Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Exile: A Time for Testing

I recently came across an article on the church’s relationship with the surrounding culture by Stephen McAlpine entitled – Christian: Are You Ready for Exile Stage Two? The article discusses how the church is shifting from a point of disinterest, typified by Athens, with the assumption that “if we can just show a point of connection to the culture then the conversation will flow and we will all get along.” As McAlpine explains, the culture wants to bring the church in from the fringes of indifference “back into the public square… not in order to hear it, but rather in order to flay it.” Stage two is typified by Daniel, and Shadrach, Meschach and Abednedo in Babylon, refusing to submit to what the wider society considers the ‘new moral order.’ I see this evidenced in the debate over same-sex-marriage as the dialogue is shifting from ‘a difference in opinion’ to accusations of bigotry, narrow-mindedness, intolerance, and ‘phobia’. "Unlike Athens," McAlpine explains, “Babylon is not interested in trying to out-think-us, merely overpower us.” The culture is not “neutral”, it is “hostile.” Indeed, as Jesus reminds us that the world will hate us. He never said the culture would “misunderstand us.”

Post-modernism, according to the theory, values genuine people who are real. And there is great truth and value to this. But as a meme so perfectly put it; “People want you to be real until you’re real and say something they don’t like.” Most people today will tune out, or politely agree to disagree, but as the exile evolves, there will be an increase in the hostility received as the church dares to speak God’s truth to the world.

Stage two exile will require a boldness, and courage. The church needs to listen to the words of the Lord to Joshua: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” (Josh 1:9). And we can be bold and confident, for Jesus declared: “take heart, for I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33).
We have been observing the disappearance of what Keller describes as ‘the mushy middle’ as the church is being more religiously polarised as nominal Christians who once occupied “the middle ground has shifted… [to] the more secular, the less religious.” Keller connects this with increasing criticism and antagonism towards the bible, thus, the times of exile have potential to sort ‘the wheat from the tears.’ And as we enter more fully into a stage two exile, the stakes will be higher as the world puts pressure on the church and God uses our trials to test our faith as He invites us to become more discerning between the holy and the unholy.

I believe that as we head further and further into exile, the church will need to start functioning more diligently in its priestly role. In a formula taken from Exodus 19, Peter explained that the church is “a royal priesthood” (1Pet 2:9-10). The most well-known function of the Aaronic priesthood, a type of the Melchizedekian priesthood (Heb 7) that all followers of Jesus belong to, was to mediate between God and His people. The lesser known role was to know and to teach the people the difference between the holy and the common and show them how to distinguish between the unclean and the clean” (Lev 10:10, Ezek 44:23). It is in this way that we can, as Jesus instructed us, be in the world without being of the world. How we can, as Paul instructs, to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of [our minds]” (Rom 12:2). The church is called to be holy, and set apart from the world. But in the name of cultural relevance, the church has flirted with worldliness; sometimes suitably, sometimes compromisingly. And so we need to become ‘Berean Baptsits.’
We need to, like the Bereans, test everything we hear with scripture (Acts 17:11). And like the first Baptists, be willing to challenge established and popular tradition. The Baptists developed from a group of radical non-conformists from The Church of England who after opening their bibles became dissatisfied with established doctrine. People like John Smyth (1602) were discharged from office for being “a factious man” and refusing to submit to the requirements of conformity. And people like Edward Barber (1641) were imprisoned for a year for speaking against infant baptism. As Berean Baptists, we need to be willing to audit our doctrine, our ecclesiology, and our lifestyle regardless of what ‘every other Christian’ is doing.

I don’t believe that we are in a state of heresy or apostasy, I do however believe that there are a number of biblical principles that have been overlooked and forgotten that would bring a significant depth and meaning to our identity, our Christology, and our walk with God. Before contemplating what may be missing, the invitation for now is to examine your heart and to ask God for a willingness to walk in truth, no matter the cost.


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