Today many place the blame for the deterioration of civil society on the “Left” – the Marxist Progressives. And, it is true that forces in that movement are working at a frenetic pace to undo civil society. But why are they succeeding? I would argue largely because of the lethargy and indifference of Christians, the only people on earth who can show a far more authentic, honest, and “true”, more loving and caring, way forward.
The premise of this note is that in order to rescue this civilization, Christ Himself is going to have to “appear” in the world to demonstrate to its inhabitants that He is the way, the truth, and the life. And, since we Christians are the members of His body on earth, that job falls to us.
How We Got Here
I’ve blogged previously about this decline in civilized society[i] and the “external” factors that have caused our society to essentially “play along” with the changes that have led to this decline. To summarize, the main changes we have acquiesced to are:
- The glorification of the self and the individual’s self-esteem
- The role of public primary schools and Universities in instilling in their students several destructive attitudes:
- Hate of one’s country in light of its past sins
- Hate of the society’s failure to produce the same “success” and benefits for everyone
- Hate of the society’s acceptance of this inequality or “inequity”
- Disdain for personal freedom
- Disdain for personal accomplishment and excellence
- Disdain for God
- Urbanization, self-isolation, and the loss of community and its “social capital”
- The substitution of electronic diversions for family and community interaction
- The demise of healthy nuclear families (particularly affecting Black families)
- The failure of one generation to teach the next an expectation of embodying the virtues
- The progressive failure of the last five or six generations to reject increasing immorality
Certainly there are other causes of our demise, among them the abdication of the Church (here we need to be careful to distinguish between the organized church – those organizations that have buildings with steeples and administrators and Sunday services and “worship bands” – from the collection of people who are allegiant and obedient to Jesus Christ.)
The organized church, in the main, has been missing in action as regards the encroachment of the secular progressives on the principles of Christ, sometimes even siding with them on issues (e.g. on abortion, acceptance in their leadership ranks of practicing homosexuals, or support for the “equity” agenda) in contradiction to the teachings of Christ and the Bible.
But the Christians – those followers of Christ (some of whom attend an organized church) — have also become complicit by their silence. The question we have to grapple with is: “Are Christians right to ignore the destruction of civil and moral society around them as long as they individually remain obedient to Christ? Or, do they have some larger responsibility to uphold a civil and moral society as an act of love for their neighbor[ii], whether or not that neighbor ever comes to faith in Christ?
The Case for an Active, Demonstrable Christianity
The typical Christian thinks of his/her role in the world in one or more of the following ways:
- As an agent of God in evangelizing unbelievers with the Gospel of Christ
- As one who has been “saved” by Christ, which is for him sufficient, without the need to serve Him
- As an agent of God on behalf of and in care of his/her Christian brother or sister
- As one who acknowledges God/Christ but thinks of Him as an add-on to his normal life – something external to who they are (this group comprises the vast majority of those adopting the title “Christian” today)
- As a representative of Christ whose purpose, in addition to loving/supporting his immediate neighbors, is to proclaim through his life, the life in Christ – His Kingdom – as the ultimate purpose of humanity’s existence on earth
Most self-professed Christians fall into one or more of the first four categories. Very few identify with the fifth. As a consequence, much of the secular world has never seen a life lived out that is integrated with Christ, i.e. that only has one, holisitic guiding purpose — serving their Lord.
So most professed Christians don’t perceive their manner of living as a testimony of what life in the Kingdom of God is. Yet this testimony is precisely, I would claim, what today’s society needs to become aware of and convicted by. So how can this Christian communicate this message not just to his neighbor, but to his society?
What’s the Message?
We must start with the acknowledgment that living the Christian life with one’s neighbors does communicate what life in God’s Kingdom is, at least to those close by. What it does not do, by itself, is inform his larger society of what that life looks like in daily practice. So how can this be done?
First, I think we need to make the message we’re talking about clear. We’re not talking about the traditional salvation message (“Repent of your sins and trust your life to Christ”). That can come later.
