The morning and evening services meshed together in a particularly pointed way on Sunday. In the morning service, we revisited the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes as prophesied in Daniel, noting that ways in which his opposition to God not only led to his defiling of the Temple and blaspheming the name of God, but also caused enormous suffering among those who were faithful to Yahweh. From there we considered our own cultural moment and how we should respond to persecution. Taking the Scripturally grounded and historically tested model of Augustine's two cities, I first emphasized how we love the lost. We co-labor with the city of man for temporal peace. We labor with the city of God for eternal peace, and we labor to bring eternal peace to our lost neighbors. We cannot set back in apathy and fulfill the command to love neighbor. Our labor for temporal peace (in the broadest sense) will move us into the public sphere because we know as believers that unrighteousness among a people will ultimately be that people's ruin. However, we must be ever mindful of the priority of eternal peace--righteous laws cannot save anyone. Only a righteous crucified Savior has the power to save.
Second, I emphasized the need to love the brethren. In that regard, I stressed respecting calling (some believers are called to labor more for change in the temporal sphere than others) and Christians should not make demands or judge other believers when they spend less time laboring for social change. Additionally, we need to respect freedom of conscience and the process of sanctification when it comes to the political views of our fellow Christians. The one righteous standard of God's word will tend to lead to agreement on many issues, but the fact remains that there will always be some differences in political policy and (perhaps especially) political strategy among Christians.
To this end I referenced the recent treatment of Louie Giglio by some evangelicals who mocked him (in my judgment) and accused him of cowardice or compromise for not choosing to "fight" for his right to say the inaugural benediction. (Of course, some expressed their thoughts in a more respectful manner.) My point as a local church pastor is that we shouldn't treat people with whom we share the Lord's Supper the way that some Christians treated Giglio. Moreover, and this is important, those who gain traction in the blogosphere do shape the way Christians respond to one another in a local church context.
Blogs and social media are tools. We are all responsible for how we use these tools and how we allow them to shape our minds and hearts. I use them. You use them as well, otherwise you wouldn't be reading this! The point is to be aware of how we use these tools and how they are affecting us. It is certainly o.k. to disagree with a public Christian's public views in public (via internet), but that disagreement should be conducted in such a way that models local fellowship in tone (love and respect) and in principle (respect for calling and liberty of conscience).
Sunday night Joshua Knott brought more detail to the struggle we face in loving one another in the church. Since the days of the early church believers have shown the tendency to turn on one another. Joshua noted that the same word for "to speak against" at the end of James 4 is used by Peter in 1st Peter 3 to describe the way in which the world wrongly slanders believers. The point? As Joshua put it, believers in the church can use the same fleshly tactics on one another that the world employs against the church. The result? We are so weakened from within as a church that we cannot withstand the assault of the world.
I had a couple of people ask me if there was a particular problem in our church that we were seeking to address, especially when these messages dovetailed the way that they did. The answer is no and yes. There is no specific problem in terms of people in conflict. (There was also no coordination of the messages.) There is, however, the reality that we are all sinners and that we now have unprecedented access via the net of all manner of bad examples that we can use to justify our sin. Thankfully there are good examples too. We need to be wise in choosing which example to emulate.