This past Saturday the Men’s Ministry of Christ Presbyterian Church hosted a Carnivore Night. Carnivore Nights are filled with meat, potatoes and conversation. It never fails to amaze me at how large a steak can be. I’m thankful for those who helped to organize and provide our meal. While our meal is a central part of our time together, we also have a time of discussion.
Chris Simi was the program leader for our discussion time. I have to commend Chris for not taking a softball topic, but instead he led a discussion on the sacrifice of Christian Martyrs throughout the world. He read a few heart breaking stories of martyrs, who, when faced with the life or death decision to deny their faith or be killed, they chose to stand firm in their faith and die. Beyond the uncomfortable reality of the fact that people die for following Christ, Chris pushed us to assess our commitment to Jesus and to ask the question of, “What would we do?”
The discussion was spirited. The reality of our life is that Christians in America have lost the privilege we once held. Some in our discussion are convinced that the day will come that in America we will find ourselves persecuted even to the moment of martyrdom. This was part of our highly spirited discussion that I will leave for another day. But in that discussion I predicted the death of Christianity if such a time came. I believe that this was shocking to many. Why would the preacher say that the faith he is called to champion would die if push came to shove?
I made the death prediction for two reasons. First and foremost, we have had a very easy life as Christians. Unlike others who face daily challenges to thei
r faith, we have limited discussions of faith to those who are in the faith. In American society, we have personalized faith to the degree that we don’t talk about it in the public sphere, thus we aren’t often challenged by those who disagree with us. When is the last time you had a discussion about Jesus with an atheist?
My belief that death will come if we are caused to choose between faith or death is due to the fact that we don’t choose faith in situations that have far less stakes. When asked about sharing their faith, most Christians will admit to avoiding conversations about their faith in Jesus Christ with their family, friends and others they have existing relationships with. Unless we begin to train ourselves to share our faith with those we have a comfortable relationship with, how can we expect to stand firm when there are higher consequences?
At Christ Presbyterian we have been working hard to see that our faith is of real value and can have a positive impact on the lives of those around us. If we believe this then we should begin the work of taking risks. What is at stake when we talk about our faith? Loss of a friend? Loss of a family member? We have taken the separation of Church and state to the extreme of separation of Church and life. If we love our family, friends and neighbors we should desire for them to experience the life-giving love of God in Christ.
I realize that this article sounds harsh and perhaps demoralizing. I don’t intend this to be a judgment. The fact of the matter is that when Christendom was a reality we didn’t have to worry about standing up. We were the dominant culture and others had to defend themselves against our attacks. Those days are done. The privilege we once held has eroded to the point that culture is now against those who express any faith. One of the purposes of the Church is to empower it’s members to express their faith with both word and deed. How do you participate in that action?
I always enjoy the generation of light over heat especially when controversy is engaged. I’m not looking to be a martyr but since God promises us a “safe landing rather than a smooth ride” we need to be advised that as someone once said, “Eternity is a long time to be wrong.” We in PC(USA) might keep that in mind as we reflect on and act upon the passage of Amendment 10-A. As for engaging others I wear t-shirts and hats with scripture references or verses. I often get questions or comments. Last week a young checker at Giant looked at my shirt and asked, “Is that about God?” I replied, “Yes, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Are you Christian”” “No,” he said, “Muslim.” “Do you go to Mosque?” “Yes and I’ve been through instruction so I know about Jesus.” As I departed, he added “God bless you” as did I in reply. We are called to engage the process and leave the product to God. And finally, We can’t choose what we may face in life but we can choose how to respond. The Lord gives us strength and rest.
I think that if such oppression of Christianity and Christ’s followers did occur it would kill the visible church. The PCUSA might be among the first to collapse and embrace whatever was oppressing it. But I am sure the invisible church would survive. The Lord would keep a remnant for himself.