The Ezra Institute for Contemporary Christianity addresses a strategic need in a post Christian culture.
In a quotation that is less than adequately documented, but nevertheless commonly attributed to Martin Luther, Christians are warned of their propensity to fight the battles of other eras. Luther writes:
“If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”
No doubt, Luther’s “point” was primarily to defend the sovereignty of God in salvation. Still, the underlying message has important implications for today. As the ecclesia, the called out people of God, we must identify “where the battle rages” in our particular historical context, and then commit to remaining loyal in the battle at that precise point, not at some other point more to our liking. At the EICC we think that the challenge facing Christians today is at least two-fold.
The first of these is cultural. One does not have to be a theologian or social commentator to recognize the speed with which our culture has come to reflect the religion of Secular Humanism. In just about two generations, the entire frame of reference and the criteria for the evaluation of all ideas, policies, and increasingly law has become secular in nature. I use the term “religion” to describe Secular Humanism because Secular Humanism, like all worldviews, is a totalizing perspective. Its principle characteristic is that it seeks to ground the source of all definition and meaning in Time and Nature. In fact the word “secular” involves the meaning, “of the world.” Recourse to revelation from God, the Sovereign Word of God and the eternal counsel of His will for understanding is deemed irrelevant by such an outlook.
Given that the underlying conflict involves the most basic of assumptions, and not merely methodologies and conclusions, it is not surprising that one of the most visible marks of a secularizing society is an open and growing hostility toward the Christian faith generally, and toward expressions of the Lordship of Jesus Christ specifically. When man and his reason are held to be at the centre of all things, or are considered the beginning of all things, no other gods need apply. In such a world man has become the source of law, liberty, salvation, and even life itself. From these assumptions will flow a systematic anthropology which serves as the interpretive framework for determining what will be considered both plausible and the ultimate good.
The results of this social experiment – man as the centre of all things – are tragically manifest all around us. They can be seen in the breakdown of the family, social decay, decadence, violence in our cities and communities, in the redefinition of marriage, the redefinition of sexuality and gender, and in the actions of an increasingly invasive secular state intent on exerting its ideological influence over education, churches and individuals.
Unknown to many will be Canada’s alarming suicide statistics, which suggest that what is being created in such a society is not a culture of hope and life but rather one of death and despair.
That these results are predicted in the book of Proverbs will come as a surprise only to the current generation, the first in centuries to be biblically illiterate: “But he who sins against me injures himself; all those who hate me love death” (Prov. 8:36).
The second challenge, it might be said, is from within the church. I think it is a truism to say that “as the church goes, so goes the culture.” After all, it is not the non-believer who is to be the ethical preservative – the salt of the earth – and who is to live and work in the presence of God – the light of the world (Matt. 5). This is the mandate of redeemed men and women, filled and led by the Holy Spirit, whose mature faith James tells us will be evidenced by their good works (Jas. 2), and who will in all endeavours, whether in word or deed, seek to honour Christ and to bring glory to God (Col. 3:17). This should make clear the need for evangelism and conversion, leading to discipleship and faithfulness to all that Christ taught and commanded.
We agree with those who see a sort of functional dualism at work in large swaths of the church today. This dualism expresses itself most obviously in the unwitting adoption of humanistic premises that would invoke false distinctions between the sacred and secular, public and private, fact and value, and the material and spiritual realms. The Bible knows nothing of these distinctions. The Psalmist (24:1) writes that “the earth is the LORD’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it.” Countless other passages in both Testaments confirm this Lordship and authority of Jesus Christ over all aspects of creation and human experience. Simply put, all of life is religious and is a context for faithful testimony to the supremacy of Jesus Christ who is the Lord of all (Col. 1:15-20).
As the church surrenders to these humanistic assumptions, it necessarily retreats to practicing an essentially privatized and mostly pietistic Christian faith. As a private religious matter then, the Gospel concedes its authority and distinctive message of hope and truth.
Many readers will be aware that in our day, what constitutes the Gospel is not entirely agreed upon. This is true even among committed Christians whose self-evident love for the Lord is not in question. And there is certainly room for varying levels of optimism in terms of the Gospel's progress in history. But we think it needs to be said that when the church loses its vision for the authority of Christ both in heaven and on earth, and the fullness and scope of the redemptive power and purposes of God in history, then what remains is in danger of becoming a truncated Gospel with limited application to our lives.
