It is four in the morning, and I have kept watch. I have kept watch after another day of disappointment and grief over sin of which has nothing to do with me and everything to do with me.
It has been a difficult year. The Christian witness in this country has been undermined from within and without. People who have never cared what Christians have to say are now eager to condemn our silence and malpractice. People who speak the loudest for Christians bring condemnation unto us.
It has been a long year. It has seemed like a century, and this young century feels longer still.
It is a long wait for Jesus. It feels as though evil is pursuing new ways to extend our experience of time, knowing that the kingdom is at hand, closer in this moment than the last.
I do not think what we’re doing is sustainable.
I am moved this morning to write to you, dear sisters and brothers, who feel as though this church is not yours: What we are doing is not sustainable.
We have spent years railing against false teachers and false doctrine. We have spent years as outsiders waiting and pushing for a time of correction. We have seen the wrong leaders with megaphones, and we have sought to shout them down, to turn the tide, to claim the ground for truth. There is a franticness that has no recourse but cynicism. A striving that has no end but disappointment.
We keep waiting for the future, for our future.
But while we feel as though we are looking toward the future, and while our activity is consumed with the present, I am convinced that in reality we are stuck in the past. I think God is way ahead of where we are right now. The present is the past.
So many of you are waiting for your turn, when we need to realize our turn is now. It’s happening right now. We feel like outsiders, but the ones we protest are running on fumes. They have made their decisions, and they have their reward. What are we building?
Let me be explicit: The hucksters do not represent Christ.
Let me be even more explicit: Roy Moore does not represent Christ.
And we need to stop treating them as if they do. We keep waiting for some magical moment when they will be unequivocally, ceremoniously dethroned while their throne rests on our backs. We say we’re queasy about identifying as evangelicals, or as Christians even, while they claim the same title, but our queasiness is ceding the territory to the very ideas we oppose.
So much has been building up in me over the last decade, as I’ve seen faith and politics and culture all intermingle from a number of different perspectives and positions. I’ve become more firmly convicted in all of this over just the last couple of years through individual and corporate prayer, discernment and analysis. But I felt it rush to me now when I saw this from Tyler Burns.
This is my conviction this morning:
Christianity belongs to no man. The church belongs to no man. It all belongs to Jesus. Some may have forgotten this, but let us never forget. Let us never forget that the way this world counts power and influence means nothing to our God. He will settle all accounts, we can be sure of that. This year, the story we have allowed to be told about us is what we are in reaction to the hucksters and the charlatans, but all the while we have been seeking to live a different story: who are we in relation to Christ? What are we building?
We have built so much this year as we live out our callings, as we pursue Jesus who is the standard-bearer of our faith.
I see what Jemar Tisby and Tyler Burns are building: a bold, Christ-centered Witness that is neither ashamed of the gospel, nor timid in the face of injustice.
I see what Michelle Higgins, Christina Edmondson and Ekemini Uwan are building as they generate new power through their work that is redirecting stagnant waters, and carving out new territory for Christ to work His will.
I see what Ann Voskamp is building as she stewards her influence to raise money for a radical, Preemptive Love. I saw her on a cold February morning protesting outside of a hotel where political leaders would gather to publicly pray while denying welcome to the stranger.
I see Sharon Hodde Miller and Tish Harrison Warren and Alan Noble and Duke Kwon and Scott Sauls and Sarah TheBarge and Ray Chang and Sho Baraka and Laura Turner and Trillia Newbell and Beth Moore and Charlie Dates and Wesley Hill and Matthew Loftus and Sarah Bessey and Russell Moore and Justin Giboney and on and on and on.
I see young Christians in politics who want to build their careers by faithfulness, not utilitarian power-grabbing.
I see seminary students who are pursuing sound doctrine and sound practice, who believe the gospel is for all of life and will preach a gospel that changes everything.
I see young Christians in “secular” fields who are neither arrogant because of their faith nor ashamed of it, but believe in living a life of integrated integrity in light of the security they find in Christ.
I see COGICs and Catholics and Baptists and Quakers and Anglicans and Presbyterians—Christians pursuing God rooted in many different expressions—all like streams of living water, nourishing the ground for a new harvest.
I do not name people here as exceptions—that is to miss the very point. I would encourage you to share the stories of brothers and sisters you see that are building, but this is most useful when it points to the One they’re building for. That you or I know or recognize someone does not vindicate their work. What a gift it is to be introduced to someone new! This, of course, requires that they were unknown to us prior to that very moment. And there are many who labor in obscurity who are no less integral to the body.
We act as if we must wrest control of the witness of the church from those who are getting the attention, but the work of the church belongs to Jesus and all that does not belong to Him stands no chance against Him.
The main challenge that faces us is not the hucksters, but ourselves. Our own sin. Our own pride. Our own specific tastes. Can we root each other on even in our diversity? Can we support one another though there may be areas where we disagree? The main challenge we face in our accentuated diversity is the recognition that we are all part of one body in Christ. What weapon formed against us will prosper if we grab hold of that truth, if that love for Christ and one another is embedded in our hearts?
I do not recognize the name on the hucksters’ lips, this name they use of obfuscation and self-protection, this alibi for sin and degradation, this tactic for maintaining self-serving power. They are running on fumes. I do not recognize the name on their lips.
We must condemn what must be condemned. We must repent for what requires repentance. But we must not spend our present days in reaction to their transparent distortions. The world has done a fine job recognizing those things. Is our primary task to point to them?
Of course not.
Let us proclaim Christ in our time, now. We do not need to wait for more influence, we can build right now. We are building. We have built.
While we have breath in our lungs, let us point to Jesus. Christian leaders, even the best of them, have never been worth anyone’s ultimate trust, devotion or faith. There is only One who is always faithful. He is ever worthy to be praised.