Jesus commands us to reach out into the world with the gospel. “Go and make disciples of all nations” certainly includes making disciples in our neighborhoods and workplaces.
People claiming to belong to Jesus cannot retreat from the world. He commands us to engage with the world as we find it, knowing that it might reject or crucify us; “Servants shouldn’t expect to be treated better than their master,” as Jesus said.
People claiming to belong to Jesus cannot retreat from the world, huddling together against the darkness. Jesus commands us to engage with the world as we find it.
But as we seek to engage, we encounter a problem. The world outside the church is suspicious of Christianity right now. They do not trust the church. They do not trust clergy. They do not trust us.
The level of suspicion seems to me to be higher than ever in my lifetime; that’s an impression, not a scientific statement.
Why does the world not trust the church?
FIRST, the church has not come to grips with pluralism. Too often we (especially American Christians) try to claim the privilege and authority of being Christians in a Christian nation, a place where biblical values and beliefs are the default. There are several problems with this claim:
- America never was a Christian nation, at least not in the terms many evangelicals try to use today.
- Constitutionally, America is a pluralistic nation. The 1st Amendment says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
- As interpreted by the courts, this means that the government will go out of its way to not favor one religion over others.
- As America has grown more diverse, the field of religious groups (all of whom deserve the same respect and protection from the government) has grown increasingly complex.
Pluralism is an essential part of American law. Pluralism is what allows people from different backgrounds with different value systems to work together and live in community together without killing each other.
For the American church, “coming to grips with pluralism” means realizing that we have no automatic, privileged claim to authority in society. WE ARE IN EXILE HERE. America, the West, modern Christendom, etc., are not the Kingdom of God, they are the Kingdom of this world.
If we are going to speak to society, we must approach the task like those living in exile. We must earn that privilege by our service, our love, our consistent witness, and by the respect we show people who are different from us.
I believe it was Leslie Newbigin who said, “In a pluralistic society, religions will be judged by the benefits they provide to non-adherents.” (That’s from Brian McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy; my copy is back in Zagreb, so I can’t check it.)
Or as Greg Pruett, president of Pioneer Bible Translators, put it: “Too many American Christians want to rule like David from Jerusalem, when they should be serving like Daniel in Babylon.”
SECOND, the church is in the midst of scandals that rip away our credibility. How will the world see Jesus in us if we are wrapped in sexual sin? How will the world see Jesus in us if we are in love with celebrity pastors who abuse their authority and abuse the people in their churches? How can we preach a God of holiness when we are not holy ourselves?
#ChurchToo, Bill Hybels, Gospel for Asia, Matt Chandler, James MacDonald, Sovereign Grace Ministries, Mark Driscoll, etc. THE WORLD IS WATCHING. THEY SEE HOW YOUR WALK DOESN’T MATCH YOUR TALK. THEY ARE NOT BUYING YOUR BS.
Many Christian institutions don’t deserve to be defended, they deserve to be criticized. They should be held to account.
No Christian leader is above accountability. No apostle, no preacher, no church planter, no pastor; we’re all human, weak and susceptible to deceiving ourselves, to the weaknesses of flesh and ego.
THIRD, American evangelicalism has been taken over by Trumpism. Too many evangelicals, driven by fear and culture-war thinking, support President Trump in ways that ruin their witness.
The problem I’m calling out here is not support for Trump per se. The problem is Christians supporting Trump in ways that are tribal (uncritical), hostile, combative, angry, callous, and unchristlike. You can’t be unchristlike for the cause of Christ.
Don’t be unchristlike in support of the cause of Christ.
You’re ruining your witness.
The entire culture wars scenario has been a disaster for the American church. The culture wars were lost from the beginning, because they demanded an approach that is antithetical to Christ. The culture wars taught us that people–godless atheists! communists! secular humanists! the gays! the Deep State!–were the enemy.
As Paul said, while sitting in a Roman jail cell, facing execution for the cause of Christ: “We are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Eph 6.12)
No one wins the culture wars, except the people who make money from angry clicks on Facebook. LISTEN: Jesus doesn’t need you to defend him. How did that work out for Peter? (John 18.10-11)
What should we see when we look at the people on the other side of the culture wars? Those who advocate for causes and ideas that are against the cause of Christ?
They are people, created in the image of God, damaged by sin (just as we are), for whom Jesus died. They are dearly beloved by the God whose name we wear.
Read the gospels. Look at Jesus, how he interacted with people. Look at the people he expressed anger toward; it wasn’t the sinners, it was the self-righteous, the “good” people who knew better. Look at who he showed compassion toward. Then look at your interactions with the world. Look at your politics and the debates you get into on Facebook or at the dinner table.
Let Jesus be your model. Study his life in the gospels, then do what he would’ve said or done. (And don’t assume you’re speaking for him if you haven’t studied how he spoke.)
Our approach needs to be that we are beggars telling other beggars where we found bread.