I have written this piece as the result of an extremely vivid dream that I will outline in detail below. As the dream was so stark, and much of it remained vital in my memory, I have decided that it contained within it a message from God. As we proceed it will become clear how the title of this piece is a deliberate play on words. At one level it is what we call an objective statement – the signs that the church is under the judgement of God are all around us. On another level, the title makes a subjective statement – it refers to the judgements that the church makes. The claim of this article, and I certainly invite the reader to respond, is that he main reason why the church is under divine judgment is that it makes judgements on sin that God does not make. In this it not only takes the place of God but falsely represents him. It is this that draws the divine discipline.
A Dream about Evil
In the dream a man is proclaiming the urgency of a situation that involves the growth of a mat – like plant that is threatening to cover every man – made structure. I could see this scene very clearly. Even objects of human construction in the heavens were choked up by this covering. The man is exhorting people to remove the substance at all costs. Yet the process of removal the infecting material is exhausting. Through the dream I could sense that it was taking more energy to remove the “plant” than what was released by the clean up. In fact, no one seemed possessed of the thought that perhaps newly created structures might be free from infection.
The dream was so impacting that I found it almost impossible to shake myself free from the conviction that the scene was completely real. It was gripping. I did have another sense however – the only way to escape the urgency of removing the plant is to fill the vision with Jesus, to “look to Jesus” (Heb 12:1).
Then someone from off-stage who could not be seen started to point out to me that the plant cover was actually feeding on the conviction of the exhorter and those who were listening to him that the plant was fully real. Now for the meaning of the dream.
An Interpretation: Evil is not that Real
The plant material is a symbol of evil as an enduring reality and the speaker who insists that evil threatens everything is Satan and those who echo his thoughts. The only way to be free of the deeply held belief that evil is a final reality is to look to Jesus.
It is the moral convictions expressed in human judgements that sustains as awareness f evil as some sort of final reality in human experience. Significantly, I awoke to this dream at 5.16 a.m., to me this meant 2 Corinthians 5:16: “From now on we judge no one from a human point of view, even if we once so judged Christ .” (verse 17 goes on to say: “Therefore if anyone is in Christ there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see everything has become new!”) The perspective of these verses can of course only be had by those who are “in Christ”, Christians. What Christians now know is that evil cannot be considered the same sort of reality as the newness that has come in Jesus. Our estimation of the potency of evil and its enduring nature can never be the same now hat the Son of God has triumphed over evil on the cross and risen from the dead and returned humanity to the realm of heaven.
What keeps evil so potent in the mind of believers is their experience of guilt. Guilt is a conviction of conscience upon my own life that says to me that I am in a state of evil. If I have a feeling of guilt about myself I will judge and treat others as guilty also. This is true whether or not the Bible says that God forgives and forgets the sin of all his children (Jer 31:34; Heb 8:12;10:17).
Where the vast bulk of the church is deceived is that it fails to realize that God’s judgement does not operate from within the scheme of human guilt and judgement but from beyond it. To put it another way, God’s righteous conscience is fully satisfied by the death of Jesus so that he is not at all driven by any desire to search out and proclaim human beings guilty. He knows that in Jesus he has already cast evil outside of the realm of heaven and earth and that the time is coming through his final judgement when evil will be exposed as something that cannot be sustained in his universe. It will be cast out of the memory of the saints forever (Isa 65:17; Rev 21:4).
1. What we are doing
What this means in practice is that both Christian legalists and Christian liberals are the greatest problem that God has today.
I received an email communication in the last couple of days to do with the 2004 federal election. It was headed “Christian Values Survey” and tabulate he responses of all major political parties to twenty six questions. What bothered me was that thirteen of the questions related to sexuality and reproduction and four to drugs. This sends a message to the church and the community that Christianity is obsessed with sin. Conservative Christianity functions to “sinners” in the mainstream Aussie culture in the same way that the Pharisees did to “sinners” in the time of Jesus. Sadly, our conservative brethren are, at times, the perverted social conscience of the culture. This emphasis on evil is unbiblical.
When Paul preaches his classical address to the arch- pagans in Athens he repeatedly affirms God’s point of contact with them, “even as one of your poets a said, ‘we are his offspring’”, and terminates his sermon with a declaration of the resurrection (Acts 17:28, 31). The apostle is not naïve about human wickedness (Rom 1:18- 32 etc.) but knows there is something immeasurably greater: “where sin did abound, grace did super-abound” (Rom 5:20). This is the testimony of a conscience at peace with God (Rom 5:1) so that it is no longer driven to pass judgement on others.
Within the church judgementalism still abounds. It has long been said that the church is the only army that shoots its own wounded. This is very largely responsible for the statistic that across the world there are 111 million Christians without a local church (World Christian Encyclopedia 2001). Christian censoriousness is driving people away out of the organised church (especially in the western world) at ever increasing pace.
A good recent example of this attitude is Christian “accountability groups”. These are small groups that meet regularly whose purpose it is to “hold another accountable.” Often these groups follow the format of answering set questions, such as “When have my eyes looked at something this week in a way that has been dishonouring to God?” The queries are characteristically in a negative form, that is, they presuppose the tendency to fall. Thankfully, many are starting to realise that treating Christians as though they are “sinners” does not lead them to restrain from sin, just the reverse. The scripture says, “through the law comes the consciousness of sin” (Rom 3:20).
Let me say briefly, liberal Christians are no better in their treatment of evil than conservatives. They deny the reality of the witness of the human conscience that guilt is a real thing after all and the race must answer to God. They cover over the need for forgiveness by attributing human conduct to social causes. Tragically, by their denial of the resurrection they offer nothing to change human identity so as to fill it with everlasting hope.
Both of these positions deny the truth of the gospel by acting as though nothing essentially changed in the universe when Jesus rose from the dead. They substitute the authority of personal conscience for the witness of scripture that the most real thing is not evil but a new creation.
2. What God is Doing
a. Judging the Church
Jesus said, “Do not judge or you will be judged. For with the judgement you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you receive. Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye but do not notice the log in your own eye?” (Matt 7:1- 3). Paul applies this principle to the church in Galatia: “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you will reap whatever you sow.” (Gal 6:7).
Put together, these passages speak that a church that judges- a censorious, legalistic and moralistic church- will be a church that experiences God as judgemental. This is how God is disciplining the mass of his people in Australia today. Very few are experiencing “the glorious liberty of the children of God.” (Rom 8:21). How many churches are flowing in deep repentance, mass conversions, the outpouring of the Spirit, awe of God, healings, signs and wonders, holding all things in common and so forth (Acts 2:36 – 47)? Overwhelmingly, God is not revealing himself as “full of grace and truth” but seems to be a God of law (John 1:17) – in our experience, a somewhat stingy person.
b. Restoring the power of the Gospel
It has been confidently stated by experts in the area, such as J.I. Packer, that there has never been a major revival in the western world without a rediscovery of the gospel. The Holy Spirit is struggling to bring us to a much deeper understanding of what Jesus has achieved for us all. As someone has said, “Jesus is shockingly NOT upset with sinners, a shock so total that most Christians to this day refuse to see it.” The only people Jesus castigated in the Gospel accounts ere those who refused to see their need for grace and labelled others as evil. The restored power of the gospel is not a magical state of affairs, it is being able to look Jesus in the eyes without guilt or shame. It is living in the state of grace for which there is end. If the apostle Paul were alive today, he would probably have something like this to say: “For neither conservatism (circumcision) nor liberalism (uncircumcision) is anything; but a new creation is everything.” (Gal 6:15)