First, Independence Day (July 4th) is a wonderful celebration of the freedoms that are afforded us in this great country, preserved through the lives and deaths of great politicians and soldiers through the last 233+ years. Ultimately, God has seen fit to give our country a common grace of democratic freedoms, which are most clearly seen in our freedom to worship Him.
We would be missing the point of earthly freedoms if we did not allow such earthly reminders to point us to the real (and eternal) independence we have as born-again believers in Christ. To capture this thought, I’ve included a quote below by Spurgeon on Christ’s rule over heaven and earth and hell (thanks 9Marks):
“It is the iron crown of hell, for Christ reigneth there supreme. Not only in the dazzling brightness of heaven, but in the black impenetrable darkness of hell is his omnipotence felt, and his sovereignty acknowledged; the chains which bind damned spirits are the chains of his strength; the fires which burn are the fires of his vengeance; the burning rays that scorch through their eyeballs, and melt their very heart, are flashed from his vindictive eye. There is no power in hell besides his. The very devils show his might. He chaineth the great dragon. If he give him a temporary liberty, yet is the chain in his hand, and he can draw him back lest he go beyond his limit. Hell trembles at him. The very howlings of lost spirits are but deep bass notes of his praise . While in heaven the glorious notes shout forth his goodness; in hell the deep growlings resound his justice, and his certain victory over all his foes. Thus his empire is higher than the highest heaven, and deeper than the lowest hell.” C. H. Spurgeon, “The Savior’s Many Crowns” Oct. 30, 1859, printed in New Park Street Pulpit, vol. 5, p. 450.
Which yields a second thought…
In a recent article, Conrad Mbewe, a Baptist pastor in Zambia, exhorted American Christians on several ways they could could help the Zambian Church. One point that seemed particularly significant to me was the following:
3) DEMONSTRATE BIBLICAL CHURCHMANSHIP
Western Christians entering Zambia as missionaries are generally very good examples to us with respect to their personal and domestic lives. In these two areas, we see a very clear difference between them and their non-Christian counterparts from the Western world.
However, where we see no difference is in their commitment to the local church. Their church attendance is scanty to say the least. They do not join a local church. We do not know where they give their tithes and offerings. They are not involved in any local church ministries (except to preach when they are asked to do so), and so on.
As a result, our young professional Christians believe that this is enlightened Christianity. They also end up having a very loose relationship with the church. I really think that this has been the Achilles’ heel of the work of Western missionaries in Zambia today. They are not good examples of biblical churchmanship!
We need to find a way in which Western missionaries can maintain relationships with their sending churches and at the same time exhibit biblical accountability to local churches where they labor, so that they can be good examples in this area to those whom they win to Christ.
This gives some evidence to a concern / suspicion I’ve had in the years I’ve worked with (or chosen not to work with) certain mission agencies or para-church organizations. Many mission organization (SBC or not) do a great job in arousing a passion for missions and equipping individuals to live as missionaries. However, many of them lack a most critical element: teaching missionaries to love the CONTEXT of their work – The Church.
When missionaries go and proclaim the freedom in Christ from sin, death and hell even in cultures where freedoms are withheld in just about every way, they often do so with an independence that is not good. It is not good for a missionary to go and do mission work independent of the local church sending and the local church established locally. We have made huge strides in de-Americanizing the churches we start on the mission field, but too often we treat the local church in a missional setting as if it would just be icing on the cake if it just happened to pop up after we’ve done our missionary work.
However we train missionaries to proclaim the freedoms we have in Christ, we must make certain that they have a biblical ecclesiology and model that on the mission field. We are not saved unto ourselves. We are ransomed as a people by God and for God, gathered together in local settings to show the distinctiveness of being His people and proclaiming the gospel through Word and modeled in deed (particularly toward fellow believers).