“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. Matthew 10:16-22
I have lost track now of how many conversations I have had–and certainly of how many social media posts I have seen–lamenting the future of the church in America in the wake of the moral revolution which has taken our Western culture by storm over the past decade or so. I get it. I share some of the concerns myself. You can pretty much choose any social issue as an example of just how quickly the needle seems to be moving away from the orthodox teaching of the Church. I also agree we seem to be entering into a very different chapter here in the U.S. in terms of the church and its relationship to the world around us. To put it mildly, church popularity is on the decline. And at that same time, issues around gender, race, personhood, civil rights, immigration, and life itself have probably never been more in the public discourse than they are today. The fears and concerns I have seen and heard cover a broad range of “sky is falling” iterations…
“They’re going to take our tax exemptions away.”
“The church is losing its relevance to an entire generation.”
” We no longer have the protection to teach God’s Word.”
“Our religious freedoms are being eroded.”
“The church will never reach them if it isn’t willing to embrace them.”
“On this issue (or that issue) the church is on the wrong side of history.”
I cannot possibly cover all the concerns here. There is no need for that. Frankly, I am still processing and have more questions than I have answers in terms of figuring out what love looks like on so many of these issues. The high level answers may seem clear enough (if you believe the politicians), but the more practical questions about what love looks like in particular circumstances are not so easy. So, the concerns behind the kinds of comments noted above may likewise be many. For my purposes today, I just want to address all of the concerns that might bubble up out of our need to be popular. While I will grant you the possibility that any of the concerns listed above may come from a better, healthier place than that, I know you will grant me the likelihood that ANY of them could likewise come from our own need to be liked or respected or socially influential or politically favored or popular. To the extent that is true, shame on us.
It was never Jesus’ desire that His church be “liked” or politically favored. We really must stop acting so aghast when the world around us makes decisions that cause us (and our opinions) to appear marginalized or crazy or not at all popular. This is exactly what Jesus told us would happen, isn’t it? I know you will agree that the gospel was never intended to be popular…that, rather, it has always been divisive and, in the eyes of many, rigid and harsh. Certainly, the rich young ruler would have thought so. Anyone who comes to the gospel with an agenda or with an idea that Jesus is somehow about their happiness will walk away shaking their heads in disappointment. The gospel at the heart of the church is radically inclusive but also radically exclusive. We in the church need to come to a peaceful grasp of the reality that our message is not what the world wants to hear. It is not popular. We are not popular. We were never meant to be so. Rather, we were meant to speak the truth in love to a world who will hate us for doing so.
As I read scripture, I have lots of questions about the “end times”, but one notion seems clear to me. We (God’s people, i.e., His church, i.e., the “Bride of Christ”) will be hated and persecuted and marginalized and ostracized by the world around us…and it will be increasingly so as we move forward through time. That is not quite where the church in America finds herself today, but it is where we are headed according to scripture (and it is already very much that way in so many places around the world). So, can we please stop acting so shocked and dismayed when events actually turn us in that direction? We probably WILL lose tax exempt status at some point. And we will be the minority at some point. And we will lose all political power at some point. And we will no longer be popular. And that, my brothers and sisters, is when Jesus’ vision for us as a people finally comes to fruition and the amazing stuff starts happening. I am so looking forward to that!