SAN FRANCISCO – As a Christian living in a very post-Christian San Francisco, I have found myself questioning the way the Christian community engages culture.
With the debate over gay marriage and other issues related to homosexuality, the cultural divide over abortion, the odd Christianization of war policy and gun control, and the fight for Christian symbols in school, government, media and marketing, it seems that many Christians tend to connect the collective moral fiber of our country to our laws, our politics or our media – that Christian principles somehow give us a “Christian” identity as a country.
We clearly like to be in the majority and like culture to validate our faith and our moral decisions. We like to be popular. Yet nothing in the Bible points to a Christian majority or cultural acceptance of our beliefs.
Rather than sweeping majorities, popular influence and laws that line up with Scripture, we are promised to be odd, persecuted outcasts who leave all, die to all, endure all and serve all for the cause of Christ. We are not called to lead people to shiny churches designed to meet all their needs. Our calling is not to clean up society or legislate morality or overthrow government, or to tie tax and survivor benefits to the biblical truth of marriage. We are called simply to reach the world with the amazing love of Jesus Christ, to help reconcile a lost and disconnected world back into relationship with God through Christ.
Christianity’s rise to power and cultural influence caused us to fit comfortably into culture, rather than standing out from culture. We faced little opposition to our bold assertions of our belief system. In many parts of our country Christianity and church were entrees into business and society. As culture began to shift from Judeo-Christian values, we reacted and began to look less and less like Jesus. We asserted our rights instead of understanding that Christianity stripped us of rights. We demanded acceptance instead of graciously enduring rejection. Some of us, meanwhile, began to redefine our Christianity to create something more palatable for society.
We forgot that God is not concerned whether a country looks or acts Christian any more than He is concerned about whether a person looks or acts Christian. He is concerned about the hearts and souls of people.
The rise of cultural Christianity created many Christian lives that were just like secular lives, but with added rules and a “get out of hell free” card. There is a very real possibility that many who claim to follow Christ will fall away as Christianity becomes less and less culturally acceptable.
But as the ranks of professing Christians become smaller, my prayer is that our smaller numbers would become more focused on shining the light of Christ in a very dark world. What if instead of fighting for the culture to validate us, we did what Jesus told us to do and turned the other cheek and loved those who hate and persecute us? What if we, with no strings attached, began to use our God-given gifts of leadership and creativity and finances and time to truly seek the welfare of our cities? What if the world saw Christians really living differently?
We have perhaps claimed a different moral standard, but have we really lived differently? Have we forgiven when the world says to seek revenge? Have we loved sacrificially and unconditionally when others have hated us? Have we respected our leaders even when they do not honor our beliefs? Have we shown mercy to those both deserving and undeserving of mercy? Have we fought for all people, even those whose lives are in great contrast to biblical principles, to be treated with dignity?
The body of Christ stands before an open door of opportunity as the world moves further away from cultural Christianity. The door is open for amazing growth, hope and testimony. The door is open for a true, living orthodoxy. We don’t follow Christ because we get tax benefits or because the Ten Commandments hang on the courthouse walls. We follow Christ because Christ is worthy of our following and because we desire to be part of the work He is doing all over the world.
Perhaps, in the end, we will see lives radically changed. And all these issues that distract us will assume their proper place. And we, fully reconciled to the living God of the universe, will succeed as God’s agents to this world – walking others into the beauty that is the life reconciled to God through Christ.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mike Goeke, associate pastor of First Baptist Church San Francisco, has been in full-time ministry since leaving his law practice in 2001. He speaks and writes on issues related to life, Christianity, culture and sexuality. Goeke is a graduate of Baylor University and Texas Tech School of Law.)