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Thursday, November 02, 2006

Wal-Mart, Hotel Maids and the Kingdom

What follows is a transcript I made of a sermon by Dr. Russell Moore, the Dean of the School of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. There is a link to the entire sermon (audio) here. You will note that I cut the whole first paragraph and some parts of the second for the final post in the inerrancy series – but what may surprise you is that while the text completely fits that context, it was leading towards a different one – a warning to theological conservatives.

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?

If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.

- James 2:1-9

Nancy Anderson and Richard Marius, both of whom are liberals, wrote sociological analyses of the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention – and both came up with the same conclusion. When you look at people who were moving toward liberalism, and the ones who were standing toward orthodoxy, the ones who were the fundamentalists were those who grew up in blue-collar homes; while the ones who were liberal, regardless of how much money they had now, were the those who grew up in very comfortable homes. Not as a rule, but generally. Why? Anderson and Marius both asked, Why? Their conclusion: those who are more at home in American culture, those who are more secure in American culture, were those who were more likely to move with American culture, were those who were more likely to be concerned about what the outside culture thinks. Those who instead were insecure in the culture, those who were already marginalized, were the ones who were willing to hear and to listen to a gospel that the scholars had been telling them is ridiculous!

That’s not an accident, it’s not unusual. James says, “God has chosen the poor of this world, God has chosen the downtrodden of the world to be rich in faith.” God is preserving orthodoxy and preserving commitment to the word of God specifically through those that the world says have no influence at all! There is a reason why boutique liberalism and faddish evangelicalism don’t really take root in the trailer parks. There’s a reason why Brian McLaren has never been translated into Sudanese. Places who are feeling the persecution of the sword, places in which those who have the power over your income also have the right to tell you what to believe, are the very places where God brings forward men and women who will stand and say “This I believe, I can do no other.”

God has chosen them to be rich in faith, and not only that, but to also be the heirs to the kingdom, he says, which he promised to those who love Him. What you need to understand is that you are looking through the wrong priority lens, and what you need to see is that the last will be first and the first will be last. When you welcome in the poor among you, do not sit around and congratulate yourselves as if you did some act of charity. When you are pastoring, ministering and loving the people who are rich in faith but poor in the things of this world, all you are doing, James says, is being the political consultant to those who will one day be the rulers of this earth! They will be heirs of the kingdom, and when you recognize that, you are saying that you know that at the resurrection of the dead, God will be giving glory and authority

Those who may not have had anything in this life, may have had had shabby clothing, who were hotel maids who had to take Motrin eight times a day because their backs are giving out, but those who believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ, they will be exalted. James says when you don’t listen to them, it is to your own detriment, it is because you don’t know what is coming! That’s exactly what Jesus is saying when he tells his disciples, “The first will be last and the last first.” When you understand this, you will understand that there will be church janitors who will be crowned with glory and church celebrities who will be humbled…

In every generation of the church, and in our generation, too, there is a danger of defining the great commission as chasing whatever the world values. In the 80’s it was upwardly mobile baby boomers who wanted a mall. In this generation perhaps it is cool, hip, edgy postmodernists who are technologically savvy. In every generation there is a tendency to despise the very people through whom God has given us the gospel. It is very easy as a seminary student, or seminary faculty member, or administrator to make fun of shofars blowing at the Southern Baptist Convention. It is very easy to turn around and see our churches and to despise them. It is very easy to look at what we see as Biblical illiteracy and look at what we see as silliness, and scoff at them in coffee shops.

In older days people had liberalism to show how much smarter they were than the rednecks. However, it is just as easy for Satan to tear you apart by taking orthodox theology and relevant missiology in order to prop up in your mind your superiority to these people. And you can find yourself believing things that are true, and you can find yourself doing things that are effective, and find yourself serving in churches with your heads cricked- just like the liberals did toward Harvard and Yale - you can have your heads cricked toward all of your peers who are looking at what you are doing and looking to see if you are fitting in with what they expect, you can find yourself doing that, while secretly considering yourself above the people you serve – and it will take more than five points and an elder board to keep you from liberalism…you’ll already be there. It will take more than a spread in Relevant magazine to make you relevant to the culture - you’re gone.

James says that you need to recognize that the standards here and priorities here are very, very different. You need to understand that you can have all the justifications you want to for thinking you are superior to them, more educated than them, more socially well off than them, but what you need to understand is that you can have all the ironic conversations you want to, and have all the theological sophistication that you want to and you can miss the fact that the kingdom of God is dawning in a Wal-Mart break room of people sitting around over a Bible leading someone to Christ, who don’t know who John Owen is, who can’t diagram a Greek sentence, who like Bill Gaither more than they like Bach, who understand the gospel in what may be a very narrow way, but they are people who are rulers-in-waiting of the cosmos, and you need to recognize that because your own soul is at stake.

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I pray that the Almighty keep us all from such arrogance...and especially me.

3 Comments:

  • Thanks for sharing this Hammer. I loved it. I always feel closer to God and closer to God's people when I get out of California. What am I doing here? salt...salt...salt...

    By Blogger David M. Smith, at 11/02/2006 07:45:00 PM  

  • Thanks for this post, Hammer. I think this is the reason I often relate better to the have-not's than the have's!

    David, if anyone can relate to your comment, it's me!

    My husband and I moved our family out of California a few years ago. He regularly travels there for business, and each time he just can't wait to "get out of there"...salt...salt..salt..indeed!

    By Blogger Rightthinker2, at 11/03/2006 09:36:00 AM  

  • I lived my entire life in California up until 4 years ago when I married my husband. I swore I'd never leave California- much less for Kentucky! I didn't even realize how liberal California was until I saw it from the other side of the fence. I'll never go back- I couldn't afford to if I'd wanted, anyway!
    I taught in the California public school system, and to see what it's becoming is sickening. Thank God my kids are out of it!
    Sorry to get off topic from the original post, which I think is great and I don't want to distract from it. Enough about California. I have a love/hate relationship with it because it's my home state, but I wouldn't want to raise my family there if I had a choice.
    I think it's great that there are a handful of David's left there. When I tell people where I'm from they automatically assume I'm a liberal and are confused when they find out I'm not because no one even realizes there are conservatives that live there!

    By Blogger mrshammer, at 11/03/2006 03:02:00 PM  

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