How Shall We Live? (Part I)
If you are like me you have heard this countless time, “Christians live in the world… but are not of it.” We have seen the ‘Not of this world’ sticker at least once or twice today alone. Even this blog serves to some degree to make the point that the Christian life is not one that the world recognizes. Jesus said himself “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18). Paul says “For the wisdom of this world is folly with God” (1 Cor. 3:19). It is clear throughout scripture that the world has nothing to offer when it comes to wisdom. Therefore, it makes perfect sense that the Church is not recognized as wise either by the world. We are often seen as crippled people who need something to believe in to get us to the end. To some extent that is true! We are weak and do in fact need something, outside of us, to see us through! However, how is the Church to live in a tension between the recognition of the world and the transformative power of the Gospel beyond the worlds understanding? In other words, how is the Church to be faithful in a world that condemns what it believes?
To start we must construct a short understanding of culture, or the world. Culture, or society, is constructed by two or more people. As Christians we cannot be afraid to say that the world, or culture, is man made. To reject this is not only to reject sociological and anthropological understanding of human beings but also is not helpful in the Church’s emergence beyond culture. In order to be ‘the called out ones’ we must first understand what we are being called out of. At the most foundational level of culture we find what we call the worldview, or the construction of a culture that has been created or accepted. Next we begin to understand why people do as they do. This is the evaluating stage, or where beliefs and values are constructed based on the worldview. Finally, we see coming out of beliefs and values is behaviors or actualizing. From an anthropological point of view seeing a cross on a wall is significant because it is at the core of my worldview. It has meaning based upon my understanding of history, and if I really believe it universal implications. So what does a basic understanding of culture have to do with the tension between Christianity and the world? Because when we recognize why the world functions the way in which it does, people building it through worldviews, we can understand the deep need for the Gospel that the world, and in turn some cultures, reject. I believe too many church- goers have neglected the human aspect of the world and in turn neglected to implications of the Gospel upon humanity. If we understand the need that there is for the Gospel on every level of humanity we begin to walk towards the solution of how we are to live.
There is a tension then between the Christian and the world. It is most felt in political, socio- economic and dogmatic differences. What this means is this; the Christian often will ask themselves, how do I vote? How do I serve these people? How do I respond? What can I donate too or not too? How do I treat these people in light of what I know about them? This is the tension between Christ’s first and second coming. We call this the ‘Church age’, it is difficult and messy to navigate the waters in this area of history. We say, “I have the bible… but it doesn’t address this!” How do we live?! The answer I believe is in an eschatological understanding of the cross. What I mean is this; Christ’s death and resurrection has changed history and therefore the Church needs to live in light of the ‘Christ event’. We often argue for a Christocentric interpretation of scripture. The Church needs to implement a Christocentric confession, belief and response within the world. In neglecting the human aspects of the world i.e. culture there has been lost a Christocentricity in its belief. We have spent too much time trying to solve the issue created by the Christian being a ‘wayfaring stranger’ within the world that we have lost sight of the Missio Dei, or the mission of God. That is to be an ambassador of the Gospel! Instead of doing this the Church has said “People must conform to the norms of Christianity” as oppose to “Let us give the people what they need”. The Church has lost the belief that the cross is universal. We fail to ask; “What does the Gospel mean for me?” and in turn “What does the Gospel mean for my neighbor?” Do not misunderstand me when I say ‘Let us give the people what they need’. I am certainly not saying, lets get rid of the bible because it is old, lets get a $30,000 stage and make it look like Staples Center at a concert and I am certainly not saying that the focus should be on relevance as oppose to tradition or scriptures authority. If you are someone who is seeking this in your Church I am going to ask you to stop what you are doing and read this sentence over and over again… PEOPLE NEED JESUS! They do not need more and more design, more and more charisma and certainly more and more relevance. THAT IS WHAT THE WORLD WANTS! The Church needs Jesus and it needs him in his dying!
When we understand the world we understand two things. First, sin is everywhere and Christ is the solution. Second, Christ is paradoxical to the world, or culture. He is not fighting against culture like many Christians tend to do, nor is transforming culture to look like a theocracy! He is paradoxical to culture for one reason, his grace is sufficient. The Church does not need to fight every battle, it does not need to force the world to conform to a Christian ethic. The world cannot look like the Church, if we desire that it does we lose the Christocentricity that the Church needs. Christ in his dying for people to come into its doors. Paul says “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe” (1 Cor. 1:21). Let us preach the message that saves! The solution to the tension between being in the world but not of it is revealed in Christ eschatologically. Grace is sufficient and Christ will return and make all things new. Let this be the Church’s belief and hope that Christ has died in our place, let us love one another in light of this.