Sometimes we become so familiar with our surroundings that we barely notice them. We become over-familiar with the beauty and also the ugly things. In the West, generations have been born, lived and died influenced by a world-view with its origins in the enlightenment – the 18th Century philosophical and intellectual movement which ‘displaced God’ with ‘reason’ and ‘knowledge’. Today we use the term ‘secular humanism’ to talk about the idea of ‘moral’ mankind without God. In our secular world, God no longer has much of a place in our schools, universities, businesses or governments. Now this Secular system extends even beyond the West, due to our globalised society and modern media.
In the time of Yeshua, the problematic Sadducees had no belief in heaven or the supernatural – they were effectively man-centric, an early form of ‘secular humanist’ – see Yeshua’s teaching on marriage and the resurrection in Matthew 22:23-33. This was not the case with the similarly problematic Pharisees, who did believe in heaven.
Yeshua’s arrival shook both the Sadducees and Pharisees. His description as “Son of Man” appeals to our concerns as human beings in this world, while his title “Son of God” reminds us of heaven and the supernatural. Yeshua was indeed both “Son of Man” (Matthew 8:20; 9:6; 11:19 etc) and “Son of God” (Matthew 27:43; Luke 1:35; John 1:49-50 etc).
In pre-World War 2 Germany, the Lutheran Church dominated national religion, so that most people were Lutheran. Tragically, Hitler’s Nazi party found the denomination easy to influence, infiltrate and dominate. What remained uncompromised was the Bible-centric ‘Confessing Church’.
Confessing Church pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, criticised the Lutherans for “thinking in two spheres” in his book Ethics. The ‘lower or earthly sphere’ referred to business, politics, administration, while the ‘upper or heavenly sphere’ referred to prayer, worship and church attendance. He argued that the Lutherans concerned themselves only with the upper sphere, giving the Nazis freedom to dominate the lower – ‘so heavenly minded they were no earthly good’. Therefore, the Nazis could, for example, confiscate Jewish businesses, marginalise the Jews in society and ultimately gas them, while the Lutherans had little theological basis to respond.
Alarmingly, our modern humanistic world has a similar DNA to the Nazis, with the potential for great evil. Biblical faith and Judeo-Christian values are marginalized, vilified and ultimately their proponents persecuted – the Christian Church, the Jewish people and state. The world system, as with the Sadducees, concerns itself with the ‘earthly sphere’ and pays little attention to the ‘heavenly’.
Today’s global Body of Messiah, in all its diverse expression, needs to respond in at least five ways:
Firstly, we must be sure to stand in both ‘spheres’ at the same time, concerned both for the here-and-now and also the eternal – “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” – Mark 12:17. We must influence and be involved in politics, business, bio-ethics, gender issues, the poor, the environment and also pray, worship, and evangelise.
Secondly, we must not be marginalised or silenced, but rather open the debate publicly, so that Satan’s kingdom will be divided and fall. Paul did this when he debated with Jewish leaders of both the Sadducee and Pharisee parties in Jerusalem, as recorded in Acts 23:6. He declared himself ‘on trial concerning the resurrection of the dead’. He repeated the argument before secular Roman political leadership in Acts 24:21. Of course, Paul cared about the earthly realm, but he was challenging the Sadducees and Romans to consider the heavenly realm, so dividing those who opposed Yeshua.
Thirdly, we need to evangelise people of other religions who are becoming dissatisfied with their faith, perhaps because of its violence or inadequacy. Many Muslims, for example, are simply becoming secular, moving directly from the ‘heavenly sphere’ of their religion, to an ‘earthly’ sphere without religion. Yeshua provides a third and genuine alternative.
Fourthly, we need to pray, “Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus”; following up with action in order to demonstrate the heavenly realm here on earth.
Doing these things will hasten the breakout of revival in our communities and cities, enabling deep national transformation and God’s Kingdom to come ‘on earth as it is in heaven’ – Matthew 6:10. So, our fifth action is to pray the Lord’s prayer in the light of these things, waiting expectantly for an answer.