Are Christians to be Salt or Light in the World?

Are Christians to be Salt or Light in the World?

Thursday, 16 May 2019  | Narelle - MECS Principal

As we approach the federal election this weekend, it has prompted me to think about the role and place of Christians in the world. How should Christians live in relationship to their larger society? How should the Church be in the world, but not of it?

If we are to be salt in the world, it presupposes that we are already engaged in public conversations and practices. It entails active mission in the world for the world’s good.

It also entails actively working for justice and the common good in our communities. We need to be already in the mix, respected and hard-working in the areas such as politics, government, business, journalism, education and other spheres of public life.

However, if we are to be light in the world, it requires that we have something genuinely different to offer. More specifically, it entails that we are something different. That is, the Church lives as a community that sees, prioritises, and relates differently. In other words, the Church doesn’t love the world by living according to the world’s terms. Rather, the Church must speak, think, and act in terms of the gospel. It serves the world by offering it a visible, countercultural model.

Whilst some Christians emphasise the calling to be salt, others emphasise the calling to be light. When the latter promote the strategy of offering a countercultural model, the former tend to be wary of withdrawal. When the former promote the strategy of active missional engagement for example, in state politics the latter tend to be wary of accommodation.

For any Christian considering these two strands of calling, we should consider a question that each side might ask of the other.

For those promoting engagement with the world, the question is: how can Christians expect to offer their neighbours a different way of thinking and loving if they fully immerse themselves in their neighbours’ ways of speaking and acting?

This question recognises that the ability to see and love differently are habits formed through regular participation in a particular language and set of practices. In other words, maintaining a distinct alternative requires being shaped by a different community. And, for Christians, the formative community that should receive our highest loyalty is neither the nation nor the larger culture, but the Church. Again, prioritising the Church’s distinct language, beliefs and practices does not necessarily reveal a disregard for the world, but can actually be a condition for serving it well.

But then we must ask the second question.

For those promoting a distinct countercultural community, the question is: how will those who live according to a different worldview be able to see the Church’s distinct witness as intelligible and attractive?

This question recognises that communities that don’t attempt to speak in a language that the world will understand, engage in her activities and debates, or work within her institutions, will likely remain misunderstood at best, and perhaps even be viewed as laughable or offensive. In short, if the Church doesn’t risk her own purity in missional engagement, the gospel might remain good news only to those already in the body of Christ!

So which is it: salt or light, model or mission, counter or encounter?

The Bible calls the Church to be both. Therefore, we need to remember what each side of this conversation seeks to safeguard. We follow Christ, first and foremost, by living faithfully as members of his body exercising what some have called ‘faithful presence’ in the world. However, we must always remember that that presence is meant to be outward-focused, pursued not only for the Church’s sake alone but also for the world. We need to avoid the temptation of abandoning our neighbours to deceptive worldviews and perverse social structures. But we also need to avoid losing what makes us distinct, which can only be maintained in a different kind of community.

What’s required is discernment to know when, how, and what to engage, and how further engagement will influence the Church. May we be people of such discernment in our present age and culture.

Adapted from an article entitled, ‘In But Not of the World; 2 Questions’. Author Unknown


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