For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.’ (Jn. 3; 17) Although somewhat over-stated one can imagine the Church in three ways.

Firstly the Church can be seen as a fortress church where believers are neither ‘in the world’ nor ‘of the world’. This model of Church entails a case of ‘US against THEM’, believers versus non-believers. As believers, we are to protect OUR holiness by fighting against OTHERS’ unholiness and by keeping ourselves apart from the influences of the world. In this understanding of Church it is clear who is the saved and who is the unsaved: Those who are ‘in the fortress’ are the saved, those who are not, are damned.

Secondly the Church can be seen as having no walls, no boundaries, just come along. This model of Church allows all who are sincere about their beliefs to be welcomed because a place will be found for whatever it is one believes. Here we have an image of a church which embraces the world and the culture and identifies with it. All are saved no matter what one believes, one just needs to believe sincerely. In this church, believers are ‘in the world’ and ‘of the world.’

Neither of these images of the Church are the authentic image of the Church which was founded by Jesus Christ. As God’s creatures we are to live in the world which God has given us so that Christ’s Church is ‘in the world’ but we are not to be ‘of the world’ because we were created for eternal life. For this reason there are some things of this world which are not to be embraced but rather need to be rejected.

So here we have a third view of the Church as a people of God which lives in the world, embraces life and seeks to heal life’s brokenness by preaching the Kingdom of God. It is a Church which offers the world a community of Hope and healing where Christ reigns and His values rule. Our world is broken and our culture is in need of healing and our call as Christ’s Church is not condemn but to save it. Each of us with all our own faults and failings, have been chosen by God to live at this time and in this culture with all its faults and failings, as part of the Church of Jesus Christ with all her faults and failings in order to proclaim the Good News and live Christian lives. (Acts 17:26).

Given our calling as Christians to proclaim the Good News what are we to do when dealing with a people and a culture which passionately rejects Christian truths and Christian values, a culture which is hostile to God?


I

Romans 8:7 says the mind that is fixed on this world, is a mind which is hostile to God.

For this reason we need to be ready to live with disagreement and therefore ‘learn to agree to disagree’. ‘But in your hearts set Christ apart as holy [and acknowledge Him] as Lord. Always be ready to give a logical defense to anyone who asks you to account for the hope that is in you, but do it courteously and respectfully.’ Peter 3;15

For the Christian, changing God’s laws in Scripture or not believing in an absolute, because of popular opinion, makes as much sense as changing God’s laws in nature e.g. the Law of Gravity or the temperature at which water freezes and boils.

The fact is that Christians, like every other citizen, have the right to be present in the public square and to publicly proclaim and profess their beliefs in the Risen Lord. This is what is meant by religious tolerance and is a hallmark of a civilised society.


II

We need to welcome everyone to church. The Bible that talks about sin talks equally about love and here is salutary to remember that everyone is struggling with something.

The church is a hospital for sinners not a museum for saints. All are welcome to come for healing and help. We are all works-in-progress. To expect people to be sinless before attending church is analogous to expect people to be healed before attending hospital!

Now let’s be clear we don’t wish to encourage sin or sinful desires, rather we need to be willing to walk lovingly with people who are heavy-burdened with sin, telling them that so long as they want to fight for holiness and health, we wish to fight with them, for them, not against them.

In all of this of course we are to always relate to all our broken brothers and sisters in patience and humility referring to ‘us’ sinners not ‘you’ sinner.

In all of this too we should not expect the leaders of the church live perfect lives but that they should try to practice what the Church preaches and willingly seek to live out the Gospel in their everyday lives.


III

As Christians we need to toughen up and evangelise through suffering. Here we need to realise that this is a time where we have to stand up for Christ and for the church, to heal the culture and to give our best to the world. Christ his death and resurrection is the hope for the world. Believe it. Live it. Share it.

The world of politics is peopled with radicals on the ‘left’ and on the ‘right’ that fight incessantly with manufactured ‘truths’. The majority of citizens are in the ‘middle’ waiting for a word of enduring truth, truth they can live by. We need to evangelise this middle ground of people who want to find a way to live their lives freely, fully and authentically.

Sin is a reality and a source of great suffering. An honest acknowledgment and explanation of sin is required in order to benefit from the message of ultimate help, healing, and hope: Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is alive, He is King of kings and Lord of lords, He makes life, death, suffering, and persecution meaningful.


IV

We need to prepare to suffer for our faith. Today more Christians are dying for their faith than ever in the history of the world. Don’t therefore let us fall limp when we are called bigoted, intolerant, shameful, cruel, unloving, homophobic, prejudiced and discriminatory. Rather remember that even when called names we are called to love and to share the hope that is within us, with respect and joy.

When Jesus told us to love our enemies, He knew we would have enemies to love (Matt. 5:44). Jesus knew that we’ll see trouble, experience hardship, and be hated. And knowing this He does not invite us to run away or fight back but to endure, to persevere and to view the moment as an ‘opportunity to bear witness’ (Luke 21:12–19).

Basically we are called to live our Christian lives so authentically that even those who disagree with us will admire the patience, the love and the life we are struggling to live.

Our beloved Pope Francis believes that the Church has a tendency to be too inward-looking too protective of its interests and challenges us all to be more faithful, humble, evangelistic, mission-oriented, a person and a people that is capable of saying to another, we will love you no matter what. If you and I can do that we can heal the Culture and save man from himself.

‘But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.’ Peter2;9

Fr. Michael Shields


This article can be found in Mirror 0115.