Jesus says: “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” John 15:18-19 NASB
This is what I wonder: if the Church of Jesus Christ isn’t being persecuted, called names, tortured, driven underground, hunted, put to death, short of funds, etc., is the Church being the Church? If Jesus warns us that the world will hate us because it hated him, should we even desire a relationship with society in which the Church is encouraged, respected, revered, etc.?
Sometimes those of us in church work wonder aloud if it wasn’t a terrible thing that the Emperor Constantine made Christianity not only legal, but the state religion of the Roman Empire. Oh, I don’t doubt that God can work good in just about any situation men muck up, but it does make you wonder if the Church (at least in some parts of the world) hasn’t lost her edge and grown soft and complacent.
Now this softness is definitely not found in areas of the world where the Church is hunted down and persecuted. Places like Vietnam and North Korea and China and Saudi Arabia see enormous growth and incredible miracles. Without the support of the world, the Church flourishes because it cannot help but to rely solely on the power of Christ.
I see a real change in the way that the Church has engaged society in North America over the years. The Church was a huge leader in drawing together 13 very different Colonies and giving them a sense of shared identity and a common view of liberty. The Church was the leader in the movement to abolish slavery. The Church was the leader in the prohibition movement (OK, maybe that didn’t go so well, but hey, we were definitely pushing society). The Church was the leader in the Civil Rights movement. When the lack of available health care was an issue during the last century, the Church led the way in establishing hospitals and clinics to provide needed medical services. The Church cared for immigrants and widows and orphans before the social welfare net even existed. For nearly 300 years the Church has led the way in teaching people how to read (so they can read the Scriptures - the original Sunday School). I saw a glimmer of leadership from the Church after 9/11, during the invasion of Afghanistan, when hundreds of Christian workers arrived to help the new government and establish schools, radio stations, women’s centers and help to write a new constitution which includes freedom of religion. But those were mostly ‘undercover’ operatives from non-denominational fellowships that were ready to go and minister to the people who lived in darkness. Conversely, when the Iron Curtain came down and many countries became open again to receive the Gospel afresh, most of the historic denominations in the US were unprepared for the event and had no plans or people in place and ready to go. Cuba could open any day, and yet, I very much doubt whether any of our Mainline Protestant Churches are ready to go with Spanish speaking evangelists and mission workers.
Lately, all I see from the Church in North America is a kind of whiney complacency. I think this is especially true in Mainline Protestantism. Gone are the days of standing boldly against a sinful society in need of the redemption of Christ. Gone are the days of the talk of sin and how society is going astray. Gone are the days of a radical dependance upon the grace of God in Christ. Instead of initiating bold new initiatives to advance the Gospel, the Church has settled for following along with the rest of society. Instead of opening hospitals and clinics, some denominations hire lobbyists in the vain hope that Congressmen will be impressed by their denomination’s declining membership statistics. Instead of taking a stand against society, conversely, some expressions of the Church have taken a stand against the Bible’s view of marriage and have joined society in advancing alternate views of marriage between a man and woman. Instead of seeking ways to evangelize new arrivals to our shores, these denominations seek ways to nullify their historic beliefs in a vain attempt at accommodation. In many churches, care of the earth and recycling are considered of much greater value than making disciples of Jesus.
In a phrase: instead of the Church remaking society in the image of God, the Church has given in to the remaking of the image of God by society.
What should be done? It’s time to get back to our first love, as Revelation has it. It’s time to get back to a passionate love for Jesus Christ. A love that will spur us on to share him with our neighbors, our society and our world. It’s time to get back to being disciples. Oh, by the way, that means that the world will hate you. Are you ready for that? You might just find it’s worth it.