In a discussion with Canadians, Krish Kandiah and Tom Newman, on the unbelievable Podcast with Justin Brierley (Agnostic ‘trying on’ church talks to a Christian – Tom Newman & Krish Kandiah), the conversation turned to the fact that Christians are a minority in Canadian and British society. The agnostic, Tom Newman, who experimented with Christianity in a podcast, commented about the value Christians bring to society, observing that Christians are particularly motivated to do good things. This led to an interesting dialogue.
Krish Kandiah, a pastor, observed that that the temptation of Christians as minorities in society is to go private, turn inward and become cloistered. That, however, he commented, is not the instruction from Jesus. Jesus says you don’t light a candle to put it under a bushel. So, Krish Kandiah says,
“It becomes the obligation of the Christian minority to serve and bless the majority.”
What a difficult statement for an American Christian to hear! It almost doesn’t register. Did he really just say that?
It’s no coincidence that the interviewees were Canadian, and the host was British. Canada and Great Britain are decidedly post-Christian. The United States is heading that way too, though we don’t like to admit it. (Interestingly, Christianity is growing in other parts of the world like Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Muslim world, and Oceania, while remaining stable or declining in Anglo America and Europe.)
I think about these things in the context of the cultural wars that are raging in the United States. Christians are desperately fighting to hold on to a Christian consensus that was once known as the “moral majority”, but Christians have been losing ground. American society is incrementally moving the other way.
How do we deal with that? In the classic American Christian way, I wonder, “What would Jesus do?” More poignantly, what is God saying to us, American Christians, in this day and age?
I have often thought, in recent times, that the cultural wars we (Christians) are waging do more collateral damage than good. They present the gospel like it’s a moral code and a political platform to be fought over on the battlegrounds of politics and culture. Increasingly, I fear that the good news that Jesus preached to the poor is lost in the smoke that hangs over the bloodied, beleaguered turf.
I fear that Christians in United States are not following in the example of Jesus in the desperation to hold on and gain back ground that we fear we are losing. (And we are!)
At the same time, I am struck by the realization that the Gospel is not advanced by the tools of political and cultural combat. I fear we are waging war over an earthly kingdom, rather than a heavenly one.
Like the first century descendants of Abraham hoped for a messiah who would free them from Roman control and re-establish a Davidic kingdom on the soil God promised Abraham, we fight to hold onto control of democratic “kingdom” in the United States in which Christians sit atop the pecking order.
I think back to the the first century in which Jesus lived as God incarnate and te descendants of Abraham who failed to remember and understand that Abraham “made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country”. (Hebrews 11:9 NIV)
Abraham understood that God was promising something far greater than the soil and terrain of an earthly location. He lived in tents, “For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God,” explained the writer of Hebrews.(Hebrews 11:10 NIV)
Jesus didn’t take up with the Zealots who were campaigning to overthrow the Roman government and establish a Davidic throne in its place in first century Judea. Jesus took up with the fishermen, the tax collectors, prostitutes and other people on the fringes of society who had tasted the bitter wine of the failure of man-made systems of government and justice. Jesus didn’t promise them a return to an earthly Eden; he promised them something greater.
Jesus came preaching the Kingdom of God, not a man made theocracy (or Democracy) on the futile plains of tares and wheat grown by greedy men, superintended by heavy-handed power brokers endlessly exercising control over the masses of humanity who live in various stages of oppression, indifference and rebellion. Jesus came preaching a different Kingdom in which there is a city with foundations, whose architect and builder is not man, but God.
This is what occurs to me: in the economics of Jesus in which the first will be last, any attempt to hold onto power and fight for position is bound to fail. Even if the effort succeeds in maintaining or regaining political and cultural control, we have lost in the very effort. The effort, itself, is a failure to follow in the way Jesus taught.
Jesus enlisted all of his followers in the Great Commission, which is to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20)
Do we do this by conventional political, cultural and even military means (as was attempted in the past)?
No! Jesus said, “Follow me.” Jesus said, “First, you need to pick up your cross, and I will show you the way.” Jesus said, “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Love even your enemy.”
True Abrahamic faith isn’t taking the promised land, holding on to it and defending it from our enemies. True Abrahamic faith trusts that Jesus made room for us in His Kingdom. His Kingdom is nothing that we conquer and defend. The entry is by way of the cross, and the fellow cross-bearers who follow Jesus to His Kingdom invite our enemies to join us.
In this realization I can only hope that, as the United States follows the way of the rest of the western world and becomes decidedly post-Christian, perhaps we can let go of the illusion, and delusion, that God’s Kingdom is anything we can establish in this world by military, political or cultural fiat and fury. Maybe we can occupy ourselves more decidedly with God’s business of making disciples, and baptizing people who embrace God’s Kingdom, wherever they come from … even if they come to us.
Maybe we can begin to see that God’s Kingdom is so much greater than any human government we can establish by our own devices.
Maybe we can begin to see that we can afford to lose the cultural battles, knowing that God wins the war. And in ceding the political and cultural battleground, maybe we can also get out of God’s way at the same time, turning battlegrounds into fields and seeding those fields that are ripe unto harvest.
It’s not really so far-fetched. This is how God works in his last shall become first way.
Thank you to my friend, Ted Wright, for this timely quotation by a man who “became troubled by the church’s connection to the state” (in Germany in the early twentieth century) and saw that there was a different, better way. By Eberhard Arnold (Inwardness in a Distracted Age, 1933):
“In the midst of the increasing violence, injustice, cruelty, and cold-heartedness of our time, love must be revealed: a love that towers above all earth’s mountains, that shines more purely and brightly than all the stars in the sky, that is mightier than all earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, that is greater than all world powers and rulers, that works more powerfully in history than all catastrophes, wars, and revolutions, that is more alive than all life and natural forces in creation. Above everything in nature and within all history, love shows itself to be the ultimate power of the Almighty, the ultimate greatness of His heart, the ultimate revelation of His spirit.”