Friday, October 30, 2015

The Experience of Being Christian in a Post Christian Culture

Post-Christian - the loss of the primacy of the Christian worldview in political affairs. (Wikipedia)

 It seems many of us are having a hard time dealing with what that means exactly.  I don’t know all of what it means but I do know that it means Christians no longer enjoy a majority sufficient to drive public debate, legal battles and the discussion of contemporary issues with the kind of momentum it takes to consider the Christian perspective to be normative. The Christian perspective is no longer the gold standard in America.  Political candidates no longer see pursuing the Christian voting block as crucial to their election. The Christian worldview is being painted as archaic and more often reminiscent of where we “used to be.”  Christian viewpoints are viewed with suspicion and often considered synonymous with judgement. Churches and Christian institutions are being subtly warned even now that they should change their views on important social issues or lose favor from the government, social agencies and society in general.

Some may fear that it means Christianity is slowly fading away.  Well, Christianity is not going away but the experience of being a Christian is changing.  It’s not that some other religion is overtaking our country.  The transition is not to another religion but to no religion at all.  America, like much of Europe before it, is becoming more and more secular. Secular people are neither driven by nor interested in what God thinks about things.  They don’t believe in heaven or hell and don’t want to be told that their behavior is going to take them one place or another and they are completely unmotivated to change by the threat of eternal punishment.  They are not interested in what the Bible says about any issue.  They think Jesus was a fine fellow who got an unfair shake at the end of his life but in their view he is not risen, not real and not relevant in our culture.  The more Christians arrogantly try to paint the secular point of view as “stupid” the more Christianity will resemble a majority “has been” who can’t deal with adversity. 

Let’s be clear.  Christianity thrives in adversity. The declines we have experienced of late may be due at least in part to a lack of adversity.  Churches will continue to decline for a time because where as “polite culture” used to be defined in church settings, it now is defined in social settings where moral boundaries are more relaxed and no one is so rude as to suggest that there might be one standard that applies to all.  What will cause Christianity to thrive will not be adversity itself but will be our response to it.  I have three points to consider for how Christians might respond to the coming adversity. 

1. Don't build walls or fence off the church from the secular culture.

An interesting thing is happening as our culture becomes more and more secular.  I can’t prove it but it is observable.  I believe that as the church and the culture grow further apart on views of values, morals and issues of right and wrong the number of ‘fence riding’ Christians is going down.  It makes sense because as the chasm grows wider it becomes more difficult to stretch across. Behavior that would not be sanctioned at church is more and more difficult to hide because the secular culture insists that there is nothing to be ashamed of.  Biblical teaching you get at church is often unacceptable in the secular world.  They want to hear all about Jesus’ love and grace but don’t try to set limits on their behavior (even limits that are reflected in plain teaching in scripture) and now they have larger numbers to back up those claims.  As a church we either already have or will soon lose most if not all of our fence riders.  Fence riders don’t want to make a choice but if put in a position where they have to they will usually choose the path of least resistance.  Living a Christian life is like lighting a lamp in a dark room.  It is very visible and likely to be less and less popular.  It will be easier just to scoot off of the fence and disappear into the landscape of the world.  They will allow you to keep doing nice things for people as long as you don’t draw too much attention to it. Unfortunately, the life of a disciple of was never meant to be quiet and unassuming.  It was meant to attract attention to God’s glory even if the attention is unfriendly.

So what do we do with these emptying fences that are in our world?  What happens to the barriers between the church and a secular world?  We are told that these fences, these barriers erected between the flock and the wolves in the world are for our safety.  They are there to protect us therefore they need to be maintained even violently if need be.  Unfortunately again, the life of a disciple was never meant to be safe.  Our orders are to tear down the fences and move among the wolves taking the good news of Jesus to the sheep outside the fence.  We can’t just hole up in our church buildings and endure this current crisis.  We must move into the world, into the darkness and take the light there.  We must reach to those on the outside, grab a hand in holy friendship, build relationships, meet needs, help the hurting and the downtrodden and be Jesus in the world.

You can’t be salt of the earth by staying in a salt shaker.  You can’t be the light of the world by hiding under a bucket.  The darker the darkness, the more difference one small light makes.

