Creative Team Building and Leadership Resources - In our Elements

A Coming Out Party

Saturday, April 6th, 2013

Fellow Passengers: This week’s Pastoral Passage* (Revelation 18) transports me to a hell-fire and brimstone camp meeting, where a spirit-filled pentecostal preacher takes the stage at the concluding chorus of Revive Us Again to hammer out dire apocalyptic warnings found in the text for the night, Revelation 18. Some predictable words punctuate the sweating preacher’s sermon – demons, foul spirits, fornication, drunkenness, iniquity – and reverberating Amen fill the air in response to the shouts of these familiar words of woe emanating from the pulpit. Each of these words gets a lengthy and detailed exposition, as the preacher paints polychromatic pictures of the demonic and drunken sexual sins plaguing our world. All would be well, were it not for the simple fact that the preacher has missed the main point of the revelator’s warning.

When you read Revelation 18, it becomes clear from preacher John’s shouting what was really plaguing the woeful world – economic disparity, greed, and conspicuous consumption. Yes, the popular camp meeting words are there – demons and drunkenness, foul spirits and fornication, iniquity. But what is most interesting is that the revelator does not mimic the pentecostal preacher in spending an inordinate amount of time on detailed descriptions of iniquitous sexual promiscuity and alcohol abuse. In fact, no amount of time is dedicated to fleshing out the sins of the flesh. The apocalyptic visionary instead spends his time tying all these camp meeting Amen-eliciting transgressions to the economic misdeeds of materialism. Each time he pens a prurient image of sexual promiscuity, he employs it as a metaphor to illustrate and indict economic rapacity. Each time he pens a despicable image of drunkenness, he uses it as a metaphor to illustrate and indict the luxuriant debauchery of excess wealth. Each time he pens a diabolical image of demon possession, he uses it as a metaphor to illustrate and indict the ways material possessions tend to possess people in a consumer driven society.

Any good camp meeting preacher worth his or her salt knows how to give an invitation, a call to conversion, drawing multitudes of weeping sinners under conviction to the mourner’s bench to give heart and soul to Jesus. John is no different. You can imagine the exiled prophet sweating and shouting the call to leave the luxuriant captivity of Babylonian materialism: Come out of her, my people, so that you do not take part in her sins, and so that you do not share in her plagues. (Tony Campolo, one of the best revival preachers around today, recently shouted – if you can shout a Tweet: We may live in the best Babylon in the world, but it still Babylon, and we are called to come out of her.) Unfortunately, camp meeting calls to conversion and condemnations of sins limited to the iniquities of promiscuity and drunkenness are essentially preaching to the choir. No one I know, be they single or married, gay or straight, fails to understand the dangers and destructions of sexual activity outside the boundaries of covenant love. No one I know, be they tee-totaler or social drinker, fails to understand the dangers and destructions of alcohol abuse and addiction. Amen and Amen. But, few understand what the Bible calls the roots of destructive behavior – the greedy grasp of materialism, the woeful wickedness of worldly values embedded in concentrated wealth. We live in a culture that celebrates instead of condemns these woes, the plagues, the destructions, of unfettered capitalism. The culture of free market economics has seeped into the church and has co-opted the revival spirit of evangelicals who want to offer good news to a dying world. But when that word of grace is tethered to a way of greed, it fails to ring true to those dying ears. Yes, we may live in a great Babylon, but we are clearly called to come out, to leave, to withdraw complicity so that we no longer share in the plagues of the quick profit. So we pray and sing our way out of Babylon, into the radical commonwealth of God: Revive us again, fill each heart with Thy love, may each soul be rekindled with fire from above. Hallelujah, Thine the glory, hallelujah, Amen. Hallelujah, Thine the glory, revive us again.

How about you? Where does this Pastoral Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.

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Comments

  • April 6, 2013 at 5:45 pm

    Greed is not good. Capitalism is pure evil, and the churches must start to speak out against, They must also make socialism a good word , and make it clear to people that it does not equal totlitarianism.

