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What’s Wrong With the World?

I  recently heard a speaker who I thought was excellent – what he said was biblical, clear and passionate.  The audience loved it….but I struggled.  And here’s the problem – I couldn’t work out why.    There was just something that did not connect for me.  I have been trying  to identify the problem.  Was it just me?  The speaker was excellent and everyone else loved it.  Was the world mad?  Was I the only one out of step?  What about the Church?  So I struggled in my heart and was confused in my mind, and then read this from Chrysostom…

“Let us then at last come to our sober senses again – let us watch.  For I do not fear so much the battle without, as the fight within;  for the root when it is well fitted into the ground, will suffer no damage from the winds; but if it be itself shaken by a worm gnawing from within, the tree will fall, even though none molest it.

How long do we gnaw the root of the church like worms?  For such thoughts come from earth – no – not from earth, but from dung, having corruption for their mother;  and they do not cease to desire the detestable flattery that is from women.

Let us at length be generous men, let us be champions of philosophy, let us drive back the violent career of these evils.  For I behold the mass of the Church prostrate now, as though it were a corpse.  And as in a body newly dead, one may see eyes and hands and feet and neck and head, and yet no one limb performing its proper office; so truly, here also, all who are here are of the faithful, but their faith is not active; for we have quenched its warmth and made the body of Christ a corpse.”  (Homilies on Second Corinthians XXVII)”

This was like a shower that cleared my mind.

As Christians, we ask ‘what is wrong with the world? ”   We struggle with the evident hatred and hostility to the Gospel.  We are deeply concerned about ourselves and how we will survive in such a hostile environment.  We either want to fight for our rights, or to retreat into our monastery.   We see the problem as being out there – because it is.  There are storms and winds and earthquakes in society – and we are not immune from them.  It is right for us to address such storms, not only for our own sakes but for the love of humanity – and the glory of God.

clearing-desolation-destruction-4451But we need to go deeper.  Chrysostom is right.   It is the fight within, rather than the battle without, that is the problem.  What’s wrong with the world today?  The Church.   As the worms of sin, self, pride, hypocrisy and unbelief gnaw away internally, then the tree cannot stand when the storm comes.  We move away from the Rock, we undermine the sure and certain Word of Scripture – either by adding to it or taking away from it – and the rot sets in.  Outwardly the church looks the same but inwardly it has no root, no depth and no immune system.  It folds like a pack of cards when the tsunami hits.

When Chrysostom talks about ‘ the detestable flattery that is from women’ he is not being a misogynist – blaming women for all the evils in the world. He is referring to the practice of male preachers seeking their praise from their adoring female fans.  In other words a key problem is Church leaders who seek their own glory and who abuse their own power.  They seek not the things of Christ.  Plus ca change…..!

Later on he goes on to speak about how we are ‘divided against one another like wild beasts’.  The rot within soon results in division.  That is inevitably where selfish ambition leads. The Church is like a corpse.  We see the members of the body but they do not function together.  It is still. It is cold.  It is asleep – if not dead.

I’m not talking here just about the ‘liberals’.  So much of the Established church in the UK and elsewhere has been living on borrowed time and the capital of the past.  That capital is gradually eroding – and soon nothing will be left except the rotting corpse; a state/society sponsored religion advocating moralistic therapeutic Deism – paying lip service to Christ whilst trashing his Word and denying his glory.   No – I think of the evangelicals – of whatever hue – those of us who really believe in the basics of the Gospel and say that we live by His Word.     Sometimes we too are comatosed.   We have the members of the body, we cover them in  (sometimes garish) clothes – but where is the life?  Where is the Godly passion?  Where is the unity?  Where is the humble service?  The joyful acceptance of suffering for Christ?

What’s wrong with the world is not the world – but the church.  The fields are white ‘unto harvest’ but where are the labourers?  The thirsty ground is desperate to be refreshed with rain, but where are the watering cans?  People are drowning in a sea of virtual and real hatred, but where is the love?

The problem with what I heard was not what I heard – but what I didn’t hear.  Sometimes we neatly divide the world into ‘them and us’ as though the problem were with ‘them’,  when in reality it is ‘us’.

I am reminded of GK Chesterton’s famous short letter to The Times. 

Dear Sir, What’s wrong with the world?  I am.  Yours sincerely, GK Chesterton. 

What’s wrong with the world?  The Church is the main problem.  What’s wrong with the Church?  I am.

So I must look within – and then I must look away – to Christ.  In the words of McCheyne “for every look at self, take ten at Christ”

Chrystostom says that he tells his hearers this not to ‘parade our condition, but to shame you and make you desist”.  We need to be aware of our sin-sick condition so that we will turn afresh to the great doctor of our souls and receive the Balm of Gilead……

 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.  I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 

You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.  I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich, and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. 

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.   To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. 

Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 3:14-22)

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  1. I argee David that the main struggle we can have is “the fight within”.

