Ever since writing a book on holiness the first question I typically get asked is how Christians should engage the increasingly unchristian culture around them. America, and many other first world countries, were largely Christian nations in generations past. But today this is no longer the case.
Today the center of culture is out in the marketplace instead of within the walls of churches. But God has placed us within this world and we cannot live within the walls of the church at all times. Instead we need to understand the times in order to engage them in a way that brings glory to God and does not tarnish our witness.
Peter’s first letter is a discussion of how Christians can engage the world around them that reflects so little of them. Peter wrote to Christians who were under the oppression of Roman emperor Nero. History teaches us about his reputation of hating Christians. Despite being mistreated Peter says to them:
“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people.”
Not exactly the kind of encouragement they were looking for I would imagine.
Miroslav Volf takes the words of Peter here as a descriptor of “soft difference.” Christians are different than the world around them. Peter calls them aliens and strangers (1 Pet. 2:11). Christians are not meant to become like the world. Neither are Christians meant to be oppressive or hard toward the unbelieving world around them. Christian witness is often tarnished when it becomes hard and oppressive to the world around it. Volf says this about those who read Peter’s letter:
“The community was to live an alternative way of life in the present social setting, transforming it, as it could, from within…the community did not seek to exert social or political pressure, but to give public witness to a new way of life.”
Over 250 years ago Jonathan Edwards penned 6 guiding principles for engagement of a culture that does not reflect the Christian faith. The 6 principles listed below are exactly what Edwards did not say.
If you want to fail as a Christian in a post-Christian world follow these guidelines.
1. Christians should never engage the world beyond the walls of their churches.
In Jonathan Edwards’ day Christians could make an immense mark without ever leaving the church, in today’s world this is near impossible. Even the most notable pastors make an effort to speak outside of the church.
If you want to make any difference in the world you must get beyond the walls of the church.
2. Christians should never join forces with non-Christians to work toward common goals for the common good.
The city of Portland is a wonderful example of why this is untrue. An openly gay mayor and a coalition of pastors from around the city came up with a plan to make a difference. None of this would have happened if the pastors drew lines of engagement. Their goal was to find commonality where they could work together and that was enough.
3. Christians should never support their government.
Sadly this does reflect many Christians today, many who even refuse to pray for their leaders despite the Biblical mandate. It’s pretty hard to hate someone you’re praying for. Maybe that’s why so many refuse to pray for their leader(s).
Another side to this…does it go against 1st Peter to criticize leaders? I don’t think so, especially considering Peter’s reaction to some authorities in Acts 4:19-20. Submission does not mean you should always agree with politicians and other authorities. If it did would that make Martin Luther King Jr. wrong in his actions of civil disobedience?
4. Christians should always mix their love of God and country.
Nationalism is the love of country above all other things, and because of this nationalism is an idol.
You are not first a citizen in your country of birth or home, you are first a child in the Kingdom of God. Your loyalties first lie there.
5. Christians should never seek to pursue justice beyond the walls of their churches. Nor should they care about others who are not believers.
Do you ever wonder if the Biblical thought of “love one another” includes those who are not believers?
James 1:27 makes this quite clear: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
Part of your role in this world is to get beyond yourself to help others.
6. Christians should try to make a point instead of making a difference.
Hat tip to Andy Stanley for putting it this way.
At times I fall right in line with this failure. I literally see an example of this on Facebook and/or Twitter everyday.
You aren’t going to change anyone by shouting at them. You must actually care about them first.
Until you make the effort to give people the space to share their own thoughts and opinions, they’re never going to trust you enough to hear yours.
Here’s the one principle that captures what successful Christian living looks like in this post-Christian world:
We are different and we are called to make a difference. (tweet this?)
“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.” 1st Peter 2:12
I gave a message on this topic recently. Listen Here.