Dallas and I saw this sign last week on a beautiful hike at Wallace Falls just outside Seattle. It struck me as a statement made by an honest seeker but someone who is rather confused, looking to creation rather than the author of creation for answers to life’s most perplexing questions.As Philip Yancey says, we find answers not by looking “down” to nature but “up” to God, who consistently calls us forward to become the people we were designed to be.
A confused world desperately needs what followers of Jesus offer: salt and light.
Karl Barth’s summary of the church’s mission: “To set up in the world a new sign which is radically dissimilar to [the world’s] own manner and which contradicts it in a way which is full of promise.” Adding, the church is “That fellowship that goes through history in obedience and in disobedience, in understanding and in misunderstanding of the lofty good God has given us.”
In writing to those at Corinth and Rome, Paul encourages the committed believers to become a community of contrast that shows the surrounding community a better way to live. In his book, Vanishing Grace, Yancey suggests ways we can be a community of contrast without abandoning grace.
- Clashes between Christ and culture are unavoidable but Christians must always discern which injustices merit a fight. Complete withdrawal is bad. Our society and democracy compel us to recognize others’ rights even when we deeply disagree with their positions. We seek to persuade but not to coerce.
- Christians should choose their battles wisely. The committed people walk a fine line between “world maintaining” and “world shaking” functions. When the church moves into the world-shaking business it must do so wisely and with care. The more Christians focus on tangential issues, the less we will be heard on matters of true significance.
- Christians should fight their battles shrewdly. Yancey says, “I fear that our clumsy pronouncements, our name-calling, our stridency — in short, our lack of grace — has proved so damaging that society will no longer look to us for the guidance it needs.” If we want secular society to listen to us it will require setting aside differences in pursuit of a common cause because we sense a desperate need for a shared vision.
- In engaging with culture, Christians should distinguish the immoral from the illegal. Although Christians have an obligation to obey God’s commands, it does not necessarily follow that we should enact those moral commands into law. Christians have no right to impose our morality on society at large maintaining the distinction between morality and legality.
- We have no charge to “Christianize” the United States or any other country — an impossible goal in any case. When the church accepts as its main goal the reform of the broader culture, we risk obscuring the gospel of grace and becoming one more power broker.
The world desperately needs a “new sign,” as Barth puts it, pointing to good news. A community of contrast. If we don’t do it, who will?