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This blog site will feature essays, columns and musings that deal with the intersection of Christianity and journalism and the American Songbook.

“The State of the Church in Ellensburg” (Robert Goedecke book chapter)

This is a chapter in God in Ellensburg by Robert Goedecke
2001
As we look at the condition of the universal Christian Church in Ellensburg in the twilight of the American Century, we see a church that has forfeited its prophetic calling in order to be more acceptable to the prevailing cultural attitudes, which are predominately hostile to a supernatural Christian world view.

Christians should be chagrined, ashamed, and alarmed, perhaps—but not surprised—for the condition of the Ellensburg Church is the same as the Church in Seattle, San Francisco, or New York. Of course, there are exceptional congregations, but they are few and relatively powerless to stem the tide of cultural compromise in the Church.

If one wants to understand the condition of the Church in the Kittitas Valley, one need only to read the prophets of the Old Testament. In fact, one need read only Ezekiel 16. Ezekiel spoke to a church held captive in a hostile culture (Babylonia), and the contemporary Kittitas Valley Church likewise is held captive in a hostile culture (America). The hostility of American culture is undeniably evidenced by the public promotion of sexual perversion, the government-sponsored killing of unborn children, open debauchery and mendacity at the highest levels of civil leadership, elevation of paganism to a recognized religion in the national military, the breakdown of public education into political indoctrination, and the astonishing acquiescence of the citizenry in all of this as long as it has bread and entertainment. And this is to say nothing of the systematic attack by the cultural elite in media, academia, and politics on the existence of the God of the Old Testament who has revealed Himself in word and continues to reveal Himself in actions. Indeed, the Church is in a post-Christian society, as Francis Schaeffer has so eloquently noted.

Ezekiel Zadok (Ez. 1:3) was a 25-year-old priest in Jerusalem when the Babylonians under King Nebuchadnezzar sacked Jerusalem in 597 BC. He was among those taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar back to Babylonia (cf., 2 Kings 24:14-17; Ez. 1:2). Ezekiel lived the remainder of his life in the principal colony of Jewish captives near the River Kebar in Babylonia (3:15) as a minister to the captive remnant (Ez. 3:11; 33:21-22). Whenever the prophets of the Old Testament address “Israel,” they are addressing God’s “peculiar” people, the Old Testament Church (cf., Ex. 19:5). The Bible clearly teaches that the New Testament Church is simply a continuation of the “true Israel” of the Old Testament Church (cf., Rom. 9:6; Gal. 3:6-7; etc.).

In the fifth year of his exile (592), Ezekiel, now 30 years old, is called in a vision by God to be His prophet (1:1-3:11). Unlike Isaiah (6:6-10), Jeremiah (1:4-10), or Daniel (10:6), whose lips God touched when He called them to be prophets, Ezekiel was told to eat a scroll which contained “words of lamentation and mourning and woe” (2:10). Notice the prophetic emphasis on language as the means of expressing God’s mind to His people. Christianity is preeminently a religion of language and words. God told Ezekiel that when he pronounced these words to his fellow believers, he would meet resistance because “the whole house of Israel is hardened and obstinate” (3:4-11).’ Jeremiah (29:4-7) and Ezra (2:68-69) tell us that many of the captives had attained prosperity and success in Babylonia and did not want to return to the promised land and faithful living before the face of God. They had found quality of life among the heathen. They, like the Ellensburg Church, enjoyed life in captivity because it offered them the secure and material good life. Things were pleasant for Ezekiel’s Church as they are for the Ellensburg Church. Ezekiel is to be “the watchman” for the OT Church in exile (3:16), and he is to go and sit among the exiles” as a call to repentance (3:15). As we move into our text, we come to chapter 16, which is the most unsparing exposure of the Church in the Bible.

