For followers of Christ in America, things are changing rapidly. If thirty years ago, you would have predicted where our culture would be on a variety of issues, no one would have believed you. And yet, here we are, with many aspects of the moral fabric of the culture spiraling down at breakneck speed.
A while back, I wrote some policies for how the church that I serve as pastor will handle marriage-related issues after the legalization of same-sex marriage. As I began articulating our beliefs on marriage, I originally wrote that we believe marriage is the union of one man and one woman. Suddenly it struck me--that definition is no longer clear enough. Rather, our documents needed to say one biological man and one biological woman. There were similar issues related to the current gender chaos, which demanded careful and nuanced language.
This is where we are in our culture. As I hear many Christians react to the changes in our culture, I hear panic in their voices. In fact, I would say that fear of the changes we are facing in the culture grips and controls many professing believers.
So, how do we respond to cultural declension and intimidation that we see happening? This is not a new question for Christians. Thankfully, we have a good roadmap in the Bible for how to deal with this. And the examples laid before us involve contexts that are far more difficult than the one we find ourselves in. One such example is Acts 4:1-31.
In the Book of Acts, the Gospel of Jesus Christ explodes and spreads at an exponential rate. Yet, that growth did not come without difficulty. It was not a comfortable path. As we begin Acts 4, Peter and John had just healed a man. After that healing, Peter and John preach the Gospel and they do so with boldness. As the crowds grow, the Temple Guard and the Sadducees have Peter and John arrested. They threaten and attempt to intimidate them.
The council of rulers, elders, and scribes asserted their power and authority over Peter and John. The next day the council questions them, "By what power do you do this?" (Acts 4:7). The council sought to show Peter and John that they have no power and should fall in line with their expectations. But their attempts at intimidation fail. When Peter and John are told no longer to speak and teach in the name of Jesus, they steadfastly refuse, "We cannot help but speak what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:20).
Do you see the picture? Manipulation. Threats. Intimidation. Legal power. This has been faced before. Did you notice the courage? The boldness? It is possible to stand up against cultural intimidation. How? The Resurrection. Look at Peter. Before the cross, Peter denied Jesus three times--with cursing! And here he is, boldly refusing to bow to the intimidation. The Resurrection changes everything. Death has been defeated! Living in the reality of the Resurrection is what makes us bold in the moment of cultural intimidation.
When Peter and John were released, they returned to the community of believers and tell them everything that happened. In response, they gather to pray. I wonder, if you were in their shoes, what would you pray for? Would you pray for safety? Protection? But that's not at all what they pray for. "And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness" (Acts 4:29).
They pray for boldness to continue speaking, even though they know that to continue preaching might mean ending up in prison again. When was the last time you prayed for courage rather than for your temporal deliverance? When did you last just pray, "Lord give me courage"? Have you ever?
Why do we lean toward prayers of comfort rather than prayers for courage? I think it all boils down to expectations. These believers still had the images of the cross of Christ fresh in their minds. Jesus told this little band of believers to go make disciple of the whole world.
They didn't think it would be easy. They didn't envision their spiritual lives as a spiritual vacation. They believed that they had been called as soldiers to spiritual war. They did not expect life to be problem free and stress-free. So when problems came, they prayed for the strength to face them with courage.
Imagine you are coaching a football team and after a few plays, your players come to the sidelines exasperated, "Coach! The problem is that they keep hitting us!" You would be perplexed. This is football. You get hit in football. If you don't want to get hit, don't play football. Too many Christians face cultural intimidation and ask "What's going on? Why is this happening?" Well, do you want to be a Christian? We must understand that Christianity is a spiritual contact sport. Expect to get hit.
Where did we get the idea that we were saved for a spiritual vacation?
"For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12).
We have not been saved for a spiritual vacation, but for spiritual war. Our cultural opponents are also our mission field. But what if we never ask for courage like the believers in Acts 4? What if we believe that Christianity saves us from having to have courage? Then we will respond to cultural intimidation with cowardice. We will attempt to sever our Christian life from the Christian mission. We will think that Christianity is about me being happier and more content and only occasionally are we called, on our own terms, to be sacrificially on mission.
These believers in Acts 4 saw their whole life as living out the mission. They existed to make much of Jesus and spread the Gospel. Many professing Christians have traded theology for sentimentality. They want convictions that cost them nothing. Only when we realize that Christianity is a spiritual contact sport, will we prepare for and ask for courage in the battle.