History is both taught and learned as a series of moments in the past. From each defining moment comes a future implication—for better or worse—a ripple effect that extends throughout generations. Thus you and I are currently “writing history”. One day future generations will look back on this cultural moment. What will they say? How will we be remembered? Specifically, how will the church be remembered?
I believe we are in the midst of a defining moment for the people of God. It’s important for us to consider the type of approach we are taking in light of current events. Where would you find yourself? Silent? Shouting? Or soul-winning?
If we are going to embrace our status as “the light of the world,” we do so by projecting the overflow of Christ in us, not reflecting the world around us.
The Silent Church
The first time I read Letter From a Birmingham Jail I found myself angry. Dr. King’s handwritten, 7,000-word letter was addressed to fellow clergy whom he considered silent. In the midst of a defining moment in our nation’s history the church was turning its head. King wrote, “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.” Will this be our legacy as well?
Now applying this lesson gets tricky in our context. In a culture of overwhelming amounts of information, conflicting evidence, biased opinions and dishonest news sources, we struggle to discern when to speak up and when to be silent. Consequently, paralysis by analysis can set in. The pressure to address every issue can end up resulting in a slow fade into the background of culture. Before we know it, we’re as silent as the churches who ignored the racial injustices Martin Luther King and others were fighting against.
So how should we avoid the sin of silence? Our lives and our voices should promote a message that pierces through the fog of culture with undeniable clarity. The opposite of silence is not shouting uninformed conspiracies, it’s displaying the gospel, promoting the Kingdom of God, and preaching Christ crucified. This certainly includes applying the implications of the gospel to the critical issues of concerns in our culture—such as gender, race, abortion, marriage and other ethical concerns.
In the midst of a noisy culture, often marked by ambiguity, the church has the opportunity to present the clear and simple message of the gospel: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16) May we take advantage of this moment.
The Shouting Church
Christians are called to be a vocal people, this is true. In fact, the Bible is very clear—our faith is not a private matter to be kept to ourselves, it is a public profession that Jesus commissions us to speak about. However, our calling to proclaim the gospel in boldness can quickly become a license to proclaim everything in boldness if we lose sight of our purpose.
Jesus’s ministry is the perfect example. He lived in a world of grave injustices, deep cultural divides, and political corruption on a level we have never experienced. The way in which He chose to combat these issues was by clearly and consistently proclaiming the kingdom of God. The truth of the gospel itself began to erode the very foundations of evil around Him. Through the multiplication of disciples He formed communities that stood apart from the whole of society. His ministry was not marked by an opposition to culture, per se, but a promotion of the Kingdom. And through the glorification of God He exploited the work of Satan.
Our world is only getting more noisy. The church’s aim should not be to match the level of noise but rather to pierce through it with the precision of gospel truth. We must avoid the temptation to turn every issue into a crisis, crying wolf in the public square, thus tarnishing our reputation and becoming just like our noisy culture. We have an opportunity to let the countercultural nature of the Kingdom of God be on display for the world to see. If we are going to embrace our status as “the light of the world,” we do so by projecting the overflow of Christ in us, not reflecting the world around us.
Apart from Christ we are the very people we oppose.
The Soul-Winning Church
In the middle of the book of Acts we find the church’s first defining moment in its present culture. Acts 15 records the meeting of religious leaders to discuss the issue of Gentile integration. This decision would determine the future of the church. Would they be silent and avoid the cultural tension? Would they shout about tertiary issues? Or would they focus on the souls of men?
We see all three take place in the quick sequence Luke recounts in Acts. While the Pharisees were shouting about Jewish law, Peter, Paul, James and Barnabas remained silent. They knew in their hearts the religious elites were completely missing the point. Even though their arguments were based on scripture they had lost sight of what truly mattered.
Finally, Peter stood. He could not remain silent any longer and he knew shouting back would only fan the flames of dissent. So he carefully chose his words while looking the Jerusalem Council in the face and pointed them to their own salvation. “God made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.” He would end by stating, “We believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” Luke tells us “the assembly fell silent.” When we are confronted with our own spiritual condition and the grace made available to us, we cannot help but fall silent. It’s in that moment we realize that apart from Christ we are the very people we oppose. As a result the cultural battles we face today are not won by canceling the other side, but by actively advancing the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.
The mission of the church is the same today as it was in the first century. Our focus is on making disciples who make disciples. It’s easy to get caught up in the noise but we must remember that it’s not about who yells the loudest or hides the longest, it’s about who has the courage to become the least of these. Reject the temptation to be silent or shout, and instead choose the path of self-denial—the way of the cross.
For those who find themselves sitting on the sidelines of culture, overwhelmed by the noise, I would encourage you to stand and speak as Peter did. Clearly, boldly, and intentionally. Let the gospel message reign loud and clear. May the 21st century church be remembered as the church that promoted Christ above all things.