    Though I sometimes wonder with respect, if you are beating yourself up too much with this. I gave a biblical reasoning recently as to why I don’t identify as a “sinner” nor do I attribute that label to anyone else. I suspect that with that label there can be a propensity to see sin everywhere and miss out on the grace that covers sin.

    Of course the opposite can be true as well, perhaps in charismatic circles of a triumphant insensitivity to the reality of sin and its consequences. But in evangelical circles I suspect it is the dour Rev. I. M. Jolly contenance that is more like rob the individual of joy in the Lord which is your strength.

    So yes as long as the church is in the world, such things that you describe will happen. If I might disagree slightly, I would suggest it’s not THE problem but a problem. As is my fulling short of the glory of God on my own. Bur praise be to God for his grace and for deep love that covers a multitude of sins.

    Poor old Rev I. M. Jolly seems like he needs a bit of joy in his life haha.

    1. I’m afraid that I stick with what I know of my own heart, and of the Bible which describes it so well. I am a sinner – like Paul – the chief of sinners. A sinner is someone who sins – if we say we do not sin, John tells us we are lying….therefore I am a sinner.

      1. No worries David – if that’s what you want to label yourself as, then you have the freedom to do so and it’s not uncommon within Christianity for that to happen. But I would request kindly that you don’t use that label for me.

        When Paul called himself the “chief of all sinners” what was the context? Haven’t you at times pointed out correctly that a text outwith a context is a pretext?

        The context to John that you allude to is, “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”

        So what is the “Christian” thing to do here? Identify with Jesus and being purified from sin? Or to identify with sin, a “sinner” being purified from sin by Jesus?

        I don’t see anything unbiblical about identifying with Jesus whilst acknowledging not being without sin and therefore in need of grace and deep love that covers a multitude of sins and implied in that the need to be loving deeply and extending grace to others whilst not ignoring the reality of sin.

        I respectfully propose a doctrine of original goodness to balance the doctrine of original sin.

      2. The doctrine of original goodness is a false doctrine because it’s not true. No one has ‘original’ goodness. Although as you correctly point out we have ‘the goodness(righteousness) of Christ.

        The context of Paul is 1 Timothy 1:15 – where Paul speaks of Christ coming to save the worst of sinners….He doesn’t say I was….but I am.

        Likewise with John. The logic is straightforward….sinners are those who commit sin. All believers commit sin. Therefore all believers are sinners.

        It’s not how I want to label myself…it’s how the Bible does…

      3. OK that’s interesting David.

        You presuppose “no one has ‘original’ goodness” and would reject any doctrine of original goodness as false teaching. At the same time, I hear what you say about “the goodness(righteousness) of Christ”.

        Then you assume that committing sin makes someone a sinner and that this is what the bible says pointing to 1 Tim 1:15b “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”

        So I hear your argument based on this. However for reasons previously mentioned the term “sinner” is used derogatively. And the apostle Paul, skilled in emotion and rhetoric as an orator often used words with irony, so it’s not as clear as it might be from a literal reading of the text that this is what the bible says. He could be using this ironically (at least in part) to address false teachers which is much of the context of the book, an apologetic against them and an autoritative claim for himself. He most certainly would have been strengthening and encouraging Timothy who probably was a little timid with talk od the Spirit being a spirit of power love and sound mind.

        Yes of course no one is without sin and all have fallen short of the glory of God. This is obvious. But I’m sorry I’m not convinced that the bible labels. I would hope for any believer the identity in Christ would override any identity with sin. Otherwise what is to be made of “the new creation”?

        On the issue of original goodness, I would quote from Genesis.

        “So God created mankind in his own image,
        in the image of God he created them;
        male and female he created them…
        God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” (Gen 1:27,31a)

        If something is originally very good then is it so bad to propose a doctrine for it? Adam and Eve were without sin before the fall were they not?

        I understand that you perceive this a proposing false teaching so I thank you for your willingness to have let these comments pass your moderation on your blog.

        The truth will out. And I still have a lot to learn.

      4. Thanks Adam….it is helpful to get clear what we are saying…so just a couple of responses.

        1) Paul is not being ‘ironic’. He really does think he the chief of sinners. It is not false humility. He knows his own heart….Romans 7 – O wretched man that I am…

        2) God did create human beings good – if that is what you mean by original goodness then we are agreed. If you also mean that human beings are still in the image of God then that also is agreed. However humanity are not now in our original state – because of the Fall. We are all born in sin…and sin permeates every area of our lives. That is why Paul in Romans 3 cites Psalm 14 – there is none good, no not one.

      5. Thanks for your response David,

        I suspect there may be more things we might agree on than disagree about.

        I hear that you perceive Paul as not being ironic. At the same time it’s also not uncommon for respected interpretation of the Rom 7 to be ironic and for him to mean what he is saying to be about others. Again, context. In Ist Tim much of what he is doing is coming against false teachers and validating his authority in the power of the Spirit ( and also in love and sound mind). To take a literal interpretation is not always to understand the author as he intended.

