Stranded in Babylon
I’ve been doing some reading lately that has got my mind in the right place. It has me realizing that politically, the right and the left are both pushing to build the American empire, just in different ways (which is why I bow out from both right and left). Most of the church wants to build the same empire and pronounce God’s blessing on it (which is why six years ago I bowed out of the traditional church and started my own) “God won’t bless the empire if we do this, but God will bless the empire if we do that…” Thanks, Dr. Dobson, Dr. Robertson, Dr. Falwell, and many others, for the way you have led millions of Americans in using the tools of empire to advance the church.
Biblically there’s no reason to believe that God will ever bless any empire anywhere at any time. Certainly he never has before, as the means of building empires are in direct conflict with God’s means of bestowing his blessings and grace on men and women (i.e., economic exploitation, always-expanding military might, political manipulation and intrigue, politics of race and class, growing gap between haves and have-nots that is allowed to endlessly increase — all anti-Biblical things that are the tools of empire). If there’s any message we can take from the Old Testament it’s that God did not bless the empires of Babylon, Assyria, Egypt, etc., nor did he bless Israel when Israel lost its distinctive commitment to God-given ideas of government and adopted the principles of empire-building. Witness this:
Revelation 18:1-5 (NIV) 1 After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven. He had great authority, and the earth was illuminated by his splendor. 2 With a mighty voice he shouted: “Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great! She has become a home for demons and a haunt for every evil spirit, a haunt for every unclean and detestable bird. 3 For all the nations have drunk the maddening wine of her adulteries. The kings of the earth committed adultery with her, and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries.” 4 Then I heard another voice from heaven say: “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues; 5 for her sins are piled up to heaven, and God has remembered her crimes.
(Note the similarity between Babylon and the good old US of A). The message here for the political right is, “There’s a point where luxury IS excessive in the eyes of God – it’s not just about whatever the free market (another of our contemporary gods) will support.” The message for the political left is, “The government that you see as a solution to everything is the one that is bringing its people to ruin.”
The message for the church is “Come out so that you will not share in her sins nor receive her plagues.” The church’s task is to figure out what it means to “come out.” So far the church on both the left and the right is so busy defending Babylon (much of the church, too, has “drunk the maddening wine of her adulteries”) that they haven’t yet begun figuring out what it means to “Come out” from her. Every empire in history has fallen. Sooner or later, America will fall too. (To believe otherwise is to embrace the very pride that ultimately LEADS to the fall) The only question is where the church will be when that happens.
I want to lead a church that has taken seriously the call to “Come out.” I want us to love America when America looks like Jesus, and be willing to acknowledge and admit it when America does not look like Jesus. And I want us to know the difference. One thing is clear to me. Christians are not free in Christ to say, “My country, right or wrong.” Because the God we serve happens to care deeply about right and wrong, and he does not define right and wrong according to America’s standards. He will not forever look the other way when wrong is done whether by America or any other nation. Since he expects us to have his heart, we cannot look the other way either — not even under the guise of patriotism and love for country.
What does this mean? I honestly don’t have the foggiest idea. I know I believe, like Larry Norman said years ago, that in many ways we are “Stranded in Babylon.” The question is how to “come out,” and what that means for myself, my family, and the church.