Yesterday, a friend of mine sent me a link to a blog post by John Ortberg, a very successful author and pastor in the Bay Area of California.
The blog post is titled, “Stop Trying to Change the World” and is aimed at people like me and you.
Ultimately, we’re not the ones in the world-changing business. Our claims otherwise imply that history and humanity can be controlled and managed through human efforts. And–partly because of the law of unintended consequences–those attempts always end up doing more harm than good.
Only God can change the world.
Christianity is not first and foremost about creating values or establishing justice or championing righteous.
It is about the greatest good:
Now, I understand that the blog title was written as a bait & switch to draw people like me into a discussion as his rhetoric quickly comes down from the bold title. And I understand that there’s a good chance Dr. Ortberg didn’t even really write the blog post since he likely has people to do that for him.
But my thought for John Ortberg is pretty simple. I can see why you’d be against people in the church changing anything that might rock the boat. You’ve got it pretty good.
Isn’t he breaking the rich-white-guy rule? Aren’t rich white men, based on his zip code he’s probably in the top 5% of earners in the United States, who live in comfortable suburbs full of gated communities supposed to either be all about social justice or just not talk about it at all?
Speaking out against change… seems kind of out-of-place for a guy who writes books called “If You Want to Walk on Water You Have to Get Out of the Boat.”
I don’t know which passage of Scripture leads Mr. Ortberg to say, “He says that because of the way power is widely viewed in our day, talk about ‘redeeming the culture’ or ‘transforming the world’ is largely understood as implying conquest, take-over, or domination. It means ‘our side will defeat your side by coercing everyone to do what we want.” The way I see church history, it’s precisely this tactic of seeking justice and serving the local community that lead to the rapid spread of Christianity! As the church cared for widows, orphans, lepers, and stood up for the oppressed, the church became an unstoppable force in culture because armies could destroy a community or people but the love that lived within and gave freedom both physically and in people’s hearts was unstoppable! Within 400 years of Christ, the emperor of Rome gave his heart to Jesus!
Ortberg paraphrases the Jews in Babylonian exile as an example of God’s people being blessed for not changing the world. He neglects to mention why the Jews were in exile in the first place!
The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent word to them through his messengers again and again, because he had pity on his people and on his dwelling place. But they mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the LORD was aroused against his people and there was no remedy. He brought up against them the king of the Babylonians, who killed their young men with the sword in the sanctuary, and spared neither young man nor young woman, old man or aged. God handed all of them over to Nebuchadnezzar. He carried to Babylon all the articles from the temple of God, both large and small, and the treasures of the LORD’s temple and the treasures of the king and his officials. They set fire to God’s temple and broke down the wall of Jerusalem; they burned all the palaces and destroyed everything of value there. 2 Chronicles 36:15-19
And why did God hand them over the Nebuchadnezzar? Let’s see what those prophets, aka the Book of Jeremiah, whom God’s people mocked, had to say:
- “I brought you into a fertile land to eat its fruit and rich produce. But you came and defiled my land and made my inheritance detestable.” Jeremiah 2:7
- “I had planted you like a choice vine of sound and reliable stock. How then did you turn against me into a corrupt, wild vine?” Jeremiah 2:21
- “Your own conduct and actions have brought this upon you. This is your punishment. How bitter it is! How it pierces to the heart!” Jeremiah 4:18
- “This is what the LORD says: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the LORD.” Jeremiah 9:23-24
- “You are always righteous, O LORD, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?” Jeremiah 12:1
I could go on. But anyone can read Jeremiah and see that the Jews weren’t exiled to Babylon to be some kind of faithful presence among the Babylonians. The Jews were taken into exile because they sinned against God, making a mockery of the law, and suffered a 400+ year timeout!
I’m positive I am reading Mr. Orberg’s words incorrectly. Certainly, no pastor and Christian leader really thinks that the church is not supposed to be an agent of change within its own community?
Certainly, we are not called to maintain a status quo when thousands of people in our country are sold as sexual slaves, millions oppressed by banks in debt they can never get out of, our economy completely dependent on illegal immigrants for our way of life while not granting those individuals basic civil rights the majority enjoys, and churches who gleefully oppress and belittle the people they are called to reach.
Certainly the church is called to help our country, a nation full of no-fault divorce, more than half the kids living in single-parent homes, crumbling schools systems, a prison system over-flowing, drug-addiction, porn-addiction, on and on… right?
Or maybe I’m just immature and idealistic.