7th March, 2013
In recent years, especially in the Western World, there has been an escalating trend towards banishing God as far as possible from any meaningful consideration within our societies. We seem to have decided that we simply have no need for God and that we can rationally manage our own business quite well without Him. Many are convinced that we can continue indefinitely in this fashion and that it is healthy for society as a whole for us to do so.
Yet contained in the Bible are numerous examples, conspicuously but not exclusively within the book of Judges, of this important spiritual law: When a people repudiates God, there inevitably follow serious negative consequences. Despite God's injunction against it, the people of Israel desired to have the same idols as those of their surrounding nations but found to their eventual dismay that in so doing they had become subjugated to those very same nations. We must therefore wonder whether our present society's dismissive attitude towards God has any direct connection with the current economic crisis in which we now find ourselves.
PICTURE: Jakub Krechowicz/www.istockphoto.com
THE STATISTICAL APPROACH
In order to demonstrate that our western banishing attitude against God have a relation with the recent economic crisis, I have calculated the correlations, or relationships, between the changes in the percentages of Christians in various countries and the economic situation that has prevailed in those countries during a recent number of years.
The chosen intervals were the years from 2000 through 2010 and from 2005 through 2010, that is, a ten-year and a five-year period, respectively. What I used to measure the economic condition of each country were the ratings issued for each of them by two different companies, namely Fitch and Moody. These ratings are sometimes known within financial circles as “sovereign ratings.”
The numbers for the Christian populations within the countries also came from two different sources: Operation World and the World Religion Database. With this approach there resulted a total of eight separate combinations of time interval, Christian population data source, and economic rating agency for each set of countries.
The results of these eight calculations produced statistically significant positive correlations in seven cases. This means that, in a statistical sense, whenever the percentage of Christian population decreased over a specified period, so did the change in the associated computed sovereign rating. Another succinct way of interpreting the meaning of the results could be: Less God—More Crisis, at least in the economic sense that was being examined.
Although from a technical point of view it is true that the percentage changes in the numbers of Christians might only be partially responsible for the economic fortunes of society, the results of this study are certainly striking enough to provoke some serious soul searching.
If you are interested in the full details of these calculations, the full technical paper can be read or downloaded from the Association of Religion, Economy and Culture (ASREC) website at www.lessgodmorecrisis.org
Where do we stand?
There are recorded in the book of Judges 12 separate cycles in the spiritual relationship between the people of Israel and God: disobedience to God's explicit law; confrontation with a powerful enemy; repentant beseeching of God for intervention; the rise of a powerful liberator. By God's own Word His people were described as “every man doing what right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6, 21:25), precisely what Moses warned them against in his farewell address (Deuteronomy 12:8). This recurring theme in Judges does not, however, mean that there were no people left in Israel who truly wanted to follow God in righteousness.
Our present time has been called by some the “post-modern era.” It is marked by a general denial of the existence of any absolute truth, absolute standards or absolute values. It is a world in which everyone is entitled to determine his or her own truth and what they choose to adopt as their own governing values and standards. And certainly one can in no way impose his own standards on anyone else, which is how evangelisation has come to be viewed by many. This passage into the post-modern mindset can be compared to a similar transformation from a compass-culture (one fixed point of direction) into a radar-culture (out of which one extracts only those items which suit one's own views). In this the period of the Judges seems very much like our own present times: no absolute truth and, among others, the idol of greed. And when greed is allowed to reign, we can expect economic downfall and crisis to follow in accordance with the previously mentioned spiritual law.
The results of a recent statistical study of my own indicate that in countries in which the percentages of Christians increase, so do the associated national economic ratings, especially in the western countries. And conversely, when the percentages of Christians decrease, so do the ratings. Thus, if we in the west continue to deny God, we can look forward to continuing crisis and the absence of God's blessing upon us. Furthermore and chillingly, the decline of the economy will cause an outcry for a leader who will deliver us from the problem on a global basis - someone with a solution, albeit a temporary one, from the New Babylon. We would do well to hearken to the words of the Hallelujah chorus of Handel, which sings of the collapse of this Babylon, the world economic system.
Where then does the solution to the crisis lie?
