When I was commissioned as a deacon, I was asked by the church to write a piece about myself. After some thought, I wrote my bio with a “It’s a Wonderful Life” theme. Like George Bailey, I wondered to know if I did something good and right in my past to change someone’s life. But now, as I ponder where my spiritual journey has gone, it is all the more important to look forward and ask, “Where do I go from here?” Out of concern for the Church and my brothers and sisters in Christ, I will ask in plural, “Where do we go from here?”
Our country, and our world, has literally changed overnight. Due to the events of the 2020 Presidential Election, compounded by the continuous efforts of the “moral revolution” and the restraints of the pandemic, Americans have rolled out of bed to a type of authoritarian state. I think it is an honest question for any orthodox Christian to ask, “Where do we go from here?”
To say, “We must keep politics and religion separate” or to hijack Thomas Jefferson’s words, “Separation of church and state,” is dishonest. Jefferson’s comment is not the content of any legal governing U.S. document. Religion and Christianity are very much political. The United States was founded on Judeo-Christian principles. The Ten Commandments are etched in stone in the Supreme Court building. Even in our state of Rhode Island, most people do not recognize the Hope and Anchor symbol on the state flag as reference to Hebrews 6:19-20, a reference to God’s promise:
“We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”Hebrews 6:19-20
Because God’s Word and the message of the Gospel do not fit the narrative of the neo-Marxist politicians in a post-Christian America, defending Christ is very much political. Any true follower of Christ will defend the unborn, defend the sanctity of marriage, defend God’s creation of man and woman, and so on. For what it is worth, our Lord was sentenced to death by a politician (see Mark 15:15).
So, I ask, “Where do we go from here?”
Current events point to real persecution, but American Christians do not know real persecution. We are wimps compared to the early Church and Church Fathers. After 9-11, an American Christian may have pondered a threat posed by a terrorist, an Islamic extremist pointing a gun to one’s head and demanding, “Denounce Christ or die!” Would you, could you, answer? To say it is a tough situation would be an understatement. I would probably wet myself. Today, a Christian may be forced to choose between a job or faith, between jail time or conformity. Preparation will be important and it will take courage.
Far-left politicians have colluded with Big Tech and large corporations to “cancel” any and all speech that does not agree with their narrative. The far-left has created the 1619 Project to rewrite American history. Facebook and Twitter increasingly move to block those who exercise conservative speech. Amazon shut down Parler for the same.
Coca-Cola and other large companies increasingly refuse to do business with entities that do not align with far-left “woke” ideologies. The financial sector is giving more and more weight to algorithms which recognize “environmental, social and governance issues”, i.e., ESG metrics. And the list goes on. Now Congress appears poised to pass the Equality Act, which ultimately will silence religious charities, churches, and businesses with a Christian conscience. The bill is pending Senate approval and could become law, with the elimination of the Filibuster Rule. The Bible, and Christian speech, in and out of the pulpit, would be considered “hate speech”. This very letter could very well put me on a blacklist one day.
So again, I ask, “Where do we go from here?” To find the answer to this question, we only need look to Scripture. But first, I think it is important to point out what Scripture requires of us.
According to the Catechism in our Common Prayer Book, in response to God’s promise that He would make the Hebrew People His people, to be the means of bringing all the nations in relationship to Him, He required Israel to be faithful, to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with their God (Micah 6:8). Obey the Ten Commandments; keeping the divine law is a fundamental form of the new life into which we are brought by Faith in Christ.
Christ promised to bring us into the Kingdom of God and give us life in all its fullness. Jesus’ required response to this promise is we must believe his teaching, in the power of his Death, Resurrection, and Ascension, and that we are to joyfully keep his Commandments:
And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”(Matthew 22:37-40)
Jesus also commands us to go and “make disciples of all nations”. (Matthew 28:16-20)
Now we know what is required, we can look at the path as taken by the disciples and the early Church. Peter and the Apostles went forth teaching and preaching. In Acts 5, they were beaten for teaching and speaking in the temple, but rejoiced because they were counted worthy:
“…and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.”(Acts 5:40-42)
The author of Hebrews, writing to Jewish Christians, encouraged them in their faith, which persevered through persecution:
“But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For,
“Yet a little while,
and the coming one will come and will not delay;
but my righteous one shall live by faith,
and if he shrinks back,
my soul has no pleasure in him.”
But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.”(Hebrews 10:32-39)
The Christians in Hebrews “joyfully” accepted the plundering of their property. This is a level trust and faith in Christ that is incredible. The author encourages endurance and warns “not to shrink back”. We must not shrink back.
In 1 Peter, Peter encourages his readers to endure suffering and persecution. He is writing to Christians dispersed throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia:
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And
“If the righteous is scarcely saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”
Therefore, let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.”(1 Peter 4:12-19)
In John 15:18-25, Jesus tells us it will not be easy to follow him:
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’”John 15:18-25
Where do we go from here? The answer is: The path never changed! In the last two thousand-plus years, nothing has changed. Christians have been persecuted, silenced and jailed by many a ruler. What is hard to swallow for the American Christian is our blessing of religious liberty being on the ropes. We must be ready when the “fiery trial comes upon us to test us”.
We have discussed in our adult education at Holy Communion, the need to do our work “upstream”. It is advantageous to public wisdom to preach the gospel, speak of Christ’s work, and teach God’s word and Commandments. Working “downstream” at this stage is like putting out fires with civic involvement. This is to say, good civics does not create righteousness, but righteousness creates good civics. And this is not to say we, as good and concerned citizens, do not speak up or get involved in civics. A strong quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer sends this message home: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil; God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
Our place is here and now. As Jesus says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” (Matthew 9:37).
This is a venomous moment in American history. The circumstances we are experiencing will produce many people who are lost and unsure, and many will need the message of the Gospel. The population of people who have been exposed to the Gospel is decreasing. The seeds have not been sown.
The Christian path has not changed. Surely, our work is cut out for us. We are not promised a smooth journey. We will travel sowing seeds. We will travel to hallow His name, going forth to love and serve the Lord.