A healthy church recognizes its need to rely completely on a Perfect King.
The story of the book
The book of Judges begins with Joshua’s death and tells the story of Israel’s failure to completely inherit the Promised Land. In the previous post in this series about the book of Joshua, we learn that God’s intention was for Israel to drive out the Canaanites from the land so they wouldn’t be influenced by their behavior.
If they did this, it would set them up to be faithful to the covenant they made with God and follow His commands. This would lead to the life and blessing in the land that God desired for them and promised Abraham back in Genesis. If they didn’t, they would experience the same divine judgment that the Canaanites experienced.
The book ended without the reader knowing what Israel would do. The book of Judges lets us know. They would choose to become like the Canaanites.
Judges is about the time before Israel had any kings. Instead they had, you guessed it, judges (not the courtroom type) that were regional, political military leaders that were more like a chief of a tribe.
The book opens with the tribes of Israel in their territories in the Promised Land. But the land is still populated with Canaanites they have not driven out (Judges 1:27-36). Instead, they simply moved in and then adopted all of their cultural and religious practices.
This is the cycle that happens with this family throughout the book. They sin, they become oppressed, they repent, a judge delivers them, and then there’s peace. Then they start the cycle all over again. This happens for each of the 6 judges whose stories are told.
In the midst of these violent stories, a theme develops of the progression of corruption of Israel’s leaders. It shows how it goes from decent to horrible. By the end, you have a leader in Samson that has absolutely no regard for the God of Israel.
Even though God’s Spirit empowered each of the judges to deliver Israel, they were not good influences on the family. God is committed to saving His people and they were all He had to work with. But their influence led Israel right back into being like the Canaanites.
You really couldn’t distinguish a difference between them in their behavior. The cycle continuously repeats throughout the book and Israel’s behavior gets so bad it even results in the family’s first civil war (Judges 19).
But there’s a key line that gets repeated 4 times toward the end of the book…
In those days Israel had no king and everyone did what was right in their own eyes. (Judges 17:6)
While this line echoes back to the original human choice by Adam and Eve to define good and evil for themselves, it also foreshadows a hope for the future. Israel had no king. This sets the stage for a king to come.
They needed a king that would not only deliver them, but influence them in such a way that they would not turn back and repeat the cycle again. They needed a king that would somehow deliver them once and for all.
Who’s influencing who?
Jesus Christ is the Perfect King who brought God’s Kingdom back to earth and delivered His people once and for all (Hebrews 10:10).
Like Israel, it’s unhealthy when a church relies on imperfect human leaders and adopts the cultural and religious practices of the world around them. There ends up being little distinction between the church and the world around them in their behavior.
This comes with the consequences of not “inheriting” (experiencing and expressing) the riches of the “land” (Christ). It becomes more influenced by the world around it rather than influential to the world around it.
God’s Kingdom is different
I’ll give you one example you can likely relate to. The United States is a constitutional federal republic. There are a lot of characteristics under this label. For example, the government has a system of checks and balances when it comes to authority that involves a President, a Congress and a Supreme Court.
None of them have absolute power. They each have power to do different things, and sometimes one can overturn the decisions of another. The “common people” vote for who is going to represent them and then hold power over them.
Many think this is the best form of government mankind has ever been able to come up with. But no matter what you think about the relative quality of the US government compared to all other forms of human government throughout history, it’s still a worldly human power structure.
God’s government is a Kingdom, which is vastly different. When a church adopts the characteristics of the worldly governments of their culture, it isn’t healthy.
Many churches adopt cultural practices like deciding matters through voting and majority rules. Many establish hierarchical authority structures where decisions come from the top down. Many organize and label people clergy and laypeople. They give people titles like “priest” or “pastor” when the Lord clearly instructed His disciples not to.
These are not characteristics of God’s Kingdom and you won’t find them in the biblical story as God’s intention for His people.
It’s the Gospel of the Kingdom
Here’s a quote by Richard Halverson that sums up how what we see happen to Israel in Judges continues to happen…
When the Greeks got the gospel, they turned it into a philosophy; when the Romans got it, they turned it into a government; when the Europeans got it, they turned it into a culture; and when the Americans got it, they turned it into a business.
The gospel is none of these and it’s healthy when a church is distinctly different than the world around it. It does this by relying on the Perfect King not just in lip service, but in the practices they keep in their life together.
My experiences is that churches tend to be very nonchalant about it, even when they know it’s not God’s intention. But the book of Judges shows us that there’s real consequences when we adopt cultural and religious practices that aren’t of God’s Kingdom from the world around us.
It’s healthy when a church stands pat in their life together and trusts in the ways of God’s Kingdom.