Article: October 2013 AP
Q What would be greatest tragedy of the church from God’s point of view?
A If the church was no different from the rest of society.
If salt loses its saltiness it is no good. If light is hidden it is of no value.
Matthew 5:13 (NIV) it says: “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.”
The only way salt loses saltiness is by being diluted in say water. Dilution is adding something else to the mix.
We need to be different from world
In the past some saw isolation from people as a path to holiness as they went out to live in the desert. In many cases it was an inverted pride as persecution had ended and there was no likelihood of martyrdom so they looked for other ways to express commitment to God and used extreme asceticism, men such as Anthony the Great or Simon the Stylite.
One man who was different was Anthony the Great
In Egypt, in the middle of the third century, an ascetic named Antonius secluded himself from the world after being impressed by the story of the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-27). He sold all his possessions and distributed the money to the poor. “He then said farewell to the world, to relations and friends, and lived alone–first near his home, then in a tomb, later in a disused fort, and finally on a mountain. Twice a year his friends brought him food, which he ate with a little salt. He drank nothing but water. He decided not to comb or cut his hair, except once a year, at Easter. He never took a bath…Antonius, we are told, lived to the age of 105.
As Anthony himself shrewdly observed:
if we just go off alone to be holy, whose feet will we wash?
Simeon the Stylite lived for 37 years chained on top of a pillar 60 feet high and 5 feet wide, with vermin dropping from him, and larvae living under his leg irons. After all, if persecution won’t get you martyrdom, how will you show them your heroism?
Some saw becoming a closed community, rejection of current lifestyle and emphasis on simplicity as a way of life, as a path to godliness.
The Amish in United States are an example of this lifestyle.
Pull of the modern world is strong
Western society is success oriented, individual is king.
You are responsible to find a job, choose a partner, find a place to live. This individualistic society comes at a personal cost for many.
Rise of single occupancy home (10 -20% in UK), leave home to look after yourself, aged put in care, growth of single parent families.
Greenland –Suicide rate has doubled in last ten years as Inuit society which had been focused on hunting for survival has been replaced by foreign investment from exploration companies looking for oil and minerals.
What is it that causes the church to resemble the world?
What is it that we can add to God’s salt in our lives? Our own independence, following our own will.
When we move out of God’s pattern for our lives we will often move into the pattern of the world.
In The Church Between Gospel and Culture, Richard Halverson wrote: “When the Greeks got the gospel they turned it into a philosophy. When the Romans got it they turned it into a government. When the Europeans got it they turned it into a culture. When the Americans got it they turned it into an enterprise.”
Compare this with God’s plan for the church as expressed in 1 Corinthians 1:27
But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;
Enterprise gives priority to leadership. Corporate CEO has biggest pay, biggest office, looked up to for leadership and direction (Vision). In difficult times the CEO cuts costs first by cutting off least important members of staff.
By contrast a father of a family gives priority to the weakest members, babies, children, elderly. A family sacrifices the strong to better support the weak.
Romans 12 verses 2 -12 puts it this way in the New Living Translation
2 Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, what is good and pleasing and perfect.
3 Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us. 4 Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, 5 so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.
6 In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. 7 If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. 8 If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.
9 Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. 10 Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honouring each other.11 Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. 12 Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. 13 When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.
Character is greater than Charisma
Many people, Christians included, look to charismatic leadership in the political, social or spiritual sphere to change society. God’s plan is to change society from the inside out, one person at a time just as a natural family grows one baby at a time (Well twins from time to time). A radically different people from the rest of society, a counter culture, will be a church made up of people who serve one another rather than themselves. Whose mindset is to support God’s family because it is their own family.
Much of what church does has no value or has negative value. We take God’s way of life and add our own way of life and finish with a diluted life devoid of impact.
Believers are not to exist in isolation. They are to be in the world but not of the world to influence the world. Christ here speaks of relationships. He never tells us a thing is good without telling us what it is good for. Having told us what to “be” He now tells us what to do. Here Christ defines the church’s reason for existing. It exists for the world’s sake. Being is doing. Our greatest work for God and man is to BE. Many Christians seem to feel their greatest object in life is to engage in direct service. Thus, they spend time inventorying information and cataloguing methods while leaving their personal character to care for itself. Our main thought should be that Christ be fashioned in us and thus found in us. We have got to get the salt out of the shaker. Christianity doesn’t fully function in isolation.
Further reading When the church was a Family by Joseph H. Hellerman