology teacher, DeHart spent fourteen years at Burlington High School in Washington State. Each class would spend two weeks studying human origins. Nine days were devoted to orthodox Darwinism, and for one day of those two weeks, DeHart would introduce the subject of intelligent design, ID for short. ID scientists simply argue that there is a larger intelligence shaping the universe and life on earth, and they look for tangible evidence of this.
DeHart would ask students to write position papers stating the best evidences for or against Darwinian evolution, and volunteers would then debate the topic in front of the class. "Overwhelmingly," said DeHart, "these students saw that as the favorite part of biology."
Understand here that DeHart was not taking sides in the debate. He was not arguing for biblical creationism. He was simply allowing his students to poke holes in the Darwinian thesis that all life began and evolved strictly by chance, an argument for which there is precious little evidence.
Ten years went by without complaint, and then one student took his gripe not to DeHart or his principal but to the ACLU. At first, the superintendent and school board gave DeHart their 100 percent backing. When a new superintendent was hired, however, he told the board members that they would be held personally responsible when the ACLU launched a lawsuit in its relentless effort to drive even the hint of God out of the classroom. The board started to buckle.
DeHart made adjustments. He would allow the students to see critiques of Darwinism only by noted Darwinists, not by ID proponents. Even these were rejected. Any supplemental articles DeHart wanted to teach beyond the textbook had to be reviewed by the biologists at the University of Washington. In addition, he had to submit a handwritten summary of all that he was to say in the two-week unit. In the end, he was reassigned to Earth Science. End of controversy. The district hired a PE teacher with no biology experience to take his place. DeHart now teaches at a Christian high school.
DeHart's case is unusual only in that he offered an alternative to the systematic indoctrination students typically receive. That indoctrination is thorough. William Provine, the Tisch Distinguished University Professor of Biology at Cornell University, is one of the few Darwinists honest enough to explain what he and his colleagues are teaching:
My observation is that the great majority of modern evolutionary biologists now are atheists or something very close to that. Yet prominent atheistic or agnostic scientists publicly deny that there is any conflict between science and religion. Rather than simple intellectual dishonesty, this position is pragmatic. In the United States, elected members of Congress all proclaim to be religious; many scientists believe that funding for science might suffer if the atheistic implications of modern science were widely understood.
What are those implications? "Modern Science directly implies that the world is organized strictly in accordance with deterministic principles or chance," wrote Provine. "There are no purposive principles whatsoever in nature. There are no gods and no designing forces that are rationally detectable. The frequently made assertion that modern biology and the assumptions of the Judaeo-Christian tradition are fully compatible is false."
Lukewarm Christians survive by blinding themselves to what the culture is saying. They always have. In 2006, for instance, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church affirmed, via Resolution A129, that God is creator and added that "the theory of evolution provides a fruitful and unifying scientific explanation for the emergence of life on earth, that many theological interpretations of origins can readily embrace an evolutionary outlook, and that an acceptance of evolution is entirely compatible with an authentic and living Christian faith."
What the Episcopalian hierarchy missed is that five years earlier Roger DeHart lost his job in a public high school for merely suggesting the possibility of a larger intelligence. He never even used the word creator. What the children of these Episcopalians are learning in class is what Provine and others are teaching, namely that "there are no gods and no designing forces that are rationally detectable." Evolutionary biology as taught is not "entirely compatible" with a God-centered universe, let alone Christianity. How could it be?
Lukewarm churches condemn themselves to irrelevance by trying to accommodate themselves to evil, whether it be the evil of slavery, of Nazism, of godless Communism, or of the atheistic materialism of the biology lab. They are more worried about placating their critics than they are about pleasing Christ. The gradual degradation of the culture happened only because lukewarm churches allowed it to happen.
The western part of New York is known historically as the "burnt-over" district. People called it that because the fires of evangelicalism swept the region during the Second Great Awakening. Imagine what they might have called Western New York had the lukewarm church prevailed during this period. The "mildly warmed-over district"? Chances are they would not have called it anything. No one would have noticed a spirit worth labeling.
Like cultural relativism and moral decadence, spiritual apathy is what sets in when the fires burn out. The Greeks had a word for this phenomenon. They called it acedia, which meant a loss of enthusiasm for the spiritual life. By naming it, the Greeks acknowledged how insidious it could be, how its presence opened the doors for a host of other vices. When acedia rules, moral anarchy cannot be far behind. Reinhard Hutter, a professor of Christian theology at Duke Divinity School, has written authoritatively on this subject. He describes acedia, or spiritual apathy, as follows:
It is the very forgoing of friendship with Godwhich is the fulfillment of the transcendent dignity and calling of the human personand the embrace of the self-indulgent deception that there never was and never will be friendship with God, that there never was and never will be a transcendent calling and dignity of the human person. Nothing matters much, because the one thing that really matters, God's love and friendship, does not exist and therefore cannot be attained.
In some ways, acedia is a worse affront to God than atheism. Atheism at least implies a struggle. Acedia implies surrender. It is the reigning ethos of many a lukewarm church. The congregants do not trouble themselves to see God's light beaming down the cross's vertical plane. And seeing no light, they radiate no heat along the horizontal plane. No injustices are fought. No troubled spirits are consoled. No souls are saved. Church means little more than an excuse to get out of the house, see friends, and go to brunch afterward.
Excerpted from THE LAMB'S AGENDA by SAMUEL RODRIGUEZ Copyright © 2013 by Samuel Rodriguez. Excerpted by permission of THOMAS NELSON. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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