Rather than reading the Bible through the eyes of modern secularism, this provocative six-part course teaches you to read the Bible through its own eyes—as a record of God’s dealing with the human race. When you read it at this level, you will discover reasons to worship God in areas of life you probably never before associated with “religion.”
Due to technical difficulties part of this lesson was not recorded.
Since the common values and common ideas of a pagan unbelieving society have paganism as their source, functioning in a pagan society can, in a sense, be “serving other gods.” True biblical separation begins with the renewing of our minds. Three core counterfeits to true biblical separation: physical separation, capitulation, accommodation. Apocalyptic literature provides an energizing motive to stand against the relentless pressure to give in to pagan society. Questions and answers.
© Charles A. Clough 1995
Charles A. Clough
Biblical Framework Series 1995–2003
Part 4: Disciplinary Truths of God's Kingdom
Chapter 4 – Kingdom Ended: The Discipline of Exile
Lesson 92 – Exilic Period: Rise of Philosophy in Greece, Sanctification by Separation
21 May 1998
Fellowship Chapel, Jarrettsville, MD
“For they have driven me out today that I should have no attachment with the inheritance of the Lord, saying, ‘Go, serve other gods.’ ”
See that expression, “Go serve other gods”? That is an expression that is almost synonymous in the Old Testament with for living outside of Israel. Now couple that with Namaan’s situation. Can anybody think, why is this terminology used? That if you live outside the boundaries of Israel it is called “serving other gods.”
Think about that, what is it about a pagan society that causes people embedded in it to serve other gods? Well, let’s suggest that every society has common values, common basic ideas. If the society is a pagan unbelieving society, what then is the source, the root, of the ground ideas of that society? It’s all pagan.
So if you’re going to Philistia, as David was going to Philistia, it’s the pantheon of the Philistines that grabs people's imagination. It sets up their value systems. It sets up their priorities. It orders their life, and most of all it orders social etiquette. If you’re functioning inside that kind of society, in that sense you are serving other gods.
One of the tensions of Christians down through history is that on the one hand we are serving the Lord Jesus Christ, and on the other hand we are serving other gods. That’s because in unbelieving societies there are rules you follow that you don’t want to follow that gets into this do we, or don’t we, kind of thing. But the society itself, grounded as it is in unbelief, we are serving other gods just walking around.
So the tension of separation is there in the Bible. If we turn now to Romans 12, a familiar verse, this is about the only way you can deal with it. So turn to Romans 12 and look on page 68 in the notes. We want to go through some ways people have had of dealing with this.
In serving other gods, here’s a contrasting list that I made up a couple years ago when I was dealing with another text, but it kind of shows you what we mean by institutional design. On the left side: the Word of God, self- government, marriage, family, associations, civil government, and church government. Those are the basic social structures authorized in the New Testament. No question about it, they are there. They’re not accidental social evolutionary developed phenomena. They’re not habits created because people thought about them. They’re there because God wants them there.
On the right side is what we are used to calling them in a pagan, unbelieving society, without biblical reference. We speak of citizen rights. Excuse me? Whose rights? Citizen’s rights. Oh, where do these citizen’s rights come from? Well, the government gives them to us. Really, the government can take it away from then. Well, I’m not so sure about that. I think I have my rights. I’m a woman and I want to do what I want to do with my body, and if I want to abort my baby the government can't tell me about that, that’s my right. So you’ve got a right that’s not given to you by the government. Okay, where does that right come from? If I heard you correctly it doesn't come from the government and you don’t believe the Bible so it doesn’t come from God, where does the right come from?
See what we said? There is no foundation. It’s all air. Cohabitation? I mean, you know, girls and guys, guys and guys, girls and girls, various combinations. State education, various associations, and religion, there is a structural difference here. And this is what the Bible is talking about, that when you live in a society designed like that on the right side, in a way you are serving other gods because of daily functioning in those structures, the legislation is all designed that way.
So where does separation start then? Well, it doesn't start by rebelling; it doesn't start by reforming society. Romans 12:2 says it starts in our heads. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may test out what the will of God is that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
So where does separation begin? Not with not wearing lipstick, not with not playing cards, not with going into a monastery. Separation begins in the hardest place; it begins in the renewing of our minds. That is where separation starts.