    Comment by John Testa

  • April 7, 2013 at 8:36 pm

    you have got to be kidding me! Capitalism creates jobs, which keeps your property taxes low, helps pave roads,helps educate your kids, on and on and on I could go. Socialism is not the way to go and you live in one of the most prosperous nations in the world. amazing

    Comment by jim

  • April 8, 2013 at 5:46 am

    John, thanks for your comment. I’m not sure any economic system can be said to be “pure evil”, it all depends on how it’s used in context. There are forms of capitalism that are relatively more or less evil than others, in terms of their effects on society. And Jim, I’m so glad to have you as a faithful reader of the blog. It’s good to have someone who’s able and willing to be a defender of Babylonian ethics. When you discover a way to justify that biblically, in light of passages like the one today, as well as Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the epistles of Timothy and James, etc, let me know.

    Comment by Stan Dotson

  • April 8, 2013 at 4:02 pm

    the 2 points I am making are simple, one is in the words of the greatest president of our time Ronald Reagan, the best social program for people is a job. That is the function of capitalism. Secondly, I don’t find where certain types of economic systems are condemned in scripture. As far as I can tell, Jesus or Paul neither one condemned the system that they were in at the time. Both suffered immensely under these conditions and they did not address to any great degree their systems. Paul went all over and his one great concern was THE GOSPEL, NOT A SOCIAL GOSPEL. Paul most likely was killed by Nero, around 67 a.d., he spent his whole time trying to make Christ known, he did not deal with the social system of the time. Why? because he knew that it was not about the here and now but the hereafter. So lets focus on the eternal and not the temporal!!!

    Comment by jim

  • April 8, 2013 at 4:42 pm

    Jim, I understand your first point, that your economic values derive from worldly leaders like President Reagan. To your second point, I encourage you to read the Sermon on the Mount, along with the epistles of James and I Timothy, and then look at how the early church instituted its economic system in the second chapter of Acts. The underlying values of unfettered capitalism – such as the profit motive and privatization of wealth – are severely critiqued. In place of these values are the gospel values of contentment and sharing for the common good. Again, if you can find teachings of Jesus that support the profit motive and privatization of wealth and the exploitation of labor and other core values of capitalism, please share. Also, having traveled to socialist countries, I can assure you that people are working. Some of the best doctors and artists and pastors and farmers I know are working their jobs under a socialist system. There are plenty of problems and challenges within that system, for sure, but to say that capitalism is the only system that creates good jobs is simply not factual.

    Comment by Stan Dotson

  • April 9, 2013 at 7:24 pm

    well, reagan was probably more spiritually in tune than you give him credit for. He often referenced scripture and his belief in God, so I would not call him worldly in that sense. As far as economic systems, I personally believe ours is the best, however, that is an opinion. From what I read, I do not see any recommendation of any particular economic system, rich people go to hell without Jesus and so do poor people. My main point is the total depravity of man and without God, all is in vain. That’s why Paul never dealt with the government at hand, neither did Jesus, only to preach the gospel. The sermon on the mount is good but it only shows how far short we all are apart from grace and the spirit enabling believers to strive to live out that experientially.

    Comment by jim

  • April 11, 2013 at 9:15 am

    Jim, you are certainly correct that the Bible does not directly say anything about specific economic systems, be they capitalism or communism or socialism. What these teachings that I referenced do is to speak to the underlying core values of worldly economies verses the underlying core values of the commonwealth of God. The core values of capitalism include the profit motive and the deep discontent necessary to create demand for products. The core values of the kingdom of God are in direct opposition to these, advocating for a different motive for our work, and for a profound sense of contentment. Capitalism’s values also involve the market determining what kind of work is valued, so that people who do frivolous and sometimes destructive things will often get paid far more than people who do essential and good things. Valuing the foolish and fickle market desires over the wisdom of the common good is another example of values contradicted by scripture. The examples could go on and on, but these suffice to demonstrate that although the holy writ does not name particular economic systems to critique, it does offer a sound and thorough critique of these systems’ underlying values, and offers a better set of values for people of faith. Coming out of Babylon means letting go of those core capitalist values, and embracing the kingdom values in their place.

    Comment by Stan Dotson


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