The events of last week were the subject of much conversation in churches yesterday. The rapid shift in society not just away from the church, but the growing hostility to the church and often with voices claiming to be of the church, leave many Christians disoriented. Christians who believe in the doctrine of vocation — that their work is a mission field — suddenly find the world demanding that they provide goods and services much of Christendom thinks would be in support of sin.
The idea of freely exercising religion, not just worship, is suddenly considered divisive. The Christian concept of “love” has been swapped from the virtue to the passion. When Christ said to love as you want to be loved, the love he meant was not the love of passion, but the love of support — not the love that induces one to marry, but the love that induces one to stay married even in dark times. A Christian is called to love as he wants to be loved. He does not want to go to hell, so his love should reflect not wanting others to go to hell either. Sometimes that love must manifest itself with “no”. But doing so these days is considered judging.
The result of this past week will be a Christian hesitation to engage society. Many Christians will more and more resist being open about it. Fewer will be willing to be public about their faith. Many will withdraw from society — those who want to silence Christians will win in that regard. It will take strong pastors to shepherd the flock and many a pastor who has trotted out feel good messages and motivational talks will be forced to choose between Christ and pop culture. The mega church will, in many cases, begin to crumble as high living pastors choose poorly and Christians leave to new communities.
In a reaction to the sixties, many Protestant churches in the United States started preaching an individual centered gospel. That individuality became more vocal into the eighties with the rise of political evangelicalism. Your faith was between you and God and you should work out your salvation with fear and trembling. While an individual’s walk with God is important, Christians need to remember there are communal acts of faith too. Christ gave us the Great Commission and we are to go into the world to teach and preach and baptize and lead others to Christ.
We are to engage in corporate acts of worship together in churches. Throughout the history of the Bible, family has remained important. We should not separate the individual aspects of faith with the family and corporate aspects. In other words, Christians cannot be good Christians and withdraw from society.
That is our temptation. We want to build a high wall around our home and never let our children out, lest they be tempted or lost or attacked. We want peace in our lives and more and more we do not want to draw the attention of the forces of Mordor.
But we cannot.
What I hope pastors will focus on in this coming season of discontent is history. Why does the Bible say what it says. Why are the books of the Bible the only ones. How do we know it is true. Pastors should recount the stories of the martyrs. Polycarp is a relevant one these days. The Protestant hesitation to deal with martyrs needs to shift to appreciating that others have had it far worse and saw similar and worse things. We are not alone.
And families within the church must build communities within the church. More and more it will be important for Christians to be part of a church community. They will need to surround themselves and their children with fellow believers who hold fast to the tenets of the faith even unto persecution and the end. Christians will need each others’ strength and prayer in the coming times. We cannot withdraw from culture, but we will need to keep pop-culture at arms’ length.
Our temptation will be to build walls and seal ourselves off. Instead, we must build communities of believers who strengthen, sustain, and pray for one another. We will need each other and we will need strong voices willing to persevere against the coming storm.
[Y]ou must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.