Huffington Post: Living as an Authentic Christian in a Non-Christian World - Richard Stearns
After the election, I published an article in this space that struck a chord with many Christians. I suggested that engaging in a bitter 'culture war' in order to preserve America's formerly dominant Christian culture has been largely a failed strategy. We cannot win in the courts and at the ballot box that which we have lost in the court of public opinion. Instead, I argued, we should embrace the strategy that has successfully attracted people to Jesus for two thousand years - authentic Christianity.
What if we simply stuck to what Jesus commanded us to do: love our neighbors as ourselves, care for the poor and the sick and the brokenhearted, stand up for the oppressed, be generous with our time and our money, and live winsome lives filled with grace and gentleness?
Christians have always lived, and often thrived, in cultures where they are minorities. Christianity began in a Jewish culture and thrived in a pagan Roman one. The apostle Paul, writer of nearly half the New Testament, actually offers advice to the church in Corinth which lived in the midst of a very pagan society. His words should guide us today.
In I Corinthians 5:9, Paul encourages the Christians to clean up their own affairs. The church was in a mess with sexual shenanigans, internal bickering, and a deep division between rich and poor. Paul gives them some advice, but he also says Christians shouldn't worry about whether others follow Christian moral teaching.
"I wrote you in my earlier letter that you shouldn't make yourselves at home among the sexually promiscuous. I didn't mean that you should have nothing at all to do with outsiders of that sort. Or with crooks, whether blue- or white-collar. Or with spiritual phonies, for that matter. You'd have to leave the world entirely to do that! ... I'm not responsible for what the outsiders do, but don't we have some responsibility for those within our community of believers? God decides on the outsiders, but we need to decide when our brothers and sisters are out of line and, if necessary, clean house. (I Cor. 5:9-13, The Message)
Paul's point is this: Be strict with yourselves, expecting fellow Christians to obey the demands of Jesus. But don't hold others to the same rules. ...
Stearns post also brought to mind another passage I recently read. I just finished going back through Resident Aliens by Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon.
“In fact, much of what passes for Christian social concern today, of the left or the right, is the social concern of a church that seems to have despaired of being the church. Unable through our preaching, baptism, and witness to form a visible community of faith, we content ourselves with ersatz Christian ethical activity – lobbying Congress to support progressive strategies, asking the culture at large to be a little less racist, a little less promiscuous, a little less violent. Falwell’s Moral Majority is little different from any mainline Protestant church that opposes him. Both groups imply that one can practice Christian ethics without being in the Christian community. Both begin with the Constantinian assumption that there is no way for the gospel to present in our world without asking the world to support our convictions through its own social and political institutionalization. The result is the gospel transformed into civil religion.” (Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, Resident Aliens, 1989, 80-81.)
There is much I resonate with in Stearn’s post and with the Resident Aliens quote, but I shade things a little differently.
I don't have a neat label for my position. Maybe what I see is a polarity. I'm uneasy with the overemphasis of social activism within my Mainline Reformed world, partly because of its domestication of "justice" to contemporary leftist framings. But mostly I'm uneasy because of the neglect of the central mission of the church to be a "sense-making" witness of God's Kingdom by connecting the daily routines of life to God's mission in the world, to be a communities reflecting on the contexts and relationships where they have genuine authentic influence and being the body of Christ in those particularities.
And yet I'm uneasy with quotes like those above, and similar cases made by neo-Anabaptists, that seem to suggest we should not be seeking to influence the state at all. If some ways of ordering society are more just than others according to God's Kingdom, is it appropriate to remain silent in the public square as citizens of a democracy where we are invited to interject what wisdom we may have? And curiously, it seems to me that while many of those who want to avoid entanglement with the state have a stronger sense of the congregational community, they also have a weak practical theology for how the people of God, as they live dispersed in the world, are to make sense of work and daily life as the relate to God's mission in the world.
Rather than embracing either the activist Reformed pole or the neo-Anabaptist separatism, I'm inclined to embrace the strength's and cautions of both camps and to press for better integration of daily life with God's mission in the world.
What do you think?