What if you turn on the radio in the morning and hear reports of severe weather approaching? There will be tornados, or blizzards, or flash floods. What do you do? A few of you will jump in the car and run to the grocery store to stock up on toilet paper and bottled water and milk. But many of you will decide that this is a good day to stay home – to hunker down – to skip work and school – to make sure that the home fires keep burning and the kids are safe.
Many Christians today are sensing that there is a severe storm on the cultural weather radar. They see catastrophic change on the horizon, dark clouds of oppression. And they have good reason for their fears.
Only a few decades ago we could assume that most of our culture was “Judeo-Christian.” That is, even though not everyone believed in Jesus Christ, most of our life together in society was built on ideas that came from the Bible – that people are more than animals and have unique value – that men and women were designed for one another and ordinarily a man and woman marry and have children – that the law is a good thing and those who follow the law could expect to get along alright, and those who broke the law could expect to face trouble – that while it might not always be perfect in practice, the law would apply to people equally no matter whether they were rich or poor or black or white. We assumed all of these things. But now all those assumptions are gone.
Is our society a “Christian society” in any meaningful sense? A year ago we witnessed the unveiling of a massive statue of Satan in Detroit, and the worship event was attended by hundreds of people. Today many Christians are afraid to say that they believe certain practices are morally wrong because they fear that they will be accused of being “haters.” The classic term “freedom of religion” has been gradually changed to “freedom of worship”, implying that you can believe what you like as long as you keep it in your own church and don’t bring your religious beliefs out into your workplace or the public square.
So what is a follower of Jesus to do?
I hear many Christians considering The Benedict Option. Not all of them know it by this name, but I’ve heard pastors and lay people all across the country talking about hunkering down, staying safe, gathering the kids closer to home, getting out of the public square, protecting themselves. Just like people preparing for severe weather, many Christians are preparing for the cultural storm by moving into their own (mental or emotional) monasteries. They are hoping to preserve the culture of Christianity through the coming Dark Ages, just as monks preserved God’s Word long ago. While the world adopts sexually promiscuous clothing, entertainment, and language, the new Benedictines will preserve an older life, making their own Christian clothes, Christian books, Christian movies and music.
I can understand the appeal of the Benedict Option. I’ve talked to so many parents whose children have left the church. Some of them seem, for the time being at least, to still believe in Jesus. (Others do not.) But they have embraced the culture around them and pulled away from all the things that their parents took for granted. What are they to do? The temptation to find a spiritual bomb shelter is strong.
But God did not create monasteries. God created churches.
In the Bible, the word for church is “ecclesia.” It means the gathering. We don’t live together in our own church world. But we gather together to build each other up, to sharpen each other, to teach one another, and to be strengthened and prepared to go back out into the world.
God calls us to the Jeremiah Option. Jeremiah called on the people of Israel to accept that God had judged their unfaithful culture, and to go willingly and without fear into exile in Babylon. And while in that pagan place, Ezekiel called them to love the city where they were and to seek its benefit. They were not to adopt all of the values of the Babylonians. But they were to be salt and light, a living witness to the Word of God. They were not called to form monastic communities. But it was during the period of the exile that the practice of the synagogue began to flourish. Wherever there were Jewish believers, they formed a synagogue, a place to gather each Sabbath to read the Word of God and to strengthen one another.
Jeremiah 1:7-8, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.”
These are scary times, and the Benedict Option, as tempting as it seems, is a fearful option. But the Jeremiah Option is a courageous response to fearful times. It is a positive response, a confident response that rests on the knowledge that God is in complete control. Jeremiah was called the weeping prophet because he foresaw the destruction of his beloved homeland. But Jeremiah was also the most courageous prophet because he foresaw God’s redemption, the promised end of the exile, the restoration of God’s people, and the fulfillment of God’s promise of a Savior.
Are you afraid? Do you want to just hide? John says that “perfect love casts out fear.” Jesus love for you is perfect, and nothing and no one can take it away from you. No matter what happens, no matter where our nation goes in the next 4 years, you will be God’s beloved son or daughter, and your salvation is assured. Therefore, you can live in this new culture as light dwells in the midst of darkness, and shine. Just shine!