King Jehoshaphat has always been an enigma to me. Jehoshaphat stood out in comparison to other early kings of Judah in that the scripture says, “The LORD was with Jehoshaphat, because he walked in the earlier ways of his father David. He did not seek the Baals, but sought the God of his father and walked in his commandments, and not according to the practices of Israel” (2 Chron. 17:3-4). Jehoshaphat even went so far as to send Levites and priests throughout Judah to teach the people the ways of the Lord. The scripture records, “His heart was courageous in the ways of the Lord. And furthermore, he took the high places and the Asherim out of Judah” (2 Chron. 17:6).
But for some reason Jehoshaphat took a liking to Ahab. As we know, Ahab and Jezebel were horribly sinful. And yet Jehoshaphat, who so wonderfully sought the Lord and defended the Lord’s cause, also supported the most wicked king Israel ever had. Two events stand out. First, “he made a marriage alliance with Ahab” joining his son Jehoram with Ahab’s daughter, Athaliah. Second, he allowed Ahab to convince him to join in an alliance to battle against the Syrians even after a prophet of God predicted defeat and the death of Ahab. After returning from battle having barely escaped death, the prophet Jehu came to Jehoshaphat and said, “Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the Lord? Because of this, wrath has gone out against you from the Lord” (2 Chron. 19:2).
Now consider the generations that followed Jehoshaphat. Of Jehoram his son it is recorded, “He killed all his brothers with the sword, and also some of the princes of Israel … and he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, as the house of Ahab had done, for the daughter of Ahab was his wife” (2 Chron. 21:4, 6). Jehoram was so wicked that the Lord struck him with a disease in his bowels so that he suffered for two years “until his bowels came out and he died in great agony” (2 Chron. 21:19). I wonder, would Jehoshaphat have allied himself with Ahab if he had known Jehoram would kill all his other sons and then die such a horrible death? Would any parent knowingly do such harm to his or her own children?
When Jehoshaphat’s grandson Ahaziah reigned, the scripture records, “He also walked in the ways of the house of Ahab, for his mother [Athaliah] was his counselor in doing wickedly … he even followed their counsel and went with Jehoram the son of Ahab king of Israel to make war against Hazael king of Syria at Ramoth-gilead” (2 Chron. 22:3, 5). Ahaziah “even” followed the foolishness of Jehoshaphat his grandfather in an alliance with the king of Israel against Syria. But you notice that he didn’t follow any of the righteousness of his grandfather. Following this, Athaliah the daughter of Ahab reigned for six years in Judah. It would have been difficult for Jehoshaphat to imagine that because of his compromises the daughter of Ahab would one day sit on his throne! As righteous as Jehoshaphat was, what he might have considered small compromises led to immeasurable damage to his own descendants both physically and eternally. Jehoshaphat set his children up for eternal destruction.
History teaches us that the sins of one generation either leads to a multiplication of sins or a reactionary “pendulum” swing to an opposite extreme in the next generation. The sixties revolution against morals and authority have clearly multiplied into a generation saturated with pornography, the sexualization of women, and a “what is truth?” attitude. While the Lord’s people have been affected by this cultural change, other factors are involved.
In the fifties and sixties brethren became embroiled in controversy and division over the purpose and work of a local church. The battle needed to be waged in order to secure the principle that God’s authority matters. Historical arguments were often made referencing similar mistakes made in the second century that led to the Roman Catholic Church. At the same time, continuing battles were fought against denominational doctrines that related to Calvinistic beliefs. But while preaching against these errors was clearly needed, there was a negative side effect. Fighting against error soon became what defined a church. Brethren heard so much preaching on “issues” that many forgot that our purpose is to glorify God in the world by sharing the good news, not by “circling the wagons” and taking pride in defending the truth. In other words, the problem was a lack of balance in preaching. True textual exposition became rare, Old Testament preaching was rare, and most preaching was a topical.
The Pendulum Swings
Over the past twenty-plus years we have seen a rise of many who were so weary of one-dimensional, issue-oriented preaching, that they stopped preaching on just about every subject they considered “doctrinal.” What could be called “self-help” sermons became all the rage in some circles. Lessons on how to be a better husband, wife, or parent, etc. are certainly needed, but not to the exclusion of discovering the original message of scripture through textual preaching, and certainly not to the exclusion of exposing doctrinal error. The major problem with many of these primarily youth-oriented churches is not what is being preached, but what is not being preached.
In my own experience, I have been shocked at the number of young Christians and their parents, who do not know why musical instruments in worship is wrong, why the Lord’s Supper is to be taken on the first day of the week, why the elders of one church have no right to oversee another church, why there are limitations on the use of the church collection, how to apply the Lord’s teaching on divorce and remarriage, whether women can preach or lead a mixed Bible class, and even more shocking, why anyone would suggest that denominational baptism is wrong or that people in denominations have not done what is necessary to be saved. To make matters worse, many groups are changing the purpose of the Lord’s church from saving souls to feeding the poor or some other social effort.
The lack of balanced teaching and preaching in these venues will do the same damage Jehoshaphat did to his descendants. In the Nashville area there is a church called Ethos. It is primarily younger people, uses instrumental music, believes the Holy Spirit “leads” them apart from the scriptures, and is overseen by the elders of another large church in town. In spite of all of this, young people who should have grown up knowing better, can’t see the big problem. Even more disconcerting is that their parents are often not particularly alarmed either. It is not difficult to know what the next twenty years will bring from these compromises. Ethos, as well as other churches like it, is already acting and thinking like a denomination. The next generation will be denominational to the core without any knowledge of the truth or the gospel message of salvation. Fifty years from now, thousands of souls will have been led away by what some today consider “non-essential” doctrines. Even if there were no other red flags, churches that orient themselves to only draw the young are not the way New Testament churches were described nor a healthy reflection of a biblical body of believers.
Good king Jehoshaphat! Sorry, your legacy is not impressive.