Last week at Uptown, we celebrated God’s work in international missions and his hand in the steady growth of the kingdom. Getting the gospel out and being salt and light in places like the Islamic Middle East, postmodern cities in Europe and other non-christian regions along the Pacific Rim has always been a serious challenge. However, in our own time, the challenge has come home to our back yard. Pluralism and secularism have had a corrosive effect on a once Judeo-Christian-influenced America. We find ourselves living in a “strange new culture” that affirms just about every form of sexuality imaginable. More people – particularly among the millennials – describe their religious affiliation as “none.” Public discourse in media, politics, and entertainment is perplexing and a little like the “wild west” where everything goes.
How can we be salt and light in such a culture? What can we do to make an impact for Christ and his kingdom much like our missionary brothers and sisters around the world? The options are many and have their many prophets. Some say pull away and create an alternative culture. Some say transform the culture – often without considering how the culture transforms them. Some suggest we just “be the church” without any clarity about what that means in the warp and woof of daily life at our jobs, the grocery store, our kid’s sports leagues and our neighborhoods.
There is no real way I can lay out a grand strategy to engage our culture in a blog. Nor do I pretend to know what the best strategy is. (Perhaps we should consider multiple strategies anyway – as long as they are biblical.) Having said that, I would submit a modest proposal that we engage our culture with our missionary friends in mind. Here’s how we might do that.
First, we should consider our identity relative to American culture. In the history of our country, we have seen ourselves as residents of a country with a dominant Judeo-Christian culture. We have seen ourselves as Israelites resident in our version of the promised land. Of course, America has never been the true promised land but that paradigm of thinking often rules our ideas of the way things should be. With the rise of modernism and postmodernism though, we really need to shift our identity in our culture as that of missionaries – resident aliens or exiles who are here for a short time and are called to impact our families, neighborhoods and city with the gospel. This applies to the church as well. We are a “holy” nation as the church. We are a “peculiar” people. Here we see ourselves as Israelites of the southern kingdom like Jeremiah or Ezekiel taken to Babylon in the exile where they are to live their daily lives following the Lord in word and deed. Of course, this has always been our true state. However, if you see yourself as not just an American but a Christian exile in an increasingly pagan and idolatrous America, it will change the way you think and live.
Second, we should consider how we communicate our faith as Christians. I am talking evangelism in our culture. If you assume “everyone is a Christian” in a Christianized “Promise land” America, you will be much less intentional about sharing the gospel. If, however, you assume that we are Christian exiles called to proclaim the wonders of Christ in Babylon, it will change the frequency and intentionality of sharing the gospel. Of course, there are many ways to share the gospel – which we may address at other times and blogs. If you are merely a resident alien, the urgency of sharing the gospel where “few” are Christians rises up. The assumptions change and the great commission becomes much more applicable to every context we find ourselves living. Furthermore, we will have more realistic expectations of resistance to our faith – not being surprised but actually acknowledging that it will come. Likewise, we as the church are able to do evangelism together – each playing a role by engaging the culture in different contexts and with different gifts and not depending on any one person to carry out the great commission.
Third, in a post-Christian culture where we are exiles, we have an opportunity to talk less about church and more about Christ. One of the problems with a Christianized culture is that Christ is assumed and conversation goes quickly to church. “What church do you go to?” was a question that once resonated with most but now encounters more empty stares. As exiles, we must return to making our conversations about religion with friends and family all about Christ – who he is, what he’s done and what effect he has in our lives. As some have said it, our job is to gossip – to gossip the gospel of Jesus making him the issue. Granted, this must be done with love and with wisdom and timing. However, talking Christ – and more specifically the biblical Christ over and against the culturalized Christ – will return us to our early church roots where the biblical and historical Christ was a radical word.
Fourth and even better, if we see ourselves as resident aliens and exiles headed to the promised land of a new heavens and earth, we will then have a much more bold witness for the gospel. When you live in a New Israel America, you have much more to lose now by sharing the gospel. However, if you are here for only a time and are headed to spiritual and material riches unimaginable, there is much less to lose if you share the gospel. Thus, we not only walk by faith in Christ as aliens in this world, we also share the gospel by hope knowing our reward in Christ will make our future secure.
In a way, these are difficult and perplexing times. We all feel the cultural shift and are nervous. But fear not little ones! What is happening is that the veneer of Christianity in our culture – and us – is being stripped and we are being called to being a faithful witness to Christ as resident aliens – as missionaries – in our strange new culture. Share the gospel together as the church. Share the gospel because you are here for just a little while. Share the gospel because you are on your way home.
Author: Rev. Dean Faulkner