The Myth of Progress

That which hath been is that which shall be; and that which hath been done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

The past two hundred years have been a blur of technological development. Few are the aspects of life that have not been radically altered by recent innovations. Automobiles and airplanes have entirely changed how we transport ourselves and goods. The telephone, the computer, and the Internet have changed how we communicate with each other and how we are able to work. Heaters, air conditioners, stoves, ovens, microwaves, washers, dryers, and other forms of electronic equipment have made the daily activities of life that much more efficient. Advancements in medicine and science have led to better quality of life and a more enhanced understanding of the world (and the universe) around us.

When seen in terms of the whole of human history, all of these advancements have come in the blink of an eye. Ways of life that existed for hundreds or thousands of years have been irretrievably changed. These changes and advancements have led most in society to take an overly optimistic and rosy view of human potential. This has led to the myth of progress– the idea that our advancements in the arts and sciences are making us into wiser, better people than our ancestors.

In fact, we have become downright snobbish about ourselves. Consciously or unconsciously, we believe that we are superior to our ancestors. We judge all things by the standard of our own belief systems and cultural prejudices. We think and/or speak rather patronizingly about our ancestors: “they did not know any better.” “They did not have x or y technology that we have.” “We have come to a better understanding of these things.” In short, all of these statements betray the idea that we think we have progressed so far in the past few generations and thus we are superior. That which was accepted in earlier times was “primitive” or “old-fashioned,” and those terms are not used affectionately! How many young people out there believe that their parents are ignorant fossils– after all, isn’t 2009 so radically different and more advanced than, say, 1979 or 1989?

But there is an uncomfortable question we must consider: are we really progressing? There is no doubt that we are becoming more technologically sophisticated. No one will argue against the idea that our technology is allowing us to have a better understanding of the world around us. But does that mean that we as a species are really “moving forward”?

Despite all of this advancement over the past two hundred years, people in 2009 are still asking the same questions as their forefathers did in 1999, 1899, 1499, and 99. Who am I? Why am I here? What am I supposed to do with my life? Why do people suffer? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why does evil exist? You would think that if we have really advanced so much over the past few hundred years that we would have made some progress on these questions. Yet the range of answers given are little different from those presented by the Greeks 2400 years ago or the Israelites 3000 years ago.

Furthermore, what are the moral challenges of our day? They do not involve people engaging in “ancient superstitions” as much as the same moral hazards that humans have suffered for generations. Drunkenness remains as much a problem today as was in Solomon’s day (cf. Proverbs 20:1). The pain and misery that results from adultery and other forms of sexual immorality is acutely felt today as it was in previous days (cf. Proverbs 5:3-14, 6:23-35). Divorce ruins homes like it did in the past (Malachi 2:16, Matthew 19:9).

We may not want to admit it, but our technological advancements have not led to that many moral advancements. In fact, our technological advancements have highlighted human tendencies toward sin. Computer technology was harnessed early and often to peddle pornography. Advancements in healthcare give excuse for a lack of self-control and self-discipline in dietary habits. Humans still hate each other, desire to hurt each other, and kill each other, and now get to use more sophisticated technology to kill more people more effectively.

As it has been said, “the more things change, the more things stay the same.” The Preacher is right: there is nothing new under the sun. He is not arguing that people cannot discover new technologies or learn new things. He is simply stating a truism: in matters of existence, each generation follows after the past generation, and there is little real advancement. We can see clearly that despite thousands of years of human wisdom accrued by experience, each generation still has to go out and make many of the same mistakes as their fathers. And just as their fathers pleaded with them and warned them, so they will plead with and warn their children, and will likely have the same result!

Ever since the Tower of Babel, humans have wanted to believe that they are going up (cf. Genesis 11:1-4). In reality, humans are the same as they have always been. They are the fallen creation of God who require His love and mercy to be esteemed (cf. Romans 5:1-18). Let us keep a proper view of ourselves, and look to God who knows best!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Myth of Progress

Community

The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a communion of the body of Christ? Seeing that we, who are many, are one bread, one body: for we are all partake of the one bread (1 Corinthians 10:16-17).

