There are three images of the church in today’s world.
The fortress church is neither in the world nor of the world — not very scriptural. This is an “us against them” church that protect its holiness and keeps clean from the influences of a wicked world. In this view the distinction between the saved and the unsaved is very clear. Those in the fortress are the saved.
The second image of church has no walls, no boundaries. All are welcome. The most important thing is to be sincere about your belief, whatever that may be.
In this view the church is both in the world and of the world — not very scriptural. This image of church embraces the world and the culture as is. All are saved no matter what they believe.
Neither of these first two images are scriptural, nor practical, nor the authentic image of the church founded by Jesus Christ.
Christ teaches that the church is to live in this created world, but in such a way that it does not embrace or accept sin. Instead the church embraces the world and heals it by proclaiming the kingdom of God.
The world, you see, is broken and needs healing. Our call is not to condemn the world but to save it. God has chosen us for this very task. He has chosen us to live during this time and in this culture with all its flaws. As people with our own faults and flaws we are to live as members of Christ’s church with all her faults and flaws.
But what do we do when our culture passionately disagrees with our Christian values?
At times we will certainly disagree with our culture and so, as Saint Peter teaches we must, “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame.” (1 Peter 3:15-16)
We need to be able to live with people who adamantly disagree with us. As Christians we cannot capitulate to popular opinion or abandon God’s truth. God’s laws are fixed and binding.
We must not shy away from holding firm beliefs but we must speak in a way that invites and welcome people to the church.
The same Bible that talks about sin is equally clear about love. Everyone struggles with sin — the church is a hospital for sinners not a museum for saints, and all are welcome to come for healing and help because we are all works in progress. We do not expect people to get their sins in order before attending church any more than a hospital expects people to get healed before they show up.
This being said, we don’t encourage sin or sinful desires. Instead, we need to lovingly help people see that part of the Holy Spirit’s work in their lives is to bring about self-control. So long as they want to fight for holiness, we will fight for them.
We must also remember to always relate in patience and humility acknowledging that we are all sinners. None are perfect, but we strive to follow Christ and obey what the church teaches in living a holy life.
One of the greatest forms of evangelization is through suffering. Christians need to toughen up and realize it is a time to stand for Christ and his church and to give the best to the world to heal the culture. Christ’s death and resurrection are the hope for the world. We must believe this, live it and share it.
As we go about sharing the Gospel we should keep in mind that the majority of people are not committed conservatives or liberals. Rather, they are in the middle, just waiting and longing for a word of truth and healing. Most people just want to find a way through this life and some answers to life’s questions.
An honest explanation of sin is essential for healing and hope: Jesus Christ is alive; He is King of kings and Lord of lords; He makes life, death and suffering meaningful.
Finally, we need to prepare to suffer for our faith. There are more Christians dying for the faith today than ever before in the history of the world. Keeping this in mind, we mustn’t whither when accused of bigotry, intolerance, hate speech, homophobia or prejudice. Instead, we must remember that we are called to love and respectfully share our hope — even when called names.
Jesus assumed we would have enemies to love and he promises that we’ll see trouble, experience hardship, and be hated. Rather than run or fight back, Jesus invites us to endure and persevere, seeing persecution as an “opportunity to bear witness” (Luke 21:12–19).
We are to live so authentically that even those who disagree will admire the patience, the love and the life we are struggling to live. Pope Francis said the church is too closed in on itself and self-protective. We need to be an evangelistic, mission-oriented church that loves no matter the cost.
The writer is pastor of the Church of the Nativity in Magadan, Russia.