Watch this video from CNN.
Back in 2004, I spent the summer working with a church and living in Dundee, Scotland. My three months there did more for me than I ever realized at the time. Growing up in the Bible belt I grew up with the assumption that everyone was a Christian in some way or another. My time in Scotland gave me a glimpse of what it is like to live in a culture where Christianity and God are not the assumption. The reality we live in today is that Christianity is not at the center point of our culture and society like it used to be. We have to ask ourselves a few questions: Why has this happened? Should we be ok with it? How do we respond?
I have a number of friends who are atheist or agnostic and I try to take time to listen to their stories as to why they do not believe in God or why they are frustrated about Christianity. In these situations I find myself sitting and listening mostly and sadly agreeing with a lot of their criticisms. The “Why’s” come down to Christians not being very Christ-like, Christians being judgmental, closed minded, angry, don’t care about the poor, hateful, etc. For a more exhaustive list of how Christians are viewed check out the book “UnChristian.” We talk a lot about the moral decline of our society and that it is because people aren’t going to church anymore. We have to ask why they have quit going. In short, people have lost interest in God because He doesn’t seem to matter to those who profess to follow Him. We would disagree but frankly they don’t see that He really matters in our lives.
Christianity is being moved to the margins of our society. Should we be ok with it? The answer is both yes and no. We shouldn’t be ok with it but not for the reasons you are probably thinking. We should have the overwhelming desire to live out the Great Commission and transform the world into the Kingdom of God but we need to rethink what that looks like. I don’t want to spend too much time on that right now but there is a lot of research about what evangelism looks like in a “post-Christian” society and what we are doing or have done just isn’t working (There’s a book about this as well if you’re interested). I’m sure Kent or I will have a post about this later but for now I’ll just use it for this point and will come back to it here in a min.
As Christianity has moved more and more from the center to the margins of our society we have responded fairly poorly on the whole. Three bad responses: Retreat – Some Christians have hid from society all together walling themselves in to where they can really have little to no influence on the world around them. Assimilate – As Christians have become the butt of more and more jokes the temptation for some is to become like the surrounding culture so that they won’t stick out too bad. Some churches have so starved themselves of Christ that they have become anemic in their presence to those around them. Retaliate – The reaction of Christianity overall has been to fight back. When the culture has yelled at us we have yelled back louder. There’s a lot more to be said here but that isn’t the point of this post.
Christianity is moving to the margins of society and we need to quit fighting it. When Christianity is at the margins of society it thrives there. Finding ourselves in the margins we need to find ourselves being faithful no matter what. Before Constantine institutionalized Christianity in the Roman Empire in the 4th Century it took great courage to be a Christian. After Constantine it took great courage to be a pagan. Pagans joined Christianity because it was a good political move, good for business, good for social status, etc. After Constantine, the church became anemic in its lack of Christ. Let’s be ok with being moved to the margins and allow Christ to take the center point of our churches and our lives and have power again.
So, how do we respond? Follow Christ faithfully. If that sounds like too simple of a response, we need to rethink what following Christ looks like. We need to reexamine what it looks like to “take up our cross and follow Christ.” We need to reexamine what our lives look like when we look down from the cross at every situation. How do our marriages look when we’re on the cross in them? How do we conduct ourselves in business from the cross? Our driving? Our schools? How do we respond, from the cross, to a world that hates us?
Peter reminds us that we are to live as foreigners here (1 Peter 1:1, 2:9-12). Our citizenship is not American but Christian and we are not to confuse the two. When we say that Jesus is Lord we are claiming that America is not. How do we respond to being moved to the margins and the persecution/accusations we receive? “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12).
In the first few centuries when Christians were being persecuted, they willingly went to their deaths (the death of a martyr) willingly because they knew that this life meant nothing and death had been conquered for them. Rome killed Christians in horrible ways in order to keep others from becoming Christians. The opposite was the outcome. People looked at the peace that Christians had as they went to their deaths and wanted whatever it was that they had. When the plagues came through and Rome abandoned the sick, the Christians went in and took care of them even though many of them died doing so. When the surrounding culture asked why they did what they did, the response was always the same. Christ came to serve and we’re here to be Christ. When the world cursed God, the response was love. When the world slaps the church in the face, the response is love. Like Christ standing before his accusers he willingly goes to the cross. This is the example we have been given and the example we should live out. As Christianity moves to the margins it becomes more and more important for us to embody Christ in this world, not just as “good moral people” but also as people who are willing to hold “the least of these” up above ourselves. We need to show the world that Christ’s death and resurrection matters for life and how we live.