Beyond Religious Trappings to Really Shining God’s Glorious Light

Reflections on Isaiah

I am guilty of this, as are many of my evangelical brothers and sisters. We try to look the part, we try to act like we are the “light of the world” through our religious activities, but God sees right through it. We do the religious things that we think will distinguish us as God’s people, but God says, “Nope. I know what’s really going on.”

In Isaiah 58, God lays it on the line for us. The people ask, “Why have we fasted, and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?” (Isa 58:3)

God tells them that he sees past that religious veneer. He sees how they may do their “religious duties” but that they have failed to have changed hearts: hearts that truly care for others.

God says,
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” (Isa 58:6-7)

This reminds us of Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:31-46, where he separates the sheep from the goats.

We evangelicals have a tendency to think of righteousness in very narrow terms: sexual purity, fighting for “family values,” going to church to worship, praying regularly, reading our Bibles, evangelizing our friends.

Righteousness is not any less than that, but this text is saying it is definitely more than that. We think that in simply doing the evangelical Christian duties that we are the light of the world. And we wonder why more people are not attracted to our message. Then we chalk it up to the world not loving light and loving darkness instead (John 3:19). Maybe that’s the case, but maybe its also the case that we have lost our way as to how to shine God’s loving light into a dark world.

Look at what God says will happen only when his people work to stop injustice and free the oppressed, the hungry, and the poor:

“Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.” (Isa 58:8-9)

That is an incredible promise. May our light break forth like the dawn, may our healing begin. May we care for the oppressed (that is, may we be a transformative influence in society for the benefit of the poor, hungry, and naked who have suffered under the hand of greed and the evil of our society and our laws); may our love for them shine forth the love of God to people. May our righteousness go before us and the glory of the Lord be our rearguard. May God be with his people.

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Paul Carusoe said...

Isaiah 58 should be the creed of anyone claiming the name missional, incarnational or emergent. It has been the centerpiece of our mission outreach and God has held up his end of the bargain as long as we hold up our end.

One could easily argue from those verses that there isn't much point praying and fasting if we aren't willing to follow God's exhortation to spend ourselves on behalf of the poor and oppressed.

Bob Robinson said...

Amen, Paul, Amen.

Ted Gossard said...

Great post, Bob, and great comment, Paul. This needs to become a part of who we (evangelicals) are.

Paul Carusoe said...

Bob, I have to say that your Protectional/Transformational blog has really quickened my spirit. And the Isaiah 58 passage, I believe, gets right to the heart of the matter.

Think of it for a minute from a 21st century perspective. What does the church pray for that it seems God doesn't answer? I'll use just a couple of the many examples here. He didn't stop abortion, so we resorted to attempting to stop it through protesting and politics. He doesn't seem to hear prayers to cease the homosexual agenda, pornography, pedophilia, as well as all other sexual immporality, so we wage war against it ourselves and the result is that we have only raised the ire of the very people God has commanded us to reach out to, to be ambassadors of His unconditional love, mercy, grace and reconcilialtion. Instead, we bring only judgment and condemnation to them and then wonder why they hate us. If the natural man does not understand the things of God because they are spiritually discerned, how can we expect to reason with them?

Yet, if we were to minister to them in the Spirit of Christ, would we not exude patience and longsuffering toward them? Would we not listen to their fears, concerns and their misconceived (although often justifiably so) notions about God, and compassionately, not defensively, attempt to help them seperate the truth from misunderstanding?

When we are engaged in meeting the needs of the poor and oppressed, caring for the widows and the sick, clothing the naked and giving the poor wonderers shelter, is not our faith validated in these actions? The world can find no argument against such deeds. But when you listen to what the unsaved have to say about church, more often than not, the things they point out are the very real inconsistencies, hyposcrisies, and self-serving agendas of organized religion, and ususally they are right. And they want nothing to do with it.

If we journey toward God's promises in Isaiah 58, our ministry might look something like this: Rather than protesting abortion clinics or lobbying for making it illegal, rather, we work to integrate personal responsibility back into the education system. Teaching children to make right choices and educating them on the consequences of wrong choices is seriously lacking and it does not have to have religious connotations to have value. If we would see public school teaching as a mission from God, would our loving compassion and moral integrity not become a bigger influence on the next generation than if we pull out from public education altogether and choose instead to promote Christian School education?

Doesn't it make more sense to reach out to pregnant girls and create alternatives for them, and to help them through their pregancies, than it does to spew judgment and anger toward them?

In the gay community, we have yet to find a gay person who doesn't really want a relationship with Jesus. Most wish they could be accepted by a church. Very few want to push their agenda on the church, they merely want to be accepted and have people they can trust who will help them to find God and possibly victory over their sexual dillema. Pushing them away only pushes them into the camps of the gay activists. I could go on and on, but the message is clear: Protectional social action creates "us against them' and draws battle lines. Transformational social action transforms. It reconciles, loves--basically is administered by the fruits of the Spirit:love, patience, gentleness, etc.

Having been on both side of this argument, a protectionist for about 10 years and a transformationist for the past 14 years, I must say that it is almost like two different religions. There is no comparison in terms of my effectiveness evangelistically as a transformationist as opposed to me former protectionist views.

And the best part is that God's Isaiah 58 promise is fulfilled in the life of one who is committed to transforming society. I've seen hundreds of miracles and none of them would have happened if I was still sitting in church waiting for them to happen.

Thanks for making the dichotomy for me. I've never before had such a clear way of communicating the difference between where I am today and where I was 14 years ago. The emergent/missional movement will fail if it fails to make the distiction between these two very different forms of social action.