From Issachar there were 200 leaders and all their relatives at their command — they understood the times and knew what Israel should do. (1 Chronicles 12:32)
At my Bible study on Friday, this verse came up and everybody jumped on board. “We need to ‘know the times’” they chanted and – when it came time for prayer – they prayed. It is a good prayer. I see that the Church today does not know the times, but more than that it seems the Church in its quest to know the times is looking in the wrong place. They look to the world to tell them the times. I had a pastor who would start every sermon pointing to the screen which showed something from CNN or USAToday or some stats from a Gallup poll. These referents drove the sermon more than that Scripture verse he had us stand while he read. And, since the world does not have the same ideas of morality, the sermon usually went between despair over the actions of the world and scolding over the Church’s need to stand up for morality.
Yet, I believe setting up a clash of moralities is not “understanding the times”. It is letting the world set the agenda. The following statement by Ellul has bearing here, In human eyes … morality … tends in the direction of a greater mastery of self, while the Christian life is an ever deepening belonging to God.
Another contrast … derives from the fact that God’s commands will never aim at bringing a man to realize an ideal, which all the moralities of the world tend to do. God’s commands always relate to an action connected with the establishment and proclamation of his covenant, with his promised kingdom which is close upon us. Therefore, in Christian Ethics it will never be a matter of doing some good or another, but of carrying out a certain task relating to the kingdom of God and to the witness which God calls on us to bear. (Jacques Ellul, To Will and To Do, Philadelphia, Pilgrim Press 1969 p84)
As the church looks to morality, rather than the Kingdom of God, to set the agenda, they succumb to the temptation of considering “the moral improvement of lost people” their job, as if the moral Pagan is closer to the Kingdom than the immoral Pagan. This has further resulted in non-christian groups moving closer to the flock in people’s eyes because of their moral actions.
Somebody, I believe it was Millard Erickson, wrote “The quest for ‘relevance’ often assumes that people are asking the right questions”. Knowing the times means seeing the questions, the actions and the commitments for what they are – a matter of allegiance. Biblical Christianity is the movement from the kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of the beloved Son (Colossians 1:13). Before that transfer, even the good done (the morality) is handed over to sin as weapons of unrighteousness (Romans 6). The task of the Church is a ministry of reconciliation, urging people to be reconciled with God (2 Corinthians 5).