No Fence on Mars Hill

There’s an alarming trend taking hold in the modern church.  It’s not really new – it happens every time something ‘upsets the apple cart’.  Liberty itself seems perpetually under threat, and the source of that instability is us.  We are a study in paradox, maybe the greatest of which is our insatiable curiosity alongside our sentimental insistence on familiarity.  Change is both enemy and ally, and we imperfect creatures have continual difficulty navigating change’s demands.  As Americans, we are blessed to be a part of the most successful experiment in balancing those two often opposing influences in the history of mankind.  We have been continually reinvented as new and disparate cultures have brought their distinctiveness to the national identity.  So pervasive has become our influence and position in the world that the past hundred years or so has been described as the ‘American Century’.  From our nation’s earliest days, the ideals – based in scripture – that have forged our foundations and guided us forward as a people have remained constant.  Concepts such as the dignity and equality of all men, ‘inherent’ rights given by our creator, and fundamental liberties such as freedom of speech, religion, and universal representation have been enshrined in the national ethos (even as our understanding of the elements of those concepts has radically evolved).

We have a shared identity, brought about in our quest for a ‘more perfect union’ and described colloquially as a ‘melting pot’.  Today, however, it seems that voices have from without that national compact have begun to find purchase in the our corporate dialogue.  That melting pot has become less a place of integration than a place of specialization, and the identity of ‘we the people’ has begun to radically shift.  While it’s lamentable the effect such errant thinking has on our society, it is hardly a new phenomenon – it is a self-correcting undulation in the social progress of a culture’s evolution, and the peril is less to our country than to our comfort.  As long as the voice of that national compact remains unchanged, and the principles upon which it rests are held inviolate, America as a nation will survive and thrive.  That includes freedoms upon whose exercise our ability to answer Christ’s Great Commission with relative impunity rest.

What is new, at least to the degree of it’s influence, is the idea that the Body of Christ is somehow strengthened by a similar alteration.  It has become acceptable, even chic, to rant and rave about the evils of organized religion, decrying denominationalism as some sort of Trojan Horse from Hell and moaning for universal unity of all churches.  We are at a cross roads of identity in the modern Church, and much of that crisis comes from the secular thinking I’ve described earlier.  Instead of meeting at the Cross of Christ for transformation, we’ve begun to see it as a place of unification — NOTHING could be farther from the truth!  The enemy has cleverly stolen the concept of unity from it’s context in Christ’s high priestly prayer (John 17), and overlain it on the American ‘civil religion’ model –that of inclusiveness, freedom of speech, and ultimate connection regardless of fundamental differences.  In theological terms, it’s known as a variation on Universalism – the idea that a transcendent God is not in any way limited by the choices of His creation, and that regardless of man’s choices, mankind will eventually be redeemed.  The first victim of that attempt at standardization of religious thought? ….the concept of Sin – the very reason Christ went to Calvary on our behalf!  After all, if we just agree to meet AT the Cross regardless of whether we have been changed BY it, surely we will fulfill the wish expressed in that prayer, right?

Well…no!  There is a fundamental difference between being ‘together’ and being ‘one’.  Christ called us out of sin to a new identity, not to a partially sanitized version of the old.  That requires submission, not simple participation and agreement.  Unless we are Christians first, were not Christians at all – there’s no room for duality or religious cultural compromises.  The one voice with which the Body of Christ must speak is not a choir of disparately clung to identities gurgling their own particularly nuanced interpretations of truth, it must be HIS voice – HIS word, not ours!  The very ideal for which Christ prayed – that God would ‘sanctify them through thy (his) truth’ – demands that we first know, accept, and be guided by that truth.  He clarified that truth is only available through God’s Word, and through a relationship with that living Word – His crucified and resurrected self.  The diversity that is so touted as the perfect model for the church is intended as an accent to that voice, not a replacement of it’s message.  Sin is still the cause, Christ is still the cure, and the Church is the means of redemption’s administration until He comes again.  When we become entangled in the affairs of this life to the point that our spiritual battles begin to mirror our political ones, we lose the ‘otherness’ by which we are to call men out of bondage, not just to our ideological campfire.

There is room in our civil discourse for dissent.  In fact, it’s one of the strengths of our republic.  Political consensus is the goal of a flourishing democracy, and for that to be reached, everyone must have a seat at the table and everyone has a right to be represented, heard, and respected.  No one belongs at the head of that table ahead of the rights of the people – it is a veritable ’round table’.  In that context our religion can be preached, taught, published, defended, and otherwise disseminated without interference.  It is our duty as Christian citizens to fight for the liberty of the Muslim voice that represents millions of newly American Muslims – they belong at the table as assuredly as any other group – it’s the only way that the country as a whole, through the genius of the process, can eventually (albeit sometimes frustratingly slowly) can reach consensus and weed out the incompatibilities with our political credo.  When it comes to the church, let’s not be confused as to the fundamental differences.  The Body of Christ is NOT a democracy, NOT a republic, and not even an earthly kingdom – it is a Theocracy.  Our table is not the roundtable of equal debate, it is the banquet table with Christ at it’s head.  If we are to have our best effect as the people of God, we must defend the liberty of the platform from which we freely preach the only message that brings ultimate hope for men and nations, and the only effective counter to the civil acceptance of an inferior alternative.  Our message wins – every time – when it is heard.  The greatest threat to that hearing may just be our faithless paranoia about the relative strength of today’s faddish lie, and our attempt to repress that lie’s expression.  Justice Brandeis once noted that ‘sunlight is said to be the best disinfectant’, so let’s defend the liberty of our own ‘Mars Hill’ (the public square) so that in turn we can bring our message into the public view unhindered.  

Isaiah 55:11  “So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.”

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