Part 1.5

  1. Once Upon a Time in America:
    1. My father's first sermon mentioned a different sort of culture ...
      1. Doors left unlocked, children played in safety. ...
      2. Neighbors were close and trusted, people trusted and respected their leaders
      3. God and church were held in high esteem. (Attend the church of your choice).
    2. It is decaying:
      1. Definitions of right & wrong have been changed
      2. The Index of Cultural Indicators:
        1. Long-held beliefs are giving way to a plethora of views.
        2. Self-expression, individualism & personal choice valued above all else
      3. Every viewpoint, no matter how bizarre or destructive, is accepted.
        1. "The lunatics are running the asylum."
    3. The props are being kicked out:
      1. Once the church and Christian values were propped up by American society
      2. We fear what will happen when the last of the props is kicked out
      3. ... what will happen when the lunatics finally take over.
    4. But what were we doing in an asylum in the first place?
      1. Christianity has been around a lot longer than America.
      2. Christianity began without the props that we rested on so comfortably, once upon a time in America.

  2. Living Outside the Camp (Read Hebrews 13:1-14):
    1. We must go to Jesus outside the camp.
      1. Like the unclean carcasses of the sacrifice that were discarded outside the camp, Jesus suffered outside the gate of the holy city.
        1. No special funeral. No eternal flame in the National Cemetery
        2. [George McDonald, Only One Way Left]: "... Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves, on the town garbage heap ... at the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble ... Because that is where he died and that is what he died about. And that is where churchman should be and what churchmanship is about."
      2. If Jesus died outside "the city," its absurd to think that we are can somehow remain in "the city."
        1. Jesus did minister in the Temple, but he also ministered in the barrios & ghettos among the drunks and the prostitutes.
        2. The love of God is not restricted to the "acceptable" parts of town. It goes out to the places where good folk do not go after dark.
        3. Our place is by Jesus' side, even if that takes us outside safety of the city gate
      3. Are we called to defend the city (American culture) or are we called to go out of the city and call others to join us?
        1. The latter. There is no "city" in this world worth defending because none of them are eternal.
        2. Let us lament the decay of American society, but let us not be tricked into thinking the church requires it to survive and thrive.
          1. Christianity has thrived in hostile environments in the past and in many parts of the world.
          2. Sincere, faithful Christians remain true to their Lord in countries like the Sudan where they are persecuted.
      4. The danger of living in the city is that it makes us nearsighted instead of farsighted.
        1. Our values are reversed.
    2. We must bear His shame.
      1. The Apostles rejoiced not because they won favor with society or advanced their religious/political agenda, but because they suffered shame for the Name.
        1. God was not ashamed of them, and they were not ashamed of him ...
      2. Faith shines brightest in the darkness:
        1. Some of our brethren are meeting today in secret in peril of their lives.
        2. Are they less faithful than we because God has not blessed them with the props of social acceptability?

  3. Once Upon a Time in America [Conclusion]:
    1. We may have been propped up. (And it may have been a blessing of God.)
    2. But God does not promise it will always be so.
      1. In fact he says it will more often be the opposite
    3. Maybe it will actually be good for us when the last prop is finally kicked out.
      1. Maybe we will once and for all
        1. go outside the city,
        2. bearing His shame,
        3. looking ahead to the Eternal City,
        4. and letting God be our only prop!
    4. The Challenge:
      1. From the word of God.
      2. This goes beyond a personal acceptance.
      3. We must accept this challenge as a church - together!
      4. Let us all stand - and in so doing accept the challenge of Scripture to go live outside the camp!

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 19 September 2004

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