Running Our Own City

Running our own city is the key to having effective Christian schools, hospitals, businesses, churches, etc. Anything less is just moving deck chairs around on the Titanic. When we’re about the ultimate business of running our own city, we no longer “go to church” or “go to work” or “go to the store” or “go to school” as exiles, but go from Church into our own city to embody the Kingdom of God in our various specialized vocational callings seven days a week.

Morpheus: The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us, even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work, when you go to church, when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.
Neo: What truth?
Morpheus: That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage.
(The Matrix)
Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, “Thus with violence the great city Babylon shall be thrown down, and shall not be found anymore. The sound of harpists, musicians, flutists, and trumpeters shall not be heard in you anymore. No craftsman of any craft shall be found in you anymore, and the sound of a millstone shall not be heard in you anymore. The light of a lamp shall not shine in you anymore, and the voice of bridegroom and bride shall not be heard in you anymore. For your merchants were the great men of the earth, for by your sorcery all the nations were deceived. And in her was found the blood of prophets and saints, and of all who were slain on the earth.”…Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
(Revelation 18:21-24, 21:2) 



Imagine a conversation sometime in the mid-first century A.D. between the apostles Peter, John and Paul and a certain religious marketing consultant, Georgus Barnus. Peter Leithart did and documented it in a pithy little book called Against Christianity.

I’ve reproduced this conversation for you below. But first, allow me to offer a few words of introduction.

One of the core objectives Basileia consistently labors for is to find fresh and compelling ways of rediscovering and recovering the spirituality that characterizes builders of the City of God.

About 3,500 years ago, God chose Moses to lead the People of God in a rediscovery and recovery of their destiny to be a free people under God, which required them not only to be externally delivered from slavery in Egypt, but also to be internally set free from a slavery mentality. Unfortunately, that first generation delivered out of Egypt never got Egypt out of them and so died in the desert. Only the next generation, following the spirituality of Joshua and Caleb, crossed over Jordan into their own country.

Likewise, about four centuries before Jesus was born, the People of God were in exile in Babylon. The exile came to an end when the Lord raised up Ezra (a priest) and Malachi (a prophet) and Nehemiah (who functioned in a kingly way) to lead God’s People in the rediscovery and recovery of their destiny to be a free people in their own land running their own city, Jerusalem.

An exile mentality (very much like a slavery mentality) engages in the business of religion as “chaplains” in someone else’s society. I put the word chaplains in quotes to indicate I’m using this word here in an uncharacteristically pejorative way in a totally different sense than in reference to the noble and vital ministry provided by those who use this title in their service, for example, as hospital chaplains or military chaplains.

Captives in Babylon are exiles from their own city, which for God’s people in any age, metaphorically speaking, is Jerusalem. Babylon and Jerusalem are the two cities in Scripture that in universal ways, both historically and metaphorically, embody in microcosm two kingdoms – the Kingdom of Man and the Kingdom of God. An exile mentality goes about the business of religion inside of Babylon as if being in exile is the “normal” state of existence of God’s People in this age.

When living as exiles in a city run by Babylonians becomes normal we're reduced to hoping, for example, our kids won’t be overly influenced by Babylonian culture if they go to Babylonian run schools. Good luck with that! An exile mentality might think if we set up our own “Christian schools” in Babylon our kids won’t be overly influenced by Babylonian culture. Well, good luck with that too! Other exiles called to the arena of businesses and commerce may set up “Christian businesses” in Babylon, which are nevertheless subject ultimately to the rulers of the city of Babylon. 

How do you know you've become an exile? When you speak of living in Babylon as "living in the real world." Exile is, as Morpheus said to Neo, a "world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth."

Then there are the various expressions of the Church in exile. Exiles “go to church” on Sundays in churches set up in Babylon. Sermons are preached about the day when, in the sweet by and by, we shall all gather in Jerusalem. But alas, then the service is over and we poor pathetic exiles must go back into the “the real world” run by Babylonians. Woe unto us, we who are subject to this long, hard slog through life with no higher goal than to get along in Babylon. And so we pray that the rapture comes soon, busying ourselves with films about it in the mean time. Thanks be to God that He is patient with us.

