How much of our Christian courage is a function of the comfort and convenience of our surroundings? How much of our boldness in Christian witness would wilt if the cozy accoutrements of a wealthy modern culture were taken from us?
Imagine if our words in praise of Christ no longer had the internet as an outlet, if every word of public witness had to actually be spoken in public, or at least in private to a living, breathing, and potentially hostile human being. Imagine if there were no more church conferences to attend, no more family camps, no more youth group outings at which to find Christian fellowship. And, perhaps worst of all, imagine if there were no more coffee shops - !!!!!- at which to study Scripture, write sermons and do theological cyber battle with Christians from different denominations, all comfortably and anonymously as one among many happy, well-caffeinated people.
Imagine if we pastors and teachers had to preach every sermon addressing the subject of God’s judgment not to the familiar and (mostly?) friendly faces in the pew, but to people who may well physically attack and even kill us for what we say, no matter how humbly and gently we say it. Imagine learning that at any moment, government agents may burst into any of our churches to arrest church leadership and laity. Imagine that as you gather week by week for worship, fewer and fewer of your Christian family are showing up, and no one knows where they are. It’s as if they’ve vanished. You know they’d never willfully skip worship, so it must be that the government has decided to “disappear” them.
There’s a gravity and a seriousness among Christians for whom these scary hypotheticals are the intense realities of daily life and ministry. It’s a seriousness which, understandably, might be lacking among those of us who’ve never faced anything like it. So why is it that we sometimes broadcast the strength of our faith as if we’ve already faced down such terrors and are ready for even more.
In America, the cultural climate is still by and large a fairly temperate one for Christianity, even as we see signs of a potentially severe storm ready to open up on the saints. But rather than letting the chill of cold winds-to-come force a serious evaluation of our faith's staying power, we seem to feel emboldened by the breezes to broadcast its strength. We contrast our even-keeled demeanor in the midst of cultural sea changes with the weakness of those who worry about the mounting waves on the horizon.
For example, I keep reading (and cringing) at well-meaning social media posts from Christians who’ve decided not to care too much about the American presidential race. I really appreciate and identify with Jared Olivetti's cathartic and Christ-centered March 2nd post. I don't mean that kind of post. I mean posts which say something like this (I am not quoting anyone): “Though _some _of my fellow Christians are all upset about yesterday’s primary, _I _am not bothered. Jesus is on the throne, and that’s good enough for me. So feel free to freak out, my anxiety-addled brethren. Me, I’m gonna chill in the sunshine of my Savior’s sovereignty.” Respectfully, I'd like to ask: would we post such things if any of the above scenarios were happening to us, or even if we had good reason to believe that they were imminent?
There’s a semblance of edifying truth in those kinds of statements, but they strike me as unnervingly similar to the prayer of the unjustified Pharisee who proclaimed his own praises from the safe confines of his domesticated version of the true faith. It’s as if these posts are really saying: “Thank you, Lord, that I am not like other people, you know, the worriers. Thank you that while the weak faith of others gets all bent out of shape over politics, my faith focuses on the big picture and remains in solid form. Yes, Lord, as I observe societal sin, tweeting from my thousand-dollar laptop and sipping my six dollar peppermint latte, I am, as ever, full of faith - unmoved and unafraid.”
Please understand that I write this as exhibit A of a domesticated Christian happily tethered to my suburban comforts. And yes, absolutely, my post could be guilty of the very thing I’m attempting to kindly call out. I pray that this is not what I’m really saying: “Thank you, Lord, that I’m not like those people who post about the worriers, you know, those who bask in their 'ignorance is bliss' approach to politics. Thank you that I am one who TRULY cares about national sin and our need for repentance. Yes, Lord, as I observe societal sin, posting from my employer-provided laptop, sipping cup number six of coffee others have paid for, I am, as ever, full of faith – panicked and petulant.”
My tendency to freak out and call it faithfulness needs to replaced by a Christ-centered, calm reliance upon his eternal, invincible reign over men and nations. May I humbly suggest that the opposite extreme of an easy, above-it-all calm needs to be replaced by a Christ-centered, intense and informed interest in the daily headlines.
Let's recognize that every single day in this country, over two thousand unborn children are murdered. Let’s remember that though he is patient, the King of Kings, the defender of the widow and orphan, has noticed.
Let’s realize with fresh, daily horror that according to the two frontrunners in the race for president, sin is not something to seek forgiveness for; it’s something you can profit from. From the abortion clinics to the strips clubs, they’ve gained money and power from murderous, exploitive industries, and their success in these businesses is touted as evidence of their qualification to be the leader of the free world. To top it all off, both candidates have gained the official endorsement and the enthusiastic support of Christian leaders in America.
Let’s realize as well, and rejoice, that the Lord Jesus remains enthroned and is actively, daily, making all things new. Let’s remember that the world has seen such horrors before, that the church has not only survived but actually thrived in storms of persecution, and that while kingdoms and republics come and go, the word of the Lord remains forever.
The Psalms, and all of them together, are so instructive in charting the biblical path between anxiety and aloofness, both of which often disguise themselves as faith. Psalm 2 is bracing as we see the fretting and violent foolishness of the nations (and famous politicians) aligning themselves against King Jesus: “He who sits in the heavens laughs …” And remember that the one seated in heaven also wept in this world as he observed the sinfulness of the people who rejected him (Mathew 23:37). Psalm 119:136: “My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law.” The Psalms teach and express a full-hearted faith, not at all happily detached from the traumas of civic life, nor drowned in a sentimental pseudo-sorrow which is ever wringing its hands but seldom raising them to pray and rarely lending them to help the victims of societal sin.
As it comes to politics, let us pray earnestly and, to the extent that our biblically-guided consciences will allow, pursue actively the raising up and electing of true Christian leaders. And in the big picture, let’s realize our immense responsibility as Christ’s witnesses, in whatever cultural conditions, to speak and live out his gospel with a sobriety and seriousness which is not dourness and despair, and with a joy and deeply felt freedom which is not banality and bravado. May our joy in the risen Christ never be shallow, and may the dread we feel in a fallen world never stay in the depths of despair. As we tend to say around this time of year, but should say every day, whether stormy or sunny: Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.