I have come to think it best for Christians to preach the Gospel, live like Christ, defend the weak, and help the suffering. Ours is the responsibility to be the voice on the outside speaking truth to power. Ours is the calling of John the Baptist, Paul the Apostle, and the millions of Christians who’ve come before us. We are to preach Christ and him crucified. That said, events of recent weeks have me concerned about religious freedom in this country. While I still don’t think our strategy should be to adopt the conventional culture war mentality, we are facing something now that we have not faced before. We need to struggle against it in the way we have always done when at our Christian best: by being like Christ.
For months now we’ve watched Christian institutions struggle with the new healthcare mandate. We are watching a privately held corporation owned and operated by a Christian family take a stand against the mandate and those provisions within it which they feel violate Christian morality. Who knows how it will turn out for Hobby Lobby?
Just yesterday we heard that well known Evangelical pastor Louis Giglio was uninvited to pray at the president’s inauguration. Technically, Louis gracefully withdrew. Why? Because he once preached a message about sin and repentance full of grace and truth and healing in which he called out all unrepentant sexual sin as the sort of thing that leads to everlasting death. His was a sermon like hundreds I’ve heard in my lifetime and have preached myself.
I believe a significant portion of Evangelism/Fundamentalism shifted its focus over the last 40 years to pursue political power as our primary means of societal transformation because, at the heart of it, we don’t really believe the gospel is enough to change this world. We have preached the gospel of the next politician promising us big things. We have preached the false gospel of the Christian Nation instead of the Kingdom of God. We have deluded ourselves into thinking this nation has a special place in the plan of God, and now we might be tempted to panic. While it may well be exceptional in terms of human kingdoms, if the United States left the stage of history tomorrow, it wouldn’t stymie God’s plan for His kingdom in the slightest. Compared to that kingdom, this nation is utterly unexceptional. We live in Rome, and like the first Rome, this one might well pass away.
Events of the last few months and days have convinced me of a few things:
1) This mess didn’t just happen. We lost real Christian influence over this nation decades ago.
2) It appears that our long lusted after power has abandoned us. Political influence is a fickle mistress.
3) Our current president, despite his claims to be a Christian, seems to care nothing about the moral teachings of the historic, orthodox, and biblical faith. I’m no judge of his eternal condition before our Maker, but his brand of “faith” bears little resemblance to the Christianity for which many have died. This story about the Bibles Obama will use for the swearing-in is so ironic one wonders if it isn’t an intentional attempt to prove the President really does love the Bible.
4) “Freedom of Worship” is code for “keep your mouth shut.” Christians are being told to either shut-up and get on board with the new order of things or be ostracized from any meaningful place in the public square.
5) Tolerance is a laughable myth perpetuated to make people feel progressive. That doesn’t mean we aren’t called to love those who oppose the Gospel. They may well mock us, but we mustn’t respond in kind.
6) Civil Religion is alive and well. This nation loves its nameless, toothless, generic genie-in-a-bottle god who gives us what we want as long as it sits passively by and lets us have our hearts’ desires. Well, get ready, we’re about to get a belly full of those desires.
Friends, we live in the modern Roman Empire and it’s high time we faced that fact. Whatever this nation was, it is not that now, and the answer is not to return to the mythological golden age.
The answer is the Gospel, and to live like Christ. Now is not the time to stop speaking the truth in love. We need more grace, not less. We need more love for enemies, not less. If we truly believe that a person living without repentance before the holy God is destroying himself, then the most loving thing we can do is introduce him to the grace, mercy, and redemption of Jesus Christ.
I will not use the word “persecution” because we are not facing anything close to what Christians face in other places. None of us were arrested on Christmas day as was Iranian pastor Nadarkhani. No, we are not being persecuted, but we better get used to being called names. This is the way of it now.
Do Not Despair
Things are trending in a bad direction. I don’t think we can deny this, but neither should we panic. Don’t be afraid. The Church has always been at her best when pressed on every side.
2 Corinthians 4:1–12 (NIV84)
1 Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.
6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. 7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
Yes, our times resemble the Roman Empire like nothing we’ve experienced before. This shouldn’t surprise us. Christians have been here before. Do not despair.
John 16:33 (ESV)
33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
Do I think we’re moving toward real persecution? Maybe. I don’t know, but we need a reality check about this nation, and the possibilities for both good and evil that lie within it. Remember too that God is in charge.
Matthew 16:18 (ESV)
18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
This is not an empty promise. God will see His church bloom into her full glory.
Things may get worse. The day may well come when we lose our friends, property, status, and lives, but that day is not today. We have a promise that can’t be taken. The worst they can do is kill us, and for us, that isn’t so bad.
Philippians 1:20–21 (ESV)
20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
With humility, let’s welcome this new reality. Let’s face it by being sharp and ready with an answer for the hope that lies within us. Let’s face it by living love and speaking truth. Now is not the time to panic or to get quiet. We welcome the opportunity for Christ likeness. We welcome the molding and shaping that will come from this. We welcome the privilege of being part of God’s Kingdom mission to a dark world.
When in Rome, it’s best to live like Jesus.