Jesus said that when we are persecuted in one city, we should flee to the next (Matt. 10:23). The apostle Peter disappeared from the book of Acts a wanted man (Acts 12:17). The apostle Paul was lowered from the city wall of Damascus in a basket (2 Cor. 11:33). If we apply this thoughtfully, we can see that a case can be made for Christians making makeshift arrangements for their faith when the authorities are uncooperative.
So not only can a case be made for such carve outs, a case may be made for building such carve outs yourself. In other words, we may take up such liberties ourselves, to use Charles Murray’s wonderful phrase, ” without permission.”
When the Christian movement first began, it was routinely illegal. The early Christians thought that this was too bad, and kept right on going. They carved out their own space, in places like the catacombs. They met in private homes, and they had no permits tacked to the wall.
Now when the pagan system began accommodating the Christians, this was because paganism was decrepit, and the pagan leaders knew. They needed fresh blood and they knew it. They were ceding ground to the Christians, and the process was slow and inexorable. A time does come when the believers and unbelievers have to come to an understanding.
So the problem does not lie in making a temporary truce with unbelievers. That can be done in all kinds of biblical ways. It begins with heavily penalized Christian illegalities, then moves to accommodated illegalities, then to legal carve-outs for Christians, then to a Christian establishment with carve- outs for pagans. This is all a good thing, and it is good because of the direction.
What is the issue then? Picture a highway with Heaven on one end of it and Hell on the other. Now picture two cars, one driving to Heaven and the other to Hell. At some point in the process they will be at exactly the same spot in the road. Should they express their solidarity in that fact by beeping and waving?
Of course not. What matters is where they are going, not where they are.
Two kinds of Christian communities might be at exactly the same spot in the road, but one is advancing from strength to strength and the other is lame, feeble, and conceited. If we get to the point where they are sacrificing a garlanded bull during Super Bowl halftime, we will be in the same place as the early Christians. But they were in that spot because of their faithfulness, and we will be in it because of our fecklessness.
I say this because there is a difference between 5 million Christians on their way to 100 million, and 100 million on their way to 5. There is a difference between powerless and courageous Christians going to the lions rather than offer a pinch of incense to the emperor, and powerful but enervated Christians offering fistfuls of incense in hope of being thrown to the lions last. There is a difference, in short, between conquest by the weak and surrender by the strong.
Asking whether it is appropriate for Christians to look for accommodations — carve outs — for their beliefs is like asking whether it is all right to be at this spot in the road. Before we answer the question, where are we going? Are you one of those conservative thought-leaders preparing us for the next round of surrenders? Or do you want this accommodation as a staging area for our next offensive?
The sop that compromised thought leaders throw to us is the “retreat to commitment” sop. This is the move that urges us to retreat into our faith community, bow our heads, and then believe what we believe really, really hard. Pray hard at the ceiling. Believe it hard, but only on the premises. Food and drink are not allowed in the sanctuary, and what we say about Jesus is not allowed out. Apply all that diligently, but to your own thoughts only. The outside world belongs to the devil.
We should hold to biblical views of marriage only ” in the church.” Since we have ceded the outside world to the devil and his miniony ilk, those guys can screw the pooch out there if they want. And because it is in the outside world and it is Tuesday not Sunday, I can issue Burt and Fifi a marriage license, I can photograph their first dance, which was something to choreograph, I can make a beautiful bouquet that tells them ” you were made for each other,” and I can attend the reception as an old family friend to offer a toast. But on Sundays, during our time in the worship service, I continue to believe, with a manly firmness, that I am not going to do any of that stuff here. But if a friend at church makes a joke about it — “I hear the bride was a real dog” — I will later write him a rebukey email about it, more in sorrow than in anger. Apparently we are to have a testimony to the outside world, provided it is suitably and sufficiently supine.
You say that my examples are outlandish and overdone. Right, but you are only talking that way because you are 25 and not 45. When you are 45, let’s look each other up in the Happy Joy Sensitivity Remediation Camp and have a good laugh over it.
It is not whether we have to do everything all at once, but rather, if we do not, why we do not. Driving the tribes of Canaan out slowly is fine, lest the beasts become too much for us (Ex. 23:29).
But of course, in the real world, which incidentally includes the entire world, if we make an ungodly peace with the tribes of Canaan, the Lord God sends thorns to afflict us (Num. 33:55). Some of those thorns have been to the best seminaries.