Incarnational Ministry as Submissive Defiance

This evening at Upper Room, I’m preaching a sermon on Luke 2:41-52, the story of the boy Jesus in the temple. What struck me most about this text is how the incarnate Jesus interacts with his surrounding culture of religious institution and his family.

Firstly, Jesus is in some ways defiant to the culture. Jesus in the temple does not act like your typical 12 year old boy. Most 12 year olds don’t impress religious experts. He defies the expectations of the religious institution and remains in the temple even after the Passover feast has ended and everyone else goes home. He defies his parents and does not leave with them so that he can be “about his Father’s matters.”

Yet, Jesus is also submissive. When his parents find him, he submits to them and his role as their child. It seems to me that the text implies that Jesus was in some way punished by his parents for remaining behind. In other words, even though he was defiant, Jesus accepted the consequences of that defiance.

This is the pattern the church takes in Acts. Consider the example of Peter and John before the Sanhedrin in Acts 4. Peter and John’s testimony before them is this: “You must judge whether in God’s sight it is right to listen to you rather than God, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” In other words, Peter and John won’t stop preaching the gospel, regardless of how unpopular the message is. Yet, they also submit themselves to the consequences of that defiance as their culture dictates. They leave the judgment to the Sanhedrin.

I think one of the problems of post-Christendom churches is that they have forgotten this pattern of “submissive defiance.” As the Church loses it’s place in the center of culture, some churches have refused to be submissive to the culture, and attempt to assert their “rights” or whatever cultural influence they have left. Consider my previous post on the Focus on the Family Action statement regarding Obama’s election as an example. To what extent are such statements, largely coming from the right wing side of the church, nothing more than failed attempts to assert a power and influence the now-marginalized church does not have?

On the other side of the coin, there are churches that have lost their sense of cultural defiance. These churches have become so used to being at the center of the culture that they are willing, it seems, to go wherever the culture goes to remain in their place of privilege. Consider churches that have given in to “every wind of false doctrine” with regard to biblical standards of sexuality, or the uniqueness of Jesus Christ’s Lordship.

For the church to be faithful in the 21st century, it needs to recover this sense of “submissive defiance” that we find in Jesus’ incarnation and in the pattern of the Acts church. It means being relentless in the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the holiness of God, even when that message is an unpopular one. It also means submitting to the surrounding culture’s reaction to that message, even when that means being pushed to the margins of the society.

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Why? Why? Why??!!

As I explained in a previous post, I’m really not a fan of pastors endorsing political candidates. Lately, it’s been grieving me to see some Christians putting more enthusiastic hope into either Obama or McCain than what I’ve ever seen them put into their Lord. Neither candidate is the Messiah. Both are human and imperfect, and Christians need to take a realistic approach to candidates.

That being said, I should probably still make the disclaimer that I’m not a fan of Barack Obama. Though I’m still, frankly, undecided about this election (mainly because I just haven’t taken the time to read upon either candidate fully), I have a hard time seeing myself voting for him. Although, the thought of voting for John McCain doesn’t really appeal either.

Despite my hesitations about Obama, this REALLY makes me angry. Focus on the Family has published a “letter” written by “a Christian in the year 2012,” at the end of Obama’s would-be first term. Just a few of the things that describe a post-Obama’s presidency America:

  • Legalized same-sex marriage is the law of the land in all 50 states, which results in the dissolution of the Boy Scouts of America, the resignation of all evangelical Christian teachers from public schools (because of the mandated teaching in 1st grade of homosexuality as a legitmate option to choose), the closing of all Christian adoption agencies, and churches losing their tax-exempt status, among other consequences.
  • The forbidding of any and all Christian speech in the public square, resulting in all religious organizations being banned from school and university properties. So, church plants have been forced to close, parachurch ministries have been forced off-campus, and ‘see you at the pole’ is put to an end.
  • Abortion is made even more accessible, to the point that doctors and nurses cannot object to performing them on the grounds of moral conscience.
  • Pornography is now freely accessible and unmonitored, even forms of pornography now considered illegal.

Don’t get me wrong. A country that looks like this would be miserable to live in. But, even if Obama is elected, the chances of all of this happening to this degree are just slightly more than 0%.

On top of that, why should Christians be so concerned? We don’t bow the knee to our government, we bow only to Jesus Christ. Even if all this were to happen, God’s purposes of bringing the Kingdom of God to earth will not be stopped.

So, as much as it grieves me to see Christians place hope in false-messiahs running for office, it grieves me just as much when Christians place undue fear into fellow Christians. Obama’s certainly not Jesus. But, odd’s are, he’s probably not the antichrist either.