We began our Lenten journey by going straight back to the beginning of our Christian faith: At the tomb of Jesus, where he had just risen from the dead. Why an Easter story during Lent? Because Easter is not a one-day-a-year thing, it is the every-day-of-the-year reality of who we are as Christians. We are a resurrection people, formed at a fundamental level by the reality that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. We looked at some of the specific things we will find when we look at the place where Jesus lay: specifically that Jesus is alive, that God has done it all, and that the possibility of connection with God is now a reality.
We are now looking at what it means for us as the Church to be a resurrection people, to live as the people of a resurrected savior Jesus Christ, even in the midst of a world which is becoming increasingly hostile to the Christian way of looking at things, a world in which we as Christians have lost and are losing much of the privilege and influence we once had even as recently as a decade or two ago. A world in which we find ourselves in exile, in a manner of speaking–not actual, physical exile but a situation which in many ways resembles the situation faced by the Old Testament Jews in Babylon and the centuries which followed.
First I pulled out and addressed specifically the political aspect of things, as that bears special relevance this year. In short, we are to be apolitical and non-ideological; not to refrain from having political convictions but to hold those convictions loosely and with an open hand. Last week I addressed the relational aspect of things, with a call to reclaim the value of Christian friendship and the view of the Church as a fictive family, an alternative to the natural/biological family.
This week, allow me to begin by taking us to 1 Kings 19:14-18:
He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.”
Here is the backstory for this: After David and Solomon, the best kings Israel ever had, the kingdom split into two: the southern kingdom where Jerusalem was located, and the northern kingdom. The kings of the northern kingdom were uniformly bad and they led their people into apostasy and idolatry. The kings of the southern kingdom were not that great, but there were a few good ones in the mix.
Elijah was a prophet in the northern kingdom during the reign of Ahab, the worst king Israel ever had, and his wife Jezebel who was evil through and through. At Mount Carmel there was a showdown between Elijah and the priests of Baal whom Ahab and Jezebel had brought in. It did not go well for the priests of Baal.
Jezebel heard about this, and she was not too pleased. She made death threats against Elijah, and he got scared and fled into the desert. Here he had an encounter with God. You may have heard the story of how the earthquake and the whirlwind passed by but God was not in either of those, but then came the still small voice and God was in that. This is that story. The verses above are what Elijah says to God when he arrives in the still small voice, and God’s response to Elijah.
Note the last line: “Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.”
As evangelicals, especially here in America, we are very bad about assuming that we are the end-all, be-all of what God is doing in the world. This expresses itself in many ways, yet a couple of examples come to mind: The idea that people are not in right standing with God until/unless they have prayed a sinner’s prayer, made a decision for Jesus or otherwise made a profession of faith sufficient to pass evangelical muster. (David Platt’s video about a recent preaching trip to India which made the rounds of the blogosphere a couple of weeks back is a prime example of this.) The idea–and this is a specialty of the Neo-Reformed/Calvinist wings of evangelicalism–that complementarianism or whatever the theological cause du jour happens to be, is the last dam holding back the waters of godlessness in the church and in our world.
As resurrection people living in a world which is increasingly hostile to the Christian way of looking at things, this is a luxury we cannot afford.
Like Elijah, we think we are the only ones.
We think we are the end-all, be-all of what God is doing in the world.
We think the issues which matter to us are the last thing holding back the surging tide of godlessness and wickedness in our churches and in our world.
Yet God has reserved for Himself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.
Go find them.
Understand that their expression of Christianity will probably differ significantly from yours. Their understanding of theological/cultural/political issues which are important to you will probably differ significantly from yours. Many have probably never made a “decision” for Jesus, prayed a “sinner’s prayer”, or otherwise made a profession of faith sufficient to pass American evangelical muster.
That’s life. Get over it.
This is not a time to write off an entire nation as bound for hell because they have not made a profession of faith sufficient to pass muster according to your theological way of looking at things, as David Platt unfortunately seems willing to do in the case of the people of northern India.
This is not a time to write off an entire class of people as outside the family of God because they hold views on human sexuality which you consider offensive. Our approach to engaging with gay Christians should be to figure out how we can include them in the family of God while remaining true to what the Bible teaches with regard to human sexuality. (And would SOMEBODY PLEASE SHUT THIS IDIOT UP????? Sorry. Had to get that off my chest.)
This is not a time to write off entire denominations as nothing but godless liberals, even if the stereotypes which persist in evangelicalism are true and richly deserved. Many of these denominations have much that is of value which we evangelicals have abandoned in the name of relevance. And there are faithful people among them who no doubt are distressed at what they see yet choose to stay and make the best of things, just as there are many in evangelicalism who no longer feel at home yet choose to stay and make the best of things.
We think we are the only ones who are faithful in a world which is becoming increasingly hostile to the Christian way of looking at things. Yet God has reserved for himself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal. We just have to know where to look to find them.