Rebuilding the City- Drawing Lines in the Sand

September 20, 2008

But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they jeered at us and despised us and said, ‘What is this thing that you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?’ Then I replied to them, ‘The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build, but you have no portion or right or claim in Jerusalem.’” -Nehemiah 2.19-20

These days it seems there are two things you can count on: one, everybody is going to claim to be spiritual in some sense of the word, and two, everyone will have a “justification” for what they do that comes from the Bible. Mark Driscoll illustrates this point when he talks about a group of potheads in Seattle saying that they all know two verses from the Bible: “I have given you every seed-bearing plant” (Genesis 1.29) and “Thou shalt not judge” (Matthew 7.1). Of course these aren’t legitimate excuses for breaking the law with the use of marijuana, but to most Americans this is a ground which they will not question, that being the ground of faith.

This senselessness creeps into our congregations as well. Look to the Methodist churches in California whose ministers are defying church rule and performing marriages for their gay communicants, making statements in defense of their actions such as “This is my flock. It’s a matter of integrity and a matter of what it is to be a pastoral ministry.” So, in order not to violate the consciences of these ministers the Methodist leaders of Southern California “recognized ‘the pastoral need and prophetic authority’ of clergy and congregations to make marriage available to all.”

Clearly this is a problem. When we have churches that begin changing their stances based on individuals consciences and personal opinions about what is hateful then we lose all notions of a church which is standing on the Word of God. I know I refer to this a lot, but Tim Keller’s quote from his book The Reason for God is so true here:

To stay away from Christianity because part of the Bible’s teaching is offensive to you assumes that if there is a God he wouldn’t have any views that upset you. Does that belief make sense?

Except, unlike in the quote where Keller is addressing people who avoid Christianity because it offends them, what we are finding instead is people who are “embracing” Christianity and yet declaring from the inside that it must change because it is offensive to them. How ridiculous is that?

It is my belief that the church, in order to build its walls strong once again, must take the approach of Nehemiah saying “Excuse me. You clearly don’t belong here. Please get out.” Yeah, it sounds harsh, but so do the words of Jesus in Matthew 7.21-23 when he says “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” Guess what? It’s supposed to be harsh. We are not supposed to just put up with whatever in the church. This is repeated numerous times in not so many different ways throughout the Bible (Try 1 Corinthians 5.12-13 which says, “Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? . . . ‘Purge the evil person from among you’“).

If we are to be serious about rebuilding the church, returning to the place where God’s presence is felt among us and where we are able to stand as a city on a hill and a light unto the world, then we must not be afraid to be harsh and hurt a few feelings. I certainly would much rather offend a fallen human here on earth than the only perfect God in heaven. The Methodist ministers in California are right, it’s about integrity. But that integrity is not the integrity of being PC in the world, it’s the integrity of standing under God’s Word in every action we take. And sometimes that’s not going to make everybody happy. And it’s not supposed to!