I had a Christmas epiphany which leads me to solicit FB dialogue. It’s not about our church, but what let’s call the church across the street. How do we regard them? These people congregate at different hours, likely even on a different day, than when you or I worship. At their funerals, the pastor might express our shared Christian hope using different phrases. Their timeline about end-time events varies from what you probably understand.
And there are those who label those worshipers across the street – brace yourself – a part of “Babylon.” That’s about as tough as it gets, and I find myself in visceral reaction against such an emotionally laden label.
For three years I pastored a small church that rented from another denomination. I made a stalwart friend in the host church, and soon teasingly greeted him on the phone as “Methodist Bob.” He often helped me with ministry matters, and I gladly sang in their choir every Christmas. He was passionate about leading people to Jesus, and so it troubles me that anyone might consider Methodist Bob and his church community to be residing in a Babylonian neighborhood.
If a church has different teachings from those we understand, what do we make of this? Are they for sure “wrong”? Beyond that, is their errant perception a subtle act of rebellion against heaven?
It seems to me – and if this is naïve, you have my permission to tell me so – a binary choice. Christians of across-the-street faith groups are either: 1) part of the precious Body of Christ (I Cor. 10:17) or 2) a part of Babylon (Rev. 14:8). But both ideas cannot be true together.
In the Old Testament, Babel was marked by rebellion against God’s rainbow promise; a defiant humanity said: “His word is empty and void; we’ll save ourselves.” In the kingdom of Daniel’s day, Nebuchadnezzar boasted, in defiance of heaven: “Is this not great Babylon that I have built?” Again manifesting self-worship or a blatant “works” salvation. The second hallmark of Babylon is coerced worship, a civil requirement to bow down, under penalty of death, to a golden idol.
Obviously if we weigh the expression “antichrist,” such a group would be against, or opposed to, the person and ministry of Jesus. They would flout or undermine His rule and oppose His Lordship in the life of our church. I can testify that none of these things are true in the life of Methodist Bob.
As a young, struggling believer I experienced a transformed life partly by reading the testimony of Anglican writer C. S. Lewis. He faithfully teaches obedience to Jesus as the hallmark of mature Christian faith. My all-time favorite quote from Mere Christianity reads: “Handing everything over to Christ does not, of course, mean that you stop trying [to obey]. To trust Him means, of course, trying to do all that He says. There would be no sense in saying you trusted a person if you would not take his advice. Thus if you have really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him.” And this next line is enshrined in my heart forever. “BUT TRYING IN A NEW WAY, A LESS WORRIED WAY.”
A year ago I was visiting the church of some beloved relatives; this wasn’t just across the street but clear across the country. During the Christmas Eve service, I experienced a new praise song from Hillsong. I’ve downloaded it, and to this day can’t listen without being stirred emotionally. Here are the lyrics from that church across the street:
You put your love on the line
To bear the weight of sin that was mine
Washing my river of wrong
Into the sea of your infinite love
With arms held high
Lord, I give my life
Knowing I’m found in Christ
In your love forever
With all I am
In your grace I stand
The greatest of all romance
Love of God my Savior
Mercy roars like hurricane winds
Furious love laid waste to my sins
CHORUS: To the one who has rescued my soul
To the one who has welcomed me home
To the one who is Savior of all
I sing forever.
Okay. I would contend those lines speak for themselves; those who sing in such homage to Jesus Christ are certainly part of the Body of Christ.
Then just this last week, one Christmas later, I had that Youtube clip up on my laptop, my eyes misting as usual (I’m an old softie). All at once I heard my granddaughter (Kira’s 11) behind me, spontaneously singing along to a song she’s heard so often she has it memorized, its message of grace embedded within her burgeoning Christian soul.
Again, I invite you to share your impressions and concerns. But let me just say this: that was a wonderful moment for Grandpa.
Link to song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dktg_jcLBuY