Sunday, January 7, 2018

Set-Apart: The Early Christian Model of Counter-Culture

I have discussed in previous articles the need for Christians who are serious about returning to apostolic (early) Christianity to leave behind allegiances to political systems and to withdraw from the intrigues of the political world. I have also briefly touched on the need to separate ourselves from the world (secular governments, politics and philosophies), and what our responsibilities to our nations really are. Having done so we will now take a look at another aspect of our being separate from the world; cultural/societal separation.

The early Christians, while living in the same places as their pagan neighbors, very early on adopted the Jewish model of existing in cultures that were very hostile to Jewish religion, and therefore, identity. In many of the ancient cities of the Roman empire archaeologists have discovered sections, or quarters, where Jews lived in separate communities. This helped to ensure fidelity to the faith, the carrying on of traditions, and to some degree the ability to work and barter for goods that Jews might not be able to purchase or sell in the marketplaces due to pagan religious practices that were often required in these cultures. We find the same thing with the ancient Christian communities. They would have found themselves in a culture hostile to their faith, which viewed their morals and ethics with a degree of suspicion, if not outright scorn, and which was extremely difficult for them to live in successfully. Christians, like their Jewish counterparts, would not have been able to sell goods in marketplaces without offering a pinch of incense to a pagan deity. They had the struggle with their consciences when purchasing certain foods as they were offered to idols before being sold. They would not take part in the games at the coliseums or in the entertainments, festivals and politics of the surrounding culture. And finally, Christians did not serve in the military, nor in government. This all made for a very bloody period in church history, as Christians (like Jews) were accused of all manner of crimes, including sedition. This led to the martyrdom of many believers. They took seriously the many biblical admonitions to be a set-apart people.

"They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world."- John 17:16

"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind."- Romans 12:2

"Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you."- 2 Corinthians 6:17

"Do not love the world or the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world-the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life-is not of the Father but is of the world."- 1 John 2:15-16

And while Christians of today are not being martyred (at least not in the West), we must admit that the culture of Western nations is growing increasingly hostile to Christianity as the nations move closer and closer to a neo-paganism. Our morals and ethics are scoffed at and even criminalized (Christian business owners sued out of business and/or frightened out of business by angry Leftists), the government has become more aggressive in its removal and prohibition of biblical principles, and Cultural Marxism has bred an entire generation of people who live for nothing more than whatever feels good at the moment. The comparisons to ancient Roman pagan immorality and conceit are numerous. Unfortunately, we cannot live in the urban centers as easily as perhaps we once did, as these centers are also the very hub of the anti-Christ forces we struggle with daily.

So what do we do?

First, we must be willing to be holy. This means allowing ourselves to be "set-apart". That leads to the question, 'Set apart from what?'

Set apart from all that is sinful, all that is not God honoring, all that is common, and set apart unto God as His possession, giving up our rebellious sense of "self rights" in favor of allowing the Holy Spirit to guide our decisions. This leads to another logical question: are we able to do these things effectively, efficiently, and consistently while at the same time living in such close proximity to an anti-Christ culture that imposes itself on us? I do not mean by close proximity living in the same space or city. What I mean is having to engage it on all levels of our lives, which most of us do. The realities of urban living are that we are surrounded by the immorality, unethical attitudes, symbols of worldly politics, philosophies, and priorities every moment of every day. In some places, even your own home is not a haven, as local community rules impose themselves on your "property rights". City schools are filled with drugs, immorality, violence and the curriculum itself is so designed as to brainwash children from kindergarten through college with the very principles that militate against biblical principles. Workplaces are increasingly becoming hostile to Christians as well, with rules (either corporate, state or federal) prohibiting and criminalizing foundational Christian values. Can we honestly say that we are set-apart when we immerse ourselves in such a neo-pagan culture? The answer, I believe, is an unequivocal no. And before someone responds by saying we are to share the gospel with the lost, so that justifies continued immersion in the world, nowhere in Scripture are we ever commanded to change the culture- not even one person at a time. We are told to be in the world (which we have no choice in as humans), but not of the world (which we absolutely do have a choice in.). The command is not to be in the world and at the same instant of the world, which is what many believers actually live out every day, if not truly believe is correct. The Church Fathers understood this need for separation quite well.

"This world and the next are two enemies...We cannot therefore be friends of both."- 2 Clement

"Die to the world, repudiating the madness that is in it! Live to God!"
                                                                                                           - Tatian

"We have no country on earth."- Clement of Alexandria

"As for you, you are a foreigner in this world, a citizen of Jerusalem, the city above. Our citizenship, the apostle says, is in heaven...You have nothing to do with the joys of this world. In fact, you are called to the very opposite..."- Tertullian

"It is not possible for anyone to enter into the kingdom of heaven who has not turned away from the affairs of this world..."- Origen

"The one peaceful and trustworthy tranquility, the one solid, firm, and constant security is this: for a man to withdraw from this whirlpool of a distracting world and to lift his eyes from earth to heaven..."
                                                                                             - Cyprian

"We should ever and a day reflect that we have renounced the world and are in the meantime living here as guests and strangers."'
                                                                                            - Cyprian

What is the alternative?

I believe the answer is intentional villages, or a Christian land movement, if you prefer. No, I am not talking about some fantasy cessation, but of intentional communities of like minded believers who are committed to a set of core principles. This idea is nothing new in and of itself, but can be traced back to England in the 1920-1930s. Industrialization had done much to erode the simple living and Christ centered lifestyle of English Christians. Such thinkers as G.K. Chesterton and others began to develop a movement to repopulate the countryside with Christian farmers and other craftsmen who would be freed from the grinding and life consuming work of factories, and get the faithful out of urban centers. Interestingly, the power brokers in control of world politics and culture want to do exactly the opposite. They want to bring the masses into urban centers so as to better control them.

These intentional villages could, if Christians can be half as committed as many of the non-Christian intentional communities, free the faithful of wage slavery, provide ample family time, and allow the community to be substantially self sufficient with the establishment of a community farm. Homes could be built in these communities and a central church established as the focal point of the village. Mind you, we are not talking about building a sub-division or some monastery. This would be an intentional community, apart from the surrounding anti-Christ culture, but close enough for evangelism, physicians, etc. to be accessible. In other words, in the world, but not of the world. It would be a community based on:
  • Love of God
  • A sincere desire to be what the early church was.
  • Biblical family values.
  • Stewardship of creation through farming.
  • Christian community
  • Prayer
  • Christian education through homeschooling
  • Holiness
This is not necessarily a pie in the sky idealism, as it has been a working model for various Anabaptists communities for a very long time. Such an intentional village allows Christians to not only be set-apart, but to build one another up in the committed atmosphere of a community of fellow disciples.

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