Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The Christian Aristocracy and the Emerging Social Chaos

The Christian Aristocracy and the Emerging Social Chaos - a ministry update from Mo Leverett -

The Church is a fellowship of sinners. And no matter how much we accomplish, how far we pilgrim or how high we climb, we are fortunate to never forget that.

Sanctification is primarily the process of cleansing and binding our wandering hearts to God. It is about the advancement of His Kingdom in us and conforming our rebellious nature to His. Moreover, it is about His turning our reluctance into readiness for the advancement of His Kingdom through us. Above all else, it is a removal of the greatest obstacle to all the aforementioned objectives - the obstacle of our pride.

Central to God’s strategies for sanctification is His sovereign and surgical use of pain in our lives. Pain is the inevitable, unavoidably blunt instrument of Christian sanctification. I once heard Chuck Swindoll, a leading evangelical pastor, say, “When God wants to do the impossible, He takes an impossible man…and He crushes him.”

I heard another popular author quoted recently, saying that “sanctification is akin to open heart surgery without the anesthetic.” It should be added that the longer this invasive procedure is delayed, the riskier and more painful the reality of any prospective future surgical maneuver. Pain makes us desperate. Pain makes us dependent. Pain makes us desire not only relief but healing and change. In other words, pain breaks us and leads us to God.

When I was a younger Christian, my overly simplistic understanding of sanctification was that it was a movement away from pain - a progression of compounding personal righteousness toward a nearly perfected spiritual adulthood. I thought that I would gradually advance toward a plateau popularly called maturity. This maturity, I felt, was gained through the accumulation of a critical mass of knowledge and obedience. Sanctification, I believed, was a spiral spiritual staircase facilitating our upward mobility - away from pain. My perspective has changed.

Soon after the Katrina floods had receded, and going into the ministry’s kitchen and into its industrial sized walk in refrigerator and freezer, I discovered a room full of rotting meat and shelves full of other spoiled food products. Both the sight and the scent turned my stomach.

There were a variety of insects crawling over and through the boxes and containers - bugs I did not recognize. Under everything there was slithering movement. There was a thick cloud of gnats. It took a full day, maybe two, if my memory serves me correctly, to finish emptying both the refrigerator and freezer. I did the work mostly myself with some help from a reluctant but dedicated staffer. After the task was done, some many wheel barrow loads and hours later, the penetrated odor was so strong that all of my clothes had to be disposed of, even after two lengthy washings. It seemed the foul aroma only intensified with each attempt at cleaning.

And never before had I cherished a shower so intensely.

I remember thinking…THIS is the sanctification process. This task begins to approximate the efforts of the Holy Spirit excavating my soul of the stench, darkness, death and spoilage within. Our fallen souls are never entirely made clean of its filth, until we are removed from this shell of a body and this train wreck of a world. And so His work in us tarries.

But the enterprise of removing the filth from the freezers is also a good picture of ministry in the midst of social chaos. It is simply a dirty and sometimes painful business. There’s no way to enter into a place of great need without becoming needy. There’s no way to enter into a place of intense dysfunction and disease without requiring healing and cleansing yourself. So even as you administer the gospel, you eventually stand in the need of it.

I read this week that 1 out of every 100 Americans is now in jail - a higher percentage than ever before in our nation’s history. This clearly, is not a positive social indicator. Of course the urban youth crisis, which has become my professional ministry focus, represents a growing bulk of the incarcerated population. Throughout the years, I’ve had occasion to visit the courthouse at Tulane and Broad to assist those who buttress with their many problems these social statistics. I’ve found myself there as recently as last week.

One of the reasons that ministry in this setting is so important and effectual is that it is within the confines of prison cells, or the serious threat of such, that men and boys finally face themselves and are thus readied to hear the gospel.

In my many years of ministry, I’ve met individuals who have committed murder, those who are self-described whore mongers, drug dealers, thieves and other various violators of the conscience. But believe it or not, they are not the most difficult category of persons I’ve dealt with in my life. None of these persons thought of themselves as holy. In other words, they thought of themselves rightly.

The most distasteful of sinners, the ones most difficult and painful to deal with, are the ones who believe they are not so - ones that believe that they are mature. They tend to pontificate about the declining culture around them, but do not see how they contribute by action and inaction to it. In other words they believe they have been “sanctified” above the social chaos. They are the Christian aristocracy.

Yet Christians are at our best when we are helping others out of a sense of mutual need, a common state of desperation and a deepening sense of universal moral vulnerability. We are at our worst when we assume moral superiority. Those who are subject to delusions of moral superiority fail to see themselves as God does and thus internalize and spread a distorted view of the cause we have been enlisted to represent. Rather than removing the stench, by our spiritual pride we contribute to it.

Christians are God’s appointed sanctifying force in society. We are called and commissioned by the Savior to be salt and light - externalizing our own personal transformation in good works towards the preservation and illumination of the culture that surrounds us. This is true, but may we never forget the source of that sanctifying force. When we think of ourselves rightly we never judge, lest we be judged. On the contrary, we are merciful, so that we might receive mercy.

I read recently that Evangelicals have overtaken Catholics as the predominant Christian sect in America. As we look at the declining social conditions in our country and the emergence of the evangelical church - we have to ask ourselves this question: Why, when we are at our peak in numbers, that we are the least impacting on our culture?

Could it be that our view of sanctification is principally responsible? Could it be that instead of an upwardly spiraling staircase away from pain and problems, that sanctification is actually a descending staircase into them? Could it be that the purpose of sanctification, instead of lifting our heads, is to bow them? Is it possible that when looking at the cultural degradation around us, that it is we, the proud, who are the first who need to repent?

If we do, we will find as always, that God draws near to those who are made low! Moreover, we will rediscover His cause among the least and the lost. Then we will begin to address the social chaos that is presently consuming us.

Lagniappe is pleased to support Mo as one of our missionaries. You may check out the ministry of Rebirth International at

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