Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
For Sunday, October 13, 2013
The church of the West is a church in exile. In Europe this has long been understood; in America the church is still coming to recognition. Where once the cultural consensus was based on a Christian worldview it is no longer. A world governed by the “laws of Nature and Nature’s God”, as the Declaration of Independence put it, has become a world of “diversity and inclusion”. In this new land tolerance lays moral claim to rule and is to be extended to everyone except those who would advocate for any other moral claim. The late Chuck Colson puts it this way in his book, The Faith:
Tolerance once meant listening respectfully to all points of view, freely discussed in our common search for the truth. But the creed for the new god of tolerance is that knowing truth is impossible. So everyone is free to think and act as he likes, with one exception: those who have the audacity to believe that they know the truth, particularly if they think God has revealed it to them, are not tolerated. The result is that those who crowned the new god of tolerance have become the absolute arbiters of culture. The new god of tolerance becomes, in the guise of tolerance, an absolute tyrant. (p. 68).
What is a church in exile to do? In these verses the prophet Jeremiah counseled Israel in exile in Babylon as follows: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jer. 29:7). “Welfare” is a translation of the Hebrew word ‘shalom’. Shalom means peace and prosperity, or human flourishing. There is some good news for us here: even in exile, the church itself can flourish and can have a positive impact on the surrounding culture.
What would this look like? First, it would involve strong marriages and strong families. This is why Jeremiah mentions marriage, family and homes in the preceding two verses. Our greatest witness are our own marriages and families. Each of our families are little embassies that desperately need to see forgiveness, love, and peace in action.
Second, it would involve prayer. As Jeremiah says in the verse above we are not only to seek shalom but we are also to pray for the cities in which we live (… “and pray to the Lord on its behalf). For me, this is Milwaukee. What’s the state of my city? 56% African American unemployment; one of the most segregated cities in the country; and with the fourth worst poverty problem in the country. What profound opportunities for prayer.
Third, it would involve work. Jeremiah says, “Work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile.” What kind of work is he talking about? Are we all to leave the trades and professions and become pastors? No. If we did, there wouldn’t be anyone left to fund the nonprofit work, nor would there be a redemptive influence in the trades and professions themselves. What this does mean is that each of us should work to contribute to the common good. It’s moving from, “I owe, I owe, so off to work I go,” to “how can I work today in a way that contributes to the shalom of everyone around me?”
Do you agree that the church in the West is a church in exile? Why or why not? If you agree, what does it mean for your local church and your own ministry as a member of it?