One of the debates in the church is about what we are here for. The two sides have their favourite passages. Evangelicals focus on:
Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
And Mark 1:
Liberals much prefer Luke 4:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.
With the result that they spend their time stressing political involvement to achieve freedom for the oppressed, health care for the blind and sentence reductions for the criminal. The problem is, of course, that Jesus didn’t. If you measure the success of his ministry against these goals interpreted literally, he scored maybe 25% (good news to the poor) with cheats on the blind by healing them miraculously and the demon oppressed by exorcising them. The later two seldom form a focus of the ordinary ministry of the church.
The solution surely lies in interpreting the Luke passage non-literally: providing freedom to prisoners is about releasing them from their spiritual imprisonment, recovery of sight to the blind is mainly about helping people discover the truth about the spiritual realm, whilst freeing the oppressed is indeed about removing the demonic oppressors in their lives, but not normally by exorcism.
Rather these effects are achieved when people truly repent and become Jesus’ disciples. By the power of the Spirit when we are born again we see the kingdom of heaven. By the power of the spirit we are able to break the oppressions and captivities that Satan has placed over us. But these require people to be challenged to change themselves, not merely to change the system. This is far more challenging; telling people they are sinners in need of a saviour is not the news they want to hear, so we too often end up assuring them that they’ve done nothing wrong – and so are guilty of proclaiming ‘Peace, peace’ when there is no peace with God. Actually the church needs to learn from the Alcoholics Anonymous programme, whose first step is recognising that you have a problem. We all have a problem with sin, and the way to release is to find God’s power to release us. Instead the fashion today is to run away from such clarity by joining the world in being non-judgemental, which ultimately means declaring ‘Peace, peace’ when there is no peace with God.
Of course this isn’t easy or straight forward – the temptation to indulge in criticising ‘them’ in sermons is always there, whilst in our ordinary lives offering an appropriate challenge to what we see as wrong in another is HARD. What we surely do have a duty to do is to refuse to commend behaviour that we know is wrong when the issue emerges in passing: the way that drunk driving has been clearly delegitimised in polite company makes clear that is possible to bring challenge. As ambassadors for Jesus we must not be heard to condone what is wrong; but getting it right isn’t easy; all suggestions welcome!