When Constantine became the first “Christian” ruler in 300 AD, the world was introduced to a new reality that we have since embraced as normal. This alternate reality is called “Christendom” – which literally means the “Kingdom of Christians,” and must not be confused with the Kingdom of God. In fact, before the dawn of Christendom, Jesus and his followers did not have a shred of favor amongst human institutions of society and government… Or the established church for that matter. Instead, they were – and still are – violently persecuted and martyred for their beliefs, from the Roman coliseum to Isis’ most recent persecution of Iraqi Christians.
But we who live in cultures with religious freedom are under the impression that it is possible for Christians to fully live out their faith and still maintain some level of favor with the world. We read passages like “friendship with the world means enmity with God” and we think to ourselves ‘Ah, but Paul did not know that we would someday have the freedom to maintain our beliefs as long as they don’t threaten anyone else’s!’ We may even wonder if Paul might even be a little pleased to see mainstream Christianity working so hard to preserve a degree of worldly respect – or at least tolerance – for their beliefs, instead of being violently persecuted for them. And if he rose up from the grave to warn us against seeking favor with the world, we would say “Shh, it’s okay – we’re on better terms now!” with a wink and a smile. As A.W. Tozer puts it, “the weakness of so many modern Christians is that they feel too much at home in the world.”
I think the church has failed, not by neglecting to provide leadership but by living too much like the world. [Many] erroneously assume that the church of God has been left on earth to minister good hope and cheer to the world in such quantities that it can ignore God, reject Christ, glorify fallen human flesh and pursue its selfish ends in peace. The world wants the church to add a dainty spiritual touch to its carnal schemes, and to be there to help it to its feet and put it to bed when it comes home drunk with fleshly pleasures. In the first place the church has received no such commission from her Lord, and in the second place the world has never shown much disposition to listen to the church when she speaks in her true prophetic voice. (A.W. Tozer)
The problem is that for too long the Church in North America has attempted to pay the cost of discipleship while still afford a respectable level of influence with the secular world. After all, didn’t Jesus always seem to know exactly how to answer everyone in a way that didn’t incriminate himself, yet still held to the truth (a la “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s”, etc.)? We think that if we play our cards right, we should be able to negotiate a perfect middle ground between friendship with God and favor with the world. But we seem to forget that at the end of the day, Jesus still got rejected and crucified – at the hands of both the secular government AND the religious establishment.
In fact, while it seems to be a central concern of many churches today to prevent members from leaving, Jesus consistently and unabashedly emphasized the true cost of following Him in order to provoke the true believers to step forward and send away those unwilling to pay such a price. Instead of presenting the modern-day altar call that leaves the hearer “with the impression that he is being asked to give up much to gain more,” (Tozer) Jesus only sought those who were willing to deny themselves and forsake the world in order to boldly take up their cross and follow Him. “My kingdom is not of this world,” He said, knowing many of them would someday trade their lives for their allegiance.
We were never called to invent a way to follow Christ while keeping worldly allegiances intact. If we happen to be found pleasing by the world and all its man-centered mechanisms in the midst of following Christ wholly and without a single compromise in word or deed, it should be cause for great marvel, and would no doubt be an act of the Spirit intended to accomplish a deliberate work of the Father. Jesus was a friend of sinners, but he did not become so by downplaying or denying His uncompromising identity as the Way the Truth and the Life.
I am convinced that this generation was born ready to stand and fight. But the problem is that we still want people to like our Instagram photos and not avoid us at social gatherings. We don’t want to be labeled with mean words that make us feel like we are back in middle school forced to sit at one of the reject tables. We want to stand up for our commitment to Jesus, but we don’t want to be told to sit down for causing a scene or embarrassing ourselves. We want to live out our deepest convictions, but we don’t want to be called extreme or narrow-minded. Many of us have the urge to stand on the line and fight, but we’re not quite sure where the battle is, or if there even is one at all.