Monday, October 2, 2017

You have a locational calling

In this study, we have looked at vocation, the concept of calling, the gifting that God gives to His people to benefit His kingdom.  When we discussed this topic, we noted that while it comes first in the list of topics, it does so largely based on my preference rather than biblical or logical preference. Some begin with gifting and allow that to govern their decisions about location.  Others begin with location and choose their profession in order to stay in that chosen geographical region.  This represents one person's calling different from another's.

The biblical support for the calling of a person to a location appears in Genesis 12.  God calls Abram from Ur to go to the land of Canaan.  While the purpose for this calling had great ramifications for redemptive history, we ought to note how location remained central to the calling of God upon Abram's life.  This continues for Isaac and Jacob.  The mission activity in the New Testament also demonstrates that God often calls people not only to an occupation, but also a location.

While the hierarchy of decisions on these topic may differ, the criteria for making these decisions largely stay the same, adjusting only as ones decisions in one area affect decisions in another.  The first and most important question regarding geography involves the spiritual needs of the individual.  Does the location include a church that will meet the spiritual needs of the individual?  The question about which church to attend we discussed previously.  Now, we ask whether such a church exists in a certain location.  By asking this question we ought not take for granted that every location includes a church that would meet the biblical qualifications we discussed.  Ideally, the Christian should desire a church within his local community.  Failing this, many Christians travel many miles to attend a biblically based church.  This requires the formation of a separate community from their local environment.  The true church has always formed a community that has, in some ways, been separate from the rest of the world.  The ease of travel in modern society and the replacement of geographical community with virtual community has fostered the ability of remote churches to form spiritual communities of geographically diverse people.  There is much in technological advancement for which to give thanks.

Even so, the formation of these communities comes at a cost.  Beyond the cost of technology and travel, the bifurcated communities creates a psychological block to evangelism.  We see the local society distinct from the church and not the subject of ministry by the church.  It becomes difficult to invite people to church when we travel far distances to attend the church.  We can easily become divided from the church and careful attention must be paid by the officers and members of the church to foster fellowship within the church despite the distances.  Even with these challenges, the ability to attend a biblical church must take first priority in our decisions regarding location.

We must acknowledge that there are some places where the true church does not exist and where the distance to reach such a church is too long to make true fellowship practicable.  Some resort to home churches and compromise with deficient churches.  While this must remain a decision between the individual and God, the Bible strongly encourages us to see this as an indicator that God would have us move to a different location.  We are not called to independence, either in rule in home churches or in the absence of fellowship. (I Tim. 3; Heb.10:25)    Compromise in church selection, outside the ordinary allowances discussed previously, endangers our souls.  Church officers have an impact on the congregation, and their failure in their biblical duties places the souls of the people in danger. (Heb.13:17)

With the question of spiritual health out of the way, other biblical criteria may be considered.  To return to the intersection of location and vocation, depending on your particular calling, location may influence vocation and vice versa.  If location then does not govern vocation, than vocation will govern location.  In other words, if you have not chosen a vocation that will allow you to live in a particular area, then your vocation will largely determine where you will live.  Simply put, you will live where you can find employment.  This probably will not limit you to a single location, but it will eliminate some options.  Your duty to the kingdom of God demands that you continue to pursue your vocation.

These are fundamental concepts that most Christian take for granted, but the Bible includes other criteria that ought to influence this decision.  Scripture reminds us about the importance of family.  At its most basic, we must look at the directives Paul gives to Timothy.  The oft quoted verse on a person's duty to provide for his family appears in a broader context.
Honour widows that are widows indeed.  But if any widow have children or nephews, let them learn first to shew piety at home, and to requite their parents: for that is good and acceptable before God.  Now she that is a widow indeed, and desolate, trusteth in God, and continueth in supplications and prayers night and day.  But she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth.  And these things give in charge, that they may be blameless.  But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.  (I Timothy 5:3-8)
Within the context, the verse requires sons to provide for their widowed mothers.  This principle means that the Bible expects children to care for their aging parents and not leave them to the care of the church.  This principle draws from the Fifth Commandment.  Honoring parents means being involved in the life of the family.  While this does not mean that children should live in the same city as their parents, it does mean that each member of the family ought to consider its duty to the rest to be a part of their lives.  No member of the family ought to abandon the family.

Jesus expects His disciples to reside in the world. (John 17:15)  Although He chose us out of the world (John 15:19), our evangelistic duty requires us to interact with our community. (Matthew 28:18-20)  The choice of community requires a bit of self-examination.  The location in which we were raised will influence our ability to interact with that community.  I grew up in the deep south, Mississippi.  As I have dealt with people from the northern states of the United States, I have seen how different we can think and react.  This difference can pose a real barrier to our interactions.  This does not mean that cross-cultural ministry cannot occur.  Indeed, missions requires such a ministry.  However, this is not the calling of many Christians.  In the first century, we read of the travels of Paul, but his experience was extraordinary.  It is part of the Bible to demonstrate the fulfillment of the promise of Jesus that the gospel would spread to the ends of the earth.  Most Christians never left their home, or formed new homes by flight from persecution.  While we read of those who engaged in cross-cultural ministry, they never anticipated it to be the norm, other than bridging the gap between Jew and Gentile, including all in their society to the community of faith, excluding none.  For this reason, unless otherwise called, finding a community into which you fit may be the wisest course for you to follow.

Good stewardship also requires that you find a location that you can afford.  It is biblical to remember that some places cost more than others.  If you would provide for yourself and your house, you ought to consider if your employment will permit you to live in the city or community of your choice.  While many make this a matter of common sense, and so it is, it also have spiritual implications.  God requires us to consider affordability as a matter of stewardship.

Now, in some situations, God calls us to walk by faith despite the economic realities.  Many heroes of the church obeyed God even when the economic of political situation looked dire.  They acted contrary to apparent common sense.  Nevertheless, they represent the exceptions rather than the rule.  There ought to be compelling counter-considerations to overcome the affordability factor.

Finally, we must comment on the question of safety.  In the modern era, we live in a society of free mobility.  We choose where we live.  We are not bound by geography.  We can leave a location that we deem to be unsafe for us or our family.  Are we justified in such a move?  Consider the requirements described in the Westminster Shorter Catechism's discussion on the Sixth Commandment.  "The sixth commandment requireth all lawful endeavors to preserve our own life, and the life of others." (WSC 68)  It is not illegitimate to take lawful actions to preserve our life and that of our family.  While we can never achieve perfect safety and must leave our ultimate security in the hand of the sovereign almighty God, we do have warrant for avoiding clearly dangerous locations.

Again, there are exceptions to the rule.  Missionaries willingly enter dangerous foreign places.  This is not illegitimate for it is part of their calling.  Some engaged in domestic cross-cultural ministry may also be so called.  Perhaps one called to a depressed area may see it as his duty to remain in mission to the changing demographics.

If you can't tell from these factors, they are guideline and not firm rules.  It takes discernment.  This will be our mantra for this entire study.  To live as Christian in an unchristian world, your will need to discern from these factors what God is calling you to do, where He is calling you to live.

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