One of the drawbacks of our technological developments over the past two centuries involves the loss of a sense of community with our fellow man. Many of us live in detached housing, travel to and from work and other events in cars, and go shopping, dining, and a host of other activities without truly interacting with anyone else in a meaningful way. The Internet allows us to be connected to all sorts of people instantaneously and yet it has led to less substantive interaction among people. A lot of people feel alone, isolated, fearful, scared, and have few outlets. The incidences of depression and related difficulties continues to increase. Far more know that things are just not quite right, but do not know what to do about it.

Despite what many may think at times, man was not designed to be alone (cf. Genesis 2:18). Humans are social and communal creatures. Humans always fare better when they work together and depend on each other than when they try to strike it out alone. Despite all the things you have ever heard, no one “pulls themselves up by their own bootstraps.” If and when people are successful, there are always other people who have allowed that success to take place.

In short, man was not made to live in isolation from his fellow man. God knows this, for He made man that way. And when it comes to spiritual matters, God established the church, in His wisdom, to be the community of His people, encouraging each other and those who are without (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:23, Ephesians 4:11-16).

The church is uniquely suited to be the community of God’s people. As we see in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, the Lord’s Supper represents a “communion” with the body and blood of Christ. The word for “communion” is the Greek koinonia, which means “fellowship, association, communion, joint participation, community.” This “community” with the Lord demonstrates that “we,” although being many, are “one body” because we partake of the same Supper. The Lord’s Supper, in part, is designed to reinforce the “communion” or “community” among the constituent members of the body– and that body is the body of Christ (cf. Ephesians 5:25-27).

That image of the church as body well demonstrates the need for community (cf. Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12:12-29). Our bodies are extremely complex– each part has its own function that it contributes to the whole, and yet none of it works without the rest. The human body is a wonderful example of an interdependent series of systems that comprise a greater whole, and the fact that Paul considers the church to be like a body means that the church itself is to be an interdependent set of persons who constitute a greater whole. Just as parts of the body work together to accomplish a greater good, so Christians within a church work together to accomplish God’s purposes (cf. Matthew 6:33). Just as parts of the body must compensate for damage or illness in other parts, so Christians within a church help strengthen the members who are weak or struggling (cf. Galatians 6:1-2, Hebrews 12:12-13). Just as the hand or the foot or the kidney cannot decide to strike out on their own, so neither can Christians decide to strike out on their own and separate from the Body and be saved (Hebrews 10:26-31). And, just as different parts of the body have distinct and yet necessary functions, so individual Christians have distinct yet necessary functions, and none are more important or greater than any other (1 Corinthians 12:18-25, 1 Peter 4:10-11).

Your body only works because all the parts know that they need each other and to work with each other to continue to exist. Thus it must be also within the church. For too long, arguments regarding the work of the church versus the work of the individual have overshadowed the vital role of the community of believers in the lives of each of its constituent members. It is not the role of the church to institutionalize the work of the individual and do it for them; the church, as the corporate collective, must involve itself in only those things with which God has burdened it (cf. 1 Timothy 5:16). But this does not mean that the members of the church are to have little to nothing to do with one another. It also does not mean that since so much of Christianity must be done on the level of an individual that the community of believers is irrelevant or unnecessary!

Any time people come together or identify themselves as having a common purpose, a community exists. The question, therefore, is not whether there will be community or not, but will involve the strength of the bond of the community. Far too many churches function more like social clubs or country clubs than a body of believers deeply involved in each others’ lives. The social or country club atmosphere might be somewhat comfortable but it cannot lead to the relationship among believers that leads to growth, encouragement, and salvation. It is only when the community functions like the body it is supposed to be that God is glorified within it!

In this world full of isolation, misery, and despair, the church ought to be a strong beacon of light. The church ought to be the place where isolated people can become part of something greater than themselves– a community in which they are accepted regardless of what they have been in the past or their race, nationality, style, or any other factor, and in which they can work together with other believers to magnify and glorify God. When a church exhibits a strong level of community– members involved in each others’ lives, constantly seeking to love one another and serve each others’ interests (cf. Philippians 2:1-4)– it will grow. People will be interested in being part of it, since it reflects something they do not have and something they know they need (cf. Acts 2:42-47). If a church has the same level of community as a local social club or the local country club, what is distinctive about that? How does that reflect Christ’s purposes for the world?

