When Christians Win, They Lose

The following blog post is from Peter Wehner (contributing opinion writer for the New York Times) giving his reflections on Good Friday and Easter.

“The writer Philip Yancey recently offered this:

I wrote in Vanishing Grace about an important insight I learned from a Muslim scholar who said to me, ‘I have read the entire Koran and can find in it no guidance on how Muslims should live as a minority in a society. I have read the entire New Testament and can find in it no guidance on how Christians should live as a majority.’

“(Yancey) put his finger on a central difference between the two faiths. One, born at Pentecost, thrives cross-culturally and even counter-culturally, often coexisting with oppressive governments. The other, geographically anchored in Mecca, was founded simultaneously as a religion and a state….”

“While Islam seeks to unify religion and law, culture and politics, Yancey wrote, Christianity works best as a minority faith, a counter-culture…. Historically, when Christians have reached a majority they too fall to the temptations of power in ways that are clearly anti-gospel. Add to this the fact that, as sociologist of religion Rodney Stark has pointed out, Christianity’s greatest period of vulnerability and political weakness was the time of its most explosive growth. He estimates that Christianity saw a 40 percent growth rate per decade from 30 AD to 300 AD. As a result a tiny and obscure movement became the dominant faith of Western civilization. And its enduring symbol is not the shield or the sword but the cross.”

“Early on in my faith pilgrimage – a journey that did not come particularly easily to me – I was struck and to some degree captivated by how in many respects the Christian faith is a radical inversion of what the world deems worthy and worth celebrating. The last shall be first. Strength is made perfect in weakness. The humble will be exalted. Blessed are the meek, the poor in spirit, and those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness. Love rather than hate your enemies. Whatever you did for the least of these, you did for God. Whoever loses his life for God’s sake will find it.”

“Jesus himself came not as a king but as a servant. He was born not to wealth and privilege in Rome but in a manger in Bethlehem. He was a God who wept, was acquainted with grief and was ‘counted among the outlaws.’ He preferred the company of sinners to that of religious authorities, with whom he repeatedly clashed. He was abandoned and betrayed by his disciples. And he endured an agonizing death on a cross.”

“It is hardly the script you or I would write, a God whose crown was made of thorns. But for those of us of the Christian faith, Good Friday gives way to Easter Sunday – the days of God’s overpowering acts in history, acts in which God’s judgment and grace were revealed to all the world, in the words of the pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer.”

I would agree with this assessment. What have we learned from the Moral Majority, the rise of the Evangelical Voting Bloc, and apparent majority of evangelicals who voted for Donald Trump?  We have learned that our victory at the polls have not produced a more Christian nation; just as the Crusades and the Inquisition did not advance the gospel to the world. Jesus was asked by Pilate if he was a king; his reply, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).

In no way am I saying that we should be uninvolved in our society. Social reform was very much a part of evangelical thought (at least in the North) from the 1830’s to the Civil War. However, after the war, the evangelical movement became more centered on personal salvation and piety than social concerns. For example, leading evangelists D.L. Moody and later, Billy Sunday, held crusades that were segregated, especially when they preached in the South. Evangelicals were more concerned about the evils of alcohol and liberalism than the issues of race and women’s rights. (Divided By Faith, Emerson and Smith, 41).

What I am saying is that we (the Church) have not been called to rule, but to serve and to live out Christ’s kingdom here on earth. Our sign will never be a scepter, but always a cross because it will include suffering. Our prayer should not be for America to become “great,” but as Francis Schaeffer used to say even back in the 1960’s, we should pray that God would have mercy on America and bring us to our knees in humble repentance. This will be our greatest victory and greatest witness to the world. This is the pathway that Jesus took from Good Friday to Easter and beyond.

 

Fear not little flock…

So, where is your anxiety level these days, level orange? Our culture of fear has provided lots of munchies to feed our fear monsters: terrorism, angry and unstable people (could be a neighbor who seems normal but keeps to himself) committing acts of violence, eratic North Korea, Russian involvement in the current administration, the confusion of our political system, the future of health care, the debt-ridden-no-budget economy of Illinois, West Nile virus, Ebola, SARS… do you remember these last ones?

The world-wide fear over SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) which originated in China in 2002-3 is a fascinating study of how an irrational fear properly fed, grows out of proportion to the danger of the crisis. SARS had infected over 5,000 people worldwide and killed over 300, which was a tragedy.  However, at the same time in the U.S. alone 700,000 people died from heart disease and 550,000 from cancer. In 2012, the West Nile virus infected 4100 in the U.S. and killed 286, again a tragedy. However, during the same period 71,000 people died of diabetes and 62,000 of pneumonia.

Mysterious diseases, political intrigue, acts of violence and terrorism make big stories and media hype tends to report the reality disproportionately.  If you still watch the evening news on tv, you almost need a sedative afterwards.  Such news feeds our fears and diverts our attention from dealing with present issues and concerns, as well as stepping out of our bubble and taking risks for the sake of the gospel.

In “Break Open the Sky” Stephan Bauman (former president of World Relief) says, Fear is popular today because it’s profitable. Producers of media in all its forms have become merchants of fear, stoking fires of controversy, threat, or anger in search of larger audiences. Politicians, both conservative and progressive, traffic in fear to secure support and shore up votes. Corporations employ fear to make us buy more of their products. Friends warn us of the latest health scare, food allergy, or crime epidemic. Even religion, as an enterprise, makes use of fear. 

