Come Out of Her (Rev 18:4) and Mission

In my forthcoming (fall 2010) Cascade book Reading Revelation Responsibly, I argue that Revelation has a missional spirituality. This may surprise some people, so here’s a foretaste of the argument:

The notion of a missional spirituality may seem odd at first, especially as a characterization of the NT book that says, “Come out of her [Babylon], my people” (18:4). That would seem to end any conversation about mission before it even begins. But it does not.

“Come out” is not a summons to escape, and the spirituality of Revelation is not an escapist spirituality. The withdrawal is not so much a physical exodus as a theopolitical one, an escape from civil religion and the idolatry of power-worship. It is a creative, self-imposed but Spirit-enabled departure from certain values and practices, which may entail, for some, a geographical move as well. (I am thinking here of the New Monasticism and its commitment to moving into places “abandoned by Empire.”) It is the necessary prerequisite to faithful living in the very Babylon from which one has escaped. That is, the church cannot be the church in Babylon until it is the church out of Babylon….

It is important therefore to stress that Revelation does not call for the wholesale rejection of culture and of engagement with the world; it calls for discernment. It is one thing, in other words, to live in an empire or superpower, to live in the shadow of the beast, trying to avoid participating in the evils of idolatry while bearing witness to another empire, the kingdom of God, and thereby working for the good of the world as salt and light. It is quite another to endorse that empire—or any culture—unconditionally, or to sacralize it. Yet that is what many Christians and churches have done; they have baptized their culture and/or country into the name of the triune god of political, economic, and military power, wrongly thinking that this is the power of God.

The eternal gospel of the slaughtered Lamb unveils the fallacious nature of this undiscerning baptism. But because civil religion in the West borrows heavily from the symbols and texts of Christian faith, it is nearly impossible for many Christians and churches to recognize the problem before us. Syncretism is a very powerful, very subtle device. (See previous post, too.)

Thus the vision needed for discernment does not make Christian faith anti-Rome, anti-American, or anti-culture in some general, all-encompassing sense. Rather, it calls us to rely on the discerning Spirit to distinguish the good (and the neutral) from the bad in order to remain in the world (Babylon) but not of it. Then the church’s mission can go forward in faith—and in faithfulness.

24 Responses to “Come Out of Her (Rev 18:4) and Mission”

  1. Josh Rowley says:

    How does Revelation help us “distinguish the good (and the neutral) from the bad”? Does it describe in what ways they differ?

  2. K. Rex Butts says:

    Revelation 18 is the forgotten passage when Christians start mentioning passages of scripture that help us understand the way a Christian is to relate to the nation/government.

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

  3. Bacho says:

    Mike,

    good thoughts. I hear so many resonances with Stanley Hauerwas and Walsh/Keesmaat in what you say. One question, “Is your book going to engage the specific issues or will it be more principally based?” W/K book “Colossians Remixed” was great mostly due to the fact that they were willing to shed light on many specific issues. Just as Walsh posed to NT Wright, “So what?” as he was writing his commentary on Colossians/Philemon for Tyndale series, I would like to do the same here, “What difference does this make, practically, for us today?” What would discernment look like for Christians for example when it comes to the issues like healthcare reform, immigration, etc.

  4. MJG says:

    All,

    Rex points us rightly to Rev 18 for the bad news so to speak, and the opposite of that, with Rev 21-22, certainly moves us toward the positive. I don;t intend to be real specific in this book, and that for theological reasons.

    The following additional excerpt may give some additional perspective for each of you in different ways:

    For what is Babylon judged? Essentially, for idolatry and injustice, the two fundamental charges brought against humanity throughout the Bible, from the prophets to Jesus to Paul to Revelation. Babylon is guilty of sins against God, people, and the earth. It engages in a sort of corporate covenantal dysfunctionality.

