When Christians Win, They Lose

The following blog post is from Peter Wehner (contributing opinion writer for the New York Times) giving his reflections on Good Friday and Easter.

“The writer Philip Yancey recently offered this:

I wrote in Vanishing Grace about an important insight I learned from a Muslim scholar who said to me, ‘I have read the entire Koran and can find in it no guidance on how Muslims should live as a minority in a society. I have read the entire New Testament and can find in it no guidance on how Christians should live as a majority.’

“(Yancey) put his finger on a central difference between the two faiths. One, born at Pentecost, thrives cross-culturally and even counter-culturally, often coexisting with oppressive governments. The other, geographically anchored in Mecca, was founded simultaneously as a religion and a state….”

“While Islam seeks to unify religion and law, culture and politics, Yancey wrote, Christianity works best as a minority faith, a counter-culture…. Historically, when Christians have reached a majority they too fall to the temptations of power in ways that are clearly anti-gospel. Add to this the fact that, as sociologist of religion Rodney Stark has pointed out, Christianity’s greatest period of vulnerability and political weakness was the time of its most explosive growth. He estimates that Christianity saw a 40 percent growth rate per decade from 30 AD to 300 AD. As a result a tiny and obscure movement became the dominant faith of Western civilization. And its enduring symbol is not the shield or the sword but the cross.”

“Early on in my faith pilgrimage – a journey that did not come particularly easily to me – I was struck and to some degree captivated by how in many respects the Christian faith is a radical inversion of what the world deems worthy and worth celebrating. The last shall be first. Strength is made perfect in weakness. The humble will be exalted. Blessed are the meek, the poor in spirit, and those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness. Love rather than hate your enemies. Whatever you did for the least of these, you did for God. Whoever loses his life for God’s sake will find it.”

“Jesus himself came not as a king but as a servant. He was born not to wealth and privilege in Rome but in a manger in Bethlehem. He was a God who wept, was acquainted with grief and was ‘counted among the outlaws.’ He preferred the company of sinners to that of religious authorities, with whom he repeatedly clashed. He was abandoned and betrayed by his disciples. And he endured an agonizing death on a cross.”

“It is hardly the script you or I would write, a God whose crown was made of thorns. But for those of us of the Christian faith, Good Friday gives way to Easter Sunday – the days of God’s overpowering acts in history, acts in which God’s judgment and grace were revealed to all the world, in the words of the pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer.”

I would agree with this assessment. What have we learned from the Moral Majority, the rise of the Evangelical Voting Bloc, and apparent majority of evangelicals who voted for Donald Trump?  We have learned that our victory at the polls have not produced a more Christian nation; just as the Crusades and the Inquisition did not advance the gospel to the world. Jesus was asked by Pilate if he was a king; his reply, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).

In no way am I saying that we should be uninvolved in our society. Social reform was very much a part of evangelical thought (at least in the North) from the 1830’s to the Civil War. However, after the war, the evangelical movement became more centered on personal salvation and piety than social concerns. For example, leading evangelists D.L. Moody and later, Billy Sunday, held crusades that were segregated, especially when they preached in the South. Evangelicals were more concerned about the evils of alcohol and liberalism than the issues of race and women’s rights. (Divided By Faith, Emerson and Smith, 41).

What I am saying is that we (the Church) have not been called to rule, but to serve and to live out Christ’s kingdom here on earth. Our sign will never be a scepter, but always a cross because it will include suffering. Our prayer should not be for America to become “great,” but as Francis Schaeffer used to say even back in the 1960’s, we should pray that God would have mercy on America and bring us to our knees in humble repentance. This will be our greatest victory and greatest witness to the world. This is the pathway that Jesus took from Good Friday to Easter and beyond.


Good Friday Sorrow…Too Much to Bear

I just experienced a wonderfully profound time of worship and prayer with my Wheaton College graduate community. Our Chapel program presented an interactive time of contemplation on the sufferings of Christ leading up to and including his painful crucifixion. It was held in the Billy Graham Center Museum and featured several venues for such meditation and prayer.

It was utterly beautiful and moving, yet it amazed me how hard it was to grasp such things. The physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual sufferings of Jesus were (and are) simply unfathomable to me. I tried to make myself more sad, but I could not; more horrified, but it didn’t work. I even thought of my own brokenness and pain, but even that had a basement floor I couldn’t dig through to the sufferings of Christ.

I often experience a similar limitation in a powerful moment of worship. It might be an overwhelming sense of God’s glory conveyed through the Word or song, but it passes through so quickly. It seems that I have not been made for too much pain or too much glory. Perhaps it is partly my personality and partly my finite inability to process the numinous, but I expect that to a certain extent you can also identify with this. Why can’t I feel these things more deeply!

However, the thing I do grasp (even though it is just as unfathomable) is the love that God revealed to me in Jesus Christ. It is because my heart responds to such love like dry ground to a spring rain. And there blossoms within me an awe for Him, as well as a desire to be generous and to help alleviate the sufferings of others. The Love of God! How do we articulate it? It is beyond words and can only be received and given out. But one hymn writer did try to describe it like this:

Could we with ink the ocean fill and were the sky of parchment made; Were every stalk on earth a quill and every man a scribe by trade. To write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry; nor could the scroll contain the whole, though stretched from sky to sky. The love of God, how rich and pure; how measureless and strong…

On this Good Friday as you contemplate the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ on behalf of your sin, do not whip yourself with guilt if you do not feel the depth of His pain. It was unfathomable.  Instead, stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene, and wonder how he could love (you), a sinner condemned, unclean. How Marvelous, How Wonderful!