In Lee Beach’s The Church in Exile, he begins by saying: “On July 1, 1967 a crowd of 25,000 people gathered in Canada’s capital city for the country’s centennial birthday celebration. In addition to all of the dignitaries were members of the clergy. The service consisted of readings from the Bible, hymns from the Christian tradition were sung, and prayers, including a prayer of confession for the sins of the nation and a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, were offered. A litany was recited, and those gathered were invited to respond with the words ‘we rededicate ourselves, O Lord’. The service was a clear nod to the role that the Christian church had played in the first hundred years of the nation’s development.”
Thirty four years later another public service was held in Canada’s capital city. A crowd of 100,000 people gathered to commemorate the lives that had been lost in the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in the United States. This time there was no Scripture read, no prayers were offered and no hymns were sung.
At the September 11 memorial in the United States, the service had a distinctive Christian perspective including Billy Graham as a guest preacher. However at another memorial service held at Yankee Stadium in New York City, the service was hosted by Oprah Winfrey and offered a variety of religious traditions.
From these two events we are learning that the Christian faith no longer holds an excusive place that it once did in Canadian or American life. We are fast becoming a church in exile. How do we live in such changing times?
In the book of Daniel (which we are studying on Wednesday nights), there is much for us to learn about our living in a country that is less friendly to the Gospel. Daniel’s entire life was spent in exile in a metaphorical lion’s den but God preserved him alive and unharmed throughout his whole life enabling him to prosper under successive kings, until the time of King Cyrus, when his prayers for Jerusalem finally began to be answered.
Commentator Iain Duguid said: “As far as we know Daniel never returned home to his beloved Judah. His reward would have to wait until the Jerusalem that is above. In the experiences of Daniel and his three friends, God demonstrated that He could keep His people safe in the midst of their enemies. Life in exile would never be easy, nor would it ever be home. However, through God’s faithfulness, it was possible for his people to survive the exile as strangers and aliens, serving the earthly empire in which they found themselves, even while they looked for another city that was yet to come (Hebrews 13:14).”
We should learn from Daniel’s experience that the world in which we live is a dangerous place. It is not our home and never will be. We must also learn that the world can never hurt us beyond what God permits. In the midst of trials and sufferings, even when persecuted for our faith we can have a peace that will astound the world, for the Lord holds even our oppressors in His hand, and says, “thus far and no farther”.
In I Peter 2:11 Peter calls Christians aliens and strangers in the world. An alien is a long-term resident, someone not born where he now lives, yet someone who has lived in the new land for a long season. The stranger, by contrast, is a temporary resident, the traveler whose stay is shorter. But both terms suggest that believes belong elsewhere. So when Peter calls his disciples aliens and strangers, he means that we are never fully at home in this world. Strangers have no permanent residence. Aliens rarely hold positions of power or privilege. As Jesus said we are in the world but not of it.
But Peter encouraged his readers and us to remember that we are “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (I Peter 2:9)
We are learning more of how we as Christians are to live in an increasingly Godless culture in our sermon series in Acts on Sunday morning. Come and be encouraged as we live out the Gospel boldly each day.
See you Sunday.