The Occupying Church and the Dying Church
Life is too short for things that don’t work, and that includes your church fellowship and your theology. I tried to identify two broad divisions of the faith yesterday, and why we really shouldn’t have to choose between the two, even though, in practice, our choices are limited. The “dying church” branch of the gospel, for me, includes true, but misguided believers, who fail to acknowledge Matthew 28 and Romans 13. Simply put, the pre-resurrection Jesus submitted Himself to be sacrificed, but the post resurrection Jesus effectively declares Himself High King of the Universe. All Authority in heaven and on earth is given unto Him and He freely gives the keys of that kingdom to His church — to us. Furthermore, He declares, through His apostles, that the magistrate has an obligation to be an “agent of wrath” against the wicked.
The “dying church” doesn’t get that. Christ, and His followers, are always weak and scourged, never on the throne and in power. They see themselves as withdrawn from government and politics. In some cases, they are outright pacifists, at the mercy of heathens wherever they may live, counting themselves blessed to be whipped, jailed, and scourged for Christ. This branch includes Eastern Orthodoxy, the Copts, the Chaldeans, Maronites, the Amish and Mennonites, and far too many hyper-pietist branches of American evangelicalism. Whatever culture they create is for their own ghetto and their own ghetto only. They plainly don’t see God’s law having any role in governing the nations around them. Typically, they believe true conversion to Christ will mystically transform the culture, but they get very nervous about catechizing or discipling once that conversion takes place, much less trying to visualize what “occupying” would look like here on earth. I’ve known American Christians, one of them a former military officer, who works with Egyptian Christians. They depend on him for physical defense because they don’t count him a believer — just a heathen tool God uses for their good.
The “Occupying church” on the other hand sees Christ on a march through history. His servants build hospitals, improve roads, drill wells, establish universities, plan great cities and field armies. They are not converting heathens with the tip of a spear, but they won’t let East Indian widows be thrown on their husband’s funeral pyre either. Huron ritual torture will stop, thank you very much, and order will be maintained, so that the gospel can be preached, whether you accept it or not. Civil and criminal law can be traced to Biblical law, and when the Occupying Church says the Lord’s Prayer, they have real faith His will can be followed on earth, as it is in heaven. The historic British/American Protestant church is in this group, and historic Roman Catholicism is here too, despite their profound doctrinal differences. The Crusades and Manifest Destiny are cousins, and the great reform movements from the abolition of chattel slavery to the abolition of abortion have been born and nurtured within the Occupying Church.
I submit that you are in one of these two churches, and that with respect to your sojourn here on earth, there are few distinctions that matter quite so much as this one. You will either have safe drinking water or you will pay a religious tax to an Islamic war lord to live out your life in poverty. You will either engage in a free exchange of ideas and worship as you choose, or the state will certify, and regulate, your denomination and your political and religious orthodoxy. Your child will be free to say “he” or “she,” or get put on the remedial track by the Brave New World edu-crats of tomorrow for gender bigotry.
The world’s elites, throughout history, have composed a million different ways to strip you of the royal heritage you have in Christ–your dominion rights–and you either insist on those rights, or you don’t. The “Dying Church” in its worst incarnation will rub a little spiritual varnish on that injustice and make you feel good about your cowardice, but the Dying Church in its best sense actually speaks the truth to power, sells its cloak, buys its swords, and weds itself to the Occupying Church.
The Occupying Church, unfortunately, is always on the defensive. There are a thousand cowards for every brave man, and a dozen equivocating Erasmus types for every Luther. The Occupying Church has to rent a leaky ship and sail across the ocean to set up shop in the New World. The Occupying church usually doesn’t hold much credibility with the seminaries, or the academics, and certainly not with the feminists, and during periods of ascendancy it works with flawed men of every sort, from Columbus to Ulysses S. Grant. The Occupying church is actually asking you to get off your ass and get to work, whereas the Dying Church promises you a little ice cream if God wills it.
Moreover the Dying church actually does some good, and so it’s difficult to get out of its clutches. Even if you give one day a week to some happy talk and a little music and a little socio-psycho-spirituality, who could argue that it might not make you a tad more generous, a tad more at ease, even a tad more confident? Being forced to read Family Circle, after all, would likely be better for you than spending the afternoon with the NFL. Your friends are all there, and you get to sing, and no one asks that much of you, so, hey, can we just go with it?
The Occupying church, to be certain, stumbles a lot; it’s particularly prone to cult behavior and hyper denominationalism. I’ve spent the last five years watching Doug Phillips and RC Sproul Jr and Bill Gothard indulge hyper-pietism, hyper-modesty, hyper-dominionism and hyper-patriarchy, (though, I never actually saw the “spiritual head, wife-spanking” stuff they were accused of). In their public and spectacular fall, the Christian feminists and the cheap-grace crowd shout with glee and claim they were the better guardians of Christ all along. (It’s always easy to succeed, in other words, if you never planned to do anything in the first place.)
Meanwhile, some low-functioning millennials speak fondly of socialism and communism — and some of them are believers. Meanwhile, even the President of the United States can’t keep a federal judge from using your tax dollars to pay for transgender reassignment surgery. Meanwhile, even the Southern Baptists, once solid members of the Occupying Church, are running around trying to build mosques along with Russell Moore — so as to create their own real life Coptic ghetto.
We better figure out how to strengthen the Occupying Church, folks, for all of its problems, or you better get used to living in the third world. If your church is making fun of politics, if your church is smoothing over very profound cultural differences, if your church can’t see the “City on a Hill” HERE on this earth, then guess what?
You aren’t even in the dying church. You’re in the dead church.