The background for this exhortation is a proposed memorial we will be considering later on, but the general relevance of this exhortation is very much fitted to the times in which we find ourselves. These are the times in which our secularist overlords are striving to impose a humanist cultural homogenization on the entire planet, and in which various tribes, nations, and gangs are kicking against this through various forms of populist revolt. These are battles of basic allegiances—one to an ideological vision, and the other a loyalty to natural and much more local affinities.
It is our task, as ministers of the Christian church, to display and live out a third way, based on a yet more foundational allegiance—a loyalty to the Word of God, as over against the words of any man, whether that man is a bigwig in the World Economic Council, or some tribal chieftain. Our loyalty is to Scripture, and by “Scripture,” we do not mean select passages cherry-picked and arranged in baskets nicely, but rather tota et sola Scriptura, all of Scripture and only Scripture as our ultimate and infallible rule for faith and life. Only by this means will we be able to cast down the totalitarian dreams of the one, and demote the local baals of the other. So bear with me, and wait for the surprise twist at the end.
That said, grace completes nature, and does not annihilate it. And grace overthrows overt idolatry entirely, and does not complete it. This is because there are two kinds of idols. One must be demolished entirely, ground to powder at the brook Kidron, and used to desecrate the graves of the people (2 Kings 23:5-7). There is to be no quarter given to this kind of idol. But there is another kind of idol, where natural and good gifts from our heavenly Father have assumed a wrongful place in the heart loyalties of an individual. He might be greedy for money, which is idolatry (Col. 3:5), and yet after repentance he must still purchase things. He might love his father and mother in such a way as to keep him from becoming a disciple of Christ (Matt. 10:37; cf. Luke 14:26), and yet true repentance does not mean that he needs to shoot his father and mother, and bury them in a desecrated graveyard at the brook Kidron. Rather, it means demoting them from the god shelf of his heart, and honoring them in the proper way more than he ever did in his life before.
So grace absolutely destroys one kind of idol, and situates the other kind where it ought to have been all along.
We must not be children in our thinking, but rather adults. When the grace of God is poured out in reformation and revival, one of the central things that will happen is that the hearts of fathers will be turned back to their children, and the hearts of children back to their fathers (Mal. 4:5-6). Grace restores and completes nature, and enables the children truly to honor their father and mother, which is the first commandment with a promise—which is that your life may be long in the land (Dt. 5:16) or earth, as the case may be (Eph. 6:1-3). That’s an earthly blessing, right there, and it is no idol because it was grace that restored them to their proper place.
Augustine reminds us that our affections must be rightly ordered. Part of this challenge is understanding the difference between having an ultimate good in common with someone, and having a shared collection of creational goods in common with someone. If an American loves Jesus Christ as we should, then that means he shares an ultimate good with a Chinese charismatic who doesn’t speak a lick of English. But the fact that they are both going to Heaven does not alter the fact that they would have trouble building a birdhouse together. And an American who loves Christ might be able to work together with an American heathen who worships the Marvel version of Thor as they design a skyscraper together. They can do this because of all that they do share in common—language, training, protocols, and so on.
At the same time, our shared ultimate loyalties might require me to smuggle a Bible to my Chinese brother, in defiance of both his government and mine. Our shared ultimate loyalties might require me to hide him from persecutors who are his kinsmen or, if things keep up the way they are going, for him to hide me from persecutors who are mine. Paul was willing to go to Hell for his kinsmen (Rom. 9:3), but was well aware that they were the ones who were so ardent about killing him (Acts 23:20).
By faith, Rahab betrayed her homeland (Jas. 2:25). By faith, Ruth abandoned her people (Ruth 1:16). By faith Jeremiah demoralized the patriots, undermining the war effort (Jer. 38:4). By faith Jehoiada committed treason (2 Kings 11:14-15). By faith Jonathan disobeyed his father the king (1 Sam. 19:2). By faith David ran away from the anointed authority (1 Sam. 19:12). They did all this because of their ultimate loyalties, not their proximate loyalties. Be adults in your thinking, and not children.
Some might say, in defense of their idolatrous commitment to an absolutist view of tribal identity, that Scripture tells us that we are all supposed to stick to the bounds of our appointed habitation (Acts 17:26), as though this exercise of God’s sovereignty applied only to remote northern villages in Finland, or to White Town, Oklahoma. But God’s sovereignty in this applies equally to Brooklyn, that hot pot of jumbled ethnicities.
The local idolatries of kinism seek to fight back with all the wrong things. We must fight for nature, not with nature. But the sheep are without a shepherd, and it is not surprising that so many are falling down crags and into crevices. But anyone who cannot identify the crackle of envy in anti-Semitism, or the smell of sulfur that wafts off of it, is not qualified for pastoral ministry.
One last thing, and here is your surprise twist. Rather, the mission of the Christian church is the evangelization of the entire world (Matt. 28:18-20). The key that will unlock the global success of this effort will be the conversion of the Jews (Rom. 11:15). The Pauline strategy for provoking the Jews to this repentance was for them to see all the blessings of Deuteronomy coming to pass among the Gentile nations. He wanted to provoke them to envy—a strategy that he knew would work on them. We must not envy them. We must learn to live, as nations, in a way that brings down the blessings that God promised us in that glorious book of Deuteronomy. And that is why the key to world evangelization is Christian nationalism.