Do you need to return to the Lord (part 2)?

Yesterday I posted some challenging verses from Amos, and asked “How do these verse apply to God’s people today?”

It’s usually not possible – or at least very unwise – to give exactly the same application today as was given in the Old Testament. Too much has changed since then: language and culture for a start – not to mention the incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ and the gift of the Spirit!

One simple thing to do is to take what God says to national Israel, and look to apply it to the church. But if that’s all we do, then often that’s not enough. Theologically, too much has changed since then.

A helpful guide is to understand that the blessings and warnings that we receive are more likely to be in the spiritual realm than the physical. I don’t want to make the difference between physical and spiritual too great, it’s not as if there are only physical blessings in the Old Testament, and only spiritual blessings in the New. There is both physical and spiritual in both Testaments. But it is true to say that in the Old Testament, spiritual blessings and warnings tend to be expressed in physical ways.

This is very easy to demonstrate. In the Old Testament, the chapter that best expresses Old Covenant blessings is Deuteronomy chapter 28. The chapter that best expresses New Covenant blessings is Matthew 5 (the beatitudes). Compare “The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks.” (Deut. 28:4) with “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matt. 5:6). It’s the same truth being expressed in both cases, but can you see the contrast?

So whereas the warnings in Amos were primarily physical, when I preach this passage to a congregation today, I’m going to make sure my application is primarily spiritual. So perhaps I can re-interpret Amos 4:4-11 to make the application to today’s church clear*. It will probably help to re-read Amos 4:4-11 before you continue, if you’ve not done so already.

“Go to chapel and sin;
go to church and sin yet more.
Do your good works every morning,
your direct debits every three days.
Put your gift aid forms on public display,
pin-up the record of your gifts —
boast about them, you Brits,
for this is what you love to do,” declares the Sovereign Lord.

“I gave you empty Sunday school classes in every city
and a lack of youth in every town,
yet you have not returned to me,” declares the Lord.

“I also withheld the local community from you
when Christmas was just three weeks away.
I sent a congregation to one church,
but withheld them from another.
One parish had revival;
another had none and dried up.
Ministers staggered from church to church for a congregation
but did not get enough to pay their stipends,
yet you have not returned to me,” declares the Lord.

“Many times I struck your theological colleges and seminaries,
I struck them with modernism and liberalism.
Liberal scholars devoured your bibles and text books,
yet you have not returned to me,” declares the Lord.

“I sent heresy among you as I did to Rome.
I closed your buildings through dry rot and vandalism,
along with your vicarages in the country.
I filled your church councils with the stench of your decline,
yet you have not returned to me,” declares the Lord.

“I overthrew some of you as I overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah.
You were like a burning stick snatched from the fire,
yet you have not returned to me,” declares the Lord.

Is that what the Lord saying to your church or denomination?

Tomorrow, I’ll continue these thoughts with some more specific application, and a look at why blessings and warnings tend to be physical in the Old Testament but spiritual in the New.

* This application will probably be more helpful to readers on this side of the Atlantic. Perhaps some of you who read this blog in other parts of the world would like to post your suggestions of how Amos 4 could be applied in your context. If you’re doing so on your own blog, please add a link in the comments so we can all benefit.

Articles in this series:

  1. Do you need to return to the Lord?
  2. Do you need to return to the Lord (part 2)? <-- This article
  3. Do you need to return to the Lord (part 3)?
  4. Do you need to return to the Lord (part 4)?