The Vietnam War was a difficult time in our country’s history. In a sense, it was the first war that America lost. But we weren’t the only ones who endured hardships as a result of the outcome of the war. The Communist government of Vietnam imprisoned over 1 million people in reeducation camps without any formal charges being filed, and with no trial. Those who were incarcerated were indoctrinated, but many of them were simply detained because they had espoused ideas contrary to those of the state.
We might say that something similar happened roughly 2600 years ago. Daniel and his three friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were captured by the Babylonian army and taken to the beautiful and brutal city of Babylon. Here the four friends underwent a reeducation process. They received a Babylonian education, and were given Babylonian names. In every respect they were expected to adopt the culture of their new home. Daniel and his friends were under incredible pressure to renounce their belief in the Lord and replace it with loyalty to other gods.
As we know from the book of Daniel, they did not do this, even under the threat of execution. Daniel’s friends refused to bow to a statue that King Nebuchadnezzar constructed. Daniel refused to stop praying to God in spite of his political enemies’ best efforts. Respectful of their kings but defiant of sin, the four risked death rather than betray their God.
But what about us? What about our society today? We face some of the same pressures, but they aren’t quite as bold or as hostile as the ones Daniel’s friends faced. In our society, we are pressured to privatize our faith so that we don’t offend anyone. This might take the form of relaxing our stances on moral issues like abortion or same-sex marriage. It might mean adjusting our interpretation of biblical passages in light of majority opinions, such as the creation story of Genesis 1-2. It could be adopting a pluralistic view of religion, claiming God must be obligated to save members of all sects, denominations, and other religions.
In short, the challenge we face is much more insidious. We don’t faced the threat of persecution or death. No one will execute us for being a Christian. We won’t be exiled to a forced labor camp. But we do face pressures. They often come from the media, from our neighbors, possibly even from friends and family. We will be pressured to make little concessions here and there. If we do make them, our Christianity will die a death by degrees until it becomes something other than Christian. And we must never forget that a faith that is not Christian is a faith that cannot save.
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