Denizens of the Empire, Not Necessarily Citizens of the Kingdom

“But our citizenship is in heaven . . .” (Philippians 3:20).

I recently visited a number of Amish businesses in Holmes County, Ohio, to look at furniture. I was impressed by the variety and craftsmanship, saw that they did take their work seriously, and enjoyed talking to the young men and women from both Amish and old order Mennonite backgrounds. I was also impressed by the number of scriptural phrases and other Christian themes in the decorations that they had hanging around their shops. Certainly there would have been a witness to many who may have visited their businesses who were unfamiliar with the actual words of scripture. I found myself wondering, though, whether it would become old hat to many inside their businesses and organizations, and whether they might become insensitive to what was actually being said. Even more, I wondered how much someone could simply learn and repeat the accepted words and phrases and behaviors and seem to be genuine even while never having received the truth and reality into his or her heart.

But it’s not as if the young men and women that I met never had a choice. Those from an Amish background were old enough so that they might have had a chance to go through rumspringa. This would have been where they had a chance to view what the outside world had to offer and make a choice for themselves. A few months ago, when I was taking the Jet Express ferry from Put-In-Bay to Port Clinton, Ohio, I met with a group of Amish adolescents who were probably on such a foray into the outside world.

What I just wrote was in no way to criticize the Amish or Mennonites, though. Rather, I can see a tremendous parallel in the world of what we call evangelical.  With our church day cares, Sunday Schools, home schools, Christian school, Christian colleges and universities and Christian seminaries, ministries and organizations, it may well be that many of our young men and women are growing up as denizens of an evangelical empire perhaps as insulated as those who grew up in an Amish school and worked in an Amish farm and business, and who view going to a college or university as their chance for an evangelical rumspringa or escape from an environment which they found suffocating and in which they had no other choices than to say the words and participate in  the activities.

I personally didn’t grow up in that environment, and I don’t claim to have much of what goes on in the thoughts, emotions and motivations of those who have. Often enough, those who try to treat me as if I had – who try to push the buttons of the customary evangelical influence by preaching, lecturing, scolding and guilt trips – find that they are trying to press buttons in me which were never installed, and they get very frustrated with me. Occasionally I get some honest accounts of what it was like during private conversations with my brothers and sisters in Christ who grew up and eventually made their decisions to live as conscientious disciples of Jesus Christ – perhaps even after a time spent living apart from Christ. But the most complete account of what this is like I found in, of all places, Jeff VanVonderen’s book Good News for the Chemically Dependent. His account of how he grew up was that he found himself scripted not in following Christ in the grace of God, but in people pleasing behaviors, and thus he found himself falling into the partying lifestyle when he went to college through peer pressure.

I think that Jeff’s story of his being raised within the evangelical empire and doing all the accepted things, and then going off into the partying lifestyle is a typical face behind many of the statistics that are now being put forward. Apparently 20% coming through as denizens of the empire go on to follow Christ as adults, according to the exit polls. My own first impression when I heard these stats was: do we think that the parable of the Sower (Mark 4) did not apply to those who come up through the empire?

First, it should never be a surprise to us if false conversions are found among those who have come up as denizens of the empire but have not become citizens of the kingdom. I don’t thing these situations are less than rare, or any reason for a witch hunt for false conversions among us, but I do know of these kinds of situations. They include a pastor’s son, a Bible college student and even a fellow pastor – and they all confessed openly to playing the game before they really found the Savior by faith, and they shocked everyone around them when they truly did come to Christ.

Second, there needs to be a greater understanding among us that eternal life is the relationship with God through Jesus Christ: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3, King James Version). I don’t think that we hear enough preaching and teaching that mentions that it’s not saying the  things approved within the evangelical empire and participating in the activities of the evangelical empire that save, but the heart relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ. And even more, growing in Christ is growing in that relationship, not in getting better at repeating the language of the evangelical empire and taking on more ostentatious activities within the evangelical empire. Rather, here it is: “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus as Lord, so walk ye in him: Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving” (Colossians 2:6-7, King James Version).

