Jerry Falwell Jr., Robert Jeffress, and Mark Burns will not help you live well as a Christian in the modern world. Their political agenda silences any useful message of the Gospel to the secular world and forces their followers into cloisters with nowhere to go and nothing to talk about but a political battle and an attitude of “us vs. them.”
Don’t be surprised. From Pope Gregory IX, John Calvin and Martin Luther, many Christian leaders have attempted to push “Christ against culture”with catastrophic results. This however, for the Christian and the non-Christian alike should be no reflection of the realities of the Christian faith and the message of Jesus of Nazareth or Paul of Tarsus that brought the concepts of individual liberty into the world. Understandable is the hate for the sin of those who have led, but it would be unintelligent to ascribe the failures of some leaders to the platform they hid behind. “Religion makes good people better and bad people worse,” wrote H. Richard Niebuhr in “Christ and Culture”. “The difference between the radicals and the other groups is often only this: that the radicals fail to recognize what they are doing, and continue to speak as though they were separated from the world.”
Christianity and the secular world have lived well side by side for centuries, “Christ of Culture.” Larry Siedentop in his book, “Inventing the Individual” argues Christianity made the modern secular political world possible. The writings of the Apostle Paul provide an understanding of “Christian Liberty”, of individual conscience and convictions, of a moral responsibility to a universal idea that binds people together and this was the birth of “equal liberty”. Before God all people are equal and therefore have a responsibility to Him and all others.
Thomas Jefferson did not believe in a risen savior, but he had no problem with a god binding us and being the force that made men free. He viewed the sacred necessary to bind the secular, but not the sacred forcing the individual to be anything more than secular if so chosen.
Americans at their core understand and permit free will. Choice must be permitted and choice must be protected. With a valid call for alarm, secularism is beginning to demand belief in particulars; to imitate the worst in historic Christian leadership. Demanding belief in a secular dogma or be damned in society. This growing trend must not throw us off course or be responded to in like kind.
Consider Siedentop’s commentary, “Christianity changed the ground of human identity. It was able to do that because of the way it combined Jewish monotheism with an abstract universalism that had roots in later Greek philosophy. By emphasizing the moral equality of humans, quite apart from any social roles they might occupy.” (Inventing the Individual, First Harvard University Press, 2014, Pg. 352)
Christ was the great equalizer.
Those who do not subscribe to Christianity in the US still believe in an underlying moral equality and this idea was given birth via “Christian Liberty”.
In the early centuries Christianity spread like wildfire, not by force, but by persuasion. Early converts who were skilled thinkers and writers said they converted because they saw how they, “loved one another.” This remains the only way to influence others today. But of late, they have not known us for our love. The worst of our leadership offenders are the Fundamentalist, dug into their trench with no ability to work within the framework of liberty. The second offenders of our leadership are the prosperity gospel preachers who provide an artificial view of life and how God interacts with humanity. From Falwell to Osteen these self-appointed spokesmen do not speak for the majority of Christians.
You and I have landed on the world scene in a post-Christian society. We’ve come of age in a divided country. We are grouped into categories and disliked for our associations with them. We are measured and judged by the worst spokesman from our camps. Well, don’t feel so alone, this is how most Christians have felt since Christ claimed us all sinners and defined himself as the Way.
How do we live well as Modern Christians?
We begin by loving those around us.
The Faith has lived parallel to secular society from inception. Our duty is not to eradicate the secular world, but to live in it and love those of it. We permit freedom of choice they way God provided us a choice. We do not view those on the other end of the political spectrum as enemies, but as opportunities to build friendships. We do not say “God Demands” things be a certain way. His demands are on those of us who chose to be His followers. We do not burden society with rules that are contrary to their “pursuits of happiness”, but we may offer examples and benefits to alternative decisions.
We live within the framework of the political system we are under.
H. Richard Niebuhr writes, “The Christian .. cannot dismiss the philosophy and science of his society as though they were external to him; they are in him. ... He cannot rid himself of political beliefs and economic customs by rejecting the more or less external institutions; these customs and beliefs have taken up residence in his mind.” We go with our convictions, vote our conscience, and speak lovingly about that which concerns us, but we are subject to the laws of the land. Our political ambitions should always stop short of imposing particulars of the faith on others. Christians in politics must come to realize by choosing to be in the secular system they choose to be a representative and protector of all, not just Christians.
We serve one on one.
Without expectation we serve all those around us, not just those in Christian community. We meet the needs of the poor, the immigrant, and the sick. We befriend without expectation and for friendship alone the Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, and Atheist. We love the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transvestite as they are, and with no demand they change. We learn what it means to live with others and to promote liberty. We do not post our pictures as we preach and give, we need only do for the individual without all the modern self-aggrandizement.
We share our faith.
We share our faith and convictions with others about our encounter with God when permitted and we share the way our lives have changed because of His influence in our lives. But if they reject this for themselves we do not write them off and seek others – because we went into the friendship for the sake of knowing them and our love must not be temporal.
We live “Christ of Culture”.
We live parallel to culture and weave in and out bringing to it the benefits of faith without breaching the liberty of others; valuing their own liberty as we value ours.
Ora et labora; we pray and we labor.
Pray for individuals and individual situations. We stop laying our hands on each other expecting to be included in some grand event and serve small right where we are. We pray hard for the situations and salvation of others, trust God, and serve.
Modern Christianity and Ancient Christianity are the same in practice.
Our faith has brought so much to society, but our sins get amplified as if our only contribution. But an individual focus on serving covers these sins and reveals a truth to the served. This is how we wrestle the faith back away from poor leadership and continue to bring society the gift of liberty and the hope of salvation.
“Liberal thought is the offspring of Christianity. It emerged as the moral intuition generated by Christianity were turned against the authoritarian model of the church.” (Inventing the Individual, First Harvard University Press, 2014, Pg.