I hear these commentaries five days a week on the Family Life Network…a so-called Christian ministry which dominates the Mid-Atlantic region and continues to grow. In the past they’ve carried other Christian worldview commentators like Kerby Anderson and Cal Thomas. They’re all cut from the same cloth.
I wish to be abundantly clear in expressing the level of disagreement I have with Colson and his successors. This isn’t just a disagreement. There is a fundamental even existential difference in our understanding of the world we live in and how we as Christians relate to it…and what it means to be a citizen of the Kingdom of God.
Here’s the commentary. The original link can be found here if you wish to read the unbroken text or listen to the audio. My interactions are interspersed.
BreakPoint Commentator E. Metaxas:
The persecution of Christians is something most of us would rather not think about. Find out why we need to, next on BreakPoint
Christianity came to Ethiopia in the fourth century and today about two-thirds of the population is Christian, but not everyone is happy about it.
In May 2011, Abraham Abera, a worker at an Evangelical church, was walking home with his pregnant wife, Bertukan. Suddenly, six Muslim men wielding machetes assailed them beating Abraham to death and leaving Bertukan unconscious. She and the baby survived and as Bertukan recounts the attack she recalls the men’s words: “You [Christians] are growing in number in our area. You are spreading your message. We will destroy you.”
Actually according to tradition Christianity came to Ethiopia in the 1st Century…the eunuch in Acts 8 was said to have brought it. Nevertheless the Christianity in Ethiopia certainly is representative of the events and theology shaping in Christianity during the 4th century, viz. rampant syncretism.
When Europeans came into contact with the Ethiopians during the 18th and 19th centuries they found the old ‘Christian’ kingdom of Axum awash with pagan barbarism and idolatry…despite a Christian veneer. The same can be said of the Armenians, Assyrians and other ‘Christian’ nations. Of course we might also extend this to the ‘Christian’ nations of England, France etc… Syncretism manifests itself in different ways, and the ‘minority’ church-nations were in a different context and thus manifest their cultural ‘Christianity’ in a different fashion.
The problem is the definition of Christian and Christianity has been terribly distorted and this is one of the chief errors of Metaxas, the BreakPoint crowd and Sacralist thought in general. The category of Christian they’re using here is not one found in the Bible. They’re using the term as a sociological and historical construct, but being absent from Scripture it carries no theological meaning.
Actually it does carry a theological meaning, but not in the Biblical sense. Or to put it differently, it carries a theological definition that can only be categorized as heretical. Nations and cultures are not baptized, they’re not redemptive. Citizenship, race, or geography does not a Christian make. Nor can it be defined by civilization refinements. It’s not about whether you eat with a fork, or wear a certain type of clothing, nor can it be defined by some of kind of Constantinian style tradition or political theory. One does not become a better Christian by adopting Western language, dress, or any other custom.
This whole commentary is already off to a bad start. There are certainly Christians in Ethiopia and yet the missionaries you talk to would certainly dispute the claim that 2/3 of the country is Christian. If that were the case, the land would hardly be a candidate for missionary activity. The claim of Metaxas as you will see is rooted in political concerns which are ultimately ‘the gospel’ for these people.
In Russia, police with automatic weapons and attack dogs stormed St. George’s Lutheran Church during Sunday morning worship. Blocking all exits, they announced that they were searching for “extremist literature” and proceeded to ransack Bibles and hymnals. Justifying the raid, the police commander said, “There were indications that terrorists were gathering there, and distributing terrorist literature.” In fact, the raid was part of a growing program of hostility toward the Lutheran congregation that has been oddly branded “a Catholic sect.”
This just exhibits more confusion. Suddenly Russia is not Christian? I of course would say Russia has never been ‘Christian’ nor has any other nation. There have long been Christians in Russia and certainly they were persecuted under the Tsarist Orthodox Church and the Soviets. Today the difficulties many churches face are due to the renewed and growing power of the Orthodox Church. Would Metaxas say the Russian Orthodox Church is ‘not’ Christian? What makes them different from the group in Ethiopia, most of the churches in Africa, or for that matter the Papacy which he seems to venerate?
What’s the criterion he’s using? At times he seems as if they only issue is whether or not the nation in question is in line with American foreign policy.
