Capitol Hill is my home. It is the neighborhood God called us to just over a decade ago. Over the past ten years, we have seen a church grow here. A church filled with passionate people deeply rooted in this place, working hard for the good of this city.
January 6 was a dark day in our neighborhood. We watched, along with the rest of the world, the assault on the United States Capitol, a powerful symbol of our democracy. The residents of my city were also dealing with the crushing anxiety of message boards gathering members of the Proud Boys, an alt-right and white supremacist group, in our neighborhood parks, the rumble of helicopters overhead and trucks moving in throughout the afternoon, and the constant blare of sirens surrounding us because of what was happening just blocks away.
As a pastor, I spent the day reaching out to our members. Many were at home teleworking, but still close to the attack. Others were sheltering in place in their offices. A Capitol Police officer in our church said it was the first time she feared for her life on the job, as they were overmatched and left stranded despite cries for backup. I think I always figured the day might come when I would be checking on our church’s members during some kind of attack. But I never imagined it would go down as it did that day.
Christian Nationalism is the conflation of politics, patriotism, and Christianity, and is perhaps the greatest threat to the witness of the gospel’s beauty in the church in the United States.
One of the painful pressures of this dark valley we are walking through is that we’re running out of language to express it. We don’t have the vocabulary to capture the anguish of our hearts. And using words like “unprecedented” no longer feels sufficient. Yet still, this morning the sun came up again in all its bright brilliance. Christ remains on the throne ruling over all things.
Here are three things the church can cling to as we continue to process the attack on the U.S. Capitol and prepare for the upcoming transition of power in our nation.
1. The gospel is true and beautiful.
We cannot and must not ignore that as people attacked the U.S. Capitol, violent actions that Jesus would never condone, signs were raised declaring “Jesus Saves” and “Jesus 2020.” This conflation of politics, patriotism, and Christianity is Christian Nationalism on display. A love of country can be good, but our ultimate allegiance is to Christ’s kingdom.
Christian Nationalism is perhaps the greatest threat to the witness of the gospel’s beauty in the church in the United States. Yes, there are other threats, but most of them are outside the church. This one was cultivated in-house. As Francis Schaeffer said, “The central problem is always in the midst of the people of God, not in the circumstances surrounding them.”
Even so, we must remember that a threat to the church’s witness of the gospel is not a threat to the gospel itself. Jesus is God in flesh. He lived, died in our place for our sins, was raised to life, and ascended to the right hand of the Father. Read Revelation 4–5 and remember that this is a real-time portrait of God’s throne. Political divisions, even when violent and heretical, are no threat to Christ’s reign.
2. It is time for repentance to begin in the household of God.
It should never surprise us when sin is exposed within the church. There is no use in defensiveness or trying to explain things away in over-nuanced terms. We know the whole of the Christian life is repentance, and, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:9–10).
Don’t give up, saints. Be bold witnesses of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our nation needs us to be the true church and the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ now more than ever.
Let’s lead the way in repentance, owning what we can individually, leading our churches toward it corporately, and crying out with the prophets against the sins of our fathers and our nation (Jer. 14:20; Neh. 1:6). Repentance is the pathway to revival and the fertile ground within the church that the Spirit cultivates to fruitfulness.
3. Don’t give up.
We are no strangers to protests in D.C. and we affirm every citizen’s First Amendment rights to do so peacefully. But this was uniquely ugly. And yet, when the angry mobs leave, our church will still be here working for the good, the peace, and the welfare of this great city. It is no accident that we are here right now. God has placed many of us in this city at this moment in history. He has entrusted this time to us. This is true for all of us, in D.C. and across the world.
To quote Bilbo Baggins, I feel thin, like butter scraped across too much bread. I don’t think I’m alone in that. But I am clinging to the truths and promises of 1 Peter 5:1–11. By God’s grace, I will keep shepherding the flock, knowing that when Christ appears, I will receive the unfading crown of glory. I will strive to be a man of humility, toward others and under God. I will continue to cast all my anxieties on him because he cares for me. I will watch out for and resist my enemy who seeks my destruction. I will pray for firm faith. And I will await the day when, after suffering, the God of all grace restores, confirms, strengthens, and establishes me for his great glory.
It is with a heavy yet hopeful heart that I say, don’t give up, saints. Be bold witnesses of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Let’s fight for what is true, what is good, and what is beautiful. Our nation needs us to be the true church and the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ now more than ever. May God unleash revival on our land.