The Time online editorial following the same-sex ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court arrested my attention: “Orthodox Christians Must Now Learn to Live as Exiles in Our Own Country.” As an American by choice, having lived for my first five years in these United States carrying an Alien Resident Green Card, I know a little bit about being an outsider. I did not like carrying that card and filling out a government-required alien registration card every January. Alas, now Time is saying I am being exiled again.
In at least two places, the Bible uses the term exile as a synonym for “living in captivity” (Ezra 8:35 and Eze. 12:4). These verses do not bring comfort. Jeremiah, on the other hand, gives a particular assignment to exiles: “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf” (Jer. 29:7). Jeremiah says that we are exiles by the God’s design and that we live where we live in exile with the express mission of being prayer warriors. Now, I can live with that!
As preachers, we for a long time have been exiles in America. Face it: Our culture has been in a rapid spiritual decline for at least 50 years. The mile markers along the way: banned Bible reading and open prayer in public schools and public gatherings; lack of respect for the pastoral office in media; blasphemous words of writers of books, movies and stage plays; the quiet acceptance of, followed by endorsement of, lifestyle practices that spit in God’s face and mock His Word. All these and many more have been indicators that we really are not, if we ever were, “one nation under God.”
All the while the church has, for the most part, fallen asleep. The Obergefell vs. Hodges decision approving same-sex marriage was, in its own way, America’s declaration of coming out of the closet morally. Let us not be hypocrites: The time has come for Christians to lead the way in asking that the proclamation “In God We Trust” be removed from our coins. Maybe we also need to change the words that declare the beginning of each new U.S. Supreme Court session: “…the Court is now sitting. God save the United States and this Honorable Court!” perhaps should become “God save the United States from this court.”
You and I, who are called to preach, still have work to do. Jeremiah says that as exiles we are to “pray to the Lord” on behalf of our cities. So we start by praying. Then, of course, there is preaching. America needs, as never before, to hear that there are some things that have not and will not change; there are unchanging truths that are far above the pay grade of Supreme Court judges and presidents who cheer their verdicts.
As preachers, we first and foremost are declarers of God’s truth. Rise above these immoral times and let these words be the banner over everything you preach as our day in exile moves toward its perilous high noon. We are called to be truth declarers, including when truth is not popular in such a culture as ours, because truth is everlasting. God’s truth has not and will not change!
Further, His moral standards remain unchanged. What was true for Sodom is true for San Francisco, Stuyvesant and everywhere in between. No city in the world can escape because “I the Lord do not change” (Mal. 3:6). God’s promise to be with us to support us in the battles we face as exiles also will not change. As you declare truth, “Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Josh. 1:9). The gospel we are called to deliver has not and will not change! “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matt. 24:14). All fear of tyranny must be reined in because “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. He will drive out your enemies before you” (Deut. 33:27).
Our message from exile is rather straightforward; our hope is not now, never was and never will be in the elephant or the donkey, but the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. Preach Him and pray for a new Great Awakening in America!
Leslie Holmes is the dean of the Institute of Reformed Worship at Erskine Theological Seminary. Reach him at LHolmes@Erskine.edu.