Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Exile or Egypt?

Yesterday we looked at the Assyrian invasion of Israel which took place during the ministry of the prophet Isaiah around 2,700 years ago.

With an army at their doorstep, the citizens of the city of Samaria were confronted with a choice: repent of their sins, humble themselves under the chastening hand of God and probably end up in Assyrian exile, or else seek the protection of the Pharaoh in Egypt in hope of retaining some of their wealth and a few shreds of national pride.

The message God gave Isaiah for the people was quite unambiguous: “Don’t go down to Egypt.” Not a complicated instruction, but it certainly went against Israel’s inclinations.

The Not-Quite-Literal Assyrians

Like these citizens of Samaria under assault from the Assyrian army, Christians today have territory to defend. Ours is spiritual rather than literal. It consists in “the faith once for all delivered to the saints.” When Jude used that phrase in one of the last books written in our New Testament, he meant the sum total of apostolic teaching in the first century; not just the theology itself, but how to live out your convictions in a way that accurately portrays Christ to a hostile world.

It would be hard to make the argument that all those who have used the name of Christ across the nineteen-plus centuries since Jude wrote have contended for the faith with consistent intensity and purity. The opposite is the case. Christendom has been, in general, intermittently faithful and often quite corrupt. Today, like the citizens of Samaria, the institutional church practices a sort of hybrid religiosity, with aspects of the faith subsumed in false doctrine, worse practice and an idolatrous addiction to power, programs, influence and affluence.

Pockets of faithfulness exist, of course, if you look for them, but they are few, far between and almost always under attack. On the whole, Christendom has the greatest access to truth of any period in church history, and is probably less attentive to practicing it than it has ever been.

We are living out the very thing Jude warned about.

Whiners, Rebels and Libertines

What was infiltrating the churches in Jude’s day? Well, the false teachers he wrote about detested any sort of spiritual authority. They wanted to be free to reinterpret Christianity as they saw fit. The idea that there might be one final answer to any question of faith or practice was quite intolerable to them. They were sensualists and self-absorbed, perpetual whiners; always promoting change, and always in a more libertine direction. Additionally, Jude warned that the future church would be characterized by the presence of a spirit of mockery and division-making. Self-appointed leaders would follow their own ungodly desires rather than the precepts of the faith once delivered to the saints. They would indeed contend, but not for the right things.

If any of this sounds familiar, it’s because false teachers of this sort have never stopped trying to remake our churches in their own image, and they never will until the Lord returns. Presently, they get their energy from the spirit of our age. The rebelliousness, selfish sensuality and omni-tolerance of evil they urge on our churches today are the same attitudes to which our society at large has already pretty much fully capitulated. It is becoming increasingly evident that most evangelical churches and denominations do not have sufficient resolve to keep these false teachers out or to curb their influence in any meaningful way.

The Thin End of the Wedge

Bear in mind that the false teachers Jude described within the churches are actually only the thin end of the wedge. Some of them even believe the things they are teaching. But they serve as the “useful idiots” of a powerful bloc of anti-Christian secular ideologues intent on reshaping society from top to bottom. The false teachers are their first salvo, intended to get the church to surrender its faith without a real fight. So of course their pawns come claiming to respect the authority of scripture. They just have a few novel interpretations for us to consider. These re-readings of the faith are designed to give us plausible deniability as we cede one principle and precept after another; a way to claim we are still being faithful when we are actually giving away the store.

This strategy has worked on many in Christendom, but not all. Further action is now required. The endless compromise and “tolerance” toward sinful lifestyles these folks urge on us comes with intense social and cultural pressure from outside the church entirely. The false teachers are doing their job pretty effectively, but if they cannot completely corrupt the churches, expect Progressives outside the church to attempt to impose change on us by main force rather than seduction. These folks do not have to pretend to abide by any governing principles at all. They want power, plain and simple.

These are the modern-day Assyrians at our gates.

Sin and its Consequences

As mentioned, when the citizens of Samaria found the Assyrians at their gates, it was a result of sin. They worshiped a combination of Jehovah and the gods of their neighbors, taking God’s name while engaging in the practices of false foreign deities. Naturally, bad theology fostered bad practice. They became incapable of correctly interpreting God’s word to them, drunken with self-importance and pride. The Lord was deeply grieved at their behavior, and sent judgment upon them in the form of the Assyrian army. His intention was to break up the compromised public testimony that Israel had become — the outward, institutional form, if you like — and to send his people into exile where they would learn obedience and humility.

But the people of Samaria were not interested in being chastened in that way. They wanted to keep their lifestyles pretty much as they were, even if it meant joining hands against Assyria with a favorable state power, in this case … Egypt.

