This teaching represents a sort of watershed moment for me.
Let’s back up.
I had successfully piqued general interest in our Revelation sermon series through a month’s-long quest of talking it up and teaching a solid introduction to chapter 1. Now I was gearing up to get into the book proper. However, my ministry was taken from me before I had the chance. I went from planning sermons to simply trying to make it through the day without breaking down. I figured this series was going to be chalked up in the “what might’ve been” category.
But then, as I mentioned in the series intro, more and more people asked to continue the discussion in whatever way we could. So, here we are now, officially beginning the online-portion of this series. Everything from here on out is new content and is intended for reading rather than hearing. Yet, despite the change in venue, I cannot wholly surrender the particular approach I was intending to take this particular teaching.
See, I was originally supposed to deliver this teaching on Sunday, September 11.
I can hear your heart dropping from here.
Don’t worry. I have no desire to be disrespectful to our men and women serving in the armed forces, nor obviously to those whose lives and families were ripped apart in that tragedy 15 years ago. I simply wanted to make use of the date and our place in the series to have an important and timely conversation.
I have found that this has become one of those three or four times a year when the Church calendar is in danger of being overtaken by the national one; when the American kingdom in which we journey is given nearly as much airtime as the Christ one to which we actually belong.
Now September 11 is, for many, a time to remember the senselessness of violence, especially that which is due to religious zeal. We gather together to realize there is more uniting than dividing us, that those forces of evil which perpetrate such acts as the bombings in New York City and Washington, D.C. do not have the final say, but are ultimately defeated by the Christ who “makes a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Col. 2:15). This seems to me fitting.
However, many churches use such dates (along with Memorial Day, Independence Day, etc.) as opportunities to engage in a sort of baptized nationalism that can range from the out-of-place to the downright disgusting.
Greg Boyd, in his The Myth of a Christian Nation, sums it up well:
I believe a significant segment of American evangelicalism is guilty of nationalistic and political idolatry. To a frightful degree, I think, evangelicals fuse the kingdom of God with a preferred version of the kingdom of the world (whether it’s our national interests, a particular form of government, a particular political program, or so on).1
He later says (and this is where I want to begin our discussion on these chapters):
The evangelical church in America has, to a large extent, been co-opted by an American, religious version of the kingdom of the world. We have come to trust the power of the sword more than the power of the cross. We have become intoxicated with the Constantinian, nationalistic, violent mindset of imperialistic Christendom.2
Revelation is a highly politically-charged book, however its message is decidedly one of opting out of the system, of pursuing a different path of faithfulness, rather than glorifying the system and attempting to wash the blood off its hands with holy water. It calls Christians to overcome by opting out of the pax romana.
For some Christian communities, this meant continuing the counter-cultural lives they were already living while for others, it meant waking up to see that their differences from the Kingdom of Caesar existed in name only. They could claim to be part of the Jesus movement (and may even have the schools, music, movies, and ironic t-shirts to prove it), but the reality was they were as complicit in the Roman way of life as their non-believing neighbors.
This meant that for the message of Revelation to be truly prophetic–to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable–it must contain both aspects of this message. John’s words must somehow encompass both encouragement and dire warning.
This is where chapters 2-3 become vital for our understanding of this book. In the next post, we will discuss the seven lenses through which the Church is to encounter this book, and how we today find ourselves in need of the same prophetic call.