Wednesday, May 30, 2012

being exiles

Christendom is over folks. We are no longer calling people back to values they nominally consent to. There is no silent moral majority; we are now the minority, we are the odd balls, we speak a different language, we inhabit a different symbolic universe, we are now regarded as enemies of the state’s values, we are the new villains, we are the greatest threat to what the secularists think is a fair, just, and inclusive society. We are subversive ideological terrorists because we order our lives according the story, symbols, and sovereignty of Jesus Christ, all of which stands in violent opposition to the values of the secular order. We Christians represent a clear and present danger to the very edifice of secular pluralism because we refuse to believe in it and we tell a story that undermines it.
That's what Michael Bird wrote in a recent article on patheos.comBird is  saying something I have been thinking and saying for some time now. While the immediate context of Bird's article is on same sex marriage, the issue in the quote above is much bigger.  

If marriage is reduced to a legal contract, Bird makes the point that this reframes the debate as not about “who I choose to love” (you don’t need a legal contract for that! It’s not about sex either since, in Canadian terms, "the government has no business in the bedrooms of the nation"), the debate is about the “nature and function of marriage in our society”. He proposes what many of us have been saying for sometime now: separate church and state regarding the “sacrament” of marriage. Let the state issue binding legal contracts and let the Churches, Synagogues, Mosques et cetera, issue religious blessings.

Bird's quote above is not a “victim’s mentality.”  He is right, we cannot assume that we live in a Christian society. When we challenge cultural values according to biblical standards we cannot appeal to an Christian heritage or common values. We are the odd ones out, we like the recipients of the New Testament letter of 1 Peter are considered by an ever-growing majority as “enemies of the state’s values” (Bird didn’t say “enemies of the state,” but of it’s “values”). Because Christian values are not easily broken by “secular pluralism” we are a danger to the entire worldview.

Bird goes on to quote Tacitus as saying that Nero burned Christians “not so much for the crime of burning the city [of Rome], but for hatred of the human race”. He explains:

“They were called human-haters because they failed to affirm the politics of Rome with Caesar at the top, they refused to embrace the pantheon of Roman gods, they refused to do their civic duty to honour the values of Rome, and they did not imitate the permissiveness of their society. When Christians are called “homophobes” for refusing to affirm and endorse gay marriage, it is just a variation of this theme.”
Bird the writes: “We need to develop an ecclesiology of exile.” “Christendom is over", this is not new news, but while we talk about how Western society is "post-Christian" the reality has not real sunk in. Much of our language, much of my language, still assumes too much as we enter conversations about the euangelion of Jesus the Messiah. 

The church now is, where we should have always been: on the edge, the periphery of society. In exile. We have always been called to be in exile. Any attempt to be culturally mainstream or to politically change the culture into the Kingdom of God is to separate ourselves from God's calling on our lives to live as a Kingdom community. What this looks like is different in different places. But I know it involves: 

  • Truth & Meaning that is rooted in the revelation of God.
  • Worship & Beauty that overflows in life.
  • Authentic Community. Apart from honest relationships that cross all sorts of barriers, there is no real kingdom community.
  • Missional Journey. One of the dangers of understanding that we are a people in exile, is the tendency to be inward focused (protectionist); God who draws us to himself, keeps sending us out with good news.

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