Thursday, March 24, 2005

A Case For Christian Separatism?

2 Corinthians 6:1-17 (New Living Translation)

2 Corinthians 6

1 “As God's partners,[
a] we beg you not to reject this marvelous message of God's great kindness. 2For God says,
"At just the right time, I heard you. On the day of salvation, I helped you."[
Indeed, God is ready to help you right now. Today is the day of salvation.”

Pauls Hardships

3 “We try to live in such a way that no one will be hindered from finding the Lord by the way we act, and so no one can find fault with our ministry. 4In everything we do we try to show that we are true ministers of God. We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind. 5We have been beaten, been put in jail, faced angry mobs, worked to exhaustion, endured sleepless nights, and gone without food. 6We have proved ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, our sincere love, and the power of the Holy Spirit.[
c] 7We have faithfully preached the truth. God's power has been working in us. We have righteousness as our weapon, both to attack and to defend ourselves. 8We serve God whether people honor us or despise us, whether they slander us or praise us. We are honest, but they call us impostors. 9We are well known, but we are treated as unknown. We live close to death, but here we are, still alive. We have been beaten within an inch of our lives. 10Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything.

11Oh, dear Corinthian friends! We have spoken honestly with you. Our hearts are open to you. 12If there is a problem between us, it is not because of a lack of love on our part, but because you have withheld your love from us. 13I am talking now as I would to my own children. Open your hearts to us!”

The Temple of the Living God

14 “Don't team up with those who are unbelievers. How can goodness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness? 15What harmony can there be between Christ and the Devil[
d]? How can a believer be a partner with an unbeliever? 16And what union can there be between God's temple and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God said:
"I will live in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people.[
17 Therefore, come out from them and separate yourselves from them, says the Lord. Don't touch their filthy things, and I will welcome you.”

There are times when I’d like to consider myself a renaissance man, a man who lives in the past and thinks in iambic pentameter, far from the troubles of the day. The reality, though, is that I’m a man of my times. I’m a “new millennium man”, a product of recent history.

I cannot escape my times, but I have to admit that at times like these I desperately want to. I don’t want to engage any more; I want to disengage.

My mind and heart are conflicted this morning. They’re tugging against one another. A while ago I read a post from a blogger I’ve never met, but really admire. In a piece titled “Slippery Slopes and Androsexuals: The Inadequacies of Social Conservative Arguments,” Joe Carter, the blog’s author, had this to say about engagement:

“If social conservatives are ever going to make significant gains in affecting our culture we must do more to engage those who hold opposite viewpoints. Dismissing their arguments won’t make them go away. Talking past them won’t aid us in gaining their understanding. And acting as if we have all the answers will only expose the shallowness of our arguments. We must engage, understand, and take action. Otherwise the slippery slope will only get steeper.”

My head agrees; Joe is absolutely right. But my heart is battle-weary; the war of social attrition that has taken place in my lifetime has wounded me. I don’t feel that I have the heart to “fight the good fight” anymore. My head is telling me that I need to keep fighting, trying my best to pierce through the perverse defenses of my culture; my heart is telling me to pull back to a safe place, a place of refuge.

I know in my head that Joe’s right. When I think of disengaging myself from my culture my mind wanders back through trips Nancy and I have taken through southern Missouri on our way from Memphis to Emporia. I recall Sunday mornings listening to separatist“preachers” advocating revolution, separation from an evil culture, and calls to arms. I remember the shivers of fear that ran up and down my spine as I listened. “Gather your food and arms into the storehouses,” they pleaded. “Separate yourselves.” “The time for revolution has come.” I remember, too, the revulsion I felt. I knew that this was a whirlwind in process that was not God’s making. I knew that the still small voice of engagement in the face of adversity was the voice to heed.

And so, here in the heart of the Kansas Flint Hills, the core of the Bible Belt, at the turning of a new age, I sit, looking out my window at finches and doves I’ve been feeding all winter. I see them gather the sustenance I’ve provided for them and my heart is transported to Florida, to one woman and her mother and father’s desperate, unheeded plea to feed her.

My head tells me that Joe Carter, a good and honorable man, is right. We Christians must find some avenue of reason. His call is as old as the Scriptures, it’s God breathed:

Isaiah 1:18 (King James Version)

18 “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”

In my mind I know that Joe is right. We must find avenues of discourse and reason. I can’t fly away to the past; the past is no escape. As much as I’d like to idealize the generations that have preceded mine, I know that there was more than enough evil to escape even then.

