Is our response as Christians, living in Babylon culturally, to drop out of all attempts to shape and form a new and better culture? Should we “shake the dust off our feet” and move on. Or should we deduce that the culture is lost and filled with darkness and our role is to hold up the light and tell them to come to us in order to be blessed? These responses, and more, are common.
More recently the church began to fight back. We wanted to stop the cultural slide to immorality and massive social change by calling upon our leaders to announce the laws of God and to enforce them as ways to correct our slide toward secularism.
I believe we got this all wrong. The Franciscan tradition teaches a better way. It says that the best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better. It reasons, rightly I think that oppositional energy only creates more of the same, bad energy and bad practice.
So what is the church to do? I suggest that we become faithfully present by “being the light.” The more our community looks like a real alternative to the world the more the world will benefit from our presence. The world is asking all the wrong questions. Our role is not to have all the right answers but to develop a culture in which we can discover the right questions and in the process share this question process with our neighbors. We cannot think ourselves into a new way of living, we can but live ourselves into a new way of thinking that will offer a faithful presence and a radical new way of being.
In Isaiah 42:7 we read that the Lord empowers us with the Spirit of Messiah “to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” We are to engage with those around us not to tell them how wrong they are but rather to show them how wrong we’ve been and how the light has transformed us and given us new eyes, new ears and new hearts. When they see us asking the right questions and living faithfully we share by deed and word the good news of the kingdom, the gospel.
So long as we “preach” to the world about its sins and darkness we curse the darkness. We can do better. We can light a candle. We can show the goodness and mercy of the Lord by doing good to all. Paul expresses this well in 1 Thessalonians 5:15: “See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all.”
Let me express this very simply. We need to stop taking ourselves so seriously in the wider culture. We should take God, and our love and commitment to our community of faith very seriously, but we should not present ourselves to the world as “the answer.” In so doing we have done far more harm than good and we clearly are not impacting the culture in the process.