|Posted by John Suttles on July 14, 2015 at 10:45 PM|
It is unfortunate that the lyrics of a song highlighting the reprehensible complexion of rebellion, “I’ve got a ticket to ride,”* so poignantly expresses the staid sentiment of a vast religious society permeating our culture today. It is next to impossible to find anyone who admittedly is not a Christian. Even among the weekly attendees in the local jail services, it is difficult to find one who does not profess to be a Christian. If such professions are valid, then one might certifiably inquire with the prophet Samuel: “What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears?”
Translated into our own contemporary setting, it would be fair to inquire regarding the disparity of holiness wrecking cultural havoc. We seem to have corporately run amuck. A sailing vessel tossed riotously in a raging storm should certainly fare more securely with multiple seasoned mariners in its crew. A crisis of armaments could surely be more likely diverted by a counsel of wizened military commanders. Likewise, rankled nerves of political calamities could be soothed by calming ointment of wisdom from elder statesmen. The hoary heads of theological fortitude should abate rampage against the verity of the Scriptures and coddle the skittish sheep agitated by the wily, devil-predator of old.
But everywhere, in all quarters of society, the party continues. With reckless abandon, party-goers dancing around the golden calf comfortably wave their tickets in the air. Of course, the Israelites of Moses’ day knew Moses. He was the guy who had saved them from brick-making. They were out of Egypt now. Who knew when Moses would be back or if they would ever get to this Promised Land? All that mattered in the immediate moment was that they were out of Egypt. Their only concern had been attended. Moses had been the voice of God; but with Moses off the scene, a replacement god would be needed with more visibility. “Up, make us gods…” was the logical demand issued to the obliging Aaron. Once the calf was visible, the party commenced. Daily living would resume under self-directives, and their tickets to the Promised Land would be kept like a declarations page of a life insurance policy.
So it is with the counter-parts of those Israelites composing the rank and file of modern Christendom. The prevalent preaching ushered in with the saw-dust trails of Billy Sunday and Charles G. Finney led claimants down to a makeshift altar where a recipe of obeisance could be uttered and a ticket of salvation awarded. This troop of confessors was now free, like the Israelites, to resume daily living under their own self-directives without encumbrances. Their tickets had been stamped “eternally secure”; and any agitating fears of looming eternal justice they may have experienced had been medicated by the soothing rhetoric of the modern, accommodating Aarons.
Dante, in his Divine Comedy, charged the preachers of his day with preaching lies and “of the Gospel not a word!” These villainous pulpiteers were no more than “cowls of pride” feeding the sheep on air. The poor foolish sheep ate the air they were fed, while those supposedly attending their souls made jokes and preached garbage. Not much seems to have changed since Dante’s day. Getting a laugh still too often takes precedence over preaching the Word; and the audiences swell with our ticket-holders who are waiting for their ride to heaven but not the least bit concerned with their responsibility while waiting. The few sheep mingled among the crowd find themselves feeding on air.
But just as Samuel’s rebuke to King Saul included the final awful conclusion—“for thou hast rejected the Word of the Lord, and the Lord hath rejected thee from being king over Israel”—our modern ticket-holders will find that without obedience to the Word of the Lord, their tickets may not be worth the proverbial paper they’re written on. For sadly, too many professing ticket-holders are only trusting in a formulated prayer without knowing the Foremost Savior. They are in the same dilemma as the Jews of John 8:33 who stubbornly held to their Abrahamic lineage. Christ’s rebuke was stinging: “I know that ye are Abraham’s seed; but ye seek to kill me, because my word hath no place in you.” It is the vital, loving relationship with the Living Word that these ticket-holders fail to recognize that they lack. David said in Psalm 19:10 that the Word of God was more precious to him than fine gold and sweeter than honey. But how can His Word be so precious if the essential, living connection to the Vine is lacking? It is the essential, living connection that precipitates the vital, loving relationship.
Reformation is not an acceptable substitute. Some professors embark on a trajectory of conformity; but conformity to a set of standards is not submission to the Word—Christ Himself. While congregants are busily measuring outward appearances and choreographed verbiages, Christ is inspecting the heart of the professor. “Lovest thou me more than these?” He inquired of Peter. Christ’s query pierced the heart of Peter. After what he had done, how could Peter confess agape love—the love that esteems, delights in, sets store upon the recipient? Yet Peter’s heart had been made new by the work of the Holy Spirit; and his vital connection to His Savior was not severed either by his personal failure or his overwhelming remorse. The bent of his heart was verified by the life of service he would live.
Religious conformity without this vital connection will never “bring forth…fruits meet for repentance” (Matthew 3:8) because godly repentance unto salvation was never included in the formula. Conformity to an external rule will never grow a heart presented as the “living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God…” (Romans 12:1-2) Conformity can never long for the “sincere milk of the Word” (I Peter 2:2) without which growth and maturity will be concluded. Conformity can never replace the new birth that so confounded Nicodemus but which Peter eloquently explained was a birthing from the incorruptible seed of the Word of God. (I Peter 1:23)
Yet, as long as our religious culture continues to issue passes to heaven without the proper validation, modern society will continue to erode exponentially under the canopy of self-directed indulgence in the shadow of the god Aaron made for us. The foul putrefaction of modern pulpit content will continue to seep through the foundation of the churches, polluting the wellspring of water from which all of society drinks. The revelry of the broad way will escalate while the few found plodding the narrow way will halt on crooked staffs, clothed in the tattered rags of linen garments.
The broad way is filled with religion-seekers who require no verification of the Spirit; and the Peace that passeth all understanding is readily counterfeited by the peace of an invalid stamp on a ticket of salvation. Their courses will continue to be steered along the way broad enough to accommodate all the stipulations of any notions of conforming reformation. This way will offer commodious perpetuity of pious feeling, self-satisfaction, and measured contentment, rounded out with a cordial computation of good works. Never will its tourists be issued the Abrahamic requirement: “for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me” (Genesis 22:12).
What must be done? Dante is right: “We have digressed enough”! Just as the failure of the pulpits of his day had affected all aspects of his Italy, the failure of our pulpits has brought us to this present meadow sheltered by the looming golden calf. The music must be made to stop. We must follow Dante’s counsel: “Turn...back to the road of truth…” Our pulpits must once again issue the warning that the One who is greater than Moses is returning. When He is come the terror of eternal judgment will fall with a consuming thunder far surpassing the thud of the falling calf and the chiseling of its fragments into powder. The tainted water of Moses’ wrath is infinitesimally fractional to “the wrath of the Lamb” (Revelation 6:16). When that great day comes “who shall be able to stand?” (Revelation 6:17) It will be those alone who have overcome “by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony” who had “loved not their lives unto the death.” (Revelation 12:11) It will only be those who have “sanctified the Lord God in [their] hearts” (I Peter 3:15).
“For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself for battle?” (I Corinthians 14:8). We must pray as Dante “that high Providence…will once again, and soon, lend aid.” We must cry out, as Dante did, that our pulpits be filled with Luthers who will open their mouths with the Word of God and “not hide what I hide not from you!” We must long for the Light as Dante described that would whirl “the fleet from prow to stern and set it sailing a straight course again.” We must attend to reckoning our own courses. Are we still fingering our ticket to ride? Or have we torn up that ticket and come to the One in whom we have trusted who is “able to keep that which [we] have committed unto him against that day.” (II Timothy 1:12).
We must “give diligence to make [our] calling and election sure” (II Peter 1:10).
*Lyrics from Beatles recording "Ticket to Ride"