Thursday, November 30, 2006

Why can't Christians keep their faith private?

The secular age we're living in seems to think that religion is best kept to the margins. Some are simply annoyed that Christians want to express their faith in the workplace or be located in Students Unions. At least from this side of the fence, it reads like a frustration that Christians wont retreat into Chaplaincy buildings, private piety and keep out of the headlines.

It feels like the best we're permitted is that we can have Jesus, so long as we keep him in our pockets and only let him out at Christmas (and sometimes not even then! - Winterval anyone?).... Or we can have our Christian beliefs but we'd better not let them affect the way we live (which sounds very much like being asked to be a hypocrite...). The world that is telling us this seems to be exterting a very public worldview, claiming all of life for itself... but putting that aside for a while, can this pocket deity Christianity work? And if not that, then what will it look like for a Christians to go public?

1. Jesus.
Jesus is portrayed in Colossians chapter 1 as being the one who made all things, who made them for himself and who holds all things together. That is to say, if Jesus stopped interfering with people's lives they would cease to exist. Creation would crumble and disappear. Furthermore, Jesus is the one who lived and died to reconcile all things to himself. He has an interest in relationship with all things that makes everyone else look half-hearted - he's not just in it for Christmas. He's not content to be kept out of sight.

2. Christians
The third chapter of Colossians turns to how a Christian should live. It tells us that we're to wear humility and kindness, love and patience. That these are the marks of Christian living, in relationship with other people. A Christian who keeps their faith private had better not be seen doing any of these things.

Then we're told that whatever a Christian does is to be done for Jesus. All things. Examples are cited: marriage, family life and the workplace. Christian faith is engaged in "all of life under the Lordship of Christ" (a favourite phrase of Richard Cunningham- UCCF Director). Christians who want to keep their faith private had better not love their spouse, or bring up their children well, nor work wholeheartedly - for to do such things is to live out their faith in all of life.

Living all of life under the Lordship of Christ
That means a Christian is not just an evangelism machine. When I worked for a bank I wasn't there to evangelise - though Jesus was the subject of conversation on many occasions. On day one I was asked what I was passionate about, and we continued to talk about our passions together throughout the year when we could. I was there to work wholeheartedly, and not just giving my manager eye-service but wholehearted service even when I wasn't being watched. I was there to work for Jesus, to be the best bank clerk I could be. That takes some thinking through!

All of this means I must think hard about how to work Christianly, how to eat Christianly, how to love Christianly, how to vote Christianly, how to rest Christianly, how to speak Christainly. Christian life is not mere private piety. Christians can't be anti-intellectual, anti-emotional, anti-physical. Rather we're all for wholehearted, wholeheaded, wholebodied life.

Christians can't be those who abstain from life, merely dive bombing into evangelise. Speaking for Jesus is vital and something perfectly normal. Who doesn't talk about what they love? And who could not speak of Jesus who is holding everything together! Jesus who comes into God's world to rescue people. Jesus who is the ultimate evangelist - good news personified. We're to be speaking for Jesus... and to be living for him. And of course, in varying degrees that's what Christians all do. Every decision is either submitted to Christ's word or isn't... most of the time we get on with living a quiet life in Christ, winning respect and gaining a hearing for the one thing we love more than anything else.

It's time to get involved. We're not to leave this world yet, but live in it. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul tells Christians to pray for all leaders so that they may live a quiet life. Politics is a Christian concern as much as anything else in life. A Christian student should engage heartily in their studies and in student politics, student sports, student societies and student welfare (as indeed may already do!).

Anyone left in a Christin ghetto needs to be rescued from it and set up camp in the heart of student life. The lecture theatre and the library, the sportfield, the bar and the coffee house are where people are. People made in God's image. Marred by sin. People who, like us, need relationship. People who like us need Jesus. And they are where Christians ought also to be found. That's normal Christian living.

Jesus is the one who made all things. Everything is his handiwork. Everything is God's good creation. Chapter 4 of that letter to Timothy says that what God makes is to be enjoyed. No hint of abstaining from good things like food and marriage - but rather a thankful enjoyment of them. Christian are, after all, those who "live life to the full", who live life the way it was always meant to be. And that has got to be interesting, and engaging, and enjoyable.

Living for Jesus, speaking for Jesus. Yes please.

Meanwhile, remembering The Man Who Brought People to Jesus.
Passion Podcast with Chris Tomlin