For those of us who live in the United States, we are living in a post-Christian nation. That means that the Church is no longer viewed as the most important cultural institution. Church attendance and church practices are generally not considered as important as they used to be. Culture is moving away from what many term traditional Christian values. This change has caused many to “lament the moral failures of the country” and long for by-gone days in which “everyone held Christian values.” However, could it be that this change actually provides the church a better chance to evangelize others? Could it be that it provides the church an opportunity to be an alternate community which draws a distinction with the ways of the world and the ways of God?
Ancient Israel was to be a people of distinction. The Law, given to Israel at Sinai and later recounted in Deuteronomy, provides frequent reminders not to be like the nations around them. God is preparing Israel to enter the land and live as a holy nation in the sight of the pagans around them. Israel was not to isolate themselves from the rest of the world, but was instead to interact with the other nations in a way that showed how God had made them different. They were to be a distinct people, not strange, but holy, that caused others to ask questions and be drawn to a God of love and righteousness.
The way that they lived was to be different from the nations around them, providing a contrast that would point directly to the God they serve. This was accomplished in various ways. Israel’s diet was to be different from the nations around them. While there were many foods they could eat, others remained unclean. Israel’s mourning rituals were to be different. While Israel was encouraged to mourn for the dead, they were not to cut themselves or mourn as those who have no hope. Israel’s worship was to be different. Sacrifices could only be made in appropriate ways at the appropriate place. These rules and others pointed to a different way of life that caused Israel to be distinct from the nations around them that would keep Israel pure while also allowing Israel to show the surrounding nations a different way to live.
The church today should be a people of distinction. Not in a way that causes us to be thought of as strange and thus dismissed. Instead, to serve as an alternate option for a world that lives many days in fear and without hope. We should conduct our lives in a way that is different enough from the world around us that people stop and ask why, and it provides an opportunity to share the hope that we have in Jesus. As the world around us works and saves to accumulate more and more stuff, we freely lend and freely give out of the abundance that God has provided us. As the world is self-consumed with power and prestige, we actively work to promote others and help others reach their full potential. As the world reacts to the violence around us and believes that guns and war are the answer, we promote peace and love as the only permanent ways to end violence in the world.
By being a people of distinction, the culture around us will notice and the church has an opportunity to show an alternate way to live. While living in Christendom the church tried to mirror the culture around them, believing that the culture was always Christian. Because of this, the church did not stand out as distinct from the crowd. We were just another social organization among many. But with the decline of Christendom in the west, the church now has the opportunity to be distinct, pointing others to God. We can either be distinct by bemoaning the moral failures around us (and the world will get tired of hearing us complain and dismiss us), or we can live out love and righteousness in a way that draws a contrast and provides an alternate way to live.
The world around us is a world without hope. Individuals are in more debt than they know how to pay. Families are falling apart. Terrorism and violence are controlling the streets. The way people are living today is not working. Individuals are ready for a new opportunity, an alternative to the prescribed way of life. The church can point to this alternate way. The church can model a hope filled life that points the world to God. And when people ask why we are different, we can be ready to give an answer for the hope that we have in Jesus.