Monday, January 20, 2014
"If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me." - Jesus, (John 15:18-21)
ESCAPING THE SWORD
Jesus promised his followers that the world would hate them, even as it had hated him. Resistance was to be expected. Living counter to the culture was an inherent element of God's Kingdom and the Gospel of Jesus was to be lived out in the midst of a society that was bent on snuffing the life out of it.
What happened to us?
How have we become a Church where the World doesn’t hate us the way it hated Jesus? Sure, some people do hate us, but many of those, at least in America, only find us horrifically annoying. They might hate being around us, but not enough to kill us. And those that do hate us don't hate us the way the Pharisees hated Jesus. They hate us because we're hypocritical, hateful, intolerant and judgmental. The Pharisees hated Jesus because he was radically inclusive, spent time with the wrong sorts of people who were unclean and dirty and poor and sick and sinful. No one hates the Church for any of these reasons.
MODERN DAY MARTYRS
I know that Christians around the world are hated, and even persecuted and killed because of their devotion to Christ and the preaching of the Gospel. For those who endure this daily I offer my prayers for safety and for faith to continue sharing Christ in the midst of suffering.
Here in America, and most of the free, Westernized World, being a Christian carries no negative connotation or expectation of brutality other than being shunned by hipsters and perhaps mocked openly on prime time television.
FRIENDSHIP WITH THE WORLD
Jesus said that the World would hate us because we "do not belong to the World". Perhaps the World doesn't hate us the way it hated Jesus because we're just like they are? Instead of being "In the World, but not Of it" we have become the Church who is "Of the World, but In it".
The Gospel of Jesus was subversive and controversial. It challenged the status quo of an entire society. It held up the mirror to the Church of the day and convicted the actions of Kings and exposed the injustices of self-seeking Government. In America our Gospel is not dangerous. It is safe, safe, safe for the whole family.
The earliest followers of Jesus were constantly persecuted because of their commitment to a Jesus way of life which cloned the subversive nature of Jesus and multiplied it across the fabric of society. They loved extravagantly, sharing all things in common with the poorest among them and held defiantly to the Gospel of the Kingdom which declared that God's rule and reign had indeed come to each and every one of their lives. When they were enslaved they served their masters respectfully, as if they were serving God Himself. When they were arrested and beaten for refusing to renounce Jesus the Messiah they did not fight back or demand their inalienable rights as human beings. Instead they went quietly to their deaths or sang hymns of praise to God for the blessing of martyrdom. They were a people who loved others so much they would rather die than shed another person's blood.
LIKE LAMBS TO THE SLAUGHTER
For over three hundred years the followers of Jesus, the citizens of "The Way", took it on the chin and held on tight to their faith with perserverance because they knew that the enduring of trials and difficulties meant that God was working in them the character of Christ Jesus and depositing a quality of faith that would not let go of God, even in the face of imprisonment, beatings, persecutions or death itself. They also knew that their uncommon, radical posture of love and compassion for others, even those who beat them, persecuted them and put them to death, was having an impact of nuclear proportions in the lives of those outside the faith. The power of their love created ripples in the fabric of humanity that changed hearts and turned the world upside down.
SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY
When Emperor Constantine lifted the persecution of the Church in 313 A.D. it came with a caveat: The Church would have to submit to his vision of what Christianity should look like and how the faith should be practiced. For the first time in history a person could claim to be a follower of Jesus and still take up a sword and strike a man dead. Under Constantine's new rules of faith the Christian Church would take on the pagan practices of the day, worship in their converted temples and submit to the authority of a select Clergy wearing the robes of pagan priests and adopting the language of paganism.
Some might wonder if the price we paid for escaping the sword was too high. Some might wonder if we had forgotten the promise of Jesus that those who followed him would be hated and persecuted because of how they were unlike the world. Some might say that the Church befriended the religious system and practices of pagan Rome in order to save themselves any further persecution, rather than remain loyal to the same Jesus who said that we were to be set apart from the World and its systems.
There were some within the Christian Church in that day who refused to comply with Constantine's compromise. They attempted to continue gathering together in their homes as they had done for over three centuries, but Constantine issued a new law that made it illegal to continue this practice. Their choice suddenly became crystal clear; they could either submit to the Emperor's rule or face further persecution. In effect, Constantine's compromise was a mandate, not a friendly suggestion.
Around the world and throughout history, as the Church has been persecuted she has flourished. Whenever threatened she finds her inner compass and that always leads her back home, to the organic nature buried indelibly in her DNA.
In Soviet Russia, or Communist China or oppressive Korean regimes the Church of Jesus has not only survived, it has thrived and exploded as it remembers to be the church and reverts to the home-based, family model of worship revealed in Scripture.
So, even as the Church shifted slightly under Constantine and adopted a more relevant and culturally acceptable format of worship, these instances of persecution throughout history have revealed what essentially makes us the Family of God. It is at these times that she remembers her original mandate and reverts to the form once assumed in the very beginning.
OUT OF THE COMFORT ZONE
So what do we do about this today? How do we reconcile the promise of Jesus that the world would hate us because we are not of it as He is not of it?
Rather than focus on getting the World to hate us, perhaps it makes more sense to turn our energies towards being a people who love like Jesus loved. If we expect people to treat us they way they treated Jesus, I think it makes sense for us to do the things that Jesus did.
Whether or not you embrace the house church is irrelevant. You can be someone who follows Jesus with your everyday life whether you worship in a multi-million dollar building or under a tree in the park. The calling on you is the same as the one that is on me- to follow Jesus.
When we stay safely insulated inside our customized Christian comfort zone, our need for Faith is diminished. In fact, surrounded by hundreds of other Believers, from the safe vantage point of my padded pew, Faith is irrelevant. Faith seems to only be necessary for those who are in a dangerous place, outside their comfort zones, engaging the enemy, embracing the diseased, loving the poor, serving the least and the last. Faith is only necessary for those who choose to live a dangerous life outside their comfort zones.
Perhaps this is why Jesus wonders out loud if he will find any on the Earth who have faith when he returns? If we insist on remaining in our safe places, our zones of comfort, then our faith will grow weak and limp and useless. We can barely use it to generate personal wealth and unending health, much less to heal the sick, cast our demons, comfort the afflicted, or love the unlovely.
ADVANCING THE KINGDOM WITHOUT RETREATING FROM THE CULTURE
"You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God." - James 4:4
This verse doesn't intend to drive us into the monasteries or to seek refuge among our Ahmish Bretheren, nor does it compel us to create Christian version of this world with cross-emblazoned products and holy goods and services. We are not called to retreat from the culture or to create a better, private version of the world we're supposed to change. Those first Christians didn't retreat from society, instead they obediently lived lives of such love among the heathen that people began to change from the inside out (see 1 Peter 2:11-12).
Simply put, if we would consider it our daily practice to serve others we might start to resemble those people who were so much like Jesus that they began to be persecuted for living lives of astounding love.
Jesus made no room for us to compromise our calling to be a peculiar people. We have no right to surrender our calling to love others in exchange for a better, more comfortable life in this temporary existence.
"Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also." - Jesus (John 15:20)
I pray that the Church would rise up again and become the people who are known for the way they love others, even those who hate them and who would stand for Gospel of Jesus, no matter what anyone else may say about us, or do to us.
"If you have love for those who have love for you, what credit is it to you? for even sinners have love for those who have love for them." - Jesus, Luke 6:32