On page 68 there are three unfortunate twist things in Romans 12:2. Look at the first full paragraph on page 68, down through church history there have been three alternative views to real separation.
One is wholesale capitulation to pagan public values and agenda. Whatever the society wants, hey, don’t offend them; go along with it, no problem.
Another one is accommodation. This is a little more spiritual. Capitulation is usually unbelievers who masquerade as Christians, that’s the liberal crowd. Accommodation is usually some evangelicals, usually some of our own brethren, who become deeply uneasy over this tension issue and so they want to kind of blend in with the social environment. So they reinterpret the Bible to fit it. It’s why all of a sudden we don’t understand how to interpret Genesis 1. I mean, geez,that text is tough to [can’t understand]. So we accommodate by adjusting our interpretation.
The next kind of person that developed down through history was the physical separation people, they went into monasteries. Did God command us to go into monasteries? A great thing for evangelism, it really helps out missions and evangelism, to be separated from people.
So those are three core counterfeits to true biblical separation. Biblical separation is not capitulating to the public, it’s not accommodating our interpretation to fit, it is not physically leaving.
We have to be straight in our minds, and the only way to be straight in our minds is to separate in our thought patterns. Then we have to trust the Lord how that’s publicly expressed. With each one of us it will be in a different area because each one of us is gifted differently.
Follow through with me, if you’ll look at the quote on page 68 from J. Gresham Machen. He wrote a book at the turn-of-the-century. Actually, this is a sermon he gave at Princeton. J. Gresham Machen is one of the five original fundamentalists. Everybody has this Elmer Gantry idea of fundamentalists, this guy J. Gresham Machen was a New Testament Greek scholar. He wrote the key text book in Koine Greek that is used to this day to train seminarians in biblical Greek.
This guy was great, he was a bachelor all of his life and used to walk around in crummy clothes, sort of the absent minded professor. He was the fellow who, when Princeton started having problems, he left. He walked out and went across the river to Philadelphia and started another seminary along with Cornelius Van Till and some others.
One of the other fundamentalists was an uneducated man, fluent in 25 different languages, Robert Dick Wilson. So, when you hear the word fundamentalists, stupid guys, well, the answer to that is, when you can be fluent in 26, tell me about it.
Before he left Princeton, Machen gave a talk and said, “Instead of destroying the arts and sciences or being indifferent to them, let us cultivate them with all the enthusiasm of the veriest humanist, but at the same time, consecrate them to the service of our God…Let us go forth joyfully, enthusiastically to make the world subject to God.”
Now you say, well, why was Machen this way? It’s true, Machen tended to be post millennial, this time in history a lot of optimists, and we’re pre millennial and we don’t think quite that way, but in principle we agree with him. There is no need to avoid art, music and literature because the unbelievers do them. These are functions that we, as created in God's image, can do. Why do we think the non- Christian can do it better?
Machen however, in the second portion of this quote, here is where I think it comes down to a very serious issue. This is not just talking about art and music for the sake of art and music. People can kiss that off and say, well, I’m not interested in art and music, so that doesn’t bother me. But Machen had a more serious perception, that if we don't engage in the academics, if we don’t engage in economics, if we don’t engage in the arts, here is what’s going to happen, and he is absolutely right. Watch the second quote:
“We may preach with all the fervour of a reformer and yet succeed only in winning a straggler here and there, if we permit the whole collective thought of the nation or of the world to be controlled by ideas, which, by the resistless force of logic, prevent Christianity from being regarded as anything more than a harmless delusion.”
See the effect on evangelism and missions? Sadly, in our own time people don't connect this, there is a disjunction going on. You have some of the church interested in the culture side and some of the church in evangelism and missions. They don’t see that the two are linked.
Where you have a failure to capture imagination artistically, dramatically, and musically, you will have a culture in which it is almost impossible lead someone to Christ, because the groups have gotten so far apart there is no communication, it’s lost.