Depending on the church you attend, this may sound a bit like you’re reliving history … because you are. Affluent, enervated by compromise, infatuated with the broader culture and uninterested in returning to a more biblical way of gathering, modern evangelicalism is heading down the same road as Samaria. And we are faced with a similar choice: exile or Egypt.

Reliving History

Now, we Christians are not here to capitulate. We are here to contend. That’s certainly what Jude had in mind. But — and I think this is important — we need to remember we are not here to contend for institutions, denominations, church buildings, gymnasiums, camps, conference grounds, seminaries, book publishers, tax breaks, record companies and store chains. We are not here to contend for the stuff on which we have spent the Lord’s money even in order to make sure he realizes on that investment. We are definitely not here to contend for evangelicalism as it currently exists, but for the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Contending for the faith can be done without big bucks or public credibility. It can even be done in the modern equivalent of exile, if you like. Daniel contended just fine.

Suppose the only place we could practice the faith once for all delivered to the saints was humbly and quietly off the grid; without any official status, property, buildings or programs; without any charismatic, visible leadership who could be easily co-opted, threatened or imprisoned; persecuted and harassed, without any outward signs of prosperity, power or success … in effect, in exile? Would that really be the worst thing in the world?

The alternative to exile is Egypt: a compromise solution in which the churches retain their property, tax breaks and visibility, but only on terms dictated to them by the State.

The Alternative to Exile

Now, normally speaking, the State is fairly neutral and pragmatic rather than actively ideological. Rulers exist for our benefit, as the apostle Paul taught. However, in the modern West, the democratic State is also perpetually pestered by Progressives outside it and perpetually subverted by Progressives within it. Thus, in the very near future it is highly likely the protection of the State will only be offered to churches that publicly endorse “a woman’s right to choose”, the right of children to choose their gender, the right of men and women to choose abominations for lifestyles, the right of the State to propagandize our children, the right of gays and lesbians to positions in teaching and leadership in our churches based on the percentage they make up of the population, and the right to redefine the language of scripture in any way they see fit to accommodate the further heresies of a coming day.

Egypt will definitely be more comfortable than exile, but it will mean not only effective slavery, but the extinction of real testimony for Christ. The “Christ” of an Egypt-ized Church will be a mirror image of the Progressive narrative, distinct from the cultural zeitgeist in no meaningful way at all.

Which will it be: Egypt or exile? God told Isaiah the Egypt Option was going to be a bust: “Therefore shall the protection of Pharaoh turn to your shame, and the shelter in the shadow of Egypt to your humiliation.” He adds, “Egypt’s help is worthless and empty.”

At the City Gates

This will surely turn out to be the case for Christians who capitulate to any particular case of pressure brought to bear by the “democratic” State, because the State is held hostage by ideologues willing to unleash anarchy if they are not permitted to have their way. No amount of ongoing compromise and redefinition on the part of churches will ever satisfy a generation determined to tear its own civilization down to the bedrock. You will not be able to keep the bits of the faith that are important to you while giving away those that aren’t. Someone else will be deciding which bits of the Bible stay and which bits go. When you go to Egypt, you have effectively ceded that choice to others.

The 21st century “unstoppable war machine” is already at the city gates. I believe within the next few decades we will all be deciding the “Egypt or exile” question one way or another.


  1. 1. I am not familiar with the status of the Evangelical community in Canada or elsewhere and you are not providing any particular details but mostly generalized complaints. But it seems clear that the point is to be concerned about the Zeitgeist, probably regardless of the country involved. But, if we think about it this, as always it seems, simply is a case of history repeating itself once more, as it is prone to do, in a cyclic fashion. Nowadays we equate this trend to the fear of a type of cyclic fascism raising its head once again but in a perhaps modified form. It has the same qualities, loss of religiosity and belief and will to act on that followed by harrassing and oppressing those with personal Bible based principles. These circumstances are always brought on when Biblical truths are tossed overboard and forgotten. It should be an interesting test case (with the outcome probably too far in the future for us to experience it) of the principle that problems will correct themselves if what is bringing them on will not be beneficual and workable for the individual and society in the long run. It will be another test case for what the Bible teaches, which is that if you do not follow Biblical principles you cannot prosper. Put another way, if God exists, you are kidding yourself if you think he is just going to be a bystander watching humanity trying to send him into oblivion. Good luck with that. This is something that indeed should make for some very interesting developments in the future, which, unfortunately, may also become very unpleasant as divine midcourse corrections are applied.

  2. It's true that the people of God seem to cycle through the same experiences without learning much. History indeed repeats. But it also has a trajectory and an end point, as scripture teaches. One of these times, we will find ourselves dealing with not just standard decline or persecution, but with the beginning of the end of human history, and God will certainly not be a bystander for that.