I'm reading a great book about the role of Christians in the city. Author Ray Bakke, raised in rural post-World War II Washington state, became the reluctant pastor of a congregation of hundreds at the age of 23. In the 1960's he moved to Chicago, an explosive place at an explosive time, and remained there for the next 30 years.
In a chapter entitled "Can We Save a City Like Sodom?" Bakke discusses the transformational power of even a few Christians living in and for a city, as well as the widespread withdrawal of Christians from cities in the second half of the twentieth century.
When I became a pastor in Chicago [in 1965], my first community service was the funeral of the neighboring pastor and wife two blocks down the street from the church. They had been stabbed to death during the night in what is still an unsolved crime. One of their three preschool children stopped the postman at the door the following morning and plaintively asked, "Can you wake up my daddy?" As I described the situation to my mother later that week, she asked - doubtless thinking of my own little boys - "How long are you going to stay in Chicago?"When a 23-year-old aspiring teacher was murdered in Philly recently, my mom asked me if I really wanted to live in Philadelphia. I told her that if everyone who was able to leave the city were to do so, things would be even worse for those who couldn't get out.
I replied, "As long as I can count on other believers here. If I can't, I'll run far and fast."From Ray Bakke, "A Theology As Big As the City" (1997), pg. 41
Bakke believes that the welfare of a city is contingent on the presence of God's people within it. Indeed, he notes Jesus calls his followers salt (a preservative) and light (exposing, eliminating darkness). Genesis teaches us that Sodom* could have been spared by the presence of ten of God's followers (18:22-33). Indeed, in Jeremiah we learn that Jerusalem could have been saved by even one seeker of the truth (5:1).
So I think Bakke is onto something. If God is who the Bible says he is, cities desperately need His people, any of His people, to live in and for them, to death if necessary. And those who do so must unite in their purpose, or all will be adrift.
These principles are the those that lead me to seek employment in Philadelphia now that I have graduated. It's time to put my money where my mouth is.
On a final note, contrast the importance of this call with the widespread response of the church when things have gotten rough in the cities:
I don't need to tell American Christians that we live in a day of large-scale Christian withdrawal from large sections of our cities. The people running away from Los Angeles are bumping into the people running away from Chicago, somewhere in Colorado's pristine mountains, or so it seems at times. The results: social gaps grow, God is furious, and our nation is at risk (44).We have a history of flight and failure, not to atone for (for Jesus has done that), but to learn from. Let us boldly approach the throne of grace and find our Lord's heart for his city:
Can we save a city like Sodom? Of course we can, and we must. Thankfully the preserving effect of a few righteous people is much more widespread than we might think (46).*It is a common misconception that God destroyed Sodom primarily because of sexual immorality in the city. Ezekiel 16:48-50 reveals that the primary reason God destroyed it was that though the people of the city were economically prosperous, they did not help the poor and needy. Is there any city today in which this neglect is not widespread?
"For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be removed and be cast into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says."