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The Bithynian Option

Thu. Sep. 17, 2015By: Paul Carter

Sometime over the last 10 years the Evangelical church made a startling discovery:  We're not in Kansas anymore.  Things have changed.  This is not your grandfather's church.  This is not the Promised Land and this is not a Christian culture.

Evidence of this new reality can be found every night on the evening news. While I have no interest in discussing the intricacies of U.S. law or the difficult ethical questions associated with holding public office as a Christian, I think all Evangelicals could agree that our grandparents would have struggled to imagine a scenario wherein a Christian clerk would be jailed for refusing to sign marriage certificate for homosexual couples.

Whether you are praying for Kim Davis or embarrassed by her convictions, let's at least admit that the idea of it being illegal for anyone in North America to withhold their public approval for a gay marriage would have been impossible to imagine 50 years ago.  And yet, here we are.

I think our grandparents would also have been incapable of imagining a scenario wherein a private business might deem it expedient to publicly distance themselves from Christian clients.  And yet, that too is happening in culture and being discussed in the daily news.  

(Photo Credit: Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times)

In an article titled "Being Picky About Customers Early On Can Bolster Long-Term Success" New York Times business columnist Caitlin Kelly tells the story of how a caterer made her decision to disassociate from Christian clients public so as to demonstrate her discernment as a business operator.  To be clear, Tsuang explicitly rejected a customer on the basis of their religious beliefs, believing that this would better position her brand within the marketplace.  Apparently its good business now to discriminate against Christians.

Whatever you think about that from a legal perspective - I'm actually all in favour of companies being able to discriminate of the basis of morality and values - my point is that our grandparents could not have imagined a day when it could land you in jail to believe what the Bible says about human sexuality and when it would be considered good business to tell Christian people to take their money elsewhere.  We are not in Kansas anymore.  The attitude of the culture towards Christianity has undergone a seismic shift in the last 20 years.

So what do we do now?

That is the question that has been occupying Christian thinkers and writers for the last several years.  Several options are in play.  

Option 1: The Accommodation Option

This option is more of a default reaction rather than an intentional strategy.  However it is common enough that it merits attention.  There have always been plenty of voices within Evangelicalism ready to cast significant doctrines over board every time the waters of culture get a little unsettled.  Perhaps if we made the church a little more like the world more people would come and more people in the culture would look upon with greater favour?  That strategy was on full display last week in a viral video posted by Buzzfeed on Facebook.

The basic message of the video is that you can be a Christian without believing all of that nasty, exclusive, mean spirited dogma concerning human sexuality.  You can be a Christian and "love you some Beyonce", drink lots of wine, have sex with people of your own gender and generally look exactly like the world.  

This idea was attempted without success by the United Church of Canada in the early decades of the 20th century.  In his excellent book "After Evangelicalism" Kevin Flatt details how the UCC made the intentional decision to jettison Evangelical doctrines in the ill fated effort to narrow the mission gap with Canadian culture.  The results were catastrophic.  The United Church of Canada was for a long stretch in the latter half of the 20th century the fastest shrinking major religious body in North America.  It turns out that when the church says all the same things as the culture, people forget why they are supposed to get out of bed on Sunday mornings.  If they want lessons on recycling, they can watch public service commercials on TV.  If they want encouragement towards embracing alternative sexual lifestyles, they can watch day time talk shows.  This option can be considered "tried and failed".

Except that its back.  And back with a vengeance.  The seeker movement of the 80's and 90's invited us all down the same garden path.  We were all told that if we sang Beatles' songs and wore casual clothes people would come in droves.  They did.  From other Evangelical churches.  The seeker movement was not a front door it was more of a side door and in many cases it was a back door.  It provided a soft landing for people who had already decided to leave the church - they just wanted to do that in comfortable stages.  The slicker 21st century versions of this model seem like more of the same.  The recent evidence of young adults departing the faith, mostly from nominal Christian families and churches, only serves to reinforce what the lesson of the UCC should have taught us in the first place: accommodationist churches can't reproduce.  They don't make actual converts and they have a hard time passing faith on to their kids.  Version 2 of this Option will likely fair no better than version 1.

