Understanding the Times
“Would you still follow Jesus even if it was illegal?” This was one of the first questions I saw posed on Facebook this morning, and I've started to see others like it. There seems to be a growing sense that as our culture becomes more militantly secular, it will become increasingly difficult and perhaps even illegal to follow Christ in the not-so-distant future. This is an unsettling idea, but what I fear most is that Christians will fail to keep their faith long enough to even be confronted by potential legal challenges. If what we’re anticipating is a direct challenge to either renounce our faith or face the consequences, I think we’ve badly misunderstood the times.
In the midst of 1 Chronicles 12, we encounter an interesting description of some of the men of Issachar who joined David while he was still on the run from King Saul. The text describes these men as “men who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do.” That is, they understood what was happening in the nation, recognized that David had been anointed by God to rule, and kept in step with what God was doing even though Saul was still their earthly king. Yet when we consider that Saul had a much larger force with which to pursue David, it becomes apparent that the bulk of Israel’s army had not yet understood the times. For some of them, their misunderstanding proved fatal when Saul faced his final, disastrous defeat.
Death By A Thousand Cuts
We are in a similar situation now where we must come to grips, and quickly, with the nature of the culture in which we live. We must choose to walk with God in the midst of it. Those Christians who are anticipating a direct confrontation where they have a clear choice between keeping or renouncing their faith will be deeply frustrated in the coming months because that simply isn’t how postmodern secularism functions. Instead of a direct confrontation, our current culture uses redefinitions and social pressure to encourage compliance in ways that seem small. It doesn’t seek to make Christians renounce their faith, it simply wants them to redefine and privatize their faith in order to gradually conform to its own worldly standards.
As a result, a specific moment of renunciation never arrives. Instead, a thousand small choices to compromise and keep silent eventually lead to dissolution, defeat, and a falling away from authentic Christianity. The Christian teacher isn’t told that she must either stop being a Christian or quit her job, she’s simply asked to compromise a little bit and teach a few minor things that contradict the moral teachings of the Bible. The Christian businessman isn’t threatened with termination for refusing to betray Christ, he’s simply told he’ll be passed over for promotions if he is too vocal about his opposition to elements of his company’s "Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion" program that aren’t compatible with the Christian understanding of mankind, sin, and redemption. The Christian student isn’t outright bullied into abandoning Christian ethics, they are simply told to keep that sort of stuff to themselves while they indulge in sinful forms of entertainment for the sake of staying “relevant.”
So it is that bit by bit, choice by choice, that the faith becomes meaningless. When its public practice becomes overly inconvenient, costing us a job opportunity or our child a spot in the best school, we simply keep quiet and hope for the best. We go along to get along, and we appease our conscience by saying to ourselves, “I haven’t renounced my faith, I’m still a Christian. Think about how much good I can do ministering in this new opportunity.” Yet we become so conditioned to "getting along," to keeping our faith private and hidden away, to never applying the clear and challenging teachings of Scripture to our daily lives, that bit by bit they cease to have any hold on us at all. Until at last, we give up any semblance of biblical Christianity, not because it was illegal, or dangerous, or likely to lead to bloodshed, but merely because it was getting rather inconvenient and would have cost us the comforts we’ve grown accustomed to.
Choose to Fight Now, and Later
There is only one way to avoid this kind of dissolution, and that is a radical commitment to Christian Truth and obedience to Christian practice right now and into the future, no matter the cost. We must become a people who understands the times and recognizes that in this age, our faith is revealed by thousands of small choices. Will we compromise again and again until at last there is nothing left to compromise? Or, will we stand up for Truth even when the compromise appears to be a small one? If the western church doesn’t wake up to the present danger she is facing and the choices that must be made now, Christians will lose a battle they never even realized they were fighting.
Will we accept the slow, quiet death of silently accepting worldly ideas and systems for the sake of false peace? Or will we choose to make every choice in the full knowledge that there will be eternal consequences? This is a fight that we can, in fact, win, as Christians have done so many times through the centuries. But first, we’re going to have to start actually fighting.