17. Hiking in Hebrews: Lemmings and Loners

Most of us grew up being warned not to follow the crowd (If all your friends decided to jump off a bridge, would you jump, too?), yet statistically speaking, most of us do. That’s why they’re CROWDS. I’m generally averse to crowded places, but there’s such a thing as crowd appeal: the more the merrier; everyone’s doing it; one billion followers can’t be wrong, etc. Yet crowd mentality is exactly what led God’s people astray—especially in the wilderness.

 
Here’s our verse of the day, the one I was pondering when I ran into Scripture Lady last week:

 
For we have also had the gospel preached to us, just as they did, but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith. (Heb.4:2)
Wait a minute, you might say. Those guys lived over a thousand years before Jesus was born. How could THEY have heard the gospel?

 
I’m sure they didn’t hear the gospel as we know it. After all, for two millennia prophets and angels were scratching their heads, wondering how God would orchestrate his mysterious Master Plan (see I Peter 1:10-12). No one but God understood how Christ’s death on a cross, the epitome of shame and defeat, would bring salvation, usher in the kingdom, and liberate all creation.

 
But the word ‘gospel’ means ‘good news’, and in the midst of slavery, plagues, and a rabidly resistant Pharaoh, Moses’ message WAS good news: God was rescuing them. All they had to do was trust and obey, and the Promised Land, full of God’s blessings, would be theirs. God had every detail covered. Would they trust him?

 
We know they didn’t: those who heard did not combine it with faith. The Hebrew writer calls their disobedience ‘unbelief’. And so their bodies fell in the desert, sometimes thousands at a time.

 
Crowd control.

 
I mentioned the golden calf in the last article, and it still blows my mind that after walking through the Red Sea as if on dry land and watching Egypt’s army drown in pursuit, the Israelites could fall into idolatry, grumbling, rebellion, and rampant sexual immorality just days, weeks, and months after the fact. That ‘everyone was doing it’ must’ve made such behavior seem acceptable. But there was no hiding in the crowd: God made sure every single sinner paid for their sin.

 
When we compare the Old and New Covenants, there’s a case to be made for this major difference: God dealt with his people on a communal level in the Old, while he deals with us more individually in the New. Still, even as he judged Israel as a nation, he also judged individuals, both leaders and followers; likewise, as Christians we enjoy a personal relationship with God, yet he judges specific church communities as well (see Rev. 1-3). And today we are just as prone, even under the glorious gospel of the New, to model crowd behavior and go astray.

 
I think of some of the huge trends sweeping through Christendom today. So-called Progressive Christianity, which embraces eight basic tenets of faith, entices through such appealing aspects as inclusion, social justice, environmental concern, and a nod towards basic Christian faith—acknowledgement of Jesus as a means of spiritual enlightenment. But among progressives, Jesus is viewed as simply “a way” to pursue spirituality, and other paths and options are welcome. To view Jesus as the ONLY way is narrow, outdated; the focus is on his teachings and example, not his divinity and authority. Likewise, teachings about sin and immorality, especially anything that could offend the LGBTQ community, are dropped by progressives in favor of inclusivity.

 

 

For those who’ve never given the Bible a careful read, I can understand how this revamped version sounds convincing, and oh so politically correct. But for those who know, who’ve studied and believed the Word, it requires a hard turn from truth to follow that crowd. Yet thousands upon thousands do.

 
Even among popular evangelical churches, the trends are alarming. Huge churches attracting Millennials have watered down the gospel for crowd appeal. How else can you explain the rampant immorality going on just beneath the surface?

 
A young Hindu friend of ours has been checking out Christianity and comparing it with his native faith. For months, he attended a lively campus ministry that meets on Sundays and hosts smaller Bible studies. One evening we got into a discussion about sexual immorality and what the Bible teaches. He snorted when we quoted passages about ‘absolute purity’ and not having even a trace of immorality in our lives.

 
“But all the Christians in my Bible study have boyfriends and girlfriends,” he said. “And I know they’re all sleeping with each other—they talk about it. And some of them even live together! Even the leader…”
For several minutes, he continued to defend his new friends. How could they all be wrong? Wasn’t it US, his older Christian friends, who might be wrong? Who were we to judge them, to say they weren’t living as true believers?

 
His mind was blown, but not as much as mine. I know, from studying with hundreds of women over the years, how much secret sin can lurk even among the ‘religious’. But for this group to be so nonchalant, so unconcerned with their example or what God thinks of it? I was appalled.

 
We’ve all heard of the wide and narrow roads, the broad way that leads to destruction—following the crowd—and the hard way that leads to life: willingness to be a crowd of one, if need be, in order to cling to truth. Jesus says only a few find it.

 
Do you still believe that? In the days of Noah, only eight passed the test. In Lot’s day, not a single resident of Sodom or Gomorrah escaped God’s judgement. Only two men passed the wilderness test, Caleb and Joshua; even Moses was only allowed to glimpse the other side. God didn’t hesitate to strike down 24,000 immoral Israelites on a single day (see Numbers 25). Jeremiah couldn’t find ONE truth-seeking person in all of Jerusalem. Need I go on?

 
There’s comfort in numbers, the saying goes. Yes, and also grave danger. Too many believers start out on the narrow path, only to catch sight of a ’spiritual’ crowd that looks more fun. Or at least more popular.

 
So watch where you’re going. Don’t jump off the crowd-approved bridge!

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