Tuesday, August 04 2020
As our Forefathers were Pilgrims in the founding of America, we need to remember that we are also Pilgrims in our generation!...
America – A Tale of Two Cities
Charles Dickens opens his novel, A Tale of Two Cities, with the proclamation,
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…".
As we look around our country today, it is hard not to identify with the sentiments expressed in these famous lines and wonder if he was writing prophetically about our times. In fact, we may well wonder if there ever was an era in man's history when these lines did not apply in some sense. They describe an almost universal outlook on the times that people live in, no matter what the era! People from nearly any period in history could identify in some way with these words. I believe that that is because, as Saint Augustine observed, the world throughout history, including America today, has always been made up of "Two Cities."
Saint Augustine and The City of God
Early in the 5th century, Augustine of Hippo (known to most of us Saint Augustine) wrote what many consider to be "a cornerstone of Western thought," the book The City of God. In it, he outlined history as the "tale of two cities," the City of God and the City of Man. "The book presents human history as being the scene of an ongoing conflict between what Augustine calls the Earthly City (the City of Man) and the City of God." The City of God is manifested in the people and their works, who humble themselves before God, in Faith take His Son Jesus as their Savior and King and dedicate themselves to living for God's eternal Kingdom according to His eternal truths. The City of Man, on the other hand, is observed in those people and their works, who in their pride rule themselves and their societies in defiance of God, seeking to replace His Rule with their rule, and immersing themselves in the cares and pleasures of the present passing world.
Augustine depicts the history of the world as an ongoing conflict between the citizens of these two cities, who are ultimately the subjects of one of two rulers, God or the Evil one. Though the citizens of these two "Cities" may share a common era of time and geography, this metaphysical war is not limited by the centuries. It takes place in some form in every country, Kingdom, empire, or colony, throughout history. Augustine specifically was writing about Rome in his time. In the minds of many of his day, the unthinkable was happening; the mighty Empire of Rome was crumbling. Attacked and ransacked by the Visigoths, a much less civilized people, many despaired of the future; they could not imagine the fall of Rome. They also sought to blame Christians, calling this calamity a punishment from their previously worshiped gods for Rome's "defection" to the Christian God. Augustine addresses these things in The City of God, pointing out that Rome was only a temporary habitation of the presence of these two much longer enduring cities. He defended Christians by reminding their accusers that the pagan gods had failed to save Rome numerous times in the past from worldly disasters and that because of the worship of the pagan gods, Rome suffered the greatest calamity of all, that being, moral corruption. Further, the power and long duration of the Roman Empire were due not to the pagan Gods but the Christian God through the blessing of several Christian Emperors. Finally, He points beyond the life of Rome to the longevity and ultimate victory of the City of God and the ultimate end in ruins of the City of Man.
The City of God and 21st Century America
Twenty-first century American Christians today need to step back and consider the perspective of Augustine in his metaphor of the Cities as we grapple with the issues confronting us in our own country today. American is, and always was, a country occupied by those two cities. Often it has very discernably reflected the ideals of the City of God, but all too frequently, it has revealed the evils of the other as well. Many of our immigrant forefathers came to this country, bringing their Faith where it was planted and flourished, and in this cultural soil, "The City of God" became uniquely manifest. The evidence is visible everywhere, even to the casual observer. Today, the City of God is still alive, and well though a recent poll (2015) by the Public Religion Research Institute says, "that close to half of the respondents (45 percent) say the United States was once a Christian nation but is no longer so today". If this observation does, with some accuracy, reflect the condition of our country, it is indeed deeply saddening and lamentable. Still, it ultimately means but little to the longevity, durability, vitality, and enduring happiness of the City of God. Our City has endured millennia, centuries, eras, cultures, countless countries, obstacles, persecutions, poverty, and prosperity, and will continue to do so for as long as her King has ordained. An important thing for Christians in today's America to remember is the fact that our families and we are members of this enduring city. Our City is populated with a family of spiritual brothers and sisters stretching back through millennia and continuing forward into eternity. Though we love and treasure our country, America, we are not first and foremost Americans that happen to be Christians; we are Christians that happen to live in America! Our Heavenly Father has adopted us into His Family, made us members of His City. He has given us a future and mission that transcends our present country, era, and world, just like our forefathers, whether they come from Europe, the Mediterranean, Africa, or Asia. This Family is, and at the same time, is becoming, our brothers and sisters in our new home in the New Heavens and New Earth. It is truly hard and sad to imagine. Still, if Rome, like so many other nations since it's time, eventually succumbed to the relentless dust of history, our beloved America is almost certain to do the same. Listen to what God says the view is from His vantage point above human history:
"He it is who reduces rulers to nothing, Who makes the judges of the earth meaningless. Scarcely have they been planted, Scarcely have they been sown, Scarcely has their stock taken root in the earth, But He merely blows on them, and they wither, And the storm carries them away like stubble."
