The Christian church increasingly finds itself marginalized and shut out of the public square. Despite our constitutional protections for religious freedom, public hostility to Christianity is clearly on the rise and with the recent Supreme Court ruling legitimizing same-sex marriage imminent, outright persecution is expected to follow.
This raises the question posed by the late theologian and philosopher, Francis Schaeffer in his 1976 classic book, “How Shall We Then Live?” Schaeffer’s question anticipated a post-Christian world in which the West would jettison the values of Christianity and the church would find itself at odds with the prevailing culture.
The apostle Peter knew something of pagan culture and its opposition to God’s kingdom. What was his instruction for the persecuted church living in such times? In his first epistle, he wrote:
“People who don’t believe are living all around you. They may say that you are doing wrong. So live such good lives that they will see the good you do, and they will give glory to God on the day he comes” 1 Peter 2:12 [ERV]).
Most translations use “good works,” a phrase often discounted by those of us who hold firmly to the Protestant doctrine of Sola Gratia (grace alone). However, Paul tells us that we were “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10) and James writes that ‘faith without works is dead’ (see James 2:14–17).
These “good works” can be anything that seeks the restoration of that which sin has ruined, gives comfort to the suffering, or promotes shalom (the proper ordering of life and the world). However, our Father in Heaven, gives disproportionate attention to serving the poor.
In fact, it was their failure to serve the poor that brought destruction upon Sodom and Gomorrah according to Ezekiel the Prophet who wrote, “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters (small city states including Gomorrah) had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy” (Ezekiel 16:49). It must be noted that the Lord is here speaking to Israel—they are the “sister” to whom God says in the next verse, “You have committed more abominations than they” (Sodom). Clearly, God is serious about serving the poor!
[pullquote align="left" cite="" link="" color="#446aa7" class="" size=""]Being Christian is to many synonymous with being bigoted and intolerant. In short, we’re seen as dangerous![/pullquote] In the wake of the aforementioned cultural changes sweeping the nation, Christians increasingly find themselves being accused of "doing wrong." Being Christian is to many synonymous with being bigoted and intolerant. In short, we’re seen as dangerous!
It just might be that Christian missions to the poor may be among the few public expressions of Christian faith that the coming culture will be willing to tolerate. And if Peter is to be trusted (which I think he is) then the corporate expression of our “good works” on behalf of the poor will by God’s matchless grace, draw lost people into his kingdom and possibly restore the church in America.
© 2015 by S. Michael Craven
S. Michael Craven is the president of H.I.S. BridgeBuilders in Dallas, Texas, an urban missionary organization that unites Christians to work for the restoration of individuals, families and communities impacted by poverty.