This series of posts is from a sermon series I did about 15 years ago on what I used to call, “Worldview Discipleship.” With a few years since then to think a bit more thoroughly about these things (and hopefully a little biblical maturity thrown in for good measure), I think that “Kingdom Discipleship” is a more appropriate description. I have tried to develop these thoughts since I first started thinking and writing about them, but I thought the kernel of truth found in these early ideas was worth sharing. And since there’s nothing original found here, it’s not like I’m blazing a new trail. These ideas have stood the test of time quite well.
What would our culture look like today if the church behaved like the church – if we really acted like the salt and light that Christ said we in fact are? What would our world look like if we, as Christians, were living lives worthy of our calling in Jesus Christ – if we really were serving as salt and light in a dark and decaying world? How might our society be transformed if the church truly functioned as who she is – the Body and Bride of Christ – as salt and light?
These, of course, aren’t hypothetical or even rhetorical questions. These are real questions for real times to real people – to us. Sometimes we may reflect on how bad off our culture is and bemoan the fact that there’s nothing we can do about it. But let me offer you an example of Christians who made an impact in their culture – an impact that eventually led to the culture’s significant transformation.
For all of its virtues, the mighty Roman Empire was a decadent place. And it was in the midst of that Empire that the church was born. When the early Christians weren’t being persecuted for their faith, they were, at best, only being tolerated. Add to that the fact that they were only one faith on a buffet table of many faiths.
So it’s rather impressive that this small, seemingly insignificant group of marginalized and oppressed people could turn the Empire so completely upside-down that it could eventually be declared the official religion of Rome. What happened to bring that about? Many things to be sure, but consider these two examples:
First of all, it was customary for unwanted babies to be discarded in the garbage heaps of Rome. Usually, such a child wasn’t born the right sex for the family and was seen only as a liability to the family. So the family would take the baby down to the garbage heap and leave the child there to die. The early Christians would keep a sharp eye out for such things and what they did in response is amazing. When babies were “thrown away” our brothers and sisters in the early church would go down to the garbage heaps, retrieve the children and take them home to raise them as their own.
Second, throughout Rome’s history there were times when devastating and deadly plagues broke out in densely populated living quarters. The response of most of the citizens of Rome was to leave as quickly as possible in hopes that their own lives would be spared. But our brothers and sisters in the early church remained behind. Why? To care for the sick and dying. To show Christ’s love, even in the midst of the devastation.
That sacrificial-servant-mentality cost some Christians their very lives. But it also accomplished something big. It revealed the life-transforming power of the gospel through an outward witness. It showed that Christian discipleship isn’t merely for Sunday mornings. It showed to all of Rome that Christians truly put their money where their mouths were, so to speak.
And as a result people turned to Christ in droves. Christianity grew and grew. Jesus Christ was mightily exalted. A culture was transformed. These two examples show us what can happen when Christians are functioning as salt and light in their world. You see, the early Christians took seriously the call by Christ to live as the salt and light they already were. I believe that our Scripture is a wake-up call to the church today.
Next time we’ll take a look at Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount as they relate to this.