The Phantom Menace
by James Gibson
As I was reading the news reports of the latest controversy involving the Episcopal Church of the USA (ECUSA) and the Anglican Mission in America (AMiA), I began to get an uneasy feeling. Something about the lengthy and varied justifications by the AMiA of its actions in consecrating four new bishops to oversee "evangelical" Episcopalians in the United States just wasn't sitting well with me. If this is the will of God, why must there be such rationalization for it?
Then, it hit me like a load of heavy bricks:
Ouch! This one hurts! But think about it for a minute.
What is the "issue" which presently divides "the church" (that is, mainline Protestantism)? It has many and varied expressions, but it is most visibly manifest in the question of homosexual behavior.
What is the "bottom line" argument used by both sides to justify and rationalize their extraordinary actions? Both claim they have suffered because of their beliefs. Both say they have been persecuted, excluded and marginalized simply because they believe differently about an issue than someone else who happens to be in authority over them.
It is one thing to suffer for one's "beliefs" or "values." It is quite another to suffer for Christ! Which "side" is truly suffering for the One who truly matters?
Here is a radical suggestion: Neither side is suffering for Christ! Both are, instead, playing the "suffering" card as a means of advancing their own political agenda.
Could it be that we have exhausted all our spiritual energies over the last generation fighting a phantom menace? In our zeal to fight evil, have we played right into the Devil's hands?
It would not be the first time the Evil One has employed this clever trick. He has divided the Church against itself with an evil so visibly obvious that, in the eyes of many, it must be confronted and destroyed. Yet, he has also deceived many others into thinking the obvious evil is not so obvious and the real enemy is anyone who thinks it is. But both sides have become unwitting participants in the deception because both sides are convinced they can prevail by employing the worldly means of political strategy and acts of defiance.
Thus, we have what appears, on the surface, to be a decisive battle between "good and evil" but which is, in reality, a ruse employed by the Devil to keep the saints distracted while he hatches a less obvious but far more sinister plot.
It is much easier to fight an enemy you can see. But Paul reminds us:
The Real Enemy is far less obvious and much more subtle. But just what is his more sinister plot? I believe it is rooted in the devaluation of suffering. The present distraction serves this purpose quite well. What is "suffering" to both the "liberals" and the "evangelicals" in this dispute? It is a weapon employed in the advancement of their agenda. But how much actual "suffering" is going on? The actions of both sides are calculated to avoid suffering while, at the same time, create the illusion of suffering so as to invite public sympathy for their cause. But what is their cause? For the liberals, it is "sexual freedom," a most ignominious goal. For the evangelicals, it is, variously, "doctrinal standards," "traditional morality" and "Christian values," grand ideals vaguely defined.
But where is Christ in all of this?
Our hope is not in values, ideals or traditions (of men). Our hope is in Jesus Christ, God with us, the ultimate reality.
The time is coming, and has now come, when the True Church will be revealed. It is not in the present "crisis" which "threatens to tear the church apart." That scheme, while a trick of the Devil, will, like every evil plot, be ultimately consumed in the great and glorious purposes of God. The imitation "church" will be torn asunder and the True Church will once again emerge as one body in Christ.
The time is coming, and has now come, when the True Saints will shine in splendor. They will not be the combatants in the present human endeavor. They will not be those who suffer merely for their beliefs, ideals or values. The True Saints will be known by their willingness to endure untold suffering for the sake of Christ, and Christ alone! The shame they endure at the hands of the world will be transformed to glorious splendor in the kingdom of God.
Thus, our prayer for all the saints shall be our prayer with all the saints:
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