Being Salt & Light in Our Generation
Like many of you I am very concerned at the things I see happening in our country. When I hear continuous reports of senseless violence throughout our land, like the gunning down of a young college student by three teenagers in the small Bible-belt town of Duncan Oklahoma who said they were “bored,” I wonder, “Where is the Church?” When I read where public housing and public schools of our nation are described as “mostly dreadful, dangerous, and amoral,” I wonder, “Where is the Church?” When I hear statistics that over 70% of babies born in the black community, and over 50% in the white community, are born out of wedlock I wonder, “Where is the Church?” When I hear a liberal news commentator lamenting the violence in our culture, the loss of values and the breakdown of family, I wonder, “Where is the Church?”
Is it possible that without realizing it we have lost our saltiness—our ability to have any impact on our culture—as Jesus warned in Matthew 5:13?
You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot (Matt. 5:13; NIV).
Jesus used the salt metaphor to communicate a very powerful truth. In the first century, before refrigeration, salt was used to preserve meats for long periods of time because salt restrains corruption and spoilage. Salt was also used for flavoring foods that otherwise might be rejected. Salt also has healing properties and all these factors made it very valuable in the ancient world. In fact, workers were often paid their wages in salt, which is where we get the expression of a man being “worth his salt.” But salt that had lost its pungency, tartness and strength was no longer of any value and was discarded.
Seeking Jesus for all the Wrong Reasons
I have come to the conclusion that the church in America has, to a great degree, lost its saltiness—its ability to influence society--because of a self-centered approach to the Gospel that makes personal comfort and convenience the number one priority. We preach Jesus as a means to personal happiness rather than as the End or Goal for whom no sacrifice is too great. We are like the people in John 6:26 whom Jesus chided for seeking Him for their own personal benefit.
Jesus had multiplied one lad’s lunch and fed a hungry multitude. When these same people later crossed the Sea of Galilee looking for Him, Jesus said to them, Most assuredly I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate the loaves and were filled.” In John’s gospel the miracles of Jesus are presented as signs that point to His identity as Israel’s long-awaited Messiah. Jesus is, therefore, saying to these people that they are seeking Him, not because they recognize who He is, but because of what they think they can get out of him. They see Jesus as a means to their end or goal of self-gratification.
When this is our mind-set, our whole life is lived for self and even our spirituality is tainted by our self-seeking. In his Lectures on Revival, Charles Finney tells of the many invitations he had received from churches and pastors wanting him to travel to their communities to promote revival. He says, however, “When I came to weigh their reasons, I have sometimes found every one of them to be selfish. And God would look upon every one with abhorrence.” Some wanted revival in order to raise their social status and influence. Others wanted revival to increase the numbers attending their meetings, which in turn would enable them to build new and larger buildings. Still others wanted revival so that they would feel superior to one or more congregations with whom they felt a sense of competition. They were seeking revival, but from self-centered motives. Jesus was merely a means to their end of personal success and gratification. Finney rightfully refused their requests (Charles G. Finney, Revival Lectures (Grand Rapids: Fleming H. Revell, n.d., 351).
I See a Vision of a Falling Away
In 1975, at the height of the Charismatic Renewal, I was sitting one evening cross-legged in the floor talking to the Lord. Suddenly I saw a vision of three overlapping arches, increasing in size from left to right.
I immediately knew in my heart that they represented three revivals. The first arch represented the revival we were experiencing at that time—the Charismatic Renewal. The second arch represented a second and larger revival that would emerge out of that current one and the third arch represented the final and largest revival that would emerge out of the second one.
But there was something different and unique about the second arch and I knew instinctively that it actually represented a “falling away.” As I thought on the second arch I heard the words “Jesus is a means and not an end.” I knew immediately that the Holy Spirit was saying that the next revival would be characterized, unfortunately, by Jesus being preached as a means to personal happiness and fulfillment, rather than as the End that we are to pursue and love with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.
