We’ve been trucking through the Beatitudes at The Big Table over the last few months. Our series, Upside Down, has moved through the suite of ‘blessed/fully human/fully actualised’ states that Jesus encourages His followers towards.
A constant theme along the way has been how antithetical the pursuit of these beatitudes is to our culture (hence the title!). Meekness, mercy, poverty of spirit, encouraging peace, seeking purity – these aren’t the go-to values of a culture that celebrates domination and the crushing of losers.
We’ve considered the present and future dimensions of these beatitudes; I’m not sure there’s a single one that does not have both.
On the Sunday just gone, we reached the final beatitude for the series: ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ (Matt 5:9).
I wasn’t persecuted last week. There are vast numbers of Christians in countries throughout the world who face a very present danger of death for their faith. Australia is not one of them. I’m not saying ever – but as far as hotbeds for Christian persecution, Australia will not be red on your thermal map.
In other countries, persecution is closer to home: excommunication from families or severe punishment for declaring Jesus as ‘Lord’. Again, while it happens occasionally, it is not commonplace in this country.
Before going to too much further in the ambling part of my run-up: the persecution that Jesus is talking of here is well articulated. It is ‘for righteousness sake’.
It is not for doing something stupid. It is not for doing something worthy of ridicule. The harsh response you get for cutting someone off in traffic or ‘forgetting’ to deal with your dog’s poo down at the park may well be inappropriate and ill-considered, but it’s not the persecution of which Jesus is speaking.
My amble just moved to a shuffle, but the reason for the long run up is that my desire to write about politics and culture in any shape or form is rare and fleeting. I’m shuffling so that the mood may pass.
Nope, still writing.
Towards the end of my message on Sunday, I gave a soapbox warning. I’m not sure I ever have before though some may think I never dismount.
I’d read something in a newsletter of a Christian political party earlier in the week, and it made me squirm.
(Insert name of political party) has always been about preserving our “Way of Life” and this will be the theme that will underpin our campaign for the 2016 federal election. The “Australian Way of Life” is a proven, safe and dependable lifestyle and every one of our candidates will campaign vigorously to ensure it remains that way.
I reacted to that thought, and I think the reaction had been brewing for a little while. Thoughts like that, from Christians, somehow don’t sound quite right, but I’ve never attempted to articulate why.
I’ll try now.
We are not entitled to have a prevailing culture that resonates with our a biblical worldview.
The whole notion of the “Upside Down” Kingdom that Jesus inaugurates and articulates in the Sermon on the Mount, is one that is antithetical to the sea in which we swim. Jesus knew this when he encouraged us to be ‘in the world’ and not ‘of the world’.
I can’t help thinking that the culture in which the early church was wading was far more congruent with where our current culture is heading compared to where it has been in the last century.
Us Christians have had it good.
There’s no doubt you can mount a compelling argument that the influence of Christendom and the teachings of Jesus on our society have been a common grace on us all (Well, much of it has. The Crusades? Not so much.). No disagreement there.
The pushback, though, is the thought that those following Jesus deserve to have a biblical worldview expressed and realised in the political and societal behaviours and practices of the day.
I’m not sure Jesus assured us of this. Quite the opposite. He spoke of a cheerful disposition towards the tribulation that we will face.
No, as profitable and advantageous as it might be for those who are not following Jesus to live as if they are, that’s not a reasonable expectation. And I can’t help thinking you’d be victim to the greatest shortchange of all. All living, no hope.
Second thought (warming up now!).
When changes come about in our culture that are opposed to what the Bible says, I’m not sure that’s persecution towards Christians at all. It’s a culture going its own way.
Those decisions, when sinful, when showing a lack of mercy and compassion, when pursuing aggression over peace, and when exalting the created over the Creator, will have their consequences.
In many ways, Australia has the remnants of a culture founded on Christian values and practices. Those values and practices now have little to do with the foundations from which they came.
In some ways, this is a good thing. When the salt has lost its flavour, it is of little value. There seem to be unreasonable expectations on people who are unconnected from the source of the saltiness. We demand that they exhibit the behaviour that we’re after despite an absence of the relationship that would produce a desire for those behaviours in the first place. Some would call this legalism.
I’m not sure that we should be a people who require those who don’t place their faith in Jesus to live and act in a particular way that is consistent with a Bible that they have not read, and a Gospel they have not heard.
We’re not here to cling to the last vestiges of Christian values in our culture and placard for them to be enshrined in legislation. Even though they might be to the betterment of our society (more on that in a few paragraphs!)
Perhaps this is a restatement of the first thought, but we are not entitled to enjoy a particular way of life when it seems that Jesus says that the only thing that we should feel entitled to from our culture in pursuing righteousness is persecution.
Don’t be a victim. I can’t think of anywhere in scripture that encourages us to wallow in regret at what we’ve had taken from us. Days when shops were closed on a Sunday, no-one played sport on the Sabbath, marriage was defined in heterosexual terms, and no one complained about saying the Lord’s Prayer in schools.
Ok, the rivers of Babylon spring to mind but the context was entirely different.
I think it’s neither appropriate nor glorifying to God to force those who have not made Jesus their foundation, to adopt or retain values and practices that might be the fruit of following him.
I’m done. Off the soapbox. Almost.
Part encouragement, part polemic, and part disclaimer.
Is there a place for advocating the values of the Kingdom of God on earth? Of course.
Is there a place for Christians to be involved in political discourse? I think so.
Is there a place for Christians to reveal God’s heart for the world and his desire to reconcile all people to himself. Now that’s an imperative.
Is there a place for using your everyday lives—your influence, standing, and relationships—to be salt and light to those around you? That’s not just a yes; that’s a flat out command and exhortation from the King of Kings.
And is there a place for a group of Christians staging a sit in as a non-violent protest on behalf of asylum seekers to our country? Yes and Amen.
Does all of that add up to demanding that people act and live a particular way because it appeals to your ‘way of life’? No, I don’t think so. In the same way that the non-violent protest wouldn’t require passers-by to join them in their sit-in.
We need to be a people that are more recognised for what we promote rather than what we are doggedly defending.
The road ahead for those seeking to incarnate the gospel in their streets and workplaces will likely be bumpy. The hunch I have, though, as we go about sharing, living and spreading the good news about Jesus, is that it will make a whole lot of Paul’s encouragements to the early church increasingly resonate with our cultural setting.
Sometimes that causes me to tremble, tremble. Yet I also believe that it is in the presence of such an unambiguous divergence that Jesus rides in a donkey and says, “let me show you my way of life – I’m not going to make you do or say anything…but I’m dying to give you more of life than you’d ever imagined”.
That way of life costs your life, and it sure gives you a tasty one in return.