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 predatory cats roaming sections of town from which most people
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
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 culture's 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.