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December 17, 2012

One of my favorite Christian songs is “Homesick” by Mercy Me.  In fact, as I write this I am listening to it.  If you have never heard it you can find it here.  The key phrase for me is “if home is where the heart is than I’m out of place.”  I listen to this song whenever I am feeling pensive.

To be homesick is, frankly, a very biblical attitude.  I Peter calls us “aliens and exiles.”  In 20 years of work in overseas missions if I learned anything it was what it feels like to be an alien.  When you are in a culture that is overwhelmingly different than you are it is a lonely feeling and being homesick is really a continual pressure.  Scripture seems to make clear that this is the expected attitude we should have wherever we are and Mercy Me speaks to this in their song.

I suspect that many evangelicals would say that, in the very place they are born, in 21st century America, they feel homesick; feel as if this land is foreign to them and getting more so every day.  We complain that America has strayed from its “biblical roots” and the evidence that America is not a biblical society is pretty strong.

People have two reactions to being homesick aliens and I saw them both in living overseas.  One is to create a miniature homeland; to build a personal life and circle of friends that becomes your world; to ignore or simply endure that which is outside that self-constructed world.  The second attitude is to live knowing that this is not my home but I am here for a purpose.  As a missionary that purpose was clear, to advance the Good News, but even business or government workers were able to adopt that “purpose-driven” approach.

However, we need to remember that Peter was not writing to people far from their birth place he was writing to those who had chosen to follow Christ and, by virtue of that choice, instantly became “aliens and exiles.”  Peter was ministering to those who had just picked up their new passports as citizens of a heavenly kingdom and were finding that others didn’t like that they switched allegiance.  What he was saying, in essence, is that we need to make one of the two choices in the previous paragraph.  He was not advising them to build their own little world but rather to accept the purpose-driven view.

In the early 20th century Pietist movement many Christians chose the own little world option and I think it can be documented that this was not healthy for the church.  By the 1970s a trend to move away from pietism had begun and, with people like Falwell and his Moral Majority, seeing evangelicals engaging the culture was more common.  This has drifted into what we now call the culture war.  It was seen, and still is by many, as the only other option.  To this day, should you question the culture war, you will often be accused of head-in-the-sand pietism; as if the only choices are hiding or war.

I beg to differ.  We are Christians.  We can’t believe what we believe and hide.  Our understanding of sin, coupled with our belief that the only answer to that problem is Jesus, will always put us in opposition to this world.  Try as we might, if we build our little world, someone will try and destroy it, just as they did in Peter’s time.

But Peter didn’t advocate a culture war, he simply assumed it had already begun.  In fact, his specific advice to our “alien” problem was tactical not strategic.  He said “conduct yourselves honorably among the gentile, so that, though they malign you as evil doers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God.”  The people to whom he wrote lived in an evil, sexualized and hedonistic culture.  So do we.  However, it is here where I feel culture warriors have erred.  Conducting myself “honorably” in a foreign land requires humility and tact.  It is not our views that antagonize, most observant Jews and Muslims agree with us on issues like abortion and homosexuality, it is our tactics.

Our posture has not been to convince but to try and force acceptance of those views via the political process.  The net result of the culture war is that, oddly enough, the warriors are not actually presenting an alternative to the pietist idea of building their own little world.  Instead they advocate that we need to build a bigger world and get even those who differ with us to live in it too.  And, as we have seen in the recent elections, the tide is turning away from that option.

We need to reconcile ourselves to being homesick aliens.  We don’t need to hide unpopular beliefs like our sinful nature, I think the Newtown CT tragedy has stunningly demonstrated the truth of that belief.  But we must act like the homesick aliens we are and constantly emphasize to a sin-cursed world the forgiveness freely available to all through Jesus.

A sad byproduct of the culture war we are losing is that we are making many believers, particularly younger ones, feel like homesick aliens as they sit in the church pews.  The downward trend of evangelicalism, which has been both predicted and denied for a decade or more, is now evident to all who are willing to see.

I am not one who is gloomy about the future of the church, even as I see 20thcentury American evangelicalism approaching collapse.  Many of our institutions may disappear, none will emerge the same.  We need to share Paul’s contentment in whatever state we are in; even in the state of being an alien in our own land.  But we do not need to surrender.

We may need to change tactics, we may find our success will not feel all that successful, but take heart.   Go ahead and listen to Homesick.  Accept that we are aliens.  Predictions of the death of the church have been around for centuries.  But the church is not dying.    Always remember, we do worship a God who knows the way out of the grave.


From → Christianity, Grace

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