“So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing his reproach. For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come” (Heb 13.13-14).
We Memphians sit on the edge of the notorious New Madrid fault. It’s been relatively quiet since 1811-12 but there are regular tremors in the seismic zone. Geologists warn us about The Big One which portends to be quite destructive.
The American church has been sitting on a shaky fault line as well. There have been tremors along the way, but the zone widens and grows more volatile. Seismic shifts have come in the form of sexual revolution (1960s), Roe v. Wade (1970s), the prosperity boon (1980s-90s), collapse of the Towers and markets (2000s) and now Obergfell v. Hodges (2010s). And now an American Christian is in an American jail as a result of her Christian convictions.
Kim Davis will not sanction same-sex marriage in her county because God does not sanction same-sex marriage anywhere. The laws of God clashed with the (so called) laws of the land. The tremors get bigger. The Big One is coming.
Whether or not we agree with Kim Davis, the fact remains she has chosen to suffer the consequences of her Christian convictions. We can disagree whether or not those convictions should come at taxpayer expense. Nevertheless, Ms. Davis chooses to disobey the Supreme Court of the United States in order to obey The Supreme Ruler of the universe. And, from what I can tell, she has willingly accepted the consequences of that decision while attorneys fight the legal battle.
Again, we may vehemently disagree with one another in this particular case. It is quite clear, however, there are consequences–at least for government employees–for holding Christian convictions over against the State. If your Christian convictions interfere with performing your job then you either resign or go to jail. The docket has been set: God v. State. And the precedent is set: choose to obey the State or God (whomever that is), but you cannot do both.
For generations the American church has situated itself squarely in mainstream public life. There hasn’t been much shame associated with being a Christian or with the church. It hasn’t cost much to be Christian; in fact, it might’ve paid to be so. But each tremor has created rifts that inch the church to the fringes.
And that is exactly where the church thrives: outside the camp (Heb 13.13-14).
I’m not sure we should try to shout and lobby our way back into mainstream life. Jesus never did. I’m not sure we should claw our way back across the rifts. I’m not sure we should demand our seat at the table any longer. The table is set with idolatrous food and we would rather starve. We’ll gladly wait for crumbs to fall from the Master’s table than gorge ourselves at Caesar’s buffet (Mt 15.21-28).
Christ’s kingdom began on the fringes and Jesus said faithful discipleship would keep us there (Mt 5.10-12). We don’t pout, whine, lobby, shout, picket, or sue. We “are glad in that day and leap for joy” (Lk 6.22-23) because we “endure the same sufferings at the hands of [our] own countrymen” as Jesus did (1 Thess 2.14).
Perhaps the Big One is happening. And the church should no longer try to appear normal. She has never been normal or mainstream (Acts 5.13; 1 Pt 2.9-10). Perhaps it’s high time we become peculiar again, going to county jails in backwater towns because we love Jesus more than court decisions.
Rather than trying to defend our “homeland,” perhaps it’s time to see ourselves as the strangers, aliens and sojourners that we are (1 Pt 2.11). Daniel taught us Babylon would never be Jerusalem no matter how many national days of prayer days they held. Babylon will be judged in the last day, not converted (Rev 18.2). God’s people would always be wandering exiles outside of Eden. So, we pitch our tattered tents and wait for Christ to divide the Jordan.
Perhaps the time has come that we content ourselves with being hated rather than accepted or protected. We refuse to be hateful but gladly accept being hated (Mk 13.13). We refuse to shout even while shouted at. Be reviled without reviling in return (1 Pt 2.21-25). If they poke their finger in our cheek then we give them the other also.
Perhaps it’s time we lay down our signs and lower our voices. Let the nations rage (Ps 2) as we go about The Way. God sits in the heavens and he laughs. Jesus is our Advocate and will hold court soon enough (Jn 5.22-23).
It’s time we stop trying to fit the church into the world and instead rid the world from the church. We should stop trying to convince the world we’re more like them than they think, and show them we’re even stranger than they know. The gospel is unreasonable foolishness and we’re perfectly fine with that (1 Cor 1.18). After all, the first century world thought Christians cannibals because they drank blood and ate flesh. Better to be misunderstood by the world than attractive to it. We don’t want the world to like us; we want the world to hate worldliness (Jas 4.4). So let’s just be hated already, for Christ’s sake.
Do church membership better. Do congregational prayer better. Less holy hype and baptized pep rallies, more bread and wine. Less loud, more quiet. Less jokes, more liturgy. Less pettiness, more love. Less explaining ourselves to the news, more proclaiming the good news. And where the rift is narrow we build a rope bridge of the gospel so some can escape the wrath to come. We give them over and hope to win them over.
It doesn’t seem God is calling America back to God. Perhaps Jesus is calling the church back to him “outside the camp, bearing his reproach, for here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come” (Heb 13.13-14). Amen, come Lord Jesus (Rev 22.20).