This is one of those moments that I wonder…is he ignorant or being deceptive? Under Colson I had no doubts whatsoever. The man had no qualms about being deceptive and regularly played fast and loose with the truth. He made a career of it, before and after Watergate. With his disciples who have taken over, I just don’t know. I guess he can feign ignorance of what’s happening in Russia and try to blame it on someone else.
Though Metaxas seems offended and treats the notion as novel, the Orthodox have long considered Protestantism to be nothing more than a ‘Catholic’ sect. As far as they’re concerned Protestantism is merely a different flavour or variation of Catholicism. The creedal and theological, indeed the philosophical issues that differentiate the Orthodox world from the West are in no way assuaged by the Protestant Revolt. If anything the Reformation only enhanced these differences. 21st century Russia is reverting to a Sacral model and they’re being consistent in their suspicion and rejection of Protestant missionary movements. It doesn’t mean they’re right, but it is consistent with Sacral thinking.
Protestantism is crypto-Catholicism to them and a threat to their Sacral vision of Russia. The same would be said here if the Christian Right wielded political power and suddenly there was a massive influx of Orthodox activity within our borders.
While I hardly think these Lutherans represent some kind of threat to the Kremlin and while I would (unlike Metaxas) never appeal to violence in order to defend some version of the Sacral state…if I were a member of the Russian authorities, I too would be suspicious of American-linked Evangelicals. They tend to be pro-American Empire, militarist, and few exhibit any hesitation in co-operating with the American intelligence agencies. Russia is painted as the aggressor in the Western media but there’s another side to the story and an equal if not more compelling case can be made that the opposite is the reality.
This is what happens when you politicize the Church, when you bring it into the power equation.
These and far too many other stories are told by Paul Marshall, Lela Gilbert, and Nina Shea in their book Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians.
“Our Christianity,” they write, “doesn’t require us to keep looking over our shoulders, unsure if we will be arrested for praying or attacked for having a Bible.” But the majority of the world’s 2.2 billion Christians do look over their shoulders. They have to.
Consider this horrific fact: “Christians are the single most widely persecuted group in the world today.” The authors write, “This persecution is targeted at all Christian faith traditions from Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant to liturgical, evangelical, and charismatic, including hundreds of small, little-known sects.”
While I do not dispute Christian persecution exists and is widespread, the categories employed in this commentary are meaningless. Using the teaching of Scripture as the criteria it can be safely asserted that only a small fraction of the 2.2 billion figure qualify as something resembling Biblical Christianity. That said, in no way do I endorse any state or group wielding violence against others…and that would include the state Metaxas and I both live in. Why this broad extra-Biblical categorization? That becomes clear enough as the commentary progresses.
The sources of persecution, write Marshall, Gilbert, and Shea, are threefold: Communist and post-Communist regimes that still “hunger for total political control”; Hindu and Buddhist nationalists who see Christianity as a political as well as a religious threat; and radical Islam with its “urge for religious dominance.”
Across the world Christians are harassed, arrested, jailed, tortured, raped, beaten, and killed. Their churches and homes are bombed or burned to the ground. And children are taken from their Christian parents lest they too become tainted with faith in Jesus.
As I wrote in the Foreword to Persecuted, “we have been blessed with such a bounty of religious freedom that we can hardly imagine what such suffering must be like.” But imagine it we must.
Persecuted is a hard book to read not because it’s complicated, but because of the injustice, violence, and suffering running down every page. In some ways it hurts to read this book, but I recommend you read it nonetheless. Why?
Well first of all, it will strengthen your faith. The lives of those who witness to the truth of Christianity in the midst of unspeakable pressure are inspirational. Second, you’ll understand the world better. This blood-spattered world is the world Jesus came to save and for which we need to pray.
Employing terms like ‘Communist’ and ‘post-Communist’ regimes tell us more about Metaxas and the authors he cites rather than anything about the actual regimes. Communism, Socialism, Fascism, Democracy…these terms are all thrown about and have become almost meaningless. The Communist states in many ways were never communist at all. They were Totalitarian and failed on many key points to implement the ideas of Marx or Engels. The leaders were not motivated by Communism then…or now.
The problem is power. The problem is that man wants to build Babel and in order to do so needs a unified and largely uniform society. Thankfully God breaks up their projects before they go too far.
