Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles… – 1 Peter 2:11
This morning I ran across a thoughtful article by one radio personality who professes to be a born-again Christian. As I read his words about culture and Christianity, my mind came back to 1 Peter 2, and again to current events in the United States.
The need for someone to say something worthwhile
There are so many people who are commenting on Scripture and culture right now, but very few who are saying what this author did. It is unfortunate that in the current cultural struggle, the side that claims Scripture as its justification is actually not speaking the words of God when it speaks loudest. The words that God actually says are very quiet right now.
It occurred to me that there is a need for more people to start to lay out a more legitimate Biblical ethic of how followers of Scripture ought to respond to culture. That would be worthwhile.
The premise: We are Sojourners and Exiles
Biblical Christianity, from its earliest days, has always been a religion whose followers are meant to be sojourners, exiles, and outcasts, and it does not work if Christians expect the culture around them to accept their beliefs as normal. The more comfortable we are in the culture in which we live, the less we are like the people we were created to be.
What is a Sojourner?
A sojourner is a person who resides temporarily in a place. An exile is one who is away from one’s home (i.e. city, state or country), while either being explicitly refused permission to return and/or being threatened with imprisonment or death upon return.
When Peter wrote to “sojourners and exiles”, he was continuing a theme that runs throughout Scripture: that for those who have been born anew in Christ, citizenship in earthly countries and cultures is of secondary importance to citizenship in a heavenly kingdom.
What does that mean? That means that, simply put, if we accept the God that is described in Scripture as our own, then the culture we were born into is not, and never will again be, our primary culture. While we are commanded contribute to it in a positive way, to pray for it and invest in it, we must know that ultimately we live and act the way we do because our cultural membership lies elsewhere.
Practically, this means that all the ways in which our earthly culture accepts us as “normal” or “beneficial” to society are, and should be, on the table. From tax-exempt status for churches, to EU cultural grants for church renovations, to removing the Ten Commandments from public places — if we accept the message of Scripture as true, then we must also accept the following idea:
Why should a culture that does not believe in God accept as normal a group of people who base their lives on his existence?
This truth is hard to swallow. It is hard because, naturally, our earthly cultures are incredibly important to us, and we want to see them prosper. It is very difficult to change our focus and see them as something other than our own culture. Then, if we do mentally remove ourselves from the culture around us, it is also hard to long for the success of an entity that does not value the things we value.
Scripture is Offensive to Culture
We are not against our earthly cultures. In fact, we are commanded to pray for their prosperity and peace (Jeremiah 29). We are for them in the greatest way that we can be. But we are for them, knowing full well that our belief in the God of Scripture presents a huge problem.
Belief in the God of Scripture requires that one die to oneself and to one’s own desires for one’s life, and take up the desires of an outcast, a sojourner and exile, who died to give us life-long citizenship in the kingdom of God. In his kingdom, those who are least desirable are regarded as most important (Matthew 25). In his kingdom, the blind see (John 9). In his kingdom, there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, because all share equal status (Galatians 3:28). All have been redeemed, and none is deserving of his status (Romans 3:11-12). Citizens of God’s kingdom love their neighbor, and do not take vengeance on their enemy (Matthew 5:43-48).
In a capitalistic, merit-based, ethnocentric society, all these ideas are undesirable because they do not protect the right of individual citizens to do as they see fit with all of their talents, work, and possessions. In a socialist, communal society, these ideas are undesirable because instead of advancing the glory of the state or the worker, they advance the glory of God.
If this is all true, then we don’t get to do a lot of the things we are doing.
I don’t think we get to stand up and say that our earthly culture should or shouldn’t be a certain way, simply because of the fact that we are no longer members of that culture. If we are honest, we might simply need to accept that culture goes the way it does, and the way that it goes is right, simply because it IS. We do not have grounds to accuse members of an earthly culture of being morally wrong according to the paradigm of Scripture, because they do not believe that Scripture is true.
As Christians, I don’t think we get to join in on culture wars. We don’t get to describe ourselves as culture warriors in the earthly cultures within which we live, because whatever war exists in the culture is not our war.
If all this is true, then we do get to do a lot of other things that we aren’t doing.
I think that, as Christians, we do get to share the story of Jesus from Scripture. We get to pray for the earthly cultures and kingdoms where we live. We get to invest in them and work for their prosperity and peace. And, when we are given the microphone, I think we get to confess and repent, and call others to do the same. Our public voice should not call people to emulate our lifestyle — it should call people to be honest about themselves in a way that they have never been before, and be loved and supported as a result. Only in an environment of confession and repentance can the Holy Spirit then work and bring people to the place where they are ready to reform their lives.
This is different from culture warring. This means we don’t speak out about the issues that people want us to speak out on. We don’t fight the fight that they want to draw us into, because the fight is not between us and them. The cultural situation in this world is orchestrated not so that we come out winners or losers, but so that the works of God can be displayed (John 9). It’s not constructed so that we win — it’s constructed so that God can win.
I think that, if we intend to have an impact as Christians in the midst of this current culture war, then we must come to the place where we agree that the earthly culture within which we live is less important than the culture where we belong.