Kicking off June’s theme “Turning the World Upside Down: Church on the Fringe”

worldupsidedownThe Western church finds itself having more in common with early Christians than we did a generation ago. What is it that puts us more in line with the first Christians?

We have lost our place of power and privilege in the world.

The church is no longer the bastion of political influence it once was…the voting block has been diminished…the voice of worldly influence grows faint. No one is waiting with baited breath to hear what the church or Christians at large have to say on an issue or who they are boycotting next or which candidates are being backed by which Christian leaders. The Pope’s words used to change the direction of nations. Now he is just noted for being a likable guy who has nice things to say from time to time. The church used to be situated on the town-square…in the center of community life. That is no longer the case either. And this is not bad news.

This is good news.

It is good news because it puts us in solidarity with our roots. It puts us in closer connection with those who have gone before us, who never ever experienced the disadvantage of Christianity’s position of power or privilege. No, those first Christians were the dregs of society……people on the fringe. People falsely seen as heretics, atheists (according to polytheists), cannibals, incestuous and the rest. Lion food and fuel for burning the midnight oil.

Hebrews 11:35-38 says it this way,

35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.

Jesus said it this way,

18 If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. 19 If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you, ‘Servants are not greater than their master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also.” – John 15:18-20

As attractive and seemingly advantageous it is to be a part of a “Christian nation” and hold influence and sway in the world, it can just as easily mean that the church has bought into a worldly way of doing things, forsaking its first love.

That often means trusting in Jesus less and the world more. If our message is out of sync with the world…if the powers that be feel threatened by the message and position of the church…then we fall squarely in line with those who have gone before us…not just the first Christians but also Jesus Christ himself.

Here is what they said about Christianity when it first arrived in Thessalonica,

But the Jews became jealous, and with the help of some ruffians in the marketplaces they formed a mob and set the city in an uproar. While they were searching for Paul and Silas to bring them out to the assembly, they attacked Jason’s house. When they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some believers before the city authorities, shouting, “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has entertained them as guests. They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus.” The people and the city officials were disturbed when they heard this, and after they had taken bail from Jason and the others, they let them go.” – Acts 17:5-9

I believe the church is at edge of a grand opportunity, not to regain its place in popular society (and fall right back into the same temptation and idolatry) but to operate with great success from the fringes. When the church operates from those areas (as it did in the first century and in persecuted places all over the world today) the world feels threatened…threatened to be exposed, threatened to lose their power, threatened by the truth. What is more the church grows exponentially. When the church is neutered and tamed by society and the church falls in line, playing worldly games and measuring worldly things…the church often falls into decline.

So let us learn to live in the margins, to thrive in the margins and reach people in the margins. Great news. There are more people there to meet in this world than ever before. We just have to adjust our expectations of what “church” is going to look like moving forward. Our ministries, ministers, and churches will look a whole lot more like the ministry we see Jesus engaged in because Jesus sought the margins. It may not be church as we knew it…it may be much more alive, more spontaneous and more first-century like than anything we have participated in to date.

Are you ready to turn the world upside down? It just won’t happen if the church acts and operates like the world is right side up.