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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Chasing donkeys is a trivial pursuit. King Saul was the first notable donkey chaser. Scripture (1 Samuel 9:2) describes Saul as “an impressive young man,” with “no one more impressive among the Israelites than he.” The following verse, however, is a jarring contrast. “Take one of the attendants with you and go look for the donkeys,” his father told him.
Granted, Saul was not yet anointed king of Israel at the time, but it was ironic foreshadowing. Scripture says he was “hiding among the supplies” (1 Samuel 10:22) when it was time for his introduction by Samuel. As king, Saul spent inordinate amounts of time chasing David around the countryside trying to kill him. David recognized the indignity of it. “Who has the king of Israel come after?” David asks in 1 Samuel 24:14, “What are you chasing after? A dead dog? A flea?”
Saul was described as a man above men, kingly in appearance, friends with Samuel the great prophet. He was adorned with all the garments of royalty. He had a crown, a throne and a scepter. He had an army at his command. This man who had a date with destiny was detoured in his life chasing displaced donkeys.
Unfortunately, far too many of us in the evangelical church today are out chasing donkeys, as well.
It is much too easy to stand and take potshots at all that is wrong with churches and denominations -- to be a naysayer. Reams are written about how we aren’t doing this or that. This is not a column meant to bash all things evangelical. I pray it is a contribution to a growing cry for the church to wake up! It is an emergency call for a sense of urgency.
Two years ago I opened a series of columns with a quote by Anglican priest David Watson. Nearly 25 years ago he wrote, “It is widely held that the battle of the century will be between Marxism, Islam, and Third World Christianity. Western Christianity is considered too weak and ineffective to contribute anything significant to this universal struggle.” I commented at the time that Watson’s statement is a sobering accusation that I’ve been unable to discredit in the years since.
John Burke, pastor of Gateway Community Church in Austin, Texas, recently published a book titled, "No Perfect People Allowed: Creating a Come as You Are Culture in the Church." Burke opens the first chapter of the book by asking what a Buddhist, a biker couple, a homosexual activist, a transient, an engineer, a Jew and a Muslim all have in common. His answer: They are the future church in America.
He says that each of these now have a relationship with Christ and are members in his church and he says, “this is the generation the church must reach if it is to survive.” He then states, “But time is running out. Unless Christians leading the church in America change, and unless the church begins living out the magnetic attractive force Jesus had on the world, the Christian Church in America will be completely marginalized within decades.”
Certain voices rise above the critical rhetoric of evaluating Western Christianity to become prophetic. I believe Watson and Burke are essentially issuing the same warning to the church. Burke’s assessment confirms Watson’s observation made 25 years earlier.
Here’s the thing that concerns me: NOT ENOUGH PEOPLE ARE LISTENING! We are a complacent and arrogant people. Isaiah is replete with examples of God humbling the haughty. Arrogance followed by judgment is a recurring theme; survey the Old Testament and confirm it for yourself. However, before dismissing those examples as ancient history, flip to Revelation and read Christ’s seven letters to the churches. More specifically, read what Jesus says to the church of Sardis: “I know your works; you have a reputation for being alive, but you are dead. Be alert and strengthen what remains, which is about to die ...” (Revelation 3:1-2).
Sobering, or at least it should be. Our response as individuals, churches and denominations should be to immediately beg God to forgive our arrogance and ask to see the world through His eyes. Then, with obedience, to then do something about what we see.
Southern Baptists, I treasure our heritage, but it is our future I’m most concerned about. What are we going to do to make sure the letter that arrives at our churches is not the Sardis letter? We have a reputation in the past for being alive, but will we actually be found to be dead? Holding steady is not good enough. We must be alert and strengthen what remains.
Paul cautions in Ephesians 5:15-16 to “Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk ... making the most of the time, because the days are evil.” If we are going to walk as wise men and women we must engage our world with urgent relevance. If not I fear God may ask, “Are you chasing donkeys?”
James T. Draper Jr. is president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.