Christians in American Exile

This article is written after a weekend of turbulence in the United States of America. Last Friday the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) legalized same-sex marriage across the nation. This website does not normally engage in more controversial social issues as this site seeks to build unity rather than division. However, in this case, it seems that a response is necessary. Yet, the response I was led to provide in our church service is the same response I feel led to provide on the website. The response will not engage the issue of same-sex marriage nor will it address the issue of marriage (Lord knows that the blogosphere and social media have exploded with comments pertaining to those issues). This response deals with the ever-increasing reality that Christians—by Christians here, I mean those who take the Bible seriously in its morality as well as its theology—find themselves in exile in their own land. Bizarre as it may seem, especially heading into the Fourth of July, many Christians feel that this land of the free does not provide them with as much free expression as it once did, thus leading to the feeling that Christians are in exile in America. But, one should know that this is not the first time that the faithful have found themselves in the minority. It is not the first time that the faithful have found themselves strangers in their own land. In fact, God has allowed such times to occur to bring forth several realities. Such realities can be seen as the Jewish people returned to Jerusalem after having been exiled in Babylon for several years. When Ezra, Nehemiah, and others came back to rebuild the Temple, they discovered these realities. This article will deal with three.

Exiles Acknowledge the Faithful Have Always Been a Minority

God may allow exiles to occur in order to remind the faithful that they have always been in the minority. Jesus said, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14).[1] The fact is—the people of God have always been in the minority. But this brings the church to another reality.

Exiles Purify the Faithful by Identifying the True People of Faith

One may query, “But hasn’t the church been in the majority in American public life up until now?” Yes. But such an acknowledgment does not indicate that everyone who claimed to be a Christian really was a Christian. In a society where being a Christian is easy, it may be that some become “Christians” for reasons beyond that of true acceptance and surrender to the risen Christ. For instance, I knew a person who never acted like a Christian, yet everyone observed that he attended a local church every Sunday. Someone asked him, “I notice you go to church. Are you a Christian?” He said, “No, not really. I just attend church because it makes me look good to those in the community. It is job security.” When exiles occur, the people of God are reminded that this is not their home. This is a fallen world. When faith is tested, the people of faith will rise to the occasion. Those who are not will fall. When Ezra and the people of God returned from exile, they rebuilt the Temple. Yet, not everyone was excited about this endeavor. Ezra denotes that “many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted for joy, so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted with a great shout, and he sound was heard far away” (Ezra 3:12-13). Some may claim that these tears were tears of joy. But the next chapter indicates that the people of faith encountered great opposition against the building campaign. All of this demonstrates that the people of faith will rise to any occasion because of the empowerment of God and the faith in which they hold (e.g. Daniel, and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego). Others will fall. Abraham Lincoln once said, “If you want to see what a person is truly like, put them in power.” The same could be said in that if one wants to see the one who truly has faith, put them in situations where the person’s faith is tested. Like separating wheat from chaff, the wheat will remain and the chaff will be blown away.

This does not mean that the church gives in or gives up. It means that the church must look up and reach out.

Exiles Strengthen the Faithful

Finally, one will note that the faithful are strengthened during times of exile. It is an odd thing that when the church faces its most pressing times, it is then that the church becomes the strongest. The darker the times, the brighter the light of God shines through the church. This does not indicate that bad times are good. It simply indicates that God uses dark days to strengthen his people. Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part” (2 Corinthians 8:1-2). The faithful will remain standing and in fact will be strengthened during what appears to be a Christian American exile. Looking back in history, great times of distress have accompanied great times of revival.

Conclusion

So how should a Christian respond in such difficult times? As one may have noticed, there will be some who become angry and filled with hate. Such should not be the response of the Christian. Yes, we become frustrated. Yes, we become irritated. However, a true believer will not respond in hate. Second, some will fall away. Some will become so frustrated with the drama that they discontinue their ministries and/or their work in the church. But such is not demonstrative of a true believer because the “one who endures to the end will be saved” (Mark 13:13). This is not to say that church attendance saves, but rather that one who continues to endure is the elect of God. Perhaps the best response is given by the apostle Paul who wrote that the church should “excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also. I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love is genuine” (2 Corinthians 8:7-8). Excel church and be excellent! Those are great words of wisdom. During this time of exile, let your light luminously shine while standing firm upon the foundation of faith. Stand for biblical convictions, but never stop loving those around you–including those with whom you disagree.

© June 29, 2015. Brian Chilton

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

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