April 9, 2022
1 Peter 4:15-16 NIV
15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.
Many have heard or used the phrase referencing a preacher whose message forays too deeply into their personal issues, “That preacher just went from preaching to meddling.” It’s a colloquial way of saying the preacher has gone too far. In reality, it more likely means the hearer has come under the conviction of the Holy Spirit.
This term, ἀλλοτριοεπίσκοπος, pronounced “al-lot-ree-ep-is’-kop-os” (don’t even try) is used only once in the bible. It means interfering or intruding into matters beyond one’s own business. In this instance, it looks to be a reference to Christians trying to enforce their standards or values on unbelieving Gentiles. Peter seems to be saying something like this: When you try to enforce the way of Jesus on people who don’t follow Jesus and those people push back—that doesn’t count as persecution. You had it coming.
Why do we Christians tend to carry an expectation that people who don’t follow Jesus should act like Jesus? And why are we surprised when they don’t? How could they possibly be like Jesus when they don’t even know him? This is one of the vestiges of Christendom. America was never a Christian nation, because a nation can’t be Christian. Only people can be Christian. America was founded on Christian, Deistic, and other congruent philosophical ideals, however, we have long since left that building. In other words, America may look and feel more like first century Rome than 1776 America. We were founded on a social contract, a bit of an uneasy alliance between people who believed heartily in the risen Jesus Christ, those who loosely subscribed to the concept of a distant God and those who believed in enlightenment rationalism alone. This was the “center” that more or less held for two hundred years. Unfortunately, the social contract has imploded. This center no longer holds.
For most of American history, the Church has enjoyed a favored place in this country. In fact, the Church has in many ways played a role as the benevolent host of the country. Our pledges, anthems, even our money references “God.” As the social contract has disintegrated and the center collapsed the American culture has diffused into an ever evolving plethora of sub cultures. Sadly, many facets of Christianity have settled into a sub culture mentality. Still other facets of the Church have been co-opted by ideological factions; like the conservatives and the progressives, and worse, the Republicans and the Democrats.
As a result of the displacement experienced by Christians over the past fifty plus years, Christians have pandered to and sought after political power, intellectual respectability, cultural acceptance, and social affirmation—all the things Jesus could care less about. As a result, the Church no longer plays any semblance of serving as the “host” of the country. We are now the guest. The conservative impulse is to take back the country by imposing our ancient values onto the culture. The progressive impulse is to accommodate the culture, adopting the values of the spirit of the age into the church.
I recognize I am generalizing and perhaps way over simplifying in my analysis here. I am trying to make sense of my observations and much of our experience for this reason. The question Christians must grapple with in twenty-first century America (or any other country) is, how might we become profoundly hospitable guests in this country? Said another way—how might we join the Church Jesus is building and become again a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and God’s special possession that we might declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness and into his marvelous light?
Here’s the good news. It turns out, the gospel anticipates and works best through a humble servant guest on the margins than through a show-running host in the middle. The strategy of trying to conform the culture to biblical values (meddling) without winning them to Jesus, will never work. It will only generate increasing resentment and toxic culture wars in Jesus name. The strategy of trying to accommodate the culture by changing the values of the faith (false teaching) will never work. It will only amplify human pain and brokenness in Jesus name.
So what will work? First, loving broken people (who have no idea they are even broken) so extravagantly they will wonder if we are affirming their lifestyle—which they would expect us to reject. The conservatives will hate us for this. Second, living in such uncompromising holiness and supernatural righteousness that it inspires awe and hunger for God. The progressives will hate us for this. This will simultaneously create astounding power and withering persecution—honor from God and hatred from the world. This is the stuff of legend—the love of Jesus through the life of his Church. The same one who said, “I will build my Church,” also said, “You will be my witnesses.”
Wake up sleeper and rise from the dead. . .
Jesus, you are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. You are the Creator Host of all Creation and yet you came to us in disguise as a humble guest. This is astonishing. You came to your own and your own did not receive you. Your love was unreasonable and your holiness unattainable. And yet you call us to belong to you in such fashion that you become your very self for others in and through us. Holy Spirit, fill us with the holiness of love and the love of holiness. Praying in Jesus’ name, Amen.
So if you are reading from a country outside of America, thank you for bearing with us. We have to tend to this housekeeping. I hope you can glean help from it. Do you find it tempting to meddle with the unbelieving culture around us?
For the Awakening,