The mindset of modern society has increasingly rejected the salvation message for decades in large part, I would argue, due to their lack of awareness that there is anything better for them than to try to fulfill their own aspirations and agenda. A population who has been taught that whatever they think or do is admirable and praiseworthy is unlikely to suddenly be convinced that they’re sinners in need of redemption by their Lord. Instead, they need to see with their eyes what the Christian life looks like and how it is so vastly superior to the life they have been leading.
Secondly, the message needs to feature this superiority of the Christ-following lifestyle to that of self-following. This is where smart people in marketing have to step in. The message must clearly communicate that Christ-following is the best “way-of-living” product on the market, and available to all! In the marketplace of competing lifestyles, the brand best for you is Christ-following.
I can hear the traditionalists out there throwing things at their screens after reading this. “The blasphemy of Christ-following as a brand!” To which I would simply say we’re no longer living in the 1st century, or even the 20th. Today’s secularists consume messages constantly through their phones and tablets. If they are going to be reached, they are going to have to be persuaded to investigate this “brand” using many of the same techniques others are using to persuade them. It’s just that this message can be life-transforming.
Once the consumer of this communication has glimpsed that there can be a better life for them and those they care about[iii], then they can be presented with the more traditional Gospel message.
Why is this approach potentially fruitful? Primarily, in my opinion, because:
- People today have no concept of sin (let alone their sin), and its need to be remediated so that one’s life and soul can be redeemed and turned into what God intends it to be.
- They are skeptical to a fault, trusting only their own eyes and ears, especially if what they are seeing or hearing contradicts everything they have been taught, as does the life lived in Christ. The core of this life is a selfless commitment to others, as a worship of the Lord, something that is unfathomable to the secular mind until he actually sees it.
- We have some evidence that such messaging can have a profound impact in the case of the recent, crowd-funded television series about the life of Christ, The Chosen. One of the features leading to the success of and engagement with the series is its portrayal of how Jesus interacted with His followers, and how they interacted among themselves. Depicting God-focused relationships among people is, in the case of The Chosen, a powerful and convicting message.
Now even if the unbeliever sees some examples of authentic Christian life, they will not be persuaded of its potential for them unless they sense that a significant and growing number of others are already experiencing it – that it is real and credibly happening. This is why the stories depicted in the messages must be so diverse, widely spread and numerous.
How to Communicate the Message?
Today’s communication media is largely online, for interpersonal communication (e.g. Facebook and similar, blogs, Twitter, SnapChat, WhatsApp, podcasts, etc.) and corporate communication by groups/organizations seeking to promote themselves. In addition, we still have television as the primary mass-media mechanism, and to a lesser degree, radio programming and national newspapers and magazines.
How could these communication media be used to widely communicate the principles and reality of life in Christ?
The first thing needed is a spokesman or spokespersons that are already accepted by secular society as sincere and not in some way “hateful”. Anyone who is perceived as politically partisan (certainly if they are known to represent the “Right”) will be dismissed out of hand; people like televangelists, people representing the traditional “Church”, people from a privileged group (e.g. white, heterosexual Christian males).
Fortunately, the recent Olympic games have highlighted several such people – young female athletes who claimed nothing for themselves in their achievements but rather gave thanks to God for enabling them to compete, giving Him “the glory” for whatever they had been able to accomplish. There are a handful of popular performers (actors and musicians) who also express this worldview. So people with some notoriety and credibility with the secularists, that are also Christ-followers, do exist. And they could be extremely effective at communicating focused messages.
What Does the Revolution Look Like?
Any revolution is more than a message (as powerful as some messages can be). And it is hardly about the revolutionaries being in some way edified (although that will no doubt be a by-product).
The revolution must consist of Christians publicly living out their lives in Christ, and doing so on a substantial scale. Once they are doing so (as many routinely are), the job of the revolution is to tell people about it; show them what good is achieved not just for the one served but also for the one serving – the servant of Christ.