Beginning in Ez. 16:1, Ezekiel is commanded by God to “confront Jerusalem with her detestable practices.” “Confront’ is a key word in this entire chapter.’ Given our context, some scholars translate the Hebrew word in our text as “arraign.” That is, “Ezekiel, you are to make known to the Church its historical abominations in order that she may see the charges against her to which she must give an answer before the judge.” The understanding behind this divine command is that the Church is so blinded by her vices that she does not perceive what is sufficiently evident to everyone around her. Someone has to force her to hear because she is too timid to hear the message unaided (cf., Hosea 2:10). The messenger God chooses to “confront” the Church is the “son of man” (ben-adam) meaning merely a “human”—it is not a special title given to Ezekiel.” Ezekiel, as the “son of man,” has his primary identification, therefore, with his audience, not the Holy One who sent him.

And then in Ez. 16:3, God, through Ezekiel, begins His sovereign message to the OT Church. This is an awful thing to say to the proud sons and daughters of Abraham! Ezekiel begins to relate the history of the OT Church from a theological perspective. It is real history, a history that explains what lies behind the movements of individuals, nations, and cultures. What Ezekiel is reminding Israel of is that the Church was low born and base and unworthy. Her basic nature, her basic disposition and spirit, her basic seed, is the same as the pagan “Canaanites” (16:45)! But not just the Canaanites, the very worst of the Canaanites—the “Amorites” (cf., Gen. 15:15-16) and the “Hittites” (cf., Gen. 26:34¬35; 27:46). These two tribes are fit only for destruction (cf., Lev. 18:24-28; Deut. 18:12).” What this reminds us of is that the birthing of the Church, institutionally, came out of the moral atmosphere of the degenerate surrounding Canaanite culture with all its debauchery. Abraham himself worshipped Canaanite idols before God adopted him into the OT Church (cf., Joshua 24:2-3). The Church was not born pure and holy and separate, and so there is no blood line or racial superiority in which to take pride.

Not only was the Church part of a spiritually doomed family of pagans, but existentially she had no hope of survival. Physically, she was doomed to destruction. No one cared for her. The Church was helpless before a hostile world. The picture here is of an infant cast out of the parental protection without even the most customary acts of regard and affection (cf., Hos. 2:3). The infant Church was destined to die (vs. 4). Nothing was done by anybody to make the Church clean (“washed”) or tough (“salt”) or strong (“swaddling clothes”). Without the washing, salt, and swaddling, the newborn was to be dirty, vulnerable, and deformed.”

The Church was not protected and nurtured as a newborn babe; on the contrary, she was positively neglected and disdained (vs. 5). The newborn Church was treated with contempt and “loathing.” We see the same Hebrew word being used to mean “abhor” (cf., Lev. 26:11, 30) and “cast away” or “defile” (cf., 2 Sam. 1:21). The infant was purposefully exposed to the natural elements for destruction (“thrown out into the open field”).

God tells the OT Church that He observed, as a traveler, the newborn Church squirming about in her blood, vulnerable to her surroundings (vs. 6). Having compassion on this ugly duckling of an infant, God spoke the creative and powerful and wonderful word of life: “Live.” And “live” the Church did. It is God who pronounces life. Therefore, we see it is God who commands life. It is God who initiates life. It is God who sustains life (cf., Col. 1:15¬20). When the Church is saved, it is only and solely because God does it to magnify His free, unpurchased, unsought, and unmerited grace.

Under God’s watchful eye and His protective providence, the Church grew and developed intellectually, culturally, and physically (vs. 7). And it is God who is tending to the Church’s needs. Nowhere in the Scriptures do we see the nurturing personality feminized. That is feminist cant. In the OT it is the masculine, Husband-God who is constantly nurturing His bride, the Church (cf., Deut. 32:10-12; Hos. 2:14ff. And so it is here. God is the initiator in this relationship: He “passed by,” He “looked,” He “spread,” He “covered,” He “gave,” He “entered into a covenant,” and as a consequence she, His beloved wife-Church, “became” (vs.8). This is the time of conjugal love for the Church. The Church was ready to give herself to some suitor, for she was of the marrying age and temperament, but God protected her virginity and “naked” vulnerability” by covering” her with his own “garment.”

To confirm this loving and tender relationship, God initiated the words of protection, an “agreement” to provide comfort and security for His wife. The OT Church was to be God’s “treasured possession” (cf., Ex. 19:5). The holy Husband-God deigned to come down to a sinful wifely-Church, and pledge His troth like some earthling. This is the marriage covenant between God and His Church (cf., Ex. 24:8; Deut.5:2). She is to call Him “my husband” and not “my master” (Hos. 2:16). What a lovely picture. What condescension) (Cf., Phil 2:5-8.)

