Friday, December 19, 2014

To Hell In A Handbasket: How To Live In A Post-Christian Society

"The world is going to Hell in a handbasket!"

How many times have you heard that phrase in your life, especially as it relates to the culture where you live? There is no doubt that American society is changing and in many ways, there are some really big differences in things like morality. Movies, music, and other artistic mediums have definitely changed over the past 50 years, no denying it. There is also a growing hostility towards Christianity as a whole. It's not too serious as I'll later point out, but it is growing. Government has also been on the move, with some very unique things such as the mayor of Houston requiring several major churches to submit their sermons for review (there was a good deal more to this story then most saw, but also, these subpoenas were squashed). 

But, one of my main problems that use the phrase above is the presupposition that our society has ever been in heaven in the first place. It has not. It will not. It can not. But, I'm not sure this the worst news in the world for the church. In fact, there may be a lot of good that can come even when society is dark. How we respond to these changes and live as the bride of Christ in this unique and interesting world will be incredibly crucial in the coming years. So, while I don't see our society as ever having been Christian (something my title infers), I do see us moving away from even making the claim. 

Ever since sin entered the world, the world has been a fallen place and actually has been "going to hell in a handbasket." The exception to this is God's people, first represented by Israel and now represented by the church.  

So first, let's debunk something. As a church, let's put to rest the myth that our country was truly founded as a Christian nation or even because of solid Christian principles and we just need to get back to our roots. We say this all the time, I know there are many Christian principles that were acknowledged in founding our country, but hear me out. One of the #1 reasons America broke off from British rule was for freedom from high taxation. That's completely contrary to Christ's teachings, however. The situation in Israel was the exact same - foreign power, foreign rule, steep foreign taxation. When asked about this though, Jesus says "render to Caesar what is Caesar's" (Matthew 22:21). He doesn't say "dump the tea in the harbor." It's easy to associate revolution or war with a noble cause, it's very difficult to associate either of them with the principles of Jesus. 

But religious freedom is worth fighting for right? Nope. But what about when there are groups persecuting your group? Nope. 

Peter wrote to Christian "exiles" in his first epistle who were experiencing political oppression because of their belief and worship of Christ. 

"Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name." (1 Peter 4:12-16)

Now, these people weren't experiencing people taking Christ out of Christmas (which isn't even true because X is a shorthand Χρίστος [Christos - Messiah or Christ]) or getting cut off during an interview on CNN (just google it). They were being fed to lions and executed in any number of atrocious ways. Peter says that they shouldn't be surprised by this. They shouldn't be surprised by government and others taking their very lives

So, whenever people want to take "In God We Trust" off of money (which has always been a societal lie, especially when it comes to the paper it's printed on), take the Ten Commandments out of court rooms, take prayer out of schools, and a number of other things that we often cite as the end of times, Peter looks at us and says "Do Not Be Surprised.

The main reason this should not surprise us is because social institutions and God's kingdom are simply incompatible. Jesus said "my kingdom is not of this world" and He was referring to the social systems and institutions of this world, because he clarifies the statement with "if my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting" (John 18:36).

Imagine Jesus as president - would the world really want a president who's foreign policy is enemy love? Would our capitalistic society truly jive with the idea of giving to others and helping the poor until it begins to hurt? 

These two worlds just don't mesh. The church has a different way of doing things completely. The kingdom of God has a different politic than the world in every single way imaginable. This is why Peter says that we shouldn't be surprised. He was writing about this very thing. 

But not being surprised is only the first part. The rest of how we are to live in a Post-Christian society is surmised by the commandment to participate in the sufferings of Christ. This is about loving others even when they are treating you in the worst ways. 

It's not that we are putting our stamp of approval on society. Not in the least. The church has a duty to remain true to the teachings of Christ set forth in Scripture no matter what the environment is. If Christianity is made illegal, American church numbers will go down DRASTICALLY...but it does not reduce the necessity for Christian community or the worship of the Almighty One. The early church met in homes and however else they needed to in order to praise God, even though their society was hunting them down. 

In all this, I hope you can see how the church definitely challenges culture and society at large, but changing culture and society are not our primary goals. We should instead be always seeking to make the church more Christlike. But we should obviously not be surprised when society, culture, and government are not Christlike. We help in changing the hearts of individuals and families, not institutions. 

So, the formula for living in a Post-Christian society? Do not be surprised, endure whatever comes peacefully, focus on the church, and love extravagantly as Jesus did to His persecutors when He hung on a cross and prayed for God to "forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34).  

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