Friday, March 22, 2013

Holy Week, Rob Bell, and the Pilgrim's Progress through Vanity Fair

As we approach Holy Week this year, my contemplation of those mighty acts by which Christ secured our redemption has followed a rather strange and circuitous route that began when I read an article on Stand Firm about former evangelical pastor, Rob Bell, speaking at a forum at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, and, during the course of his remarks, saying that he now supports gay marriage.  (As one commentator noted, that's like going to Iowa to announce your support for corn.)

It is astounding how much press Rob Bell has gotten since he denied the reality of hell in his book, "Love Wins," and since he resigned as pastor of Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids Michigan, more than a year ago.  Currently, Bell is reported to be working on a television series for the ABC network.

The piece I was reading concluded: "In 2011, Time magazine named Bell to its list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World."

How and why did the media choose to make a celebrity out of a pastor of a medium-sized megachurch in Grand Rapids, Michigan?   I know several megachurch pastors who speak to a great many more people each week and have been doing it a lot longer than Rob did at Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids Michigan.  But their books will never rank among secular best sellers.  They will never become one of Time magazine's "100 Most Influential People in the World."  And they will never have a show on a mainstream television network.  Why is that?

It is an age-old question: "Lord,why do the wicked prosper?  Why do they have power?  Why do the godly seem to be silenced in their presence and ignored by the world?"

When I read about Rob Bell's latest pronouncement and reflected on his rise to fame, the immediate thought that came to my mind was from Luke's Gospel,
“And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will.  If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”  And Jesus answered him, “It is written,
“‘You shall worship the Lord your God,
  and him only shall you serve.’”  (Luke 4:5-8) 
Recipe for Satanic success:  1. Learn to speak really well.  2.  Constantly adjust your appearance to the latest fashion.   3.  Rise to prominence as a Christian pastor and then, once you have gained the public's attention, gradually begin to deny everything Christianity believes.

The example of Rob Bell solidified in my mind a realization that had been growing for quite some time, namely that there are individuals in this world who possess fame and power precisely because it has been given to them by the prince of this world, who has the power to do so, in order to advance his purposes.  It is no wonder that Rob Bell gets accolades from the secular world for telling them what they want to hear.

"For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions..." (1 Timothy 4:3)

Listening to Rob Bell, the secular world can delude itself into thinking that all of Christianity will eventually come into line and validate their lifestyles.

The Apostle Paul speaks of "following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience" (Eph. 2:2), by which he means the devil.  

It should not surprise us that the values of this world are not reconcilable with the values of the Kingdom of God.  Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36).  But, when it comes to the great acts of redemption that are commemorated in Holy Week, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday, we must remember that Jesus, speaking of his death, said, "'Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.  And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.' He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die." (John 12:31-33)

The victory won during Jesus' Passion and Resurrection is a victory over sin but also over Satan's power and reign.  Jesus' death freed us from the penalty for our sins and broke the dominion of evil.  His death and resurrection life are freeing us from the power of sin and the influence of evil.  And his coming again will free us from the presence of sin and put us beyond the reach of evil for all eternity. 

But on the way to that Celestial City, we pilgrims on this earth must encounter our Vanity Fair.  Blessed is the one who is not deceived by it.  As John Bunyan, wrote:

Then I saw in my dream, that when [the two pilgrims] were got out of the wilderness, they presently saw a town before them, and the name of that town is "Vanity"; and at the town there is a fair kept, called "Vanity Fair"; it is kept all the year long. It bears the name of Vanity Fair, because the town where 'tis kept is lighter than vanity; and also because all that is there sold, or that comes thither is vanity.  As is the saying of the wise, "All that comes is vanity."
This fair is no new erected business; but a thing of ancient standing. I will show you the original of it.

Almost five thousand years agone, there were pilgrims walking to the Celestial City, as these two [pilgrims] are; and Beelzebub, Apollyon, and Legion, with their companions, perceiving by the path that the pilgrims made, that their way to the City lay through this town of Vanity, they contrived here to set up a fair; a fair wherein should be sold of all sorts of vanity, and that it should last all the year long. Therefore at this fair are all such merchandise sold: as houses, lands, trades, places, honours, preferments, titles, countries, kingdoms; lusts, pleasures, and delights of all sorts...
Now, as I said, the way to the Celestial City lies just through this town, where the lusty fair is kept; and he that will go to the City, and yet not go through this town, must needs go out of the world.
"Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world." 1 Corinthians 5:10
[Jesus], himself, when here, went through this town to his own country, and that upon a fair day too; and as I think, it was Beelzebub, the chief lord of this fair, that invited him to buy of his vanities; yea, would have made him lord of the fair, would he but have done him reverence as he went through the town.  Yea, because he was such a person of honour, Beelzebub had him from street to street, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a little time, that he might, if possible, allure that Blessed One to cheapen and buy some of his vanities.  But he had no mind to the merchandise; and therefore left the town without laying out so much as one farthing upon these vanities.
Rob Bell told the media that the evangelical subculture is dying.  No, Rob, it is liberal Christianity that is dying--look at the numbers.  But far more than that, the way of the world is death--eternal, spiritual death.
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.  And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.  (1 John 2:15-17)
My prayer for all of us, including Rob Bell, is that we will turn away from the world's allure and consider the true cost of discipleship.  This week, we walk the way of our Lord, the Way of the Cross, and the way to eternal life.  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!

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