If we are believers in Jesus Christ who are recognized and accepted by Him, we are part of His body (Ephesians 5:25-27). If we are all part of His body, we must associate with one another and work together for His purposes (cf. 1 John 1:6-7). The stronger the connection between one another, the better servants we can be, and the greater the Body of Christ can grow. Let us reflect the fact that we are one body and work to strengthen our church communities!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Community

The Autumn of Covenant

Thus the Lord GOD showed me: and, behold, a basket of summer fruit.
And he said, “Amos, what seest thou?”
And I said, “A basket of summer fruit.”
Then said the LORD unto me, “The end is come upon my people Israel; I will not again pass by them any more” (Amos 8:1-2).

“Woe is me! For I am as when they have gathered the summer fruits, as the grape gleanings of the vintage: there is no cluster to eat; my soul desireth the first-ripe fig” (Micah 7:1).

Autumn is a season of transition. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, days grow shorter, nights grow longer, and the temperature gets cooler. The days of heat and growth are declining, and the last crops must be harvested. Everywhere around us, life is preparing for the cold, dark winter that will soon come.

The Kingdoms of Israel and Judah were also in the “autumn” of their existence in the late ninth and eighth centuries BCE. Unbeknownst to them, their days of glory were behind them. The kingdoms were experiencing a momentary period of great prosperity and wealth, not unlike a short warm spell during the autumn. Yet the cold, dark days of “winter”– collapse and exile– were approaching, and the prophets were busy warning the people.

God shows Amos a basket of summer fruit, representing the imminent end of Israel. They had enjoyed their days of prosperity and wealth– they always were more prosperous than the Judeans to their south– but had squandered it all on idols and political alliances. The people of Israel acted shamefully and sinfully, committing all kinds of injustice and sin, and God sent Amos to pronounce judgment. The people refused to hear, and within forty years of Amos’ predictions, Israel was overwhelmed by Assyria and would soon be exiled, never to return (cf. 2 Kings 17).

Not long after Amos goes to Israel, Micah prophesies against Judah. The prophet acutely feels the vast sinfulness and injustice swirling around him. He feels as if he is part of the grape gleanings on the vine after the harvests of the summer fruits– the very few who still stand for righteousness and justice. Everyone around him, it seems, is out for their own advantage, full of iniquity and blood. Yet Micah trusts in the LORD, knowing that destruction and judgment will come soon (cf. Micah 7:7). Likewise, within forty years, the Assyrians came to Judah, destroying everything but Jerusalem, leaving but a remnant of Judah to remain (cf. 2 Kings 18-19, Isaiah 1).

Both Israel and Judah, therefore, were in the “autumn” of their covenants with God. Destruction would come upon them soon, and yet they willfully turned a deaf ear to the warnings of the prophets. They trusted that since the LORD was the One True God, and that Israel was His chosen people, that no harm would befall them (cf. Micah 2:6). Yet God would not tolerate their sin forever, and Israel and Judah paid a heavy price!

What about us? Are we in the “autumn” of our lives, or in the “autumn” of our relationship with God? While the actual season of autumn is easily delineated and clearly a time of preparation, our “spiritual” season of autumn may not be as easily apparent. We may feel as if we are in the “spring” or “summer” of our lives or in our relationship with God, when, in fact, the end is near.

Let none be deceived: God will not tolerate sin forever. If we are living in sin and turning a deaf ear to the Word of God who convicts us regarding sin (cf. John 16:8), we may suffer the same fate as Israel and Judah, and have destruction fall upon us unawares (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3). Since we can never be entirely sure when the “autumn” of our lives has begun, we must live in a constant state of preparedness, as our Lord Jesus affirms for us in Matthew 24:42-25:30, and Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-10.

We may be living in a debauched and sinful society, and its “autumn” may be present. Nevertheless, let us live our lives as the prophet Micah, constantly trusting in the LORD no matter what our fellow man may say and do, and show constant vigilance, ever prepared for the return of Jesus Christ and the end of time!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Autumn of Covenant

Busy!

And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom concerning all that is done under heaven: it is a sore travail that God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised therewith. I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind (Ecclesiastes 1:13-14).

Perhaps one of the most common refrains that we hear from people today is, “I’m too busy.” “Busy-ness” seems to be the rule anymore, and not the exception. Everyone everywhere is busy doing this and that. How many times have we told other people– or have been told ourselves– that requests cannot be made because of being “too busy”? How many people wish that there were just a few more hours in every day?

