When I first moved to Michigan seven years ago, I was flummoxed (yes! Flummoxed!!) by an article in the Detroit Free Press describing ‘urban wilderness.’ The article informed me that some areas of Detroit were so dilapidated and vacant that wild animals were now roaming the city streets. There had been sightings of white-tailed deer, coyotes, and large predatorial cats roaming sections of town from which most people had fled.
At first I thought it was a joke, until I visited Detroit for myself. I couldn’t believe that one of the greatest cities in America had fallen so far, so fast. Within three decades the home of MoTown and the Mecca of the US auto industry had crumbled into something like ruin porn. It was, and still remains, heartbreaking.
Revelation 18 predicts a similar fate for Rome and, as NT Wright cautions, that warning contains more than simply the eventual destruction of a first century city. John’s point is that all ‘Babylons’ will eventually fall. Every place that exalts itself, and everyone who aligns themselves with such self-serving power, will ultimately end up crumbled, ruined, and given back to wild cats and dogs. Which is why we’re instructed to ‘come out!’
God warns his people to get out of town while we still can—and, of course, this isn’t a suggestion as to where we should live but HOW we should live. The call to leave Babylon is the call to separate ourselves from Babylonian values, lifestyles, and norms. It is the call to be different, to be holy, and to set ourselves apart from the world for God.
I’ve never been accused of being conservative, but I feel strongly that we—the church—have lost the centrality of this calling. We just aren’t separate enough. And, by “we”, I really mean Westwinds. My criticisms of the Church at large extend in the other direction—they’re not ‘in the world’ at all—but I’m afraid my own local congregation has nothing to distinguish itself from a comedy club that offers after-school programs and rock concerts. If the majority of Evangelicals are in danger of being removed from the world entirely, then I’m concerned we’re equally in danger of being completely ‘of the world.’
Ok. A little.
We’ve just gotten so afraid. We’re afraid that holding to the biblical standards of sexual purity will make us look judgmental. We’re afraid that practicing biblical generosity will mean we can’t keep anything for ourselves. We’re afraid that preaching about Jesus boldly will lead others to think we’re religiously intolerant. And the more I run up against those fears—the fear of rejection by our society, by our friends, and by our peers—the more I rail against it.
How can we be so blind? How can we fail to understand that Babylon is falling, and if we hitch our lives to her we’ll go down too?
When John wrote the Revelation there was nothing on the surface that suggested Rome’s downfall. In fact, the Empire was strong for several hundred years after this was written. But the seeds of its own destruction had been planted. The city was destined to reap what it had sown. In our contemporary setting, we’re facing the same kind of scenario. There’s no evidence anywhere that our unmitigated growth or persistent pursuit of egocentricity and pleasure will even collapse. And yet the seeds of our cultures destruction have been planted also. The values of tolerance, pluralism, and appeasement are really just poor substitutes for love, unity, and justice. These values are our cultural attempt at avoiding conflict and pretending everything is fine so we can continue to do whatever we want. But this is never acceptable behavior for Christians, not least because it will ultimately collapse on itself. If we don’t come out of the world and cling more closely to Christ we’re likely not to come out of the world ever.
Even at the end.