We have made the distinction between direct and indirect obedience. In the realms of indirect obedience, we noted the importance of starting close to home, and starting with the obvious. As God gives more grace, we may move out from the center. We will be able to see to do this because the beam is now out of our eyes, and because, as George MacDonald put it, obedience is the great opener of eyes.
“For they know not to do right, saith the LORD, who store up violence and robbery in their palaces” (Amos 3:10).
Remembering Who and Where We Are
In the unfolding of God’s redemptive plan for this sorry world, we are privileged to be living two thousand years into the expansion of the fallen tabernacle of David. In other words, we are closer to the plowman catching up with the harvester than we are to the smoking ruin of Samaria. We are part of the wonderful work that God has done in the world through Christ. This does not mean that there are no applications for us from Amos; it means rather that there are indirect applications for us. Please note that “indirect” does not mean “less authoritative,” or “optional.” Pressing the authority of God’s Word into every nook and cranny of the heart is one of the ways that God is bringing great blessing about.
Keep It SImple
In order to follow what I am urging here, we will run the risk of being written off as fundamentalists. But that’s all right—worse things could happen. We are living in a time of rapid globalization, and this process has its giddy, cute cheerleaders (all of them perky and blonde) and its hysterical, weeping critics (all of them with brown eyes and weak chins). How are we supposed to sort all this out? The former tell us about how Halliburton has rebuilt Iraq to the great rejoicing of pretty much everybody there on the ground. The latter tell us lurid stories of rapine, laughter, and heartlessness. Are we in the Church supposed to jump in there and sort it all out? If we are to be engaged with the culture, then yes. But how?
For most of us, keep it simple. Does Halliburton believe in Jesus? Remember, every knee will bow. Remember, here is no neutrality anywhere. There is no place where men can go that will obtain them a “release” from getting from the authority of the gospel. If this applies to all kings and presidents, and it does, we need to keep in mind that a number of our multinational corporations are bigger and richer than many nations. Why would it not apply to CEOs as well? This “cut to the chase” approach is for most of us. Some—who are providentially placed on the scene or who have the time and ability to get three PhDs in the subject—have the responsibility to speak the Word of God into the details of that circumstance.
In our treatment of chapter three in Amos, we saw six areas where the Church in America is failing to do what Israel also failed to do. The fact that this is an analogous failure does not remove the need for repentance.
First, our churches are very wealthy, the wealthiest in the history of the world. Do we use this wealth to establish robust, orthodox worship? Or do we decorate various kinds of “altars at Bethel”? And do works of charity flow out of our orthodox worship like a mighty river?
Second, like Israel we are ungrateful for our biblical heritage. Israel refused to acknowledge who it was who brought them up out of the land of Egypt, establishing them in the land. Today, even Christian writers and theologians take the lead in affirming that America never was Christian, and furthermore, ought not to be Christian in the future. The former claim is historically false, and the latter assertion is simply disobedience. For the latter, if Jesus told us to disciple all nations, “no” is not an appropriate response. Insistence that obedience never existed in the past is nothing but an excuse to keep it from happening in the future.
Third, we have forgotten that Jesus is the Lord of history. This means that He is Lord of kingdoms as they rise and empires as they fall. Benjamin Franklin, far more deistic than most of the other Founders, said this, “If a sparrow cannot fall without His notice, how can an empire rise without His aid?” The irony is that Franklin the deist had a more explicitly Christian view of history at this point than many contemporary “worldview” Christians. In the course of history, good and bad things both happen. This means blessings and chastisements, both of which we must learn how to read. Israel in Amos refused to read history rightly.
Fourth, like Israel we like to grade on a curve. We think that because we are “better,” then it means that we have somehow attained to the standard God has set for us. For example, Americans are far more generous than any other nation. We give close to 300 billion annually. But we cannot pretend that we are automatically vindicated because others are worse. We must not compare how generous we are compared to how generous others aren’t. If all the kids in the class flunked the test, this does not mean the top score of 48 came from the honors student. We must compare how generous we are to others compared with how generous God has been with us. That is the standard.
Fifth, Amos notes the presence of “tumults,” the “oppressed,” “violence,” and “robbery,” and all within Israel’s own midst. We have stark problems in our midst as well. Remember, start with the near and clear. Don’t fix all the problems you don’t understand. The problems that we do understand are sufficient for now.
Sixth, if Mammon has become a god, as it has, men who worship at that shrine will always glory in their god’s “majesty.” The indirect problems with greed as idolatry will become direct soon enough. As long as idolatry is a metaphor, people can shrug off the warnings because “they don’t see it.” But when it comes out into the open, and every can see it, then can now shrug off your objections because “everyone is doing it.”
The book of Amos belongs to the faithful Church. If the shire is to be a kindly place, it must be a kirk shire.It is part of our covenant heritage. We must not allow it to be co-opted by those who would disregard the heart of the prophet’s message. What should we take away from this book? We want to live in parish, in the shire, establishing a corner of Christendom. At the center of the shire must stand the faithful worship of God in the kirk. If the shire is to be a kindly place, it must be a kirk shire.