The God Who Answers By Fire

‘Why have you halted?’ roared the commander of a division and Chickamauga, who had ordered a charge; ‘move forward, sir, at once.’
‘General,’ said the commander of the delinquent brigade, ‘I am persuaded that any further display of valor by my troops will bring them into direct contact with the enemy.’ ~Ambrose Bierce

Toleration doesn’t necessitate capitulation. This obvious fact apparently isn’t as clear as it once was. Today, the Washington National Cathedral in our nation’s capital formally opened her doors to Ashtaroth and bowed her knee to Baal. For the first time in her history, the Cathedral invited the Muslim community to turn the Christian house of worship toward Mecca. The Episcopal Church, which owns and operates the Cathedral, commented calling the abomination a “powerfully symbolic gesture.” Unfortunately, they don’t seem to understand how powerful the symbolism really is. I think this is what is meant by “bringing the mountain to Mohammed.”  Jesus decried the ecclesiastical leaders of His day saying, “My house shall be called a house of prayer but you have made it into a den of thieves.”  He was angry because they were selling out.  What must He think when we just give it away?

This is bad on many levels. Although I believe with every fiber of my being that the Church of Jesus Christ will triumph over her rivals, it doesn’t follow that she must triumph over her rivals in this generation. At the risk of sounding rather pessimistic, it is possible to lose many battles before winning the war. One reason that I think that it is at least a possibility that we might lose this skirmish is that we simply won’t acknowledge that we are in a fight. The lines are clearly drawn by our opponents and we act as though they have invited us to play a friendly game of tic-tac-toe.

As I mentioned earlier, the issue isn’t religious toleration. We allow people of every faith the freedom to assemble and worship according to their conscience. The issue, as I see it, is capitulation. We don’t like the stigma that comes with the exclusive claims of the Christian faith. We like to wear our crosses rather than bear them. We don’t like having to give hard answers to fairly easy questions. Our Bible tells us that we should expect catcalls from the back of the room rather than standing ovations but we still clamor for the applause of men.

So here we slouch. Not one in ten Christians is a theological vertebrate. We have the moral constitution of a bowl of jello. “Wait,” some peeved churchgoer says, “We are about our Father’s business. Have you not seen the latest tally from the church bake sale? We had 322 show up for Jazzercise with Jesus!” In truth, we are sticking our heads in the sand and hoping that the Muslims are as lackadaisical in their devotion as we are.

The Muslims are not timid. They are not squeamish. They are happy to fight in the cold light of day or under the shadow of the crescent moon. They are willing to use whatever weapons they can get their hands on. I think it unwise to hand ours over to them as a “symbolic gesture.”

Christian, be assured that the Muslim who made prayers today in the National Cathedral believes his holy book at least as much as the Episcopalian rector doesn’t believe his. They are planting their high places and stacking rocks for their altars to Baal. At some point we have to stop handing them our stones.

Undoubtedly, some vacillating soul will say, “The church in America is going down anyway. Why bother?” Such a person is content to just add a few more seat cushions to the hand basket and brace themselves for the inevitable descent. But we are not called to fight for the honor of the church in America. We are called to do battle for the crown rights of King Jesus. It is the fame of His name that is at stake. We can’t just throw our hands in the air with despondent resolution. It isn’t a settled fact that the church in our country will soon be perpendicular to the surface and headed for Davy Jones’ Locker. Not yet anyway.

A showdown is coming. A challenge hangs in the air. “If God be God, then serve Him. If Baal, then serve him.” I don’t claim to have all of the answers. I don’t know exactly what good cultural engagement looks like. But I certainly know what cultural disengagement looks like. This won’t just blow over. The opponents of Jesus aren’t just going to go away. And we can’t all just join hands. We have to draw swords.

Let them have their Mosques and their rugs. But let us keep our churches and cathedrals. Let them dance around their altars and cut themselves. While they are doing all of that we must saturate the altar with penitential tears—four barrels worth. If we will engage rather than retreat, the God who answers by fire will hear us. And when that fire comes it will consume the altar and all those who oppose it—whether they be wearing burkas or holding bibles.

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