    Babylon makes promises, demands, and claims that are appropriate only for God to make. It sacralizes, even divinizes, its own power, and then it requires absolute allegiance to that power. The inevitable result, as Revelation 18 makes especially clear, is the pursuit of luxury and the neglect of the poor, first by Babylon itself, then by its clients, then by its everyday citizens. The inevitable result is the treatment of certain human beings as goods to be traded (Rev 18:13), and the elimination of others for their failure, or perceived failure, to offer absolute allegiance. The inevitable result is violence and war, death and destruction, hunger and famine (Revelation 6). The inevitable result is the destruction of the earth without fear of consequences, whether temporal or eternal (Rev 11:18).

    Those who have come out of Babylon, by way of contrast, strive to live in covenant faithfulness. They do simple things, like worshiping God, treating humans with dignity and respect, and caring for the earth. They favor the weak, not the strong; the poor, not the powerful; those who make peace, not war. As they bear witness to the coming reign of God, they take the river of life and the tree with leaves for the healing of the nations as their emblem. Their emblem compels them to pray and live for God’s peace and justice. How this translates into concrete practices in one context or another is the work of the Spirit and the Spirit-led community. It cannot be legislated or even predicted. The images of Revelation 21-22 do not permit specific advance knowledge, but neither do they permit inaction.

  5. Bacho says:

    Mike,

    not to try to flog the dead horse…Who/What is the modern day Babylon? Fallen human structures? Economic Systems on the West? Radical religious extremism?

    You write, “It cannot be legislated or even predicted. The images of Revelation 21-22 do not permit specific advance knowledge, but neither do they permit inaction.” On one hand your general observations do invite creativity, but on the other hand it is too broad. For someone who stands on the edge of academy and local faith-filled community I would want a bit more meat and direction to know how to live this out. Even a few personal examples of how you have seen this work or envision it working would give at least a trajectory of your thinking.

    BTW: Your writing is as always very eloquent and evocative. Thank you.

  6. MJG says:

    Not to try to beg the question, but as soon as we identify Babylon with one particular entity we risk losing the power of the image. But I think Babylon is present in at least some of what you have mentioned and more.

    Though I stand by the principle of non-specificity to a large degree, I hope the book will “fill this all out” a bit more, but I can’t play the role of spoiler now.

  7. Mike Bull says:

    Great post. Surely getting the interpretation of the passage correct helps us to get the application correct also?

    Babylon in Revelation is Herodian worship, an institution which exalted itself through compromise with the Roman state rather than the power of the Spirit. While Paul knitted Jew and Gentile together by the Spirit into a new body, a new bride, the Herods attempted to do the same. But the Roman iron and Edomite clay would not “intermarry.” The beast killed the harlot in AD70.

    God’s cities take time to build because His people do not resort to oppression and robbery. Both capitalism and socialism are guilty of these. They are godless attempts to manufacture (or maintain) the abundance (spiritual then material) that Christianity always brings.

    The imagery of the harlot drinking the cup comes from Numbers 5. That’s the Covenant cup we drink every week. It brings both blessing and cursing. The Herods rejected the true king and hardened their hearts (like Pharaoh, as Paul mentions in Romans). So Jesus forced her to drink the cup. Judaism became the barren harlot, a curse wherever she went, a testimony to God’s judgment.

    If we get Communion right, everything flows from that. If we are self-governing (sanctified) we will be wise judges in our interaction with the world. In interpretation, many Jews came out of that harlot. In application, many Christians came out of Rome when the same sins occurred in that self-exalting institution.

    I think the key in identifying harlotry in institutions is testing their willingness to submit to the correction of the Word of God.

  8. MJG says:

    Mike (Bull),

    I cannot at all agree that Babylon in its literal (first, plain-read) sense is Herodian worship or, even more forcefully, that “Judaism became the barren harlot.”

    The first referent of “Babylon” in Revelation is Rome as idolatrous, oppressive empire. After that. Babylon has many political incarnations, including (here I would agree) manifestations in some of the major -isms of recent and current world history.

    Babylon, to some extent, has always been in the eye of the beholder. But the writer and readers of Revelation knew, as the writer and recipients of 1 Peter knew, that after the original Babylon the next one was Rome, not Judaism.