Describing the modern church's condition under the effects of these humanistic assumptions, Lesslie Newbigin writes that what we are left with is a church that has essentially “…secured for itself a continuing place, at the cost of surrendering the crucial field… it is not that the church can’t be a protagonist for certain values, that it can’t have success… the church can grow in numbers, people can be encouraged… but the awesome and winsome claim of Jesus Christ to alone be the Lord of the world, is effectively silenced.”[i]
While agreeing with Newbigin about the impotence of a domesticated and privatized Gospel in confronting sin and proclaiming the Lordship of Christ (Ps. 115), experience is proving that, however unintentional, this surrender of the public realm in order for the church “to secure its continuing place”, may itself prove a naïve strategy.
Insurmountable as these difficulties can sometimes appear when viewed by sight, the Gospel of Jesus Christ remains the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16). And the same resurrection power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead (Phil. 3:10), has the power to reconcile, renew, and transform all of human experience. The arm of the Lord has not become short. And so we work. Not because we think we can wield the power of the Spirit, bringing in the Kingdom of God by our efforts as if we were the architects. Rather because we are called to be workers in the Kingdom, and godly labour done according to Scripture and for His glory is never done in vain (1 Cor. 15:58).
The Way Forward
As the challenge is two-fold, then so too are the efforts of the Institute.
First, we want to engage, with growing effectiveness, those who would be the cultural influencers of our time, including those skeptical of the Christian faith. We are doing this through credible Christian apologetics and social criticism by means of writing, speaking, and media opportunities.
Second, our goal is to be a resource for pastors, church leaders, and thoughtful lay persons in order that they might be better equipped to formulate, articulate, and effectively defend a biblically faithful Christian philosophy of life over and against all non-believing philosophies.
And we are committed to these two tasks through four channels.
Jubilee is the Institute's tri-annual research publication. Each issue addresses a particular aspect of human experience and seeks to unpack in a meaningful way what we believe are biblically faithful understandings. The content of Jubilee is most often provided by scholars and theologians, some of whom are also Fellows of the Institute.
Our “How Then Shall We Answer” conference series is proving to be an important time of worship, teaching, personal fellowship and strengthening of the body of Christ. The conference has grown each year and we look forward to many more years of challenging biblical instruction.
We continue to provide keynote speaking, preaching and teaching into varied settings. Our experience is that Christians from every walk of life are hungry for a public Gospel that can be winsomely presented and defended as the objective truth about the human condition, about what is real, about the scope and limits of human knowledge, and about ethics, how we ought to live.
Finally, we conduct training seminars such as our Leadership Roundtable for pastors and ministry leaders, as well as summer schools and student curriculum programs like the Christian Legal Institute and Veritas Youth week . As resources become available we hope to create additional opportunities for more intensive and personal instruction.
These four streams of activity by the EICC are undergirded by four core values. They are Regeneration, Education, Apologetics and Proclamation (REAP). In closing I will outline just two of these.
The first is Regeneration. Undergirded by a distinctly Biblical foundation and the commitment to prayer, the EICC is concerned for transformation and cultural engagement at all levels, beginning with the individual, followed by the family, the community, the academy, and the socio-cultural order, seeking to apply the Lordship of Christ in all areas of life and thought (1 Tim. 6:3-5; 2 Cor. 10:4-5; Ps. 2:10-12; Gen. 1:28, 9:1; Matt. 28:18).
Critically, the goal of the EICC is not to capture the machinery of the state, nor is it the Christianization of society. Our prayer is that through the regenerating and renewing work of the Holy Spirit, men's and women’s hearts will be inclined to seek first the Kingdom of God, and to regulate their lives in terms of God’s revealed will in Scripture. We are more than content to leave the outcome of that to the Lord.
The second is Apologetics. The Apostle Peter instructs believers that they should “always be ready to give a defense [apologia] to everyone who asks for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15). The defense of the Christian faith (apologetics), then, is the responsibility of every Christian. As believers become better equipped to defend their faith, they find greater confidence and boldness to carry the message of the Gospel to every dark place. The EICC seeks to take every thought into captivity to Christ by equipping believers to reach, impact, and revive a nation for Christ and His Kingdom. We do not assert that Christianity is probably true, or that it appears to be the best explanation; rather that it is a total certainty which rests upon Scripture's self-attestation as to its authority and truthfulness. Through biblically faithful apologetics, the EICC endeavours to support and equip believers and Christian leaders so they may articulate, defend, and manifest the truth and righteousness of Christ and His Kingdom (Tit. 2:8; Prov. 22:6; 2 Tim. 2:15).
What is the purpose of the EICC? To encourage, support, strengthen, and call the church back to her proper place as the “pillar and support of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15) so that “through the church the manifest wisdom of God might be made known…” (Eph. 3:10).
[i] Lesslie Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture (Michigan: Wm. B. Erdmans Publishing Co., 1986), p. 19