WHAT HAVE WE ALLOWED TO HAPPEN TO OUR CHURCH AND OUR NATION BECAUSE OF OUR LACK OF VISION?
A SERMON ORIGINALLY DELIVERED AT
THE FEDERATED CHURCH OF ATHENS
By Frank L. Hoffman, Pastor
21 MAY 1995
We have a tendency to view our Church life as we know it from a personal perspective, and not necessarily as it really is.
We like a particular church or pastor, or we like the people, or we are members because our parents were.
But this really has nothing to do with the Church, or for that matter, with being a Christian.
Jesus Christ came to change the world, or more specifically, the people in it; and for a while many of the people followed His basic teachings, but then in the 4th century something happened, which we will talk about in a moment.
We also must constantly keep in mind that Jesus Christ will come again, and will usher in a new world for all believers, from all time, to live in.
I propose to you that we have lost our true vision, and that is why weíre losing the Church, and our nation.
Youíve heard me say that we must look back at this earth from a heavenly perspective, if we can ever hope to understand it from Godís point of view.
Most of us are familiar with the Beatitudes, but letís take a look at them again, because they tell us how the Christian world should be. They also show that as a Church and nation we live far below their standard.
1. And when He saw the multitudes, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him.
2. And opening His mouth He began to teach them, saying,
3. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4. "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5. "Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.
6. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
7. "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
8. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
10. "Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11. "Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me.
12. "Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Next let's look at heaven through the eyes of John, beginning in Revelation 21:19.
19. The foundation stones of the city wall were adorned with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation stone was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, chalcedony; the fourth, emerald;
20. the fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolite; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, topaz; the tenth, chrysoprase; the eleventh, jacinth; the twelfth, amethyst.
21. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; each one of the gates was a single pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.
From a heavenly perspective, wealth and possessions have no meaning or value greater than we would consider any of our standard construction materials as having.
And with this kind of a view, we also take away greed and the causes of many wars.
But there is even greater insight to be gained from a heavenly vision.
22. And I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God, the Almighty, and the Lamb, are its temple.
23. And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb.
24. And the nations shall walk by its light, and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory into it.
25. And in the daytime (for there shall be no night there) its gates shall never be closed;
26. and they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it;
27. and nothing unclean and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life.
We do the evil and careless things we do, because we fail to observe the constant presence of God.
Would you consider accelerating your car to 75 MPH if you knew a trooper was following you down the road?
If the light of the Lord's presence could be physically seen all the time, would you live your life in a different manner?
But there's a difference between these two examples: if we obey the law we don't get a reward, we just don't get fined.
With God we receive a new life that is filled with everlasting love and peace, as John observed next in Revelation 22:1-5.
1. And he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb,
2. in the middle of its street. And on either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
3. And there shall no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His bond-servants shall serve Him;
4. and they shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads.
5. And there shall no longer be any night; and they shall not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God shall illumine them; and they shall reign forever and ever.
There will no longer be any evil. Everyone will be filled with the light of the Lord. We will be filled with His insight.
Now that we have this heavenly view, and with the beatitudes in mind, let's take a look at the Church beginnings and at what happened to the Church in the 4th century.
We will begin by looking at a man, Constantine, who changed the direction of the Church.
The New Testament Church was founded upon true faith in Jesus Christ.
People, whether Hebrew or pagan, who believed in Jesus as their Messiah, went against the mainstream of society and, as a result, were subjected to persecutions.
Thus, to be a Christian, meant a total commitment.
Once Constantine, the Roman emperor, legitimized the church and in many ways forced Christianity upon the people, though not officially, the Church became diluted spiritually, much as it is today.
People even may have joined the Church for political reasons, for with Christianity being accepted by the head of government, Christians could expect to be appointed or elected to high positions.
Constantine, himself, may have converted to Christianity solely for political reasons, hoping to gain Christiansí support in holding his empire together, a historical mystery that has remained to this very day.
Yet others say that for Constantine to make such a move would have been sheer political folly because, at the time, Christians amounted to only one-tenth of the population.
So perhaps, as Bishop Eusebius contends, Constantine did have a real conversion.
But, we also must remember that under Constantine, many pagan temples became churches, which could have allowed many of the pagan practices to remain in the church, further diluting the true faith with rituals that had nothing to do with a person's belief in Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior.
Constantine also brought something else into the church, or perhaps we could say he took something away from the church.
Constantine still fought battles after his conversion to Christianity, and won his victory in the civil war against Licinius under the standard of the cross, which was almost like saying to the people that Christ was a God of war.
And even though he abolished crucifixion, he did not end gladiatorial combat or other blood sports or slavery, again indicating to the people that their previous way of life was still acceptable when one became a Christian.
