First Things

By Pastor James Brown Jr.

“And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in.” –Isaiah 58:12

Over the last 20 years, our ministry has always consisted of, though inconsistently many times, a desire to be a repairer of the breach in today’s American culture.

In the early years of ministry, we were focused too directly upon civil society without a proper focus on the foundations that build Christian civilizations. In other words, we were focused on the results instead of the necessary ingredients. This is a problem because without the right components it will never yield the desired product.

Over the years we have become more and more convinced that the primary foundation for the family and state to flourish is the Church. This is not to say that there are not simultaneous effects, but it must be understood that the first priority of repairing our ruptured society begins and flows from the Church.

So, if the Church is not in a proper state, or at least to a degree high enough to influence society in a biblical direction, the first order of business is the reformation of the Church. Righteousness cannot flourish in a society that is not being built upon the right foundation.

Certainly, the work of repairing foundations in our society must include all three God-ordained institutions—Church, family, and civil society. Still yet, Paul identifies the Church as the “pillar and ground of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15). Without the biblical source and foundation of truth, there is no hope for the family or the state.

Some might argue against my premise by saying that Jesus is the source and foundation of truth not the Church. Most definitely we agree that Jesus is the truth, but this same Jesus is also the cornerstone of the Church. He is the primary and essential source that gives truth to His Church—the body of Christ—and it would be absurd to separate the head from the body or a foundation from its building. They belong and are a part of each other. Therefore, just as Jesus said He was the light of the world, He also describes His followers as the light of the world because He is the source and foundation of their being.

In this sense, Christ has commissioned His Church to be His visible representation in the world. You cannot have Christ in this age without the Church; neither can you have the Church without Christ. They are one of another.

As we survey our society, we see the collapse of the family and society looming large in daily news reports. Yet, the very reason for this destruction is due to the doctrinal and practical apostasy and/or apathy of the American Church. We should not be surprised at the sexual licentiousness of Hollywood when the producers, writers, and actors are all corrupt. Neither should we be surprised at the corruption of society, much less Hollywood, when the pulpits are filled with pedophiles, pornographers, playboys, and pilferers.
“Woe to her that is filthy and polluted, to the oppressing city! She obeyed not the voice; she received not correction; she trusted not in the LORD; she drew not near to her God. Her princes within her are roaring lions; her judges are evening wolves; they gnaw not the bones till the morrow. Her prophets are light and treacherous persons: her priests have polluted the sanctuary, they have done violence to the law.” –Zephaniah 3:1-4

Based on Scripture as our final authority, and the practical revelation of history, we believe that as the Church goes, so goes the family; as goes the family, so goes the state.
“For the leaders of this people cause them to err; and they that are led of them are destroyed.” –Isaiah 9:16

“The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and my people love to have it so: and what will ye do in the end thereof?” –Jeremiah 5:31

“And it shall be, as with the people, so with the priest...” –Isaiah 24:2

The elephant in the Church is far more destructive than the elephant in Hollywood; yet, we continue to spew vitriolic attacks upon those who are the byproducts of our own corruption. Although many agitators excuse it as righteous indignation, in most cases it is nothing more than the pot calling the kettle black. Until our good works testify of the righteousness of Christ working in us, our words have little effect.
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” –Matthew 5:16

The words of the first century Church were powerful because of the power that was at work in them. Today, we have it backward. We attempt to produce powerful words hoping it will affect our hearts. It is a form of works salvation. We use vitriol to condemn the Sodomite thinking it will outweigh our own sin. But it is our very sin that is paving the way for unrestrained sin in society.

Now, before anyone makes a false assessment of what was just said, please let me explain. All men are inherently evil and responsible for their own sin. Harvey Weinstein has a perverted heart despite any failures of the Church. Weinstein assaulted women because his heart is wicked. Aside from this, the Church does impact society. The purer the Church in its doctrine and practice the more impact it has in restraining public sin. Although we do, as the Church, play a role in restraining public sin, our biggest role is in advancing public righteousness.

This is first the product of the power of Christ in us by making us new creatures in Him. Righteousness is advanced in society when we are doing good works.

Second, we proclaim and publish the good news in the demonstration of the power of Christ in our good works, the Spirit implants the Word in the hearts of sinners to birth spiritual life in them. Righteousness is therefore advanced in society as we fulfill the Great Commission.

Third, righteousness is advanced through the restraining of sin when the fear of the power of the Holy Spirit falls upon society. When the Church is feared men will hide their sins.

In spite of these things, we must remember that we are not the institution of the state. The Church does not possess the sword to restrain sin; we possess the Spirit to transform sinners. As God’s agent of grace, we are to be irresistible to the world; not by conforming to the world but the world desiring to be conformed to us.
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” –Matthew 5:16

“Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.” –1 Peter 2:12

“Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee. For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the LORD shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising. Lift up thine eyes round about, and see: all they gather themselves together, they come to thee: thy sons shall come from far, and thy daughters shall be nursed at thy side. Then thou shalt see, and flow together, and thine heart shall fear, and be enlarged; because the abundance of the sea shall be converted unto thee, the forces of the Gentiles shall come unto thee.” –Isaiah 60:1-5 [emphasis mine]

“For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth. And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” –Acts 13:47-48

“Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.  In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord. Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe. If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad? But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth.” –1 Corinthians 14:20-25 [emphasis mine]

Irresistible Grace is not just a Doctrine of Grace but an effectual practice of grace.