Isaiah 40:23, 24
It is His City and His Family that will endure into eternity, and this is the foremost ground upon which Christians in any period of history, nation, or culture should sink the anchor of their identity and hope for the future. All else, as the scripture above alludes to, will be carried away in the dust of history. God did not promise Roman Christian's eternal life for Rome, and He does not promise us eternal life for our America. For American Christians, the is issue should not be about whether or not America is or was a Christian Nation, but about the fact that a Christian Nation (the People of God, the City of God) came to and is still thriving in America! "You (the people of God) are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden" Matt: 5:14. These people are the soul of the "shining "city on a hill, " that theologians and politicians have referred to when describing our country, not merely the geography or the political structure.
Why is this important?
We must do a better job at building God's City (Kingdom) in 21st Century America.
A. First, we must re-examine what it means to be spiritually separated from the world.
We must recognize that God calls us to be a different, separate people, seeking different goals for ourselves and our children. Not that we should rudely or pridefully call attention to our differences, but remember that in all ages, He has called us to be His City, a separate pilgrim people in this world.
B. We must protect our City.
We cannot be naive about the spiritual safety of our children, family, and ourselves in a world that our Lord has plainly told us will hate us for His sake even in “wonderful America.” We must as far as it depends on us to be at peace with all men without being naïve as our Lord gave us an example, "But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man." Jn. 2:24 We can no longer have “open minds” as the world would urge us, we must have receptive but discerning minds, especially in the education of our children.
C, We must not imitate the City of Man in its materialism:
When Moses commissioned the Hebrews to go and subdue the Promised Land for God's Kingdom, he warned them that its blessings could also be their undoing and that even their nation could be transformed from the City of God into the City of Man. The blessings of America has been and still can be some of its greatest dangers due to the deceitfulness of our hearts. We must remember Deut. 8:11-17
“Beware that you do not forget the Lord your God … otherwise, when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have built good houses and lived in them, and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold multiply, and all that you have multiplies, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery…. you may say in your heart, 'My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth.' “
D. We must not imitate the City of Man in its morals:
2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1
"Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, "I will dwell in them and walk among them; And I will be their God, and they shall be My people. "Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate," says the Lord. "And do not touch what is unclean, And I will welcome you. "And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me," Says the Lord Almighty. Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God."
E. We must focus on building God's City and implore members of the City of Man to become citizens of "OUR CITY", Not reduce the City of God in order to "identify" with the City of Man.
-To do this, we must be clear on the nature of Christ, the church and evangelism.
When Jesus commissioned the Church to go into the world as He had Moses commission the Hebrews to go into the Promise Land earlier, He gave them specific instructions as to how to carry out their mission. With Moses, He warned them that to fail to carry out His instructions would compromise their mission and lead to their failure. In a similar way in the New Testament In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus tells us:
"All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. ( I have been Crowned the rightful King over your realm and all creation). Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; (declare and offer to all people throughout the world my terms of peace and mercy, tell them to cease their warfare against Me, put down their weapons, receive Me as their King and learn to practice "ALL MY COMMANDS" ) and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
Jesus is The King, not a salesman!
Our Lord "is" a good, benevolent, and patient King, full of mercy, and pity who loves us, but One who also requires humility before Him, trust, teachableness, and obedience. Who also at the time of His perfect discernment "is intolerant" of rebellion, because rebellion destroys that which is good. The prophetic images of Psalm 2, Psalm 68:17-18, Isaiah 9:6-7, Jeremiah 49:19, Daniel 7:9,13, 22, Ezekiel 1:26, then the confirmation in the New Testament Matthew 13:41, Matthew 24:30, Matthew 25:31, Matthew 26:64, Mark 13:26, Mark 14:61-62, Luke 21:27, Luke 21:36, John 5:27, Acts 7:56, Ephesians 1:20-21, Revelation 1:7, Revelation 14:14, etc...show our Lord to be a King seated at the Right Hand of God the Father for whom the Father is actively subduing His enemies. Acts 2:34–35; Hebrews 1:13; Psalm 110:1; 1 Corinthians 15:25; Hebrews 10:13. " “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”’Acts 2:34-35.
