The history of the Christian church is replete with examples of the believing community being sucked into the worldview and values of the surrounding culture. It happens all the time unfortunately, and will undoubtedly continue. The church is meant to be countercultural, but it so seldom really is.
Indeed, in God’s upside-down kingdom, you can almost take it as a rule of thumb that whatever the world is just crazy about, the church should be dead set against. Within reason, and with obvious exceptions, that may not be a bad way to look at things. Indeed, if the world is in love with what you are doing, then you might need to ask if what you are doing is really of God.
Consider just one area in which the church has slavishly conformed to the world around it, instead of radically challenging it. Today in the West it has become axiomatic that the only ‘virtues’ worth agitating for are acceptance and tolerance.
In an age which believes in nothing, it is assumed that we are supposed to get excited about nothing. Just live and let live. Whatever you are into, or are doing, or believing, that is just hunky dory. Who am I to judge you? The only thing anyone should do is embrace everything, accept everything, judge nothing, and criticise nothing.
And this silly and even harmful mindset has now crept into the churches big time as well. We have simply soaked up the false values of the surrounding culture, and put a Christian spin on it all. Indeed, we seek to recruit Jesus in justifying our embrace of such worldly lunacy.
Thus we now have so many believers who are terrified of saying anything or doing anything for fear of offending somebody. They seem to think it is the loving thing, the polite thing, even the Christlike thing, not to rock the boat and not to cause even a hint of controversy.
Well these believers really need to start reading their Bibles again – or for the first time. Simply reading the four Gospels will show what foolish and unscriptural sentiments these are. Time and time again we read about Jesus offending people, getting people angry, causing division, and provoking major public commotion. Wherever he went, he seemed to get into trouble.
We see that he was constantly causing uproars, alienating people, and coming in for criticism. There are plenty of passages one can appeal to here. In Luke 4:28-29 we find these words: “All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff.”
Well, at least he provoked a reaction. In many churches today it’s all a preacher can do to simply keep the congregation awake. Jesus had no such problems. People either loved him or hated him. There was no little middle ground.
And we are told this on numerous occasions. John 7:40-43 puts it this way: “On hearing his words, some of the people said, ‘Surely this man is the Prophet.’ Others said, ‘He is the Christ.’ Still others asked, ‘How can the Christ come from Galilee? Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come from David’s family and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?’ Thus the people were divided because of Jesus.”
Now Jesus could easily have softened his message. After all, isn’t the name of the game church growth? Isn’t the real deal to get numbers? Why unnecessarily turn people off? Just tone things down a bit and the crowds will come rushing in.
But that is not how Jesus operated. Consider John 6:60-67: “On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’ Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, ‘Does this offend you?’… From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.”
Jesus obviously was not reading carefully books like How to Win Friends and Influence People. He knew people took offence at his words, and he fully accepted that people would reject him and his teaching. Indeed, he put it this way: “Do you suppose that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, No; but rather division” (Luke 12:51).
Of course we could go on to the book of Acts and see how this same pattern plays itself out over and over again. Just one example, however. In Acts 17:6 we are told this about the early believers: they “caused trouble everywhere” (GNB). A troublesome bunch, those early Christians. If that was so very true of Jesus and the early church, should it not be true of us as well?
Now it really should go without saying that when I speak about this, I am not suggesting that we go out of our way causing trouble, seeking to deliberately be offensive, and taking no regard for the legitimate sensitivities of others. We are to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves, as Jesus commanded us.
I am simply saying that it is the nature of the beast – that is, the normal Christian life – that offense will be taken quite often when we simply live a life of truth, integrity and conformity to the will and claims of Christ. That will always prove to be offensive to people. It was true of Jesus, and it will be true of us.
So by all means, let us be tactful, diplomatic, and seek to build bridges where possible. Let us strive to be as gracious and loving and kind as we can be. But just remember, the most gracious, loving and kind person on earth was rejected by men, an outcast of the world, and eventually crucified for taking an unflinching stand for the truth of God.
Can we be, and do, any less?