I loved hearing from our Global Outreach Panel last Sunday, including hearing the stories of those who are considered the least in their societies and yet are still committed to reaching people for Jesus. While this is outside the experience of most of us in a historically Christian nation, it’s actually nothing new. Consider this quote, for instance:
“Christianity … the dregs of society.” – Michael Green
No, that’s not a headline from the new atheist du jour.
It’s actually the cultural climate in which our faith first took root. I’ve just started Evangelism in the Early Church by Michael Green. Amazon considers it a “modern classic.” I’ve just started so the jury’s still out for me, but it definitely has my attention. Let me give you the full quote: “Christianity was a superstitio that belonged to the dregs of society.” The dregs. I guess we’re not mincing words.
I’ll spare you the details, but earliest Greco-Roman and Hebrew society didn’t care much for this new sect following Jesus the Messiah. They weren’t impressed for a variety of reasons, including the fact that only the biggest fools would worship a crucified criminal as Messiah. And yet, the philosophies of the time, the conventional wisdom of 2000 years ago, have largely faded into obscurity (or re-named themselves) while the church continues to flourish – even if it started with the dregs.
While we don’t like to think of our earliest spiritual ancestors as the dregs, there’s plenty of hope in this – and a challenge, too. We find hope in the fact that God took the dregs and changed the world with them. They “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17.6).
I’m sure Dr. Green will get into the nuts and bolts of how they did it, but the part I want to focus on today is that they were willing to be different. The church father Tertullian had to write to convince people that Christians were of the same flesh and blood as the non-Christian. The church had such a clear and distinct worship and lifestyle that they stood in stark contrast to the broader culture. And even if that culture didn’t think much of this contrast – and sometimes they came to despise it – it gave birth to a global movement.
I just deleted a couple paragraphs grappling with the nuances of being “in the world, but not of it” (John 17.14-18) from my first draft of this post. That’s important, but not what I want to leave us with. I want to leave us with the question I’m grappling with. It’s something we all need to grapple with as we seek to reach a new community through the Branch Church. It’s simply this: “Am I so busy trying to be culturally respectable and ‘fit in’ that I’m unwilling to risk being considered as one of “the dregs” because I commit myself to those things God would have me do to bless others in Him?”
Sometimes it means I don’t take stands on things others think are essential; it may mean taking stands on things others think unimportant. It may mean associating with the weak or marginalized of society. It may mean I spend money a different way, seeking to give and bless rather than accumulating and/or spending. The tensions are endless, but the question is the same. Are we willing to take up our mission in this world – and to start that mission by living differently? Are we willing to live a life that is thriving God’s way so that we can point others to this kind of life?
I know what I want the answer to be. God give me the grace and strength to live it out.