Weeping in Babylon
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?
18 Replies to “Weeping in Babylon”
Well said Bill, thank you for the insight. It has been my personal struggle lately to observe how the church/Christians conduct themselves. I am by no means saying we are perfect, far from it. However, I often wonder whether now, in the 21st century, the church has influenced the world or the other way around? In my pessimistic view, I feel the church has lost most of its influence to the world instead the church just goes with the flow with the world comfortably.
I began to ask myself two things:
1. What is the essence of a church or a Christian?
2. Why does the church exist in the first place? What for?
I long to see/to have the passion of being a church/Christian as in the life of the early church of how the Apostles had the courage to be bold and stand firm in preaching the Gospel that comes from the pure heart, good conscience and sincere faith to go against the flow, not with it.
Let a church be a church.
Quite so Rudy
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
Thanks Bill, another great article.
It is encouraging to read that it is not just me who struggles so much with the contemporary church culture.
I’ve come to the same conclusion as you have mentioned and have been keeping an eye and ear out for a church coming under persecution for holding up the word of truth, that’s the church we will join…so far our search has been unsuccessful.
Oh so heartsick and grieved. This post echoes a lot of the thoughts that have been whirling around my head these last few weeks. Except, you know, much more articulate!
Yes there would be millions of us who feel like we have been through hell lately. It is like a kick in the guts to see all this evil proliferating. But we must not despair. God is still in control and we know that in the end all evil is soundly defeated and he vindicates his grieving and suffering people. Hang in there and bless you!
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
Thanks for this article Bill, but I don’t seem to recognise the names of many Church or denominational leaders commenting on your blog. I may be wrong, but I have the distinct impression that most elders / deacons / leaders / administrators / pastors in our Churches today are either asleep or caught up in the world. In my own present experience my Church leaders are asleep – they are, despite their smooth words, the blind leading the blind.
Clearly there is potential for a problem when a church denomination is adopted as the State church as the two entities have different priorities. If the State rejects belief in God and goes over to the culture of humanism then that raises the prospect of disestablishment and a divorce of the State from the Church.
Rachel Smith, UK
I am both a church and denominational leader. I love the church. Christ loves the church. It’s far from perfect, but I choose to spend my time building up the body of Christ, not spending time blogging making exaggerated criticisms and claims such as “MOST elders/ deacons/ leaders/ administrators are either asleep or caught up in the world.” I am so sorry if your that is a reflection of your preset experience of church life. But I am so thankful for the tens of thousands of Godly men and women in this country who do stand without compromise on the absolute truth of Gods word in a day where it is increasingly unpopular to do so. People who live lives of Godly integrity who build great churches and see lives and communities impacted through the love of Christ. I choose to join them and champion that cause.
Hi Bill, thank you for keeping us on our toes. I agree with you that much of the Church in Western countries is very wishy washy. Yet the Church is much larger than the Church in the West. I read the other day that more people attend Anglican churches every Sunday in Kenya alone than in Britain, Canada and the USA put together. And they are being persecuted. The Christian Church in non Western countries are hated and persecuted to the tune of 85,000 martyred annually according to the International Bulletin of Missionary Research, January 2010, and I read that that figure has now risen to 100,000. In Nigeria church congregations are bombed and shot up wile together for church worship nearly every Sunday and people are still coming to church and are growing. In spite of all the persecution the Church in China is growing exponentially and I have heard rumours of the same thing happening in Iran. So let us also be encouraged that the gates of Hell will not prevail agains God’s Church in spite of everything.
Of course – that is why I kept saying ‘in the West’. God is doing great things in Africa, Latin America and Asia – and we praise God for that. But that does not mean that we should be cavalier about the death of Christianity in the West. We should be weeping over this. I for one greatly value all the benefits of what the Judeo-Christian tradition has given to the West, and I don’t want to see it destroyed – at least not without putting up a fight.
As Francis Schaeffer put it in The Great Evangelical Disaster, “Do not take this lightly! It is a horrible thing for a man like myself to look back and see my country and my culture go down the drain in my own lifetime. It is a horrible thing that sixty years ago you could move across this country and almost everyone, even non-Christians, would have known what the gospel was. A horrible thing that fifty to sixty years ago our culture was built on the Christian consensus, and now this is no longer the case. Once again I would refer to Romans 1:21, 22: ‘although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools’.”
Sure, the church must be saved before the West can be saved, but we first need to be aware of the urgency of the hour and the need of the day. The West is in dire shape, and we need to care about this and act upon this. But yes you are exactly right, the gates of hell will not prevail against the church ultimately. Bless you.
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
Thanks for your encouragement Joost! God bless you!