Prior to the time of Constantine, the "taking of life in war was unanimously condemned by all Christian writers."
By his example, Constantine compromised the basic love and peace doctrines of Jesus, and led the way for the right-wing extremists who consider themselves to be Christians and who also do their deeds under the standard of the cross, but continue in their fears, hatreds, and destruction.
Since Constantine, we have justified many wars in the name of Christ, and most likely, it was Constantine's actions that led Augustine to write his justifications of war, or as Bainton, a Christian historian, says, to father the "war-guilt theory".
Thus, until the twelfth century, during the time of Abelard and Bernard, there seems to have been a loss of a "fundamental personal view of sin", and even though Augustine himself had this personal understanding, it was lost for many future generations, because of this "victor" view of Christ.
Yet, this view of justified killing in war, or of any malefactor, was still held by Bernard. In my opinion, this is an absolute contradiction of the view of a Christ who laid down His life for sinners and unbelievers.
I personally believe that if all Christians, past and present, believed in Jesus Christ enough to die for Him, as He died for us, rather than to take a life for any reason, even to the point of having no more living Christians left upon this earth, there would be no further reason for Christ to delay His second coming.
Thus, by the examples set by Constantineís, Augustineís, and othersí justification of killing, we may actually be delaying the Lord's return.
Constantine also began combining Church and state affairs.
He saw himself as the defender of the faith, as "Godís man" and "victor", and so set the stage for the development of what later became the Byzantine Empire.
He hoped that the Church would prove to be a political force to help him in his endeavors, but the Church began to develop political, or doctrinal problems of its own, and it was Constantine who called the council meeting of bishops to resolve their problems, even to the point of trying to force a compromise upon the disputing factions.
There have always been disputes within the Church, as one can plainly see from reading Acts and the many epistles, but those disputes were resolved solely within the Church.
What Constantine did was to usher in a new era of state intervention and resolution of conflict, which also may have opened the doors to later feudalism.
And if we take this one step further, it led to the Church's turning over the supplying of the social needs of the people to the State.
All one has to do is read Matthew 25:31-46 to realize that this Christian call to service has been given to the State, today. This shows us that there will be many Christians who will be crying "Lord, " and being told to depart.
Now, I'm not saying that Constantine or Augustine or others are responsible for all of this.
On the contrary, I believe it's our own fault, for God has given each of us a free will, and the understanding to know what the Lord requires of us.
At any time we can change our direction.
We don't all have to come together to agree, and if we don't agree, to continue allowing the State to do everything, and complain when they don't.
On our own, we can make a difference.
We, individually, can live by the example Jesus Christ set for us.
And if others don't follow our example, that's their problem. They will have to answer to the Lord for their actions or lack of action, and not to the State.
And this brings us to the question: can a person be both a loyal Christian and a loyal citizen?
The answer is an emphatic yes!
Unfortunately, we don't always live as such.
In these United States we have a tendency to think of ourselves as being citizens of the most powerful nation in the world; but power in what terms?
Imagine that it is not I asking these questions, but Jesus, as He spoke upon that mountain with His disciples, as He spoke forth The Beatitudes, but not to them in their time, but to us in our time.
Are we a great nation because we are so poor in spirit, that we can feel the pain and suffering of people, and for that matter, feel for all of God's creation, and have compassion on them, and help them in a peaceful manner?
Are we great because we mourn over the suffering and loss of life in the world, and our mourning is heard above our gunfire?
Are we great because we are gentle in our ways of dealing with others?
Are we great because we hunger and thirst for righteousness, as Jesus taught us righteousness, and help others achieve it in peace?
Are we great because we are merciful, or are we trying to exact punishment, as though we are the Judge?
Are we great because we are pure in heart, or because of some other agenda?
Are we great because we are the world's peacemakers, or because we have made ourselves its police force?
Are we great because we have allowed ourselves to be persecuted for the sake of righteousness, rather than by persecuting the persecutors of this world?
No, it's not easy to be a loyal Christian as well as a loyal citizen, particularly when people in the mainstream of society are not truly loyal Christians; but thatís what God desires of us.
We have a right to bear arms, but likewise we have a right not to do so.
As an example, before I became a Christian, I had a pistol, a rifle, and a shotgun.
After becoming a Christian, I did away with such things.
I had them melted down in the local foundry, for a gun is a symbol of death, no matter how it is used, and with Christ there shall be no more death.
So, if I pray, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven," (Matthew 6:10) and I fight against my own prayer by not standing against all inflicted death, then I am not a loyal Christian, nor a loyal citizen of this Nation under God, as we claim it to be.
Consider carefully what the Lord requires of you, O my beloved brothers and sisters, that we can always praise God together and say in unison our Amen.
Your Comments are welcome
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