We Americans are experts at trying to control our own lives. We are self-sufficient and we tend to provide for ourselves quite well, thank you! We reduce our risks to the minimum, fix all our own problems, and anticipate all eventualities- well, at least we try. When something comes along like a new strain of flu bug for which (we are told) no antedote yet exist, we feel helpless, frustrated, and out of control — a feeling that Americans hate.  We also start to connect our present fear to all the rest in our anxiety-arsenal and overwhelm ourselves with worry and precaution and a bit of paranoia –because it might be terrorist related.

Earlier Christians (and many in the third world today*) lived in unsafe and hostile societies which were vulnerable to constant war, natural disasters without warning, and real incurable diseases. They had little control over their lives and had little sense of a bright earthly future. However, they did have faith in a God who never forgets the cross and would never forget them.  Their antidote to fear was not an inoculation but trust in a sovereign and loving God who has all things under control.

When the prophet Habakkuk looked at his uncertain future he was overcome with fear. However, he did not allow this fear to paralyze him and he chose to do two things: focus on the character of God who never changes (1:12); listen to God’s counsel to quell his fear.  “The just shall live by his faith” (2:4). The antidote for fear is not courage but faith.

So if we really want to listen to a Sovereign God who never changes then we must begin by hearing the consistent message spoken to the people under the old covenant and to those of us under the new… DO NOT BE AFRAID!

I won’t list all these passages but will mention one found in Luke 12:32 where Jesus told his disciples, “Fear not little flock, for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.” I wish I had a visual of Jesus speaking to this insigificant little band of wide-eyed men who were ready to be sent out into a violent world to spread the gospel, with little provisions and seemingly little hope of success. And yet Jesus said My little flock- those who are my special ones under my care whom I love- FEAR NOT! The reason not to fear is becuase your Father is absolutely delighted to give you a future, the very Kingdom that you are being sent out to share with others will be your eternal inheritance. And since he will bestow upon you a future glory that you cannot imagine, you do not need to worry that He will provide everything you need in this life as you risk it for His Kingdom.

“He who did not spare his own Son, how will he not also along with Him give us all things.” There is nothing that will come to you that does not first pass through the hand of your heavenly Father and is designed to make you more like Jesus. FEAR NOT…

 

 

*In an essay “The Epidemic of Worry,” David Brooks wrote, According to the World Health Organization, 18.2% of Americans report chronic anxiety while only 3.3% of Nigerians,

 

Celebrate Our Godless Constitution

K-GodlessConstitutionYes, that was the title of a full-page add in the July 4 edition of the Chicago Tribune, sponsored by Foundation From Religious Freedom. It was entitled “Celebrate Our Godless Constitution.” Not only were many of the quotes of the founding fathers taken out of context, but the use of the term “godless” was very deceptive. It is like saying “so and so was sober today.” What does that lead you to think? It could imply that the person in question is usually drunk. It is true that not all of the founding fathers were Christians. It is also true that they firmly believed in the separation of church and state because of the religious oppression many of their forefathers and mothers experienced under a State Church in England. It is also true that many of the founders were not a part of any organized religion. However, to call them “godless” is simply a lie.

Among the signers of the Constitution quoted was Thomas Paine: “The revolutionary who gave the United States of America its very name and who fanned the flames of the American Revolution utterly repudiated Christianity and the bible. Paine wrote that ‘My religion is to do good’ and ‘My own mind is my own church.’” However to imply that he was godless is simply untrue. Paine was one of the founders of the Society of Theophilanthropists (lovers of God and man) which existed in Paris during and after the French Revolution. Their motto was “We believe in the existence of God, and in the immortal soul.”

Paine’s Age of Reason, which many believe to be an Atheistic work was written to oppose Atheism. In a letter to Samuel Adams, Paine said, “The people of France were running headlong into Atheism, and I had the work translated into their own language, to stop them in that career, and fix in them the first article of every man’s creed… I believe in God.” Though he is remembered for his vicious attack upon organized religion, he had a deep appreciation for the divine mystery and bristled at the way many religious groups demythologized God to achieve their own selfish ends at the expense of individual freedoms. There are some who believe that Paine recanted and had a death-bed conversion to Christianity, but there are no solid historical facts to back up that claim.

So why is it that so many people in our country were and are against religion and Christianity in particular? There are many reasons, but there is one that is hardly ever mentioned. In the closing chapters of CS Lewis’ Hideous Strength, Professor Frost is trying to initiate Mark Studdock into a diabolical movement designed to take over the world. On the floor lay a life-sized crucifix and Mark is told to trample on Jesus’ face and desecrate it in other ways. Mark is not a Christian and yet finds this command irrational and superstitious, so he refuses. Frost is angry and responds: “If you had been brought up in a non-Christian society, you would not be asked to do this. Of course, it is a superstition; but it is that particular superstition which has been pressed upon our society for a great many centuries. It can experimentally be shown that it still forms a dominant system in the subconscious of many individuals whose conscious thought appears to be wholly liberated. An explicit action in the reverse direction is therefore a necessary step towards complete objectivity.”

I am not going to tell you how the story works out, but in the helplessness of seeing Jesus on the cross, Mark begins to change. He begins to see what the diabolically crooked movements of this world do to those who are good and what they might do to him if he stepped on the “good man.”
Could it be that there is something diabolical behind the anti-Christian movements of our culture because “it (Christianity) still forms a dominant system in the subconscious of many individuals?” Could it also be that our Sovereign God is using this kind of “reverse direction” and irrational opposition to bring many to consider Christ through the “foolishness” of the cross?