Babel or Pentecost?

In seeking to be “relevant” and “involved” with a confused generation, the church is in danger of joining the forces of Babel. In that day men said, “Come, let us make … Come, let us build … and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:3-4, ESV).

Feeling insecure, fearful of another flood, confident that they had within themselves the solution to their problems, the men of Babel started to make a “brave new world.” What was the result? Confusion!

These men rejected God’s love, discounted His power, ignored His provision and disbelieved His promise. He brought their plans to naught, confused their tongues and scattered them over the face of all the earth.

There is grave danger that the church of our day may be accepting the philosophy of Babel. By failing to fulfill its God-given mission, it is adding to the confusion of the world.

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How different was Babel from Pentecost! At Pentecost, a small group of ordinary men, united in faith, hope and prayer and obedient to the Lord’s command to “wait for the promise of the Father,” were suddenly transformed into flaming evangels, filled with the Holy Spirit, bearing a burning message—God’s message—of redemption for a sinning world.

They showed how the truths to which they bore witness, the Christ whom they preached, were a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, and they repeatedly testified to the accuracy and authority of the Scriptures.

These men were fully aware of the wickedness and injustice of the social order in which they lived. They knew that society would never be changed until men’s hearts were changed. They knew they had the only message that could bring about that change, the message of the new birth through faith in the Risen Lord. And they gave their hearts and even their lives to the proclamation of this supernatural message of a supernatural Christ who would change men in a supernatural way.

This was the result of Pentecost. Is the organized church today following the same road? Or is it following the course of Babel?

I am greatly concerned about the church. I am heartsick over a widespread shift in emphasis, a shift from proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the one cure for sin, to “involvement” in any and every activity designed for social change, with seemingly little concern for the basic change of heart that is the product of the Gospel.

Can the situation be reversed? The answer is an emphatic yes. But to do so we must turn away from Babel, with its call to merely human achievement, and turn back to Pentecost.

This will happen when men bow their heads, wills and hearts to Him in humble faith and obedience. If they do this, the church will be revived and will go out into this sinning, lost world with the one and only message that will work—that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4, ESV).

This message, the Apostle Paul says, is of “first importance.” D

L. NELSON BELL (1894-1973), a missionary surgeon to China ­ from 1916-1941, was a leading Presbyterian layman and the father of the late Ruth Bell Graham. This article was adapted ­ from While Men Slept: A Concerned Layman’s View of the Church Today (Doubleday 1970), with reprint permission from East Gates Ministries International.