But my heart is weary…..weary…..weary. My mind and my logic tell me that I must engage. My heart is asking, “How?” “How in the face of all this evil can we even find common ground?” My heart surveys the social landscape and I have to come to grips with the face that I, like Terri Schiavo, am just one. And as I further peer out through the hills and valleys of my world I realize that there may not be enough “ones” to make a difference. We are the minority.

As I was making Nancy’s coffee this morning an old, old song began to ring within my heart:

"This world is not my home I’m just a passin’ through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue
The angels beckon me from Heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore."

"Oh Lord You know I have no friend like You
If Heaven’s not my home then Lord what will I do?
The angels beckon me from Heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in his world anymore."

My heart is weary, looking for an avenue of solace, an avenue of escape. As I hum and sing to myself I think, futilely, that fleeing to the future will provide that road. But I harbor no death wishes. That I leave to the American court system and one Florida citizen bent on ending another’s life. As I sit here I hear the birds singing, grateful for the sustenance I’ve provided them. It’s a grateful song, a song of thanks. I see children passing by, loaded down by backpacks, on their way to school. I hear their laughter and I, like the birds, feel grateful for the sustenance they have provided for my soul. I hear Nancy’s gentle voice from upstairs and my heart feels that sense of warmth it always provides me.

No, I’m not a renaissance man, nor am I a man of the future. I’m a man who is alive now, living among the living, mourning the slow death of a fellow pilgrim. I cannot escape, as much as my weary heart would like to.

This morning Nancy wisely reminded me of what I already know. There is a Supreme Judge, whose ways are higher and wiser than those of the judges who today are assembling in the highest court of this land. There is a True Supreme Court where Terri Schiavo’s case has been heard. In the end He will make the crooked places straight. He will prevail. Every knee will bow to Him. He indeed will make the final, just judgment:

Revelation 20:11-13 (New International Version)

The Dead Are Judged

11 “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done.”

I find my solace in those words. The Great Judge will make a final ruling on all our lives. He is the standard. I will be judged by Him. Terri and Michael Schiavo will too. And so too will the judges who have “ruled” in her case.

My heart is no less heavy, for I am still a man of my times. My mind is no less conflicted, and I still feel a need to flee from the insanity I see all around me. But I know that Joe Carter, my fellow traveler on the road to Heaven’s gate, is right. I must not give up. I must keep up the good fight.


Jim Baxter said...

We live in a Causal univers. Every cause has effect. What is sown will produce a reap. Acts of justice will produce justice. Acts of injustice will produce injustice.

Perfect justice is to be weighed in the scales of our own choosing.

Woe! Woe! Woe! to the judges who sow death and hold that they will not be weighed in the scales of their own choosing. Life is the issue -- not secular interpretations of 'law' or 'rights.' False pride and judicial ego is the cause. What will be the effect? Death.

God will not be mocked. Observe...
Psalm 119:30,173

Gary B said...

When you feel weary of the culture wars, remind yourself, "we wrestle not with flesh and blood." We aren't fighting people or even ideas, we are fighting God's enemy, and Christ has already won the victory. Our weapons are prayer, the Word and a life lived in God's presence and by his strength. When you get weary perhaps it is God telling you that you are relying on your own strength more than you should.
The battle is the Lord's.

Best wishes,

Anonymous said...

Excellently put Phil. I have been reading your sage words for some time and always found them enlightening and worthy.

The weariness of which you write is experienced by us all from time to time. Some give in and retreat, others react aggressively. Both are wrong. The only right reaction is as you and Joe Carter both note. From that strength to take the next step, whatever that is to be, will come.

Jeremy Pierce said...

It's interesting that the same Paul who wrote the II Corinthians passage you quote about being separate also wrote this passage to the same group of people a year or two earlier:

When I wrote to you before, I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin, or who are greedy or are swindlers or idol worshipers. You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that. What I meant was that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a Christian [note: a brother] yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or a drunkard, or a swindler. Don't even eat with such people.

It isn't my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your job to judge those inside the church who are sinning in these was. God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, "You must remove the evil person from among you."
(I Corinthians 5:9-13, NLT; Paul is quoting Deuteronomy 17:7 at the end.)

Pravda said...

Having been raised in a separatist Fundamentalist churchianity myself, I have grappled with the call to 'be ye holy' and 'come out from among them and be ye separate.'
In light of Paul's other passages regarding relationship to unbelievers and an unsaved culture, it is obvious that he is talking about working in harmony with the unregenerate, as if you had the same life in common.
This is a call to distinction, a God-centered versus man-centered life, and the separation is one of internal faith in the grace of Christ rather than the sufficency of self.