Western Christians are not Israel, and most of us have not been physically carried away into captivity. But spiritually and metaphorically speaking that is exactly where much of the Western church is at today. We are strangers in a strange land, and we no longer are fully free to be the people of God.
Increasingly we are becoming captive to the surrounding culture and losing our influence, just as ancient Israel of old. As you know, Israel, because of its sin, disobedience, idolatry and immorality, was judged by Yahweh and carted off into Babylonian captivity.
There the Israelites mourned about their loss, their captivity, and their incongruous fate. How could God’s people be captives in a pagan land? Where was God? This was a devastating loss, and all true Israelites were dumbfounded. We read all about this horrific situation in Psalm 137. Its first six verses read as follows:
By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How can we sing the songs of the LORD
while in a foreign land?
If I forget you, Jerusalem,
may my right hand forget its skill.
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
my highest joy.
This is a psalm of communal lament. Their grief was deep, palpable and overwhelming. How could they laugh and carry on as if it were business as usual? In this situation the only proper response was deep mourning, deep contrition, and deep repentance. And this very real historical reality is of course given a metaphorical run in Scripture.
As James Montgomery Boice puts it, “The Bible is filled with contrasts that lend substance and life to its teaching, and one of these is between Babylon, which stands for the world, and Jerusalem, which stands for God’s kingdom. This contrast is both literal and figurative, literal because there was an actual earthly Babylon matched by a literal earthly Jerusalem – earthly Babylon overthrew the earthly Jerusalem in 586 B.C. – but figurative, too, because the Bible also speaks of Mystery Babylon (see Revelation 18-19) and a new heavenly Jerusalem (see Revelation 21-22).”
Thus the Western church today is certainly in its own Babylonian captivity. It may not have been hauled off physically to some strange hostile land, but it is living in one. And worse yet, it is not just surrounded by and dwelling in pagan culture, it has largely capitulated to it and absorbed its values.
The evidence of this is all around us, including the latest piece of evidence. Over six million evangelicals in the US actually voted for Barack Obama. This man – who supports not just abortion but infanticide, who is on a mission to destroy God’s institutions of marriage and family, who is warring against Christianity while sucking up to Islam to mention but a few grievous concerns – was actually favoured by millions of people who claim to love Christ and obey his Word.
These believers are not only not mourning their Babylonian captivity, they are actually supporting it and celebrating it. They are applauding their captors! It is a case of Babylon so greatly getting into the church that the captives have grown content and happy with their condition.
Like the Israelites of old they should be mourning, grieving, lamenting, and repenting. But incredibly we find just the opposite amongst so many believers today: they not only do not mind their Babylonian captivity, they actually enjoy it and prefer it.
They embrace and welcome the values and beliefs of the surrounding hostile culture, instead of rebuking them and being a light in a dark land. They have failed to resist the Babylonian incursion, and have instead welcomed it with open arms. They have become indistinguishable from their captors, and they are quite happy to remain that way.
While a true remnant detests this captivity and is doing all it can to remain true to the living God of Heaven, they are unfortunately only a small minority. But that has always been the case. It is always the godly remnant that God works with, never the majority.
The majority always go with Babylon. This was certainly true 2000 years ago when the majority went along with Barabbas over Jesus. And it is just as true today. Not only does the world give the thumbs down to Jesus and his Kingdom, but at the end of the day, so do many believers.
What Jesus said in Matthew 15:8 is so very true today: “These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me”. And what Paul wrote is equally pertinent: “Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.”
It is time for the church of Jesus Christ to come out of Babylon. I do not mean by that of course that we try to find some place uncontaminated by evil. There is no such place. We are everywhere surrounded by evil Babylonian culture with its values, priorities and principles.
We are meant to be light in a dark culture, salt in a savourless world. We are not to be absorbing the surrounding culture but exposing it, rebuking it, and challenging it. Our job as believers is to be genuine counterculturalists. We are to go against the flow, not with it.
Yet this is simply not true of so much of the church today in the West. At bottom this capitulation to Babylon is nothing more than sinful worldliness. And on this topic many of the great saints have much to say. Let me conclude with their voices:
“I believe that one reason why the church of God at this present moment has so little influence over the world, is because the world has so much influence over the church.” Charles Spurgeon
“I have some definite views about the de-Christianizing of the church. I believe that there are many accommodating preachers, and too many practitioners in the church who are not believers. Jesus Christ did not say, ‘Go into all the world and tell the world that it is quite right.’ The Gospel is something completely different. In fact, it is directly opposed to the world.” C.S. Lewis
“The church and the world have become so intertwined that it is hard to tell one from the other. The world has so affected the church’s moral standards that Christians say they believe in Christ and yet have never bothered to change their moral attitudes and standards at all.” A.W. Tozer
“Opposition! It is a bad sign for the Christianity of this day that it provokes so little opposition. If there were no other evidence of it being wrong, I should know from that. When the Church and the world can jog along together comfortably, you may be sure there is something wrong. The world has not altered. Its spirit is exactly the same as it ever was, and if Christians were equally faithful and devoted to the Lord, and separated from the world, living so that their lives were a reproof to all ungodliness, the world would hate them as much as it ever did. It is the Church that has altered, not the world.” Catherine Booth
“The true man of God is heartsick, grieved at the worldliness of the Church…grieved at the toleration of sin in the Church, grieved at the prayerlessness in the Church. He is disturbed that the corporate prayer of the Church no longer pulls down the strongholds of the devil.” Leonard Ravenhill
How about you my friend? Are you also heartsick and grieved? Or is it all just more business as usual?