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Volume 13, Issue 5: Anvil

In The System, Not of It

Douglas Wilson

Daniel was the chancellor of the University of Babylon. Joseph was the vice-president in the pagan nation of Egypt. Obadiah was a member of Ahab's cabinet, righteously hiding prophets. Caesar's household was filled with Christians. Erastus was a city official in the pagan city of Corinth.

In a very real sense, these Christians had some kind of truce with idolatry. They were not at peace with it, but according to the Sciptures, the constant total warfare against idols throughout history is waged in different ways, depending upon the circumstances.
But modern Christians appear to have two settings. Either they are oblivious to the pervasive idolatry within our nation today, or they see it, and then immediately attempt to drop out of the system. Either they think that Social Security numbers are as normal as it gets, or they think the numbers are the mark of the beast. But there are more options than just two.
One of the things we have to learn, as we repent of our individualism, is the lesson of balance. Gideon was a great man of God, one who tore down the Baal in the village square. And good for him. But the apostle Paul walked by the pagan temples in Athens regularly, and was thoroughly vexed by them, but no firebombing ensued. He testified and preached. His patient resistance set the stage for the overthrow of idolatry in Europe.
In the history of the Church, we see the same patterns. Sometimes direct action is necessary, and we are all grateful when Jenny Geddes pitches her milk stool at the holyfellow's head. But at other times, God's people are called to identify the idolatry clearly, but to still suffer patiently under it, and sometimes, as God blesses, alongside it. This is what we saw in the early church—they took three hundred years to topple idolatry, but topple it they did.
Americans want their reformations the same way they want their coffee—hot and now. But this kind of individualist impatience is antithetical to true reformation. It is one of the attitudes which must be reformed.
And so this means that those who simply drop out of the system as individuals are really true supporters of the statist democratic system. Individual choice is god, demos is god. Those who support the idolatrous system support the system, obviously. But those who "divorce" the system can support it too. Through quirky and meaningless resistance, they are actually strengthening the kind of individualism that laid the foundation of modern statism in America.
If we want out, we have to learn our lessons far more deeply, and two of them in particular—the lesson of covenant, and the lesson of patience.


 

In Defense of Angry Finger-Pointing

By Douglas Jones

For Charles Colson it was a fairly big step. A leading evangelical actually ventured to suggest ("Wake-up Call," CT, 11-12-01), albeit "gingerly," that the September 11 terrorist attack might actually and perhaps could have been maybe a sort of sign of divine displeasure.

In the safety-obsessed culture of mainstream evangelicalism, Colson is to be praised for even suggesting that "the church's primary task" is to call itself "and then the nation, to repentance." And he's more than right to claim that "if we are honest, we have much to repent for; our idols look little different from our culture's."
But just when he was on the cliff of biblical language—"might God be using these attacks as a warning of impending judgment?"—he reached back for a handful of Band-Aids and played the part of the begging peasant, always qualifying and sensitizing and softening. "We must be careful how we raise this question." "We must always be careful about how we express this to our friends." Of course, I'm not advocating that we talk like soulless radio pagans. But when it comes to national judgments, why don't the prophets of Scripture ever talk in this pasty way?
Colson tells us "But this is not the time for angry finger-pointing." When is the time, then? Is there ever a time for it? Has it ever been an easier call? Can we ever, ever call someone a whited-sepulchre or blind guide or a serpent or a fox or a child of hell. That's the mind of Christ too.
Imagine Christ or the prophets writing for a modern evangelical magazine. Shrill. Coarse. Extremist. Insensitive.
"Ezekiel, that stuff about not paying harlots but paying their lovers has to go. Too judgmental. Jeremiah, what is this `My fury comes forth like a fire and no one can quench it.'? Think of your audience. And Amos, lose the shrill `wormwood' and `noise of your songs' approach. And that extremist `shall there be evil in a city and the Lord not done it,' works better as `We're not blaming God for the terrorist attacks.' Only God can say the sort of things you want to say. Instead be like Christ the `gingerly'; be safe and tame and ever so careful. Christ obsessed about respectability. Qualify every breath."


 

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