The Roman Empire was a religiously pluralistic society much like most of the western world today. This meant that people were free to worship the ‘god’ or ‘gods’ of their choice, it was up to each individual. There was one restriction however. This was that no matter what other ‘gods’ were worshipped, one that each person must have in their collection of deities and which must be the primary object of their worship was the State in the form of Caesar the Emperor, who was considered to have divine status.
This Caesar-worship requirement had serious practical implications for Christians who could have allegiance to one God only, and that was to the God of the New Testament. Amidst the constant general persecution of Christians, one of the consequences of becoming a Christian, certainly in regard any state enterprise, was that because of their refusal to worship the Emperor, they were either denied employment or lost their job and the ability to feed their families.
I have been reminded of this ancient example of state persecution of Christians by the great furore surrounding a recent social media post by the Australian international rugby union player Israel Folau, which was claimed to be ‘Homophobic’. As a result, he has been found guilty of a high level misconduct charge by the rugby authorities and faces the prospect of losing his $4 million contract.
His post consisted of a collection of quotes from various parts of the New Testament, which he issued as a warning taking the following form.
‘Drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, idolaters.
Repent, Hell awaits you. Only Jesus saves’.
While I think it is not necessarily the most helpful way of trying to engage people with the saving Gospel of Jesus, the reality is that Folau’s post contains nothing that the bible does not say. In fact, it is a statement of orthodox biblical Christianity held by Christians for 2000 years and still held by the overwhelming majority of the more than two billion (and growing) Christians in the world today.
Yet the post has brought hot coals down on Folau’s head, but the reality is that all he has done is collect and quote a list of behaviours, whether anybody likes it or not, that the Bible indicates are unacceptable to God. However, the list is not exhaustive and we could add many more from the New Testament. For example-
‘impurity and debauchery; witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; orgies, and the like.’
Which come with the attached warning-
‘Those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.’
In Folau’s post here seems to be only one category that has caused offence, that of ‘Homosexuals’. However, while a sensitive issue, it is a distraction from what I think is his main and most important point which is that of the need for repentance by every human being, given that we all strike out on some of the behaviours above.
Just in case anyone thinks they are acceptable to God because they believe they manage to avoid most of the Biblically proscribed behaviours mentioned above (as well as others), it is important to remember that the breach of any ONE of God’s Laws means that God considers that we have broken ALL of them (James 2:10). This comes into sharper focus when we put that together with God’s standard for acceptance into His Kingdom, which is Perfection! (Matthew 5:48). None of us can meet that standard, thus we all in our natural state are excluded from the Kingdom of God.
Jesus stated clearly that there are two options for the human life, two roads for humans to travel when he said-
‘Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.
But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.’ (Matthew 7:13,14)
Christian orthodoxy teaches that the default position for every human is that they are on the ‘Broad road’ and that the very reason Jesus went to the Cross is to rescue us from the consequences of this terrible reality.
That same orthodoxy also teaches that Hell (an existence where God is not), mentioned on Jesus lips 11 times in the gospels, is the default destination for every human being unless they repent of their sins, and seek to change the direction of their lives, with God’s help, from disobeying God to living His way.
Only by acknowledgment of the need for repentance and asking for God’s forgiveness and mercy can a person change to the ‘Narrow Road’ that leads to life. Then, and only then, do they receive the benefits of Christ’s blood shed on the Cross washing away their sin so that they are counted ‘Perfect’ in God’s sight.
- When he wrote – “Those that are living in Sin will end up in Hell unless you repent. Jesus Christ loves you and is giving you time to turn away from your…”
His purpose, however clumsily expressed, was neither ‘Hate speech’ or ‘Homophobia’ but one of Love in warning people of the danger they are in.
The fact is that we all fall short of God’s standard (Romans 3:23) and on many accounts! So even if we decide that one particular behaviour, e.g. a homosexual lifestyle should not be in the biblical lists (an argument that in the end we will have to have with God himself), it is, in terms of our acceptance by God, in the end irrelevant, because we all fail to meet God’s standard in regard to many of the others
- Those offended by Folau’s post are missing his main point, lacking in context and explanation, clumsily and insensitively put though it is, which is the call to repentance by all of us. Actually, not his call but a restatement of that of Jesus whose first call in his public ministry, addressed to all, was to repent. (Mark 1:15)
- That people got offended when Folau did nothing more than quote the New Testament should not be a surprise. In the currently developing environment it is not possible to be faithful to Christ and not offend some people, for as the late Billy Graham said-
“The Cross is an offense (sic) because it says to the world, “You’re a sinner.” The Cross said to the thief who was dying alongside Jesus, “You’re a sinner. You’d better repent.”
- God is not conditioned by, nor will He be told what is right and wrong by, any particular culture. Nor can Christians be.
Another Wake Up Call
The most important take-out from the Folau experience is another big wake up call to Christians that the West is now returning to a 1st century Christian-hostile ‘cultural Rome’, where Christians were entitled to believe what they liked as long as their practice did not conflict with the Laws of the state. If they did then there were negative consequences for them and their families. This is the looming future where-
- Christians can increasingly expect a violent reaction if they quote the Bible or publicly express their faith in any other way.
- Expression of their faith in the work environment may well have negative consequences. These may include loss of job, of which there have been several examples in the last year.
- Christians will face increasing pressure to worship the tribal deities of Political Correctness.
- We are returning to ‘Rome’, and experiencing a tectonic cultural shift to new cultural planet.
The Slumbering Church
- The recent, and continuing, Folau furore is just one of many warning straws blowing in the swirling winds radically reshaping western culture. Yet the standard Church stays asleep, with generally ageing and declining congregations, slumbering into the iceberg of irrelevancy, and persisting with anachronistic, ineffective missional strategies that were last effective in the 1990’s, if then.
- While there are some wonderful exceptions, Church Leaderships are generally asleep at the wheel or even Missing In Action, seemingly unable or unwilling to address the war clouds building on the horizon.
- Congregations are either unaware of, or if not, seriously apathetic to the crisis. Unprepared as they are by their leaders, they lack the spiritual maturity and spiritual muscle required for the fight ahead.
- Most Church members generally suffer from both a spiritual blindness and Amnesia. Blind to the fact that the church is at war, because they cannot see the realities of the ongoing tectonic cultural shifts being engineered by the armies of the Barbarians marching through society and its institutions. Blind also to the increasingly Christian-hostile world in which they, and more importantly their children and grandchildren, will live, that is a society rapidly becoming ‘Enemy’ territory.
Amnesia, because they have forgotten that the church was created to be the Army of Christ (remember quaint old hymns like ‘Onward Christian Soldiers) and that the soldiers they signed up to be when they committed to Jesus, are required to fight, and may well get wounded.
The only thing that can save society from the darkening tide of ungodly paganism is the Gospel of Love, which is the ‘Power of God for Salvation’. The only vehicle that God has created for this purpose is the church. Not the weak, declining traditional church, still focussing nearly all its resources on maintaining Sunday-Centric services, but a new one.
It must be a missional army with most of its resources devoted to engaging the lost in the cultural ‘Live, work and play’ socio-spiritual cultural universes ‘where non-believers already are’. That is to develop and use totally new ‘Go, Penetrate and Stay’ in the community strategies that will create and sustain a lay led missional movement.
Christians awake! For the train you are travelling on is the Western Civilization Express from the 21st century. Destination? A revived 1st century ‘Rome Central’’.
In the words of another old hymn-
‘Soldiers of Christ arise and put your armour on!’
We’re going to need it!