Confessing Faith

by

While it may be true that there are two kinds of people in the world, (those who like to divide the world into two kinds of people and those who don’t), there are in turn myriad places to draw these dividing lines. God Himself in Genesis 3 speaks of the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. As history moves forward toward the coming of the second Adam, the world is divided into Jews and Gentiles, who are, in fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham, ultimately brought together by the work of Christ, leaving us at the end of the story with two kinds of barnyard animals: sheep and goats.

Sometimes, I’m afraid, we draw with crooked lines. J. D. Hunter, a sociologist at the University of Virginia and a professing Christian, wrote an incisive and insightful book a decade or so back called Culture Wars. He argued therein that the world is divided into two kinds of people, the progressives and the orthodox. The progressives, whether they were raw secularists, new age devotees, non-observant Jews or mainline Protestants, agreed on one thing, that God had not spoken. They denied together that there was any transcendent truth. The orthodox, on the other hand, again whether Muslim or Christian, Mormon or Christian Scientist, agreed that God had indeed spoken. They agreed that there was a transcendent source of truth and morality. They just couldn’t agree on what that source was.

It’s a perfectly appropriate way to divide the world, as long as you realize that there are plenty of goats still on our side. Co-belligerancy in the culture wars may be a good thing, an appropriate battle strategy. Wisdom requires, however, that we remember that it comes with a peculiar temptation. It is all too easy to delight in what unites us, and diminish what divides us. It is all too easy to forget that our allies in the battle are our enemies in the war. That temptation is particularly grave when the barbarians are at the gate, when all the world is crumbling down around us.

Charles Colson has argued that we have entered into a new dark age. But this time it’s different. The barbarians are no longer at the gate. Instead they sit upon thrones within. They aren’t marauding hordes, but polished assassins. What does a collapsing civilization look like? Because we are worldly we think it is found in the thundering hoof beats of Ghengis Khan and his army. We think it comes by way of Viking longboats, landing on our shores. We think we see civilization ebbing as the Roman army pulls back from the frontiers to defend the core. The truth of the matter, as the barbarian Pogo understood, is that we have met the enemy, and we are it. Here is the sign not of the coming destruction of civilization, but the current destruction: millions of dead babies, killed by medical professionals, hired by mothers, all enjoying the sanction and safety of the state. Judgment is here, and we are judged all the more that we do not know it.

Saint Augustine rightly drew the line. He wrote, in the dusk of the Roman Empire, of two cities. Some were citizens of man’s city. But by God’s grace, some looked for a city whose builder and maker was God. What separated these two cities, and the citizens therein, however, wasn’t what we think. Man’s city wasn’t simply that place that would not acknowledge God. The city of God isn’t that place where everyone is a theist. Instead Augustine’s explanation of these two cities reflected another important part of Augustine’s work, his battle with the heretic Pelagius. The battle between Augustine and Pelagius was the same battle that rages between the two cities. What separates the citizens of these two cities is the same thing that separated the two men praying in the temple. One prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get” (Luke 18:12). The other prayed, “God be merciful to me, a sinner” (v. 13). There are, as such, two kinds of people in this world, those who know they are sinners, and those who think otherwise. This is the great divide.

The culture wars call us to forget this distinction — to exchange it for another. This is why we keep finding ourselves embracing assorted power-grabbing schemes. Our neighbors hope in princes, and we hope with them. We are yoked with the unrepentant, which means we will always receive judgment. The penitent in Jesus’ parable, on the other hand, wasn’t a mere pietist. His prayer wasn’t merely private. He wasn’t so heavenly minded that he was no earthly good. Instead, this is the very power for the battle. We will not change the world by drawing perfect lines. We will only change the world by confessing that all we ever do is draw crooked lines. It is repentance that will bring down the walls of Jericho, that will establish the walls of Jerusalem. I tell you the truth, the penitent went out from the temple justified. Still more, he went out a soldier of the king. As Jesus ended this parable He reminded us of the weapons of His warfare: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

We are a people of unclean lips, and we dwell in a land of unclean lips. What separates us from them is simply repentance. Our exaltation, after all, is simply to rule with Christ. It is His kingdom we seek, His glory that we pursue. And all these things will be added unto us.

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