When I was a kid my dad would often watch reruns of the old music and variety show HeeHaw. At the time I really didn't like the show much except for the occasional joke I found funny. Now, I watch the show and really enjoy most of the music and am better able to appreciate the show's humor and style. If you've never seen HeeHaw, there is a part during the show in which some of the cast members sing a song called, "Gloom, Despair, and Agony On Me". It's hysterically funny, but is also a good example of how we sometimes feel as human beings. It seems our days are filled on this earth with much suffering, both great and small, and if we are not ourselves going through a major personal tragedy, someone we know is.
However, by and large, we seem to have lost touch with the sufferings and trials of our fellow beings. Now, I think there are great many reasons for this lack of compassion and feeling. In fact, I have touched on some of those reasons in a previous post. Also, though, in the church, there seems to be a sense of self-righteousness. We seem to have the impression that since we have the Truth, that we are just a bit better than the average "sinner". We tend to speak unkindly about homosexuals, fornicators, drunks, and the like. Certainly we are not to condone or support this type of behavior, but neither are we to use harsh and hate-filled language to condemn those that practice such things. Dr. David Gibbs of the Christian Law Association once said it this way, "God never calls us to be a critic". I agree with Dr. Gibbs. We very often find ourselves not separating the sin from the sinner, and particularly in the case of homosexuality this is a grave error. As Believers we must let people know that we do not identify people with their wrongness and sinfulness. Certainly we should not support sinful behavior or lifestyles, but we can compassionately address these things in a way that does not drive people away from the Gospel message. Love rather than Judgement is the Revelation we are given in Christ. Many are desperately seeking something to assuage the longing that life has left them with but they look in vain for answers that Believers often fail to both give and live.
I read once, in a place I really cannot recall, that one in three Americans is being treated for depression. That is a fascinating piece of commentary for a nation that is widely considered to be the most prosperous in the world. In the midst of this material prosperity we have filled our homes with belongings and filled our hours with entertainment. We spend our hours in the midst of noise and activity in a vain effort to crowd out the emptiness that has crept into our souls. Why has this prosperity so sapped the satisfaction and real happiness from the lives of so many?
In Christopher Nolan's film The Dark Knight Rises, Batman is faced with arch enemy Bane for a brutal fight. After a brief flurry of punches by the "Caped Crusader" that do not connect, Bane is heard to say, "Peace has cost you your strength. Victory has defeated you!". This could well be the commentary that could describe the culture in the West now. A high standard of living, abundant educational opportunities, and increased free time have made us complacent spiritually. We live in a time of unrivaled freedom of expression and thought in the Western world. We can, for the most part, share our faith and ideas openly and without fear. However, the Christian church did not always enjoy this freedom and ease. For hundreds of years, all over the globe, those that named Christ were beaten, tortured, and slain. In the New Testament one of the words translated as "witness" is martyreō. This is the Greek word from which martyr is derived. So, in the early church the very concept of becoming a Christian carried with it the idea that you would very likely die for your faith. It was in that climate that the church flourished and came to influence so much of Western society.
However, in this current cultural climate of freedom of expression and mild-to-nonexistent persecution the church has begun to try to be "culturally relevant". It has taken its message and truncated it into an entertaining, "feel-good" Gospel that all can be easily swallowed and requires very little change on the part of the average pew-sitter. We have begun to turn church into an emotional experience, and the message of the Gospel suffers from this approach to evangelism, as does its effectiveness. We speak harshly about people's sin and error but show much grace and latitude with our own. Our youth have begun to gather at churches expecting fun and entertainment, and they find it. Though, this entertainment driven Gospel does very little to insulate them from the vicious onslaught of secularism and intellectual skepticism they will face during their college years. That kind of Gospel will not survive tough questions and does not prepare people to face skeptical co-workers, or friends. We have so long measured success in the body of Christ by numbers-in-attendance that we have stopped fighting for the Truth, peace, grace, or humility. Peace, has indeed, cost us our strength.
In many parts of the world persecution rages and literally millions of people have come to Christ in spite of this. Is that what it will take in the West? Will renewed persecution be the tool that God allows to "separate the wheat from the chaff"? I heard somewhere, once, that we are always only a single generation away from persecution in the Western world. Is that what it will take to shake the church from this current lackadaisical attitude? I pray that we, as the Body of Christ will begin being more like the one we claim to represent and worship. I pray that our lives and conversation will begin to generate more light that heat and that we will leave self-righteousness behind and allow Christ to shine in us. That is the way forward into the light and out of the gloom, despair, and agony of the darkness that has crept in on us.
May God bless and keep you.