Option 2: The Benedict Option

The Benedict Option is generally associated with conservative Christian writer Rod Dreher.  It is essentially a call for a new form of Catholic monasticism.  The idea is for Christians to retreat from the culture wars and to build alternative communities that would demonstrate the superiority of the Christian way - presumably from outside a specified radius of contagion.  While many Evangelicals are attracted to the idea of withdrawing from the culture wars, the idea of a Christian sub-culture seems foreign to the Biblical mandate to be salt and light.  Salt has to be in contact with the meat for it to be useful and a church that withdraws into a Christian ghetto seems to be simply finding a slower way to commit suicide.  In addition to being dangerously short sighted, the Benedict Option is directly contrary to the prayer of Jesus Christ as recorded in John 17.  Jesus prayed: 

“I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” (John 17:15 ESV)

Jesus prayed for us to be IN though not OF the world.  By this standard, the Benedict Option clearly misses the mark.

Option 3: The Babylonian Option

By far the most popular option among conservative and mostly younger Evangelicals is some version of the Babylonian Option.  The first version of the Babylonian Option, sometimes called The Jeremiah Option, comes out of passages like Jeremiah 29:4-7.

4 “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29:3–7 ESV)

This option calls for Christians and churches to engage the culture.  Rather than retreating into Christian ghettos as per the Benedict Option, the Babylonian Option calls on us to embrace our exile, to infiltrate the culture and to exert influence in a Christian direction.  This often manifests as calls for Christians to get outside the four walls of the church and to understand their service in terms of joining the PTA, coaching soccer for local kids and perhaps running for public office.  

While there is much to commend the Babylonian Option there needs to be more caution with respect to some of the unspoken assumptions and implications.  For one thing, the Babylonian Option assumes a rather linear version of Providence and history.  The assumption seems to be that the church has lost its position within the culture and that we must now accept a rather permanent position on the sidelines.  The assumption of perpetual diminishing seems rather like the hysteria around peak oil and American political decline.  It seems to overlook the historical reality of revival and reversal and it comes off as unnecessarily pessimistic and defeatist.  

The most concerning shortcoming in the model however is its potential for distraction.  Redeeming the culture seems like a Herculean task designed to exhaust and frustrate the average Christian and to starve and marginalize the traditional ministries of the local church.  Teaching Sunday School to children all of the sudden seems far less sexy than sitting on the local Municipal Planning Committee, leading a small group Bible Study seems now far less strategic than coaching little league or teaching a pottery class.  The foundational flaw of the Babylonian Option seems to be the failure to distinguish between the church gathered and the church scattered.  No one would argue that as the church scattered (each individual Christian doing whatever it is they do when they are "in the world") we should be serving as salt and light, extending the light of the kingdom into every square inch of society and culture.  However, the church gathered has a very specific mandate generally expressed in language borrowed from some version of the Great Commission:

19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19–20 ESV)

46 “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24:46–48 ESV) 

The church gathered exists to glorify God by making disciples generally through activities such as baptizing, teaching, going, preaching and witnessing.  Not a lot in there about coaching soccer or sitting on political action committees.  The Babylonian Option may be guilty of a giant and ultimately disastrous category error.  It may be confusing the mandate of the church gathered with that of the church scattered.  At the very least the Babylonian Option has been adopted too widely, too quickly and too uncritically by the Evangelical church.  More research, prayer and discernment is required. 

A second version of the Babylonian Option is emerging, partly in reaction to some of these perceived weaknesses.  It is being referred to as "The Shadrach Option".  Advanced by folks like Joe Rigney in his recent article over at Desiring God, this approach takes its inspiration from passages like Daniel 3:16-18:

16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17 If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18 But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16–18 ESV) 

This Option recognizes that the whole "seek the welfare of the city" thing didn't actually go very well for the original Babylonian Exiles.  The city rejected those who maintained a distinctive commitment to Yahweh.  The city only wanted their influence if the exiles would conform to their values and practices.  Pressure was applied for the exiles to conform.  When some refused, they were eventually thrown into the fiery furnace.  The Shadrach Option appears to confront the naiveté of the Jeremiah Option but fails to offer anything more useful by way of substitute.  Instead it seems to commend a more confrontational mindset characterized by a strange blend of hostility and hopefulness towards the host culture. To this Canadian observer it appears to suffer from the common American Evangelical presumption of perpetual cultural privilege and it fails to embrace the suggested meekness that endures suffering and marginalization prayerfully without the defiant posturing of the "unjustly deposed".   

