The Laodicean Project- This Little Light of Mine, I’m Gonna Let it Shine!

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” -Matthew 5:13-16

To continue on with our discussion of how the corporate church can help reach out to “Christian” societies, I think it would be best if we look at a very familiar passage. I would venture to say that anyone who has spent any amount of time in the Church has heard at least three lessons taught out of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Of those three it would be no doubt that one of them was on the topic of being the Salt and the Light. And, if you heard this lesson you undoubtedly heard your teacher close by saying “Now go and be a light into this dark, sinful world.” The question is, did you? It is this thought which I want to expound on over the next two posts. In this first post I want to discuss how the evangelical church has failed in its’ adherence to Jesus call to be the Light, and in the second post we will look at how the emerging church is failing to heed Jesus’ words on being the Salt.

(Note: The inspiration for these posts came to me from John Stott’s excellent book The Living Church. To anyone who is interested in methods of how to make the church both effective and relevant, such as people who have read They Like Jesus but Not the Church or unChristian, I strongly recommend this book. Stott is an amazing theologian, and even in his 90′s he is able to deliver a work which is both extremely practical as well as Biblical sound).

It appears to me, given the current state of the evangelical church in America and other Western cultures, that the resounding part of Jesus’ message on the Light for them is the opening phrase, “You are the light of the world.” They really seem to take this to heart and it shows out through their involvement in politics, talk radio, and literature. They view their role as light as central to everything in their Christian faith. However, though their light is burning strong, there are two problems which I see with the way they are using it.

The first problem I see is that they fail to heed the third sentence of Jesus’ exposition: “Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket!” There is such a strong call in today’s evangelical culture to put our light under a basket, though it is not nearly that blunt. Instead it masquerades itself in the self-imposed isolationism which evangelicals put on themselves. They avoid the theatre and the cinemas because the images and language are too racy. They run from secular radio and television for the same reasons. They go out to eat, but never too late, and never where there is dancing or a bar. But beyond all of that, probably my biggest disagreement with this mentality is the way in which Christian parents are sprinting away from the public schools. They have all of this light but they put it under a bushel because they are afraid of what might happen if they were out in the world.

It is to this type of attitude which Paul in 1 Corinthians writes “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people- not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world (5:9-10).” Even back then, the people of God began to see themselves as so holy and set apart that they chose to set themselves apart physically, which was never the intent of the teachings. So, in order to rectify this, evangelicals (myself included) need to look inward more closely and see if there are areas of our lives in which we should be more open and engaging, more willing to take our light out to. I understand that there are some of us who make these decisions based on personal conviction, but I sincerely believe that not all of this withdrawal is based on a conviction of purity. If we don’t see God leading us to stay away from certain areas then we should take that as his invitation for us to take our light out into those areas.

The second problem I see is that too often we are using our light to burn people. If we are a lighted candle, it appears that we more frequently run our flame against others flesh than we use it to provide light to their surroundings. This can be clearly seen through the sometimes arrogant, sometimes vitriolic way in which evangelicals engage the world. Again we should reflect on Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 where he says “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. ‘Purge the evil person from among you.’” We can’t just go around kicking the world in the teeth for being sinful. They’re the world. They’re supposed to be sinful, else they would be brothers.

To rectify this failing I think we need to look at how Jesus handled his engagement with the world. I think a pertinent example would be his meeting with the woman at the well in John 4. It is clear from Christ’s words in verse 16 that he knew this woman was a serial adulterer/divorcee and that even now she was living with a man who was not her husband. Yet, the interesting thing is, that is not how he starts the conversation. Sure, he gets to it soon enough, but the first interaction we see Jesus having with her is one of bonding and building of trust (“Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink.’… The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?’ (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) (vv.7-9)”) and then of sharing with her the hope of Christ himself (“Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.’ (vv.13-14)”). It is only once Christ has shared with her the hope that exists that he declares to her her need for him, that being her fallen nature. Through this, we see Jesus using the light to illuminate the path to the woman. He doesn’t seek to burn her and then say “It’s okay, I’m the Great Physician,” but instead he says “I am the hope for eternal life” and then he illuminates the path so that she may what stands in her way of getting there. We need to take this to heart as evangelicals, not seeking to tear down unbelievers by focusing on their sins, but showing them the eternal hope that we have in Christ and then showing them that their sin is all that stands in the way of them realizing that hope as well.

We are called to be the Light of Christ into this sinful world, and hopefully upon prayerful consideration of what we’ve discussed today we can let that light shine out unhindered by a basket and free from burning our neighbors, in order that the Light may transform the darkness that surrounds them.

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