Article Dec 2, 2015

Ministry from the margins: Answering cultural opposition with Christlike love

Welcome to ministry from the margins of society—or what most Christians through the ages have called it, normal life. Ministering from the margins means that our values and ethics are no longer the majority view in American culture. What was once described as an American moral majority is now a prophetic cultural minority. One benefit of ministering from the margins is that it reminds the followers of Jesus that having the ‘right’ person in office will not restore righteousness to a fallen sin-devastated world and nation. Every believer should be engaged in seeking the welfare of the city and loving God and neighbor by actively participating in the political process and seeking the public good. Nevertheless, it is vital for Christians to always realize the limitations of politics and government.

God’s power is unlimited. Man’s power is very limited. This biblical thinking should frame all of our political engagement. Our hope is not ultimately rooted in cultural power and respect. We must not possess a fatalistic or apathetic attitude toward political engagement; rather, we must always energetically seek truth, righteousness, and human flourishing as a vital way we love God and neighbor. We are emboldened in doing so because we have promises beyond this world. This knowledge does not make us passive, but rather it makes us humbly aggressive and exponentially courageous.

Our cultural opponents are not our enemies; they are our mission field. Our goal is not to destroy them, but to love them and point them to the love of Christ.

You will be called a religious bigot

To be a faithful follower of Christ in the coming days will mean being accused of spiritual pride, religious bigotry and close-mindedness in ever-increasing degrees. This reality is inevitable when ministering from the cultural margins because of the authority and importance we ascribe to our biblical convictions. We cannot—and we must not— compromise our commitment to the truth of Scripture and the exclusivity of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

While the cultural narrative will paint us as intolerant and harsh, it will often paint our cultural opponents as open-minded and benevolent. This cultural caricature should not hurt our feelings or cause us to withdraw from culture in self-pity. As a people who have experienced the grace of God in Jesus Christ, Christians know that true kindness flows from obedience to God. Genuine benevolence is honest about sin—it certainly does not ignore sin.

Whatever is represented as kindness, we must never admit to be genuine kindness, unless it constitutes love to God and love to man. If a man claims to love God, but hates his brother, he is a liar. If a man claims to love his brother, but hates God, he is a liar (1 John 4:20). John writes, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments” (1 John 5:2). The faithful Christian unapologetically shows partiality to the wisdom of God as recorded in Scripture and revealed in the gospel over the wisdom of man. Likewise, it should not surprise the faithful Christian when those in the culture show partiality to man over God.

Our biblical commitment means that the destructive nature of sin, the atoning work of Christ, the Lordship of Christ, and the reality of eternal judgment apart from Christ are non-negotiable in our commitment as we seek to live as benevolent stewards of the gospel in our culture. It is self-centered, unloving cowardice that attempts to accommodate Christianity to the prevailing spirit of the age.

The fact that the Christian gospel is true means that we can never compromise biblical truth to curry favor of cultural powers, but it also means that we will never join the sky-is-falling cultural outrage doomsayers. None of the bad news we face in our cultural context overshadows the good news of Jesus Christ. As Charles Spurgeon said about his day, “What have you and I to do with the times, except to serve God in them? The times are always evil to those who are of a morbid temperament."

You must not be a religious bigot

We must not cry, “Peace, peace, when there is no peace,” (Jer. 6:14, 8:11, Ezek. 13:10, 16) but we must also refuse to cry, “Hopeless, hopeless, where there is gospel hope.” We must not minimize sin or minimize the power of the gospel. The biblical witness authoritatively judges the validity of our thought and experience, never the other way around. Indifference to our faith commitments is not an option because it would mean a refusal to seek the good of our city and our neighbors. We must reflect the heart of Jesus who was clear and pointed about the sins and rebellion in Jerusalem, and yet “he wept over it” with compassion (Luke 19:41). Genuine benevolent love demands the truth.

It also demands that we seek to put the best construction on the words and actions of those around us whether they are Christian friends or cultural opponents, even as we remain obligated to the truth. If direct, plain, truthful speech constitutes a failure to love and respect to ones political, cultural, and ecclesial opponents, then Jesus and his apostles must be charged with guilt. Convictional kindness and truthful love are Christian virtues that are absolutely necessary in every era, but particularly when Christians find themselves as the prophetic minority in a culture.

Cruciform love demands that we remain hopeful about people and the power of the gospel to transform their lives; however, love does not disregard the truth or exchange the truth for a lie. Christians must stand firm in their gospel convictions when cultural opponents, who by their own profession do not believe the Bible, still wag their finger at us saying, Jesus said, “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matt. 7:1) as if Jesus was contending it is wrong to make any judgment whatsoever. Of course, such people are making a judgment themselves about the wrongness of our making judgments.

We know that such an approach is a grotesque twisting of Jesus’ words. A few verses later Jesus declares, “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs” (Matt. 7:6), and in the same discourse, Jesus calls his disciples to judge both teaching and conduct (Matt. 7:15-20). If a man says, “There is no God,” the Scripture does not hesitate to call him a “fool” (Psa. 14:1). The language is not meant to insult his mental capacity but rather points out his moral corruption and wickedness.

If we consider faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ as essential to salvation, then we will be called religious bigots—Period. Yet, there is a world of difference between being called a religious bigot and being one. Nevertheless, we must follow the path of Jesus and his apostles and be willing to receive scorn without self-pity and without forsaking gospel love for the scorners.

When Paul preached to the Athenians amidst the cultural chaos at the Areopagus “some mocked,” (Acts 17:32). "But others said, “We will hear you again,” and “some men joined him and believed” (Acts 17:32-33). We must love Christ and love those to whom we preach the gospel, including our cultural opponents, more than we love reputation, ease, cultural standing, comfort, or putting them in their place.

The dictionary on my computer defines a bigot as “a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially: one who regards or treats the members of a group with hatred and intolerance.” If we are attached to our principles to the neglect of Scripture, if we obstinately adhere to our convictions as an excuse to lack a benevolent spirit toward others, if we hold to our convictions simply as a way to exclude others, then we are open to a charge of bigotry. But, to hold our Christian convictions in such a way would be in opposition to the living word of Scripture and Jesus Christ our Lord.

If we are biblically faithful Christians serving on the margins in this post-Christian culture, we will inevitably be called bigots. But, if we are biblically faithful Christians, we will not be bigots. May we know and live the difference, and may we remember as we minister from the margins that we are traveling a well-worn Christian path.