Embracing Our Exile
Embracing Our Exile
Seismic theological shifts have radically altered the United States. They are the root of our present calamities. In our irreligious age, it is difficult to accept this claim, but we were once a Christian people, and theology mattered. We listened to the wrong voices. In the early 19th century, New England Unitarianism and Transcendentalism attacked objective, verbal revelation, the deity of Christ, and his substitutionary atonement, thus making moral and social goodness the new gospel. This theology of centralism (denial of the Trinity) contributed to the Civil War, which remade the United States in the image of the centralists. Social and economic progress came to be equated with the promised millennium and coming of the kingdom of God. The various crusading, revivalist, and holiness movements in the late 19th and early 20th centuries largely abandoned what was left of the older Calvinism, gradually made the Old Testament a foreign document to large swathes of the church, and entrenched the Baptist culture as the dominant expression of American Christianity: individualistic salvation, fervent nationalism, and dispensational expectation of the imminent rapture of the church out of history.
Two opposing camps resulted from these departures from biblical Christianity: the liberal, social gospel crowd, in control of the major seminaries and mainline denominations, and the conservative, Bible-infallibility, you are corrupting our theology and stealing our nation crowd. The liberals are in front of today’s microphones whenever the “Christian response” is politely requested from a smug media, and the latter are holding up protest signs behind the sidelines, marginalized to the ghetto of the nation that their ancestors once founded. These two sides have been competing for scraps from the globalists’ table for over a century now, but modern Evangelicals are largely ignorant of this history. The battle between the various “old” and “new” schools has raged for two centuries. Evangelicals act as if we are only a few candidates away from returning to the glory days – of the 1950’s. They cannot see further back than this, for they have swallowed the poison pill of wanting to be relevant. They also lack any long-term strategy for victory, for their theology has no long term.
The Lord’s hand has been in all this. We cannot read it all clearly now. What is known is that our forefathers did not persistently use the church’s judicial authority to defrock the betrayers of orthodox Christianity for their embracing of inner light spirituality, Darwin, and the higher criticism from Europe. They were too busy writing scholarly refutations that too few read. Add the First World War that gave American globalists an excuse to invade the world, British Zionism and Roosevelt’s two-theater war that killed off what was left of traditional morality, thereby setting our government and its military agencies on a course of Middle East and Cold War escapades to control the oil supply and uphold “Israel” as its anchor in the region, and you have the powder-keg upon which we are now sitting. It is much too late to “Make America Great Again.” Faith, covenant, and God’s law made America “great” in the beginning, but most preachers do not understand these cardinal doctrines of our faith. The old theology is buried in antiquarian reading rooms of seminary libraries, never taught to the majority of children, and is remembered largely by the self-taught who chose to read rather than to watch television.
The result of all this is that Christians are living in something of the modern-day equivalent of Babylon. Many will not embrace this sad reality and long for past glory, but when historical ships leave their ports, they do not usually return home. Men change. There is a certain sense in which 19-20th century progressivism hit the proverbial nail on the head. Conservatism assumes that men do not change, will be content with what they have, will do the same jobs as their fathers, and can be persuaded to close their eyes to the shiny new things offered to them. It also assumes that the old truths will suffice for new times. This is true only if the old truths are eternal truths and that the men who defend them do so vibrantly, fearlessly, and judicially in church courts. It is also true only if they are willing to die for those truths. Blood gives vitality to truth, or at least gives it a better chance of a hearing.
Some believe that the old vision can be recovered by working within the present American. If they feel called to make the attempt, God bless them. However, we have come a long way from the days in which Washington’s executive branch, to take but one example, consisted of eight or ten men. Today, this single branch of Leviathan employs about three million civilians, all working to perpetuate our present system, regardless of who is elected. We are exiles in the present “vision of America,” but this should not trouble us overmuch, for our Lord has taught us that “here we have no continuing city” (Heb. 13:14). If any earthly connection makes us forget that we are “strangers and pilgrims on the earth,” then that connection, even if good in itself, becomes dangerous. This by no means denies the importance of our earthly affairs, courage in defending a good cause, legitimate love for one’s country and people, and diligence in one’s work. It does mean that the way we pursue these things must be in the light of eternity. Our vision is ahead and not behind us, and there is always an element of progressivism in God’s works and kingdom. The past can become an anchor in a becalmed bay that prevents diligent rowing toward the next port our Lord has planned for us. As he has done great things in the past, so he intends great things in the future (Jer. 29:11). In his world and purposes, the sky is never falling for his people. Our Savior is ruling over all things, however complicated, obscure, or misread by us, for the sake of his church.
As for the past, we must learn from its good – the importance of doctrinal fidelity, of fidelity to the true church that our Savior builds, and of the danger of theological syncretism. Any short-term gains by accommodation will bear bitter fruit in the longer term. Moreover, we must not trust any political system, however noble and just at its outset, to provide permanent stability and prosperity. Some godly men “smelt a rat in Philadelphia,” and the corpse has taken two centuries to rot and to teach us that a Christian republic depends upon the godliness of its citizenry and the church’s vigilance and faithfulness, especially in discipling men in terms of God’s whole counsel and covenant. Common grace will only take us so far and is never a sufficient basis for lasting national security and righteousness. Eventually, the tares will show their true colors, and they are most clearly revealed by their departure from apostolic doctrine. Vibrant discipleship (Matt. 28:18-20) is the key to long-term national prosperity and peace, and the key to discipleship is close communion with Jesus Christ according to his word. Our particular past also teaches us never to ignore the spiritual warfare dimensions of the kingdom of God. Satan is at war against all institutions that profess any degree of commitment to Jesus Christ. Abandon God’s full armor or replace it with popular, easier updates, and evil will prevail.
As for the future, we must learn to embrace our exilic state. Our fundamental duties do not change. Have families, teach your children God’s ways, speak God’s truth, worship God in spirit and truth, pray for the peace of your city, and endure hardship and suffering patiently (Jer. 29:5-7). Always we must love our enemies and do good to those who hate us. Remember God’s judgments of old and be comforted (Ps. 119:152), for they are pledges of his love and vigilance. Be faithful where he has called you to stand and be courageous in living and speaking his truth. When the time is ripe, when their iniquity reaches its ordained limits, God always drives out the Amorites. Until then, embrace the “subversive” nature of exile living. God’s truth will prevail. It is prevailing this moment, even in the wicked spreading themselves as great trees. They are much easier to identify, and God will cut them down.
The Lord uses us to do his cutting. “For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy, now will I arise, saith the Lord” (Ps. 12:5). We must be a sighing people, a praying people, dedicated to giving God no rest until he makes his church a praise in the earth (Isa. 62:7). This never grips our soul as it should. Our prayers focused upon God’s glory, the kingdom of his Son, the spread of his gospel, and the faithfulness of his people, rise as incense to God’s throne. In time, after we have believingly and persistently cried, “How long, O Lord?” he will gather those prayers and throw them back on the earth in the form of deliverances for his people and judgment upon the enemies (Rev. 8:3-5). We possess the very means by which he acts in salvation and judgment, in great and small things – fervent prayer. This is not our only weapon, but it is the weapon that quickens and brings God’s blessing upon the others. I have no doubt that when our Lord tells us the full story of his glorious work of building his church and kingdom, at every turn Gethsemane will be prominent – the imitation of Christ by his faithful people in assaulting the gates of hell through prayer. If we learn to pray again, to trust and obey again, our exile will be a blessing, and God will be our portion while we work, watch, and wait.