Preparing to preach this week, I made my triennial journey to Isaiah 64, that chapter that begins "O that thou wouldst rend the heavens and come down!" Here's what leaped out to me from the passage: "Behold, thou wast angry, and we sinned."
Isn't that backwards?
Don't we sin, and then God gets angry with us?
And why did this jump out at me?
Because I, a pastor of an eastern congregation (Park Ridge, New Jersey) am a wee bit tired of hearing the saw that goes like this: "You eastern churches have abandoned the true faith. That's why you've lost so many members."
Well, I'm no advocate for abandoning the true faith.
However, if numbers tell the story, are the likes of Creflo Dollar and Joel Osteen to be trusted with carrying on the vessel of the orthodox faith into the next generation?
If numbers tell the story, how does one explain the thriving lives of many congregations in the east that are too "inclusive" or "progressive" for the purveyors of those who equate membership decline with doctrinal apostasy?
The story is just more complicated than that.
Most irksome is the uber-confidence that I detect in the voices of those who draw a straight line between membership decline and heterodoxy.
Heeding Isaiah's words would cause one to be more tentative. "Thou wast angry, and we sinned." So....is God responsible for our sin? No, we would rightly say. After all "thou hast delivered us into the hand of our iniquities." Nevertheless, the mechanical sense of "if you're 'bad' in some way, God will get angry'" inverts the plain meaning of the text as we have it.
The Hebrew may be obscure, but what is rendered as "and shall we be saved?" is a question that puts us in the right spirit for Advent. Shall we indeed be saved? Not, "shall we be successful" or "shall we decrease in number?" But "shall we be saved?"
Responding as a Calvinist, the answer to that question is up to God.