        On your second point, yes this is what I am proposing, original goodness so a doctrine of original goodness to compliment (not usurp) the doctrine of original sin. And yes of course no one is without sin and anyone who claims they are is a liar and the truth is not in them. So, it is serious and needs to be taken seriously.

        I guess there can be two valid ways of looking at it, identify with Jesus and being purified from sin. Or to identify with sin, a “sinner” being purified from sin by Jesus.

        I’m inclined to seeing myself and others in my truest self as created in the image of God (that we agree on) and in that sense “good” but not without sin, and there being nothing I can do about that. But that God has a remedy to it in creating us with the capacity to sin in being the one who also covers all sin with costly grace and something not to be taken granted for. This is the only way I can find contentment and gratitude, a “joy in the Lord”.

        I tend to find if I focus on sin too much I can get downhearted, judgemental of myself and others and find it difficult to show grace and compassion.

  2. What’s wrong with the world? The Church is the main problem. What’s wrong with the Church? I am.

    Truly, two of the most insightful sentences I have read on this blog.
    And that is where it should stop.
    No need for further commentary.
    No need for further explanation and no need to claim context.

    It is perfect as written.

  3. I thought this one of the most excellent and insightful things I have read for a long time. I know the article draws attention to the danger of pride in the lives of Christian servants – and so that praise should be taken as an encouragement and something to thank God for.

  4. We used to joke in my evangelical Christian school that God only seems to call people to missionary trips in warm and sunny countries!

    “but where is the life? Where is the Godly passion? Where is the unity? Where is the humble service? The joyful acceptance of suffering for Christ?”

    I’ve met plenty of liberal Christians willing to sacrifice comfort and live with the poor or risk imprisonment by non-violently confronting the military-industrial complex because of faith in Christ (and belief in the sermon on the mount). My experience of evangelicals (I was one fervently, Christian Union, campus crusade, churches) was that we used to congratulate ourselves for not getting drunk on a Friday night but apart from that there was very little real sacrifice.

    That’s not to say that there aren’t evangelicals out there sacrificing their lives for the Gospel, but almost all of the evangelicals I know live very comfortable lives for people claiming to believe in the Bible more than liberals do.

  5. Perhaps I am missing some context here, but I am bothered by the idea that the world’s problems have their source in the church. Church or no church sin destroys the world. It doesn’t need the church’s help to be a mess. When lost in darkness you don’t blame the darkness on the only guy holding a flashlight .. (unless he refuses to turn it on). Even if the flashlight barely casts a shadow darkness is not the fault of that minimal light. The church is not the problem, the church is the solution -Jesus’ hands, feet, and a light to the world. Of course not all “churches” are the body of Christ so context is certainly important here.

    I guess the concept of the church being what’s wrong with the world, and me being what’s wrong with the church, comes across as too absolute a statement to me.

    Paul might have claimed to be the chief of sinners but I don’t think that is the same as walking around claiming to be THE problem with the world or THE problem with the church. I get that the church at Laodicia needed to hear that they were the problem. But not every letter in Revelation went out claiming every church was THE problem. Not everyone in the church needs to be told that THEY are what’s wrong with the church. How disheartening would that be?

    I think there is a principle in here about self reflection, and a humble spirit. But the idea of proclaiming that Jesus’ bride is what is wrong with the world seems like a misstatement.

    Are there churches which are white-washed tombs? No doubt. But at that point I believe they are only “churches” according to the phone book.

    Are there genuine churches fading in their divine responsibilities? Yes. Should they wake up and acknowledge their problems? No doubt.

    Should we all take care of the log in our own eyes first? Sure.

    But calling the bride of Christ the problem with the world seems like a mischaracterization. Perhaps it just requires more definition of the terms church, world, and problem for me to understand this position.

  6. It was interesting reading your friendly exchange Julian Adams with David about whether we should refer to ourselves as ‘sinners’ The mutual respect you showed throughout was much appreciated btw. From my own perspective I sympathise with both your points to a degree. However I don’t think you can get away from the biblical fact that as Christians we can still sin. As David pointed out John clearly says this in his epistle and teaches that anyone who denies this is a liar! Whats more in terms of context, according to NT scholars like Craig Keener, John is clearly addressing believers here, so we are sinners in the sense that we can still sin. However it is absolutely key to remember that when we put our trust in Christ and repent of our sins, our identity is fundamentally changed from that of sinner to saint so that our capacity to sin is no longer what defines us. In fact Paul charges us in Romans 6 v11: “..Consider yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus..” So In this sense I think your right Julian. But it remains completely unbiblical to deny our ability to sin. Otherwise the overall context of this chapter and indeed Romans would make little sense… As Paul writes earlier in this chapter: “What shall we say, then? Shall we GO ON SINNING so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?”
    ‭‭Romans‬ ‭6:1-2‬ ‭NIV‬‬

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