God’s Voice in the Financial Crisis
“v29 This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who … v30 who buy as though they had no goods, v31 and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.” (1 Cor 7: 29-31)
by Dr. John Yates
In the last two days I have personally received invitations from churches about how to ensure my finances are sound. Whilst I believe that such principles exist in scripture, this is NOT God’s main message for this hour. He is speaking in a way that is totally counter – cultural to the world and to much of the church. He has had enough of therapeutic, comfort driven, sensuous, worldly, present –focussed and utopian popular preaching that has created a culture of compromise. What he has to say is far more serious than about money. It is, necessarily, about Christ.
The title of this piece, The End of the World as we Know It, is deliberately ambiguous. It certainly implies the current economic crisis centred on the United States signals the terminal decline of a situation we have all grown up with – the dominance of the West and America in particular. It more importantly states that the reason for this catastrophe is the failure of the church to impart to Western culture a sense of the coming End of all things with the imminent Return of Jesus.
Whilst this “shock and awe” on a global scale is encouraging some Christians to believe in world wide revival, it has never been the case that material impoverishment alone leads people to turn to God. One other factor is always needed, a recovery of the truth of the gospel. This is my centre point.
Some saw it Coming
In a presentation given on behalf of The Joseph Company in Kansas City last year, I heard Bob Fraser predict exactly what we have been recently witnessing in US and global markets. Bob entitled his talk, The Perfect Storm, arguing that a once in a lifetime confluence of economic factors would see his country lose its superpower status in the way Britain did in the century before. Bob’s numerous graphs include what we have all become familiar with, “sub prime mortgages” . Lots of other things were covered e.g. aging populations, oil prices, credit card debt, pension funds (superannuation) and much more than I could comprehend. The only thing that has kept the economic turning over in the United States (and so globally) has been foreign countries (China, Japan, Saudi Arabia) purchasing American companies and government bonds. In other words, the global economy is at the mercy of non – Western (and non – democratic) powers who have been buying back American debt. This entire scenario was unsustainable.
We have been here Before
As the Roman Empire collapsed in the fifth century, many saw this as a punishment by the old Roman gods for abandoning their worship in favour of Jesus. The Church Father St Augustine wrote an apologetic work, The City of God , to rebut this thinking. He taught that history is made up of two cities or societies that are based on two incompatible loves. “Accordingly, two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord. ”” Augustine’s position is biblical, “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” (Heb 13:14)
These two cities are incompatible, but “are confused and mingled amongst themselves in this world until the final judgment separates them.” Then the city of man will be destroyed and the city of God saved. God gave Rome lordship over the world so that through civil peace the gospel might be spread, once that historical mission was completed the empire fell as a result of its sin and idolatry. This will always be the destiny of all human empires until the End. In line with Augustine’s thesis we should not at all be surprised by what is happening around us.
Are the Current Events Apocalyptic?
Bob Fraser speaks of the 4 winds of the book of Revelation as economic, military, political and religious forces. Are we then to understand that the present crisis is apocalyptic, that it is pointing to the soon end of the world? The answer is “Yes”, but not as generally understood. Since Jesus is “the first and the last” (Rev 1:17; Rev 2:8; Rev 22:13), “the last days” began when Jesus, the “last one”, came . Since the Lord sent his Spirit into the world everything is incorporated into God’s apocalyptic plan.
This is why Peter uses such strong prophetic language on the day of Pentecost, “v18 in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. v19 And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; v20 the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. v21 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’”(Acts 2:18-21).
Since such language is typically used in the Old Testament of the collapse of (evil) empires once they have fulfilled God’s purposes, the current global shift from confidence to pessimism and from Western to Eastern power is definitely apocalyptic. Apocalyptic language always symbolizes that God is in the business of universal upheaval . This is the inner spiritual meaning of the present global economic chaos – it signals that every foundation of the present cosmos will be destroyed (2 Pet 3:10). The result of such an insight is inevitable, “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness” (2 Pet 3:11).
It is impossible to truly believe that we are those “on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Cor 10:11) and to be motivated by the sort of greed and consumption that have become “normal” in much of the church. Only a revelation of the near return of Christ can free the church from mimicking society’s sensuousness. The Spirit is seeking to restore a core element of the preached gospel – Jesus is coming back soon to judge the living and the dead . He is seeking to relay the very foundation of much of Western Christianity – Christ (1 Cor 3:11).
The missing link – the presence of Jesus
I am not at all suggesting our central problem is a lack of a sound doctrine of the End. Nor am I advocating we whip up a frenzy about financial insecurity and present Jesus as the ultimate “security blanket”. The last thing people frightened people need today is what some have called “apocalyptic terrorism” . (They need the real Jesus.)
We need what the outpoured Spirit brought at Pentecost; he immersed the church in the presence of Christ so intensely that any commitment to anyone or anything other than Jesus became absolutely secondary. The real presence will actually conflict with the feel – good spirituality so popular today. It is a presence that communicates not only “a fragrance from life to life” but “a fragrance from death to death” (2 Cor 2:16). As such it will inevitably provoke persecution- from both outside and inside the church! Only such a manifest presence of the returning Christ can shatter the apathy to eternal realities that clouds the minds of average Australians .
What should we Do?
1. Recognise the present shaking comes from the hand of God as a merciful opportunity for a return to eternal things. Through prayer, God’s cross –shaped wisdom can be discerned at the heart of this turmoil.
2. Repent of any worldliness in our own lives as part of a deeply compromised church. “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God” (1 Pet 4:17).
3. Reorient ourselves to Jesus as our sole hope. It is time to stop singing lines like, “This is our nation, this is our land This is our future, this is our hope.” Australia is NOT our hope. It is time to move on from putting the church in a place Jesus alone occupies . To say “the local church is the hope of the world.” (Bill Hybels) is to replace Christ as the centre.
4. Throw ourselves on the mercy of God asking for cleansing and the outpouring of the Spirit.
If people as diverse as Bob Fraser and Warren Buffett (the world’s richest man) agree that this is a once in a lifetime phenomenon , then prophetically we can see it is a once in a lifetime opportunity for a global turning to Christ. Let us pray that God in sovereign grace will include our and the other Western nations in the roll call of genuine spiritual transformation.
“He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22:20)