There was a time in American history when the Christian church was a respected institution of influence. Those days have passed. The United States has fundamentally changed in the past several decades, and is now defined in many regions by its plurality of worldviews that does not include the Christian faith at its center. As people of faith in Christ this fact is troubling. But in the midst of changing and challenging times is also a time of great opportunity for the church. It was the Apostle Paul who declared in Romans 5:20 “…where sin increased, grace increased all the more” When the culture darkens it presents the light of the gospel an opportunity to shine brightly.
When the culture attempts to marginalize people of faith, the temptation is to retreat. This results in the creation of sub-cultures of perceived safety from the influences of the world. The problem with this kind of thinking is that Christianity isn’t a faith that is to be lived out in private. Faith in Jesus is to be proclaimed publicly. From its inception, Jesus told His disciples that they would be His witnesses in the entire world.
What does this mean for us in 21st century America? I believe it requires that we become change agents in the world. Now this can be a challenging task, but it can be accomplished by those who are willing to engage the culture. Notice what Jesus said about us in Matthew 5:14 “You are the light of the world, a city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.” Jesus makes the point the influence of the light is in direct proportion to its position. If we take the light of our faith and relegate it to a secondary status of private devotion rather than public proclamation, we are negating the power of that light to shine brightly for Christ. We should not allow the pressure of the age in which we live to force us into a false dichotomy between private devotion and public proclamation. The Christian faith is most potent when it is both private and public. Indeed it is the power obtained in the private moments of devotion that give the public proclamation of the gospel impact.
This is a truth that was revealed in the first moments of the life of the church. The early church lived in an age where it had very little influence, much the same as the world in which we now live. The first church was persecuted for their faith. They were maligned and mistreated because they simply dared to proclaim the name of Jesus. When they were faced with these obstacles to the public proclamation of their faith in Christ, they found a place of private prayer where they asked God to give them boldness to proclaim the gospel. This boldness was provided. Acts chapter four reports that they were filled with the Holy Spirit and boldness to speak and teach in the name of Jesus. Like those early disciples we are living in a day that is increasingly becoming hostile to the name of Jesus. What this means for those us, who embrace the exclusive claims of Christ to be the only way to God, is that we must embrace His methods for communicating that truth. Jesus never sought to shame others into following Him. Rather Jesus served and loved others. The boldness He exhibited was one that reached out to the hurting and broken and invited them into His circle of love. I believe this is the boldness that should exemplify the life of the church today. Christ calls us to live lives not of fearful retreat but of bold love and service to others.
The greater culture has a misconstrued understanding of what it means to be a Christian, because many of us have failed to live out the love that was demonstrated by Jesus and the early church. May we once again return to the intention of the gospel as demonstrated by our master in Mark 10:45 “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”