So every time I read 1 Peter or meet the growing number of Christians in my church who have been really genuinely persecuted for their faith, and still live with the consequences of that now, I wonder if the “suffering” of middle class white Christians get can ever really be compared to that of the early church or the church in the Muslim world. (Checking my privilege you see.)
And the more I think about it, the more I think apocalyptic warnings about the effect of gay marriage on Christian professionals are not where its at. Not right now anyway. The reason being a Christian is easier here is, I think, that I am usually not doing it right.
You see, the whole gay marriage thing got me thinking about whether it is possible for churches to send moral messages without excluding and giving the impression that acceptance rests on conformity. And at least one of the answers is that people who aren’t Christians need to know that we are failures too, and that we really believe we are. Their actual experience of church needs to be that we are not singling gays or divorced people, single parents or addicts or people just out of prison as broken and failed – we have all failed. Its not that those people are damaged goods, it’s that we all are, and there is a great healer who loves to care for and fix and comfort those who are damaged. He will not break the bruised reed.
The thing is, I don’t really want to go round admitting my failure to people who aren’t Christians. We’re thinking at the moment about making our church small groups more “missional” – which means people who aren’t Christians being there when we do normal Christian stuff. And normal Christian stuff should mean admitting we are failures to each other – confessing our sins. But our western culture says, you only ever admit your weakness in a long term probably therapeutic context where absolute confidentiality is guaranteed. Sharing your weakness with people in a small group might just be possible after several years of close and deepening relationships – by no means possible if people who aren’t Christians are there just having a look! But my western privatised success-obsessed culture is giving me a cross to pick up here. A real cross that needs taking up if people are to understand the Gospel – they need to know I am a sinner and not just in some general theological sense, but that I have actual sins, which I regard as heinous, the way they have been told the church regards their sins. Honestly, I’d rather nobody knew about my sin. You’d probably prefer nobody except a few select Christians knew about your weaknesses (even the non-sinful ones) – your struggle with depression, your anger with God about fertility, your deep and hungry loneliness. Letting people in, though, can’t be an option.
This is the cross, in my experience, that no one wants to pick up. I have sat in enough frigid Bible studies to know – not much talking and none at all at application time. I have even had Christians tell me that they can’t be honest in a small group because I, the leader, can’t guarantee their confidentiality! Well they are right about that! There is a risk someone will blab your personal problems all over the place, and that’s really hard. That’s why the image is carrying a cross up a hill, not wearing a bathrobe on a stroll to the massage parlour. Listen people, unless we do this, unless we convince one non-Christian at a time that we really believe we are sinful and need the Lord Jesus too, that it is not their sin we are interested in but our own, they will likely not want to be Christians, and I do not blame them.
And why should we fear our sin coming out into the open? “It is finished” in Jesus words. The only one with the power to condemn has already justified. You can either communicate that with the way you are with Christians and non-Christians present, or you can communicate something else. Our western cross is there to pick up if we’re willing.