Written by Pastor Bob Bender
Should We Really Be Building walls?
We are hearing a lot these days about building walls. One is the building of a physical wall along our southern border; the other is the raising of a political one as we attempt to “wall off” travelers from seven Middle Eastern countries known for terrorism. Are walls good then? The sermon Donald Trump heard from Dr. Robert Jeffress before his inauguration included “God is not against building walls!” Is He? I am not going to address this political issue. However, this national issue becomes a metaphor of my church and yours.
Nehemiah addressed a similar question in his day. As a cupbearer to the Persian king, he is gravely concerned about not only the wall of Jerusalem being broken down but he is equally concerned with the gates that were burned with fire (Neh. 1:3). Let’s address these two concepts–“wall” and “gates” by using “wall(s)” as a metaphor for spiritual protection and “gates” as a metaphor for cultural engagement.
Like Nehemiah, we live in tension between two worlds—the spiritual world of walls and Christians within it and the secular world of gates with cupbearers outside of it. Like Nehemiah, we embrace both positions as Christian citizens in Jerusalem or the church and at the same time “cupbearers” in Persia or citizens in this world. The Jerusalem wall was built for protection and the gates–of which there were 12–were built for access to the outside world and vice versa.
Now for sure, all walls are not good. The Pharisees’ walls were so high and thick it allowed no one to enter in (Mt. 23:13). It was a fortress without gates and might as well have been a prison. Ephesians 2:14 tells us that Jesus broke down the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile. We gladly join Jesus in breaking down the walls of religion and poor race relations. Let those walls fall down!
On the other hand, the very reason why these Jews were in captivity was because they had no “walls.” They had failed to build a “wall” of protection and separation from the world. They had lost their spiritual identity and were a sorry testimony to their God. His judgment soon followed.
So by walls I am referring to biblical principles and standards or beliefs and behaviors that we embrace for the same reasons. Without walls as a church and individuals, we too will lose our identity and suffer the judgment of God. We must rebuild and repair the broken down wall of doctrinal integrity. “If the foundations (or “walls” in this case) are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Ps. 11:3). We must rebuild and repair the wall of the inspired, inerrant and authoritative Word of God. We interpret culture in light of Christ’s eternal words; not Christ’s words in light of culture. We must rebuild and repair the wall of salvation in Jesus Christ alone. We have seen what happens to denominations whose mantra is “a church without (doctrinal) walls.” Beth Moore challenged thousands of students in last month’s Passion Conference with these words: “You will watch a generation of Christians who will set the Bible aside in an attempt to ‘become more like Jesus’ and it will sound completely plausible. You will sacrifice truth for love’s sake.” Without the structural integrity of biblical doctrine, church walls crumble.
We must also rebuild and repair the broken down wall of personal integrity. “’Therefore come out from among them and be separate’ says the Lord ‘and do not touch what is unclean and I will welcome you and I will be a father to you’” (2 Cor. 6:17-18). We must rebuild and repair walls in our thoughts—lust, pride or greed (2 Cor. 10:5). We must rebuild and repair walls in our emotions—unforgiveness or bitterness (Pr. 25:28). We must rebuild and repair walls in our words (Eph. 4:29). We must repent build and repair walls in our eyes (Mt. 6:22-23). We must rebuild and repair walls in our actions (Mt. 5:16). We must rebuild and repair walls in our hearts (Pr. 4:23). We must rebuild and repair walls in our relationships (I Cor. 15:33).
But let’s not forget the gates. Along with rebuilding the broken down walls, we must rebuild and repair the gates that are burned with fire. We must reject a “hold the fort mentality” and get out of the church’s four walls engaging our culture with the gospel of Jesus. We are to feed in the church and take food to a hungry world. “Evangelism is one beggar telling another beggar where to get bread” (Eugene Nida).
Nehemiah 1:4 says that he sat down. He would soon get up and do something about it. Where are you sitting? In 2 Kings 7:3, four lepers of the besieged city of Samaria said, “Why do we sit here until we die?” Later upon finding the enemies of God’s people had been routed and coming upon their spoil, they said to one another in verse 9, “We are not doing right. This is a day of good news but we are keeping silent. Let us go and tell . . .” We need to walk through those doors of the church (“gates”) and engage our community with the good news. It is only because we have rebuilt strong walls that we can walk through the gates showing and sharing what a real Christian looks like.
Isaiah 60:18 says, “You will call your walls salvation and your gates praise.” A gate is an avenue through which the safe inhabitants of the city go outside. The blessed become the blessers. Only as our inward lives are blessed with salvation (deliverance) will our outward lives be a blessing of praise. The gate will be praise only if the wall is salvation. We go out into the dark world with the life and light of the gospel with it firmly rooted in our minds as doctrine and our lives in practice.
So, are you a wall builder or a bridge builder? Yes; they are not mutually exclusive. We can and must be both biblical and relevant. I am asked, “Are you a welcoming and affirming church?” which is a code phrase for how you respond to the LBGTQ community. My answer: Yes and No. We are a welcoming church in that we welcome anyone to walk in these doors and check us out no matter their sexual orientation, obviously race, or religious affiliation. However, when they commit their lives to Jesus and join us, we do not affirm other religions, racial intolerance or any sexual orientation outside the boundaries of a man and woman’s covenant relationship of marriage. Jesus was welcoming to the woman caught in adultery–“Neither do I condemn you;” but He was not affirming–“Go and sin no more” (Jn. 8:11).
So we are to equally embrace the walls of salvation and the gates of praise. Sacred walls and secular gates. Walls of separation and gates of service. Walls of conviction and gates of compassion. Walls of preservation and gates of proclamation. Walls of truth and gates of grace. Biblical walls and relevant gates. Walls of exclusiveness and gates of inclusiveness. Walls of the word and gates of work. We grow in the walls and we go through the gates. Walls of sanctification and gates of service. Walls of holiness and gates of love. Walls of “rules” and gates of relationships. Walls of timelessness and gates of timeliness. Walls of the unchanging message and gates of ever-changing methods. Walls of citizens in heaven and gates of citizens in this world. Walls of striking the root downward and gates of bearing fruit upward. Walls of strengthening the cords and gates of lengthening the tent pegs. Walls of worship and gates of witness. Walls of “laws” and gates of love. Jesus is our example in John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we saw his glory/full of grace (gates) and truth (walls).” We gladly affirm with John, “And this is love (gates), that we walk according to His commandments (walls)” (2 Jn. 6).
What walls do you need to rebuild and repair in your life? Are they doctrinal walls because you have been playing fast and loose with God’s word? Are they personal walls because you have allowed the evil one to infiltrate your life stealing your passion for God and compassion for others? What gates do you need to repair and rebuild? Have you become so comfortable sitting within these walls that the burnt lives through these gates are of no concern to you anymore? Let’s be about rebuilding walls and repairing gates. Let us weep and mourn because of broken down walls in the church and in our lives; let us weep and mourn because of burned gates of burned out lives; some burned for eternity without Jesus. Then, like Nehemiah, let’s get up and go and do something about it. So let’s learn how to live intentionally in tension between walls and gates. We, like Nehemiah, are called to live in tension between these two worlds of spiritual walls and the secular gates. It is a high and holy calling and a challenging one; yet we gladly accept the challenge.