By Mike Ratliff
Thus sayeth the Lord thy redeemer and he that formed thee from the wombe, I am the Lord, that made all things, that spred out the heauens alone, and stretched out the earth by my selfe. I destroy the tokens of ye southsayers, and make them that coniecture, fooles, and turne the wise men backwarde, and make their knowledge foolishnesse. (Isaiah 44:24-25 Geneva)
In the exchange between Emergent leader Doug Pagitt and myself and several of you who commented on this post, I found myself, again, utterly amazed at the work of God in the hearts of His people. Those who are truly in Christ, have a kernel of faith that listens to and obeys God. It learns His truth and, according to His will, causes the believer to stand firm against all attempts of those in unbelief to “reeducate” and draw them into the same darkness of a wavering faith that they uphold as virtuous. This unbelief is based in wisdom for sure, but it is not the wisdom of God, which is true wisdom, but a false wisdom. Of course, some do fall into the trap and apostatize. That is a shame, but I firmly believe that anyone who does possess the Wisdom God in his or her heart will not do so.
If you have not read Pragmatism and the Purpose of the Gospel and Pragmatism and Mustard Seed Faith, I implore that you do so before reading the rest of this post. You may also want to read through the comments in both posts. Why? It is through the progressive work of God through these teachings that we have come to this place where we will now look at the contrast between true and false wisdom. We will look at how the worldly wisdom, which is false wisdom, is the root of pragmatism. On the other hand, true wisdom, which is God’s wisdom, is foolishness or folly to those in the darkness of pragmatism, but is displayed by God in the message of the cross. The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is neglected and ignored by those who, in their unbelief, are ministering pragmatically. They see the foolishness of preaching the Gospel as folly while their approach of seeker-sensitivity and “missional thinking” as true wisdom.
For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1 Corinthians 1:17 ESV)
17ου γαρ απεστειλεν με χριστος βαπτιζειν αλλα ευαγγελιζεσθαι ουκ εν σοφια λογου ινα μη κενωθη ο σταυρος του χριστου (1 Corinthians 1:17 WHNU)
Not (ου) for (γαρ) delegated (απεστειλεν) me (με) Christ (χριστος) to immerse (βαπτιζειν) but (αλλα) to tell good message (ευαγγελιζεσθαι), not (ουκ) in (εν) wisdom (σοφια) of word (λογου), that (ινα) not (μη) might be emptied (κενωθη) the (ο) cross (σταυρος) of the (του) Christ (χριστου). (1 Corinthians 1:17 word-for-word translation from Koine Greek to English)
What a theologically rich passage! Paul in effect tells the Corinthians that he was sent (απεστειλεν) by Christ to preach the gospel (ευαγγελιζεσθαι) to them. The verb απεστειλεν, “to send forth on a certain mission,” is in present tense, infinitive mood, and active voice. This is describing action that is continuous or continually repeating done by the subject, who is Paul. In other words, he is commanded by Christ to never stop ministering to the Corinthians. How is he to minister? He is to ευαγγελιζεσθαι to them. He is to announce the good news to them. This is, of course, the message of the cross, the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the law of God and the truth that no one can keep it and all need a deliverer or Saviour, who is Christ, et cetera.
However, there is another part of the command to go and preach the gospel to the Corinthians. What is it? He must do so ουκ εν σοφια λογου ινα μη κενωθη ο σταυρος του χριστου, that is, not with “wisdom of word.” Why? To interject the wisdom from another source other than God is to cause the cross of Christ to be emptied of its power. What does this mean? Paul was talking about preaching using the words of eloquent wisdom like a great orator. Paul probably was gifted enough to do this, but he did not preach this way. When people put him down because of the simplicity of his “message” compared to that of the great orators, he failed to measure up. However, it is the manipulation of the message of the Cross using this sort of rhetoric that diluted it of its saving power. Hearing and believing the Gospel is essential to salvation (Romans 10:17), however, diverting the message to self-aggrandizement may be part of the wisdom of the world, but it diverts attention from the true Gospel message. When Paul preached the simple Gospel message, the good news, the Holy Spirit so empowered his sermon that those who heard it were regenerated, awakened in faith and changed forever (James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23-25).
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18 ESV)
18ο λογος γαρ ο του σταυρου τοις μεν απολλυμενοις μωρια εστιν τοις δε σωζομενοις ημιν δυναμις θεου εστιν (1 Corinthians 1:18 WHNU)
The (ο) word (λογος) for (γαρ) the (ο) of the (του) cross (σταυρου) to the (τοις) indeed (μεν) ones being destroyed (απολλυμενοις) foolishness (μωρια) is (εστιν), to the (τοις) but (δε) ones being delivered (σωζομενοις) to us (ημιν) power (δυναμις) of God (θεου) it is (εστιν). (1 Corinthians 1:18 word-for-word translation from Koine Greek to English)
Here we have a great truth. We have two groups of people. We have the ones who are perishing, μεν απολλυμενοις, who see the Gospel as folly or foolishness, μωρια. The other group is made of those who are the ones being saved or delivered, σωζομενοις. To them the Gospel message is not foolishness or folly at all, but ημιν δυναμις θεου εστιν, “to us power of God it is!” Do you see the vast difference my brethren? This is why those who are deceived into ministering pragmatically thereby de-emphasizing the Gospel, do not see it as δυναμις θεου, but as foolishness and a waste of time. To them, it is much more effective to “think missional” and attempt to serve God through works righteousness. Genuine Christians see the Gospel as the power of God because it is through it that God saved them. They know they are not now nor were they ever worthy of justification. They know that without the Grace of God and regeneration they had no faith to believe. Only the power of God is capable of making the spiritually dead alive in Christ. This is the miracle of the Gospel for those alive in Christ have eternal life while those who do not are condemned already for they are those who are perishing, μεν απολλυμενοις.
For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Corinthians 1:19-25 ESV)
There you have it my brethren. Pragmatism, which is rooted in unbelief, is practiced ministerially by those who consider the message of the Cross to be something that is foolish. However, God has taken the crucifixion of Christ and used that to destroy the wisdom of those who believe like that. I have been a Christian a long time and before that, I went to Church with my parents until I was old enough to stay away. In all that time, I saw so many well-intentioned people attempt to earn their salvation through good works. They even came up with a way “to judge” others who did not meet their standards in these good works, using that to say one is not really a Christian while others are based entirely on these works measured according to that standard. This is what I thought Church was all about. Well, this is not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Gospel is very simple. It is so simple a small child can understand it. That is why the simply religious have such a problem with it. They are too wise for their own good. They must change it or de-emphasize it and thereby become less of a threat to the unchurched. After all, they perceive that the preaching of the Gospel is offensive to some and they do not want to drive them away. This is worldly wisdom and it leads people to attempt to be Christians or “Christ followers” through their morality or their works. It is sans gospel and it is not of the wisdom of God.
In which group are you my brethren?
Soli Deo Gloria!