To me, it seems quite clear that the messaging (“marketing”, if you will) needs to be designed, controlled, and supported on a national or even international scale. It must be authentically biblical; there is no room for secular “feel-good” messaging to creep into what is God’s story of His Kingdom lived out. So control of the message must be closely guarded.
What is not so clear is the value of mobilizing Christ-followers into some form of larger-scale action. While we can perhaps fantasize about revival-scale activities, say over an urban neighborhood, side of a city, or perhaps the entire city, I’m not sure that is either necessary or biblical.
It would seem more authentic (i.e. less contrived) to simply capture existing examples of Christians as Christians (i.e. whose reason for their service is obedience to Christ) mobilized in service to others as a matter of routine.
We know these things happen as a matter of routine based mostly on anecdotal evidence – hearing a friend talk about his/her experience of some consistent service he’s involved in, hearing an occasional local news report about some church’s mission of building housing for or regularly feeding the needy, etc.
What we don’t hear is either what the act of service means to the servant or to the served; we don’t hear how it enriched the life of either the served or the servant; we don’t hear how their lives were made more joyful, or more thankful, or how they may have experienced greater contentment and peace through the service.
So I would argue, for now at least, that we don’t need some grand ecumenical bluster of multiple churches banding together to perform some one-off act of service or charity. Yes, it might make the local news. But it has the appearance of being disingenuous – done for “show” – a project, not a way of life. That’s exactly what is not needed.
However, we do need pastors to exhort the Christ-followers in their churches to reach out to and serve their local neighbors in need. But the service should be genuine and meet a genuine need. Organizing these “outreach” activities needs to be done, I believe, on the local church, or at most a neighborhood, level. And to the extent this is something new to that church, they’ll need some guidance, possibly from some experienced people associated with managing the revolution.
If there’s a model of any kind emerging after thinking about such a “revolution”, perhaps it centers on these features:
- Those associated with the revolution need to be able to teach the Biblical basis for life in the Kingdom – love of neighbor as self, both to inexperienced Christ-followers and to the public at large
- Local believers and their churches need to organize and mobilize Christ-followers to meet known needs in their community. How to organize such things may need to be taught them.
- Cases of Christ-followers meeting needs in their community need to be documented and professionally produced into compelling messages for wide distribution online and, potentially, on-air.
- Testimonies of servants and the served need to be captured and incorporated into these messages.
- The underlying and consistent message communicated needs to be that following Christ as Lord is the superior “way-of-life” of all of the available options.
Aspects of the Life of Following Christ to Be Featured
The message we’re proposing to publicize is that life in Christ is a better life than other ways of living. But in what ways is it better? The following characteristics, it seems to me, should be highlighted.
- A life lived “in Christ” is a life that is animated by the Spirit of God living within the person[iv]. One who has this Spirit living within him is transformed by the Spirit[v]. His priorities are changed to God’s priorities. His interests are changed to God’s interests. He no longer seeks to satisfy himself; rather he seeks to satisfy God, seeing himself as dependent upon Him for His blessings and provision[vi]. He is, in a word, no longer his own god. He has a Lord.
- Once transformed, the Christ-follower has a confident peace[vii], no longer wracked by worry and angst even in the face of life’s trials and hardships.
- Once transformed, the Christ-follower naturally and routinely seeks (at the leading of the Spirit) to meet the real needs of others[viii] (not simply signal his own virtue of ‘concern’).
- Once transformed, the Christ-follower is led to seek the best[ix] (i.e. that which God seeks) for others, regardless of the cultural, social or personal popularity of that prescription.
- Once transformed, the Christ-follower feels no inadequacy or need to strive. He understands that his real needs are and will be met by God[x].
- Once transformed, the Christ-follower feels a natural gratitude toward God, much as a child of a loving parent[xi].
- Once transformed, the Christ-follower senses and experiences that he has an inexhaustible reservoir of God’s love to give away – that there is no reason to hold on to it for himself[xii].
