Pastoral Letter Extended 6: The sunset of our idols

This is the sixth of a series of posts expanding on my Pastoral Letter post based on my sermon from June 28th.

Following the US Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage this June, American Christians have been giving more attention to the idea of suffering as a consequence of being a Christian. This is certainly not a new subject in Christianity. Jesus himself assured us it would happen, it has been a consistent narrative in the life of the Church ever since, and our brothers and sisters outside of America today have been experiencing this suffering in a more blatant way than most Americans to date. For comments on how we need to attend to their voices on the subject, revisit my post from earlier in this series: Pastoral Letter Extended 2.

The purpose of this post is not to speculate about what sorts of changes American Christians ought to anticipate or what new pressure churches will experience. While I discuss some of that, the main attention here is instead on the more important question of how we will respond to whatever may come. If American Christians’ worst fears were to be realized, what then?

6. If we really “hunger and thirst for righteousness” – if we really want to be like Jesus – then this coming era will be really good for us.

Fire has a purifying effect. We know that cognitively, but we are beginning to learn it experientially. Our cultural moment begins to beg the question: Is our purity as important to us as it is to God?

Hardship has a timeless way of stripping away excesses. When a road is strenuous, we can’t afford to carry more than we need. We need either to lay things aside or to turn back. It’s time that we each make that decision.

In the sunset of our idols is the glow of Christ.

If what you really care about is your own comfort, your own power, your own affirmation, approval, and achievement, and those aren’t rooted in Jesus, and you’re not going to change your mind about that, you’d better just leave Christianity. Erase online traces that you ever associated yourself with Jesus Christ. Go through your whole Facebook account, every blog you comment on, everything.

The stronger love

If you’re clinging to Jesus as your fire insurance and you are generally in favor of this Jesus thing because you like surrounding yourself with people you can generally trust, but your true devotion is to your vision of what your life is supposed to be like, you won’t be able to maintain both loves. If you try to hold onto both, you will find yourself increasingly torn inside between the desire for society’s approval and your desire to call yourself a Christian. That is a terrible place to be, filled with anxiety and personal brokenness. When put to the test, your stronger love will win out.

However, if when that pressure starts to build, you see that Jesus really is more important to us than affirmation, achievement, comfort, financial security, etc., then you will be blessed with the death of your idols. It may be painful, but it is a pain that leads to healing and liberation. If you really want the true righteousness that Jesus talks about, Jesus promises that you will be filled (Matthew 5:6).

This is true even to the extent that, if our hearts are filled with idols, and things start to get difficult for us in a way that threatens our devotion to them, then that difficulty is an act of love from God. If we wouldn’t let those idols go when things were good, then we needed the pain. It might be an enormously gracious act of God that we would be stigmatized and slandered, and we should thank and adore him for treating us that way.

If you choose to press on in the face of the costs, there are a few things you should keep in mind:

1. You will suffer a penalty for right belief. At the least, we can expect stigma and personal marginalization. Scripture predicts this – even promises it – over and over.

2. The government will not police godliness. As government policy shifts, we will need to have the character to overcome the government’s incentives rather than be led by them.

3. Our true loves will be exposed. This shift will bring an attack on our idols of power, comfort, approval, and achievement.

4. Our love of the Church will be tested. As churches lose their protected status and become more spontaneous, marginalized communities, we will need to reassess our theology of church. What does church look like, why does it matter, and what does it look like for us to be committed to it?

The good news is that, in the sunset of our idols is the glow of Christ. Liberty comes in loosening the grip of our idols and excesses, both our grip on them and their grip on us. And joy comes in the unreserved pursuit of Christ. There is no loss for the sake of Christ that cannot be restored one hundredfold in the Kingdom of God.

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus says, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields – along with persecutions – and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Mark 10:29-31).

Written with contributions by Hannah


Feel free to comment below. Please be respectful and use appropriate language so the dialogue can continue.

3 thoughts on “Pastoral Letter Extended 6: The sunset of our idols”

  1. We have a lot to learn, especially in point 4, from our persecuted brethren both now, and before. It behooves us to have understanding now if the time should come, instead of making it up as we go.

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