The Attitude of Patience

One of the ways to avoid the error of perverting the gospel is to live in the attitude of complete trust in the sovereignty of God. This attitude is crucial to conservative Christianity, because without it we will certainly heed the shrill voices around us.

All around us are people who have imbibed the atmosphere of pragmatism. It is an atmosphere of impatience with everything except pragmatic concerns. Such people live in a restless state of agitation and expect all other ‘committed Christians’ to do the same. Their rationale is straightforward: If the main idea of Christianity is increased numbers of Christians, then how can we waste time discussing conservatism when we should be evangelising?  How can we spend time learning Hebrew and Greek when millions have never heard? How can we waste time learning about art and music when there are urgent needs for church plants and basic discipleship? How can we take years training for ministry when the world doesn’t even know the basics of the gospel?

This kind of reasoning emerges from a church enamoured with visible results, measurable success and purported effectiveness.  It has learned that you can increase the crowd if you edit out the difficult, unattractive or subtle points of Christianity. With the increase in numbers, the approach becomes self-justifying. “Let those ivory-tower conservatives keep picking lint out of their intellectual navels. Our churches are bursting at the seams! We’re sending 75 missionaries!”

Of course, if the main goal of the Christian life is evangelism, or more to the point, positive and measurable results from evangelism, then their reasoning holds. Why bother with expository preaching, biblical worship, and the teaching of ordinate affection if you can get a crowd by dropping those things and replacing them with motivational talks, entertainment and the indulgence of base passions and appetites in the name of Jesus?

Of course, Jesus made it clear that the primary goal of the Christian life is not evangelism, but worship (Mark 12:28-30). Therefore, conservative Christians must resist the impatience of pragmatism, and its lust after results.  We must be supported by the confidence that God is sovereign. Undergirding conservative Christianity is the patience that God is sovereignly working out all things. He is in control of conversion. He calls and sends missionaries. He adds believers to churches. We cannot and must not seek to engineer results that belong to God’s working.

We are not for one moment denigrating missions, evangelism, church planting or immediate church discipleship. Our job is to proclaim the gospel and the whole counsel of God, in season and out of season. Our job is to train missionaries. Our job is to seek to plant churches and disciple believers.

But the needs placed on the frontburner by pragmatists are not the only needs of the hour. There are many responsibilities placed in our lap by the Lord, evangelism and missions are only two of them. No less important is the cultivation of ordinate sensibilities, the labour of teaching the whole counsel of God, the restoration of biblical worship, the learning and parsing of true Christian tradition. These responsibilities are not ‘peripheral’, they are central to loving God – our ultimate obligation. However, the only way to resist the emotive calls of pragmatists to join them in their utilitarian efforts is to rest fully in the sovereignty of God. Knowing that God is ultimately in control frees us to pursue all of life to the glory of God(I Cor 10:31).

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