When we confuse the role of the Church with the Government

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?  But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled,  but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,  having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.  For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. 1 Peter 3:13-17 (ESV)

The more anti-Christ our society gets, the more suffering for being faithful to God and suffering for doing good in His name will happen. But we shouldn’t focus on the suffering but on the doing good. And when we do good, Peter tells us to have a reason for the hope that is in us. Yet we share that hope not with dogmatic signs like the corner preachers at the university who are telling everyone they are going to hell -- not like the Westboro Baptist Church protesting funerals of gays and others. No! We share the reason for our hope with gentleness and respect. We aren’t jerks about it. We don’t have to force them to believe, but we should gently and respectfully give them the reason that we believe. But that doesn’t happen unless, as Jesus taught, our good works are seen to give God glory (Matthew 5:13-16).

And I think we may lose this perspective.

Mainly because we have lost an understanding of the importance of church in many Christian communities along with misappropriating our role to the government. This is due in part to bad theology in some circles that think that America must be a Christian nation. The New Israel as some proclaim. But for my whole life, our nation has said that getting abortions is okay. Our nation has been militarily attacking people every year that I have been alive, except for my early President Carter years, and, for most of those years, I have absolutely no idea why. Our nation says that gay marriage is just the same as the marriage of two Christian people. Our society says that it is unrealistic to teach abstinence. On and on, our society teaches things contrary to the teachings of our faith – these are just some of the big ones - yet we sometimes do some illogical gymnastics to pretend that our nation is Christian. And then this causes us to try to force nonChristians to live by Christian laws. That isn’t our place. We have something much more important to do.

Instead, I think we are called to be countercultural and something different. We are called to be the church. The community that God wants to transform society through. But not through the use of the state. Instead, we are to do it through transformed hearts. We are called to live in such a way together that people will ask for the reason for the hope that in us. And when we suffer for doing good, we’re called to be there for each other.

I look back to the early monasteries for inspiration. Don't think of what the monastery has become, but realize what its original intention was. This was explained in the Celtic Way of Evangelism by George Hunter. The Catholic Church was trying to convert Europe and the pagan people through getting them to accept certain doctrines as true. Doctrine is important, but that isn’t how Europe was won to the Lord. The Catholic Church was failing at converting pagan Europe using this method. But there was a revival that had occur in Ireland. Those people had become zealous for the Lord. And they took a different approach at being missionaries to the pagan cultures of Europe. A group of them would move together and live outside of the community they wanted to reach for Jesus. They would establish a monastery and start living out the Christian life together in community. It wasn't about evangelism as we have come to know it; it was about being real Christians living life together. Sharing their joys and sorrows. Helping each other with their needs. Sounds an awful lot like the Acts 2 church. As a result of their life together, the communities they were living outside of saw God's love and were eventually included into their communities. Before long, the people in the community they were trying to reach were also living out the Christian life. They would realize this and decide they were also Christians. Their approach recognized that Christianity was a lifestyle to be lived rather than a set of belief statements to be acknowledged.

The greatest evangelistic tool Christians have is to just be real, authentic Christians living life together. There is no apologetic trick or evangelistic method that will create real Christians outside of us being real Christians.

And do you see the difference here from the way Christianity is often lived out in America? Instead of just setting the example of what society should be like through our life together in the church, Christians are trying to get their way in the public sphere. Trying to use the force of the state to make others live up to Christian standards. And this never leaves a good impression on the lost. So we may be able to successfully legislate morality if that is our goal, but, in doing that, in having that secular victory, we will find that we push people away from Jesus. Instead of living lives that people want to wonder about, we instead live lives that repulse people. Instead of giving a gentle and respectful reason for the hope in us, we leverage our clout to force people to live like us.

What if instead of trying to transform society through legislation we allowed God to transform us into healthy churches filled with love for one another and those around us?