…live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. 1 Peter 1:17
Every year my ministry takes a team to South Africa. It is always a Spirit-filled time with old friends and new friends alike.
Over my years of making this trip, I have come to know some things about that country…things about it’s people, it’s society, and its politics. I’m still learning the right questions to ask and the ones not to ask…when to ask them and when not to ask them. In so many ways, it is not unlike here in the U.S. Like here, there is within the church a degree of discontent with the moral and political directions that country seems to be headed.
When our team finds ourselves in those conversations, there is always some “freedom” in being able to say, “We’re not from here.” We can still have an opinion, even a Biblical perspective on the issue, but we are not in any position to impose those opinions on a country where we are only visitors. We have now grasped what it feels like to be “ambassadors for Christ” in a foreign land. We have the freedom (and the responsibility) to speak the truth, but no freedom (nor responsibility) to try to force it or to impose it on anyone. That is not our business.
In the end, the distinction between those two postures can be a thin line. Somehow, being foreigners in that land, it is an easier distinction to grasp. Speak the truth, in love, but do not seek political power to impose that truth on a country where we are mere visitors.
As I meditate on Peter’s words above…live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear…I feel just a little more clarity about that same question here at home. How should we as Christ-followers exercise our influence in our own culture? More specifically, what exactly is the role of the church in the political divide and the “culture wars” swirling around us? For the church, what does “speaking the truth in love” look like?
First of all, I cannot help but think that just embracing the metaphor and bearing it in mind will help to some degree. As a recognized leader in the church, or as a pastor or minister, it would behoove me to stop and check my focus on God’s kingdom–my true “home”–before posting that Facebook rant on the total depravity of my local or national government. Just the gentle reminder to myself that I am a foreigner here might save both me and my church some embarrassment.
Second, I can get a grip on the fact that, while this country does indeed grant our church the “right” to free exercise of our religion, we have a much higher purpose than to merely exercise our rights. First and foremost, we have a mission and a testimony before a watching community. This revolution we call Christianity has never been spread by claiming our “rights” or by political power. To the contrary, that kind of thinking has always killed the most effective expressions of Christianity. I might consider that on Sunday before I spit venom from the pulpit toward the “sinners” around me and their various agendas to bring down Christ’s church.
Further, “this is not our home” reminds us of our protection. As a U.S. citizen in South Africa, I may well feel embarrassed occasionally at the state of our (U.S.) government, even ashamed from time to time, but I never feel threatened. I never feel as though I need to protect the U.S. from South African forces (frankly, I would sooner feel just the opposite). I am merely visiting. I am an ambassador there. I feel that same way as a Christian in our country. I feel no responsibility to “protect” the kingdom of God from evil forces around us. I am certain God does not need that from me. He just requires that I love and love well. That, I believe, is the fuel of His kingdom…a heart at peace, not a heart at war.
Finally, living my life as a “foreigner” here grants me the privilege of being able to speak into an issue, even a moral issue, without invoking fear of any political agenda at all. We are living in a culture of agendas. Everyone wears colors from their “tribe” and takes up the accompanying party line. Those tribes and colors have made it nearly impossible for truth to be communicated. It may be spoken, but it will not be heard in that culture. Or, more likely, it will not be spoken at all, because the tribes and colors make it so difficult to discern in the first place. Donald Miller recently said, “In today’s culture, truth-tellers don’t have a tribe”. That, it seems to me, is the point of remembering we are foreigners here. We may have a tribe, but it is not one of this world. Remembering that, the church may just have a chance to actually speak truth into the world in which it lives.