In the West, Christianity by all metrics is declining. This is not new information. This has been the case for a long time and only somehow it seems that most are waking up to this fact.
In my own country, Christians have started up new political parties to “fight” for Christian beliefs in the public sphere. In this way, we are fighting for relevance and power. But why? The way I see it, the Church in history has had a compromised position when we have sought and maintained power within our larger societies.
Now is the time, in my humble opinion, to embrace the space that we are now in. Formerly, this space was “in the middle”—in positions of strength and clout amongst those in our communities. We had a voice, powerful figures and a society who listened to us. And now we don’t.
Church, it’s time to embrace the margins.
For “the other”
I have often heard God described as being “for” the marginalised. Jesus showed throughout the Gospels that his heart was for these people: the sick, the poor, the oppressed, the outsider, the loser. Now that we are on the margins, and in actual fact—have been for quite some time—what does that mean?
It means that we can and should hear other voices on the margin much more loudly. In your community, who is on the periphery? Whose voices are silenced? Who, like the Samaritan women that Jesus met at the well, is excluded to the point that they must gather water in the beating hot midday sun?
For too long I think churches have become about what’s going on within our own faith communities. Against our own intuitions and the need for survival we must look outwards. Or in the case of our church-on-the-margins maybe we simply need to look whose sitting right next to us.
To be a Christian is to care about moral behaviour. At least, that is what many Christians have come to falsely believe and impose on wider society. In the USA, we see this so evidently. That to be Christian is to vote for one particular party—the one that upholds supposed Christian values.
As a result we have become a Church focused on sin banishment to the world, and sin management within our own hearts. But this is such a short-sighted view of sin.
Our Gospel focus therefore has been on Genesis chapter 3 (humanity sinning) rather than the proper starting point of Genesis chapter 1 (God creating humanity and calling us “very good”). To a broken and hurting world we have shouted “you are sinner” before declaring “God has made you good”.
The Church has been so quick to point out sin and what is wrong with humanity without first pointing out our creative design and Designer. And in Jesus, the good news is that we have someone who has come to bring us restoration to that original image and likeness of God. He is the shalom-restorer.
And so he is calling his Church. Take hold of a faith that is centred on the restoration of all things (and Jesus making all things new) over and against a narrowest view of creation as merely broken, in need of fixing.
Ultimately, the Church is in a position of powerlessness. And we are struggling.
But you know what? We need not be. In fact we should be celebrating. We should be celebrating because we are in that same position that Jesus found himself in when he was sent by the Father to us.
As John’s Gospel attests, the Word made flesh came to dwell amongst us. To make his home amongst us, the Word became flesh. In doing so, he relinquished power. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul describes this process as Jesus “emptying himself” by becoming human or “like a slave”.
The biblical language of Jesus' incarnation shows us, if we have eyes to see, that he has shown us how to best relate to our fellow humans and the wider creation. By wilfully giving up. Giving up our privilege and position for the sake of the other. By seeking restoration. By relinquishing power.
And all this encapsulated most profoundly and mysteriously in his act on the cross. By giving up his very own life for us.
Now, Church, he is asking us to do the same.
Caleb Haurua completed his Masters in Applied Theology at Carey Baptist College in 2017. He is the Youth Pastoral Leader at Royal Oak Baptist Church in central Auckland. He loves to ponder, muse, and share thoughts. Hence why he likes the opportunity to write articles like this one. He is especially passionate about the intersection between Church and Society—seeing Christians grow and flourish as participants in God’s ongoing mission to the World.