My tribe, as a whole, has maintained a defensive posture for as long as I can remember. Our mottos reflect that. We are “defenders of the faith”, we stand against the onslaughts of error taught and practiced in the religious world. The often quoted phrase, “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.”, found in Jude 1:3, is most often interpreted as a directive to maintain a defensive posture against this perceived error. But this was not the posture of the early church. The words of Jesus in Matthew 16:18 “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”, are often interpreted to imply a defensive stand against the attack of Hell and Satan. But as Elton Trueblood said in “The Yoke of Christ”, (this phrase), “is a metaphor of offense, not defense.” We are not defending against the gates of Hell, we are marching in an assault against the gates of hell…and they can not stand against us! Boy, that is a powerful picture of the church on the march caring out it’s mission. Our marching orders in the Great commission are to “Go”, not dig in your heals and defend. While we defend, contend and debate the truth, the truth is not being preached to those who have never heard it.
The posture of a church can also determine its attitude and the image it has of it’s self. Much like a battered wife, who ducks at perceived blows, and cowers when verbally beaten down, we can have a tendency to become reactionary to any comment that is perceived as a challenge to what we believe. As a result we think more of how to respond to what is being said rather than understanding what is being said. When we think we are being pushed, the response is to push back, and then you are soon in a fight. I believe that the reason the first century church thrived, during acceptance and persecution alike, was its posture. It had a message of “Good News”. It not only had a message of salvation from punishment, it’s message was the answer to life’s struggles. It gave hope, not only for the future, but for the present.
I watched a special on the History Channel last night that explored hundreds of underground cities in Cappadocia (Modern Day Turkey) where Christians lived and worshiped in the first and second centuries. I learned that Christians not only met in the Catacombs of Rome, but also through out the areas where the Gospel was preached. When persecution started, they went underground by the thousands and continued to grow. It was amazing to see how that with hammer and chisel they carved out these large areas that could hold hundreds of people along with their animals. Some were even two and three stories deep. It was simply amazing.
There focus was to spread the Good News, not just defend it. The urgency and importance of the message determined the means to which they were willing go to tell it. Persecution actually fueled the spread of Christianity. Today, not only my tribe, but most churches today have taken this same defensive posture against the world. It is US against THEM. We fight to be accepted and tolerated. We lash out at the media and other groups that put Christian down. All of this results in turning out focus from our mission offensive, to tell the Good News, and causes us to develop a defensive posture from which we make a stand.
What if we, like those first Christians, we just focused on sharing the Good News of Jesus. What if when persecuted, we smiled and continued to share the Good News. What if we would not allow ourselves to become side tracked with hurts feelings and negative thoughts about THEM, and we just continued to preach the message about HIM.
Can I get an AMEN?