Monday, February 15, 2010
We Have Met the Enemy
Revelation has this type of surprise ending. But most readers are so ignorant of apocalyptic symbolism, and so blind to our own sinfulness, that we fail to see the identity of the villainess when she is literally "unveiled" in Revelation 17.
The Whore of Babylon is the culmination of the Book of Revelation. She is the revelation of Revelation. In this apocalyptic narrative we have seen all sorts of heroes and villains come across the pages of the book. Finally in chapter 17, the archenemy of God's people is revealed. Who is it? The Whore of Babylon is a frankensteinian replica of the Bride of Christ. The enemy of the Church is the church - an imitation church!
Protestants have historically identified the Harlot as the Roman Catholic Church. She is a church, and she is obviously in Rome. So who else could it be, right? Wrong! As any aficionado of suspense films knows, it is never the obvious choice.
A few years ago I read the book Revolution in World Missions by K.P. Yohannan, the founder of Gospel For Asia. He describes coming from India to the United States for the first time. He saw the obscenely opulent church buildings of American Christianity, and he was rightly shocked. On the other hand we, like the proverbial frog in slowly heated water, don't even notice anything unusual. We are "dressed in purple and scarlet, festooned with gold and gems and pearls" (17:4) and do not see anything wrong with that.
Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola and George Barna was another book that impressed me in the same way. The American church, both Evangelical and Protestant, is dressed like a Pagan Priestess, but we don't even notice. We are "brimming with defiling obscenities" (17:4) but do not see anything blasphemous in the way we do church.
Walt Kelly, creator of the Pogo comic, first used the phrase "We Have Met The Enemy and He Is Us" on a poster for Earth Day in 1970. It woke us up to the environmental truth that we are committing global suicide.
We need the same wake-up call when it comes to our Christian faith. The enemy of the church is not "out there" in some villainous papacy, Muslim fundamentalism, secular humanism, or New Age spirituality. We have met the Scarlet Harlot, and she is us.