A scriptural example of someone who was showed the outward signs of godliness only when under the godly influence of another is King Joash of the southern kingdom of Judah: “And Joash did that which was right in the sight of the LORD all the days of Jehoiada the priest” (II Chronicles 24:2, King James Version). The story of how he showed all the outward signs of being faithful to God when he was under the guidance of Jehoiada, but quickly led the nation into idolatry after the death of Jehoiada under the influence of his idolatry and peers needs to be mentioned in these days.

Last, when the denizens of the evangelical empire go out to their lives in the secular world of work and university study, I personally would keep them reminded of this passage from Romans: “And that, knowing the time, that now is the high time to wake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day, not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof” (Romans 13:11-14).

Notes on Achieving Adulthood for Adulescents

Some time ago I put some notes together on in my personal notebook on achieving adulthood, based upon some of my experience with the young adults I’ve dealt with at work. I don’t have any scriptures associated with them, although many of them could be derived from the scriptures. But much of what I’ve written is more in the way of good advice, and if I understand Colossians 3:16-17 and the book of Proverbs correctly, it’s possible for us to share wisdom graciously, as long as we know that the Word of God comes first and foremost.

Here are the kinds of things that I put down for things that need to be learned besides vocational skills and a vocational choice. I wasn’t seeing much of them in some of the young adults that I saw at work. I don’t think that this is post-50 crankiness; I’ve read that adolescent irresponsibility is now becoming characteristic of young men and women well into their late 20’s. It’s being called Adulescence now, and I’m seeing these things even in some who are passing 30.

* Learn to live and partner with another adult, to pursue common goals and activities. This should be a roommate or close relative rather than a romantic interest or another person of the opposite sex.

* If long-term romantic relationships and marriage are part of your long-term desires and goals, learn to understand the opposite sex outside romantic situations. Observe the common and uncommon habits and characteristics of your friends and relatives of the opposite sex in your daily life, so that you can get some understanding before a romantic haze hits.

* Learn some basics on cooking and food preparation, simply as preparation for being able to run one’s own household. Learn also how to clean and take care of your home, starting with your first dorm room and apartment.

* Learn how to handle money by following a budget, looking for bargains and working and saving ahead for major purchases.

* Learn respect for others, and how to work with those who are different from you.

* Learn respect for the property of others also. Don’t damage or destroy what is not yours intentionally or through negligence. If you do damage something which isn’t yours, attempt to provide compensation. If you borrow something, remember to return it, and return it in the same condition or better than when you borrowed it.

* Learn respect for the privacy of others. The heartbreaks and embarrassments of others are matters for compassion and confidentiality, and are not necessarily things that you need to know.

* Learn respect for the time and schedules of others, by punctuality and sending regrets and cancellations if unable to keep an appointment.

* Learn respect for the feelings of others, by avoiding unfair fighting, lashing out at trivial offenses or rudely refusing mild suggestions.

* Learn respect for the convictions and opinions of others even where you disagree. A difference of opinion is not a reason to begin a relentless battle of wills, and scorning, baiting, ridiculing and browbeating someone with whom you disagree does not lend credibility or any weight of persuasion to your position, but the opposite.

* Learn how to broaden your interests and understanding by asking questions, being willing to learn new things, and being willing to continue to try again if you meet with any kind of initial failures.

Feel free to expand, contract or modify what I’ve put together here, or try them out on or forward them on to your friends and relatives (I assume no risk in that situation, and I will forward you a signed statement disavowing any consequences upon reception of the first complaint). I believe that these were just some thoughts at the end of a slow day. It’s possible that these are lessons that some of us had to learn later in life, since since young college educated adults may seem to think to have a corner on the intellectual answers, that they don’t get the answers that they need in practical things of daily life.