The Shadrach Option is not a improvement on its predecessor.

So what should we do?  All our strategies for "doing church" have been born and raised in a context of cultural privilege and are now, not surprisingly, hopelessly out of date.  If accommodation is out (and it is!) and if retreat is not an option (and it isn't) and if wholesale assimilation and engagement is unwise, unnecessary and potentially distracting then what posture should we adopt?  Is there an approach to culture that is neither defeatist nor retreatist?   

Introducing The Bithynian Option

The Apostle Peter wrote to Christians living in the Roman Province of Bithynia-Pontus at a time not dissimilar to the one we are entering now as North American Evangelicals.  The culture was just becoming aware of how different and potentially disruptive believers in Jesus could be.  Christians were not yet facing persecution, but they were facing stigmatization, marginalization and loss of privilege.  He wrote them saying:

9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:9–12 ESV)

Peter affirmed and reiterated their unique status and position as believers within the culture.  He calls them aliens and sojourners; he refers to them as cultural outsiders and assumed that their behaviors would be perceived as unusual and foreign. He assigns to them an ambassadorial mission; he tells them to think of themselves as a distinct nation of royal priests.  Priests go between.  Priests speak to God on behalf of men and to men on behalf of God.  These priests are royal - they are ambassadorial, as though God were making his appeal to the culture through them.  Ambassadors as a rule do not join municipal steering committees.  They are not citizens.  Neither do they move into caves and preach prophetic denunciations from a safe distance.  They live in the culture as representatives of a foreign power.  That is the essence and substance of the Bithynian Option.  It understands the Christian mission as being to "proclaim the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness and into his marvelous light."  It understands the church as being simultaneously "in" and "other".

Peter's letter to the Bithynians and the history of the Christian church in that particular region suggest several principles and insights for how to engage a fluid and foreign culture as resident outsiders. 

1. Don’t Exaggerate Cultural Opposition    

There is a fair bit of unwarranted hysteria within Evangelicalism as a result of our recent decline in cultural privilege.  A great deal of what is called "persecution" on Facebook and other social media does not even come close to warranting that designation.  The need to exercise caution was recently expressed by NY Times columnist Ross Douthat.

“So being marginalized, being sued, losing tax-exempt status — this will be uncomfortable, but we should keep perspective and remember our sins, and nobody should call it persecution."

After further discussing the potentially harmful effect of this over-reaction on the part of Christians he concluded:

“And finally, it doesn’t actually prepare conservative believers for a future as a (hopefully creative) religious minority, because it conditions them/us to constantly expect some kind of grand tribulation that probably won’t actually emerge.” (Read the article here)

What we are facing at this time in North American culture is not persecution.  Not by a long shot.  It is important for resident outsiders and royal ambassadors to have an accurate and rational grasp of their cultural context.  Peter makes the same point to his people in Bithynia: 

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? (1 Peter 3:13 ESV)

That’s an excellent question.  In the most recent “Thinking In Public” podcast Al Mohler asked Mark Oppenheimer “how much trouble are we Evangelicals really in?”  Oppenheimer’s answer was telling:  “Not much”. 

Not much.  What exactly is on the table here?  The “nuclear bomb” as Mohler referred to it during the conversation, was the unlikely prospect that Christian institutions might lose their property tax exemption.  Is that really a “nuclear bomb”?  In addition to being a little insensitive to the citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it is also out of scale with the difficulties being faced by Christians presently in the Middle East and North Africa.  I can’t imagine a Christian in Iraq describing the prospect of his local seminary or bible school paying property tax as “a nuclear bomb”. 

While I think an excellent argument can be made for religious property being exempt from local taxation I don’t think it would be the end of the world if we lost that particular privilege.  It is not persecution and it is not time for extreme and unmeasured reactions.

