Christian Obedience at the Start of the Third Millennium
〝Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice And to heed is better than the fat of rams〞1 Samuel 15:22.
What was the most significant event in the second millennium? As a Christian, the answer has to be: Jesus did not come! The return of Jesus has been predicted by so many people who quote chapters and verses from the Bible. Over the years, many had identified natural and extra-natural disasters as signs of His imminent return. Some even conveniently linked His coming to the Y2K phobia! Well, the fact is: He has not returned! At least not yet! In the past millennium, many significant events had taken place: the separation of the state and the church, the Renaissance, the industrial revolution, the corruption of the Church, the Reformation, the invention of printing, the globalization of world economy and technology, the rise of Bill Gates and Microsoft, the Personal Computer revolution, the Internet, to name only the most significant. Human history and society have fundamentally changed. And society in the third millennium is going to be vastly different from the second millennium. But the two most striking things in my mind are: the phenomenal gain of knowledge (at a speed unprecedented in human history and the associated social and attitudinal changes) and the wide-spread circulation of the Bible. In the wake of this social upheaval, I ask myself: What is the impact on our spiritual lives? The answer seems to be that we are more lost and confused than ever before. Our emphasis has shifted from spiritual yearning to practical survival and pragmatism. Knowledge is no longer the privilege of the few and the private domain of the ruling class. But the fact that knowledge is widely available has not fundamentally changed our attitudes. Very few of us understand the overall picture that science has brought. In fact, too much knowledge has dulled the senses of our significance in the overall scheme of things. The greatest impact of knowledge lies in the social structural changes that technology has brought. The speed of change is the biggest problem. Modern industrialization and global competition have introduced extremely high mobility - instant communication, cultural adaptivity, and constant travel have become daily routines. Wealth creation happens at a break-neck speed. Bill Gates symbolizes as well as illustrates that one can rise to the top and create $100 billion dollars of wealth in just two decades without graduating from college. The whole society tends to focus on competition, wealth creation, and the〝be all that you can be〞type of philosophy. 〝Doing it my way〞becomes a social norm. Even the church buys into all these values by christianizing them into respectable theologies – the prosperity gospel of〝name it and claim it〞is nothing less than the gospel of success and feeling good. Where is God in all these? The fact that there can only be few winners and many more losers did not stop people from jumping into the fire. When they get roasted, they turn to religion to seek solace and peace. Religion and Christianity then become the〝losers’ domain〞in the hope that〝Spirit will slay them〞so that they will be winners again! The church now delights in〝celebrity testimonies〞, but the truth is that the world’s richest, the likes of Bill Gates and the Sultan of Brunei, do not attribute their success to the God of the Bible. Competitive pressures at the work place and the breakdown of traditional family values enforces isolation and loneliness. The yearning for love and community drive people to churches to seek support and friendship in an otherwise unfriendly world. This is very different from the days that people seek spiritual well being for its own sake from the church. In short, church has become another consumer market. People go to church to seek material and emotional well-being, more than because they fear the judgement of God for their sins! This leads to the question of what role the Bible plays in our spiritual well-being today. For most of the millennium, especially during the medieval period, the Bible was the sole possession of the priests. The Church interpreted, executed, and advised people of what is God’s will. When technology enabled the mass-production of the Bible and it became available to all, it releases the human spirit to seek God’s will on an individual basis. It also spurs reformation and ignites deep spiritual and theological developments that shape modern post-Reformation theology. At the same time, it produces cults, sects, Jamestown, and Waco. In a paradoxical manner, we are being thrust back into the dark medieval period insofar as our relationship with the Bible is concerned. Today, in spite of the widespread availability of the Bible, less Christians actually read the Bible for themselves on a daily basis. More and more are expecting their pastors to give them a vision or a word of prophecy for answers to their daily problems! In sum, these new-generation pastors are now wielding considerable power by their new priestly roles. They create a sense of dependency on them, not so much in their usurping the sole authority to interpret scriptures (as in the Medieval period), but in dispensing visions, dreams and prophecies in place of the scriptures! This phenomenon is all the more dangerously subversive as the people of God rapidly become more and more biblically illiterate, to the point where truth and error co-mingle in the church without anyone capable of knowing the difference! How then do we know the voice of God in the midst of spiritual confusion so that we may obey Him? If〝obedience is better than sacrifice, and to heed better than the fat of rams〞, then it behooves us to know the voice of God clearly. Is the voice of God to be found in pyschotherapy or motivational ideals? Is it to be found in entrepreneurial success, prosperity or a sense of well-being? Is it to be found in the〝feel-good〞worship experience where music whips us into a trance-state? Is it to be found in the pontifical pronouncements of pastors who claim to be receiving visions and prophecies every other day? I hope the answer to these questions, for those who care to think, is a resounding〝No!〞. The one central fundamental guideline should be the Bible and Jesus in the context of the historical, cultural, and spiritual teachings. Whenever we have an argument, we as Christians, should be able to go to the Bible to prayerfully seek God’s truth. And more importantly, we should be reading the Word for ourselves on a regular disciplined basis. We should be like the Christians in Berea who were of〝more noble character〞because, not only did they receive〝the message with great eagerness〞, they actually〝examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true〞(Acts 16:11). The Word of God is the true voice of the Lord, and unless we know the Scriptures, we are in danger of obeying other fallible voices than God’s! There is nothing magical about God’s voice to us today. It is to be found in the Bible in light of the completed work of Christ on the cross. In the last two millennia, the clergies of the medieval church tried to arrogate to themselves the sole right to interpret the Word. Men like Martin Luther resisted that, and a reformation took place. Today, new priests with fertile imaginations and entrepreneurial skills are again arrogating to themselves the sole right to mediate God’s Word through their subjective visions, dreams and prophesies. Once again we must rise to resist and perhaps begin a new reformation in the next millennium. Once again the battle-cry has to be〝Sola scriptura〞– Scriptures only. Christian obedience to the Word of God is the only way to reform the church that is rapidly returning to the darks ages of superstition and fear.