10:06 AM Good morning to you on this sunny winter day! As you know, this week I will begin team-teaching (with Chip Hardy — a really smart guy who holds a doctorate from the University of Chicago) the book of Amos in both Greek and Hebrew. The course is officially listed as “LXX,” and I’m quite sure the Greek text can and should be read on its own terms, but LXX Amos is a translation of the Hebrew after all, and I think it will be helpful if we keep a close eye on the Hebrew as we work our way through its nine marvelous chapters. However, beyond the question of translation and exegesis — which itself could keep us very busy — there is the message of Amos to be dealt with, namely, the preservation of a covenant people of God until the day God raises up a Son of David in the person of Jesus Christ who shall right all wrongs and provide full and final salvation.
When Amos turned his gaze on the society in which he lived and worked, everywhere he looked he saw nothing but counterfeit religion — exercises in self-pleasure, protection of religious property, and careless indifference to the needs all around them. People lived for frivolity (think American football) and money, and the divine displeasure went completely unnoticed. Amos addressed himself to all who would hear his prophetic word that with privilege comes great responsibility, and that to whom much is given, much is required. Amos was a man gripped by a God of holiness, a God who loves His frail and needy people — His wrath-deserving followers — as much as any God ever could and yet who also insisted that whenever grace is abused and the law is forgotten, a terrible price is to be paid.
And what of today’s church? Is the Lord holding up his plumb line and measuring our lukewarmness? Has America reached the autumn of her probation? Amos was surely written for our admonition. Our God is a different kind of claimant. He demands our complete and undivided allegiance. This is the exclusivity that Jesus so often spoke of. There is no other God! — no matter how many times we hold our inter-faith services or acquiesce to a syncretism that would allow a Muslim call to prayer to emanate from a Christian bell tower.
And what of missions and evangelism? I wonder.
New Testament scholars attend their academic conferences, pursuing the intellectual (as well they should). But the true combination of humanitas and pietas, of intellectualism and spirituality, should be apparent in Gospel preaching as well as in the understanding Scripture.
Pastors continue to erect their magnificent temples (“churches”) as if God lived in houses made with human hands — and the church in the Third World goes without. Don’t read Amos unless you’re prepared to have your priorities turned upside down.
Seminaries act more like watchdogs than gadflies to sting into action for change.
People in the pews remain indifferent to the sufferings of their brothers and sisters in foreign lands. I do not know of a better statement of our double standard than that made by W. A. Visser ‘t Hooft in 1968: “It must become clear that church members who deny in fact their responsibility for the needy in any part of the world are just as guilty of heresy as those who deny this or that article of the Faith.”
Church, we are playing it too safe. This very day there is a Christian orphan in India you can support for what it would cost your family to enjoy a monthly meal at MacDonald’s. I can hook you up today with an evangelist in northern India who, for a mere $60 in monthly support will take the Gospel fearlessly to a completely unreached people group on the border of Sikkim. Would you consider becoming like the apostle Paul — rather than asking for money for the mission work you do, trying your best to become self-supporting so that the resources of God might go to the needy in other nations?
Our Anabaptist forefathers of the 16th century understood this principle well, at least in its application to missions. They knew they would never reach the world with the Gospel if they continued to outsource the task to professional clergy, and so they all stepped out by faith to get the job done themselves. Our conservative churches today claim to “be like Jesus” — and we are when it comes to holding and defending a high view of Scripture. But Jesus was also a radical who wasn’t afraid to sweep away centuries of tradition so that God’s word might be understood and obeyed.
This Friday I am meeting with one of our former doctoral students at SEBTS who practices his trade as an academic in a country where Christianity is at best tolerated. As he lectures in his university, he shares his faith and develops friendships with a view toward Gospel conversations. I want to do everything I can to support and promote that kind of strategic work. In India, as you know, more and more missionary dollars are being sidetracked into charitable social programs by denominations that equate social action with evangelism. How far we have drifted from the faith of the apostles! There is a need for a revolution in missions today, and that change will begin when we admit that Western missionaries are less effective at evangelism, church planting, and establishing local churches than are the local missionaries and evangelists. Foreign governments may close their borders to foreign missionaries, but they cannot close them to their own people. The native missionary movement in Asia is one of the most exciting developments I have seen in my 38 years of missionary work. Week after week on this blog I continue with this one message: native missionaries are waiting by the thousands to be sent to the next village with the Gospel. All they need is our prayer and financial support. As I said, any family in the U.S. can do this. Pray about it, be sensitive to the Holy Spirit, and God will show you what to do.
Thus is the message of Amos. Special privileges involve special obligations. Special revelation requires special obedience. Special love requires special responsiveness. Jesus says (as Amos did long before Him) that it is of absolutely no consequence to say “Lord, Lord” and then to turn from doing the will of God when it comes to global evangelism. Jesus’ last words are lasting words (as Danny Akin is wont to say). We have our marching orders (Matt. 28:19-20). Millions of souls depend upon our obedience.
Thanks for listening,