There is a sad irony in all of this. We have seen an explosion of “time saving” technologies over the past century, and whereas our ancestors spent much of their time washing clothes, obtaining food, preparing food, and getting from place to place, we have the luxuries of laundry machines, dryers, refrigerators, stoves, microwaves, cars, and such like. Even though we spend much less time involved in those activities, we are still busier than ever!

Time has not changed. There are still 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, 24 hours a day, 365 or 366 days a year. The difference is not in time, but in us and in our habits.

If we stop for a moment and get brutally honest with ourselves, we would recognize that our problem is not being “busy” per se, but that our priorities are our problem. If something is important enough to us, we will make time for it. If we are wise with our time, our use of time will properly reflect our priorities in life. If we are foolish with our time, we will spend it in profitless endeavors and strive after wind.

Paul reminds us that we ought to redeem the time, for the days are evil (Ephesians 5:16). Every day provides temptations and challenges. We may be seduced into spending our time in sin, and we know that such would be evil. But how much better is it if we are seduced into spending our time in endeavors that do not profit? How well can we serve God if we fill our days watching television, playing around on the Internet, or by finding other ways to entertain ourselves to death? On the other hand, we can recognize that our time is short, and that we must spend our time doing the most profitable things that we can find to do at any given moment. And we know what the most profitable things involve– the Kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33).

Time is the grand equalizer: we all have the same amount of time in a day, week, month, and year, no matter if we are extremely wealthy or extremely poor, no matter how educated we are, and so on and so forth. If we spend our time in fruitless endeavors, we have no one to blame but ourselves. How we decide to spend our time is our decision, and we must make the best decision we can.

Therefore, the next time you say that you are “too busy” to do some work, stop and ask: how am I spending my time? If people looked at my schedule and how I spend my time, what would they think my priorities are in life? Are those really my priorities? Is God honored or despised by how I use the time with which He has blessed me? Let us do all we can to build up God’s Kingdom, and spend our time appropriately!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Busy!

Our Conflict

For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12).

As Paul concludes the Ephesian letter, he encourages the brethren to resist the powers of evil through the use of the image of war. This passage has been used and abused ever since!

Paul does well at making clear that our conflict is not against “flesh and blood.” Some of the greatest travesties in human history involve men declaring that they were going out and fighting human wars in the name of Christ. Jesus and the Apostles never validated such conduct. We do not see any command or example that would justify any Christian taking up arms in the name of his faith in order to fight with his fellow man.

When believers in Christ start believing that their conflict is with flesh and blood (and this is by no means limited to actual physical war– it can also refer to conflict with governments, human institutions, and the like), the Enemy wins a double victory. First, since the believers are fighting against the wrong “enemy,” the real enemy– the spiritual forces of darkness– have the upper hand in keeping the souls they’ve won along with gaining a few believers’ souls along the way. Furthermore, by alienating souls from Christ or by killing them, potential recruits for the Lord’s cause are lost. This is a sad state indeed!

Nevertheless, despite the abuse of the image, the idea that we are at war with the spiritual forces of darkness in the heavenly realm is a potent one indeed. When we consider the vast power of our true Enemy, we recognize that we are not going to be able to stand against him alone (cf. Jeremiah 10:23). We are going to need all the help we can get, and that is why Paul encourages believers to be “strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might” (Ephesians 6:10). It is only through Christ that we will be able to overcome.

We also recognize that a state of war demands certain perspectives and attitudes. Just as soldiers must be properly trained and equipped for battle, we also must have a proper understanding of God’s word and must wear the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18). Just as soldiers fighting alongside each other develop bonds that endure for as long as life continues and are far deeper than most can understand in order to stay alive and keep one another alive, so also Christians are to have tight bonds in the faith, working together in order to stay spiritually alive and to keep each other spiritually alive (Hebrews 10:24-25, Galatians 6:1-3). Just as soldiers on the front lines must be constantly vigilant and singlemindedly devoted to the task before them, so Christians are to be vigilant against the schemes of the devil and devoted to God’s purposes (Ephesians 6:10-18, 1 Peter 4:7).