In the fullness of time, to a people captured by such a sad and sorry mentality, first, John the Baptist, then, Jesus came preaching, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” While the people who first heard these words had been physically delivered from exile 400 years before, they were still to a large degree captive to an exile mentality, which the then Roman occupation of Israel only reinforced all the more. The gospel, the good news, which John the Baptist and Jesus announced was the Kingdom is at hand, the time of exile is past, so it’s time to get on with the business of religion as a free people, subject no longer to the principalities and powers of the Fallen World System, of which Babylon is the capital city.

When the Babylonian Exile ended, the Lord raised up a threefold cord of servants in Ezra, Malachi and Nehemiah to restore the City of Jerusalem. We are not destined merely to run schools and business and churches, etc. in someone else’s city, but first and foremost to run our own city, Jerusalem, the capital city of the Kingdom of God.

Running our own city is the key to having effective Christian schools, hospitals, businesses, churches, etc. Anything less is just moving deck chairs around on the Titanic. God’s people are destined to shape and run the society, culture, city, kingdom, and empire in which we marry, trade, educate, paint, celebrate, go to football games, milk cows, build spaceships and worship. Such a destiny requires the rediscovery and recovery of the spirituality that weaves together the priestly, prophetic, and kingly dimensions of life into a three-strand cord which cannot easily be broken. In the 21st century the rediscovery and recovery of this spirituality is what some call the Convergence Movement. Whatever we call it, such spirituality is the spirituality of builders of the City of God.

When we’re about the ultimate business of running our own city, we no longer “go to church” or “go to work” or “go to the store” or “go to school” as exiles, but go from Church into our own city to embody the Kingdom of God in our various specialized vocational callings seven days a week. Yes, I did indeed just imply that going shopping is a way of building the Kingdom of God, if we’re not subject to an exile mentality that is. Any action of people who are internally free breeds external freedom and exhausts tyranny.

But its tricky business to call exiles to embrace the call to run our own city after years of serving the Babylonians. Old habits die hard, which underscores the vital role that Baptism and the Eucharist play as sacramental actions, which when done in faith by those responding to the call to build the City of God, enable us to die to our old way of life in Babylon and be reborn as builders of Jerusalem. But after being in exile for years or decades or even centuries, replacing that mentality and lifestyle with a kingdomcultural mentality and lifestyle doesn’t happen overnight. It takes dedicated effort to unplug from the power of an exile mentality and develop fresh kingdomcultural ways of seeing our faith, the Kingdom, the Church and what the good news is that we call the gospel.

What I appreciate about the following dramatized business meeting of the apostles Peter, John and Paul with Georgus Barnus, a religious marketing consultant, is that the creator of this drama, Peter J. Leithart, has crafted a humorous and engaging way of pulling back the curtain for us on what radical repentance from an exile mentality looks like. When the priestly, prophetic and kingly strands of kingdomcultural spirituality come together, what does it look like? God’s people are always at their best when running their own city rather than serving as “chaplains” in someone else’s. What does that look like? The drama to follow shows the people of God embodied in the characters of Peter, John and Paul at their best. It is a window into the business of religion as conducted by City Builders of the Kingdom of God.

The following is by Peter J. Leithart, Against Christianity, 18-24.

Year: Sometime in the mid-first century A.D.
Scene: Conference room, Barnus Marketing Consultants, Jerusalem office.
Characters: Georgus Barnus, religious marketing consultant; two weather-beaten fisherman named Peter and John; and a spry, sharp-eyed former Pharisee named Paul.


Barnus (consulting a parchment):  I understand, gentlemen, that you want to start what we in the business call a “New Religious Movement”–or “nirm” for short. Is that right?

JohnI suppose so.

