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Wednesday, June 07, 2017

A Tale of Two Methodologies

Two kings, two different ways of doing business. One worked, one didn’t.

Here’s their story.

Well, technically it’s a story of two nations as well. The ten tribes of Israel had parted ways with Judah and Benjamin and formed their own political entity. The king of Judah was intent on reuniting the people of God, by main force if necessary. While he was mustering his troops, God sent word to him that this was not to be. Division was his chosen state of affairs for the time being.

Checkmate. So everybody settled down to live with the status quo.

But not really. There was sufficient built-up acrimony that the two sister nations fought constantly. I wrote about one of these conflicts the other day, which brings us to our first king, Abijah.

Method #1

You’ll recall, perhaps, that Abijah proposed to win back some of the rebellious Israelites with oratory, or at very least persuade them not to fight against Judah. So he stood on a mountaintop and told Israel’s troops how much better Judah’s religious practices were than Israel’s. Judah, he said, had the best religious routines going. Every morning and every evening they offered burnt offerings and incense of sweet spices to the Lord, they set out the showbread on a table of pure gold, and cared for the golden lampstand. They dotted their sacred I’s and crossed their holy T’s. Israel’s shabby pair of golden calves and phony priesthood couldn’t hold a (literal) candle to Judah’s!

You may also recall how Abijah’s appeal went over: the Israelites tried their best to kill him. Only a desperate cry to God for his help saved Judah’s army.

Not how to win friends and influence people. Not how to reunite a nation.

Method #2

On the other hand, Abijah had a son named Asa, and Asa took a bit of a different tack. In fact, he doesn’t appear to have been motivated to win over discontented Israelites at all. He simply set about the business of being obedient to his God and to the law his father had abandoned. So he “did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God”. He took away the foreign altars and the high places from all the land of Judah and Benjamin and broke down the pillars and cut down the Asherim and commanded Judah to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, and to keep the law and the commandment. He repaired the altar of the Lord.

What was the result? Great numbers deserted to Asa from Israel. Ephraimites, Manassites, Simeonites, they all came over in droves, and here’s why: they “saw that the Lord his God was with him”.

Interesting, no? Simple obedience was far more effective than impressive speeches and programs … because God was blessing. Asa got the results his father never could, and he wasn’t even trying.

A Time of Fragmentation

It doesn’t take a nuclear physicist to see the application, does it? We’re living in a time of fragmentation among God’s people. Evangelical denominations, Catholicism and the high churches are full of discontented believers in Jesus Christ who have been offered the modern equivalent of a pair of lousy golden calves: liturgy, institutionalism, matriarchy, clericalism, the prosperity gospel, big buildings, programs modeled on the business world and a Christian life that appends the name of Jesus Christ to an existing worldview and goes merrily on its way. Churchianity.

Many currently in these churches will likely stay there, just as many Israelites continued to worship golden calves. Uniting the church visibly is a task too big for any of us, and it may not even be the Lord’s will at present. But those of us who are trying to bring our own homes and churches back in line with the teaching of the New Testament (and let’s not pretend we’re all that close yet) like to tell ourselves we’ve got something better to offer discontented Christendom, and I think we do.

How do we communicate this? Well, we can get out there and beat our chests and tell everyone how legitimate we are, like Abijah did. Alternatively, like his son, maybe we could just get about the business of living out the truth we already know.

Which method do you think is more likely to be blessed by God?

It’s not a trick question.

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