“Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” 1 Peter 2:12
There’s an old saying, “He who marries the spirit of the age soon becomes a widower.” We Christians have to decide if we want to be Christ’s Bride or Babylon’s lover. A worldly church is of no good to God, itself, or the world.
We’re a colony of the just and righteous kingdom of God in a foreign land, an alternative society, not a reflection of society.
An ancient Chinese proverb says, “Because a fish knows only water, a fish is the last one to ask what water is.” When Babylon and its ways are all we know, we fail to ask if there’s a different way, a better way to live as exiles. We’ve absorbed the ambient culture until we’re indistinguishable from it.
“Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity.” 1 John 2 (Message Bible)
“We Christians have given atheists less and less in which to disbelieve!” said Stanley Hauerwas. “A flaccid church has robbed atheism of its earlier pretensions of adventure.” And Brian Walsh wrote: “We simply bought into the materialistic, prestige oriented, secular values of our age without ever noticing that that is what was going on. . . . At present, the church is virtually in a coma, asleep to her own cultural entrapment.”
We accommodate ourselves to Babylonian culture in ways other than our paltry personal morality. The way we administrate and market our churches, and then the way we present our less-than-gospel message is more business and bureaucratic than Bride-like. It’s like we’re trying to compete with Babylon and measure up to their standards for our slice of the market.
The American church is guilty of “image idolatry.” I heard of a church that televised their services and in order to put their best foot forward they seated the best-dressed good-looking congregants within the path of the camera! Does that offend anyone but me? Remember, along with silver and gold, it was a “Babylonish garment” that Achan stole from Jericho’s booty (Joshua 7:21). It’s like we care more about looking good than being good. Have mercy, Lord!
I dare you to consider Russell Moore’s provocative musing:
What if the images in our publications and digital platforms weren’t always those who meet the same standards of physical attractiveness as the reigning culture, thus subtly reinforcing the message that the supermodels shall inherit the earth, but instead featured those the world might consider fat or ugly or awkward but who bear a mantle of spiritual maturity? What if our churches weren’t divided up by the same economic and racial and political and generational categories that would bind us together even if Jesus were not alive? What would it mean, in your church, if a minimum-wage janitor were mentoring the multimillionaire executive of the restaurant where he cleans toilets, because the janitor/ mentor has the spiritual wisdom his boss/ protégé needs? It would look awfully strange, but it would look no stranger than a crucified Nazarene governing the universe.
Churches and their leaders are consumed with being contemporary and relevant. Henri Nouwen wrote, “Too often I look at being relevant, popular, and powerful as ingredients of an effective ministry. The truth, however, is that these are not vocations but temptations.” A.W. Tozer said, “I am dedicated to ‘unorginality,’ pledged to irrelevance if relevance means indebtedness to corrupt modernity.” And, “Anything new in Christianity will be moldy in a few years!”
Because God moved us into a place with a Babylonian zip code doesn’t mean he intended us to take on Babylonian patterns or priorities. Much like the exiled Jews we’re enticed into the assumption that they’re all so very normal. Babylon was never to become our life. We live in Babylon but can’t let Babylon live in us. We’re not supposed to become entirely comfortable here or to get sucked into this world’s flight path. Like a sleepy dog that lies on its rug in front of the fire at night, the tame Church stays where it belongs. We’re safe and cozy and we make our “master” happy to keep us there where we belong.
Daniel is the Bible’s best example of a person that didn’t let Babylon define him. He refused to eat their food, worship their idols, or stop praying when ordered. Like the prophet, we may be breathing Babylonian air, but we don’t have to inhale the prince of the power of that air! The God who put us here supplies us with an alternate reality. We may be strangers to the world but not to him. They may treat us as captive non-persons but to God we’re beloved. Instead of being squeezed into their mold we have to submit ourselves to the pattern of our subversive Savior, and in his power lead the way for others to enter his loving kingship.
Next we’ll look at the contrast between servant subversion and abdication…
Is any of this striking a chord, even a dissonant one? If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts. And if you’re so inclined, consider sharing this post with some friends who might benefit from it.