Alternative City Walls/State of the Church #2

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The need of the hour is for the church to help establish a defined counterculture. This requires much more than defined denominational boundaries, or sectarian carve outs. There needs to be a defined center (worship) and a defined mission field (the world).

In order to accomplish this, we need brick and mortar to build the alternative city walls. We have been working at this for some decades now, and we know how we mix that mortar. Now one of the key ingredients in that mortar is unrelenting antipathy to the ways of the world. Our danger is that any success in this (what people call our community) will attract people who love the walls, and the security they provide, but do not like how we lay the bricks. They love the fruit but do not care for the orchard.

They like how the church works because they are actually assuming the world (at its best) should be able to work that way. They love how different the church is because they have a hidden assumption that the church is not all that different. This does require explanation.

The Text:

“Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets. But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you” (Luke 6:26–28).

Summary of the Text:

Jesus teaches that when we finally have that “good testimony” we have been striving for, we ought immediately to see a red danger light blinking on the dashboard of our sanctification center. Something has gone terribly wrong.

But objections come immediately to mind. We note that some people know how to get everybody to hate them simply by being jerks. Pagans certainly hate one another (Tit. 3:3), and that doesn’t make the other despised pagan godly. And Peter says that we should rejoice when we are persecuted for the sake of Christ (1 Pet. 4:14, 16), but goes on to add that we must be certain that it really is for the sake of Christ and not because we are a being what theologians like to call punk-Christians.

So how can we tell if we are guilty of this false credit that takes as a badge of honor a sign that we are actually being disobedient? The answer is found in our text. What do we read in the next breath?

Those who can take legitimate comfort from the fact that they are slandered are those who can love their enemies, do good to their haters, bless those who curse them, and pray for those who are malicious in their mistreatment. They come into your shop to buy something while sneering at it, and so you must give back scriptural change. If you pay them back in their own coin, then this encouragement does not apply. It only applies to those who can do a little jig when they are reviled (Luke 6:23). Those who pick and choose passages from the Bible to encourage them in their selfishness will often find themselves having to pick and choose phrases out of the same text.

Antipathy: Not an Obscure Teaching:

“And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). This enmity between the “two seeds” cannot be erased, and attempts to erase it are actually attempts to go over to the other side. “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4). If you want to be God’s adversary, then simply make friends with the world. That’s all you have to do. “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12). This means that you cannot strive for Christ-likeness in this dark world without bringing down on your head something of what came down on Christ’s head. “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18). So stop acting surprised at things that the Bible talks about all over the place. “Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you” (1 John 3:13).

“. . . And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved . . .” (Matt. 10:21–26).

Tombs of the Prophets:

Jesus pointed out that after prophets are dead and gone, their reputations start to improve. This is because the only manageable prophet is a dead prophet. And if enough time passes, the ungodly start to build memorials to the deceased godly, lining it all with marble (Matt. 23:29). But whenever a living Christian leader comes back from a hot engagement at the front, with a couple of arrows through his hat, the careful men are quite willing to offer their critiques. “It would have been far better had you remembered to . . .” It reminds me of Dwight Moody’s great comment—“I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it.” It also reminds me of Ambrose Bierce’s magnificent definition: “REAR, n. In American military matters, that exposed part of the army that is nearest to Congress.”

But why, the persistent critics want to know, can’t you be more like the saintly men of old, whose marbled tombs grace the avenues of our city. The first thing to recall is that the marvelous city they refer to was not built by the critics, but rather by the criticized.

What “saintly men of old” are they referring to? Perhaps Spurgeon, who was vilified throughout the course of his ministry? Or Augustine, who wrote his famous Confessions because he was answering a smear campaign that was hindering his ministerial effectiveness? Or like Athanasius who stood contra mundum, that world being the Christian world, the world of accommodating bishops? Examples could be multiplied to the point of being pretty tedious. This is not something that has happened from time to time in history. It is regular enough to be called a law.

The principles don’t change. The names do. Because the names change, this makes unprincipled people think that everything is different now. We are in the 21st century now, distinguished in this respect by being exactly all the others that came before.

Alternative City Walls:

Now remember that in our generation, feeeelllings!! are the queen of the land. People don’t want to know if a Christian apologist has actually wronged someone else in the course of his ministry. They just want to know if the other guy felt wronged. And of course it took about ten minutes for the unbelievers to figure out that you could get most Christians to back off just by saying ow ow ow ow!

We have managed to get ourselves into a pick-up basketball game with the godless, where they all get to call their own fouls, and the fouls that are called on them can only be called by that guy standing on the sidelines, one of the subs for the godless. And we call this striving for fair play. Jesus called it right when He said that the children of light were sometimes a little slow on the uptake (Luke 16:8).

As for the infidels, our central offense is not the presence of what I call the “satiric bite.” Do not be distracted by what they call a foul. They simply call them because it works—we listen to it; we put up with it. In their book, such things are not even an offense at all. Are you serious? They don’t care about that. In their understanding, the offense is where the jabs are aimed. Remember that these are the people who laugh at the taunting of late night comedians, who host banquet “roasts” that are filled with vile insults, who host parades through all our major cities with floats celebrating vile deeds, and who otherwise sit in the seat of mockers. So why are they so sensitive? Why do they act like snowflakes? It is a tactic, and as the old blues song puts it, “it ain’t no fun when the rabbit’s got the gun.”

When David went out to face Goliath, he was not looking for a dialogue partner.

“This day will the Lord deliver thee into mine hand; and I will smite thee, and take thine head from thee; and I will give the carcases of the host of the Philistines this day unto the fowls of the air, and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel” (1 Sam. 17:46).

And when Nehemiah established a great wall that separated the people of God from the unbelievers, the unbelievers did not take it well.

“And I sent messengers unto them, saying, I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down: why should the work cease, whilst I leave it, and come down to you? Yet they sent unto me four times after this sort; and I answered them after the same manner. Then sent Sanballat his servant unto me in like manner the fifth time with an open letter in his hand; Wherein was written, It is reported among the heathen, and Gashmu saith it, that thou and the Jews think to rebel: for which cause thou buildest the wall, that thou mayest be their king, according to these words” (Neh. 6:3–6).

You really should give up preaching. And blogging. And publishing. And declaring. And challenging. And prophetically denouncing. And why? Gashmu saith it.

You Can’t Preach Jesus That Way:

The answer is, of course, to preach Christ. But it needs to be observed that it is not possible for a man to preach Christ while simultaneously ignoring the words of Christ. Preaching Christ means preaching both His words and His wounds. You cannot preach the cross, which is a scandal, without scandal. There is no such thing as sanitized gospel faithfulness. It doesn’t exist, and never has.