Sunday, February 19, 2017

Resisting Trump with rRvelation (10)



Round uP of Christ’s Seven Letters to the churches


Our Resistical Worship Service So Far

We have been called to Worship in a responsive way by John (1:4-8). John has introduced himself as Jesus’ interpreter (1:9-11) and Jesus as the Guest Preacher for the day (1:12-20). Jesus has greeted his churches with a message directed to each of the seven. We are ready to sing and sing we will with the two hymns in Revelation 4 & 5.

In a world of pervasive and intensive indoctrination into the worldview of the Empire this worship service is a counter-blast challenging and correcting its mistakes and errors by casting Jesus Christ as the world’s rightful and true Emperor before whom the Roman wannabe is revealed for who he really is and whittled down to size.

The vision of Christ John crafts to introduce him provides basic elements of the seven messages Christ delivers to his churches. That there are the symbolic number “seven” of them shows us that these messages offer insight for all of Christ’s churches today.

The Seven Letters

Five Ways the Empire Corrupts the Church

Ephesus  -  turns us into culture warriors, anger                                                                                                                   Pergamum – invites us to religious syncretism (whatever religion you chose + worship of Rome)                                                       Thyatira – entangles us in consumeristic/materialistic ways, envy                                                                                  Sardis – sloth, inattention to the things of God                                                                                                                  Laodicea – pride, a country club church

Ways the Church Resists Empire

Patient endurance (2:2, 3, 10, 19; 3:10)                                                                                                                         Accountability (2:2,3)                                                                                                                                                                     Steadfast faith (2:13, 19; 3:8, 11)                                                                                                                                                      Love (2:19)                                                                                                                                                                                                               Healing and invigorating ministry (3:15)                                                                                                                                    humility (3:17)

It would not be hard at all to identify groups of churches that demonstrate the corrupting presence of imperial thoughts and ways. More churches receive mixed reviews than total affirmation or warning which is not surprising. Most of us and our churches are a mixture of faith and faithlessness. That’s why we need this book.

These items, both the ways the Empire corrupts us and the ways of faithful resistance, form the table of contents (as it were) for the rest of the book.

”Patient Endurance”

“Patient endurance” jumps out from this list as Christ’ most commended and recommended virtue for resisting Empire. In 1933, after the Nazi’s had recently taken power in Germany, Karl Barth wrote a famous (or infamous) essay in the journal Theological Existence Today! In this essay Barth wrote[1],

“I endeavor to carry on theology, and only theology, now as previously, and as if no-                             thing had happened. Perhaps there is a slightly increased tone, but without direct                       allusions: something like the chanting of the hours by the Benedictines nearby in the                      Maria Laach, which goes on undoubtedly without break or interruption, pursuing the                        even tenor of its way even in the Third Reich.”

That’s the kind of “patient endurance” John has in mind. Barth describes it even further later in the essay. He wanted Hitler gone as much as anyone. He realized, however, that for a theologian, for a church, entrusted with God’s gospel, the logic of resistance ran in a different channel than most political resistance. Paul Dafydd Jones[2] explains:

“Barth favored a different approach: a style of theological writing that, in refusing to es-       teem that which is ethically and politically inexcusable, in declining to “normalize” the                      new status quo, focuses attention on the future that God promises, and provides a thick description of what it means for human beings to turn their backs on sin and commit themselves to realizing the “two commandments” on which “hang all the law and the prophets”: love of God and love of neighbor (Matthew 22:34-40).”

-Refusing to esteem or normalizing the evil,

-focusing on the promised future God gives up, and

-giving detailed attention to the lives has called us to live in following Jesus –

this is a “patient endurance” suited to resisting the tyrannies and oppressions the church faces on its journey through history. There’s much wisdom in Barth’s approach, I think.

-The first item he lists taken by itself becomes just political rabble-rousing like all other political forms of resistance. Not unimportant but not a specifically Christian form of resistance.

-focusing on the promised future God gives us outside a context of the other two ways Barth recommends distorts this emphasis such that it often ends up sanctioning the status quo, and    

-focusing on Christian living apart from the other two of Barth’s recommendations tends to become an end in itself and legalism.

And as we will see when we get to Christ’s breaking open the seven seals in ch.6 and 7, they unfold in just this fashion.

But next up the part of worship for hymns. And hymns we will have!  



[1] Cited in Paul Dafydd Jones, “Patience, Impatience, and Political Life Today,” at http://enhancinglife.uchicago.edu/blog/patience-impatience-and-political-life-today.
[2] Ibid.

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