BarnusI should tell you the market is flooded. There are more religions on offer today than you can imagine. And just because you come from the East doesn’t give you any edge. Lots of nirms are coming from Persia and further east, and they are spilling over into Asia and as far as Rome. Maybe you should consider some other line of business. Are you sure you can make it in this market?

PeterBut we have the truth. Those other religions serve false gods, and the living God has commissioned us to take good news to all men.

BarnusSure. Well, I am a consultant, and I want to make sure that you knew what you were getting into. Full disclosure and all that; we don’t want to end up with some messy lawsuit, do we? Anyway, the first thing we do in this kind of situation is scope out the market, see who the competition is, and find our niche.

Peter: Ah, Mr. Barnus. I need to explain something. You’ve mentioned the market a few times. But we meet in houses, not in the market.

Barnus (chuckling): No, no. I see the mistake. You’ve misunderstood me. This is quite funny. I’m using market in a metaphorical sense.  Imagine there’s a marketplace where people are selling religious things…

John: Like amulets and calves livers?

BarnusNo, no.  Eternal life, satisfaction, contentment, that sort of thing.

JohnI see.

BarnusVery good. Now, I’m suggesting that we think of the various religious options around the Roman world as a “market” in this metaphorical sense.  All kinds of religious goods are being offered, there are different methods of “payment,” and so on. We need to know where you fit in. What are you offering? Who is offering the same kind of goods? Who’s the competition? How do people pay? Is your “price” competitive?

PaulOK. What can you tell us about this “market”? (making quotation marks with his fingers).

BarnusYou said you meet in houses? Maybe the thing to do is position yourself as an alternative to traditional household religions. That would be a tough market to get into, though. Household religions thrive on being dusty and ancient; not many new “household” religions get off the ground. As you know, the domestic, ancestral religions are among the oldest and most venerated religions in the Roman world and in Asia. Roman households are all equipped with hearth fires that not only serve as furnaces but as domestic altars. A portion of every meal is tossed into the fire as an offering to the ancestors who are, in some way, identified with the flame. I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.

JohnYes, that might work. After all, Jesus taught us to call one another brothers, and we do think of ourselves as the “household of God.”

PeterThat’s right. Our worship, Mr. Barnus, includes a meal; we have older men who lead the church and teach us; and we do have women and children in our assemblies. We do want to cultivate the atmosphere of a family.

JohnAnd Jesus said that we had to leave father and mother to cling to Him. He taught us that we are a family “competing” (fingering quotation marks) with old families.

Paul: This is all true. But you are both forgetting something very important.

PeterWhat’s that?

Paul: We are a household and a family, but we’re not connected by blood. You see, Mr. Barnus, we have Jews and Gentiles in our gatherings, and people from every land and tribe and tongue. That’s part of the good news God wants us to preach. While we may be a household, we’re a very unusual sort of household.

Peter (blushing): Of course. How could I have forgotten that?

BarnusLet’s list “household religion” as a “subordinate competitor,” then. But we still need to figure out your main competition. Would you say that you’re a “client cult”?

John: Could you explain that a bit?

BarnusCertainly. A client cult is a specialty religion, you might say. Each god has a particular capability–say, healing disease–and his priests are able to communicate that benefit to cult members.

PaulYes, I know how this works. The person approaches the priest of one cult on Monday for help in his business, and goes to another priest of a completely different god on Wednesday to ensure a safe pregnancy for his wife. 

Peter: Well, that’s nothing like what we’re talking about. It sounds as if client cults don’t demand the kind of devotion we expect. That really is like a marketplace.

BarnusThat’s right. Client cults have adherents, but nobody “converts” to a client cult.

John: And the gods of those cults are nothing like the God we serve. We are apostles of the Creator of all things, not a “specialty god.” He’s one God, the only God, and He demands that we worship and serve him alone.

BarnusDo you mean that you would expect your members to abandon all other cults?

John: That’s right. 

Baruns: Well, you might want to reconsider that. That’s a pretty steep price to pay. You may not be competitive.

