When reviewing the 2,000 year history of the Church, we face two questions. First, how do we account for the fact that, looking at the whole world, in region after region lasting spiritual breakthroughs have seemed so infrequent? Among many major blocs of the world’s population, particularly in “heavily contested” areas, believers are still a small minority. 1 Then, in places where the Church has been established, in some cases representing over half the population, why are the countries so frequently characterized by spiritual indifference, or worse, torn by corruption or genocide?
If honest, we must ask why are things as they are? Is it that the power of Christ is less than we believe – actually insufficient to the challenge? Is evangelical fervor lacking, our prayers inadequate, the holiness and purity of the Church too compromised, or is it misdirected priorities in giving and allocation of resources?
The Genesis Story
Outside of time, in eternity, God dwells in community, in perfectly transparent, mutually-affirming, totally trusting relationships.2 It was natural then that when He said, “Let us make man in our image” He made man to live in relationship, in community. The “nakedness” of Adam and Eve as they walked and talked with God their creator in the cool of the evening is a striking image of what a fully transparent, trusting relationship can be. Today it is an incompressible dream.
Let me suggest: Adam and Eve’s fatal decision produced the Genesis disaster that now impacts us in many ways — one of them is blindness to the truth.
Another is that the Genesis 3 decision struck at the heart of God’s character and design for His creation, relationships were destroyed. Consider these five levels.
- Man who had previously walked and talked with Almighty God in the Garden in the cool of the evening, naked and unashamed, was now alienated. Aware he had broken his trust with God, Adam went into hiding. “I heard your voice and I was afraid.” The prince of darkness had introduced fear to world. Man’s open transparent relationship with God was destroyed.3
- Adam, who previously had known no fear, much less shame, now admitted to God that he knew he was naked. Adam’s eyes, having been opened to good and evil, had lost his own sense of identity, wholeness, and value. He looked at his internal “mirror” and didn’t even recognize what he saw. Now empty and vacuous, Adam sensed the security and wholeness he had previously known was gone. The essential Spirit of God had departed. Man’s relationship with himself had been destroyed.
- In shifting the blame for his own sin to Eve and even to God, Adam lost his willingness to accept responsibility. Trust was never the same. The pattern was now established. Shortly afterward, Cain murdered his brother, then refused to accept responsibility for Abel’s whereabouts and lied to God. Man’s relationship with others had been destroyed.
- The created order was an environment where Adam and Eve had great responsibility, creative freedom, and joy. Work, given before the fall, was to be creative and fulfilling. Human reproduction was to be a joy-filled experience. Now, the soil would resist and would yield only at the “sweat of Adam’s brow.” Childbirth would now be accompanied by cries of pain. Relationship with the created order was destroyed.
- In the garden were two trees. One tree gave eternal life. The other was the source of the knowledge of good and evil. Having broken God’s design and eaten of the second tree, man was denied access to the first. In an act of love, God drove Adam and Eve from the garden insuring they would never eat of the Tree of Life and live forever in darkness. Relationship with eternal life in the intimate presence of God had been destroyed.
The implications of Adam and Eve’s decisions and actions were devastating. The need for restoration was tragically evident. Enter, “the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world.”
If the catastrophic choices and subsequent events in Genesis 2/3 first resulted in broken relationships, should it be a surprise that in His well-known John 17 prayer Jesus focused on this fundamental, central issue of relationships? He gives the world – those on the ‘outside’ – a single test of His own authenticity; whether His followers demonstrate truly changed lives in their relationships – tangible love for each other.
Jesus suggests that the status of our relationships with others is a key marker of the heart — of having a right relationship with God. Challenged in Luke 10 by the religious teacher as to how he could be assured of eternal life, Jesus responded by asking what the leader thought the Scriptures said on the topic. In the lawyer’s now famous response, he said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind. And, love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Jesus’ response was stunningly simple. “You are right. Do this and you will live.” 4
In I John 3:14, the Apostle is even more blunt; love for other believers is the “proof” that that we have passed from death to life. That whole chapter addresses what might be called the litmus test of true health among believers. And, clearly, by implication what it means for the Church’s unique identity, credibility, and witness in the watching world.
The John 17 test is the only one Jesus gives the world. And, to this day, it appears to be His only unanswered prayer.
We are led to wonder then; is the brokenness and division in the Body of Christ, globally, the greatest impediments to massive spiritual breakthroughs? Has the Western Church so mirrored the West’s post-enlightenment obsession with individualism that nearly every aspect of ministry and mission been affected? And if this major problem could be effectively addressed might there be —5
- A new, revolutionary level of credibility ascribed to the Church and its Head, Jesus.
- A radical, fresh positioning of local fellowships in those “heavily contested” areas almost all of which are relationally-intensive cultures.6
- An unprecedented release of the Holy Spirit’s power and Kingdom resources leading to —
- A massive ingathering of hundreds of millions who long for the meaning, peace, and hope that only He can bring?
Are the West’s culturally-influenced view of the Gospel, its intensively ‘individual’ approaches to salvation, or, the disproportionate focus on personalities and ‘heroes’ that are the heart of the problem? Or, are we simply discouraged by the apparent impotence of the Western church, the rampant turf wars, ego trips, petty divisions, and failed “unity” movements?
So, can it be that this is the greatest of all deceptions? Having fooled us in the Garden, is it possible that Satan has succeeded in minimizing the ultimate importance of tangibly visible restored relationships? Instead of demonstrating Christ’s fear-emancipating power, has Satan kept the Church preoccupied with countless ‘worthy’ and ‘strategic’ initiatives down through the generations?
Affirming and seizing the revolutionary power of open, trusting, life-giving restored relationship made possible by Jesus could we find fresh, powerful experience in–
- Our own, individual sense of wholeness
- Our relationships with personal family and friends
- Our local church fellowship’s ability to externally be that extraordinary ‘light on set on a hill’ as we demonstrate love and forgiveness, internally?
- The content and strategies of our media and other ministry strategies – particularly in those “heavily contested” areas of the world ?
Beyond the redemption of the individual – our restored, personal relationship with God — is this the most central and potentially powerful of all of Jesus’ redemptive work? Namely visible, functional, credible, and durable demonstration of restored relationships?
- Whether the opposition is religion or culture (as in secularism and rationalism)
- Daniel 10:1-11:2, Job 1:6-12, Ephesians 1:21-22, 2:7-12, 6:10-13,
- See I John 4:18
- Luke 10:27-28
- See Psalm 133
- Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist and other ‘resistant’ religious blocs are all centered in traditional cultures where relationships count for both positive potential and devastatingly negative implications when they break down.