The last few weeks have felt culturally momentous. Following the SCOTUS decision, my social media feeds look like a Technicolor showing of Chicken Little. Rainbow-overlaid profile pictures dominate the left-hand column, and statuses from many Christians cry that the sky is falling. As if all of this isn’t strange enough, throw in some Confederate flags for good measure. Add the heartbreaking accounts about eight black churches being burnt down, and you’ve arrived at the summer of 2015.
One of the wisest things outside of intercessory prayer and holding fast to Scripture that we can do as Christians is turn to church history. Often times, we find that those who went before us are more experienced and wiser, and their words outlast their era or existence.
One of the works I find myself turning to time and time again is Augustine’s City of God. In it, Augustine contrasts Christian society with other societies, particularly pagans. He writes, around the beginning of Book XIX, “…when pleasure is preferred to virtue, it is sought for its own sake and virtue is pursued as a means for the sake of pleasure. This is to say that virtue makes no effort save to procure or make secure some bodily pleasure. Strange life, indeed, where pleasure is the mistress and virtue is the handmaid!” Here we are, seventeen centuries later, agreeing. It is a strange life, indeed, when being virtuous is nothing more than a vehicle to carry us to pleasure. It is a strange life, indeed, when we find that our values aren’t founded on unchanging principles but instead in an ever-so-shaky pursuit of pleasure. It is a strange life, indeed.
Fortunately, Peter speaks directly to our circumstances in 1 Peter 4:
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.”
1 Peter 4:12-16 (ESV)
Passive-aggressive Facebook statuses or confused outrage against Christians surely do not qualify as “the fiery trial”—or they don’t in my book—but governmental infringement upon religious liberty certainly starts to toe the line, and if pop culture is any indicator of where regulation of the church is headed, then into the fiery trial we march. “This shouldn’t surprise you,” Peter says. “Don’t give them reason to call you a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or a meddler,” Peter pleas. “But if you’re being criticized for upholding the truth in love, then do not be ashamed because you’re glorifying God in it.” These are important words for the Christian to remember.
Chances are, if you’re doing what we are commanded to do, you will be marginalized. Our religious institutions will lose their tax-exemption. We will be forced to hire those who don’t stand for what we stand for. But don’t act like this is unexpected. Do not be dismayed! Though your outer self is wasting away, this light momentary affliction is preparing for you an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Corinthians 4:16-17). We stand firm on the Word of God and seek righteousness!
This isn’t new, so we shouldn’t panic. Times might be strange, indeed, but this isn’t a time for cultural frenzy, for Christ’s church will never sway and it will never fail. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, in the midst of 19th Century England, faced trials in the pulpit. In his sermon “The Eternal Name”, he reminds us: “As long as on this earth there is a sinner who has been reclaimed by omnipotent grace, Christ’s name shall endure; as long as there is a Mary ready to wash his feet with tears and wipe them with the hair of her head; as long as there breathes a chief of sinners who has washed himself in the fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness; as long as there exists a Christian who has put his faith in Jesus, and found him his delight, his refuse, his stay, his shield, his song, and his joy, there will be no fear that Jesus’ name will cease to be heard.”
Oh, Christian, do not lose heart. Stand firm, for the Lord will not cast off forever. He is leading us homeward, drawing us to Himself, making all things new again.
Cody Glen Barnhart
Cody Glen Barnhart (@codygbarnhart) lives in Kansas City, Missouri, and is a student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has written for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Canon & Culture, Gospel Centered Discipleship, and is a contributor at servantsofgrace.org.