JohnWe’ll take our chances.

PeterI just had another thought. Client cults don’t really form a community, do they? If clients come and go as they please, it’s every man for himself.

Barnus: Good point. I can see you’re talking about a completely different set-up. Client cults are not really the main competition. What about mystery religions? You know, those cults with secret initiation rituals and all that stuff about dying and rising with the gods. They have a more communal feel to them, and they talk a lot about “salvation” for their worshipers.

Paul: I’ve never had much time for mystery religions.

JohnNeither have I. But we do have a right of initiation that’s all about dying and rising with Jesus. At least that’s similar. And I’ve heard that some of those mystery religions actually wash their initiates, just like in baptism.

PeterI’ve heard that too. But, if I understand right, those baths are not the initiation; they are just preparation for a very complicated initiation. It’s not much like baptism at all, really. We just sprinkle a bit of water, and it’s over. That is the initiation. Remember Pentecost? If we had to put all those converts through a mystery initiation, we’d still be doing it.

PaulThat’s true, Peter. Besides, mystery religions are like client cults. Somebody initiated into one of them might be worshiping other gods too. For us, baptism divides between us and the rest of the world.

Barnus: This is fascinating. I brought up those religions first because I figured those would be the closest competitors. But this raises an interesting problem. Those are all private religions. Maybe what you’re proposing isn’t a private religion at all. Maybe you’re talking about a new public religion. 

PeterLike the Jews.

BarnusExactly. Jews aren’t a client cult or mystery religion. Technically, legally, they form a politeuma in many cities, A more or less self-governing community, a “virtual city within the city.”

Paul: That’s exactly what we’re after. We see ourselves as a new city within the city. We’re a transformed Israel, a people called to be Jews in a new way. Our groups are like colonies of a heavenly empire right in the middle of earthly cities.

Barnus: Well, Judaism is definitely one of the leading competitors.

JohnAnd don’t forget the civic religions. That’s what I first thought of when you mentioned “public religion.”

Barnus: Hmm. Let me make sure I understand you. As you know, cities throughout the empire have always been religious as much as civic organizations, and the same is true of the city of Rome, its colonies, the associated municipiae, and the military installations throughout the empire. For Greeks and Romans, being a citizen is bound up with participating in feasts and holidays, which includes worship of the city’s gods. To be Greek or Roman isn’t just an ethnic or political fact; it’s religious.

PaulThat’s still true today, and not just in Rome. Most of the cities in Asia still worship their traditional gods, even if they worship some Roman gods too. I remember being in Ephesus and getting into trouble with the worshipers of Artemis. There was a riot, and I nearly got pulled into pieces. They realized that my preaching about Jesus threatened their whole city.

Barnus: So, you’re saying that you intend to enter the market of civic religions?

JohnSure, and don’t forget emperor worship. Since Augustus, it has been spread everywhere, and it’s a bestial. We intend to attack that too.

BarnusExcuse me? Did you mention the imperial cult?

JohnThat’s right.

Barnus: Do you mean that you’re intending to compete with the imperial cult?

Paul: Yes. We’re sent to proclaim that there’s another king, one Jesus. We preach that there is another empire, the kingdom of God, which brings true peace on earth, not just the truce that Rome forces on people. Resistance to Rome and all its false and idolatrous claims is pretty central to what we’re doing.

Barnus: You’re talking about another king? Do you understand what this means? The imperial cult is backed up by the power of Rome. I mean, it’s not like you could take on Rome and win.

Peter, John, and Paul: Why not?

Barnus: Gentlemen, I’m very sorry. I can’t help you. You have completely misunderstood what we’re doing here. I don’t think you’re starting another religion; you’re doing something else entirely. I am a religious consultant, not a political revolutionary. I’m afraid that we won’t be able to work together.

[Barnus gathers up this parchments and leaves in some haste, forgetting to close the door behind him. The three apostles shrug, and head off to the temple to preach about Jesus.]