And that’s what Machen is saying, evangelism will go down the tube if we don't maintain an aggressive cultural expression of our faith. Where is the Christian mind? Where's the Christian art? Where's the Christian music? I mean, [can’t understand]
Where is the stuff that moved people? If we don’t have that, Machen says we can forget evangelism. Did you ever hear that before? New thought? God says that salvation concerns the whole person and art is part of the whole person. It doesn’t mean everybody has to be an artist, but it does mean the church should encourage it.
It was so nice to hear the chapel. Dennis sits there and for 25 years he had this dream of this drama in his head. And then the Lord worked it so he could do it. Look what happened. We had more unbelievers sitting here the two nights of that play than I think we’ve ever had in the history of the chapel.
Why did they all come? How come they came for that? Because somehow they didn’t have their gospel protection stuff on. You know, it was just a drama, so we can sneak in here and we don’t have to worry about it, no sweat. Well, they found out something different, because the gospel was clearly communicated in an artistic way.
Romans 12:1, 2 then, gives the means, the authorized means, it’s not physical separation, it’s not capitulation, it’s not accommodation. But on the positive side, you say what is it?
What did we study when we studied Solomon? Remember in Solomon’s day, what began to happen? If you look back in the first chapter of these notes you will see a statement that says depth leads to breadth in sanctification. (page 20) And the deep relationship with the Lord that is anchored in Scripture will finally overflow, you just can’t help it.
And it will begin to twist, and bend, and turn things in the environment. It won’t mean you will change your company. It doesn’t mean you are going to change the school system. It doesn’t mean you are going to change whatever group you are with, but there will be a pressure there. There will be a presence there. There will be felt impress of some other standard. Your transcendent loyalty will begin to be felt, because now there is an expression of this. And people think, what is this? What is going on here? I feel something different happening. You just don’t march quite to the same tune.
And that is what Machen is talking about. That is what stimulates, if any man asks a reason of the hope that is in you, be ready to give him an answer. Well, if he never asks the reason for the hope that is in you, what answer are you going to give? There has to be something that sets up the question. That’s what we are talking about in separation.
Concluding down at the bottom of page 68, I have tried to summarize the Romans 12:2 principle, “Wisely separating from worldly culture while citizens of a pagan society requires great alertness, hard work, and a dedication. It requires a peculiar resource, a vision of God's sovereign control over, in back of, underneath, and behind every pagan power that pushes on us.
Think, what did we say were the two repercussions of the exile? One was the religion, the other was the rise of apocalyptic literature. The first time in history that God revealed Himself apocalyptically. Zechariah, Daniel, Book of Revelation, John, all apocalyptic. Why apocalyptic literature?
He had prophets before. Why this new form? What is characteristic of apocalyptic literature? The final end of history. And what does apocalyptic literature always specialize in? The crushing of the world system. Rejoicing in the downfall and the triumph of God’s Kingdom. Why is that there? Why did this literature suddenly arise in the 6th century?
Because God had to provide for His sheep, who would stray into pagan pastures, the long term basis, and we will develop that more in the notes you just got tonight, I’ll develop that next week.
There has got to be day in, day out, endurance on a long time scale. This isn’t flash in the pan stuff. You never attain what Machen is talking about because art takes discipline, it takes practice, it takes time. It takes effort to develop good literature. It takes thought, it doesn’t come overnight.
So it requires time, time, time, time, effort, effort, effort, which means I have to endure against opposition that seems almost hopeless. Think of that Jew in Psalm 137, whoever he was who wrote that psalm, think of him hanging up his musical instrument and saying, ‘I can’t sing the Lord’s song this way, it’s just out of place.’
And feeling the dejection, you want to praise God and you just feel [can’t understand] and I live in a [can’t understand]. And it goes on month after month, year after year, lifetime after lifetime.
So God had to change the vision for His people, and that’s why we have apocalyptic literature.
2 Timothy 3:16–17 “All scripture is God breathed, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
Apocalyptic literature was given at this time, the time period of the exile, to allow the people of God to be able to have a sustained endurance for centuries under paganism. It’s the key to separation. You only remain separated if you have an energy to do it.
