Finding Purpose

Q. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

This is where human purpose is found. Not in our sex lives, our hobbies, our careers, or our citizenship. Human purpose is found in our position relative to a holy, just, and powerful God.

Our purpose is not to find greater success in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. While we are blessed to live in country that reasonably enables the opportunities to pursue prosperity, economic and physical well-being is not the purpose for our existence.

FINDING MEANING

Francis Schaeffer helpfully reminds his readers of this truth. He writes,

“Today, people constantly ask, ‘Does man have a purpose?’ In some areas of the world man is told that he has meaning only in reference to the state. In other places he is told that he has meaning only in his sexual life. . . . But all of these turn into sawdust in his hands. The Bible gives us a quite different answer: The purpose of man—the meaning of man—is to stand in love as a creature before the Creator.” (Schaeffer, Genesis in Space and Time)

Modernism encouraged pursuit of objectivity to a fault. The idea was that a human could absolutely know what was objectively true.

Post-modernism rejects the notion that humans can know objective truth, and in its more virulent forms it rejects the idea that there is objective truth. The first rejection is warranted, because a flawed, finite human can never know truth fully and objectively. The second rejection is cause for despair, because never will there be opportunity to firmly plant ethics on something that matters.

More, by Vern. Used by Creative Commons License. http://ow.ly/ZDEFL 

More, by Vern. Used by Creative Commons License. http://ow.ly/ZDEFL 

When I say “ethics” many think of the ability to evaluate situations to determine what should be done or should have been done. That is certainly part of the ethical task, but it falls far short of a robust understanding of the role of ethics, particularly in the Christian life.

Ethics is worship. It is the way that we evaluate future and past decisions to determine what we should do and whether it will fulfill our main purpose, or our chief end, of glorifying God and delighting in him. It entails assessing decisions, but even more significantly it requires comparing them to a standard.

WE NEED A STANDARD

When it comes to our perception of the world, we can recognize that we always have a bias, which usually entices us to redefine truth to our advantage. On the other hand, in order for that sentence to have any meaning, there must be a truth to be redefined.

Humans need a purpose in life that they can be oriented toward. When humanity rejects the objective truth of the Creator, they reflexively invent something else to judge themselves.

As John Calvin notes in his Institutes,

Man's nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.... Man's mind, full as it is of pride and boldness, dares to imagine a god according to its own capacity; as it sluggishly plods, indeed is overwhelmed with the crassest ignorance, it conceives an unreality and an empty appearance as God.... To these evils a new wickedness joins itself, that man tries to express in his work the sort of God he has inwardly conceived. Therefore the mind begets an idol; the hand gives it birth.... Daily experience teaches that flesh is always uneasy until it has obtained some figment like itself in which it may fondly find solace as in an image of God. (1.11.8)

When humans abandon the idea of a Supreme Being against whose justice our lives our judged, we will find purpose or meaning in something else. Schaeffer includes sex on the list. He also includes the human relationship to the state, by which is is not simply indicting excessive nationalism, but also socialism that sees all human rights as granted by the state.

We were made for more than that. However, when an objective moral order in the created order is abandoned because the idea of their being a Creator is rejected, humans cannot live with the void that is created. They create something new to anchor their hopes and aspirations in and to judge their actions and the actions of others.

The human heart is an idol factory. When God is rejected, the void must be filled by an undefined notion of “love” or the good of the state. There is always something in reality.

Philosophers may claim that there is no objective truth, but human reality demands an external reference point. When we reject the true objective reality, the human heart or society will create another.

CONCLUSION

As an apologetic, this essay will fail. It isn’t an apologetic, but a reminder of where most people live—with a false reality—and what we need to resist as Christians.

