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Christ, Christians & Cancel Culture

Christ, Christians & Cancel Culture

Our Lady of Strasbourg Cathedral. Stained glass window. The Massacre of the Innocents. 14 th century. Strasbourg. France.

by Jim Fain, LtCol USAF Ret., Cornerstone Reformed Church Co-Pastor

Jay Adams would often introduce a subject, share a few words thereof, and then quip, "Someone should write a book about that." I am sure he would say the same here. Much more needs said. Our modest goal here is to show Christians from Scripture what God requires of them—especially in suffering (e.g., being cancelled). Jesus himself not only tells every Christian how to respond, but He also provides the motive behind the response. Remember, our Lord wants obedience that flows "from the heart" (Romans 6:17). Christians must not only do that which pleases God, but they must also do so for the right reasons. Learning how and why to respond when canceled—that is our goal.

Cancel culture is not new. Kingdoms are always being built and defended . . . and imposed upon other kingdoms. The world would overthrow God if it could. Forces of evil would have you deny God and His Word. Culture will try to exert its influence upon all to force compliance. Rebellion against the rebels will not be tolerated. Noncompliance will meet swift punishment. Christians today may face cancellation from social media for not affirming any number of deviant lifestyles. Indeed, it may no longer be only those who speak out against but also those who just fail to affirm who will be canceled.

It may soon be that people will not be able to hold a job should they not affirm a host of new societal norms.

It was the same in the first century when John wrote "The Revelation." Christians in Asia Minor were under severe persecution. Pagan culture and Roman society demanded allegiance. Jews disdained Christ and Christians. In order to earn a living, one had to be part of a trade guild. To become a member of a guild, one had to comply with cultural norms—those norms included many forms of pagan worship and debauchery. No conformity, no livelihood (cf. Revelation 13:17, "no one can buy or sell" without allegiance to the Beast). Jesus acknowledges the harsh state of many Christians canceled from society, from the guilds, and from food because of their loyalty to Him (cf. Rev 2:3, 9, 13, 19; 3:8). One church, Smyrna, was hit particularly hard.

Smyrna had both a prominent pagan temple (built to the Mother Goddess) and another  temple built for the worship of Emperor Tiberius (Schreiner, Revelation, 573). Christians not participating in these cults were alienated from society and hindered from earning a living. Then there were the Jews. Though themselves a licit religion, Judaism sought to distance themselves from Christians (often thought a sect of Judaism). Apparently in Smyrna, Jews were reporting on Christians to local authorities. The Jews wanted to make sure Christians were not seen as part of the local synagogue and thus not Jews and undeserving of legal protection (Schreiner, Revelation, 574). People were lying about others, slandering each other, reporting one another to the authorities, all to get one another "canceled"—and not just from social media, but from life. All the makings of cancel culture were alive and well in first century life in Asia Minor.

 

To the church at Smyrna, Jesus acknowledges the pressure (the Greek word often translated "affliction" or "tribulation" has the idea of pressure) and trouble upon their lives for being His. "I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich)[1] and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan" (Revelation 1:9). The Christians in Smyrna were literally reduced to begging (the word translated "poverty" in verse nine has the idea of begging at its root) for food, all because those around them despised their Lord. Those who went along with society enjoyed luxuries galore (see Rev 18:7, 9, 11–16). Those who thought Jesus to be "greater wealth than all the treasures of Egypt [cf. Heb 11:26; or in this case Rome]" were denied niceties and necessities. How will your soul respond when the culture comes for you? What will you do if given the option to sign a document affirming any number of deviant ideologies and/or lifestyles . . . OR lose your job? What will motivate your response?

Jesus has and gives words of life to saints in just these kinds of situations. His words to Smyrna are exactly the words we need to hear. In fact, His words are similar to all seven churches suffering persecution at the close of the first century. To each church Jesus gives themes of thought, categories of truth that are needed to sustain one in times of trial. Those themes can be seen in the table below.

Theme

Church

Person and Character of Christ Acknowledgement of Trials Call to Faithfulness to Worth of Jesus Promise of Reward for Conquering Unbelief
Ephesus 2:1 2:3 2:3 2:7
Smyrna 2:8 2:9 2:10 2:11
Pergamum 2:12 2:13 2:13 2:17
Thyatira 2:18 2:19 2:25 2:26
Sardis 3:1   3:2–3 3:5
Philadelphia 3:7 3:8 3:8 3:12
Laodicea 3:14   3:18 3:21

 

Surely these same themes are nourishment to our souls. What Jesus offers to sustain us, to motivate us to not dishonor Him in order to "buy or sell" (Revelation 13:17) is essentially Himself. Indeed, the description Jesus gives of Himself to Smyrna includes His sovereignty. He is "the first and the last," meaning He is Lord of all history—everything that has and will happen. Jesus offers each church, and thus each Christian, truths about His Person, His worth, and life with Him as reward.

Jesus acknowledges the pain, yea even the death (vs. 2:10), awaiting Christians who would be faithful to His name, His Word, His commands. It will be a difficult experience, indeed, to be canceled from social media. It will be distressing to be canceled from earning a living. Jesus is worth it. To Smyrna Jesus says, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death" (Revelation 2:11). Jesus thinks avoidance of the second death (punishment in hell; separation from God) to be a greater good than avoiding physical death. Please re-read that last sentence. Do think Jesus to be the same value?

Beloved, suffering is never the greatest evil in the room. Unbelief, unfaithfulness is (cf. e.g., Hebrews 3:12). Jesus promises those who remain faithful to Him will enjoy life with Him even in death. He really thinks Himself to be worthy of your life, your death, your faithfulness. Do you see Him as worthy?

The time is rapidly coming when our ability to earn a living will be decided on whether or not we affirm and celebrate deviant (to biblical standards) lifestyles.

Are you prepared to be canceled for not affirming what Jesus decries? Are you so enamored by His person, so trusting of His promises, that you will be willing to go without food?

And so, we arrive where we started. None of us can control whether the culture will begin to cancel us for not affirming what the Bible rejects. Beloved, this is coming. Cancel culture will only grow. Just avoiding saying anything derogatory will only buy a little time. If you are not prepared to celebrate what the culture affirms, you will be canceled. You must remain faithful to Jesus—even unto death (Revelation 2:10). The demand is crystal clear. The motivation is just as clear. Jesus’s worth . . . NOT yours . . . Jesus’s worth must be your motivation to withstand the onslaught that is coming for the church of Jesus Christ—for people of the book.

May God grant us all a robust vision of His Son.

by Jim Fain
LtCol USAF Ret.
C-141, C-17 Pilot
10 years Active, 18 years Reserve service
 
Co-Pastor, Cornerstone Reformed Church
Director, Rod and Staff Ministries (ACBC Certified Training Center)
 
PhD  The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
MDiv The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
MA George Washington University
BS USAFA
 

Revelation 2:3 (Ephesus) 3 "I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary."

Revelation 2:13 (Pergamum) 13 "I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells."

Revelation 2:19 (Thyatira) 19 "I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first."

Revelation 3:8 (Philadelphia) "I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name."

 

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[1]Notice part of the solution is given here. Notice also the solution is given immediately. Jesus knew His saints needed immediate help in the suffering. We must remember "in the storm" that we are "rich" in Jesus. If we have Jesus, we have more than all the world can offer. If we would help each other in suffering, we must be quick to introduce the worth of Jesus and the reward of having Him.

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