Episcopal Diocese of Albany, NY
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Living as Christians in a Non-Chrisitan World

by The Rev. Douglas Anderson, Rector, St. James, Texarkana, TX

In an earlier age, we had a widespread belief that we lived in a Christian society. We assumed that most of our neighbors were Christian; we believed civil law enshrined Christian moral teaching; and the State was quietly supportive of the Church. Well, time has taught us that, while this belief was a mile wide, it was only an inch deep. We do not live in a Christian society. Some would argue that this has been the case since 1960. I might suggest 1660 is a more correct date.

In the words of Jeremiah: “Thus says the Lord, Behold, what I have built I am breaking down, and what I have planted I am plucking up…” (Jer. 45:4). This is true not only in this country; it is the same all over the Western world. France, Spain, and even Italy, the great nations of Christendom, are only nominally so today.

Rather than wringing our hands at this present condition, we ought to see it as an exciting opportunity. In the first centuries of the Church’s existence, Christians were called “Upsetters of the World,” those who turned the mighty Empire of Rome on its head. In a sense, we are in a similar position today. To be sure, no one persecutes us, and none of us faces death. However, that is not because our society is closer to Christian faith and values. It is because the world is further away from any religion. It is indifferent.

What an opportunity we have to live as a contradiction to the world! To a materialistic world that believes whoever has the most toys wins, we have the chance to demonstrate how to measure things by eternity. In a world that is dull and unfocused, we can live out our Christian identity and purpose.

In order to be faithful witnesses of Christ, each of us must mature in holiness through prayer, the sacraments (especially the Eucharist), reading Scripture , and ongoing Christian education, to name a few. We must never forget what a powerful and attractive witness holiness is. “So let your light sine,” says Jesus, “that all people may see your good words, and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5;16).

And, then there is our witness as churches. When a congregation says in the words of the Gospel, “Come and see,” into what place and space are people to come? In a world where many are isolated, alone, and estranged from one another, our witness ought to be one of community. Each member works for the good of the Body and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In a world riddled with skepticism and hate, as an authentic community of faith and love, we are to make Jesus seen and known. In a society where so many experience despair and recrimination, we ought to be a people who testify to hope and forgiveness.

The Church gathered for worship is a symbol of how this community ought to work. We may have different responsibilities in the assembly – one is a priest, another a reader, and still another a worshipper – but none of us is less a child of God. None of us is perfect, but all of us are forgiven. At the Lord’s Table, anyone who has received the new birth from the font is welcome. Everyone is fed – no one gets too much or too little. We are here, not to pray as individuals but as a community. We are baptized people standing together with other baptized people. Our thanksgiving, attention to God’s Word, and intercession is held within the Church. We don’t go to Church; we are the Church. The Church gathered for worship is a symbol of how the world out there ought to be! Can you see it?

God intends for our parishes to be outposts of the Kingdom, places of vibrant witness, a city set on a hill in a broken and hurting world. This is a tall order. Without God’s help, it would be impossible – for a drop of God’s grace is worth more than many buckets of sweat. As we pray for God’s grace to assist in our vocation as witnesses, all the company of heaven join their prayers with ours.

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