Moore in SBTS chapel: Today’s integrity preserves the church’s mission tomorrow
The church’s compromises in pursuit of power or influence will threaten its mission in future generations, said Russell Moore in a chapel service at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, Feb. 26.
“The integrity of the church is not dependant on the approval of whomever we believe might have enough power at the moment,” said Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and formerly the dean of Southern’s School of Theology. “The integrity of the church conserves the mission of the church for generations yet to come.”
Preaching on the narrative about Hezekiah in 2 Kings 20, Moore said the situation of the people of God in the 8th century B.C. has much to teach the people of God in the 21st century A.D. Hezekiah was a king of Judah, the southern kingdom of Israel, more than a century before it was deported to Babylon. And unlike most Israelite kings, he was a righteous one.
When the kingdom of Judah was threatened by an Assyrian army in 2 Kings 18-19, Hezekiah responded righteously, falling before the Lord in the temple and praying for deliverance. After God rescued Judah from the Assyrian invaders, Hezekiah became deathly ill and again turned to God, who dramatically healed him.
Yet in 2 Kings 20, when envoys from Babylon came to see Hezekiah after hearing about his miraculous recovery, the once-righteous king responded differently. He gave them a tour of all the worldly wealth of his kingdom, seeking to impress them enough to form a geo-political alliance that would protect Israel from another Assyrian attack. Hezekiah’s desire to protect the people of God was a good one. But he chose to do it the world’s way instead of God’s, Moore said. And that was a crack in the kingdom’s integrity that would lead to its downfall.
“Hezekiah’s values are the same as the Babylonians’ values. They want to think in terms of wealth and power, so that’s exactly what Hezekiah shows them,” Moore said. “This is a kind of boasting in the Lord according to the criteria of the nations and the world, not according to the criteria of the cross.
“What Hezekiah has forgotten is that the sign of God’s presence and the sign of God’s power was not in his strength, but in his vulnerability. Hezekiah had encountered most visibly the Lord when he was under siege and when he was on the precipice of death.”
The people of God make the same mistake today, according to Moore, when they think they need to prove their strength to those in power. When the prophet Isaiah warns Hezekiah that all his kingdom’s prosperity will one day be carried off to Babylon, the king considers this a good thing, since he will have guaranteed peace and security for his day, regardless of what happens in the future.
Hezekiah’s admission is tragic, Moore said. The same man who once tore down the pagan high places now does what the pagans did: sacrifice his children’s lives for present prosperity. The church today faces the same crucial choice: political power today or spiritual integrity tomorrow? As the church is forced to grapple with the destructive effects of sin both within and without, Moore said, it must first decide what it considers most important.
“Jesus went to the cross on charges — at least partly — that he violated the temple of God. Why? Because Jesus saw the temple very differently than did Hezekiah,” Moore said. “Hezekiah saw power, bigness, winning. Jesus saw a place that represented the holiness of God and a place where the nations — the most vulnerable and overlooked people — could come into the presence of God.”
Once seminary students are serving in ministries all over the world, they will encounter horrifying sinful realities and dysfunction, Moore said, not just in the world outside, but in the church itself. And the lesson for them is the same as it was for Hezekiah nearly three millennia ago: Don’t leverage your integrity in the future for comfort and political cachet in the present.
“For some of you, you will be willing to be silent when it comes to the sin of partiality and racism because if you talk about it, they’ll say you’re a liberal. And some of you will be willing to be silent when it comes to issues of sexual immorality, because if you talk about them, they’ll call you a fundamentalist,” Moore said. “And some of you will be cowed into being silent when it comes to issues of the sexual abuse of children and the most vulnerable people within the church of Jesus Christ, because there will be some who seem to be so powerful that they will not be questioned.
“But do not be mistaken: You’re doing all those things before the face of God, and you’re doing all those things before people who are overhearing you and asking, ‘Is the gospel of Jesus Christ simply another way of winning at life, or is the gospel of Jesus Christ a transcendent word from heaven shutting every mouth before the judgment seat of Christ?’”
Audio and video of the chapel message will soon be available at equip.sbts.edu. Moore is on campus for the biannual Norton Lectures, which he delivered at 4 p.m. on Tuesday and will conclude at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Wednesday. You can watch the lectures at sbts.edu/live.