The Enemy Within

21 She named the boy Ichabod, saying, “The Glory has departed from Israel”—because of the capture of the ark of God and the deaths of her father-in-law and her husband. 22 She said, “The Glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.”

1 Samuel 4:21-22 NIV

In this woman’s mind and probably in the mind of many people in Israel at this time, this one event (the capture of the ark by the Philistines in battle with Israel at the end of Eli’s reign as High Priest) had resulted in “the removal of God’s [sic] glory”.  The truth is that the presence of God’s glory is not influenced by physical/temporal items/events.  Such a pronouncement then ascribes blame for any national misfortune on the absence of the ark (from its place at Shiloh)…and not on the real cause which was the maturing of compromise and complicity in Israel.  What Eli and his sons had done (disrespecting the sacrificial traditions and the practice of sexual immorality within the temple precincts) was just a continuation of the cultural malaise (1 Samuel 2:12 – 25)…the problem was Israel and not the circumstance of the ark’s absence. 

I struggle with church pronouncements against “culture”.  Culture is not to blame for corporate defeat and spiritual failure.  It is spiritual compromise and complicity within the body of Christ, within us…that results in the continued irrelevance of Christ’s message in the modern world.  People on the outside see inauthenticity, inconsistency, incongruence, patronization, hypocrisy, sexual impropriety, immorality, greed, malfeasance, maleficence, exploitation, unacceptance, exclusion, bigotry, and hatred in the church and want no part of it.   They are not persuaded away because of “culture” – they are repelled by forces within the church…which are allowed to persist (2 Chronicles 7:14).  Church silence at social injustice and convenient political associations “finish off” those who by some miracle push past the initial repulsion.  The unacknowledged complicity of the church in all the evils of our modern era and the creation of oppressive systems bears witness to the increased disinterest that succeeding generations have had in the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Church leaders, not wanting to admit culpability, instead blame the “philistinic” modern cultural forces around us (typically movements that seek social justice for those who occupy marginalized realms of identity).  We can either fuel the enemy within or join together to be bridges that span divides of lived experience.

As a follower of Jesus, you may not yet know how to address the theological questions from the gay Christian who is distressed about being excluded from participation in church activity and service…but in the meantime you can surely be connected to him as a fellow brother/sister in Christ.  You can be available and listen to his story.  You may not yet know how to address the theological questions that face the woman who is distressed about balancing the tension between exercising her freedom of choice and valuing the sanctity of life, but in the meantime, you can be her brother/sister in Christ.  You can be available and listen to her story.  We should not exclude anyone from fellowship and connection with us because of some repelling force within the church (the organization rather than the actual body of Christ) that demands our allegiance.  We must step in to change things where we can.

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