In Part I of this series, we discussed popular Christian attitudes toward politics, criminal justice and world affairs, and how those attitudes might be negatively affecting our faith witness to the world. Today, we’ll discuss attitudes about morality, people who are somehow different from us, and the worry the world is desperate for us to feel. It is my belief that in order to witness effectively through these issues, Christians need to keep a sense of detachment from the world that helps us to see problems beyond the doctrines of man, and perhaps even to see them through the eyes of God.
Christians and morality
Question: What is our mission as Christians, to advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ, or to create moral order in the world?
Regrettably, to nonbelievers, it often seems that our first concern is moral order. We can see this manifested in the use of the term “culture war”, as though our mission is to engage the culture on multiple fronts with the moral equivalent of war.
Pardon me for saying this, but that’s a “war” we’re never going to win. The world has always been morally corrupt, and based on history, we should expect no change in the future. Personally I believe that God put us here to witness precisely into that type of world. We’re to reflect the light of Jesus Christ into a dark and fallen world.
Grand attempts to purge the world of evil and immorality have led to such regrettable episodes as the Spanish Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials, the Ku Klux Klan and more than a few hangings and burnings of otherwise innocent people.
Efforts to impose a higher moral order on the world come not from our faith, but rather from our fallen human state. There are all kinds of non-faith-based organizations that are trying to save the world – that’s a purely human desire. We should also understand that better behavior does not equal greater faith. We can have a nation of better behaved people, and never succeed in winning a single person to Christ.
For example, from a legalistic standpoint, Saudi Arabia is a moral nirvana. Everything Christians believe to be immoral – pornography, alcohol consumption, provocative dress – is completely illegal there. Violation of these laws is met with swift and terrible punishment. Yet Christianity itself hardly exists in that country. In fact, publicly preaching the Gospel is one of the offenses that will invoke punishment.
Yes we all wish that the world was a more moral place – a safer and better place to live – but our mission is to spread the Gospel. That often works better in an immoral, chaotic environment, than it does in one with a strict moral order.
And here’s something else to contemplate…in our efforts to improve the morality of the nation and the world, we may be isolating nonbelievers without ever constructively witnessing to them.
Where morality is concerned, our primary “mission” should be to improve the performance of the person looking back at us in the mirror. The way that we live our lives will be a far better witness than attempting to get others or the culture to see the error of their ways and to clean up their act.
Christians and “those people”
There’s something else that happens when we dig our roots too deep in the world. We start to see everything as a conflict between us and them. It’s kind of like warfare, except that it’s waged at the local level.
Who is “them”? It’s anyone who we think threatens our position in the world, and just as often, anyone we don’t like.
A popular disliked “them” group is immigrants. In order to rationalize our hatred, we often assign them blame for economic troubles and “the decline of our culture” or civilization. This is especially easy to do when immigrants either don’t look like us, or don’t speak the same language.
This is certified human behavior, and has many times in history manifested itself through ultra-nationalist groups, such as the Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan. It has no place in Christianity, yet Christians often subject themselves to little or no self-examination in this area.
I believe that this is an area where Christians really need to keep a sense of detachment from the world. When we get caught up in the troubles and popular philosophies of the world, it’s a short walk over to seeing entire groups as “those people”, which is to say that we are separating ourselves from them. At the extreme, we may even consider it our God-given responsibility to oppose those groups.
Who are “those people”? For the most part, it’s anyone who is not like us. It could be immigrants, homosexuals, people of different faiths, people of different political persuasions, people from an enemy nation, or worst of all – Christians with different doctrines than ours. We may even consider our distrust of different people groups to be so just that we don’t even bother to witness the Gospel to them.
This is easy to do when we stop seeing them as people like us, and start to define them by the popular labels that are hung on them.
Jesus came to witness to the Jew and Gentile, Roman and Greek, pagans and believers, the religious leaders of his day, and most of all to the fallen – sinners like you and me. In considering any people group, we should understand clearly that in God’s eyes, we aren’t better than anyone! That kind of humility should generate a better acceptance of others.
The people who we label or seek to build fences around are also the very people who we should be witnessing the Gospel to.
The apostle Peter taught that we ourselves should live as foreigners and exiles (1 Peter 2:11), which sets the proper tone for how we should relate to people who are different. And that’s what we should be as well – a different people, living a different life that will be a critical part of our witness to the world.
If we blend too closely into the prevailing ways of the world, we will ultimately become invisible through conformity. A certain amount of detachment is necessary to avoid that outcome.
Christians and worry
I’m including the category of worry primarily because it’s an area where I myself am particularly weak. When we engage in worry, we indicate that we are closely attuned to the world. After all, the world gives us plenty that we could be worried about. But when we block out the world, and focus on God, worry becomes less of a problem. We understand that God is in control of all things, and that our fate is ultimately safe and secure through him.
We should do our best to provide for families, to maintain our finances, to maintain our health, to do our life’s work, and to be productive members of the community. But those efforts are where our concern should stop. We should trust the outcome of our efforts to God, and let go of worry.
The world often tells us that if we aren’t worried, then we’re either unaware, uncaring or even part of the problem. But when we join with the rest of the world and worry about this or that crisis, we’re also demonstrating a lack of faith in God. We are pursuing man centered solutions, which seldom have the outcomes that we expect.
The world will tell us that we need to be worried, or even afraid. But when we demonstrate peace and hope in the face of troubles – whether personal or global – we send the world a very different kind of message. We’re pointing to God as our hope, and that’s a witness we all need to share.
Our core public mission
So if we’re not supposed to dig in too deeply with the issues that the world considers to be so important, what is our core public mission?
I think it has something to do with the Great Commission:
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” – Matthew 28:19-20
So there you have it, it’s to make disciples of all nations. And how do we do that? By preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ whenever and where ever we can. We can do that through words or through our actions.
When we are too attached to the things and doctrines of the world, the world comes to know us mostly for what it is we oppose: different political parties, crime, enemies of the nation state, immoral behavior, people who are different, and the various problems of the world. None of that witnesses the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world.
And here’s another point worth considering: it is possible that we take on the ills of the world as a way of avoiding direct witness of the Gospel. Does that sound preposterous? Maybe, but in a real way, preaching the Gospel in the world has the potential to be more contentious than opposing “evil”.
It’s worth noting that Jesus, his disciples, and early believers were all considered to be different, and often seen as enemies of the state. As such, we should never get so entrenched in the world that we see our mission as being primarily one of preserving the status quo.
Equally important, we can’t fix the world and its problems, but we can get so caught up in the effort that we start heading down the wrong road.
I believe that we’re meant to witness into a fallen world, not to fix it. In order to do that effectively, we have to maintain some sense of detachment from the world. That doesn’t mean isolating ourselves in the manner of monks, but it does mean that we should maintain a sense of peace and purpose that only detachment can provide.
What are your thoughts? Do you think that we can get so involved in the world that our witness as Christians can head down the wrong path? Do you see evidence of it around you?