Monday, May 22, 2017

The Center of the Lord’s Controversy

Micah 4

Note: I have never repeated a blog post before but I'm going to today. The bulk of this one originally appeared as the opening post in my series on urban ministry. However, I originally prepared it in the context of a sermon series I did on Micah. That sermon series is the foundation for this blog series, and I think it is important to include it here in context in the Micah blog series as well.

The phrase that best sums up the book of Micah is the Lord's controversy. (Micah 6.2) God's people were deeply disobedient, and thus the Lord hath a controversy with his people. (Micah 6.2) But where was the center of that controversy? Every movement has an organizational and motivational center. Every movement has a heart. The great sin that caused the Lord's controversy with Israel was no different. Where was the center of the rebellion against God? Where was its heart? …in the large cities.

Micah 1:1 The word of the LORD that came to Micah the Morasthite in the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, which he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem.
Micah 1:5 For the transgression of Jacob is all this, and for the sins of the house of Israel. What is the transgression of Jacob? is it not Samaria? and what are the high places of Judah? are they not Jerusalem?

Large urban cities are the primary influence in setting the direction of a society.

Scripture shows us this. Every Sunday School child has learned the story of the Tower of Babel. And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower. (Genesis 11.4) That city and the culture which flowed from it so influenced society in the wrong direction that God had to break it up. God, who originally put man in a garden, had Israel build His Temple in the highest spot of the greatest city in the land. Why? …because influence flows from cities. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. (Matthew 5.14) When Israel was re-founded as a country after the Babylonian Captivity where did they focus? Jerusalem. It was the center of re-settlement, of government, of religion, of security, and of revival.

Observation shows us this. Wars almost always target the enemy's chief population centers for conquest. A hundred years ago the American economy was driven by the family farm. It has long since transitioned to be driven by the manufacturing and consumption in urban areas. In our day the media which so influences our American culture is driven essentially by three major cities – New York City, Los Angeles, and Washington, D. C. The large urban centers of America almost entirely set the tone for our country. We are politically liberal because the cities are. (A quick glance at a map of the United States broken down by county vote shows the entire country is Republican. The cities are Democratic and the cities constantly win.) We are ethnically diverse because the cities are. We are culturally filthy because the cities are. Large cities set the tone for America just like they did in Bible times.

This is why there is a clear and continuous pattern in Scripture emphasizing preaching in cities. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Amos, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, and Zechariah essentially address God's people by addressing their chief cities. God sent Jonah explicitly to a large city. Arise, go to Ninevah, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me. (Jonah 1.2) Have you ever studied the geography of Paul's missionary journeys? All of the places he went were then major cities. Even Paul's epistles, other than Galatians and those to individuals, were all written to churches in major cities: Romans, I and II Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, and I and II Thessalonians. John's letters to specific churches in Revelation? Yep, all to what were then major cities: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.

Failing to understand this, sound Christianity has increasingly abandoned large American cities and consequently is struggling.

I think this jumps out at me especially because my perspective is relatively unique. I grew up in a small Midwestern village of 4,000 people. For nearly seven years I pastored my first church in an even smaller town of 1,200 people. Now for over thirteen years I have labored smack dab in the heart of one America's great cities, Chicago. The difference in worldview, parenting, education, entertainment, crime, leisure, and religion is startling.

This difference, however, was not so startling at the turn of the 19th century. Back then, as fundamentalism was birthed, it was noticeably led almost entirely by strong men who led strong ministries in big cities. R. A. Torrey led the Bible Institute of Los Angeles after years serving at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. James M. Gray pastored Moody Church here in Chicago. A. C. Dixon had pastored in Chicago, Boston, London, and Baltimore. A. T. Pierson pastored Spurgeon's Metropolitan Tabernacle in London. W. B. Riley led Minneapolis' grand First Baptist Church. J. Frank Norris pastored just outside of Dallas. T. T. Shields pastored Toronto's Jarvis Street Baptist Church. T. Dewitt Talmage preached at Brooklyn's Central Presbyterian Church. Lewis Sperry Chafer taught at Dallas Theological Seminary. The foundational meetings around which the American fundamental movement was born were held in places like Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, D. C., New York City, Atlanta, Dallas, Indianapolis, Seattle, and Los Angeles.

Now, just over a century later, the largest fundamental meetings take place in country towns in North Carolina, Illinois, or Michigan perhaps, and in mid-size cities such as Lancaster, Lexington, Elgin, and Hammond. There are no more influential fundamentalist Presbyterian churches or leaders, and with a couple exceptions the influential independent Baptist ones are not in major cities. In my city alone – formerly the home of D. L. Moody, R. A. Torrey, James M. Gray, Paul Rader, Harry Ironside, and A. W. Tozer – the largest fundamental church runs maybe 200 in Sunday School. To the best of my knowledge there are no more than five good independent fundamental Baptist churches left in Chicago, one for every 540,000 people, and only two of these churches are growing. No, we are not the only ones preaching the Gospel in this city or in yours, but our doctrinal understanding and practice goes much deeper than the surface religion that represents so much of contemporary American Christianity. We are independent, fundamental Baptists for very good reasons. You can swing a dead cat and hit a dozen such churches in Greenville, South Carolina (population 61,000) but you will search high and low to find them in the inner cities of Houston, New Orleans, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Los Angeles, Seattle, Detroit, San Francisco, or St. Louis.

Scripture and observation tell us that a nation is influenced through its large cities. We
My city, Chicago. Our church is off the left edge of the
picture toward the top.
routinely cry and moan about the condition of America these days but if we actually want to change it we must return in large numbers to the cities. We must motivate, finance, educate, promote, and pray young men into the inner cities to plant churches. We cannot change America in any real way absent this.

Micah was specifically sent with his message to the major cities of his day because that is where the decision for national repentance had to be made. It is the same in our day. We must bring our great message back to the great cities of this country if the country at large is to hear and heed it. If we are going to fix what is wrong it will not be done by tinkering around the edges; we must go to the center and attack there. We must go and cry to the city.

The Lord's voice crieth unto the city. (Micah 6.9)

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