Metaxas is no different. In order to accomplish their Babel-goal, people like Colson and Metaxas have simply changed the old parameters and increased their power-base. Starting during the 1990’s, they’ve sought to ‘bring in’ Roman Catholics and others that historically Protestants would have nothing to do with. This has opened them up to a new pool of demographic and financial resources. And despite this they’re still in demographical trouble. The last election has made them realize that they need to recalibrate again and attempt to bring in new groups. Their thinking, motivations, and thus interpretations and commentary are not shaped by Scripture.
During the Cold War, pseudo-Communism was the Sacral ideal, the glue, the vehicle the Eastern Bloc employed to bind society together. Today, they are just as happy to employ the Orthodox Church which historically…fulfilled that same subservient role to the state. That’s why in many ways the Communist era (particularly in Russia was almost a recasting of the Tsarist vision. Stalin was like Ivan the Terrible taken to the superlative. He has rightly been called the Red Tsar. Mao has rightly been called the Red Emperor. Marx would have repudiated both and all they stood for.
The Orthodox see the Evangelicals as ‘cowboys’ coming in to take over their territory and it serves the state’s interest to back up the ‘church’. If you want to understand Russia today, then you’re going to have to dig a little deeper than Metaxas. You need a shovel, not a plastic spade fit for a toddler.
Why do nationalists perceive Evangelical Christianity as a threat? I would like to say it’s simply due to the offense of the Gospel. In some cases that may be true but all too often I’m sorry to say the believers (and unbelievers categorized as Christians) are suffering due to what I have labeled the Shapur Effect. Prior to Constantine, Christians lived in the Parthian and Sassanid Empires of Persia with little difficulty. Rome and Persia had long been enemies and when Constantine ‘converted’ and began to formally sponsor Christianity this put the Christians in the Persian Empire in an awkward position. Suddenly they seemed a fertile ground for intrigue, espionage, sabotage etc… a Fifth Column that would naturally look to Rome for political protection and support. The Persian Empire began to persecute Christians…not because of the Gospel, but because of political affiliations and concerns. Christianity was now identified with Rome. A tamer version of this occurred in the 1950’s under McCarthy. It was a new occasion for ‘Thoughtcrime’. People who sympathized with the enemy were perceived as a threat.
Christians are suffering today not exclusively but certainly largely due to their association or even feared or perceived association with Western and particularly American interests. Americans think of their country as a force for good in the world, a land that is looked up to and admired…the good people.
This is a fantasy. While there are some that view America as a rich and fat land, a place of opportunity, there are very few who view it as good. In fact I would argue the majority of the world not only considers American foreign policy to be evil, but considers the United States to be the world’s chief terrorist-state. At the end of the day American presidents and the military they command have killed far more people than Al-Qaeda or Saddam Hussein. In fact America has sponsored characters every bit as bad as Bin Laden and Hussein…in fact under different circumstances sponsored the very same!
Other people think in Sacral terms. To them Christianity due to its Western and American associations means Lady Gaga and Wal-mart as much as its Christianity…which to them usually means Joyce Meyer and World Vision. It all goes together much to the lament of Biblical Christians who would wish to divorce themselves from the whole package.
This in no way justifies the violent actions of nationalists in other countries. Nationalism is an idolatry Christians must always reject. That said it is one of the most prevalent and deeply rooted heresies in the American pseudo-church. If a Muslim or Buddhist country filled the geopolitical position currently held by the United States and this hegemonic supra-culture of Buddhism or Islam was overtaking our culture… many of the good gun-toting Americans would react with similar vitriol. I have no doubts whatsoever on this score.
The problem is power and the violence it generates. Metaxas is guilty of this and so are the nationalists and other cultists and pseudo-religionists around the world.