We look to our politicians and hope somehow that they will find a solution for the economic woes of the day. In reality, however, no one knows what to do. One newspaper declares “The crisis begins with a meeting of bankers who themselves don't know what more to do.” There is so much crookedness and collusion. When anyone turns his money over to a bank under the impression that it will to be safeguarded as his own, he is greatly deluded. From that point on the bank regards the money as their own to do with as they please. This often involves great risk-taking for the sole purpose of increasing their own profit. Your money has two owners. A nice little tug-of-war. “Securities” and promissory notes are no longer secure when there is no money left with which to redeem them. Can we realistically expect a solution from the same sources that have designed the problem?
An article appeared in the Nieuwe Rotterdamse Courant newspaper on 27th July, 2012 under the banner: Thou Shalt Redistribute. It is a discussion of three recent books from prominent economists. They want to see the return of ethics and morality to the conduct of economic affairs. “It is not all about money,” they say. Nobel Prizewinner Joseph Stiglitz writes in his book “...moral decay lies at the heart of our economic system.” Perhaps. But who is it that created that system? Men. If these and other economists really want to see the return of morality and ethics in today's financial system, then they must turn to the Word of God and to those principles of living He has laid down therein for His people. And is this not the message which should be clearly and consistently being proclaimed by God's Church?
Clearly, the solution to the economic crisis lies not only in the details of its various technical aspects, but also in the very presence and blessing of God and in the growth of His Church of believers. If people accept the Biblical message and allow it to rule the conduct of their lives, then others around them will begin doing so as well. Our message has to be focused on the renewal of the heart of man. The solution to our crisis does not lie in correcting the system so much as it does in the renewing of the hearts of men, which by nature are motivated by greed and self-gratification.
What does the post-modern man desire?
Post-modern man demands unlimited freedom. But does such a thing really exist? A drug user wants freedom to use his drugs but at the same time knows full well that there is another side to this coin. The race car driver also knows that there are limits, and he seeks to find the balance between speed and risk. In the present economic crisis should we not also wonder just where the boundaries of financial freedom lie? Do liberalism and post-modernism recognise any boundaries? Who among us will knowingly step into a car without brakes?
God desires that His people be happy, but this is never to become an end in itself. He teaches us constantly in His Word where the boundaries lie. David Pawson writes in Keys To the Bible “...in such an unlimited system (Babylon) shall you find materialism without morality, pleasure without purity, luxury and riches without wisdom, lust without love.” Here then stand the boundaries.
I see an important paradox:
• People want every freedom, preferably without boundaries, to do whatever they choose.
• But simultaneously those same people realise that such freedom does not really exist without at least the threat partial self-destruction, which outcome is, among other things, demonstrated in the present economic crisis.
You can see this paradox at work in the life of a smoker. A person wants to smoke, so he smokes, even though he knows full well that it is extremely unhealthy to do so. Similarly, the post-modern man refuses to hear the Christian message because it infringes on his views. Nevertheless, at the same time there exists his (suppressed) longing for help and a definition of boundaries to correct human behavior and keep it on track. The problem is, of course, that without absolute truth as a guide, everyone has his own view of extreme behavior, his own “cliff.” Thus, today we are hearing from many the call for a return to an economy of sufficiency, that is, an economy in which the goal is the enabling of people to meet their needs rather than the creation of exorbitant wealth for a few.
14th March, 2013
What roles have the church and the individual Christian?
In recent times the church has among other things made two great mistakes. Her first is that she has turned inward, often because of numerous internal problems. Her second mistake is that she has to a great degree accommodated herself to the ways of the world and has ceased to proclaim her true message. We see this second fault demonstrated in the life of Lot. First he made the choice to live in the neighborhood of Sodom and Gomorrah even though he knew what went on there (Genesis 13:10-13). He pitched his tents near Sodom, but before long he actually went to live in that city (verse 14:12). Eventually he even became a town official (verse 19:1). But the sad outcome is recorded in 19:14 where it says that eventually his family didn't pay any attention to his message of repentance to his fellow townsmen. Dr Rietkerk of L'Abri has put it very succinctly: Whoever marries himself to the spirit of the times soon finds himself a widower.
"The church must return to its core business of proclaiming salvation and renewal to the fallen world, even though God's message and its messenger have never been popular."
The church did not see the economic crisis coming (Luke 12: 54-56). Now she remains silent and thinks that no one will listen, and in this manner has adapted or accommodated the truth of her message to the world. God's message concerns the heart of man, which of itself is unsound and deceiving and must be renewed by His grace. The church must return to its core business of proclaiming salvation and renewal to the fallen world, even though God's message and its messenger have never been popular.
