Optional page text here. The Beast's Lair: New Baptist Covenant, The Model Prayer, and Eschatology

Monday, September 17, 2007

New Baptist Covenant, The Model Prayer, and Eschatology

Over the last few months I have written a few articles expressing some reservations I have about the forthcoming “New Baptist Covenant” (NBC). The focus of my concern, developed primarily through the reading of blogs and articles, is a fear of an unbalanced missiological purpose to place a social justice emphasis above and before a redemptive. As I have written elsewhere, any effort to improve the socio-economic status of the impoverished without an ever-present concern for their spiritual condition is not how we want to “re-shape the Baptist image.” That is a fine and welcomed humanitarian outreach organization, but not a Baptist one. What we would inevitable face without an “eye on ourselves and the doctrine” is a backward march to the social-gospel movement of the 1920’s. No, things must stay in proper balance. One of the keynote speakers for the NBC is Tony Campolo. Concerning this balance, Campolo has said. “I think that Christianity has two emphases. One is a social emphasis - to relieve the sufferings of the poor, to stand up for the oppressed, to be a voice for those who have no voice. The other emphasis is to bring people into a personal, transforming relationship with Christ, where they feel the joy and the love of God in their lives. That they manifest what the fifth chapter of Galatians calls 'the fruit of the Spirit'. Fundamentalism has emphasized the latter, mainline churches have emphasized the former. We cannot neglect one for the other.”

With that balance in mind, I intend to favorably argue for an increased emphasis in social justice among our denominational lines, and in particular, the NBC. Of course, this seems like a fairly risk-free thesis. After all, who would say that feeding the hungry, promoting peace, and finding homes for the homeless are things to be avoided? Granted, most of us fall wearily short of putting feet to our faith, but we would surely all agree that these are good and noble things. Our denominational leadership appears to moving slowly, if at all, to make differences in these areas. I have been in contact with KBC leadership for several months about what can only be described as a lackadaisical concern for racial diversity among SBC churches in KY. *There are, of course, those within all denominations who actively do their part to make a difference in these areas. The Father sees them and they will receive their reward.

The NBC is using Luke 4:18-19 for their purpose statement. The events in Luke 4 find Christ announcing the beginning of his ministry and the fulfillment of prophecy. The text he chooses to read, or least what Luke lets us in on, is Isaiah 61. Although this is a fine place to establish the urgency of a social agenda, basically a model of WDJD (What Did Jesus Do?), I find an even stronger case for the NBC mission in Matthew 6. Luke 4 is in context of Luke 3 where John the Baptist is speaking of Christ as the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit so that all flesh will see the salvation of God. John adds the memorable line, “behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Luke 3 is in context with Luke 2 where shepherds are traveling to see the “Savior” that has been announced. Luke 2 is in context with Luke 1 where Zecharias prophecies about the “knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of sins.” Although there are certainly physical elements in these passages as well, a complete reading of Isaiah 61 coupled with the context of Luke 1-4 more than likely brings about images of redemption and salvation before images of social reform. Luke stops Jesus at “to declare the favorable year of the Lord” but Christ probably finished Isaiah 61, the very next line says “and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who morn.” This reminds us of the beatitudes and the blessed nature of those who mourn their spiritual condition.

I am somewhat nit-picking because I do still believe there are social elements in Luke 4 and I believe the NBC is right to use the verse, but consider with me Matthew 6:10. Christ is reciting the Model Prayer to his disciples. He says “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Had the Kingdom of God come? I will answer in a way that will make Andi scream: Yes and no. (that is a pet peeve of hers.) The disciples have found themselves placed in the midst of inaugurated eschatology, sometimes referred to as the “Already/Not Yet” order of things. It would be a reality for the 12 which they would never fully comprehend. For example, in Acts 1, the disciples ask Jesus if he was now going to restore the kingdom to Israel. I have heard preachers scorn the disciples from this text, suggesting that they should, at this point in the narrative, understand what is happening. The truth, however, is that the disciples knew their Scripture. They knew that Christ was the fulfillment of Ezekiel 36 and Isaiah 61 and they knew that those prophecies describe the Messiah as setting up the kingdom of Israel against her enemies. The disciple’s question, then, demonstrates their sincere conviction that Christ was the Messiah. They were expecting him to do these things. John the Baptist acts in a similar way. After baptizing Christ and telling others that he was unworthy to untie Christ’s sandals, he later sends his disciples to ask Jesus if he really was the prophesied one. This seems strange since John was so confident and even heard the voice of God! But again, he knew his Scripture. He would have been somewhat confused by his imprisonment and the grim outlook for Israel since Christ was the one who would restore the kingdom. Jesus’ answer to John is classic. He says “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor” (Luke 7:22). Christ lets John know that the Scriptures were being fulfilled. Not all at once, but it was happening. This is what is meant by the cute children’s shirts that say “God is still working on me.” One day, the fulfillment will be complete; we will be blameless and holy. Has our redemption already happened? Yes. Has it fully happened? No. The best is yet to come!

So, back to Matthew 6:10. It is interesting that Jesus does not pray for God to “get them out of here.” Instead of “bring our chaos up to your perfect order,” he prays for God to “bring your perfect order down to our chaos.” It is in that sense, of working toward the kingdom coming to earth, that I believe the NBC is on to something. But again, the specifics of the work must be kept in view. The purpose is not for a John Lennon “imagine” world. The purpose of our work is for God’s kingdom to be shone about. He will ultimately one day finish the job. As the old song says, “What a day that will be!”

4 Comments:

Blogger Mike Ruffin said...

Philip,

I had to read your post rather quickly this morning, but my initial response is that you point us to a very appropriate balance. Campolo has it right: evangelical or fundamentalist or conservative Christians tend to major on personal redemption while liberal or mainline or moderate Christians tend to major on social redemption. Why must we choose? Is not our calling to bear witness to salvation in all spheres and with all of its implications?

I have no idea what particulars are going to emerge from the NBC meeting. It will be interesting to see. I personally hope that personal salvation through Jesus Christ is at the forefront of all efforts.

P.S. Andi couldn't stand much of my preaching, I fear. I say "Yes and no" and talk about "gray areas" way too much!

September 17, 2007 9:42 AM  
Anonymous Warren R. said...

Well said! Is it not sinful to favor one side over the other? My experience in church has been deplete of "helping hands" ministries. I believe we are definitely called to both ministries.

September 17, 2007 10:51 AM  
Blogger The Beast said...

Mike - Thanks for acknowledging my post on your blog, I appreciate it. I will be sure and warn Andi before we hear you preach (whenever that will be.)

Warren - Welcome to the Lair, I don't think I have seen you around before. Thanks for your comments.

September 17, 2007 2:38 PM  
Blogger Bennett Willis said...

I enjoyed this post and (for once) have nothing to add.
Bennett Willis

September 20, 2007 10:29 PM  

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