If you pay attention to the headlines or the Twitter and Facebook buzz, you’ve probably picked up on something: we Americans disagree with one another. A lot. And about some very fundamental issues. Whether it’s the Duck Dynasty kerfuffle, struggles between pro-life and abortion advocates, the legalization of marijuana, or wedding cakes and religious liberty issues, our debates become heated and the divide between positions often appears to be an unbridgeable chasm. While there is room for Christian disagreement over some of these issues, and complexity in every specific debate, there still often remains a stark choice for believers: faithfulness to Scripture, or acceptance by popular culture. One comes only at the expense of the other.
It seems that, for 21st century American Christians, facing this choice is disorienting and maddening. What happened to “America, America, God shed his grace on thee?” What ever happened to being a “Christian nation?” And so we react with anger and confusion. We rally behind candidates we think will support our values. We write lengthy Facebook posts, make our case in the comment threads, and start petitions. We lay the blame for this decline at the feet of specific politicians or specific historical moments, like removing the Ten Commandments and prayer from the schools. Our reactions are intense and emotional because we feel something of great value is being threatened. But I want to challenge us to reconsider that mindset, and to see our country’s cultural climate as we enter 2014 as not a threat, but as an opportunity. How so, you ask?
Before talking about the church’s opportunity, however, we should acknowledge that the feeling of being threatened is, at least in part, an accurate one. There are movements and mindsets in America that do represent threats to religious liberty or to the dignity and sanctity of human life. Christians should be involved in resisting those influences for the basic reason that failure to do so is a failure of love of our neighbors. All of us have some part to play, and some of us – especially those called to legal or political vocations – have a large part to play.
But having said that, our hope is not that we will “win” the cultural war (whatever that means). And the opportunity before us is not an opportunity to reclaim America as a Christian nation – after all, that’s something God never promised us. The church, not America or any other nation, is God’s treasured possession.
No, the opportunity before us is this: to live lives that reflect the glorious light of Jesus in a darkening society. Our current cultural confusion is not something to celebrate – but it is something God can use. When a society cannot agree on such basic things as what it means to be human, or what it means to be male and female, chaotic darkness will inevitably follow. But in the midst of that darkness, there is an opportunity for the light of the gospel to shine brightly. Our obedience to Christ, though it may appear increasingly strange to our neighbors and coworkers, can provide opportunities to give reason for the hope that is within us. And I’m not talking some sort of “super-Christian” lifestyle, but simple, ordinary Christian lives: marriages that remain faithful over the long haul. Parents who love and value their children instead of regarding them as shackles on their independence. Singles who relate to one another in purity. Churches where people of different races and different income brackets love and serve one another, where senior saints are honored instead of marginalized in favor of the young and beautiful. Simple acts of faithful obedience, but by God’s grace a testimony to a radically different way of living than anything a secular mindset can produce.
The New Testament defines our identity for us: we are those who have been brought from darkness into God’s marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9), a new humanity united in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:15). That identity is something no political system or nationality can produce – it is the work of the triune, redeeming God. It is an identity that will often receive the world’s scorn. And yet, at the same time, in a society that is losing all eternal reference points our identity as children of God is a quiet and constant testimony to the reality of the gospel. May the Lord give us grace in 2014 to live lives that shine brightly amidst the darkness, that many might come to know Jesus, the true light of the world.
Photo by JAaron.