The local history of the church in Bithynia offers further caution.  Peter wrote his letter to Bithynia around AD 62.  No actual persecution of Christians occurred until AD 112.  In AD 112 Pliny the Younger began investigating the Christian faith on behalf of the Emperor Trajan.  Several dozen Christians were executed upon confession of faith in Christ and upon their refusal to offer worship to statues of the Emperor or the Capitoline gods.  However, the persecution was short-lived. Christians were useful citizens and Trajan decided that the Empire could not afford to persecute such valuable people.  He wrote to Pliny and ordered him to cease his investigation.  The lesson is obvious:  Had the church in Bithynia over reacted to the danger of their position in AD 62 they would have missed out on 50 years of productive ministry. The church grew so rapidly between AD 62 and 112 that it actually began affecting the local economy; that was the original reason for Pliny’s investigation.  Had the church gone underground, as per the Benedict Option or been unnecessarily defeatist as per the Babylonian Option, she would have missed out on a culture shaking revival. 

Don’t over estimate cultural opposition.  Things may be worse than they were for our grandparents, but the door is by no means closed to effective Gospel ministry.  We may be facing our most productive era ever.  Now is not the time to hide from culture nor to subsume ourselves within it. 

2.         Be Active And Obvious In Doing Good

Peter provided a warning to the Bithynians and he also suggested a strategy:

“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?” (1 Peter 3:13 ESV)

Peter’s argument seems to be that if we Christians are known for doing good works, we ought to be able to avoid all but the most persistent forms of persecution.  History certainly attests to the value of that counsel.  Rodney Stark in his book The Rise Of Christianity makes the argument that it was the Christian commitment to care for the poor and the sick that eventually won over the Roman public, particularly in the wake of two devastating plagues occurring within 150 years.  Tales were told of traffic jams on the roads outside of all the major cities at the onset of plague – every healthy Roman with somewhere to go was running out of the city and every Christian secure in his salvation was running into it – coming to serve the sick and spoon broth and change bed sheets and bury the dead.  It was those scenes, argues Stark, that eventually won the hearts of every day Romans and signaled the death knell for Greco-Roman paganism. 

Stark’s analysis may be a little sterile – we’d want to say something about the Holy Spirit and the effect of anointed Gospel preaching, but even if he hasn’t said all we’d want him to say, what he has said cannot be discounted.  Good works buy us space to witness and minister the Gospel.  That cannot and should not be denied.  I’ve chosen the word “obvious” in this principle title with caution and some reservation.  On the one hand we have the many warnings from Jesus in Matthew 6 against doing good works so as to be noticed by men.  On the other hand we have Jesus saying in Matthew 5:

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16. ESV)

Unlike prayer and fasting, good works can’t be done in secret because they are always done to other people.  Good works shouldn’t be done solely for the benefit of public praise and recognition, but the utility of that public praise for the greater good of Gospel witness should not be discounted.  I think this is one of those “wise as serpents, gentle as doves” considerations and one to which Evangelicals need to pay immediate heed.  As our beliefs become more and more unpopular, good works may keep the door open a little longer for Gospel work and witness. 

3.         Do Not Be Afraid

Peter says in verse 14b:

Have no fear of them, nor be troubled… (1 Peter 3:14b. ESV)

It is often said that “do not fear” is the most common command in the Bible.  That’s true.  Fear is the opposite of faith.  Fear reveals that we don’t really believe in the things that God has promised.  A real Christian who believes what God says in the Bible doesn’t face persecution with fear and terror, he embraces it as the will of God and as an opportunity to accumulate blessings.  Jesus said that: 

11  “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  12  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11-12. ESV)

The growth of the Bithynian church between AD 62 – AD 112 is a reminder that fear must not be allowed to dictate the terms of Christian witness to a fluid and foreign culture.  Things may get better after they get worse.  Revival may come; persecution may prove too costly.  Regardless, God is in control and our orders remain unchanged. Do not be afraid.

4.         Set Apart Christ As Lord

In 1 Peter 3:15 Peter says:

…but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy  (1 Peter 3:15. ESV)

The Greek word translated there as “honor as holy” is hagiasate, which is similar to the word we all know from the Lord’s Prayer translated as “hallowed be thy name”.  Peter is saying, “Decide right now to honor Christ as Lord.  Decide right now to whom you will owe allegiance.”  The Emperor will make demands upon you; decide where your loyalties lie.  