But, our Lord "is not" a celestial salesman just begging people to make a little investment His "better way"... The Church, as God's emissary in its joyful proclamation our Lords merciful clemency for those who submit to His Lordship, must not ignore or veil His coming judgment of all rebels. The Church must not be culpable of "bait and switch". We must remember this truth concerning His Person, and present it faithfully, this "is not" the image of Jesus which is widely circulated in the church today. Again, we serve THE KING of history, ...not an impotent salesman.
-We are "commissioned"( sent/commanded) to make Disciples, not merely converts/ church members.
Also, Jesus commissions His people to "make disciples." The means of the growth of the City of God is through the making of Disciples. "The word Disciple occurs 269 times in the New Testament. Christian is found three times...". If I respectfully emphasize the negative, He did not say make "Christians," plant churches, hold crusades, revivals, or tent meetings,…all of which may have a valuable place in the overall process. But to fail to carry out the core of the mission, to dedicatedly train individual converts from conversion to their own commissioning, is to make a similar mistake as Martha did in the story of Mary and Martha. It is failing to consistently do what is most important at the moment, assuring the slow decline of the quality and health of the City. Discipleship is an individually dedicated process requiring time and sacrifices and cannot be mass-produced from human means. We must, before we do all other things, not fail to grow disciples in the church, especially in the most fertile field for discipleship, which is the children of the church. The cohesion of fellowship and learning in church and family must become job one in the church again.
F. We must be clear that we are a FAMILY, not just a city, not an institution, not a business, club, or machine. We have a Family we belong to and must begin to act like it again. Our identity is the Family/ People of God.
As God is not a theology, set of rules, or an impersonal force, but a Person, the ultimate “Person” in the universe and the only trustworthy example of what it means to grow in our own “personhood”, so the City of God is not an institution at heart, but a family of adopted persons, adopted into HIS FAMILY. We must steer our understanding and presentation of the church toward its Godly and human elements and away from the mechanical elements of this world which wear down and dehumanize all human institutions over time.
“As our Maker is our Father, so our Savior is our Brother when we come into the Family of God. Now, just as the knowledge of His unique Sonship controlled Jesus’ living of His own life on earth, so He insists that the knowledge of our adoptive sonship must control our lives too.” (J.I. Packer)
G. And finally, having understood our identity, we must be clear about our FUTURE. No matter about whatever clouds we encounter in America or on our way, the ultimate future is gloriously bright.
“This reigning, expanding, culture-enriching purpose of God for mankind on Earth was never revoked or abandoned. It has only been interrupted and twisted by the Fall. But neither Satan nor sin is able to thwart God’s purposes. Christ’s redemptive work will ultimately restore, enhance, and expand God’s original plan.”Daniel 7:25 tells us that the saints will be handed over to the earth’s kingdoms, which will persecute them for a season. But then a stunning reversal will occur. “Then the sovereignty, power, and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him” (v. 27). The Kingdom will be God’s, yet he will appoint his saints as rulers under him, and they “will worship and obey him.” Through adversity and opportunity, as well as in their (our) artistic and cultural accomplishments, they (we) will be groomed for their (our) leadership roles in Christ’s eternal Kingdom. Their (our) society-transforming creative skills will be put on prominent display in the new universe, where they (we) will “shine like the sun in the kingdom of their (our) Father” (Matthew 13:43). Randy Alcorn "Heaven"
The vision our Christian forefathers and mothers had for America will never die; it endures in us and "The City" we build from generation to generation and will be victoriously consummated in the New Heavens and New Earth. Whether America endures as a political nation is a matter in the Hands of Our Father. Today, however, the health, and vitality of The City of God in our day is a matter in which we have participation. If we fail to build well in our time then it will have consequences for our posterity and our honor before the Lord. But the City itself will not fail utterly, as God will not leave Himself without a witness. Yet strangely though we build a city, the best way for us to build this city is to remember and act like we are pilgrims in a foreign land. In order to love America and to do the best thing we can for it, we must reckon ourselves as pilgrims building a city yet to be completed at a future date. “Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Because there are two cities in history, but only one is destined to endure.
May God Bless,