Once the Lord God entered into this covenant of marriage with His Church, look at what He does to her: He “bathes,” He “washes,” He “anoints,” He “clothes,” He “dresses,” He “covers,” He “adorns” (vss. 9-13). God the husband is continually giving to His wife the Church.” The Church has become royalty (Ex. 19:6; Rev. 1:6). What a trip—from bloody nakedness to majestic regalness—all because God so initiated and sustained the Church’s development. God is a spiritual Henry Higgins.”

As the Church’s beauty increased, so did her reputation and influence among the pagan nations and cultures surrounding the Church. And for a period of time these pagans stood in awe of this unique tribe (vs. 14).

Even after the political eclipse of the OT Church, her teachings continued to be a thing of beauty and civilizing force and emulation. Western civilization under the influence of biblical Christianity has achieved unmatched heights of civil and personal justice, creativity and technological progress, as well as the understanding to repent of its many sins and failures. As we, sons and daughters of Western civilization, have left a biblical understanding of culture in the 20th century, our culture has declined into hate and violence and ignorance. The new dark ages are upon us.

What Ezekiel has done so far is use the real history of the OT Church (Israel)—from Abraham to the Babylonian captivity—all to show how God, in His sovereign love, has chosen, protected, nourished, enhanced, beautified, and empowered the Church, which was foul and ugly and helpless when He found her.
God has created an earthly family with Israel as His wife of choice. This is the Church’s greatest honor: To be the only royal wife of the regal King of creation (Rev 19:16). And Ezekiel now tells us how the chosen, resplendent wifely-Church responds to this exalted and privileged relationship.

Ezekiel now “confronts” the OT Church with a bill of particulars, a parade of “detestable practices” (vs. 22). This is the beginning of the “confrontation.” This litany of licentiousness is couched in the terms of lewd and scandalous behavior of a beautiful wife who was rescued from ruin by a loving and faithful and tender husband. The sins of the Church are represented by the similitude of whoredom and adultery and sexual perversion—ultimately, idolatry against the one, true husband-God. What is presented in this part of Ez. 16 is a catalog of gross violations of the marriage covenant. It is a moral trail of tears. The willful actions of the wife have corrupted and defiled her mind, and her spirit and finally, her conscience (cf., Rom. 1:28-32). Ideas do have consequences (cf., Prov. 27:19; Matt. 15:19; John 7:38). It is a terrible and condemnatory catalog of corruption.

The Church began to think that all she had, she had earned herself, that she was a self-made institution and that all her gifts and endowments were hers and not her Creator’s (cf., Deut. 32:15; Jer. 7:4, Micah 3:11). And because everything she had belonged to her, she could give whatever she had away. And so she did. Whatever and whoever struck her fancy (“passed by”) got whatever she was willing to give (vs. 15). Thus, the Church enslaved herself to one owner and then to another owner (cf., Is. 1:21; 57:8; Jer. 3:26). The contemporary Church also has forgotten that her message of creation, fall, and redemption is an “entrusted” message revealed to her by the Lord of the Church (Rom. 3:12; 6:17; etc.). But not only did the Old Testament Church begin to love pagan men and give herself to these men for fulfillment and satisfaction, she forgot her birthright and her exodus from sin and slavery and destitution.

Having been mistrustful, forgetful, and weak-willed, the OT Church enters into a pattern of life which is idolatrous and therefore reprehensible. This has always been the pattern of the Church: whoever “passes by” (vs. 15) and gets the attention of the Church causes the Church to reflect the very character of the “passer-by.” It happened with the Sovereign LORD (vs. 14). The Church became beautiful because He “passed by.” Now this beautiful creature transfers her God-given “beauty” to just any old “passer-by” who attracts her eye. Isn’t it tragic that today’s Church, which holds the keys to the kingdom of God in its message, leaves the door unlocked as she runs after public acceptance, academic respect, and material success. Any old port in a storm.

