Sunday, July 22, 2018

Suffering the hate of the world. . .

When I grew up in the1950s and early 1960s, the Church was generally respected and admitted to be a force for good even by those who did not believe.  They may not have a great deal of confidence in the message proclaimed but they could see the good that was done by the Church and its institutions.  From hospitals to orphanages to disaster relief to things as mundane as AAL branches and other parachurch style structures, the Church was treated in a friendly way.  This is also true of the government.  Nearly everyone believed that the Church was a necessary thing and worth more than its message in good works -- even governments and political leaders.

Perhaps that colored the expectation of the Church and individual Christians too much.  We came to believe that America was a Christian nation and not simply a nation of mostly Christians (there is a big difference).  We began to believe that Church and State could actually be partners in a positive way and expected accommodations to the message for the sake of the good that was done (so that government would not have to do it).  We came to the conclusion that this was normal and should be normative in the way government, society, people, and the Church relate.  So it was a shock to us when in the late 1970s friction began to develop.

When the Church was seen as a force opposing the general direction of society, people outside felt betrayed and folks inside the Church were confused.  When the abortion debate crystallized this division, people began to have second thoughts about the good will and good works of the Church.  As time went on through twists and turns that led to the great divide over same sex marriage and its related issues, the folks outside the Church no longer had any confidence in the good works or good will of the Church and found that the Church was generally an enemy that must be contained.  The folks in the Church wondered what went wrong -- how could the comfortable relationship between the faith, the government, and the culture become to divisive?  So some churches began to rethink their old positions and found reasons and a rationale to depart from the historic and Scriptural teaching on everything from the sacredness of life to the shape of marriage and family.  Other churches retained their faithful and orthodox stance but still cringed with the unpleasantness of a world that rejected them, their message, and even their good works.

But the problem lies with the norm of good will and friendliness.  It was never a norm but a momentary diversion from the reality of the Church in but not of the world, the faith rejected and persecuted, and Christians hated as Christ was Himself hated.  We don't like this but this is the hard and blunt truth.  If the world hates you, understand that it hated Me first. If you were of the world, it would love you as its own. Instead, the world hates you, because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. Remember the word that I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you as well (John 15:18-20).

The world hates us ONLY to the degree that we are hold to the true faith born of Scripture and witnessed in tradition.  

The sad truth is that too many Christians put their energy and attention to making sure that the world does not hate them. That is the great temptation to the Church -- especially when we think the norm is to be loved and respected even by those who do not believe. This happens when the faith is compromised, when our practice departs from Scripture and tradition, when we reject the Word of God to be welcomed by the world, and when we distance ourselves from our past in order to be relevant to the present. Underneath it all is the stark confession that many of us prefer the love and acceptance of the world to faithfulness and its potential of hate, rejection, and persecution by the world. We have become deaf to the voice of God while we hear very clearly the voices of those around us. It is not that we have become evil but we have allowed our weakness to rob us of the strength of our life in Christ and the power of Christ even in troubled times. Yet it is to this that Scripture also speaks:  Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore, whoever chooses to be a friend of the world renders himself an enemy of God (James 4:4).

So the Church must choose -- friend of the world or friend of the Lord.  Let the choice be framed not in weakness and fear but in confidence and strength.  God is with us.  The Lord of Hosts is with us.  Though enemies are great, God is greater. 

Luther wrote of this fear in his famous A Mighty Fortress:  

1 A mighty fortress is our God,
A trusty shield and weapon;
He helps us free from ev'ry need
That hath us now o'ertaken.
The old evil foe
Now means deadly woe;
Deep guile and great might
Are his dread arms in fight;
On earth is not his equal.

2 With might of ours can naught be done,
Soon were our loss effected;
But for us fights the Valiant One,
Whom God Himself elected.
Ask ye, Who is this?
Jesus Christ it is.
Of Sabaoth Lord,
And there's none other God;
He holds the field forever.

3 Though devils all the world should fill,
All eager to devour us.
We tremble not, we fear no ill,
They shall not overpow'r us.
This world's prince may still
Scowl fierce as he will,
He can harm us none,
He's judged; the deed is done;
One little word can fell him.

4 The Word they still shall let remain
Nor any thanks have for it;
He's by our side upon the plain
With His good gifts and Spirit.
And take they our life,
Goods, fame, child, and wife,
Let these all be gone,
Our vict'ry has been won;
The Kingdom ours remaineth.


Anonymous said...

The reality of this sinful world is that the church and the cosmos
will clash. A man-centered belief is that life on this earth is
all we have and we are to eat, drink and be merry. A God-centered
belief is that man was created by God, redeemed by God and converted
to faith in Jesus Christ by God.

Carl Vehse said...

In Bondage of the Will (LW, Vol. 33, Fortress Press, 1972), Martin Luther explained [pp. 50-53]:

"The world and its god cannot and will not endure the Word of the true God, and the true God neither will nor can keep silence; so when these two Gods are at war with one another, what can there be but tumult in the whole world?

"To wish to stop these tumults, therefore, is nothing else but to wish to suppress and prohibit the Word of God… For myself, if I did not see these tumults I should say that the Word of God was not in the world, but now, when I do see them, I heartily rejoice and have no fear…"