One of my Christmas gifts (that I requested) was a book by Gordon T. Smith entitled Wisdom from Babylon. It is a discussion and consideration about how the Church and Christians can relate to Secularity.
In two of the twelve chapters Smith explores “Four Contemporary Responses to Secularity” borrowing from Richard Niebuhr’s 1951 book Christ and Culture. Simply stated, secularity refers to the non-Christian part of the society in which Christians live. Option A is labeled “The ‘Go Along to Get Along’ Response,” Option B is “The Monastic Response,” Option C is “The Culture Wars Response,” and Option D is “The Response of ‘Faithful Presence’.”
Of the four options, it is clear that the preferred response is Option D: “The Response of ‘Faithful Presence’.” Option D is in tune with Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount to his followers in Matthew 5:13-16, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Faithful Presence means more than just influence, but it certainly does mean influence. Influence, either for good or bad, is not necessarily intentional. Like both salt and light, much of Christian influence is simply the result of the presence of Christians. As Smith reminds us, “We are not merely the church gathered; we are also the church dispersed and present in the world” (p. 140).
The starting point of the metaphors Jesus gives his followers to be salt and light is the example they set. And good examples are to be seen both in the church gathered as well as in individual members when the church is dispersed. Such examples often lead to opportunities to go further with those who have taken notice.
I’ve always been encouraged by the Apostle Peter’s words in I Peter 3:15, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” The implication is that the way Christians act and live may create interest from those who observe how they conduct themselves.
Peter’s next instruction in how to respond is something all of us need to make sure we do when we talk about our faith: “do this with gentleness and respect.” It is not about being argumentative, preachy, pushy, judgmental, or condescending; none of which is setting much of an example.
Being the salt of the earth and the light of the world is both a privilege and a responsibility for Christians. It begins with our example and often results in opportunities to share our faith, as long as we do so with gentleness and respect.
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photo credit: symphony of love Albert Schweitzer Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing. via photopin (license)