The OT Church practiced her whoredom with an attractive public display of her idols.” Since the Church had become materialistic (worshipping the created rather than the Creator), then only the material things gave satisfaction and pleasure. The Church took sensual satisfaction from these metal male idols (cf., Is. 57:5; 1:29). The Church even offered “incense” and “food” and “oil” for these material idols. How utterly stupid and idolatrous for the Church to offer libation and food given her by God the living Husband to dead, inanimate metal idols.” This is no different from today’s Church embracing “seeker friendly” services, secular government’s emoluments, downplaying the sin of divorce, and overlooking fornication and adultery. Secular society will welcome the tolerant, encouraging and pleasant news from the Church and embrace her for that fun message, but when the Church expresses “the whole counsel of God” which includes the judgmental, discouraging, unpleasant news, then our secular society screams “Bigot,” “intolerant,” “narrow-minded,” fascist,” “fanatical,” etc. (cf., Joseph and his two dream interpretations in Gen. 40). This is heartfelt paganism going on in the Church. The wife was raiding the cupboard to feed the neighbor paramours who were coming around while the husband was at work (cf., Moses on Mt. Sinai, Ex. 32). She was dressing up for them with the very clothes the husband had picked out and purchased for her (cf., Deut. 6:10¬12). Ezekiel adds: “This is what happened. I’m not making any of this up” (vs. 19). The Church, dressed to love God, has undressed to copulate with Lucifer.

So the Church fornicated with any suitor that caught her fancy. The Church made herself politically correct in order to attract outsiders into her “tents.” The Church then offered to build idols to these male whoremongers and gave her God-given provisions in worship to these man-made bejeweled idols. And the Church dressed these metal idols in fine clothes given to her by her Husband-God. That was sufficiently hurtful and horrific to the covenant husband, but the worst was yet to come in the Church’s slide into debauchery and idolatry.

As if unchastity was not enough, the wife of the covenant (cf., Mal. 2:14) added the unnatural abomination, the sacrilege of killing her own children as evidence of the “sin of my soul” (cf., Micah 6:7). The Church began to sacrifice her own children (Ez. 5: 10; vss. 20-21)! The children of the covenant (“you bore to me”) were slaughtered to appease the man-made idols (cf., Is. 57:5; Jer. 7:31; 19:5; 32:35; 2 Kings 17:31; 2 Chron. 28:3; 33:6). All the Church’s offspring were God’s offspring, since if God’s covenant with the Israelites was a marriage covenant, all who spring from that union are to be esteemed as His children. These covenant children were not just passed over a flame as an idolatrous purifying act. No! They were cooked to eat like the bulls and the lambs and the birds of the Levitical sacrificial system. It reminds one of the Church’s support for abortion, infanticide (partial birth abortion), and the harvesting of baby parts to sustain the living and the strong. Unalloyed wickedness—”Woe! Woe to you” (vs. 2-3).

So the Church was a whore and a child-killer because she forgot that she was the holy, anointed wife of the Sovereign Husband-God who saved her when she was an infant. How disgustingly absurd it is that children who were born as gifts from God are now sacrificed as offerings to Satan (cf., Ez. 5:9-10).

Ezekiel continues by noting that these wanton advances of sexual favors are all on the Church’s part. The traveling Johns gave nothing in return. In fact, in order to keep their attention, the Church must increase her perversity. She must invent new deviances to stay in favor (“increasing promiscuity,” vs. 25). If she did not, those who “passed by” would lose interest and they would keep going. The Church would lose cultural relevance. It is the same today, as the Church embraces all the cultural pieties of our age: feminism and divorce, radical environmentalism, a nanny state, homosexuality, pornography, public thievery, consumer-oriented worship, therapeutic theology, New Age religion—any device to attract and keep members and be relevant to a “wicked and perverse society.” Today’s Church runs after those who oppress her in order to win their favor, and to receive compliments from hostile and antagonistic critics in politics, the media, the academy and special interest groups. Furthermore, the Church makes it difficult, if not impossible, to “pass by” her, since she exhibits her perfidy all over the place—wherever people congregate. There the wife was publicly promiscuous: “in every public square.’ Ezekiel is very graphic here, for the Hebrew language says the Church “spread her feet to everyone” (vs. 25).

