I really don’t like the image of Jesus that some people have of a meek, mild man (who tends to look like a woman with a beard in paintings) and went around just talking about love. Its an image of a hippie Jesus I would expect sitting around a campfire singing kum ba ya with flowers in his hair. That is not the image of the Jesus who made whips and beat the people in the Temple as he overturned the tables and chased everyone and everything out of it. Nor is it the Jesus who confronted hypocrisy with harsh words and stern rebukes.
I also don’t like the image of the Church as a fortress of saints huddling together for protection from the evils of the outside world. Its an image of a weak group of people whose purpose is to watch out for each other and separate from the rest of the world. If someone else happens to hear of the Church and what she believes, that person may join, but the bulk of the Church’s efforts is on keeping evil out and protecting who it has.
This image of the Church does not line up with Scripture. Take this verse from Hebrews as a prime example:
But we aren’t the sort of people who timidly draw back and end up being destroyed. We’re the sort of people who have faith so that our whole beings are preserved.
Christians are on the move, not timidly retreating from the world as it gets darker around us. Paul writes about the armor of God and in it the main protection we have is a shield and breastplate–neither of which protect when someone turns around to retreat or run away. They only protect the front of the body as the person is moving forward. Jesus said as well that the Church would be so strong the gates of hell will not be able to withstand it. This is an image of the Church marching against the strongholds of evil in the world.
If our understanding of the Church is meek and loving–and ultimately helpless in the face of evil in the world, this is not the biblical understanding of the Church.
Whether it is social issues or terrorism, the Church is not helpless, nor should it be afraid. We have the presence of the Living God with us and nothing can change that fact. Actually, that is not entirely true. We can leave God’s presence when we do not live into the reality of the Church that God has created. When we shrink back from our faithful witness in the world, we leave the power of God and we will be overcome. Short of that, though, nothing can inhibit God’s power among us.
What is it that we are afraid of, then? My suspicion is that we are afraid of losing the comfort and security we have. It is a dangerous thing to stand up for Jesus in the face of a hostile world, but the only weapon the world has against us is fear. To that we have a ready answer from Paul (Romans 8:35-39):
Who will separate us from Christ’s love? Will we be separated by trouble, or distress, or harassment, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, We are being put to death all day long for your sake. We are treated like sheep for slaughter. But in all these things we win a sweeping victory through the one who loved us. I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, or any other thing that is created.
Do not be afraid. Do not timidly draw back and be destroyed. Stand fast. Christ is with us and no one can change that fact. Thanks be to God!