Everything must have context and in our discussion, we are speaking of a society that was built upon Christianity only to have forsaken its founding principles in order to practice idolatry and its accompanying abominations. In such a context, it is the Church that first loses its purity and power. Unregenerate men are already in such a state and there is nothing for them to lose. What happens is when the Church loses its dominating power, sinners are free to fulfill the lusts of their flesh.

On the flip side, it is the Church that must first become pure and powerful before a society can be influenced by righteousness.

In our specific American example, our corruptions have taken away our power just as Samson lost his. The Spirit of God departed from Samson due to his corrupt worldview that led to the transgression of God’s commandments. So too, is the Church today. We rise up and shake ourselves thinking we can defeat the Philistines when we have become a joke due to the loss of our moral authority.
“And she said, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. And he awoke out of his sleep, and said, I will go out as at other times before, and shake myself. And he wist not that the LORD was departed from him.” –Judges 16:20

God will not use the corruption of those who profess the name of Christ to advance righteousness. He will, however, use the corruption of the wicked to purify His saints.

Today, we are witnessing a purifying of the Church. Our shame is being revealed for all to see and by all indications, it is going to get much worse. But God will not be mocked, especially by those who profess the name of Christ.
“He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?” –Hebrews 10:28-29

Our present era is a time to reform, reunite, rebuild, and re-engage. Yet, if we are going to accomplish this we must begin with first things or we will only be found as one who mocks among the children of men (Genesis 19:14). God will not be mocked but we surely will be if we continue in our disobedience to God.
“Behold, I will corrupt your seed, and spread dung upon your faces, even the dung of your solemn feasts; and one shall take you away with it.” –Malachi 2:3

If we do not recover true doctrine, worship, discipline, and evangelism, not in theory, but in real, active, and effective faith and repentance, we will never be able to influence, much less reclaim, the family or the state.

What we need is active faith and repentance by the power of the Holy Spirit through the faithful preaching and teaching of the Word, the right administration of the Sacraments, and the faithful exercise of ecclesiastical government. Without these things, our efforts to oppose transgression and rebuild a city on a hill will fail. It may make us feel spiritual, but it will be as useless as you know what on a boar hog.

Without the true worship of the Triune God, we cannot stop or even slow down the collapse of our society. Therefore, our focus and work must begin with first things. This is not a popular message among professing Christians because it is a message that begins with us—repentance in the Church rather than condemning, blame-shifting rhetoric directed at those outside the Church.

Only the effective and powerful work of the Holy Spirit in Word and Sacrament can make us ready to go reclaim the land. Without it, we will only experience the defeat that comes from the work of the flesh. Agitating society by the power of the flesh is not the need of the hour; what we need is intercessors who will stand in the gap and make up the hedge.
“And I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none.” –Ezekiel 22:30

“Let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare thy people, O LORD, and give not thine heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them: wherefore should they say among the people, Where is their God?” –Joel 2:17

If there is any hope for future restoration, it will only come if God’s people surrender to Christ and are willing to be reformed by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Word. Only then will the broken down walls of Christ’s holy Church be set in good order. If not, we will surely perish.

It should be noted that the discussion above has to do with first things. There are times and seasons for everything (Ecclesiastes 2:1-8). There is a time to build the kingdom internally and a time to expand the kingdom externally. We must be wise master-builders (1 Corinthians 3:10) knowing the times and seasons (1 Chronicles 12:32).

There is a time to engage, fight, and conquer; but, there is first a time to prepare, plan, and train. There are endless examples of those who got their dander up and incited others to charge the gates of hell only to be take taken captive by the snares of the Devil.

Thankfully, the Lord has graciously spared us from many of these same mistakes in the past. Yet, there is arising a new generation who are hellbent on repeating the same mistakes we have seen destroy countless lives, marriages, families, and churches in the past. We can only warn those who would seek to discount the first things in hope of immediate glory. Nevertheless, we must faithfully establish the first things necessary for regeneration, revival, and reformation if there is any hope for restoration.

Yes, we must boldly oppose sin and defend the faith, but what will be the end of those things if we are not in a right state with God?
“Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” –Matthew 7:15-20

We cannot produce righteousness by the works of the flesh; we need the power of the Holy Spirit. This cannot be attained by forsaking the very means of our power, which is Christ's Church. If we do, it will only be at our own peril. Judgment begins with the Church, the house of God; if we are not in order, society will never be ordered under Christ.

Regeneration, revival, and reformation will not come by our prideful fits of rage, but in humbling ourselves before the Lord our God. May God have mercy on us!