Recently, Bart Barber posted the following words on Facebook:
Want to fix the nation? Fix the churches.
Want to fix the churches? Fix the SBC (or your own family of churches).
Want to fix the SBC? Fix your local church.
Want to fix your local church? Start with yourself.
Before proceeding with my response to Bart’s Facebook post, I want to make a few things clear:
- Though from time to time in the past I have publicly disagreed with Bart on a few issues of theology (mostly related to questions of Baptist Identity and the continuation of spiritual gifts that arose back during the IMB-related controversies of 2005–2008), I greatly respect him as a pastor, biblical scholar, denominational statesman, Christian gentleman, and brother in Christ. He is a great thinker, and I generally value his insights, to the degree that I occasionally share articles he has written on social media because he has expressed his thoughts on important issues so well.
- I genuinely appreciate the general tenor and underlying sentiment expressed in his Facebook post I have copied above. What I am going to say here should not be interpreted as a rebuke or refutation of Bart’s post, or as picking a bone with Bart, but rather some thoughts of my own that were inspired by Bart’s post and may be seen as a friendly response to what he says in his post (though, to be honest, I am not sure to what degree he will agree with what I am going to say here).
That being said, I would like to center in on the question with which he begins: “Want to fix the nation?”
I definitely agree that spiritual awakening begins with personal repentance and renewal of individual believers and then begins to work its way outward through a series of concentric circles of influence and that the church (and individual local congregations) are the biblical epicenter of authentic revival. I question, however, the inference that the desire to “fix our nation” may be a legitimate motivation that leads us to personal and church-based revival.
The Bible clearly teaches that as individual believers we should desire to grow in holiness and in our walk with the Lord.
The Bible also teaches that we are to grow together with other believers in our love for the Lord and that the special relationship we share with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ is best expressed in the context of local congregations of covenanted believers.
The Bible teaches that as individual believers, local congregations, and the wider Body of Christ, we are to be salt and light in the world and point the way to holiness, wholeness, and shalom that are to be found in Christ and Christ alone.
The Bible teaches that we are to pray for earthly leaders and all who are in positions of authority, as well as for the peace and prosperity of the inhabitants of the physical place of our pilgrimage on earth as we await the coming Kingdom of God.
The Bible teaches that we are to love our neighbors and show this love through practical deeds of sacrificial service.
But nowhere that I recall does the Bible teach that we are to fix our nation. I don’t even remember the Bible teaching that the spiritual or moral transformation of our nation and/or our culture is to be a goal or a dream we hold near and dear.
Though all illustrations have their limitations, I believe the painting at the top of this post, The Broad and Narrow Way, depicts well our relationship as Christians to the world around us. Once we enter the gate to the Narrow Way, our goal in life is to progress in holiness and in our knowledge of the Lord. To be sure, we do our best to try to get those who have not yet passed through the gate to do so by way of repentance and faith in Christ. Perhaps that point is not given the prominence in the painting that it should be given. But I digress. Once we pass through the Narrow Gate, from that point on, we walk together side by side with our fellow pilgrims on the road to glory. But we do not spend our time trying to reform or beautify the Broad Way in order to make it look more like the Narrow Way. That is not our mission in life.
Those who are currently walking along the Broad Way will never manifest the authentic fruit of the Spirit in their life until they first of all pass through the Narrow Gate. Our goal and mission is to do whatever it takes to get them to pass through the Narrow Gate. And it is for all of us who have already passed through that gate to grow, as individuals and as churches, in our walk with the Lord. The world and its desires are passing away (1 John 2:17). We have our hearts set on the world to come, in which Christ will reign, every wrong will be made right, the lion will lie down with the lamb, and He will dry the tears from every eye.
As we look around the world today, though, it appears many Christians and many churches are fixated on fixing our nation. Entire ministries, radio programs, podcasts, and who knows what else are centered on that ultimate objective. For many, it appears that, though they may give lip service to the need for personal and church-wide revival, their real dream, and what really gets their heart to thumping, is fixing the nation—and personal and congregational revival are seen as more of a means to that end, rather than the end itself.
Lest anyone misunderstand what I am saying here, I am not talking about physically separating from non-Christians and having nothing to do with them. Paul made that point crystal clear:
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world (1 Corinthians 5:9–10).
We are to be in the world but not of the world. That is another point that perhaps the painting doesn’t capture all that well. But, once again, all illustrations have their limitations. We are to be occupied building redemptive relationships, becoming all things to all people that by all means we might save some (1 Corinthians 9:22).
Some of us may even feel called to engage in politics, or art, or sports, or business, or whatever. But our sights are not set there. We press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14). We look to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1–2). We long for revival—in our own lives, in our local churches, and in the broader Body of Christ. And we pray for spiritual awakening in which multitudes in our country and in our world will forsake their sin and trust in Christ for their eternal salvation. But should we do it all with the ultimate aim of “fixing our nation”? From my read of the Bible, I don’t really think so.