Listen to the typical sermon today and see if Jesus is not preached as a means to personal happiness rather than an End, in and of Himself. “Come to Jesus,” we are told. “Jesus will bless you!” “Jesus will heal you!” “Jesus will prosper you!” Now, there is truth in all this but these things are by-products of the Gospel, not its essence and core. We have lost our saltiness because we have preached a human-centered gospel—what’s in it for me--rather than a Christ-centered gospel that is centered in Him and His call for us to take up our cross and follow Him.
This is crucial for, as Finney pointed out, the end of all sin is self-gratification. Whether the act of sin is lying, cheating, stealing, adultery or murder, the act is merely the means to the end of gratifying self. In our modern Gospel Jesus is presented as just another means to self-gratification. Now, this is where repentance comes in; for repentance, which comes from the Greek word metanoia, means to “change the mind.” New Testament repentance refers to a change of mind-set wherein Christ replaces the self or ego as the center or end of life. This was an integral part of Paul’s message for he summed up the content of his preaching as, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21).
We Must Purge the Message
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul emphasizes the power of the message of the Cross of Christ and stresses the importance of guarding the essence and content of that message. For example, in 1:17 he says that Christ did not send him to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power (NIV). Paul is saying that if we over-do it in trying to make the gospel more snappy, cool, and attractive to contemporary culture, we run the risk of preaching a gospel that has been emptied of its power. Is this not what has happened in the contemporary American Church?
In 2000 Sue and I were attending a week-long doctoral seminar on “Missions” at Regent University in Virginia Beach, VA. All week we discussed and heard lectures about various strategies and methodologies for bringing closure to the Great Commission. On Thursday around 4 p.m. someone suggested that we (a class of about 30 Christian leaders) pray. As Sue laid her head on the table in front of her, the Spirit of God hit her like a bolt of lightning and she began to intensely pray and intercede in the Spirit. The Holy Spirit then spoke and said, “You have been talking all week about methods and strategies for taking the Gospel to the world, but I want to purge the message you are taking.” There is no question in my mind that part of that purging involves moving from an anthropocentric (human centered) Gospel to a Christ-centered Gospel. Only a Christ-centered gospel has the power to transform lives and produce salty disciples whose very lives will impact our culture and our world.
His Priorities Must Become Our Priorities
If we are to see this nation preserved, we, as American Christians, must regain our saltiness. This means that we must move from a Christianity of comfort and convenience to a Christianity of commitment and character. This will require a shift from a faith that is centered in “me” and my desires to a faith that is centered in Christ and His kingdom, will, and purpose. But do not fear such a giving up of self for He has promised that when we seek first His kingdom, all these things will be added to you (Matt. 6:33).
There was a time when the American Church was salt, restraining evil and exerting a positive moral influence throughout society. The French sociologist, Alexis de Tocqueville, visited America in 1831 to study its institutions and discover the secret to its success. He arrived on the heels of the Second Great Awakening and at the height of the revivals led by Charles Finney. He was very impressed with the role of Christianity in America and wrote, “The religious atmosphere of the country was the first thing that struck me upon arrival in the United States” (Eddie Hyatt, America’s Revival Heritage, 83-84). Although the following quote is not found in Tocqueville's writings, it has been historically attributed to him and may have been passed along orally by someone who heard him make these remarks in a speech.
I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers, and it was not there; in her fertile fields and boundless forests, and it was not there; in her rich mines and her vast world commerce, and it was not there; in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution, and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power.
I hold out a hope that the American Church can regain its saltiness as we turn to God and truly seek Him. Five years ago I had given up hope of America ever seeing another national awakening. But one day I was surprised by the Holy Spirit as for several hours my mind and heart were flooded with expectation and hope that we could see another Great Awakening—an Awakening that will revive and renew the churches of America, impact our culture, and stem the tide of secularism, immorality, and false religion that is flooding our land. I have hope that we can once again become salt and light in this world and to our generation, but we must purge our message.
by Eddie L. Hyatt
If you would like to read more about revival in America, check out Dr. Eddie Hyatt's latest book, America's Revival Heritage, available from Amazon and at http://www.eddiehyatt.com/bookstore.html. Eddie is also available to speak on this topic and you can contact him by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.