What would happen if all of the longtime Christians, church leaders, elders, etc., in a church left, leaving the church made up of new converts, younger generations (Millennials, Gen Xers), and seekers?
New converts, younger generations, and seekers often have different value systems, points of emphasis, and preferences on any number of things. What if . . .
And then what would happen when those same longtime Christians, church leaders, and elders, came back to that same church? What would happen?
For some, some or all of these would be welcome. For others, none of these changes would be welcome and would cause people to say, what in the world has happened to (my) church??
Believe it or not, much the same phenomenon was going on in the church in Rome when Paul wrote to them. The early church was initially made up of all Jewish Christians, as it took some time for people to realize God's plan to include the Gentiles in salvation. So the church in Rome was initially made up on Jewish Christians who had grown up reading, studying, and following the Bible (the Old Testament) with all of its moral laws and religious duties.
But in AD 49, the emperor Claudius kicked all of the Jews out of Rome. All that would have been left were new Gentile converts--former pagans, most of whom definitely did not grow up reading Bible stories and practicing the Law. For five years they would have controlled all of the local church membership, leadership, worship, practices, etc. Do you think that they would have done things differently? Of course.
Then five years later, in AD 54, Claudius died. At the death of an emperor, his decrees were made null and void, which allowed the Jews to return to Rome and Jewish Christians to return to the church in Rome--setting up massive conflict between the Jewish Christians who had grown up following God and the Law and the Gentile Christians who were former pagans. This conflict is played out throughout the book of Romans, and it is into this context that Paul speaks of the gospel, which is for both Jews and Gentiles, and how both groups of Christians should act and behave towards one another.
Now, to the point of this article. In Romans 1:18f, Paul has a famous diatribe against all of sorts of sinful behaviors--worshiping nature/created things, homosexuality, lust, gossip, the breakdown of the family and family roles (disobedience to parents), violence, invention of evil and approval of those who do evil. Now, who would have been most concerned about these things in the church in Rome? The Jewish Christians, of course, and he taps into the fear, angst, and anger that they had against these behaviors.
And just as Paul works up the righteous anger of the Jewish Christians in Romans 1--he would have been receiving "Amens" and "Preach it" left and right by this group--he lowers the boom in chapter 2, turns the tables, and says,
"1 You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. 2 Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. 3 So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? 4 Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?
5 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 God 'will repay each person according to what they have done.' 7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. 9 There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 11 For God does not show favoritism . . .
17 Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and boast in God;18 if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; 19 if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth-- 21 you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? 24 As it is written: 'God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you." (Romans 2:1f).
Wow. Talk about a surprising turn in a sermon! Just as they are getting worked up about the sins of others and the wrath of God against all of those bad people out there, he tells them that they are storing up wrath against themselves! Why? Because they are looking at the sins of others instead of themselves. Because they are showing contempt for God's mercy rather than thankfulness. Because they are hypocritical, condemning the sins of others while engaging in the same immoral activity.
Does this not have application for us. Could not this vice list and these feelings in Romans 1 very well describe how so many Christians feel about our changing culture? I, like so many others, worry about the culture in which my children are growing up in. And it is easy to judge the culture. But Paul says in other places as well--God will judge those outside the church; we should concentrate on making sure that our own lives are in line with God (1 Cor. 5:1f).
So in the week in which users of Ashley Madison, a cheating website, have had their information hacked and this story has been highlighted in the news--should we really be concentrating on all of those adulterers out there who are not Christian--or should we be making sure that our own lives are good and pure and in line with the gospel?
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Dr. James Nored (Doctor of Ministry, Fuller Theological Seminary) is a preacher, evangelist, church consultant, writer, and missional leader located in Fairfax, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C.
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