Some of you might possibly remember an album by the band MXPX that bears the same name as this blog (minus the idolatry part). It was released back in 1998 and for me was one of the albums I learned to play guitar to. The title comes from a slang term referring to “selling out.” A fan had written the band a letter complaining that they were “slowly going the way of the buffalo” meaning they were changing their sound so that the could be more mainstream (popular) and thus sell more album. In other words, losing your artistic distinctives in order to appeal to more people.
As far as the history of how the phrase came to mean that, I’m not sure, but it probably has something to do with America’s westward expansion back in the 19th century that virtually wiped out the buffalo population, so that “going the way of the buffalo” referred to something or someone ceasing to exist. Slowly going the way of the buffalo then refers to a slow demise into non-existence and in music slang this translates oddly enough into selling out to become more popular.
Now, at this point one may wonder what this has to do with anything, but we needed the brief introduction to re-invest the phrase with a slightly more nuanced meaning. For if one is looking closely, it will become apparent while America may be “going the way of the buffalo” generally (as in it will collapse like all empires do) but more specifically, the church within America has been slowly going the way of the buffalo for decades upon decades now. It is not too late to reverse course, but first a case needs to be made that American Christianity is in fact, like our family friend’s body in the last post, permeated with idolatry. But just like there is hope for us individually, there is hope for us corporately. First though, a slight shifting of gears before we brings things full circle.
The Marriage Metaphor
To some, it may seem odd that in Genesis there is a rather stark juxtaposition of the the cosmic order being established, and then an immediate shift to a single man and a woman being united in marriage (I am roughly following Ortlund’s God’s Unfaithful Wife in his last chapter’s discussion). To travel so fast from the universal to the particular may seem a bit odd, but this is only if one doesn’t understand the ultimate significance of marriage.
When one realizes that Bible starts and ends with a marriage, the pieces may seem to fit together a bit smoother. Enclosed within the humble beginnings of human marriage was the divine mystery of ultimate marriage. Paul finally brings this to the surface in Ephesians 5 and then in retrospect it begins to make sense. If our marriages between men and women are to reflect the marriage of the people of God to Christ, then defiling that relationship with Christ is analogous to defiling the human relationship with one’s spouse.
“The literature [of the OT] tacitly assumes that Israel’s bond with Yahweh entails marital exclusivity, so that sin is branded as a despicable ‘sexual’ offense…If our covenant with God is a marriage, then its claims are to be strictly observed.” (Ortlund, 172,74)
This is why God presses the Gospel on the whole of our lives, this is why not paying close attention to our devotion to God is like adultery. To see this maybe more clearly, let’s use an example.
I am getting married tomorrow (though I blogged this a few days ago so I could focus more fully on the wedding, I just want you to see the juxtaposition) to my lovely fiance Alexandra Kaufman. We are entering into a covenant before God to pledge ourselves only to one another, until death do us part. Considering that we are both virgins, the honeymoon will be quite the intoxicating, blissful experience as well. But suppose sometime around the first of the year something changes.
Alexandra initially only came to me for sexual fulfillment, but somewhere along the line her heart starts to wander a bit. Its not as noticeable at first, we continue on as usual. But then after a while, she starts bringing home other guys to sleep with. This goes on briefly before I casually remind her that she is supposed to come to me for that kind of fulfillment. With that in mind, she apologizes and then does just that.
But by doing that, all she changes is that now she expects me to find the other guys for her. She comes to me for fulfillment, but she wants me to give her all manner of other men to satisfy her rather than myself. She could have the only type of fulfillment she was meant to have if she would only just ask for it, but she continues sowing her wild oats even within our own bedroom. I don’t particularly seem to mind though, because she is at least nice about it and she makes sure to not interfere with my sleeping habits. We both continue on in this sort of affair, because after all, it’s only marriage, right?
It’s Only Marriage!
I would be worried if anybody reading this was not appalled at the possibility of my marriage which will be starting tomorrow turning into something like this.
However, we often don’t seem too appalled when our relationship with Christ, which is pictured as a marriage turns into something like this.
We start out fully devoted, only to slowly turn our affections to things of this world. Maybe later we get gently rebuked and come to our senses, but instead of giving up our idols, we merely start coming to Christ to get them. What is worse still is that we fully expect God to respond in the above manner and not particularly mind if we are out busy working the streets, spreading our legs for whoever passes by, so long as we come on Sundays and renew our vows.
How would Alexandra feel if I went to the strip clubs 6 days a week and rounded out the night by picking up a prostitute, so long as I came to her at least once a week for a passionate reconnection?
How should God respond when we do the same thing?
The Way of the Buffalo
In Christianity in America, this is the course of the mainstream. One glance at some of the largest churches in America reveals that they are run more like brothels. People come and are encouraged in their adultery by appealing to the idolatry of health, wealth and happiness as what God intends to give to us rather than promoting the orthodox idea that it is Himself that is to be most treasured by us.
Too often people try to sound the siren call that if we do not reform we will be judged, but unfortunately, we already are under judgment. If one re-reads Romans 1 a little more closely, it becomes apparent that the aberrant relationships pictured there are not the action that ignites God’s wrath but rather the sign of the wrath already being poured out:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth by their unrighteousness, because what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, because they are understood through what has been made. So people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or give him thanks, but they became futile in their thoughts and their senseless hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for an image resembling mortal human beings or birds or four-footed animal or reptiles.Therefore God gave them over in the desires of their hearts to impurity, to dishonor their bodies among themselves They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creation rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. (Romans 1:19-25 NET).
Because of idolatry, we are already under judgment in America. As we know in the rest of the chapter, the outcome of this exchange is described by opening a window into current American culture. We must not be led astray in thinking that our seeming material blessing in comparison to the rest of the world is a sign of God’s favor:
“But Israel of Hosea’s time was prosperous, and there was no smile of divine favor resting upon them. The external prosperity of popular appeal and pragmatic effectiveness may be, as Israel’s prosperity surely was, the autumnal glow of departing mercy before the winter blast of oncoming judgment. And if that is possible, then we must be sincerely open to a more searching analysis of ourselves.” (Ortlund, 175)
One only need remember that it was Israel of Hosea’s time that was most vividly pictured as a whore. Running away from our Husband to seek illicit sexual favors from whomever strikes our fancy is not without consequences.
While there is a distinction between America as a country coming under the judgment of God because of its idolatry (evidenced by the sexual revolution, increasingly open acceptance and promotion of the homosexual agenda, etc), there is a difference within the body of Christ, but I would offer that we are nonetheless idolaters of a different sort altogether.
We too may be in danger of slowly going the way of the buffalo due to our discarding of the central truths of the historic Christian faith in favor a sort of vague therapeutic moral deism (this is the thesis of Christless Christianity) or even worse a prosperity gospel of any shade (which includes anyone who believes that the Christian life is a life a blessing as opposed to suffering). We are in danger of going extinct because we have sold out in order to appeal more to the lost and to our own sinful desires. What is worse though is those who are unwilling to acknowledge that they have any part of turning to idols instead of to Christ. And those particular individuals might just be the worst ones of all…