The former director of the International Monetary Fund, Johannes Witteveen, a confirmed liberal and adherent of Sufism, has written “...society has become too egotistical and materialistic...there is little solidarity. The churches are largely sitting in the background and have lost their ability to inspire.” Has the general society really set God aside because the church has forgotten how to inspire? Has the church become so conformed to the world around it that it now follows along with each worldly trend? The ability to inspire demands in the first place that we be something different. Studies in Holland (EO, Blauw, 2012) and in the United States (Barna Research Group, 2000) have given evidence that, for all practical purposes, there is no real difference in the moral attitudes and behavior of Christians and non-Christians in society; that is, Christians are not standing out from the general population around them. While other studies disagree, such indications surely must command our thoughtful attention. Jesus preached, “Let your light so shine before men that they see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). We must, for the sake of everyone's best interests, carry out the church's commission, even if it appears that the world does not want to hear us. But in doing so, the church must seek the proper tone in her message to encourage the lost to come to the realisation that they cannot live without God.
Our welfare state has for the most part taken over many tasks that traditionally were carried out by the church. Because of this the church has lost many opportunities for direct contact with those outside its own body. One example is food banks, which, when operated by the church, gave many opportunities for interaction during the delivery of food to those in need. But now the church allows itself to be dictated to by secular authorities in these matters instead of exercising direction as in the past. Perhaps in the present circumstances in which the government is being forced to economise, it is possible that the church may once more assume her proper role of leadership in these areas. Is she then ready to bring the core message of salvation and renewal to those who come to her for practical help? Can she deliver the required combination package of the Gospel of salvation and the gospel of social service simultaneously? Peter said in Acts 3:6, when he was ask for money: “I have no money at all, but I give you what I have...”.
The Bible warns us strongly against greed, for example in Luke 12:15; and in II Peter 2:3 we read, “and in their greed they will exploit you with false words...” Translated to our own times we see how we fall prey to all sorts of get-rich-quick products which among other ills entrap the greedy in usurious debt and excessively large mortgages. But, just as in the times of the Judges, a true repentance, which includes a change of personal conduct, must take place.
As my technical investigation demonstrates (see The Statistical Approach above), there is a positive correlation between the changes in the number of Christians in a society and the changes that occur in its corresponding national financial rating. The church can therefore not legitimately stand back with the attitude that it is up to the world to solve its own problems. It is critical that she assumes her important role in bringing about the lasting solution to the present worldwide crisis.
In the book of Judges we saw these four steps in the cycles describing the relationship of the people of Israel with God:
• The people wanted an idol in place of the true God; today we choose the idol greed.
• Israel found themselves subjugated by powerful neighbors; today we find ourselves ruled by greed and selfishness.
• In their misery, the people of Israel cried out in repentance to God; critical as this step is, it has not yet taken place in today's world.
• God raised up a liberator for His people; this too has yet to happen in today's world.
In view of these observations, what then do they mean in practical terms for us today?
What steps and actions should we expect from the church?
• She must unmask post-modernism as not providing any fixed moral direction (compass). One need is for the development of a presentation of Biblical standards and values which, while not compromising the true content of the Word, must be couched in language that will engage the attention and imagination of the post-modern man.
• She herself must unflinchingly regard God's Word as the absolute compass, not as a radar screen from which to pick and choose.
• She must diligently seek methods to enable an effective proclamation of the core message of salvation and renewal.
• She must proclaim this message of hope, even, nay, especially in these somber times.
• She must unequivocally, yet in compassionate language, warn of the evils of a so-called freedom that recognises no moral boundaries.
• She must learn to discern the times with wisdom. The church did not see the present crisis coming.
• She must mobilise fervent prayer campaigns for God's intervention in bringing about the necessary changes in the hearts of men.
• She must engage in effective practical social ministry, offered explicitly in the loving name of Jesus Christ, wherever it is needed, but always in combination with her core-message proclamation.
• She must evangelise. To explain how to use the ‘brakes’.
• She must educate and warn Christians against risky financial products and motivations in order that they live in conformance to God's principles.
What steps and actions should be expected from Christians?
• Fruitful (spiritual) lives that are lived in conformance to God's Biblical principles.
• Confession of the sins of greed and the desire for self-gratification.
• Demonstration in daily life that our faith is real and that it is at work in our life.
• Prayer for revival so that God's principles and standards become more widely followed.
Dick Slikker lives in Harderwijk, The Netherlands and is a consultant for various mission projects. (See www.projectcaremc.org)He is also available for as a guest preacher.
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