Years ago, when I was rector of a small church and retreat center, I attended a seminar by The Rev. Dr. John Stott on Romans chapters 1-8. I took in every life-changing word. Additionally, each participant spent an hour with him to reflect on our lives and ministries. I was the youngest in our small, aging congregation yet was expected to provide the same spiritual wisdom as my older, godly predecessor. As I poured out my heart and frustrations, Dr. Stott provided this gentle reminder from I Corinthians 4:1-5:
“… Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful… Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time, wait till the LORD comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of [human] hearts. At that time each will receive [their] praise from God.”
Like you, I’ve spent 2020 adjusting to changing circumstances, however, I’ve also spent four months battling cancer. Thanks be to God, I’m cancer free! But those months facing my own mortality reminded me of these God-inspired truths and challenges:
- You and I have been given a trust—our lives and health, our families, the ministries and work to which we have been called by God. Are we proving faithful to Him?
- We are incapable of judging the motives of human hearts. There are too many things “hidden in darkness.” Can we trust God to judge and get on with His mission?
- This mission is to live to the praise of God’s glorious grace (Ephesians 1:6). Are we on this mission, or have we become worried about too many things?
When faced with circumstances beyond our control—in our culture, communities, workplaces, and families—how do we remain faithful to the trust God has given us?
Believers have often faced this dilemma, experiencing unprecedented losses, persecution, exile, and captivity. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were taken into Babylonian captivity yet remained faithful to God. With respect to the authorities over them (let the reader understand), they drew a line in the sand and intentionally stood out. They heightened and deepened their commitment to God. As a result of their courageous witness, God blessed them so that King Nebuchadnezzar found them “ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom” (Daniel 1).
Over many changes in political administrations, Daniel and his companions made the same fearless and faithful choices. They refused to compromise. They faced rage, lions’ dens, and fiery furnaces with a calm, unbreakable faith in God to vindicate them. I’m sure the Apostle John must have had them in mind when he wrote in Revelation 12:11, “They overcame him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.”
Our culture would call them impossibly intolerant, narrow, recklessly ignorant, and defiant, but in standing firm they were saved. They were promoted to unprecedented positions of influence (Daniel 2:48-49). Repeatedly, the knowledge of God and his unique power to save spread throughout Babylon through their testimonies reinforced by their willingness to die for their faith (Daniel 3 and 6). And in the end, Daniel prospered (Dan. 6:28).
This story both raises and answers the question, “How do God’s people flourish to the praise of his glorious grace, and how do they bring others into his Kingdom while they are in captivity in Babylon?”
Answer: We don’t compromise. Instead, we go deeper in following Jesus, living his life for all to see, intensively and together. That’s exactly what St. Benedict did when faced with the collapse of the Roman Empire and the advent of a new era of lawlessness. He chose to live in deep, uncompromising fidelity to the gospel by creating communities of faith living intensively and together. They kept the love of God and the love of truth alive, bringing forth a mighty movement, a reformation of the Church, and a reorganization for mission that kept the gospel alive during the Dark Ages.
In the spirit of Daniel and his companions, the heroes of Hebrews 11, and St. Benedict, Rod Dreher argues in The Benedict Option (New York, 2017) that the western Church must redefine its relationship with an increasingly secular culture by not relying on respect for Christianity and politics to maintain biblical faithfulness and values:
“We should stop trying to meet the world on its own terms and focus on building up fidelity in distinct community. Instead of being seeker-friendly, we should be finder friendly, offering those who come to us a new and different way of life. It must be a way of life shaped by the biblical story and practices that keep us firmly rooted on the truths of that story in a world that wants to obscure them and make us forget”(at 121).
However, Dreher does not acknowledge the desperate need for the western Church to recover the person and power of the Holy Spirit as we do in The Fire in the Fireplace video series [https://americananglican.org/fire-in-the-fireplace-1-anglican-perspective/]. In addition, we must be both “finder-friendly” and “seeker-friendly” so that those who do not yet know Jesus can engage with us on safe ground—like shared community outreach and Alpha dinners and talks. Through resources like our Rediscovering Evangelism video series, [https://americananglican.org/rediscovering-evangelism-session-1/] we can learn how to share our faith with others.
For our part, the American Anglican Council will not abandon our voice in the marketplace of ideas and especially in the defense of religious freedom as part of the trust and heritage to which God has called us. The strategy for the Church in these times is a long obedience in the same direction. It’s the biblical, Holy Spirit inspired, and ancient catholic “Kingdom assignment” to proclaim Jesus Christ and fidelity to the life he offers to every authority, power, language, tribe and nation– right now. This is the strategy that will shape the priorities of the American Anglican Council in the years ahead.
What then can you expect from us in 2021 and beyond? Next week, I’ll share how we will be faithful in 2021 to this trust.