Many people have opinions about what it means to be a Christian today. For some, being Christian means to bunker down under the same old camps – be it doctrinal, denominational, worship style, whatever. In a very modern way we have defined what is true by what we discern what is not true (about your doctrine, denomination, worship style, whatever). Well, where does that leave us? It is time to shed my opinion.
The world is not the same world it was a hundred years ago, or even fifty, or even twenty (maybe even ten). Our constant, instant communication has brought us closer together be it through email, Facebook, Twitter, Google, and an App imaginable. In an uber technological age if I don’t agree with you I can find five people somewhere that do, and in turn can dismiss anything you say, if I even listen at all. Just watch the news sometime on cable and then flip to another news channel of a different stripe. It is like we are living in two different places, and the “other” one is somehow out of touch. People feel the same way about the church – Christians are talking a different language and are out of touch with reality. We are left shrugging our shoulders thinking we are being faithful, while feeling deflated.
Even being asked, “What does it mean to be a Christian today?” makes us feel unsettled. Our basic assumptions about life and culture have been called into question, and for a variety of reasons it feels like we are being pushed to the fringe. Since the age of Constantine we have enjoyed the privileged role of asserting “might makes right” and have had the power to enforce it (and reinforce it). We have lost that edge. In the world today a Christian is probably more likely to be living in a village or urban center in the developing world, than she or he is to be living in a settled Western town or city feeling the pains of decline. Here in the West our position has changed. As Christians we used to speak and people (even governments) listened. Now we don’t understand why when we speak publicly about our faith we draw such harsh glares and dismissive smirks from passersby. Maybe we have ourselves to blame. Jesus never told us “might makes right.” But if it doesn’t what are we supposed to do?
What is called for in our changing age is not a resurgence to take back the public arena as many charge. It is to reclaim what we stand for by how we act and not where we picket, what we believe not by who we can quote but by how we treat others, and most importantly why it matters by the way we engage the world around us. The “why it matters” is the hardest question to answer, not because we cannot answer it, but because we have not had to for so long. It is time for us to stop lamenting that we are no longer the center of our society and start figuring out where we do fit – and what message we bring.
Jesus calls us to be leaven in the loaf, to be salt in a tasteless world, to bring light into the darkness. That used to mean to open more churches and more people will come. Now, many of us are not even really all that sure why we go to church in the first place. We don’t need a new program or gimmick. What we need is a careful examination of how we communicate, how we help shape and form people in into the faith, and how we build real relationships of value that welcomes others to participate. The church is more than committees, fundraisers and Sunday School. It is more than worship styles and denominational affiliations. In our world today Christian life needs to be defined by authenticity, lifestyle, and doing things of value. Being a Christian today means being able to answer “why it matters.”
Why does it matter? It matters because our world is hell-bent on its own self-destruction. Be it through politics, economics, technology, medicine and knowledge; every human advancement in each of these areas has also created a greater ability to destroy. Lives are shattered. The world is broken. The future looks bleak. The world we created for ourselves is a world in tatters.
It is time to be reminded of the One who created this world in the first place and called it “good.” This same One restores lives and brings life to the dead, and also promises a future to world that has no future on its own. To be a Christian today is not about demographic trends or the latest strategies (though they can be quite informative). To be a Chrsitian is simply to hope in the Lord Jesus, and live a life worth living to those around us. To be Christian is to trust the Spirit to guide us along the way of Christ’s cross as we engage our Father’s world. Our shoulders aren’t shrugging, they are outstretched and ready to serve. Be patient. We’ll be in touch.