When I was a missionary in Spain one of the overall goals of the Evangelical Church was to be accepted by society. Actually they were desperate to even be noticed. This desire to be an accepted part of society didn’t come from the values of the New Testament; it came from the history of Christendom. In their minds, the Catholic Church was their rival. And, since the Catholic Church was accepted as a part of Spanish society, although for the most part, resented by the public, the Evangelicals wanted that same social acceptance. I don’t think social acceptance should be a big part of our desire or strategy.
Instead we should focus on exactly what Jesus told us to focus on. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matt. 6:33). Just like we are not meant to focus on our need for food and clothing, which are real needs; we shouldn’t be focused on our social standing with society; which is actually only a perceived need. Is Jesus good to his word? Can we trust him to give us anything we actually need? I think we can.
The Early Church was at the same time despised by much of society and admired. This was predicted by Jesus who said in Jn 15:18-19 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” Yet, at the same time they were admired for their good works. They were known as moral people who did good for the society. Here is a passage from an early Christian apologetic letter:
…they are dishonored, and yet in their very dishonor are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honor; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.
The first recorded legal recognition the Church was known to receive was as a burial society burying the bodies of the poor who were thrown like garbage at the edge of Roman cities. They were also known for rescuing “exposed” babies; babies left among these same rotting cadavers to die because they were unwanted. This schizophrenic love/hate reaction is what the current house church movement in China is experiencing. They are known by their neighbors as being wonderful people. They have even been studied by the government because it was noted that villages with a high percentage of Christians were better villages. Yet, currently the Chinese government is cracking down on them. I discuss in depth both the Early and Chinese Church’s relationship with society in my upcoming book Viral Jesus (release date 2/2/12).
We should emulate our Early Christian and Chinese brethren. We don’t need to make a splash in the newspapers. We don’t need any formal recognition at all. It may come, and if it does that’s fine; but we shouldn’t seek it. As Paul prayed for the Colossians: We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light (Col. 1:9-12).
What then should we aim for? We should aim to be the kindest, most helpful people on the block. We should aim to be the people that everyone goes to when they need help. We should quietly do as much good as we possibly can, without trying to make a name for ourselves. And, we should use the opportunities that come from doing good to be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have (I Pet 3:15). We should also disciple every new Christian to do the same. In doing so, we will be bring honor to Jesus’ name and get lots of opportunities to share our faith in gracious, non threatening ways. We will be seeking first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness. It’s not just a religious command, it’s a strategic road map.
- Where do you think the desire for social acceptance and recognition comes from?
- How do you explain the schizophrenic love/hate reaction of society to Christians behaving as Jesus told us to behave?
- What kind of reputation does the Church have in society today? Is this being hated for righteousness sake? Do we have a reputation for doing gracious, gentle acts of kindness?
- Have you ever thought of seeking first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness as a strategic roadmap?
 The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus [article on-line]; available http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0101.htm. Internet accessed 14 July, 2008.