Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one. (1 Thess 4:9-12)These words from Paul were sound 2000 years ago and are just as valid and timely today. Christians of those days lived in a lawless land and yet they survived, thrived and multiplied in spite of that as well as the very real persecution they suffered, indeed perhaps they thrived precisely because of it. Very few people are looking to get themselves persecuted but it isn't like the Bible is silent on the topic. In the middle of this persecution, Paul's words seem counter-intuitive, as they so often do. Work quietly. Mind your own business. The reason was also clear. So that we as the church may walk properly before outsiders and not be dependent on anyone. His language is interesting. He describes those who are not the brethren, i.e. not part of he church, as outsiders. Coupled with his previous admonitions for purity and avoidance of sexual immorality in 1 Thess 4: 1-8 (an interesting comparison can also be made for today), Paul seems to be setting out very, very clear instructions for marking out the boundary between the church and not-the-church. Loving our brothers included being self-reliant, living quietly and living distinctly such that no one mistakes us for the world and vice versa.
Back to the title of the post. Make no mistake, this is a lawless land. That doesn't mean that there are no laws of course, we have enough laws to keep a billion lawyers happily employed. It just means that the average American has no say in the law of the land. The government can take your money, your property, your children, even your life and you can't do a thing about it. If the government comes onto your property and decides it is a "wetland" you are just out of luck, the 5th Amendment not withstanding. If the government decides that your kids are being mistreated, they can take them away by force and leave the burden to the parent to try to get them back. As we have seen time and again the democratic process is defunct and the Constitution is null and void. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote regarding the ridiculous Obergefell decision: A system of government that makes the People subordinate to a committee of nine unelected lawyers does not deserve to be called a democracy. Of course for the better part of a century this country allowed the enslavement of an entire race of people so our overall record as a land of laws is not exactly stellar.
In a land where the church dwells as part of a mass population ruled by a bureaucratic oligarchy we can look back to the early days of the church and the words of Paul ring true. The illusion of "we the people" is gone and the once comfortable perch the church sat on as the useful idiot and tame pet of Caesar has been knocked over. Caesar doesn't need us anymore and certainly doesn't want us. We are not going to regain that standing and we shouldn't try to. What matters now more than ever is not our influence but our witness. Our commitment to marriage and our embrace of a Biblical understanding of gender is a big part of that. Our love for our neighbor and especially one another is an even more important part. As Paul writes we should be a quiet, loving people who rely on each other. Our distinction from the world should be crystal clear, especially when the world is caught up in immorality.
This is one of those places where the broader church can learn from the Anabaptists but also be cautioned by them as well. The "conservative" Anabaptists have done a great job of being distinct from the world, normally a quiet and industrious people that rely on each other. They have not done such a great job being a witness to the world because they really don't want people to join them. Somewhere in the middle is probably the right way for the church. We should be very clearly distinct but that distinction should also serve as a witness and invitation. Something makes us different, we would love to tell you about it! Come share a meal with us, come spend time with us, come learn why we are different and not just learn all the ways we are different. In a world that is progressively (pun intended) more acrimonious and angry, we ought to be a quiet people of peace, bold in the Gospel but gentle in our lifestyle.
The Christianity of the coming years in America will of necessity be a less powerful Christianity as the world understands it but that doesn't mean a less powerful witness. Our weakness will be our strength, our quiet lives will be our loudest voice. When the church is interdependent and internally reliant we won't care about tax exemptions. Our love for one another will speak to the world that we are disciples of Christ far better than our opulent religious temples. We must rely on one another and we must therefore be willing and eager to support one another, even (especially) financially. Our American economic system is about the best we can hope for in a fallen world but it is completely inadequate for the church. I think there is a lot to be said about the church and how we function in the economic system, how we make a living, how we allocate our resources and how dependent or not we are on the surrounding economic system but that will have to wait for another post. Above all we must remain a people of peacemaking even when the world itself seems to be at war against us.