  9. Mike Bull says:

    Hi Michael

    The symbols in Revelation go right back to Genesis. The false prophet, harlot and beast are the rebellion of Adam, Eve and serpent grown into institutions. Only those under Covenant can break Covenant, and all the curses in Revelation find their origins in the Torah. The harlot was made to drink the cup, and she was burned with fire. Both of these are judgments upon the priesthood, and the harlotry theme flows straight out of the Old Testament.

    Judgment begins at the house of God. Revelation is not about Rome. It is about the end of the Old Covenant for compromise with Rome.

    Even the term ‘Babylon’ is name-calling, just as Ezekiel referred to the gem-covered High Priest as the King of Tyre.

    The ‘merchant’ language also comes from the OT. “Buying fine gold” from Jesus is related to it. The list of Babylon’s riches follows the pattern of the Tabernacle and Temple elements, which in turn find their origin in Genesis 1.

    Check out:
    http://www.bullartistry.com.au/wp/2009/12/18/worship-as-commerce/

    Too much background to go into here, but I can send you my book Totus Christus if you are interested. I would appreciate any feedback on it. I also have a short primer for it called Bible Matrix with a foreword by Peter Leithart. This will be out in June.

    http://www.bullartistry.com.au/wp/2010/02/12/bible-matrix-update/

    Blessings,
    Mike Bull

  10. MJG says:

    You have seriously confused the fact of using texts with the reason for using texts. The presence of OT themes, imagery, and name-calling does not mean that the target of critique is Judaism, though the target may be the people of God, specifically the people of God in the [Christian] churches of Western Asia (Ephesus, Laodicea, etc.). There is a great deal of respect for Judaism in Revelation—most of the positive themes and images come from Scripture, too.

    Revelation does not condemn Judaism, though it is probably critical of Jews who have turned against the Christian communities and perhaps cooperated with state officials in their persecution. Revelation’s target of criticism is unfaithfulness and unfaithful people. above all idolatrous and oppressive imperial Rome; then those Christians who compromise with Babylon and are unfaithful to God (where the OT language; then (perhaps) the Jews who compromised with Rome by betraying Christians.

  11. Michael says:

    MJG,

    This post really moved me..

    I think I am following your argument: we are called to give allegiance to Christ our Lord, and that summons is not up for debate. There is great power in such a proclamation itself (Revelation 18:4 – COME OUT OF HER, Babylon). After this confession, however, the discerning process of ourselves and others in the attempt to faithfully flesh out this call is marked by an ongoing dynamic transformation which blurs the lines of what is good and evil, life-affirming and death-dealing, Babylon and New Jerusalem. Our faith must always be tested in the fires of faithfulness, as the two may be the same in kind (united by confession in the Lord), but always different to some degree (in practice of this confession).

    Hence, MJG, your deft conclusion: “the church’s mission can go forward in faith—and in faithfulness”. The balancing act of faith/faithfulness, or proclamation and practice therein, must retain or reveal some sort of edge to its dimensions via dialogue and honest, sensitive criticism. That edge ought to be facilitated by the church and its people; at times, melding each other, while holding out any complete or irreducible fusion of each other. My personal experience with the church has yielded a quite sleepy dialogue where people seem to be just “buying their time,” waiting for that divine swoop of the cloudy eschatological hand.

    It seems the gods of today would like us to consume any and all products no matter the situation at-hand, be it subprime mortgages or toys made in sweatshops or the image of becoming a billionaire or the proselytizing christian trying to win souls with that little light of theirs. Discernment is belittled in this world, and we are called to settle for religious and civic creeds. Pharaoh’s brick quotas might be more demanding than ever, but they are certainly more elusive than ever before; factories are out of sight, out of mind. And these distant, aloof factories never rest…

    – Even when towers fall and thousands die our leaders tell us to go shopping!? (See Bush’s speech on the heels of 9-11.) Mourning isn’t a feasible option in a bleary-eyed hyperproductive economy. So much for sackcloth, blood and tears; now it’s Saks Fifth Avenue pinstriped suits, hairplugs and a dream of building a tower even taller than before called “freedom.” So, if you soul is sick, all you have to do is change clothes and bear that fashionable cross, or so it seems.

