The Church in a non-Christian World
Australia is privileged to be a country where religious freedom can be practiced. According to the latest national census (2016), 52.1% of the Australian population had Christian affiliations while 30.1% of all Australians claim to have no religious affiliation, and this percentage has continued to increase since. Amongst those that declare to belong to the Christian faith, only 1 in 7 actually attend church regularly. What does this mean for the Christian living in a non-Christian world?
Simply put, our desire to grow and be fruitful Christians (our Vision) empowered by our ultimate aim to make a kingdom-sized impact and draw more people to Jesus (our Mission) will only be achieved when we forfeit believing in political or economical strategies, and instead allow for spiritual strategies to inform our actions. For Paul says in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5:
"For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."
In Acts 7:54-60, we encounter the first martyrdom in Christian history, of Stephen, one of the seven deacons who, “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5) was earlier chosen by the apostles to serve the Christian community. Despite the horrifics that would follow, there are four key things we can learn from Stephen to be the Church in a non-Christian world:
THE MESSAGE NEVER CHANGES
Jesus is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6), and salvation cannot be attained any other way then through believing and being in relationship with Him. While the way this message is conveyed may differ (from evangelical rallies to after-service altar calls), the message of salvation must always remain the same. When we dampen the Gospel, the Church becomes ineffective and essentially weak in fulfilling their purpose to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 29:18).
Though theological scholars still debate whether Stephen’s claim was actual or visionary, all agree that Stephen sought God alone in his final moment... and the Church is called to follow suit. It often seems more rational to plead for help horizontally (like to the people around you), but ultimately all fall short of God and there is none other like Him. So dear Church, look up.
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:28-31)
“Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56)
A SAUL IN THE CROWD
Paul is regarded as one of the most zealous Biblical figures, writing almost one-third of the Bible we know and love today. He was present at the martyrdom of Stephen, which was shortly followed by his transformative encounter with God. As the Church, we need to be mindful that there may be a Saul in our everyday spheres of life; someone who is oblivious to God but may one day become a chosen ambassador of Christ (Matthew 5).
EXTEND A HAND OF RECONCILIATION
Before Stephen’s final breath, he cried out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59), an imitation of Christ’s actions before his crucifixion. In his final words, Stephen reminds us that our attitudes towards non-believers should be without contempt, judgement or scorn, but of reconciliation.
“Do you remember what I told you? ‘A slave is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you. And if they had listened to me, they would listen to you.” (John 15:20)
Dear Lord God,
We thank you for sending your Son to die for us on the cross. We pray that the global Church would be empowered by your Spirit to be courageous and humble in the world today. Thank you that we can learn from biblical examples, and we pray that we as the Church would further your kingdom faithfully.
In Your precious and holy name we pray,