In the World, Not of the World
“Those who love father or mother more than me aren’t worthy of me. Those who love son or daughter more than me aren’t worthy of me. 38Those who don’t pick up their crosses and follow me aren’t worthy of me. 39Those who find their lives will lose them, and those who lose their lives because of me will find them.” Matthew 10:37-39 (CEB)
Reading the Bible, I don't think Jesus understood the concept of advertising. I mean think about it, when you try to brand something, you usually want to do it in a way that makes people desire it. If I wanted to convince people to follow me, I would promise them some sort of incentive like money, status, or even free food (that's all that it would take to convince me). But did Jesus do this? No. His marketing strategy went something like this: "Give up your life to follow me. Oh, and also be prepared to be crucified like me when you do." Um....what?
Jesus was a countercultural radical who made a lot of people uncomfortable. Rather than coming as some sort of Davidic, military-like messiah, anti-Roman messiah that the many of the Jewish people expected and wanted, Jesus came as a common, middle class, carpenter savior. His teachings of forgiveness, anti-violence, loving your enemies, and giving up your material goods were all practices that were considered "radical" by the culture that Jesus lived in.
As a United Methodist Christian, I am all too familiar with the term “culture,” a term I often hear paired with the term “relevant.” For years, with the decline of Christianity in America, there has been a push by Christians to become “relevant” to the culture that we minister to. As a result, Churches are replacing liturgy with rock bands, potlucks with coffee shops, and ministry with life-coaching. Now I'm not saying that we should all go back to the dark ages where all we do is Gregorian chants. But I do think we need to consider whether we as a Church, in our efforts to increase membership, are really conforming to the culture around us; a culture that Jesus spent most of his life at odds with. The fact is, Christians are weird. What we believe, how we act is often so different from how the culture in which we live goes about doing things.
But being the Church isn't about transforming the culture, being a part of it, or even being totally against it. The Church is about being a community of believers who recognize God as creator and redeemer of all things. Who, by His grace, gave the world the chance to be reconciled to him and ultimately to each other. This “Church” is constantly wanting to become more like Christ and to follow him wherever he goes. As Christians who follow Christ to the cross, we are therefore expected to be out of our comfort zones. We are expected to embody forgiveness in a culture that values vengeance. We are supposed to embody peace in a culture that values war. We are meant to embody community in a culture that values individualism. We are meant to embody humility in a culture that values prestige and consumerism. If the culture goes against the example of Christ, than it is the responsibility of the Church to be against that specific cultural aspect and sometimes this means rejecting the very culture which we live.
Being a Christian isn't easy. It's a long, often dangerous journey that often challenges us and puts us at odds with the world. But the things we do are a reflection of who we are as Christians and as a Church. No matter how uncomfortable it may make us feel, following Christ to the cross helps us to become more like Christ and ultimately restores us into the image that God originally had for us.
Discussion questions: What does it look like when the Church looks like the Church? Briefly read a summary on Wikipedia about the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. What can his life tell us about the role of the Church in the world?