“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
In our first post concerning the above passage we discussed how the evangelical church has tended to fail in the way in which they behave as a light to the world, hiding that light under a basket and burning the skin of the ones whose path they need to illuminate. Today, in the second post on this passage I wish to discuss how the emerging church fails to do its job as the Salt.
Though I imagine we are all mostly familiar with this by now I think it is important that we review what salt meant to the people during the time of Jesus’ ministry. Today we view salt only as a seasoning for our food, and possibly (depending on your climate region) a substance used to keep roads from freezing. However, salt in First century Rome held a slightly different meaning. At that point in history there was no such thing as refrigeration, and since it wasn’t exactly practical for people to slaughter an animal every night and eat it in its’ entirety before the heat spoiled it, the people had to find some way to preserve food. They did this by using salt. With the salt as a cure for the meat they could then keep it for longer periods of time, allowing them to save both work and money on dinner. Salt also worked as an antiseptic to pack wounds with and keep them free of infection (Ouch!).
But, another thing that the ancient world lacked, besides fridges, was manufactured table salt. Instead, the people of that time used salt extracted from the sea. And one inherent problem with sea salt is that it does not retain its capabilities as salt forever. This is what Jesus is alluding to in saying the salt has “lost its taste.” That means that the salt no longer worked as a seasoning, and more importantly, it no longer worked as a preservative or antiseptic.
So, with this understanding, let’s look again at what this passage means. If we are called to be “the salt of the earth” then this means that we are to act as both a preservative and an antiseptic for the world. Christians should act both to preserve the world in keeping away evil, encouraging people away from evil deeds and in general promoting holy living, and as an antiseptic by helping to cleanse out evil and remove the infection of sinful living in various aspects of the culture.
Thus, my claim against the emerging church is that they have lost their saltiness. They are effective at getting out into the world, being wrapped around environments which need preservation or being packed into situations that need cleansing, but they have lost their saltiness and so their presence does not make a difference and does not keep things from going bad or getting worse. I see the emerging church as very effective at being the Light that we desired of the evangelical church; at engaging the culture, at getting down into the gritty places where many Christians have trouble reaching, and relating to sinful people on a level where they don’t burn them. However, at this level, I don’t see much preservation or cleansing. Sure, they are able to pull people into the church, but are they really preserving them from the corrupting influence of the world? I don’t believe so.
Instead, I believe that we see too much association with the sinful world on behalf of the believers in the emerging church. So much so that they lose their own saltiness and instead of influencing the culture they are letting the culture influence them. This can be clearly seen in the decidedly liberal bend of most emerging congregations. Congregations which have traded in standing on Biblical truth for being acceptable to the general population. Congregations which have decided that the Cross was too offensive and so have decided to remove the offensive parts on their own without ever getting God’s permission to do so. They have fully accepted their role as being Salt to pack the culture in, but because they have lost their taste they are of no more good to the culture than if they were just thrown out into the street and trampled on.
If the emerging church is going to have a lasting positive impact on “Christian” societies I truly believe that they need to try and regain their saltiness, regain their preservative and antiseptic abilities, so that in their myriad interactions with the world they can be an effective agent for removing and keeping away the corruption of sin. It is real encouraging to see the passion which so many in the emerging movement seem to bring, and to see their excellence at engaging the secular culture of our society. But, at the end of the day, if they stand in a position where Jesus says they are just as well off being trampled under foot, then their connections with the culture are going to make no more difference for the kingdom than if they had never even tried.