It is apocalyptic literature that is given by the Holy Spirit to energize a long term program of faithful resistance against the powers that be. Why is this long range idea necessary? It is because if you know the last chapter you know who is going to win the game. You may lose, you may lose, you may lose this battle, you may lose that battle, but if you know deep in your head, that we are going to win, you keep on, keep on, keep on.
Why did the Communists keep on? Young students, slaughtered by the thousands by the czar, why did they keep on? Why did Mao tse-Tung keep on? Because they were convinced they were going to win. It is the power of long range total victory. That’s what the apocalyptic literature provides.
Our hearts must have both an inner compass to stay un-deflected by the world, and an energizing motive to stand against the relentless pressure to give in. We need assurance that God is still for us, even though the great public miracles of the kingdom era no longer occur.
Next week we are going to take this one step further into a controversial area of separation which we call the extreme separation. Look at your notes for next time and you’ll see what I mean. We are dealing next with the issue of legal separation, or civil disobedience.
This is, thankfully, a rare occurrence. It is not part of the program. It is not God's intention to overthrow the established government. He established government. He tells us to respect governmental authority. But, because we are in an exilic era, under the modus operandi of an exile, your loyalty is not 100% now. One hundred percent loyalty is to God, it’s partial loyalty to the state.
And if there is a split, it should be very clear that civil disobedience is authorized, but only under certain conditions. That’s why I want to cover that because there is an item of controversy and I think we need to address it. And what better place to address it than right at this point in history where you have the exilic period?
Father, we thank You tonight for the Scriptures, we thank You again that You do provide Scriptures, and that they are sufficient unto every good work that the man of God might be equipped, thoroughly furnished unto every good work. So as we examine the canon of Scripture, as we seek it’s intent for our lives, and it’s direction for our lives, may the Holy Spirit open our hearts to areas in our lives which do not conform to this right now, that we need straightening out. Separation must begin with us in our heads, and before we talk about somebody else, or talk about circumstances around us, we have to address our own hearts.
So we asked Lord that You would examine us if there be any wicked way in us as individual believers. In Christ’s name. Amen
We have a few minutes, are there any questions you want to bring up, comments, etc.?
[Question from audience, can’t understand]
We aren’t given much latitude in Scripture, frankly, it’s not a [promiscuous?] thing and you’ll notice I’m very careful in the text, it’s the subject of the notes coming up.
Just look at your biblical models. Think about the biblical examples. What examples do we have of civil disobedience in Scripture? Think about the circumstances that precipitated those.
The first example we have, in the exilic period, is Daniel himself. If you think of all the issues that Daniel could have argued with Nebuchadnezzar on, I mean, good grief, we think we’ve got it bad, here you have a blood-thirsty dictator. It’s like living under Saddam Hussein.
Look how Daniel goes about it. The precipitating issue, when he finally does defy to death the government, over what issue? Prayer. He is going to pray in public, and he is going to pray to the God of Israel. He is not going to pray to the state god, the state religion.
The nearest thing I can think of today, across the world, would be Christians in Islamic states, house churches in China, where that is an issue. If you’ll look carefully at the notes, and we’ll talk about this next week, you’ll also see that in the cases where there is civil disobedience, the believers took their punishment.
They not only disobeyed the law, they went to jail, they went into the prisons and defied the state there. Paul, in Acts, was whipped, took corporal punishment, he went to jail, they sang hymns. A lot of jails got wrecked, from earthquakes, and angelic interference as a result. But you don’t find believers openly revolting in the sense of an army.
Where you have an historic example in the West, where Christians did take up arms, in practically every case I can think of, it has always been in accordance with Romans13, where you have insurrection it is usually insurrection with a duly constituted person in government.
I’ve used the illustration of the American Revolution, it is always said that it was an American revolt. It wasn’t really a revolt. The Colonies were already living under written contract. It was Parliament that broke the contract. The position of the American Colonies was that we are simply adhering to the legal documents. The contracts stand.
The Mayflower Compact, we call it a compact, it was a contract. It was a settlement company. All of a sudden Parliament needs more money so they change the contract.
The Colonies said, no, we aren’t changing this contract. So the governors of the Colonies, who were the duly constituted authorities, were the ones who led the revolt.