As usual the situation is more complicated than he’s willing to admit or perhaps even understands. His frequent attempts to ‘claim’ Martin Luther King, suggesting that Colson and the American Christian Right somehow are the inheritors of the King legacy demonstrate a gross ignorance (or deliberate distortion) of history. He’s old enough to remember when King was demonized in white politically conservative Evangelical circles. Metaxas doesn’t seem to realize that it was mostly conservative Protestant ‘Christian’ people who were resisting King, championing Jim Crow…and it’s a historical fact that the big shift in the South that took white Southerners out of the Democratic Party and into the Republican camp was due to Nixon’s Southern Strategy which sought to capture white conservatives upset with Lyndon Johnson’s passage of the Civil Rights Act. In other words the reason the Bible Belt is dominated by Republicans today is directly tied to the fact that white Christians became Republican in order to express their rejection of the Civil Rights Act. If they had stood with King as Metaxas claims…then when they voted in 1968 just seven months after King’s assassination… Hubert Humphrey would have been the 37th president of the United States and Richard Nixon’s comeback would have gone down in flames.
This is normal fare for these people. They twist and distort history every chance they can. They are desperate to ‘claim’ any revered figure in the history of the West. I laughed out loud when I heard Colson praising Charles Dickens the Christian and his writings. First of all Dickens wasn’t a Christian in any orthodox sense. And secondly his writings and ideas (which are certainly worthwhile) represent the utter repudiation of the type of society and economic systems (and the morality it produces) that Colson and his crew champion. Without hesitation it can be said that Dickens (were he alive) would absolutely reject these people. He rejected their ideological ancestors in the 19th century. He would decry the Christian Right as immoral and both rightly and ironically…anti-Christian.
But for Colson to have these ‘great’ (whatever that means) figures of the Western tradition like Dickens and King be placed outside the Christian fold is unthinkable. This is the same kind of mentality that has led authors like Schmidt and Stark and for that matter Huntington, to produce their hack histories comparing East and West. Everything good in the world is due to the Christian West and everything bad in the world comes from the East. It’s an old lie but one that tickles the ear of the devoted Sacralist. It is both theologically and historically erroneous.
Third, it will prepare you to act. As Christians in America, we’re in a position to put pressure on our government and in so doing come to the aid of our suffering brothers and sisters—and we must.
And ultimately we come to what this is all about. What we as ‘christians’…whatever that means in the Metaxas theological lexicon….need to appeal to the American Empire to threaten other nations in order to get our way. This seemingly innocuous statement is a call for blood vengeance, bombs, and the threat of annihilation.
Does he not realize that threats or to use the euphemisms ‘pressures’ or even ‘incentives’ contain a promise of violence? America is famous for many things….Hollywood certainly ranks near the top. But even above that it’s known for its bombs. America loves to drop bombs on other countries and has made an art of it.
The Early Church would not have understood someone like Metaxas. His theology would have been alien to them…even yes, evil. Nowhere in the New Testament do we find the Sacralism he proffers or the definition of Christian he employs. And certainly the violence he advocates, invokes and hopes for is completely absent.
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere for Christians to appeal to the American state for ‘aid’ in advancing or promoting, or defending the Kingdom of God is idolatry if not rank apostasy. It is going down to Egypt for help and that certainly warrants an imprecation from the prophets of old.
No Secretary of State or Foreign Minister can help to build or protect the Kingdom of God. Not Hilary Clinton, John Kerry, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and certainly not the likes of Albright or Kissinger…none of these butchers and Beast-worshippers represents the Christian Church. Only poison can flow from their lips. They represent an empire of lies and violence… how ironic that so many ‘christians’ have confused it with the Kingdom of God. They even place its banners in their sanctuaries (sic) where with the same breath they praise the Prince of Peace.
I pray the lying mouth of Metaxas would be silenced, that the true Gospel would go forth and that our brothers and sisters around the world can be freed from the influence of the false church and the abundance of heresies which flow from this Bestial Pseudo-Zion. I pray this Empire would break and dissolve and that the world would be rid of its evils and that the Gospel would never be tied to an Empire of violence and that the church would be liberated from false prophets and agents of the enemy.
As Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput writes in the book’s Afterword, “Ignorance of the world is a luxury we cannot afford. We must know our faith, know our world and its struggles—and then open our hearts, engage our minds, and lift our hands.”
An appropriate ending. An appeal to an idolatrous prelate presiding over a sodomitical hierarchy. What is this ‘faith’ the self-styled Archbishop speaks of? The dogma of Rome?
This is the faith Metaxas would invoke? The faith that worships Mary, denies the completed and sufficient work of Christ on the cross, in polytheistic fashion invokes the invented cult of saints, and acknowledges the divine lordship and infallibility of the popes, placing itself above the Holy Scriptures?