To add insult to injury, staying in Jerusalem to work her sin wasn’t enough for the Church. She went looking for love in all the wrong places. First came the Egyptians (vs. 26) with their lustful and sexually powerful culture of Isis, the fertility goddess (cf., Jer. 7:18; 44:19). Our western European Christianized translations have, for the most part, pulled back from the literal rendering of the Hebrew in this chapter for the sake of Christian sensibilities, but the language is very sexual. This lewd nymphomania on the wife’s part provoked the husband to anger. So He took some of the wife’s material possessions away and gave them to her pagan neighbors as punishment, but that didn’t stop her fornicating. Even with the use of the rod there was no repentance (cf., Jer. 2:30). God deprived the Church of her abundance and then He gave her over to her own lusts as well as the abusive lusts of her neighbors. The Church’s traveling whorehouse offended even the pagan Philistines, who because of their God-given nature, seemed outraged by Israel’s excesses (vs. 57; cf., Ez. 5:7; Jer. 2:11). God became a laughing-stock to the ungodly because of His faithless wife-Church. He was publicly cuckolded by his impure wife. Likewise, God has become irrelevant in our own day because of the Church’s intellectual and moral wantonness. Wherever the National Council of Churches goes, it spreads its false gospel and sinful practices to nations around the world. God must be pleased with the boldness and piety of the African Christian leaders who stand against the whoredom of the western NCC and like-minded Church organizations.

But as the Church’s promiscuity could not be “satisfied” by the well-endowed Egyptians, she began to look further afield and so she left the next-door neighbor and went after the Assyrians (with their god, Assur”) who lived up the block (cf., 2 Kings 16:7-16).

But the Assyrians too could not satisfy her so she plied her sexual wares even further, in another town, and she went east to Babylonia (with its god, Marduk) (Ez. 23:14-18). Interestingly, in vs. 29, Ezekiel refers to Babylonia as a “country of merchants* or “Chaldea” citing both its preoccupation with wealth and ethnicity—immoral capitalism and political correctness in the 7th century B.C.1 Babylonia sounds like American capitalism gutted of its Christian foundation.

Historically, the Church went to bed with the Egyptians, the Assyrians, and the Babylonians in order to protect herself and to ensure her quality of life. She did not depend upon and was not satisfied with the one true God for security and provision (cf., Deut. 32:30; Jer. 10:10). As the Church discovered, due to the prophet’s “confronting” her, it is difficult to retain the favor of those with whom one associates, unless one entirely agrees with them. If the allies are impious, they will draw the Church into contempt for God through their pieties. So it is today as the Church has become more concerned with what sinful Man thinks than what her holy God thinks. If the Church seeks the favor of those outside the Church, she must acquiesce to their world view in order to keep their favor.’ It is a no-win course of action for those called to be faithful in their marriage covenant with the God of Abraham.

The conclusion in vss. 30-34 is so foul, so repulsive, and so descriptive of the Church then and the Church now that it almost defies adequate comprehension. The LORD-Husband is saying to the wife-Church: “Unlike the ordinary prostitute, you give yourself free simply to satisfy your lustful cravings which increase with time. You haven’t refused a John in order to get a high wage. It has never been a matter of price with you. Price wasn’t a consideration because you paid people to have sex with you. You chased after abusive Johns and paid them to have sex with you. You were brazen and imperious and shameless (cf., Jer. 3:3). The Church never met an abusive creature it didn’t want to go to bed with. And it was her own bed, for she beckoned far and wide for false lovers to “come to her” in her own safe and comfortable home, and lie with her in the bed of her Husband.

As contemporary ideologues come and go, and “pass by” the Church, she runs after them pleading “Take me, I am yours.” Until the Church regains her composure and follows the advice of another prophet who spoke to a captive Church, she will continue to be an idolatrous wife:
“Stand at the crossroads and look, ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls” (Jer. 6:16a).

The Ellensburg Church, like the universal Church, must leave her false paramours and return to the one true God as revealed in the Scriptures, and she must follow the ancient wisdom of those anointed to “confront” her.
(Footnotes are available upon request.)

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