  12. Mike Bull says:

    Dear Michael

    Your approach seems to be more application than interpretation. The book of Revelation follows the book of Ezekiel “peg-by-peg.” It is about the death and resurrection of a harlotrous Israel. In the case of Ezekiel, the resurrected nation was the north and the south united by death in Babylon as a new body known as Jews. In the case of the first century, and the Revelation, it is about the death of harlotrous Judaism and her resurrection as the Christian church. Before Roman persecution, the big issue for the firstfruits church was Judaizing doctrine. Hence the command to “come out.” Jerusalem, the great city, is also referred to as Sodom and Egypt. The main subject is not Rome at all, because judgment begins at the house of God. And we all know that the Temple was razed.

    Revelation does not condemn Judaism per se, but true Judaism was left in the grave. Those who rejected Christ, Jew or Gentile, were outside the New Covenant. God Himself condemned Judaism. It was decayed and it passed away. Hence the warnings in Hebrews.

    It all comes down to the purpose of the book. I would also like to mention that Revelation follows the pattern of the Feasts. The Asian churches are “passed over” by Jesus, who assesses them. Then ch 4-5 concern the ascension of the Firstfruits Lamb. After this, in what might be called the “eighth letter” He shows them what their sins become when they are full-grown — in Herodian worship. He shows them what the outcome of tolerating false prophets and Jezebels in the church can be. The book is about the centre of worship, the end of the Old Covenant church, not so much about the Gentile power she made treaties with. The beast kills the harlot – how can both be Rome?

    We must remember that it was Roman officials who protected Christians from Jewish persecution. Satan used that persecution, and then tried false doctrine (water from the serpent’s mouth). These attempts to destroy the church failed. That is when he called the beast up from the Gentile Sea: he turned the protective empire against the church under Nero.

    Once again, the harlot theme is always about a Covenant people who have turned to other gods. Only God’s people are made to drink the cup of inspection — including Christ himself.

  13. MJG-

    Great post. I just posted a video on my blog that reminded me of the kind of economic exploitation practiced by “Babylon” as it relates to human sex trafficking. Check it out:

    http://ahabhuman.blogspot.com/2010/05/economic-exploitation-and-lamentation.html

    Michael-

    Good thoughts. I think most Christians in America have a more difficult time hearing Revelation 18 than perhaps any other chapter in the book. Revelation 18 paints a picture of Babylon that looks startlingly similar to American economics.

    Michael Bull-

    I find the argument for a pre-70 date of Revelation totally unconvincing. To suggest that the imagery of Revelation applies to Jerusalem/Judaism rather than Rome and all that it stands for is, in my opinion, a total misreading of Revelation.

    Regardless of the date, however, your historical information is inaccurate at best. You wrote, “It was Roman officials who protected Christians from Jewish persecution.” This was never really the case. Acts 18.12-17 was not about protecting Christians from Jews so much as punishing Jews for bringing Jewish disputes before a Roman judge. Paul spent his time in Roman prisons and eventually died at the edge of a Roman sword. The Pliny-Trajan correspondence also makes it very clear that Romans viewed Christianity as a threat to the empire though they did not systematically persecute Christians. All of this, and more, points to the conclusion that the early Christians saw themselves as Jews, albeit Jews who believed the decisive point of history had already occurred in Jesus the Messiah. Christians faced persecution from Romans, though there are indications in Revelation that Jews participated in that persecution (2.8-10; 3.8-9).

    How could Jews persecute Christians in Asia minor anyway? Their only power was linked with their participation in or benefaction from Roman politics.

  14. Michael says:

    Mike Bull,

    Ezekiel, Revelation and Jeremiah may very well be stars in the same constellation. Jeremiah’s corpus is one that directs its attention at not just Judah, but all of the nations. He was a prophet, first and foremost, to the nations, including Judah — announcing cosmic judgement through a cosmic frame. This explains the recurring motif of Jeremiah appealing to the moutains and heavens as witnesses to his judgment prophecies.

