I’ve been reflecting on how divided our culture is right now.
We can’t even talk about our differences in a civil manner…think about politics.
I haven’t seen a polite disagreement in the political sphere in what feels like years. We vilify those who disagree with us and only engage with the opposite viewpoint through snide comments on social media.
This is American culture right now. It’s ugly.
I spent last week studying the early church for an upcoming sermon series and I believe that Romans who came into contact with the church were shocked by what they saw.
I believe they were floored by the diversity represented in the church.
I believe that if you were a Roman who wandered into the atrium of a villa where a 1st-century church met, you would have been shocked by who was gathered together.
These people didn’t belong together!
These people didn’t match ethnically.
These people would have been enemies in any other social gathering.
Wealthy landowners and slaves. Jews and pagans – people who should have disagreed vehemently over the social issues of the day.
What was arresting to the outsider was the,
“Wait…how are these people friends? How is it that they are sharing a meal together?”
They couldn’t explain it. It didn’t make sense. It shouldn’t have worked.
The very nature of the community created an open door for the Gospel message.
Most churches in America today are at a loss when it comes to reaching the younger generations because millennials and Gen-Z are incredibly secular and post-Christian.
Truth is found internally.
No one agrees on universal morality and the idea of sin is even dismissed as a cultural construction.
How in the world do you evangelize people like that? How do you reach people who reject nearly every truth on which Christianity is based?
What I’m learning is that we need to return to what worked in the early church.
The truth is that Christian love and community have the power to raise questions that secular people simply can’t answer. Let me explain.
Although the most holy word in our increasingly secular culture is tolerance, the truth is that it isn’t working.
Our culture is more divided than ever. What we often call tolerance is actually a demand for assimilation.
We have lost the ability to engage with one another, especially when we disagree.
On top of this, people are incredibly lonely and isolated. Through social media we are more connected than ever but experience rich friendships and belonging nowhere.
So here is our opportunity: Nothing in our secular culture can duplicate Christian community—where all are equal, where all are loved, where all belong and where love and self-sacrifice are the reigning values of the community.
Last night, I was at an event with Tim Keller where he was describing how to evangelize secular people in urban environments and he said
“If your life is attractive and your community is attractive, you don’t need to say anything. You can simply wait for them to ask you questions.”
The “attractive community” is the type of committed relationships that are only possible when Jesus is at the center.
How do we, as churches, develop this kind of community?
Back to the early church.
At that time, the church in Rome (and pretty much every city) was experiencing conflict within the body.
In Rome, one of the disagreements was over food.
Some of the Jewish Christians were attempting to convince the others that they needed to abide by Jewish dietary laws.
The Roman Christians were like,
And, it was a serious conflict.
A similar conflict was brewing in Corinth over food that had been involved in a sacrifice to a pagan deity.
There was conflict in the early church and some of it was heated.
People didn’t agree about everything.
Yeah, people don’t agree about everything in my church either. We have republican Christians. We have democrat Christians.
We have military Christians and pacifist Christians. We have…we could go on like this for hours.
How can you create a compelling community when people disagree about significant issues?
The answer to that question comes from Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome:
Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. – Romans 14:1-3
The keyword here is the first word: accept.
It doesn’t mean tolerate. It doesn’t mean assimilate.
In the original language, the word means “receive.”
It can even mean, to receive someone into your home.
The idea here is relationship. It’s engagement. It looks like moving toward the person who is different and who disagrees.
It is inviting that person over for dinner and asking them,
“So tell me about yourself. Tell me why you believe what you do. Help me understand.”
So, here’s my point: I believe the key to evangelism in our increasingly secular and post-Christian culture will be the compelling Christian community that we live out.
The way to build this kind of community is through “receiving” people who are different from us by inviting them into our lives.
We don’t even have to agree about everything.
The way our church is moving in this direction is through “What’s it like to be you?” conversations.
We are challenging all of our leaders to pursue conversations with people who are different from them – conversations to build understanding and empathy.
This is an early step toward becoming more inclusive toward people who aren’t exactly like us.
I believe that the Gospel empowers us to have meaningful friendships with people who are very different from us.
If we can learn to live in this tension, we will build compelling Jesus communities that our culture will not be able to ignore.
Let’s get after it.