No More Moral-Majority Thinking. Recovering A Truer Christianity.
The vision of our church, Christ Presbyterian in Nashville, is built around missional living: taking our Christianity to the places where we live, work, and play. In considering what public Christianity could look like in our context, the biblical metaphor that we seem to keep returning to is Jesus’ teaching on “salt.”
You are the salt of the earth…
In ancient times, salt had two uses. First, since they did not have canning technology, freezers, or chemical preservatives, first century people used salt as a preservative. Surround a piece of beef with salt, and it would slow the process of decay significantly.
Salt was also used, as it is now, as seasoning. Salt has this wonderful way of bringing out the best in whatever it touches. However, for salt to be effective, a few rules need to be followed…
(1) SALT, TAKEN IN BY ITSELF, OFFENDS THE SENSES
The same can be true of religious communities.
If you’ve ever put a spoonful of salt in your mouth, you know what I mean here. Salt by itself is bitter and raises the blood pressure. Often this is what happens to religious communities that separate from the world and turn in on themselves. Like the New Testament Pharisees, when believers hive off from the rest of the world, they can become fear-driven and condemning in their posture toward the world outside. Bitter, small-minded, flavorless. Yuck.
(2) SALT ALWAYS DOES BEST AS A MINORITY INGREDIENT
The same is true of Christians who are engaged with the world and culture around them.
We have all at some point ruined a perfectly good steak, or a perfectly good bowl of popcorn, by over-salting it. Salt becomes overbearing when its influence on a dish becomes dominant versus subtle. But with just the right amount of salt, the very best is brought out of the steak, or the popcorn, or the apple pie, or whatever.
This is where those who wish for the culture to be ruled by a “moral majority” would do well to learn from history. Biblical, historic Christianity has always thrived when Christians were in the minority, and has always languished when Christians were, or attempted to become, the dominant majority.
For example, the Christian movement grew like wildfire in ancient times. We see in Acts 2 that believers were “enjoying the favor of ALL the people,” not as a power-base majority but as a life-giving, stand-out minority (Acts 2:42-47). The Roman Emperor Julian, after many failed attempts to exterminate Christians from Rome due to their growing influence, wrote a letter to his friend Arsacius expressing his frustration over this fact. The more he tried to eliminate Christians, the more their movement would grow. Said the Roman Emperor:
The Galileans [Christians] take care of our [non-believing] poor as they do their own.
When did Christainity begin to falter in Rome? When a later Emperor, Constantine, became a Christian and tried to impose Christianity — a “moral majority,” so to speak — on all of Rome as the State religion. The results were disastrous. You can read about it in church history.
IN PRAISE OF A STAND-OUT, LIFE-GIVING MINORITY
If Christians are to be salt in the world, we must begin to see ourselves not as a moral majority, but as a life-giving, stand-out minority — as salt on the dish. Instead of spending so much energy fighting battles that Christians have already lost in the culture, might we consider setting aside the picket signs and protests and instead begin to ask the questions:
How can we, like Jesus, be ‘gracious losers’ in the culture? How can we, instead of demanding our so-called ‘rights,’ lay down our rights as Christ did for the sake of the world around us? How can we, like Jesus, seek to win the world through self-giving love versus through worldly power and coercion?
KINGDOM OF GOD > RELIGIOUS “FREEDOM”
The Kingdom of God should matter more to us than maintaining our “religious freedoms” (lest we forget, if we belong to Jesus we will never be more free than we are right now…whether we live in America or Syria).
Again, true, historic, biblical Christianity thrives most when there is an element of the world being against Christians. This was true of Jesus, so we should expect it to be true of us. Jesus only had 120 followers after his resurrection(!). The early church leaders were constantly in and out of prison because both the Jews and Romans were threatened by their growing influence. Eleven of the twelve Apostles died as martyrs. It was under such conditions that the church grew then like wildfire. The same is true now — in parts of the world where it is costly to be a Christian, we are seeing the most rapid growth in the Christian Church. Meanwhile in America, where being a Christian is much less costly, the younger generations, bored and cynical toward nominal, saltless faith, are secularizing at an unprecedented pace.
WHAT DOES SALTY, MISSIONAL CHRISTIANITY LOOK LIKE?
It looks like the best babysitters, who clean the dishes before the parents arrive home, who leave the place better than they found it. This is our mission — having received the grace of Christ, we are now the “sent ones” — following Christ in his mission to love people, places, and things to life. Christians are in the world, in the name of Christ and with the resources he has availed to us, to leave the world better than we found it.
There are many examples of this. All of the Ivy League universities except for one were founded by Christians. Let’s keep doing that. Many hospital names begin with the word “Saint,” pointing to their Christian beginnings. Let’s keep doing that. As secular journalist Nicholas Kristof says, evangelical Christians are the most self-giving, exemplary servants to the world’s poor. Let’s keep doing that. Rembrandt painted world class paintings. Beethoven and Handel made world class music. Dostoevsky wrote world class literature. Let’s keep doing that. Evangelical leader Kevin Palau recently partnered with the openly gay mayor of Portland to resource and bless an under-served public school. Let’s keep doing that. A little Baptist church in Texas pooled funds together to pay for an outspoken, anti-Christian atheist’s medical needs. Let’s keep doing that.
But what if people misunderstand our intent? What if by associating with non-believers in such intimate ways, people begin to think we are soft on truth? If we must choose, and sometimes we must, it is better to be misunderstood and labeled as too soft on sin, than it is to be misunderstood as self-righteous, harsh and strict. Jesus was regularly accused of being a glutton and a drunk, even though he was neither. Why? Because Jesus lived his life around drunks, prostitutes, shady tax collectors, and the like…and never felt the need to explain himself. Jesus welcomed sinners and ate with them (Luke 15:1-2). Mustn’t we?
My friend and mentor of almost ten years, Tim Keller, says it like this:
Christians are called by God to be living so sacrificially and beautifully that the people around us, who don’t believe what we believe, will soon be unable to imagine the world without us.
Let’s keep doing that. And, if we haven’t been doing that up to now, let’s start there. Because it was in the vicinity of this kind of Christianity — the life-giving, stand-out minority…not the so-called “moral majority” that the Lord added daily to the number of those being saved.
We are a loved people.
So let’s go out and love.
Let’s leave it better than we found it, shall we?
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