Minority Status: How are Christians to respond to their developing cultural displacement?

10 May

From a lesson I taught at my church on living in a religious minority status as God’s people in the aftermath of their cultural displacement.

Introduction: what scripture and the early church teach us about how to live as a religious and cultural minority in an increasingly unchristian society.

We must remember that we are not entitled to dominant or majority status, to be a major social force, in this world or age.  There is no kingdom in this world over which God has granted rule to Christians or His Church.  Rather, our kingdom is that of Christ, which is not of this world.  St. Augustine describes this truth in his classic The City of God, responding to the fall of the Roman Empire, the Roman “Christian” empire.  Christians in his day were befuddled, disgruntled, bewildered.  How could the glorious Christian empire lose its status?  But Augustine explained that they had misidentified a City of Man (temporal) with the City of God (eternal).  The Kingdom of God is principally the eternal church of King Jesus and will endure forever.  Earthly kingdoms will come and go; Christians will find themselves sometimes in positions of prominence and sometimes in positions of obscurity or even persecution.  So we can respond to our cultural displacement with despair or with bitterness, but that stems from a wrong understanding of the spiritual nature of the Kingdom of God and the role of the Church in battling against not flesh and blood but evil spiritual forces that operate in this present darkness.

So what is to be the posture of a culturally displaced church in this age?  We are to be people of…

1) Hope – Our hope is in the promises of God; faith is the substance of things hoped for and evidence of things not seen; we are to walk by faith and not by sight; though we are hard pressed on every side, we are not crushed; we may be perplexed, but we do not despair; We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed, because we know in Whom we have believed, that he is faithful; that he is the Great I Am, that there is none like Him, Declaring the End From the Beginning, and From Ancient Times the Things That Are Not Yet Done.  All authority on heaven and earth has been given to Jesus our Lord.  So whom shall we fear?  If God be for us who can be against us?  We are not disheartened when we are deprived of position, for we know that we will judge angels; that we shall receive an inheritance, treasures in heaven, making this world grow strangely dim.  Even if we were given all kinds of authority, to subdue demons and kings, it is not in this that we rejoice, but that our names are written down in heaven.  In short, our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness, not our status in this world.  So when the world watches us, they marvel at our resilience, hope, faith, determination, steadfastness.

Introduction: what scripture and the early church teach us about how to live as a religious and cultural minority in an increasingly unchristian society.

We must remember that we are not entitled to dominant or majority status, a major social force, in this world or age.  There is no kingdom in this world over which God has granted rule to Christians or His Church.  Rather, our kingdom is not of this world.  St. Augustine describes this truth in his classic The City of God, responding to the fall of the Roman Empire, the Roman “Christian” empire.  Christians in his day were befuddled, disgruntled, bewildered.  How could the glorious Christian empire lose its status?  But Augustine explained that they had misidentified a City of Man (temporal) with the City of God (eternal).  The Kingdom of God is principally the eternal church of King Jesus and will endure forever.  Earthly kingdoms will come and go; Christians will find themselves sometimes in positions of prominence and sometimes in positions of obscurity or even persecuted.  So we can respond to our cultural displacement with despair or with bitterness, but that stems from a wrong understanding of the spiritual nature of the Kingdom of God and the role of the Church in battling against not flesh and blood but evil spiritual forces that operate in this present darkness.

2) Truth – We are to be people of the truth, because our father is not the father of lies but the God of all truth, who never lies.

  • In our message – we remind people of their great Creator, His majesty, His moral law, written beneath layers of corruption upon their own hearts.  We are proclaim unto them the gospel, that the Lord Jesus Christ came to save sinners, that he lived, was crucified and buried, and was raised, cleansing us from all unrighteousness, He became sin for us so that we might become the children of God; seek him while he may be found for today is the day of salvation; we are heralds of the gospel, mission minded, longing to hear the name of the Lord exalted, lifting up th name of Jesus drawing all men unto him; we pray, we go, we send, first in Jerusalem and then the uttermost parts of the earth.  We are always ready to give a reason for the hope that lies within us.  Proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes.
  • In our churches – we are keep that deposit of the faith, the faith once for all delivered to the saints, passing it down through to each generation, teaching it to our children, proclaiming it from our pulpits, no matter what the culture or church growth strategists demand of our message.  To them, we say let God be true, and every man be a liar.  We do not abandon or change the word of God to fit the wants of our culture, friends, or other churches, who now find it obsolete or irrelevant for our changing times.  We are to be committed to purity of doctrine.  The early church faced a far more hostile culture than we do today.  Their ideas were not simply unpopular but also illegal.  Yet, they did not use that as an excuse to set aside doctrinal concerns, catechesis, the work of church councils or presbyteries, addressing false or problematic teaching, etc.  They did not let the enticements of social relevance and acceptance cause them to abandon their duty to guard the truth entrusted to their care.  We should also remember out history; it is precisely those periods of time when the Church held the greatest degree of institutionalized dominance that she wandered from the truth and became corrupted from within.  In proclaiming the truth, perhaps a better position for the Church to occupy is one that is exactly outside the social system to which it has been called as a herald.
  • In our dealings with others; our handshake should be our bond; our yeas should be yeas and nays nays; whatever else people may say of us, let them say “You can trust him; he’s a Christian.”

