“… and they did not love their life even when faced with death.” (Revelation 12:11)
Our American heritage with its Judeo-Christian values appears to be disappearing faster than a winter sunset. Our forefathers mostly held a common viewpoint that included affirmation of Almighty God (often referred to as Providence), acknowledgment of what constituted evil and a shared religious cultural perspective.
Where does the stripping away of these once common values leave us? It seems we are fast becoming a pagan society. It’s true that this is a dreadful state of affairs. I lament it as well as you may also. Even so, let’s not overlook the possibility that our spiritual demise may pose one big advantage.
As our society loses common ground with the culture of our founding fathers, we re-gain ground once held by our spiritual ancestors. Let’s not forget that the Christian church was birthed in a pagan culture with a capital P. Any depravity and immorality we face today in America still pales in comparison to Greek and Roman society of the first century.
Even though I have often read the numerous detailed descriptions of pagan society in the New Testament, I never totally got it. The depth of depravity wasn’t real to me until I read a work of Christian fiction titled, A Voice in the Wind by Francine Rivers set in the days after Jesus left his disciples to fulfill the Great Commission. The orgies, the open debauchery, the gladiators forced into bloodthirsty arena games; all that finally came into sharp focus for me.
First Century Church
I remember realizing for the first time that what they faced was worse than what we face today, even with our graphic music, movie and Internet. After all, we don’t yet sell tickets to sit in an arena and watch people be eaten alive by hungry lions and applaud while the victims scream as they are torn apart. The first century Christians had so much against them. Yet what were their results? BIG! They were accused of turning the whole world upside down. (See Acts 17:6) I know I haven’t been accused of turning any world upside down recently, have you?
As our society erodes, does it help us fulfill the Great Commission if we wring our hands or blast our godless culture with judgment and condemnation? I see an awful lot of that going around. Instead, why not take advantage of whatever culture is before us? Why not copy those successful first generation Christians? If we do what they did, might we not have the results they had?
The first thing that comes to mind is to copy their BOLDNESS. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16) Some people take boldness to mean beating people over the head with the gospel. But that comes across as obnoxious and condescending. All that is off the table. Rather, we must figure out a way to speak “the truth in love.” (Ephesians 4:15) Now that does work!
Secondly, don’t we need to be a little hungrier to see results? I sometimes think we are so bloated and satisfied with the blessings we still have based on the sacrifices of our forebears that we have settled into a state of inertia. Resting on our laurels! Watching from the sidelines as the world goes to hell in a hand basket. Peter and Paul and the rest of them took nothing at all for granted. They knew they were starting from scratch and they dove in and literally gave their all.
Counting the Cost
That thought leads me to another point, one that isn’t so appealing. Most of the apostles were martyred, with the possible exception of John. When you shake up the world order and disrupt Satan’s kingdom, he retaliates. The first century church experienced severe persecution. Some of them were the ones who ended up as dinner for the hungry lions in the Roman coliseum. Are we willing to endure persecution?
The faint hearted should count the cost because there will be one. “And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death.” (Revelation 12:11)
So what is our challenge? If we are courageous we can examine the early church and start to model ourselves after them as they pushed out past Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. They began in a pagan society but they changed it. We are still reaping the reward of many who went before us down the centuries and we’re closer to the early church than ever before. Consider that our advantage!