- One of the many human priorities that is washed away by the in-dwelt Spirit is the desire for social acceptance. The Christ-follower is set free to be only that which God has made[xiii]. He feels no need to be deceptive about himself to others so that he is liked and accepted. He’s been freed from that[xiv].
- Once transformed, the Christ-follower finds he has a well of forgiveness and can forgive others, potentially redeeming some broken relationships.[xv]
- Once transformed, the Christ-follower engaged in expressing God’s love to others experiences a joy (difficult to describe) that is unavailable through any other means[xvi].
Anticipating Some Objections
Traditional Christians might be inclined to recoil from such a call for radical, some would say secularized, activism. After all, they would say, doesn’t Paul teach that the Gospel is its own power to convict and change people (Romans 1:16). Yes, he does. But he also said:
Romans 10:14 (TKNT)
14So how are they to call on someone when they haven’t believed in him? And how are they to believe if they don’t hear? And how will they hear without someone announcing it to them?
They might cite Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:1:
1“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
Clearly Jesus here is condemning hyprocritical piety and self-promotion. Obviously, that is not our motivation. Our purpose is to communicate to the secular lost (and, indeed many part-time Christians) a truth about which they are totally ignorant. Ask yourself: “How did Christ communicate to His disciples by His life with them?” Among other things, He modeled for them what a life looked like when lived in the Kingdom of God. We’re trying to show people the same thing by presenting samples of real lives lived in His Kingdom.
They might also object on dogmatic grounds that it is Christ who saves, not men. Of course! But one of the main reasons Christians today exist is to spread the good news of the Kingdom to others. Paul wondered, rhetorically in Romans 10:14, how people were to believe if they hadn’t “heard” the gospel. I contend that the majority of modern Americans have heard the gospel words. But they haven’t understood. They simply have no experience with a community (let alone an entire nation) living as if that Gospel were true. Having just heard the words but not seen their results in action, they easily ignore them.
I can also imagine complaints that this kind of action smacks of a “social gospel”, and so should be tossed. To this I would counter that documenting acts of authentic, obedient service is not intended to be a “show” or anything other than the natural response of the Christ-follower to express the love of Christ to his neighbor. I admit it can be hard to differentiate between the two. And for those thinking that any overt act demonstrating Christ’s love to others is not what the Bible requires of a Christ-follower, you might have a look at Matthew 7:21, John 3:36:
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him
and John 14:25:
If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
The Christian life was never meant to be what it has become for many: occasional church attendance and a set of religious beliefs tacked on to a normal, secular life that does nothing observable to set it apart from others around it. This is what needs to change.
It’s not as though this idea is somehow new or radical. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote of the need to return to authentic Christian living throughout his life, one example being this quote[xvii]:
“The Church is the Church only when it exists for others…not dominating, but helping and serving. It must tell men of every calling what it means to live for Christ, to exist for others.”
Christ’s only command to the Church was to make disciples of all the nations, teaching them to “observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20) One could argue that the organized church has not been very successful in obeying this command, as measured by declining membership and attendance numbers. This is not necessarily the fault of the church or its message. It is far more likely that it is simply that the message these days, and increasingly, is simply being drown out and not heard.
People left on their own, apart from their God, create their own gods, not least of which is themselves. And in so doing they cut themselves off from the blessings of the Kingdom of God, and typically from any association with the people of God that live there.
How are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? Perhaps we need a revolution of service that we communicate to show them.
[iii] “Preach the Gospel, and if necessary use words.” Attributed to Francis of Assisi
[xvii] Bonhoeffer, D (1953). Letters and Papers from Prison, Touchstone
[xviii] Bonhoeffer, D (1959). The Cost of Discipleship, Touchstone
[xix] Willard, D (1998). The Divine Conspiracy, Harper Collins
[xx] Law, W (1729). A Serious Call To a Devout and Holy Life: A Puritan Call