It is interesting to recall the test that Pliny the Younger ultimately settled upon in his quest to identify real Christians.  He ordered suspected believers to curse Christ and to offer incense to a statue of Trajan.  Real Christians wouldn’t do it.  They had hallowed Christ as Lord.  They had made their choice and if it cost them their lives then so be it. Real Christians had one Lord and Master and Trajan eventually decided that he couldn’t afford to punish them for that loyalty.  Our culture may decide the same. 

Or they may not.  200 years later the Eastern Emperor Licinius developed a deep-rooted suspicion towards the Christians in his administration.  This was shortly after the Western Emperor Constantine had officially embraced Christianity and had called for the full acceptance of the Christian faith.  Licinius, whose capital city was in Bithynia, now viewed all Christians as potential agents of his rival Emperor.  Simon Baker writes:

“Roman governors were free to punish dissident Christians, shut down some churches, demolish others and, in the case of the bishops in the province of Bithynia-Pontus south of the Black Sea, murder key figureheads in the Christian clergy.  According to Eusebius, their bodies were chopped up and thrown into the sea as food for fish”.[1]

Peter didn’t bother to predict what the result of such unflinching loyalty would be.  The immediate result with respect to the original recipients was 50 years of fruitful ministry.  In the era of Trajan in AD 112 the result was a brief persecution followed by 200 years of further growth.  In the time of Licinius the result was horrific mutilation followed by unusual influence.  The Bishop of Nicomedia, the capitol city of Bithynia became the spiritual advisor to Emperor Constantine after the death and defeat of Licinius in 324.  Loyalty to Christ does not guarantee a particular cultural response.  It does however guarantee a particular Divine interest and provision.  Therefore, in your hearts, regardless of the immediate reception, set apart Christ as Lord. 

5.  Be Prepared

Peter goes on to say:

14 Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you (1 Peter 3:14–15 ESV)         

A Christian living in a fluid and foreign culture such as ours ought to be prepared to defend the Bible’s teaching on the following:

  1. Scriptural authority
  2. Human sexuality
  3. Suffering
  4. Personal eschatology
  5. Human origins
  6. Jesus – Who he was, what he did and why it matters

The text cited uses the word “defense” meaning that we are to be prepared to speak wherever Christian doctrine is under particular assault. This may be counter intuitive for many Babylonian cultural infiltrators.  Many of my Evangelical friends who are trying on the Babylonian Option have attempted to disengage from the culture wars of the early 21st century.  I have a certain sympathy for that but that sympathy does not give me liberty to resign my Christian commission.  Christians are called to be salt and light.  Salt is preservative meaning that it stands in active opposition to the forces of cultural and moral decay.  Complete resignation and total infiltration are not viable options for the Bible believing Christians.  I have had friends tell me that they still believe in what the Bible says on these contentious issues, but they have chosen rather to speak about things that can more naturally build bridges into the culture.  That simply isn’t an option. 

Whether Martin Luther ever actually said it or not, the “battle statement” attributed to him has definite value.

“If I profess, with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition, every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity. Where the battle rages the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle-field besides is mere flight and disgrace to him if he flinches at that one point.”

If Luther didn’t say it, Peter certainly did.  Always be prepared to defend.  Certain aspects of Christian truth are under attack.  Now is not the time to pick and choose your interests.  Be winsome, of course, but be courageous.  Be broad, of course, but be present.  Where the battle rages the loyalty of the soldier is proved.  Know what you believe about what is being denied within our culture.

6.         Inspire Questions

14 Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you (1 Peter 3:14–15 ESV)         

The text assumes that you are living a remarkable life.  The text further assumes that a great witnessing strategy is maintaining a positive, observable, remarkable cultural difference.  Rather than being as like the world as possible, as seems to be the norm nowadays in the Evangelical church, this text recommends a gap.  The gap is good for the Gospel.  Here are 5 simple ways you can build, by God’s grace, a comment worthy life:

i.          Get married/Stay married.
ii.         Have and enjoy babies.  (The meek shall inherit the earth)
iii.        Live below your means – tithe/save/give
iv.        Serve selflessly, in your church and in your community.
v.         Worship faithfully.  