2. Suffering and rejection are to be endured, not fought.

       When we are in with the wolves, there will be persecution. Often the persecution and rejection comes from among the ranks of the vocal, extremist secular and religious activists who ridicule conservative, religious believers because of what they see as the wrong stance on certain social and political issues.  You have heard or read public statements and possibly even endured personal attacks claiming that your view on some issue means you must ‘hate’ certain individuals. You didn’t vote for a non-Caucasian candidate so you must be racist and hate all people with differing skin tones. You oppose gay marriage so you must hate all homosexuals. You oppose abortion so you must hate women. The statements are extreme by design, intended to inflict injury, intended to evoke a defensive and ill-conceived response and often, that is exactly what they get – an emotional, poorly worded response that adds further fuel to the fire and continues to escalate the temperature of the public debate.

Two things are sure. 1. It is easy to make a fool of someone who quickly opens their mouth when goaded and 2. There is nothing to be gained for the sake of Christ when Christians add sharp, abrasive replies to sharp, abrasive critiques.  I know.  Its human nature.  When we are challenged or criticized we want to respond in like – “an eye for an eye.”  However, that was never what Jesus told us to do.  Jesus said, “Do not resist an evil person, when struck on one cheek - turn the other as well, love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you,” (from Matt 5:38-44).   “Stand up for Jesus” can never mean “stand and fight for your rights as a Christian.”  It can only mean “stand and proclaim the good news of Jesus even if it means you go to jail or to your death.”   In scripture phrases that communicate “stand up for your faith” or “contend for your faith” are reserved for standing against false teachers and hypocrisy from within our own ranks.  It was never a recommended or even desirable strategy for coping with persecution from pagans, secularists or other religions.  Persecution and rejection were meant to be suffered and endured, quietly and with great love for the perpetrators.  The next time you see a political comment or hear a statement that is insulting to your faith or makes Christians look stupid put your discipleship into practice.  Refuse to reply in kind.  Love the person who posted the comment.  If you know them personally, go out of your way to do something nice for them.  Say something like, “I don’t always agree with you but I love your passion,” then add a gift card from Starbucks or another preferred merchant.  You may not feel vindicated but you will be bringing them the blessings of Jesus which brings Him closer to them, something a sarcastic response could have never done.

3. Disciples must be held to God's standards of holiness but secular people won't be.

          There can be no doubt that the change in what is considered moral and acceptable in modern times is a large scale paradigm shift from just 10 or 20 years ago and even more earth shattering for those who remember the moral climate in America in the 1940’s and 50’s.  The Post-Christian world values non-judgement, non-violence and healthy choices but they also embrace sexual freedom, the freedom to make one’s own choices and resist limits on behavior that is not inherently harmful to others.  This world largely accepts that consenting adults should be free choose whatever form of sexual expression that makes them happy.  They accept homosexuality, bisexuality and welcome the concept of same sex marriages.  They embrace the philosophy that gender is what you think it is and not determined by the body parts with which you were born.  They have legalized the recreational use of marijuana in several states and are not likely to stop until they legalize it in the entire nation.  Just a quarter century ago most of those things were considered by the majority (and often by law) to be evil, unnatural, immoral and even criminal in some cases.   It is troubling to see the distance which we have come but even more disturbing to think of things that are now considered criminal, unnatural and immoral that may become culturally acceptable within another quarter century.

          We grieve the way it used to be.  We mourn the fact that our views, biblical views on moral and political issues are becoming viewed as relics from a time when the Christian world view was the dominant influence in our culture and kicked aside as irrelevant, judgmental and draconian. Grieving is appropriate in cases of loss and this represents a loss especially when we think of the world our children and grandchildren will face.  There is a silver lining in this dark cloud however as we remember that the more our culture falls to the moral base line, the more permissive and accepting it is of what used to be considered deviant, the more it becomes like the culture of the 1st through 3rd centuries in the Greco-Roman world and that is precisely the world that first received the gospel of Christ.

          In the mean-time, we must remember that while God expects all to please Him and follow the nature of His creation, He also gives everyone the choice as to whether or not they will follow His leading.  From the very beginning of time He has allowed those who would walk away to follow their own passions and desires to do so and often with little consequence beyond the ordinary and eternal.  We have to remember that our sanctions and cautions only hold influence over those who have an interest in following God’s paths.  We can instruct and inform from scripture those who wish to know Jesus and those who long for His will but for those who don’t believe or don’t believe as we do those instructions are merely going to fall on deaf ears.  They even sometimes feel judgmental and offensive.  We have to remember that God values sinners.  He loves even the vilest moral offender and our responsibility is not to tell him where he is wrong at least not at first.  Our first and most important responsibility to the sinner is to tell him he is loved; loved like crazy by God who wants him to come home.  Let’s make that our message to a post-Christian world.  Love first, then share, then disciple.