I grew up when stand up comedians complained about the seven words that could not be said on TV and I do not think I suffered for the censorship of these vulgarities. When I watched television, Rob and Laura Petrie slept in twin beds and wore flannel pj's and I do not think I was scarred by this version of reality. But we live in a different era and we face different censorship. We find ourselves in the awkward position where vulgarities are not censored but religious speech is. We live in a world where certain religions are respected (Islam) and others are free for ridicule (orthodox Christianity), where sex in all of its variations is considered fair for children to see and hear about but children are being victimized by unwelcome prayers in their presence. I could go on. But that is not my point.
I am not writing to bemoan the terrible state of culture and society. What I writing about is how this affects the way we proclaim the Gospel. We might think we find ourselves pressured by the conventions of society and the media to the point where we are not sure it is possible for us to proclaim clearly the good news of our Savior Jesus Christ. There is great temptation to simply become the naysayers who stand at the fringes with complaints, judgments, and condemnations. And if you read the blogosphere, you can see that many have chosen this path. Their Christian witness is basically Law and their part of the great conversation is to say "no" to everything out there around them or to retreat from the debate entirely.
As Christians we would do well to remember that by giving us His Word written and proclaimed and by that Word made flesh in Jesus Christ, our God was not abandoning the world with all of its problems, perversions, and predilections for evil. God was encountering the world with His Word. God was invading the world with the Word that calls forth what is hidden in shadows and darkness to stand in the Light. God was entering the enemy territory of a world ripped from His grasp by the willing rebellion of its highest creatures in favor of a freedom which turned out to be the worst captivity of all.
God is still doing that. Indeed that is our vocation. Our baptism into Christ sets us on a trajectory not away from the world but into the world as witnesses to Jesus Christ, agents of His compassionate love, and instruments of His grace and blessing. Of course that means we will and indeed must speak Law and condemnation but this dare not be our only voice. We are also bidden by God to speak of the hope that is within us in Christ our Savior. This hope is not our own personal possession but our gift to be brought to the world.
It is true that the world considers this language of faith more offensive than four letter words, than music that glorifies abuse and violence toward women, than self-indulgence that rivals ancient excesses, or than violence on the big screens that displays the worst in human behavior. So what? Is this new? Does our Lord not prepare us for such rejection, persecution, and condemnation by those outside the household of faith? Does He not promise us that if we are faithful to Him it will mean we are reviled by those who reviled Him? Does He not raise up the prospect of this persecution by calling blessed those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for the cause of the Gospel?
I believe that we can engage and hold our own in the great conversation with those around us. I believe that we are called to apologia -- to the great defense of Christian truth and faith not by condemnation but by raising up the Gospel and speaking it clearly and plainly. I believe that the Church need not be embarrassed by or apologize for our way of worship, for the painful truth of the Law, for the comforting words of the Gospel, for historicity of the Scriptures and its accounts of what actually took place, and for the exclusive path of redemption that is inclusive for all people, everywhere, who will hear and believe.
It is true that at one time we thought culture was more of an ally than an enemy but I wonder if this was true or merely a facade. I grew up in the 1950s and early 1960s when it seemed that America was friendly to religion but it was really only friendly to the religion that fit the path and agenda of the day -- as it still is. The Gospel was as offensive in 1950 as it is in 2010. The Gospel is always a scandal. But we Christians better make sure that it is the Gospel that is a scandal or offense and not us, not the way we speak, not the condemnations and smug judgments we make to dismiss those around us.
When we engage the world we must be winsome -- not in the way that masks or distorts the Gospel but in the way that minimizes us as the media of this proclamation and diminishes our role and part in it all. The world will not be saved by what I think about Jesus or feel about the Church or doubt about the things claimed in the Bible. The world will be saved by the clear proclamation of the Law and the Gospel, by the message of the cross and empty tomb. Period. So we better do more than simply moan and complain about how bad things are. We need to voices of hope, of redemption, of life, of forgiveness, and of joy in our Lord Jesus Christ - without apology but in a way that raises up the faith and does not bury it under a mountain of nit picky nay-saying.