3) Holiness – though we are surrounded by gentiles, we do not do as the gentiles do; we are rather a Holy people; we do not intermarry, unequally yoking ourselves with unbelievers; we would not be troublemakers but peacemakers, making it our ambition to live quiet and peaceful lives, walking properly before outsiders and to be dependent on no one; we educate and disciple our own children, not expecting or allowing the world to do that in our stead; we do not simply call the Lord Lord, but we do as he commands; we flee from sexual immorality, but rather we will be marked by decency, goodness, integrity, honesty, we do not call evil good or good evil; we do not laugh with those who do evil; we aim to be holy even as our God is Holy.

4) Grace – we do not think of ourselves more highly than we ought, knowing that it is by grace through faith that we have been saved; gifts from God; we do not stand on the corner for all to see, judging others, thanking God that we are not like other men, but instead we humbly bow down crying out, “God have mercy on me, a sinner.”  It is not for the well that Christ came, but the sick, and among them, we count ourselves; so we are not haughty, self-righteous; rather we know that there but for the grace of God we would go; We know there is no reason to boast since what we have has been given to us a free gift of God and to as many as the Lord our God may call.  We also acknowledge and affirm all truth that is God’s truth and the many wonderful ways that our God has graciously revealed Himself generally to mankind in His World, including through the creative, charitable, innovative, marvelous acts of men who testify to the glory of God.  Though they do not acknowledge Him as God, even suppressing the truth of God in unrighteousness, we rejoice in the wonderful works of even unbelieving men and affirm all in them that is of divine origin and redeeming value.

Mercy – though we are persecuted, ostracized, mocked, we will not repay evil with evil; we forgive our debtors, turn the other cheek, love our enemies, and forgive those who hurt us.  When they steal our shirts, we are not surprised, knowing that they persecuted our master and we are not great than he; rather, we hand them our coats too.  All for His name’s sake.  We care.  We love our neighbor as ourselves, doing good to those who sojourn among us.  We are compassionate for the vulnerable, the neglected, the weak, the poor, the sick, the unloved, the unwanted, the orphan, the widow.   When others will not speak up for the weak or help them in their distress, we are the Good Samaritans.  We do good to all kinds of men; clothing, visiting, healing, helping, knowing that when we do good, especially among the least of these, we do it unto Jesus our Savior.  Others may see our good works and glorify our Father in Heaven.

Brotherly love – we love one another, for love is of God, and we are His people; people will know that we are disciples of Christ, because of our love for one another; we do good to all men, but especially the household of faith; we submit to one another in love; sharing each other’s burdens; giving one to another; we do not assert our rights, but love the brethren, putting them before ourselves; for the sake of the weaker brother and edification of the church; in society, glitz and glamor will win you favor, but in our churches, there is neither slave nor free, rich nor poor, male nor female, Greek or Gentile.

Sobriety – we are ever watchful ever waiting for the return of Christ, who will come as a thief in the night; though we know not the time when he will return, we will not be ignorant of the signs of the times, resisting the Anti-Christ who is to come and who is already among us; we will watch standing fast in the faith, with minds that are alert and fully sober, we set our hope on the glory to be brought to us when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.

In conclusion, let the world be drawn, if the Lord wills, to a church that embodies much of what St. Cyprian saw in his day (early 4th century).

“This is a cheerful world as I see it from my fair garden, under the shadow of my vines. But if I could ascend some high mountain, and look out over the wide lands, you know very well what I should see: brigands on the highways, pirates on the seas, armies fighting, cities burning, in the amphitheatres men murdered to please applauding crowds, selfishness and cruelty and misery and despair under all roofs. It is a bad world, Donatus, an incredibly bad world. But I have discovered in the midst of it a quiet and holy people who have learned a great secret. They have found a joy which is a thousand times better than any of the pleasures of our sinful life. They are despised and persecuted, but they care not. They are masters of their souls. They have overcome the world. These people, Donatus, are the Christians – and I am one of them.”

– St. Cyprian

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  1. Minority Status: How Are Christians to Respond to Their Developing Cultural Displacement? - May 12, 2013

    […] Presbyterian Church (PCA) with his wife, Natalie, and three children, Caleb, Noah, and Sarah Ann. This article first appeared on his blog, The Reformed Mind, and is used with […]

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