I can remember once when I was either in my teens or early twenties talking with my mom about something related to the End Times. It was in a dispensational context, of course, because that’s what we knew because that’s what we were taught and everything outside of our Baptist sect was either false teaching or a “slippery slope” to falling away from the true faith. Our conversation turned to The Rapture at some point which is the only part of the conversation I remember. Mom said, “We probably won’t know the rapture happened because churches will still be full.” That shocked me at the time not only because she said it but the possibility it could be true.
Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
“The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
“‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
“‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’” Matthew 13:24-30 NIV
These past few weeks have shown me that the tares are thick among the wheat. As we have moved into the worst pandemic in 100 years, I’ve seen Christians balking at having their rights violated by lockdowns and shutdowns. I’ve watched them grab onto outlandish and dangerous conspiracy theories with either no fact-checking or dismissing information refuting the conspiracies as “false news” and/or “liberal” attempts to destroy our freedom. I’ve seen pastors defiantly continue to hold in-person services and congregants attending with just as much defiance and cry about separation of church and state. I understand a lot of the behavior is denial. COVID-19 has destroyed what was normal life and it’s going to be a long time before we get that normal back – assuming we can.
Now we are in the midst of protests and rioting in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. The former officers might be innocent until proven guilty according to the way our judicial system works, but it is hard to watch those videos and see the photos and call that either accidental or justified even though it was not likely premeditated. I can’t help but wonder how many black citizens this happens to. It would still be happening unchecked if not for cell phones. Not that it brought justice for Philando Castile. I see a lot of denouncing of the looting and rioting from largely the same people who were offended by Colin Kaepernick. And I see a lot of silence.
I look at the way Conservative Christianity in the U.S. has morphed in the last *40 years and think of what my mom said all those years ago about the rapture. We spent so much effort focusing on the sins of others (those outside of our sects and non-Christians) that we failed to see the enemy turning us from the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:20) to follow the god of this world in seeking power and domination to hang on to our position of privilege. We drew a line and made ourselves watchkeepers of Western Christianity which we made the standard by our own self-righteousness. We have dehumanized, demonized, and criminalized those who are different whether it is a minor doctrinal issue that has no impact on the saving work of Jesus, or they look or speak differently than us. We labeled other sects, political ideologies, religions, and people groups as threats to our way of life thereby making them an enemy to be destroyed rather than follow Jesus’ command to love our enemies. We look nothing like Christ whom we are to follow into suffering or death.
I think a great many of us don’t know Jesus any deeper than as a get out of hell free token. We’ve turned salvation into a formula which builds our churches and makes us appear successful, but it is a façade. We oppress to maintain our supremacy and call it faithfulness to the Bible while few ever go any deeper than a prosperity gospel similar to Joel Osteen’s Your Best Life Now while condemning him as a false teacher. We focus on sexual immorality and abortion while ignoring the sexual abuse rampant among our churches including pastors and elders. We don’t look at our own greed and violence and divisiveness. We’ve said our Sinner’s Prayer and we go through life never growing beyond publicly avoiding vices like alcohol, drugs, and cussing and blame the other for anything that causes us discomfort let alone suffering. We blame all the troubles in our country on others while refusing to see how we created or contributed to the problems. Rather than lamenting we rage. Rather than repent we cling to our idols. We are Americans first and nominally Christians second provided our faith doesn’t interfere with how well we think of ourselves and our possessions.
We have just celebrated Pentecost while many of our cities are literally burning. Pentecost for the Christian is when the Spirit was poured out on all people. God spoke to His people through Isaiah and said:
Wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
stop doing wrong.
Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed. (Or justice. / Correct the oppressor)
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.
Are we going to listen to the Spirit, or will we be like those whom Paul warned the Thessalonians, “The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.” We need to be on guard as to which voice we are listening to and whom we are following. Are we following Jesus and all he commands in loving our neighbors or are we following the world in seeking to serve ourselves? Jesus calls us to pick up our cross and follow Him, and he said this before he went to the cross. They knew what the cross meant. Do we?
*I chose 40 years because I remember next to nothing about Christianity other than going to church every time the doors opened for the first 9 years of my life. And most of my 10th year we went nowhere.