“. . .and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” —Acts 1:8
One prominent Christian ethicist is fond of saying that the primary task of the Church is to “be the Church in contrast to the world.” What he means by this is that our witness as the Church begins with authentically proclaiming and living out the radical new kingdom that God has introduced through the life and work of Jesus Christ.
By bearing witness to the unique ways of Jesus, we present a clear contrast between the ways of “the world” and the ways of God . . . this contrast is actually the difference between life and death.
Bearing witness to this new kingdom often means putting ourselves in direct opposition to what the rest of the world considers normal and acceptable. The root word for “holy” in both the Old and New Testaments speak to this kind of “separating” ourselves, but it is not the kind of separation that disengages from the realities of this world and its suffering.
Instead, our “separateness” has to do with method. We live and serve with different motives, different goals, and under different authority than the world. This is what Jesus meant when He said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). He was not saying, as is sometimes interpreted, that His kingdom has nothing to do with this world. Rather, He is saying that His kingdom does not derive its authority, values, and goals from this world’s ways of measuring. The very word “of” in Greek is best translated as “out of,” or “deriving from.” In other words, Jesus is saying, “The way my kingdom operates is unique, both in its methods and in its authority.”
Of course, that means that whenever we seek to walk in the ways of Jesus or to bear witness to the gospel of Jesus in a biblical way, we will often see opposition from the status quo.
According to Jesus, there will be times when even our closest friends and families will not understand (see Matt. 10:22). That will certainly mean that human-derived governments and political parties—even those we may favor—will at times be in opposition to what we stand for and what we value.
When this happens, we must remember that this is normal for the Church. If it never happens, we should probably ask ourselves whether or not we are really bearing witness to the kingdom of God or if we are too closely aligned with a particular group: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for, in the same way, they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:11).
This Church into which, by God’s grace, we were welcomed when we became followers of Jesus, is called to “be” the Church: to bear witness with our words and our lives to the ways of the One who gave His life sacrificially so that the love of God may be fully revealed and realized.
Let us bear witness without fear. Let us gently yet honestly oppose those things that pull us and others away from the justice and mercy of God. Let us measure things like “goodness,” “success,” and “righteousness” by God’s standards and no other.
Let us bear witness to the risen Lord and be grateful.
Prayer for the Week:
“Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.” (St. Francis of Assisi)
Charles W. Christian is managing editor of Holiness Today.
Written for Coffee Break with Holiness Today.