What can this Archbishop teach Christians but to embrace the fleshly wisdom of Rome, to baptize death and follow the world in its quest for power? Will this Archbishop teach us how to approach God through their myriad of mediators? Should we embrace the very doctrines Paul labels as demonic? The doctrines that associate piety with asceticism in the very forms of forced celibacy and abstention from foods…the very error of Lent which Metaxas and his Roman allies endorse?
While I do not celebrate the Reformation, there are at the very least some principles I share with it that draw a line in the sand. If Metaxas and his ilk are right, then the Reformation was an inexcusable schism, Sola Scriptura must be a devilish lie… and the majority of Bible believing Christians are simply lost or at the very least in grave error.
But if the (dare I say it?) plain doctrines of the New Testament are correct and to be adhered to without modification or read through the filter of Sociological Christendom….then Metaxas represents the very thing Paul warns us of in 2 Corinthians 11.14:
13 For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. 15 Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.
Those who invoke or live by the sword will certainly die by it. Paul’s statement does not indicate these ministers are always consciously aware of their actions. In fact, I am certain many believe they are actually serving God.
Jesus warned his disciples in John 16:
2 They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service. 3 And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me.
In this case synagogues can even be understood in terms of prophetic idiom. The ‘church’ formally speaking had not yet started. The synagogues were the assemblies where the people of God, those in Covenant with Him met, worshipped and fellowshipped. He’s warning them that the ‘people of God’ will throw them out, reject them and think they do God service. As is clear in verse 3, they’re enemies, but don’t know it. They think they’re doing right. They think they’re serving God, building and defending His Kingdom.
And these are the same people who in Matthew 7 are identified as wolves. The same type of people who redefine what a Christian is and by labeling 2.2 billion people as Christians demonstrate the following words mean nothing to them….
13 “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. 14 Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.
And sadly the subsequent verses also apply…
15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them.
21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’
If redefining the categories of Scripture so that the terms it employs become essentially and certainly effectively meaningless…
If goodness and the ways of peace, a Kingdom based on the work of the Holy Spirit that teaches a selfless ethic rejecting all power and violence…if this is turned into a quest for political power and the invocation of the state to employ its means (which can only be coercion and violence) in order to advance the Kingdom of God…
If that isn’t calling good evil and evil good, if that isn’t lawlessness than I don’t know what is. The World offers many temptations and there are many false paths, wicked philosophies, and false hopes. We must reject its lies and enticements.
But always the greatest threat has ever been and will ever be the wolf in sheep’s clothing that offers lust of the flesh, eyes, and the pride of life as a gospel and a way of piety. The lusts of the flesh and eye do not necessarily have to refer to inappropriate sexual desire. Even those who idolatrize pleasure are manifesting another tendency…the root of all sin, self idolatry, man’s desire to be a law unto himself, to wield all power, to be God.
Am I too harsh? Perhaps some of these folks are just misguided. I’ll grant that. I cannot judge the heart but I judge the tree by its fruit, and I see great power, wealth, and influence at work in these circles. I see great evil and a multitude clamouring after it. I am surrounded by churches but only a tiny portion preach something approaching the teaching of Scripture and yet in these congregations other terrible errors are promulgated. It is in these very congregations that Nationalism and the worship of militarism and other pagan notions seems to run the strongest.
If I’m wrong…then dismiss my words, by all means mock my ideas and my foolish tongue.
But if what I say is true…then what is the state of things when there are so very few who seem to discern what is happening? How dire is the situation when even those who can clearly see the errors of an Osteen or a Benny Hinn…cannot see the idolatry and the deviations from New Testament Christianity which have been enshrined in the church? We have wolves among us who claim to follow Christ and the Apostles and reflect the teaching of the Scripture and yet in so many crucial areas teach the very opposite.
This is what happens when I turn on the radio. But unfortunately I’m usually in the middle hooking up some wires or nailing a board down…and it takes me a couple of days to find the time to write down my thoughts. My heart goes out to the multitudes that hear this stuff and yet don’t have the tools to discern it or see through it. What a sad time we live in. The false shepherds leading the church are a disgrace. The people of God (broadly speaking) are in a state of terrible ignorance no different than the provincial peasant living on a feudal manor.