Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Individual Accountability and Spiritual Awakening

In the previous Oikonomia article, “Cultural Influence of a Committed Minority,” I confessed that my first reaction to the High Court legalization of same-sex marriage was to resent how five unelected justices could alter the definition of marriage when a large majority of Americans had opposed it.  I even blamed President Obama for not providing moral leadership in opposition to this “legislation from the bench.”

Then I realized that biblical morality is not ultimately upheld by the bench, the legislature, elite focus groups, or the will of the masses.  The Bible teaches that a nation rises or falls based on whether or not individuals and leaders respect God’s moral absolutes, or “ancient landmarks” (Proverbs 22:28; and, see Oikonomia, “Stewardship and ‘Natural Law’.”)  Throughout history, God has used a committed minority to provide moral leadership and spiritual revival.  According to many Christian leaders, America needs revival now more than ever.  Now, I wondered what it would take to bring another great revival.

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)
In the mid-1700’s, the Holy Spirit moved through men of moral conviction like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield who preached that salvation depends upon individual accountability to God, not family traditions or church membership.  The American Revolution and the founding documents of America were consistent with a biblical understanding of individual responsibility, moral conduct, and governance.  Later, the Spirit used leaders like George Finney (second awakening, 1790 to 1840) and Jeremiah Lanphier (third awakening, 1857 to 1859).  The latter began with a small prayer meeting in New York City.  Each awakening brought men and women back to God’s moral landmarks, and each influenced the social and political landscape of America.   

Today, many are praying for revival in America, believing it to be the only answer to our spiritual decline.  As I have sought revival in my own life, I am learning there are no quick answers or “how-to-do-it” steps to revival.  Rather, by remembering the principle of individual accountability, I am first seeking to identify those hindrances to revival in my own life.  I am becoming less prone to find fault or assign blame to others for moral decline in America.  Christ’s “Beatitudes” are teaching me about my spiritual poverty (Matthew 5: 3), the logical response to mourn and confess my sin (v. 4), and the need to exercise gentleness when I confront my neighbor who lives in rejection of God’s plan for him or her (v. 5).  On the one hand, I want to offer acceptance and compassion toward my “neighbor” (one is gay, one, a lesbian).   On the other hand, I must ask if I am helping my “neighbor” by offering only acceptance and compassion? 

Andree Seu Peterson, in an article, “
Compassion in the Midst of Evil, addresses this difficult balance:

All of us were at one time lost, and occasionally lose our way even now, and so we all want compassion, and must all exercise it too. The main ground rule seems to be that compassion must never wimp out into any sympathy for evil. That would do no good for you or for the one you’re trying to help.

The Apostle Paul, when speaking to the Greeks in Athens about the God of creation said, Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent….  Elsewhere, in Romans 1: 16, Paul professes that he is not ashamed of the Gospel for it is the power of God salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  And, in verse 21, he adds (emphasis mine), For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.  While it may seem arrogant (and can look that way to those who reject God’s plan), Christians have been given the commission to be salt and light (Matthew 5: 13-16).  Salt can sting in wounds and light can reveal embarrassing flaws—but salt can also preserve against rot, and light can reveal deadly danger ahead. 

The Gospel of Matthew emphasizes, Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven (v. 16).   Today, Christ’s followers are enduring great suffering and even death to glorify God (See Christianity Shines in Dark Places,” Oikonomia July 11, 2015).  Am I willing to at least “die to my pride” so that my neighbor might be reconciled to his or her Creator?  After all, it’s not ultimately our government or the collective will of Americans that will steer us toward godly living.  Rather it requires our individual accountability to God and to our neighbor, in addition to being responsible citizens who will participate knowledgeably in government and hold our respective representatives accountable to exercise moral leadership as civil servants.

How about you?   How have you come to terms with offering acceptance and compassion to our “neighbor” versus challenging him or her to consider the claims of Scripture that will decide their eternal destiny?   I welcome your thoughts about our need for revival as a nation and within the evangelical church.  Perhaps you can suggest spiritual disciplines that are essential to the working of God’s Spirit in our lives to bring revival in the midst of our wandering, wanton, weary world.  What helpful resources in Scripture or extra-Biblical have you found helpful?   I am currently reading some articles from the
Gospel Coalition webpage (Search under “Church Life”/ “Revival”). 

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