“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa
One day about a month and a half ago, I was driving to work when I saw a sign on the corner: “Best darn wash on this corner.” The sign was true as far as it went because there was no other car wash on that corner. There were two vacant lots, a fire station, and the previously mentioned car wash. So this one was indeed the best, but only because it was also the only one.
For many years, Christianity was in a similar situation. The good old U. S. of A. was nominally a “Christian” nation and members of other faiths were essentially in a secondary position. But, as songwriter Bob Dylan observed, “The times they are a changin’.” And the change has upset some folks. There was a time when we Christians could have a sense of entitlement about being in the majority and receiving all the perks that came along with it. But not anymore.
Some elements within Christianity have responded by saying very loudly—to anyone who will listen—that “Christianity is under attack.” It isn’t. Quite simply, the folks who were used to being top dog aren’t necessarily top dog anymore and they’re feeling a little threatened, a little afraid, getting a smaller share. But this is nothing new. Our spiritual ancestors, the Jews, have always been a minority. Christians were once persecuted and even killed. We’re not being persecuted today, at least not in this part of the world, but some folks aren’t getting their way like they used to. Instead, others suddenly have rights too. But the Constitution only guarantees “freedom of religion,” not “freedom of Christianity.”
After Paul arrived in the city of Athens, he addressed the people: “‘Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, “To the unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth,’” (Acts 17:22b-24a ESV). Athens, like our world today, was a pluralistic society. Early Christianity was simply one more sect among many. Paul proclaimed the resurrection of Christ and God’s judgment (vs. 30-31), and some embraced the message of the gospel (vs. 34). Later, he wrote to his young friend Timothy about
Like the folks at the car wash, I can state categorically that ours is the best church on our corner because there isn’t any other church on that corner. But our church isn’t the “best” church in town, as much as you or I might think so. There’s another church just a block away and another United Methodist church about a mile from us. My wife, Charlotte, and I pass several churches on the way to ours. But none of those churches are “home” the way ours is. I wish every church could be just like ours and that everyone would simply come to their senses and agree with me all the time. After all, who wouldn’t? But they aren’t and they don’t.
Instead of thinking of ourselves as being unfairly persecuted, we should think of our new circumstances as a challenge. No, we’re not going to get our way all the time anymore, if we ever did. No, we’re not necessarily in the majority anymore. But we don’t have to surrender. We have something—someone—to offer, someone the world needs. The days of Christian supremacy are over and they’re never coming back. But our savior is here to stay and he is supreme. That is the message we bring. That is the gospel we proclaim. Not just when we’re winning, not just when we’re on top, but all the time.
“To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.” (1 Cor. 4:11-13 ESV.)
Copyright © 2014 by David Phelps