The American Revolution was not like the French, where they went out and destroyed the state. The problem is, you can’t be in a position of destroying the institution of civil authority. If in your revolt you undermine the institution that God gave, it’s just like undermining marriage. The institution stands. We can complain about the people who are in the institution, but it’s a delicate surgery. Whatever we do, God does not want the authoritative structure to be wrecked. It has to be done very delicately. Read the notes and we’ll talk about it.
[Audience question, can’t understand]
Yes, Steve brought up the case which we had talked about in some of the Q&A before. Probably the closest example of separation of powers in government is the Alabama picture. I read the Alabama government’s case, somebody sent it to me over the Internet. It’s about 6 or 7 pages long. You’d think, from reading the newspapers that this guy is a joke, some kind of southern hillbilly lawyer. But you read this 6–7 page brief, and he is no hillbilly. This guy has it down cold. He goes in and cites precedent, after precedent, after precedent. It’s scary because what the governor of Alabama is saying is that when the executive, legislative, and the judicial powers all agree to follow the constitution, and if the judicial power doesn’t follow the constitution then it’s up to the executive power to disobey the judicial power.
You can well imagine what kind of chaos ensues the moment that takes place. For example, the police functions under the executive branch, not under the judicial branch. So now you have courts without any police to enforce the law, the judge is rendered powerless.
How does that happen? Well, what has happened in our time is that the judicial branch has assumed the position the Roman Catholic Church does in theology. The judicial branch has assumed that it is the high priest of God that alone can interpret the constitution. That the constitution is so screwed up and so esoteric that we have to have the court interpret it for us.
That wasn’t the intent of the founding fathers. They wrote that document so that they could take it home and the average Joe could read it and understand what was going on. It didn’t require eighteen law degrees to read it.
So, in that case, you’ll read in American history, Judge Marshall, and the first Supreme Court to assume the right to interpret the Constitution. That’s fine, but they aren’t the final interpreter.
There is some constitutional stuff going on, but it’s related to what has already gone on in the church. The Catholic Church did this, modern liberal theologians do it in their own way, “the Bible is so messed up you can’t understand it, you need a scholar.” The Catholics say you need the pope. The Protestants say you need PhDs, you need scholars to interpret this.
When we read Colossians tonight who were the original listeners to that letter? PhDs? The Pope? No, ordinary people like you and me. Why do you suppose Paul wrote it? He expected to be understood. Do you write a letter to someone and expect them to take it fifteen different ways?
Writing is hard. You sit down and write a letter to your son, your daughter, your parents, what are you writing? You’re trying to communicate something. Do you expect that they have to go to the village priest to get the real meaning of this letter you wrote?
The Bible wasn’t written to be obscurely interpreted. It was written for everyday people. And so was the constitution. Scholars have pointed out that what happens in literature happens in law, and what happens in law happens in theology. The three fields are all together because they all involve written material.
This is what is wrong, and the basis for this, and what is going to happen, and what is already happening, I mean, we have Mike preaching the gospel, and you have people in other churches in this town that teach their heart out, and you have kids sitting around and adults too, and it never penetrates.
In fact two years ago one of the guys from our church went over to Beachmont Christian Camp where he is working and he gave a quiz to Christian kids, at Beachmont Camp, and he asked them to define the Trinity. Seventeen kids, three came up with a definition of the Trinity.
These aren’t kids off the street. These are kids who have been months and years in Bible-teaching churches, and they can’t tell us what the Trinity is? There is something wrong. Part of it is that we don’t listen. The other part of it is that maybe we can’t listen.
That’s because if you’ve been trained all your life in school that when you read a document it is purely arbitrary what the meaning is, and you go around the class, “Mary, what do you think Shakespeare means here? Joe, what do you think he means?”
And there is no resolution. Obviously you ask for interaction, every teacher does that. I’m not knocking questions, I’m just saying that at the end of the class you don’t know what Shakespeare means. You don’t have the big idea here. Something is wrong.
