Retreatism or Reconstruction: American Christianity’s Complicated Relationship with Modernity

 

Several months later, the sequel to my original article (that was scribbled down in the wake of the Parkland massacre has finally arrived. In my original article, I posited that neither the typical right or left wing responses to gun violence go far enough. Instead, I’ve suggested that it is a symptom of a greater disease that has infected us from the beginning of the Fall, and has been amplified greatly by modernity. The article left off with the suggestion that we in America have come dangerously close to not only accepting this as the new temperament of the times but even a treaty of complacency with it.

In this follow-up, I’ll be addressing that last concern and concluding this series by setting up a thesis that should leave you asking more questions of yourself. My supposition is a simple one that seems like it should be obvious to Christendom, but has been washed away by institutionalized distractions: our eyes ought to be set not on a savior in the White House on Capitol Hill today who offers temporary solutions built on fiat, but instead the Savior that was elevated on Cavalry two thousand years ago and dwells in an Eternal City, Who provided Himself as the Scapegoat for our own sins against Him, giving us the inheritance to a new kingdom.

Retreatism?

Those who have made peace between themselves and the world seem to have the most skewed ideas about what retreatism is. They often echo trite sayings like ‘you can’t legislate morality’ or ‘it isn’t the church’s duty to influence politics’ all while priding themselves deeply in the supposedly Christian heritage of the nation and proudly wearing the badge of patriotism with honor.
Other curious ideas coming from these mouths have included the oddest notions, such as the idea that homeschooling and Christian education are a form of ‘retreatism’ and we’re missing out on a valuable opportunity to reach new missions fields. By what? By adopting their means and methods to get closer to them? To appeal to some sense of familiarity by dreaming their dreams and setting the same goals?

That sounds an awful lot like conformity to me, not retreatism. While the church has stooped so far as to use sociological terms to divide itself, let’s examine what these terms actually mean and where they come from.

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Coming from a concept known as strain theory, this relates to an organism’s relationship (typically a mass organism, like society, or in our case the American church) with its environments, retreatism is an abandonment of goals and means that is a form of surrender and complete disengagement. What room is there for disengagement in the church? I’d argue there actually is some, but not when it comes to the culture war.

“To put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” – Ephesians 4:22-14

Retreatism from the flesh is a clear command because of the fact that we no longer owe allegiance to Christ. This new allegiance commands a new conformity instead, to our beautiful and all fulfilling God and His standards of holiness.

Retreatism from the flesh and conformity to God – what then is to be our relationship to the world?

Rebellion and Reconstruction!

So many of Christianity’s marriage alliances with the world and infidelity to the kingdom of God find their origin in the wonderfully named “social gospel.” A movement whose roots were well-intentioned, it fell by the wayside when it decided temporary solutions outweighed the eternal, focusing far more on society’s needs than the gospel’s offerings. I do believe it is the time for a new social gospel, with its eyes on the statutes of God as written in scripture as its solution, and not a reliance on democracy.

But how do we transition from where we are now to that point? Where do we begin to rebuild?

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Rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem under Nehemiah by William Brassey Hole.

My eyes tend to be pulled by some great magnetic force towards upwards and backward whenever I hear someone deduct the entire story of Nehemiah to one of leadership and gloss over its entire significance in the redemptive plan. But for once, I do believe it is proper to use him as an example for ourselves, given the grace of God that we can accomplish much for him.

The young nobleman Nehemiah took it upon himself not to live in harmony with the great provision of the strong and mighty Persian empire, he instead divorced himself from it entirely in order to passionately dedicate himself to what seemed like a pipedream, which was a world in which his people could be protected from evil and build the kingdom of God instead of cowering in fear of circumstance. Once in Jerusalem, he fearlessly followed the commands of God and stood against the backbiting Samaritans, the Ammonites who tried to mingle amongst them and spread their pagan ways, their constant foes the Philistines, and maurading Arabs. Stress and duress availed nothing and the wall was built from the ruins of the city in fifty-two days.

Are we called to replicate this radical separation?

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We should live under no delusion that He who rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and translated us to the kingdom of light wishes us to dwell in it. How did we get to the point where whether or not one has a tattoo or wears a name brand of clothing is the definition of separation, but we give our full support to a ‘pro-life’ movement whose main objective seems to be how to regulate the murder of babies instead of preventing it entirely? When the missionary line-item is the least funded on the budget, but we raise no objection to giving our hard earned money to foreign wars that blot out the name of our God and nation and hinder the advance of the gospel? Blasphemy surrounds us in every song and half of the texts we send and we do nothing, but a murmur against the flag and we’re raising arms?

Where do our priorities lie, and with whose kingdom?

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How do we dare to have preachers that speak on the idolatry and adultery of the nation of Israel, while we who claim we wish ‘God to prevail’ (Israel) give all of our time and effort to his enemies? Whose legacy are we building?

“Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” – James 4:4

The American dream is not reconcilable with a spiritual inheritance for our children and grandchildren. Forming a pact with the world is not conducive to providing for their wellbeing – you’re setting up the path for glamorous and well-fed victims of the world’s devices. Our first and foremost priority should not be dreams, but living as the bride of Christ on earth and preparing ourselves for Him. While our true home lies in heaven, there is no excuse for the kingdom of light to not make itself manifest in our preparations for the bridegroom. We have no excuses.

Revanchism!?

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Expulsion from the Garden by Thomas Cole

Neither our sin nature nor our exile from the perfection of the garden are excuses for disobedience from God. What I see around me (and am very, very, very guilty of myself) are Christians whom, in the presence of God, choose the tree of the knowledge of good and evil over the tree of life daily. We choose to bury ourselves back into our tombs we were freed from, and forge new shackles to bind ourselves with while spitting on the sacrifice of our Liberator.

How dare we forget the opening of the disciple’s prayer: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Perhaps this is the ultimate example of ‘we have not because we ask not.’

As we wait for the final day of glorification and the end of our long reconciliation between creation and Creator, I can only pray that we as a nation and culture learn to ask for more, so that we may accomplish it to God’s glory. There is a disease, there is an infection, there is a cure, and we do not share it.

We are at peace with the world. Christianity is not a religion of peace. The world is at war with us, and we stand by and do little. Now is the time to fight the good fight by the means and provisions of God’s grace.

Conform to God. Retreat from the flesh. Rebel against the world.

Reclaim the name of that which is our God’s.

The original article was written by Timothy Martin.

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