Population experts tell us that in 1800 less than 3% of the world’s total population at the time lived in cities/towns of more than 5,000 people. Two centuries later that statistic has changed dramatically. Now, well over 50% of the world’s population lives in urban settings. While urbanologists argue over exactly what qualifies as an urban center, there can be no doubt that the world has become a place dominated by cities. For this reason, we must consider what the Bible says about the city and the nature of ministry to it.
City of Man
Davis does a good job of showing that the early cities got a bad rap in the Bible. Each of the cities mentioned I the opening chapters of Genesis are built by apostates. They are anti-kingdoms because they are anti-Christ. Cain names his city after his son, Enoch, which means initiation or inauguration. The city, in a sense, becomes a “genesis” (a new beginning) for fallen man. To be sure, the city becomes a point of refuge and unification for unbelief. It is an attempt to replace the loss of fellowship they had with God.
The point cannot be missed though, these cities were built by man and for man. They are secular in the truest sense.
Despite this, I do not think you can go so far as to say that cities are inherently wrong. For one, the Bible does not permit us to live in isolation. Such is considered evil (Proverbs 18:1). We were made to live in community. Ultimately, a city is a place where people live in close community. As well, there is never an admonition to “flee the city” just because it is a city. Christ did not condemn people for living in urban areas. As well, God has cities erected ( Jerusalem, being the most vivid example), the Lord cares enough to send prophets to the cities. We may also note that the church is a type of city.
Nevertheless, we can say that there are some inherent problems with cities. Why is this? Two reasons may suffice:
1. Anarchy: Cities are places where there is a concentration of depravity. When you place two people in the same house, you will no doubt have problems. Double the amount of people, and you will see the problems double (if not quadruple). When men and women accumulate in significant proportions, depravity will be a force with which you must reckon. Everyone will seek to do what is right in their own eyes.
2. Tyranny: Cities do tend to centralize power and become enterprises in utopia building. Everyone is seeking the new heavens and new earth. Man, by his own wisdom, believes he can attain it by his own power. They posit that with just the right influence or education this can be accomplished. Ultimately, depraved man will attempt to set up man as god (i.e. not just king, but controller).
You will find that the two (anarchy and Tyranny) go hand in hand. Tyranny plays off anarchy and anarchy plays off Tyranny. The only cure for them is a proper self government. When a people are regenerated and self controlled, they do not need the controlling hand of others.
One of the core points regarding city has to do with the old proverb, “Bad company corrupts good character.” Cities are often difficult places in which to live in because the tendency is to drag one down. You need only to think of the ambitious Politian who, though he had planned on ending corruption and initiating reform, got sucked in by the powers of temptation. There is also the example of the zealous minister who, after many years of labor, begins to imbibe the culture.
Necessity of ministry to the city
The Bible shows us that ministering to cities is very important. This is for a variety of reasons. One reason is simply that so many lost people live there. The cities need to be evangelized and taught to fear the Lord. Also, cities are important strategically. Cities are places of influence. They are typically the places of power (governments, economies) and where culture is swayed (arts, media, religion/philosophy). Typically major cities will sway the rest of the populous.
As you read the missionary journeys of Paul, it is not without reason that we find him in the main cities of the day (Corinth, Rome, Antioch, Ephesus). Paul was out to cast down the kingdom of Satan and he attacked the main fortresses of the realm.
In the OT, the Prophets didn’t typically sit around in the back woods or simply send emails to the offenders. They stood in the cities’ gates and proclaimed their messages.
The gods of the city
We must acknowledge the fact that Scripture does not pit country dwelling against city dwelling. The determining factor is always the city’s foundation. What the city worships will determine how it should be evaluated. As Walter Kaiser says,
The problem did not reside in the cities, their walls, towers or their fortifications; the problem instead was in the trust that the urbanites placed in these things rather than in the Lord. Again, Deuteronomy 28:49-53 specifies that "...your towns... your high and fortified walls [are those] which the Lord your God has given you."
A misplaced trust and misplaced security are the objects of God's judgment, not the results of human achievement. The psalmist warned:
Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain. (Psalm 127:1)
Always keep in mind that cities are places of worship. Culture is produced by cult. A people will typically coalesce because they are of the same mindset. The rules that they make will flow from their religion. (think of Artimas and the Ephesians, blasphemy laws)
One way to gauge a city is to consider what it worships. In many places the god of the city is easy to identify. All you have to do is look at its center. There was a day when people put the church in the city square. It was a symbolic way of saying, “This city is built on the foundation of Christ and for his glory.” Many cities though, have government buildings, entertainment plaza’s or shopping centers at their center. Their god is revealed to be their power, pleasure or materialism.
Under Linden Johnson the United States commenced its “War on poverty” whereby billions of dollars were pushed towards social programs like welfare and other such special projects. The aim of the program was to eliminate poverty in cities. The result has been disastrous!
One of the potholes that it has created is seen in the men of our day. Because the government has become the bread provider, men have become obsolete. Consider: Social programs reduce the need for productivity. Men were designed to work in order to contribute to the stability of society and their own families. However, with free handouts readily available, there is a reduced need to attempt intense labor. The ease of money reduces the desire to sacrifice, save and demonstrate discipline. As a result, poverty is perpetuated (propagated?), for if people do not put their gifts and graces to use, the economy and overall welfare of a community cannot be advanced.
At the same time, work is replaced by hedonistic pursuits. Money plus time is the equation for all kinds of debauchery.
The effects of the War on Poverty has been just as poisonous for women. Since the government becomes the place of security and provision, it replaces the need for a husband/father. Divorce becomes a prevalent option when problems arise because there is little reason to work them out. As well, such security encourages women to bear illegitimate children. As it stands 40% of children born today without father in the home.
Kids that grow up in such a situation will be at a great disadvantage. A “man-hunger” is produced because the father is not in the home. Kids who crave fatherly affection will then turn to gangs, and/or homosexual love to gain it.
As they grow, the cycle is repeated.
While it is admitted that the government is not to bear the sole blame in the matter, it must be admitted that it has a heavy hand in it. The War on Poverty has ultimately been a war on families and a crusade which has advanced economic upheaval [mind you, money must first be taken from the income of hard working citizens before it is given to the impoverished. This also breeds contempt and robs men of the desire to excel in their respective occupations.]
Ministry in the City
For the reasons stated above it is imperative that cities be reached with the gospel. Yet the city should not shape our ministry. The ministry to the city is determined by the Bible’s prescription.
Let us remember that, though the context of ministry may be different, the manner of ministry does not differ. The ministry’s context may demand that certain things be accented and emphasized, but the ministry itself does not change. Ministry is by word and sacrament. The church utilizes her gifts and officers to bring Christ to bear on the community no matter what environment she finds herself in.
To put it another way, whether you are in the hills or downtown metropolis the ministry of the word is central. The message at any given place is “Repent and believe the gospel.”
While calling men and women to repentance, ministry in the city (or suburb, or back woods, for that matter) will attempt to rebuild society by…
1. Building godly men
2. Building godly families
3. Building godly churches & governments
Diligent discipleship and open proclamation of the Word is the key to the restoration of the city. It is only when men are regenerated by the Spirit and restrained by the proclamation of His law that a city will find renewal.
 Kaiser, A Biblical Theology of the City
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.