In a recent conversation, a friend asked me what term I would use to describe myself as a Christian. He asked this question because many of my friends are no longer comfortable with the term evangelical, after 80% of white evangelicals voted for Trump. Since the early fifties, evangelical has been used to describe Christians who believed that the Bible is fully inspired by God, that Christ was the only Savior, that the miracles of the Bible actually occurred, and that they should evangelize others, or tell them about Christ. Due to the politicization of church leaders over the past few decades, the term has fallen on hard times. Trying to impress my friend with my knowledge of Greek, I said that I participate in the group that has been called out of the world. The word church is formed from two Greek words—ek caleo—which means the ones who are called out.
As I thought about that exchange later, I remembered all the people who were called out in the Scriptures. God asked them to leave the comfort of the life they had known and do something new. Some of them were able to leave their old lifestyles behind, but others clung to their past.
The first one to be called to come out is Abraham. He is asked to leave his family, his city, and his country, and to follow the leading of God. Abraham does a fairly good job and, as a result, he is called the father of all who believe in God. Yet Abraham and his wife Sarah mess up later—when she cannot conceive, they succumb to tradition and he takes a concubine instead of believing that God will bless them. The concubine gives birth to a son and believes that she inherits God’s blessing as a result. God works in spite of their disbelief and Isaac is born, but Abraham and Sarah’s disobedience complicates history for millennia.
The next person invited to come out is Lot and his family. The angels come to Sodom and Gomorrah to get Lot and his family away from the cities before God destroys them. In reading these texts, one gets the feeling that the angels are dragging Lot, his wife, and their two daughters. The angels command them not to look back. But Lot’s wife turns to look at all the riches and prestige they left behind in Sodom, and she is turned into a pillar of salt.
Eli was a priest who introduced a little boy named Samuel to God. While he obeyed God when it came to Samuel, God admonished Eli for not disciplining his own sons. Eli was able to step out boldly in faith when it came to Samuel, but he was unable or unwilling to stop his own children from defiling sacrifices in the temple. God was displeased with Eli, so he slowly eliminated his family from the priesthood starting with his sons and grandson.
In the Book of Revelation, we read that in the final day of judgement, we will hear this cry, “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues.” But isn’t this the world where God sent His Son and we are commanded to go into all the world and preach the gospel? There are two interpretations—either the verses refer to the world geographically, or they refer to the world as a system of values. God loved and still loves the whole universe, which includes humanity. He sent Jesus and then believers to make His Name and actions known. When Jesus prays in John 17:16 he says that he is not of the world and neither are his disciples; for this reason, the world will hate them.
That is why the church is comprised of people who have heard the gospel and come out of the world, or a system of lifestyles. The problem with the church is not that we love the world geographically, but that we have allowed the values of the world to come into the church. While there is a remnant in every church and denomination that demonstrates the ethics of the Kingdom of God, statistics show that divorces within the church are as frequent as outside the church and the sins that the Roman Catholic Church has been struggling with for the past 15 years are just as prevalent in the world.
At one time, people expected Christians to be different. The sliding started when we wanted to bring in large numbers of people and were afraid to preach against the intrusion of the world into our churches. Today, it is difficult to distinguish between people in the church and people in the world. Very few people are willing to come out and follow God, for fear that they will be rejected and ostracized. But the author of Hebrews reminds us to go outside the city gates and suffer with Jesus, because this world is not our permanent place. (Hebrews 13:12)