4Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah 5and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” 6But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the LORD. 7And the LORD said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 8According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. 9Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.” I Samuel 8:4-9
I love the Old Testament; so much of Israel’s history, their failures and successes, so closely mirror the modern church that we would do well to study it often. Like many judges before him, Samuel was a man faithful to the Lord; however, his sons were corrupt and abusive and this led the people to desire a king. In this passage, the whoredom of Israel is revealed in several ways that closely mirror the failures of the modern church paradigm.
They Desired to Live like the World
Israel cried out “Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” They were surrounded by pagan nations who were ruled by kings and Israel wanted to be like them. In verse eight God reminds Samuel that this is nothing new, ever since their deliverance from Pharaoh in Egypt the Israelites have exhibited a pattern of unfaithfulness, which God foretold in Deuteronomy 17:14.
This is exactly what is happening in modern churches, church planting strategies, and church growth programs that are based upon secular marketing strategies rather than Scripture. Modern Christians, and I use the term loosely, have looked enviously upon the marketing and growth strategies of corporate America, and have sought to grow the kingdom of God in a similar manner. Like Israel’s desire for a king, this modern trend is nothing new but rather the culmination of the long-standing unfaithfulness of American evangelicals.
They Desired to Fight like the World
Despite Israel’s presence and responsibility in them the Lord was the one who fought their battles in the past (Exodus 14:14, 25, Deuteronomy 1:30, Joshua 10:25) and apart from God they could not succeed in battle (Deuteronomy 1:42). Their desire for a king marked their abandonment of His power and provision for their strength and strategy (v.20).
This is exactly what is happening when modern churches rely upon secular marketing strategies to grow God’s kingdom rather than the Holy Spirit transforming the hearts of men through the proclamation of God’s Word. In Israel’s past God had spoken to Moses, Joshua, and the Judges who then proclaimed the Word of the Lord to the people of Israel. Israel’s request for a king represented their abandonment of God’s Word for the wisdom of man. Just as Israel’s desire for a king led to their destruction and enslavement modern evangelicals’ desire for worldly wisdom will lead to false growth and an inability to battle the enemy.
They Desired to Submit like the World
In verse nine God commands Samuel to “solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.” In the verses following Samuel describes at length the ways in which the king will abuse Israel and yet they replied “No! We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles (v.19-20).”
In the same way, that Israel desired a king, despite severe warnings of his abuses, modern evangelicals tolerate ministries whose founding values are more psychological than theological because they would rather submit to a man rather than the living God.
They Desired to Worship like the World
Ultimately, Israel’s actions were the manifestations, not the ultimate end, of their thinking. The end result of their desire what not the abandonment of God’s Word, or God’s rules, or God’s provision; the ultimate end of their desire was the abandonment and rejection of God (v.7-8).
Likewise, the abandonment of God’s Word as the source of both theology and methodology by modern evangelicals does not represent a shift in the historical church polity/planting/growth paradigm; it represents their abandonment of God.
Many of you who read this will find it to be a far cry from my previous post; in which I gave the following quote by David Prior.
“Paul looks at the Corinthian church as it is in Christ Jesus before he looks at anything else that is true of the church. That disciplined statement of faith is rarely made in local churches; the warts are examined and lamented, but often there’s no vision of what God has already done in Christ.”
I think there is continuity between these two posts in that you cannot view a church “as it is in Christ Jesus” if Christ is not taught there; the only way you could view it would be as an object of His wrath. More importantly it is only through understanding where, why, and how we fail that we can overcome these failures by the grace of God.