I am concerned that the Western church is choosing the way of fear, isolation, defensiveness. Or worse, the way of anger.
When I started working on the Internet many, many years ago, it was still considered rather unethical to use it for commercial purposes (sigh!), and since the World Wide Web was started in an academic environment (Geneva’s CERN) with the goal to openly share scientific information, it lacked all the security systems that are now considered essential, like strong access control, firewalls or antiviruses.
It was an idyllic situation, an Eden-like environment where sin hadn’t yet made an appearance. But it didn’t take long before the first hackers and viruses started to hit the news, creating a whirlwind of security warnings and, consequently, the super controlled Internet we know today. The cybersecurity market is projected to reach US$162bn in 2023 and is growing almost 10% every year. The lack of trust costs a lot, inside and outside of the Internet.
We are so used to being unable to completely trust anybody, that we can’t even imagine what it would look like if the people around us were faithful, friendly, pure. We could live without keys and door locks. There would be no need for passwords, OTPs, fingerprints, face recognition, fences, guns, security alarms, police, tribunals... Heaven on earth. Unfortunately, people are evil, and we have to be careful because we do live in a rotten world.
The social cost of mistrust, the fear produced by the landslide of alarming news about criminality, political and administrative corruption, the fear of immigration, wars, all create in us a push to become more self-focused, to defend ourselves and what we stand for, from a world that is seen more and more as hostile.
We read passages like 2 Timothy 3:1-5 that list all the vices people will embrace in the last times, and we think, “we are there”, forgetting that this was true even for the church of 2,000 years ago.
[destacate]Fear is not a not fruit of the Spirit, it is a mixture of bad theology and poor spiritual preparation
[/destacate]Are things getting worse on the moral side? Certainly, but I do wonder if the Apostle Paul had the same impression about his society at the time, divided between fake religiosity and spiritual depravation. He faced the Romans’ superstition and the Greek’s idolatry and moral decay, and his people, the Jews, were more concerned with persecuting the newborn church than obeying God’s call to salvation. Yet, his answer was not one of isolation, or anger, quite the contrary, he preached the Gospel to all people with fearless power and wisdom.
My concern today, is that the Western church is choosing the way of fear, isolation, defensiveness, or worse, the way of anger, instead of showing boldness, proclaiming the Gospel with the joy and power that only the Holy Spirit can provide.
I’ve talked to several believers who explained how the continuous flow of negative news, especially through social media, and especially during the past Covid-19 crisis, made them feel anxious, fearful, angry, and eventually depressed. Although it’s normal and understandable to go through some distress in difficult times, these are not fruits of the Spirit, they are rather the fruit of a mixture of bad theology and poor spiritual preparation. If we are emotionally and spiritually blocked by difficult times, what will happen when real persecution comes? As Proverb 24 says, “If you falter in a time of trouble, how small is your strength!”
I see two main wrong attitudes in the way the church is facing the current times: one is the trench mentality I mentioned before, which can be summarized as, “the world is bad, so I will live my faith privately”, making the Gospel powerless, and another one, more subtle, that translates that same fear of evil into rebellion. Sin brings scandals, disillusion, and lack of trust.
Lack of trust brings anger, rebellion and eventually revolution. I’m afraid what Ecclesiastes 8:11 says is happening, “When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, people’s hearts are filled with schemes to do wrong”. When people (believers included), see injustice winning, they feel pushed to take in their hands a situation that they feel have gotten out of control, overlooking the fact that the Lord is always in control, even in the midst of human chaos.
Both errors are children of the same lack of trust in God, His provision and sovereignty.
As Christians, we are called to be shrewd as snakes, but innocent as doves (Mt.10:16). Yet, it isn’t always easy to understand what this practically means in our everyday life.
We have seen a strong polarisation in opinions, scandals, and even revolts and wars in many countries. We have seen ideas on science, politics and theology overlap and clash. We are experiencing divisions, even within churches and families. Young people are angry with older people, women with men, employees with bosses, poor with rich, and vice versa. Especially, we have seen the trust vanishing in anything that is “official”: politics, media, science, police, even churches, and in authority in general.