Yet, in the end, this is no ordinary war. We have not been instructed to make some great forward advance against the enemy. Instead, we are charged to “stand firm” (Ephesians 6:11, 13-14). We are to hold our ground– perhaps not to advance, but certainly not to run away!

We see this situation illustrated in the book of Revelation. Jesus encourages the brethren of the seven churches of Asia, providing understanding of the rewards waiting for those who “conquer” (Revelation 2-3). We are allowed to see that a great and mighty beast has arisen to stand against the believers and to persecute them– the Roman Empire (cf. Revelation 13-18). John does not leave us in doubt as to who stands behind this beast, inspiring and empowering him– it is the dragon, Satan, our enemy (Revelation 13:3-5). What were the Christians to do?

Notice that there is no scene in which the believers take up arms and fight the beast. In fact, we do not even see the brethren protesting the beast! Instead, the believers are more concerned to fight the power behind the beast– Satan, the great dragon– and they fight him and overcome him “because because of the blood of the Lamb, and because of the word of their testimony; and they loved not their life even unto death” (Revelation 12:11)! Believers stand firm, trusting in Jesus Christ, holding fast to the message of God, even to the point of death. That is how they fought the spiritual war with the evil one!

Jesus is the one who will come and cast the beast and the dragon into the lake of fire; sure, great armies follow Him, but they follow without weapons, and are spectators for the event (Revelation 19:11-20:10). Jesus will advance and destroy the power of evil; we must stand firm.

Let no one be deceived: we are in the midst of a great and terrible spiritual conflict. It is not a conflict in which we asked to participate, nor would we ever desire to have such a conflict. Nevertheless, the conflict has gone on long before our time and very well may continue long after we have passed on. Let us arise and fight the good fight of faith, keeping in mind with whom we are to fight and with whom we are not to fight (cf. 2 Timothy 4:7). Let us stand firm against the spiritual forces of darkness while doing all that we can to persuade those deceived by those powers to come out and join the Lord’s side. Let us stand firm, holding fast to the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony, doing all things, so that we may have the victory!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Our Conflict

Our Need For Others

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him that is alone when he falleth, and hath not another to lift him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have warmth; but how can one be warm alone? And if a man prevail against him that is alone, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).

God created mankind to be a social creature. As an individual alone in a hostile world, one person does not seem to stand much of a chance. In larger numbers, however, mankind can dominate the environment and provide all kinds of services for one another. For better or worse, human beings need their fellow human beings.

It is tragic in many ways that our current society tends to exalt self-sufficiency, as if anyone has ever succeeded truly on his or her own. Humans were never designed to be “self-sufficient.” There has not been one person who truly “made it” by merely “pulling up his own bootstraps.” Somehow, somewhere, there have always been people providing assistance, be it instruction, financial or material support, or some other such thing. Nevertheless, how many people withdraw themselves into their own worlds and attempt to handle all of life’s circumstances on their own? How often are such people depressed, discouraged, in despair, and miserable?

Our Creator knows quite well that we are unable to function on our own, no matter how strongly we may seek to protest. One of the first lessons in wisdom is that we are not sufficient in and of ourselves. Our ways lead to death (Proverbs 14:12). It is not within us to guide our own steps (Jeremiah 10:23). We must lean on the Lord: that requires some humility and the swallowing of pride, but without doing so, we cannot be saved (1 Peter 5:6-7)!

Because we cannot function on our own, God, in His infinite wisdom, established the church, and composed it as a body– Christ is its Head (Ephesians 5:23), and individual believers make up the various components of the body, working together, supporting one another in times of joy or despair (1 Corinthians 12:12-27). As man cannot make it alone physically, he cannot think to make it alone spiritually. Just as mankind comes together in communities, so God has established His community for His people.

Local churches may have their ups and downs, and they may not function entirely as their Lord intended. That is why it is so incumbent on every believer to recognize the lie and deception of society– that somehow they can do it all on their own, physically, emotionally, and spiritually– and be willing to be accountable to his or her fellow believers and seek to encourage and be encouraged by them at every opportunity (James 5:16, Hebrews 10:24-25).

The stronger the connection among fellow believers, the harder it is for the Adversary to succeed. Let us recognize our need for fellow believers, and seek to encourage and be encouraged constantly!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Our Need For Others