“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16
There is a great deal of talk among Christians these days about the need to make our faith relevant. I understand the desire, in fact for a long time I said that same thing myself. The fact is, most people just don’t see a need for Jesus in their lives. The desire to make Christianity relevant, in large part stems from the realization that in this Post-Christendom world in which we live, people just aren’t paying any attention to what Christians have to say. The assumption, probably correct, is that what we are saying just doesn’t relate to their lives. There is a great deal of truth here. The average westerner really doesn’t care about our eschatology, (when and how we think Jesus will return), or about our differences over the physical presence of Jesus in communion, or a whole list of other things we spend so much time talking about.
Now don’t get me wrong. I think having a correct Biblical understanding of these things is important. And I love few things more than studying them and helping others understand them. But that is not the focal point of being a Christian and certainly not what the non-Christian is searching for. So we have properly tried to switch the focus to questions that are relevant to them, things like how to have a good marriage, raise your kids, deal with hardship, and a host of other topics. So we have made the faith “relevant” to their lives.
But I must confess that there is a growing discontent in me over what the result of all the effort this move to relevance has wrought. I get the feeling that a relevant Christianity as it has evolved in recent years is somehow lacking real punch. It just seems way too tame and respectable. It is not a faith that reaches out and grabs people who observe it in others. When I think of the word relevant, I think of people having a discussion about some topic and a point comes up and someone says, “Hey, I think this bit of information is relevant to what we are talking about”. As such, that relevant thing just becomes one more piece among many that helps you reach your conclusion or settle and argument. So I wonder if this relevant faith that we have been promoting isn’t just one more “bit of information” that people add to the smorgasbord of their world view, in order to get by just a little easier? And I wonder of our relevant faith hasn’t become something that the non-Christian is able to take or leave with equal ease.
That leads me to the idea of provocative Christianity. A faith that really rocks is one that like Matthew 5:14-16, provokes a response from people. It is that shining light on a hill that draws people, it compels them to look and see. In fact it is a faith that leads them into a worship of the Father. Let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in Heaven.
A truly provocative faith is one that demonstrates itself in service to others in that name of Jesus. It is a self sacrificing faith that looks for ways to be the hands and feet of Jesus for others. It comes out of what Paul says to the Philippians that we are to consider others more important than ourselves and in this way be just like Jesus. It is really what Jesus meant when He said that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. When we love someone with real action, servanthood exercised in humility, then they will want to know our God and worship Him.
There is a power in living a provocative faith that goes way beyond making Chrisitianity relevant. But it comes at a price. It is the price of sacrificing ourselves for others. But don’t be fooled into thinking that this means some sort of death defying sacrifice where you push someone out of the way of a bus and you get killed instead. It is much less dramatic than that. It is as simple as returning the extra change a clerk gave you that was more than you were suppose to get. It is giving that young couple with the new born baby, two passes to the movies and a coupon for free babysitting on a Friday night. It is inviting that international student to your hme for Thanksgiving dinner and simply setting an extra plate. It is tipping your server 20% and asking if there is anything in their life you can pray about. It is asking your neighbor if you can pick up something from the grocery store for them when you know they are sick. The list could go on and one. But these are the kinds fo things that will eventually provoke a response of worship from people who see your light shine in Jesus name.