Mrs Jane Byrne
Printed out so I can bring it to our church, which is about to embark on a period of soul-searching.
We need to know from God what He is calling us to both be and do in the area where we are – Ashburton, Melbourne.
We are too comfortable with the routine we are in, but which hardly touches any lives in the local community.
I think where your article needs some clarrification is in your use of the term “Western Church.” The typical attendee of a typical western church spends 80-100 minutes a week entering a building to follow the traditional pattern of singing quite a few hymns, listening to some announcements, perhaps a 20 minute sermon that is usually pretty wishy washy, (designed to not confront or offend any one,) then perhaps a chit chat with a few members over a cup of tea, before going home. They have done traditional “church.” for the week.
How in all thunderation is that supposed to mature anyone? There is no accountability for anything spoken about to be understood or recalled by anyone. LET ALONE NO accountability for anything being applied. NO cross examination of, or discussion of the subject matter of the sermon. Just sit passively, listen and go home… and let’s do the same again next week.
Compare that with and AA meeting where there is personal testimonials regarding one’s sobriety. Better still look back to what was the backbone of the Wesleyan revival – The Wesleyan “class meetings’ where 10 or 12 members met in a private home to render account for their spiritual integrity over the week and discuss their spiritual struggles. Democracy can only work where there is vigorous cross examination (by a free press) debate and accountability.
WHERE do we find those things in a typical “western church?” The typical motto outside every church should be “Lest we ..offend.”
Its a waste of time bemoaning the condition of the church, if we don’t examine the REASON for it being in that condition.
When all is said and done, the church here in most cases only caters for 10% of the population. In most cases they meet Sunday morning. if that time is not convenient for you, tough luck as we are not doing anything different to keep anyone happy.
In most cases, activity is equated to a vibrant church. The more activity, the more evidence that God is blessing us.All it may mean however, is that we are good at running programmes which makes us appear spiritual.
In most cases, prayer is never the be all and end all of church life. It is usually just one part of the weekly programme and mostly a shopping list of wants.
In most cases, a few paid professionals do all the work and the rest are a cheer squad for them. Somehow we have this idea they are more spiritual than us.
On that point Barna research showed that the average pastor spent 5 minutes a day praying.
As we know, you produce after your own kind. Wishy washy Christians must mean wishy washy leaders.
I am sure someone is going to tell me I am wrong so my response is produce the evidence to prove it.
Until we admit to the evidence that is out there if you care to look, we can’t do anything about it.
I don’t care how good a church is, it can be better if it cares to do as it is told…by the Lord.
One of our losses is found in the use of word church.Tyndale refused to use it so did Luther and the Puritans. They either used the word community or congregation. which are far more accurate. I think from memory it came from the word Kirke associated with circle and circus, kinda appropriate. When King James came along he ordered the translators to use the political correct word church because after all he was the head of the church of England. Later on the bishops from this nice organization pulled some strings and had Tyndale burnt at the stake. The KJV was mainly taken from Tyndales work anyhow. Most of course are aware of the Greek word ekklesia from which we transliterated church but that itself was a bad transliteration of the Hebrew word Kahal or qahal When it gets down to it our word church original meant “Community of Israel” which makes sense because when we are born again we become grafted into this community or commonwealth of Israel. Daniel Gruber was one who has addressed this in his excellent book The separation of church and faith, Copernicus and the Jews. (a book that has shaken the theological world) Far to many believers have somehow been misled to think God created two separate bodies rather than one. There is only one book, only one God only one faith and only one body made up of regenerated gentiles and Jews, yes with different but complimentary roles like husband and wife. The God I serve is the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob the God of Israel. There are no other gods except false ones. In reality Jesus never came to start a separate body we call church. It is Israels olive tree we are grafted on to, something that will be the major issue in the last days causing much separation and even rejection when Jesus returns.
Our pastor preaches expositionally and does not shy away from difficult bible passages and what they mean. He also alerts us to unbiblical bills coming before parliament and we pray for God’s will to be done.
It is interesting to note that it is in the context of a “living sacrifice” and a “transformed mind” that Paul tells us the good, acceptable and perfect will is proved. Rom 12:1 and 2.
How good, how powerful and how beautiful God is will be seen in Babylon when we are prepared to do the painful but obedient thing.
Hope you don’t mind, Roger, but I’m going to quote the last line of your comment on twitter.
“I don’t care how good a church is, it can be better if it cares to do as it is told…by the Lord.”
Annette, if you google “Miracle Christian Center Adam Hood” you will find a church that has come under fire for being willing to share the unpopular truth. You may want to check it out if you are in Victoria or Queensland.
Mario Del Giudice
No worries Mario.