Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Christian Witness to the City

Biblical witnesses to the city reveal different layers of its meaning to us. They reveal to us that it is a place we humans use to hide from Yahweh, a chaotic counter-creation to Yahweh’s good creation, our greatest monument to ourselves, our greatest work of devotion to the Olympian gods, and the place where the Olympian gods work on us most intensely.

Biblical witnesses to the city also reveal to us different ways in which Jesus may call us to respond creatively to these meanings today.

1. Be the preserving Christian witnesses in the center of the city. In Genesis 18, Yahweh reveals to Abraham that he intends to destroy the city of Sodom because of its wickedness. Abraham persuades Yahweh to spare the city if even ten right witnesses to Yahweh live in it. We preserve the Olympian inhabitants of our cities, we postpone their destruction, when we witness to Jesus in their midst. That’s why he has us there.

2. Call Olympian inhabitants to repentance. When we rightly witness to Jesus, we challenge the Olympian meanings of the city. We speak words, as the prophet Jonah did, which can break the spell which the Olympian gods seek to cast and maintain over every city’s inhabitants. We challenge the Olympian personalities of our neighbors as well as our own. We daily seek to weaken Olympian ways of living and to strengthen Christian ones.

Churches should be centers of Christian witness. Sadly they are not. Today Jesus first invites us, as prophetic witnesses to him, to call his churches back to their senses.

3. Be prepared to move from one city to another. If we challenge the Olympian gods and misplaced devotion to them, both they and our Olympian neighbors will dislike us. This is especially true of our Christian Olympian, or conventional Christian, neighbors. If we consistently witness to Jesus, they will eventually force us to leave. “Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet...But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not [be finished with] the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes” (Matthew 10:14, 23 New International Version, here and following).

4. Be prepared to flee the city, today even the whole Global Technological System, when the word comes. In Genesis 19, angels of Yahweh dragged Lot and his immediately family out of Sodom. That’s the only way they escaped the destruction which fell upon the city. Lot’s wife looked back, however, and turned into a pillar of salt. Jesus gives us the same warning: when the word comes, “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house. Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak” (Matthew 24:16-18).

(Today we continued to follow the biblical reflections of Jacques Ellul in his book The Meaning of the City, Eerdmans, pp. 72-85.)

Copyright © 2014 by Steven Farsaci.
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