Christians may not be better, but must be different. Everyone at birth is made in the image of God, but only Christians are reborn as a child of God. Everyone shares the same human nature, but only Christians understand that it is inherently evil. Everyone is sinful, but only Christians take on a new nature that cannot sin. What do we do with those advantages? Many hide them by trying to fit in or flaunt them by pointing fingers. Either way, looking like the world or living in opposition to it results in having little impact on it. Either society won’t recognize who Christians are or, when they do, won’t like what they see.
Is there some middle ground? Can we maintain our differences but not our distances? Is it possible to be authentic and attractive at the same time? Can we help people identify with us without compromising our identity in Christ? Otherwise, non-believers will find their identity where they have today – in themselves. Can we separate from sin but not necessarily from “sinners” since we are all in that same boat? Otherwise, the relational gap will widen as society and Christians compare and judge one another from afar – both claiming moral superiority.
Someone has to take the first step toward reconciliation – and fast. Time is running out as our culture sprints away from the Lord and toward government dependency, religious persecution, educational indoctrination, and moral depravity. Don’t expect secularism and Selfism to extend the olive branch. Christians and churches will have to take the initiative to build that bridge. Scripture provides a blueprint for bridge-building leveraging the greatest advantage we enjoy as believers – the Holy Spirit. The fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – are that “middle ground”, being in the world but not of the world. Each of those fruits stand in stark contrast to the fruits of America’s decadence, yet they engage society with humility, not condemnation…
- Love admits we’re not “better” while pretense requires seeing everyone as perfect just as they are
- Joy persists in crisis while panic rocks a nation with no foundation
- Peace looks for common ground but doesn’t acquiesce to moral or scriptural relativism
- Patience endures persecution by those programmed to respond to the slightest offense with victimhood or cancellation
- Kindness in the face of animosity exposes the futility of a self-centered existence
- Goodness lets God’s light shine through us to bring glory to Him, not ourselves
- Faithfulness clings to a higher truth when today’s fragile identity bubbles begin to pop
- Gentleness is authentic, admitting faults but not mistaking meekness for weakness
- Self-Control shows restraint, daring to say “no” when everyone else is screaming “yes”
Practicing these principles is the key to regaining our voice in a nation rejecting Christianity over its purported claim to moral superiority. A newly enlightened generation is being taught revisionist history where Christians are by definition oppressors and truth can only come from the oppressed, obviating the Gospel message. How can atheists and agnostics be convinced they need a Savior when they are conditioned to believe any reference to sin is just another attempt to manipulate and control? Social media is selectively silencing Christians because we’re the only ones talking about sin, yet while not living out the fruits of the Spirit, choosing instead to perch on one of the opposite extremes of the association/disassociation spectrum.
Different, Not Distant
Jesus empowered His Church to gather, equip and deploy Christ-followers into their neighborhoods, communities, workplaces and foreign mission fields. Pastors have been appointed by God to lead their flocks to the sweet spot between those two extremes – the optimal point where Christians attract despite their differences rather than conforming to minimize those differences or alienating by keeping their distances.
Jesus struck that balance perfectly, providing a model for today’s churches and Christians to follow to bear fruit even when the soil seems so infertile. But reverting to Jesus’ model for penetrating a highly resistant culture would be a radical departure from the prevailing methods in America for planting, growing and running churches. In fact, it was those methods that drove churchgoers to the outer edges of the continuum in the first place – either too casual (seeker-friendly) to add any truth to their grace or too cocky (legalistic) to add any grace to their truth. The lessons of the past year, when pastors realized they hadn’t prepared members well to personify “church” when the fields were ripe but the building’s doors were closed, should convince them to seek a new normal post-pandemic that “connects” without compromise…
- End Scriptural Relativism
- No longer bypassing verses considered too controversial or demanding for worldly “consumers” (e.g. accountability, sanctification, and the costs of discipleship)
- Addressing passages that may not support the church’s particular (and polarizing) political or social stance
- Not skipping stories that don’t fit their compartmentalized view of who God is because His character comprises more than just mercy or justice
- Embrace Vulnerability
- Stop keeping up appearances, which stems from Scriptural Relativism, focusing on God’s promises and blessings but ignoring His demands for authenticity and humility
- Confessing our weaknesses, which defies every fiber of our sinful human nature but is the only way to be transparent about God’s grace and everyone’s need for Jesus
- Distributing evangelism and discipleship responsibilities to lower unreasonable expectations and standards levied on pastors, who suffer from performance anxiety and burn-out (from doing our “jobs”)
- Enforce Accountability
- Applying a higher moral standard to churchgoers, leveraging the Matthew 18 process, than to those who understandably disobey God’s laws because they don’t recognize the authority of the Lawgiver
- Showing society that churches are serious about confronting and not concealing wrongdoing so that hypocrisy won’t be a leading excuse for dismissing our faith
- Looking inward will make Christians more reluctant to point outward, appearing less self-righteous so people can see God’s goodness
- Empower Disciples
- Cultivating our new nature in Christ means reflecting the characteristics of Jesus like humility, servanthood, compassion, and associating with “sinners”
- Rethinking Church as We Know It (CAWKI) because choreographed services, weekly sermons, and occasional small groups don’t provide sufficient understanding or conviction to imitate Jesus at all cost
- Striking a balance between being countercultural yet impacting culture, which entails dying to self so we don’t think or act like the world, yet don’t affront by putting up a veil of perfection
- Engage Lovingly
- Demonstrating true, unconditional love to a society that has redefined “love” to mean worship of self, tolerance for sin, and acting on sexual impulses
- Rejecting church growth models and recasting the role of churches in society around Jesus’ priorities – discipleship, compassion and evangelism – in that order
- Earning the right to speak frankly through relational acts of humble service all year long, not occasional outreach events that perpetuate poverty and breed cynicism about a church’s intentions (#ReimagineCompassion)
If church reform and revival do not occur we will watch the Age of Decadence transition into the final stage of America’s history. Continuing to conform to society or waging war against it will hasten America’s sunset. Being different but not distant is critical if we are going to present an alternative to the hopeless road of secular humanism. We’ll knock down walls, disarm a public ready to pounce, and make Jesus seem more accessible if we proactively admit we aren’t “better”, just forgiven. But at the same time we must aggressively pursue sanctification to bear the fruits of the Spirit, otherwise we’ll be indistinguishable and conceal the road less traveled.
It’s Your Turn
Do you know a church or Christian who straddles the fine lines between love with accountability, truth with grace, evangelism with authenticity, conviction without self-righteousness, humility without weakness, and generosity without dependency?