I was taught that way. I was taught you couldn’t understand literature, it’s all subjective. If it’s all subjective, that’s why I had a hard time when I became a Christian and started reading the Bible. Is it my interpretation? Is it this guy’s interpretation? Who has the real [can’t understand] on this stuff? I learned to read wrong.
That’s what I have been saying about serving other gods. When you live in a society that has all these sneaky little agendas, and don’t mean that every unbeliever is out to get you, it’s just part of a subliminal agenda that goes on and impinges upon us day, after day, after day. We aren’t even aware that it is happening.
But things that are [can’t understand] we learn how to interpret people’s conversation.
We don’t listen, we don’t read and in our day what has made it worse is that we have television as a medium.
Television is not a content-centered medium. Television is an emotional medium. It’s very artsy, it’s great for what it was designed to do, communicate impact. But it is not designed to stimulate thinking. If you have two scholars on TV, the problem with it is, if you have two men in a scholarly debate, what happens is you find yourself videotaping it to be replayed.
What’s the analogue to replaying a video when you are reading? You go back to a page and reread it. In a book you can go back and reread it. On TV, unless you have a videotape, you’ve lost it. It’s too fast for us. That’s why the video medium is a poor medium of communication.
[Audience question, can’t understand]
The creationist movement, I agree, these guys have destroyed themselves professionally by aligning themselves with creationism. It’s professional suicide because you can’t get papers published, you aren’t going to get research grants, and you just commit suicide. And frankly, there are a lot of guys who have paid the price. Most of the creationist work is done Saturday afternoon at home on a shoe-string budget, because they don’t get a chance to do this anywhere.
But I think we have to go one step further. If we say that is the case, then I think we are driven back to the fact that, if that really is the case, and we can’t be good artists, and we can’t be good scientists, what does that [can’t understand] of nature? What is that saying about our evangelism?
If that’s the case, I think our evangelism has been completely truncated today. You say, “Well, you can still preach the gospel.” Yes, you can preach it, but is it being understood as the gospel? Or is our gospel coming through as words that are psychologically reinterpreted as, “Well, I’ll have peace of mind if I accept Jesus.” Or, the gospel is preached but it is being received by other ears as, “Oh, my problems will go away if I become a Christian.”
But neither of those are interpretations of the gospel. I’m not necessarily going to have peace of mind if I pay attention to this message because I might be convicted of my sin. I might have a lot of problems in my relationship with the God of the universe. And it’s going to be kind of messy for a while, so maybe I don’t want to hear that.
I think it is correct, that the gap between the believing culture and the unbelieving culture is enormous in our time. And I think the only way to bridge it, aside from here and there, finding yourself able to communicate with a person here and a person there, and the people you do communicate with that way, are generally people who are operating close to our position, but don’t know it.
But for the far out types, I think the way and the tactic that God uses, and I think Francis Schaeffer said this 25 years ago, we have to rethink our tactic and stop trying the direct approach. It’s not going to work. We’re going to have to try an end-run, and an indirect approach whereby we pull the carpet out from under their assumptions.
Until we do that, they rest absolutely in the delusion that they have an impenetrable defense against God and His Word. We have to figure out ways of pulling the carpet out from under their assumptions
[Audience question, can’t understand.]
If you have ever had the experience of talking to an Indian from India who is a convinced Hindu, who really knows Hinduism, you talk about sliding on grease. Everything you’re saying gets sucked through a grid and comes out exactly opposite of what you said, because of this mysticism.
This is increasingly happening. I get this from some Campus Crusade people who are working on university campuses. We know a lady who is a tremendous evangelist, but it takes her weeks, months, to penetrate the thinking of just a few girls. This is at the University of Texas. She says these girls come, and it’s like water off a ducks back, because they relativize it out. They say, “Well, that’s good for you.”
For example, she had a guy who came and gave his testimony about how he was able to live with AIDS he got through a blood transfusion. Now here he is dying, and he could be very bitter. He became a Christian and he gives his testimony. Here he is, a hundred kids in this room, holding them spell bound, because he is facing death. When you are 16–17, nobody thinks of death, I mean, you are immortal until you are at least 45. So, the point is, in that era of life it doesn’t make much sense. Yet, when they were seeing one of their own ….
[Can’t understand the rest.]