[destacate]Young people are angry with older people, women with men, employees with bosses, poor with rich, and vice versa
[/destacate]I’ve read several opinions around the actual reasons all this is happening. Someone suggested that a set of concurring causes might be at the origin of all this: Internet growing as the main source of knowledge for many, an ever growing disillusionment and anger towards government and religious institutions, often fueled by very bad examples and behaviors, and the growing wrong idea that if we were to get rid of certain people groups, authorities, or even democracy altogether, then things would improve. It’s not something that happened suddenly. It’s a subtle trend that started decades ago (60s and 70s), of which we are now seeing its final fruit: when there is no more mutual trust, societies divide and implode.
As citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, we are set to be an example of unity, mutual trust, and collaboration in a world sinking in confusion and mistrust. If we could live up to this task, we would be able to show to this world that it is possible to leave in peace and security, because we trust each other. We would show Christ to the world “by the love we have for each other”.
When I talk to non-believers, I often listen to rants against politicians or any other specific category they consider blaming for the current situation. The underlining idea is that if we got rid of “them”, whoever they are, things would be fine.
Of course, we know that’s not the way it works. We are them, in the sense that we are sinners –albeit forgiven- exactly as those people are, and we all need God’s regeneration in order to be able to do any lasting good.
Christians are not perfect, but people are not looking for perfection, rather truth and sincerity, and even if we believers tend to see the church as full of failures and problems, on the average, the moral level among our brothers and sisters is still incredibly higher than anything this world can offer.
Is this kind of mutual trust only for the church, or should we remain open and try to trust people in general?
On one side we have a verse like John 2:24-25 where it’s written that “Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people”, on the other it is written that love “keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Corinthians 13:5). I guess the narrow road we have to go through has one pillar on each side. On the first one it is written “do not trust man” (shrewd as snakes), and on the other one it says “love your neighbor” (innocent as doves). We tend to do the opposite, when we trust human power and don’t love those around us.
To love without judging is hard. To remain vulnerable and open, even after being wounded, is even harder, but when we do it, we prove to our not-yet-believing friends that it is possible to have relationships based on forgiveness and trust, not in men, but in God.
Many modern Christians don’t like to hear this, but we are called to submit to human authority (Romans 13:1 and 1 Peter 2:13), for the simple fact that all authority on earth derives from God’s authority. Of course, this is true as long as human authority doesn’t go directly against God’s will, but we are never called in the Bible to overthrow institutions or leaders, rather, we are encouraged to pray for them and honor their role, even when they are not fully righteous, which is always the case, including the time when the apostle Paul wrote his letters.
The real struggle is between trusting God and trusting ourselves, yet Christians should not be some kind of boneless chicken, who accept any injustice upon themselves without complaining.
[destacate]Christians are not perfect, but people are not looking for perfection, rather truth and sincerity
[/destacate]With Jesus as our supreme example, we can state with certainty that he never wanted to encourage or organize a political revolution, he always preached a spiritual heavenly kingdom that “is not of this world”, when asked to decide between human and heavenly authority, he acknowledged human authority (Mark 12:17), but He never spared His just criticism to the hypocritical leaders of the time.
But he is also the King above all Kings (the ultimate authority), he has the right to judge every earthly ‘king’ at the end of times, and eventually, his kingdom will reign over this world.
The enemy’s deception wants us to believe that our victory lies in having the church, our Christian ideas and values, win by human strength over the world, here and now. But even if we succeeded in this, we would have created a society of bigot hypocrites, not the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. Our true spiritual victory lies in the obedience to God’s will, and every time we think that we can conquer this world by force, we are saddening the Spirit of our Lord who accepted, as a lamb, to die on the cross for our sake (Jn. 18:10-11).
We are the glue that keeps together a society that is losing its pieces every day. We are the light that can show the truth and hope to the desperate people we meet every day. We are the salt that can give meaning and hope in Christ to this world.
Let’s not overestimate the force of evil, and let’s not underestimate God’s power to change, redeem and revive our corrupted societies. Revivals come in times of trouble, therefore, this is the perfect time for a revival.
There might still be suffering and cleaning for His church before this happens, but I have no doubt, since we see it everywhere in the Bible and in history, that after the trial, joy and renewal will come.
When the Lords acts through His church, societies change, profanity and rebellion stop, people convert, courts close down, police are useless, everybody seeks the Lord.
This is a time to trust God and be still, not against men or authorities, but against sin, against division, against the plans of the enemy who wants to divide the church. It’s time to prepare for the revival that will come.
Pier Francesco Abortivi lives in Italy and is International Director of Adventive Cross Cultural Initiatives (ACCI).