    – Now, that said, the majority of Jeremiah’s efforts are directed against Judah nonetheless; I think this is because Judah was held to a higher standard because of the cosmic covenant with Abraham in Genesis. They were set aside to put creation back on track, but instead did the complete opposite — hence Jer. 26, where Jeremiah says the temple will be like that of Shiloh! and the city will be not a blessing, but CURSE! And the “outstretched arm” can be both a knockout punch and a graceful handshake.

    If Revelation is congregating with Ezekiel and Jeremiah in the same cosmic building that is creation (mixing metaphors), and if judgment starts with Judah or Jerusalem, then I can begin to see how Revelation is aiming its critique not just at Rome but Jerusalem too, and perhaps Jerusalme more so — let us not forget Christ was quite deeply embedded in a Jeremiahic vein when he critiqued the temple.

    Ergo, when leadership fails (Judah) judgment starts there.

    Hmmm..

  15. MJG says:

    All,

    Some scholars have seen a critique of Jerusalem in a few texts of Revelation, and there are ways of reading Revelation that interpret it as critical of certain aspects of the practices of some Jews. But to read Revelation and the NT as a whole as an out-and-out critique and even rejection of Judaism is, in my view, a complete misreading of the New Testament.

    Furthermore, I have to wonder what fantasy world one is constructing to imagine that “it was Roman officials who protected Christians from Jewish persecution.”

  16. Michael says:

    – Well, a careful canonical approach to the typology of the OT gives an exegetical foundation for such an interpretation (see the prophetic literature); therefore, to say it is “completely” misguided is going a bit far. The blessing/curse dimension of covenant is writ large in Scripture as a whole, and the same “outstretched arm” giving life to Abraham’s line characteristically or canonically deals death again and again to Abraham’s line (ie. exile).

  17. MJG says:

    The point of the judgment of God’s people in the Bible, including the language of blessing and curse, is to bring about their repentance and salvation. To the extent that there exists such a thing as “Judaism” in the worldview of the biblical writers, it is not rejected. The God of Israel, who is the one God of all the world, sent his Son as the Jewish messiah and Lord of all to bring the chosen people back to himself and to include the Gentiles with them in such way as to form one reconciled humanity. That is the message of the New Testament. The rejection of Judaism is not.

    I stand by my previous comment.

  18. Michael says:

    – But that goes without saying, MJG; of course judgment enacts salvation and renewal — that is quite basic. Law and order are not cursed, only the lawmakers interpreting it have warped it. Rejection is never outright rejection, or annihilation; said biblically, Judaism’s bureaucratic accretions of creed are deconstructed in order to reveal a more basic, fine structure underneath it — the very good cosmic building of creation. Only then, may re-cultivation of Judah, or New Jerusalem, be allowed for. That is basic to the canon of Scripture…

    I am, of course, alluding to Micah of Moresheth:

    “Therefore because of you
    Zion shall be ploughed as a field;
    Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,
    and the mountain of the house a wooded height” ~ Micah 3

    Rejection, even long-term rejection (as seen above), is always wrapped up in renewal — even if it is not explicated –and Christ’s very Jewishness is an indicator of this, as he critiques his own power-centers without playing any notes of hope out loud, as it were.

    Temple is the first order of merit; this title must be rewritten by the Christological stylus. Therefore, this sets a precedence for Revelation to be in a similar vein. The narrative bolsters this paradigm: Christ didn’t make a point of going to Pontius Pilate’s palace steps to wave his finger at their paganness — yes, this is a part of his plan, but we shouldn’t put so fine a point on it. His first order of merit, rather, was was to rebuke and reproach the temple and deal the paradoxical death blow to that self-important nexus of ideology.

    Is this such an hermeneutical fancy? Would you grant this a possible line of thought? Or is it off the academic game-table of theopolitics?

  19. MJG says:

    Michael,

    I don’t follow everything you say. My simple point, and it was primarily for another commenter, is that the rejection of Judaism is simply not the message of the NT.

    The prophets, Jesus, and Paul were all Jews who criticized from within the tradition even as they saw God doing something new. There is continuity and discontinuity, but there is not rejection. Didn’t Paul already deal with this in Romans 9-11?

  20. Michael says:

    I do not appreciate the oversimplification of your “simple” point :)

    And I apologize for barging in on your discussion.

