At the close of The Great War, the French were determined never again to suffer an invasion from Germany. To that end, they constructed a massive line of fortifications, naming it after then-minister of war, Andre Maginot. It’s not necessarily a bad strategy. Worked pretty well for China, once upon a time. It was state-of-the-art all the way — cafeterias for the troops, air conditioning, underground railways to connect different fortifications, and a vast number of blockhouses, turrets, shelters and observation posts bristling with the latest in machine guns, grenade launchers, and artillery. The Maginot Line would, in fact, have been very difficult to breach…
…so the Germans invaded the Low Countries instead, and then came down into France from the north, sweeping the entire country in days and completely avoiding the irrelevant fortresses of the Maginot Line.
We are God’s people in exile. “Here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come.” Despite the plain biblical revelation on this point, we persist in investing ourselves in the permanence of our Christian institutions–governments, cathedrals, seminaries, churches, mission agencies, charities and so on.
I am not saying that we shouldn’t build these things. When the governors are Christians, they certainly ought to build a Christian government. When the populace will furnish and fill a cathedral, they should build one. When the church needs trained men and is incapable of training them as it ought to do, someone certainly ought to start a seminary. When single churches can’t undertake the expense of funding a pioneering missionary on the other side of the world, a mission agency is a good idea.
But we can’t fool ourselves that we’re building something permanent with these structures. The God-fearing governments of Christendom have given way to pagan states that acknowledge no god but themselves. The great cathedrals, more often than not, stand empty, as do many of our large church buildings. Most seminaries have managed to lose their effectiveness, often with in matter of a few generations. Spirit-led mission efforts ossify and become self-serving bureaucracies that Spirit-led missionaries have to work around in order to fulfill the Great Commission.
All is mist, as the wise Preacher once said.
Having forgotten what it’s like to do without these things, we build new Christian political movements, new church buildings, new seminaries, new mission agencies. Well-meaning Christian people scrimp and save and sacrifice to pour massive amounts of resources into these new institutions, constructed on the same principles as the old ones, and vulnerable to the same failings in the end. History has not been kind to this strategy, but we have forgotten our earlier history, and don’t know what else to do. Which is to say that when the enemy outflanks one Maginot Line, we build another. And another. And another. The really awful part? We have no continuing city to defend with all these fixed fortifications.
To everything there is a season, and this is not the season for building fortifications. Defending Jerusalem is a nice thought, but unless the Lord guards the city, the watchmen watch in vain, and if you’re at Jeremiah’s point in the story rather than Hezekiah’s, the Lord isn’t interested in guard duty. Christendom 1.0 was glorious, but in God’s providence it’s crumbling, and while Christendom 2.0 is rising, it will be a long time before we see more than foundations — far, far longer than I’ll live. It’s Jeremiah time, and those who can’t see this harsh providence for what it is will die defending walls that can no longer even support their own weight, let alone protect anyone.
So where does that leave us? It’s an interesting question. We may have to find out as we go.
I liked this post, the way you use Maginot Lines to depict the various ways in which Christianity becomes distracted to think sociologically about humanity’s need for sanctification. It’s a God-given thing, and a God-directed thing.
What you are suggesting is not categorically anti-establishment. Whether we’re in or out, we can be and should be 100% God-led. Unfortunately, as you are saying, many times establishment is the foe to be fought.
It is a mystery to me that those who are in Christian establishment are not desperate for serious point-men who have taken up God’s Word and purposes as their own. The enemy is not stupid, and to me, that’s exactly what an institutionalized Maginot Line communicates. We tempt him to attack by lop-siding our strengths.
You’re right, it’s not anti-establishment. It’s following Jesus without regard for the establishment, which is a different thing entirely. Sometimes we’ll be their strongest supporters, and at other points, their most implacable adversaries. The challenge to us will be to articulate our stance clearly so that we can love them well and minimize the inevitable sense of betrayal when it turns out we don’t fit into the pre-defined pigeonholes.