The Bible provides for a special calling to celibacy.  The Bible also notes special circumstances warranting divorce, but in general, in this culture, there are few better ways to be noticeably weird than to be happily married.  It is even weirder to have and enjoy kids. It is also passing strange to drive a smaller, cheaper car than you can obviously afford.  Regularly attending church and faithfully serving others is likewise impossible to do without attracting attention.  If you do these things long enough people are going to see and they are going to ask questions.  When they do, tell them about Jesus.  It’s that simple.  Be weird, answer questions. 

7.         Be Gentle And Respectful

“…yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15. ESV)

There is an element of meekness missing from the more militant Shadrach Option just as there is an element of courage missing from the Benedict Option. Meekness is praying for the soldiers who are nailing you to a wooden cross.  Meekness is not calling the Legions of Angels that the Father places at your disposal.  Meekness is turning the other cheek and going the extra mile.  Meekness is what people do when they care more about eternal souls then temporary privilege.  Speak about Christ.  Defend what is being attacked.  Be “in” but “other” and do it with gentleness and respect.

8.         Keep Your Conduct Honourable

Having reminded them to make their proclamation with gentleness and respect Peter adds:

having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. (1 Peter 3:16 ESV)

In chapter 2 he said:

Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:12 ESV)

The recent Ashley Madison scandal made this point afresh in recent days.  The tragic suicide of one pastor caught up in these revelations was absolutely heartbreaking.  As Gospel people, let’s agree on this: catastrophic public moral failure is forgivable – PRAISE THE LORD! But it is not helpful.  For God’s sake, be careful. 

9.         Endure Slander And Mischaracterization

According to the Apostle Peter, slander is to be assumed.

Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:12 ESV)

Notice that Peter doesn’t say: “When they speak against you as evildoers be sure to fight back, be sure to protect your liberties and to seek justice at all costs”.  He didn’t say that.  He said to keep your nose clean, make sure there is nothing of substance to their accusations and win the argument by maintaining a consistent testimony of good deeds.  This verse seems to offer a substantial rebuke to the defensive and essentially combative posture of the Shadrach Option.  Jesus never promised that people would take the time to understand us.  He never guaranteed that our views would get a fair hearing.  Instead he told us:

24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. (Matthew 10:24–25 ESV)

Be like Jesus.  Endure slander and mischaracterization.

10.       Honour Everyone

To the Bithynian Christians living as aliens and sojourners in a suspicious and occasionally hostile culture under the authority of an unsympathetic government Peter says:

Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:17 ESV)

Honour everyone.  Love and lean into your church.  Serve the Lord with reverence.  Respect the government.  That sounds like odd counsel doesn’t it?  That sounds very different than so much of what we are hearing right now in Evangelicalism.  It does however sound like the consistent teaching of Scripture.  Paul said similar things to his folks living in similar conditions:

Outdo one another in showing honor.  (Romans 12:10 ESV)

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. (Romans 13:1 ESV)

Let’s state the obvious: stick it to the man is not a Christian strategy.  Fight the power is not a Biblical slogan.  Christians should be known as great citizens.  They should be a pleasure to lead.  They should love their churches, they should serve their God and they should contribute usefully and cheerfully to their society.  All the while proclaiming the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light. 

That’s the Bithynian Option in a nutshell.  “In” but “other”; resident outsiders who  participate in culture without ever belonging to it.  It reminds us that things can change in a hurry.  It encourages us to believe in and pray for revival.  It tells us to expect marginalization and slander but it warns us not to be paralyzed with fear.  It shows us that persecution is generally short lived and our influence is often greater on the other side.  

The Bithynian Option represents a posture somewhere between the retreatism of the Benedict Option and the defeatism of the Babylonian Option.  The Benedict Option should never be seriously considered by Bible believing, Great Commission obeying followers of Jesus Christ.  The Babylonian Option may one day be forced upon us – but today is not that day. We are not yet in the fiery furnace of Babylon, we are just entering the frying pan of Bithynia.  Hold fast.  Stay the course.  Delight in Christ and do your duty.  Proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.  This is still the game plan.  Stand in the shadows and shine the light.  Embrace the margin and maintain the mission we were given.  For the glory of God and the good of all peoples – this is still the Word of the Lord.

SDG

Paul Carter

 

 


[1] Simon Baker, Ancient Rome (UK: Random Books, 2006), 356.

 

 

Category: General, Must Read, Top Ten, CLRA


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