  21. Dr. Gorman,

    I just sent an email to you. I just wanted to ensure that you receive it because I know you’ve had email trouble in the past. Thanks!

    In Christ,

    Nick Mitchell

  22. Trey Palmisano says:

    Wow. What what a great project! I’m really looking forward to this book Dr. Gorman. And I’m brokenhearted that I couldn’t take your class this semester, but hopefully the book will open up this very interesting topic in a way I’ve never thought about it before. I come from a denomination and background where my brethren regularly interpreted the language of Revelation as a translation key for every physical, economic, and political conflict or hardship that develops in the world today. My mother still warns me after each riveting TV episode of Jack Van Impe Presents to be on guard for the One World System, the New World Order, the Beast, and of course his minion, Barrack Obama :) . I’m hoping this will allow me to understand, interpret, and speak with greater sensitivity to the real issues facing the writer of Revelation and the genre of Apocalyptic writing in general.

  23. MJG says:

    Trey,

    Lots of people have been there and/or are there. Hope the book will help them.

    Cheers.

  24. Mike Bull says:

    Apologies – forgot to get back to this one.

    Tyler

    There is overwhelming evidence for a pre-AD70 date, both internal and external. See Kenneth Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell. Also, dating the book post AD70 makes its structure as a Covenant document irrelevant. It is both a bloody worship service (following the pattern of Leviticus 1) and also a lawsuit against the Covenant-breakers, the “rulers of the Land” (kings of the earth).

    MJG

    “Some scholars have seen a critique of Jerusalem in a few texts of Revelation, and there are ways of reading Revelation that interpret it as critical of certain aspects of the practices of some Jews. But to read Revelation and the NT as a whole as an out-and-out critique and even rejection of Judaism is, in my view, a complete misreading of the New Testament. Furthermore, I have to wonder what fantasy world one is constructing to imagine that “it was Roman officials who protected Christians from Jewish persecution.”

    As mentioned above, it is a Covenant lawsuit. Just like Ezekiel, the Jesus/John use derogatory names for the corrupted Temple worship: Egypt, Sodom, Babylon. Ezekiel called the gemstone- covered High Priest the “king of Tyre.” Revelation is not a rejection of Judaism. Judaism was slain and resurrected as Christianity. It is a rejection of the Judaism that hardened its heart like Pharaoh and became a synagogue of Satan.

    Regarding the “fantasy world” interpretation, not so. The only way to understand the so-called “apocalyptic” sections of the NT is to understand their foundations, laid down in Daniel. The four Gentile empires were guardians of God’s people. Daniel also saw them as a unit, a metal man, a Tabernacle, within which a resurrected Judaism would be a priestly nation (prefiguring the New Covenant). Each time a beast went bad, it was replaced overnight. Revelation shows the final beast, Rome, being turned against the people of God under Nero (Rev. 13).

    To not see Revelation as a Covenant lawsuit is to misunderstand its careful literary structure. It is not at all about Rome, but a Covenant people which has compromised with Gentiles instead of bringing them into the Covenant. It is not about economics, any more than the blessings and curses in Deuteronomy 28 are focussed on economics. Economics is the outflow of Covenant faithfulness or unfaithfulness.

    “the rejection of Judaism is simply not the message of the NT.”

    The Word of God divides the sacrifice. Jesus brought the sword and it cut Judaism in two – those who believed and those who didn’t. The threshing began with Pentecost and continued until “Trumpets”, the apostolic warnings of the plagues to come – hence the final letters are warnings to Jews across the Empire not to return to a Judaism that was about to pass away. The false teachers that the apostles warn about were the same ones Jesus predicted would come before the end. They were defiant Jews and Christian Judaisers. Atonement came in AD70 after one generation of grace that allowed there to be a faithful remnant. This is the subject of Romans 9-11. These chapters were fulfilled completely. In the economy of God, Judaism is no more.

    See Peter Leithart’s comments at: http://www.bullartistry.com.au/wp/2010/08/28/johns-real-enemies/

    Kind regards,
    Mike Bull

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