The world will constantly pull us away from our chief end. It is the task of the Christian to continually come back to the central purpose of our lives: to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

A Brief History of Mercy Ministry in the Church - Part Three

This is part Three of Three posts in a series on the history of Mercy Ministry in the Christian Church. Part One is accessible here.  Part Two can be found here.
After introducing the topic and giving a brief overview of Mercy Ministry in the Early Church, Patristic Era, Medieval Era and Reformation Era, today's post emphasizes the Modern era, bringing the discussion up to the present time. 

Photo by Amir Farshad Ebrahimi. Used under creative commons license. http://ow.ly/IHxpd 

Photo by Amir Farshad Ebrahimi. Used under creative commons license. http://ow.ly/IHxpd 

As a reaction to the religious wars of the Reformation Era, Deism began to rise and people began to try to demonstrate that non-Christians could be ethical, too. Divisions began to form between Church and State, with none starker than the division in France due to the French Revolution. When the church and state split, the larger political organization rose as a more significant participant in what had previously been the church’s role in dealing with physical needs.

 The roots of modern evangelicalism are in British non-conformist religion. The four central aspects of early evangelicalism were conversionism, crucicentrism, biblicism and activism.[1] The key for today’s discussion is activism, which refers to the belief that the internal change brought about by gospel conversion would be worked out in external application of the gospel to life. It was this tendency toward activism that led William Carey to build businesses to improve the local economy in India, end injustices like the burning of widows, and start schools instead of only preaching the gospel. This also drove people like William Wilberforce and John Newton to fight for the abolition of slavery.

 It about the same time as the rise of evangelicalism that the higher critical approach to Scripture was developed. Faith became subjective, the integrity of the Bible was frequently questioned by Friedrich Schleiermacher, Julius Wellhausen, and others. Deism became increasingly accepted through the work of individuals like Thomas Paine. In summary, people began to doubt the central truths of Christianity, but retained their desire for the works of the Christian religion. As a result, mercy ministry began to take precedence over doctrine. Later, liberal theologians such as Walter Rauschenbusch began to promote the idea that the Kingdom of God was a condition of earthly justice that had no true doctrinal content.

 Unfortunately, the morals of the church cannot stand without a doctrinal foundation. Individuals like J. Gresham Machen, B. B. Warfield, and Charles Hodge resisted the discrediting of Scripture. Others reacted more strongly against the doctrinal decay of the theological liberals by rejecting the social aspect of ministry. This led to the rise of fundamentalism, particularly in the United States, which promoted doctrinal truth and evangelism without significant concerns for mercy ministry. This overreaction was a divergence from the central traditions of Christianity and the resurgence of an interest in mercy ministry among doctrinally conservative Christians should be seen as a course correction not an innovation.

Carl F. H. Henry

Carl F. H. Henry

 Carl F. H. Henry’s brief but significant book, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism, speaks about the loss of social ministry among theologically fundamental Christians: “The social reform movements dedicated to the elimination of such evils do not have the active, let alone vigorous, cooperation of large segments of evangelical Christianity.”[2] That reality began to change in the mid Twentieth Century as some theologians began to shift the language from doing missions (which focus only or mainly on saving souls) to mission (which focuses on participating in God’s redemptive work in all creation).

Recently there has been an explosion in conferences, sermons, and books on the topic of Mercy Ministry. Evangelicalism has largely recovered its vision for working out the implications of the gospel in the world. Our task on our External Journey, with this cloud of witness in history behind us, is proclaim the gospel while we are serving them. Or, to enable them to hear our proclamation because we have met their physical needs.

[S]ome can’t hear our proclamation [of the Gospel] until they’ve been delivered physically from injustice and other forms of suffering. Until we pick them up from the road, they won’t hear of the good news. Today, millions are being drugged, sold, and raped multiple times a day in sex trafficking. Do you think they will hear your proclamation? I don’t.[3]

[1] David Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s (New York: Routledge, 1989), 5.

[2] Carl F. H. Henry, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1947), 3.

[3] Tony Merida, Ordinary: How to Turn the World Upside Down (Nashville, Tenn.: B & H, 2015), 29.