Last Sunday I preached on these words from 1 Peter 2: “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution” (v.13). As I thought about the relationship between the Church and government, and how we as Christians often feel and express alarm at the prospect of living under a government hostile to the Christian faith, I wondered if a persecuting state is really the most dangerous enemy the Church could face. I don’t want to diminish this threat, but it seems to me as Christians we face a bigger danger: a culture that numbs people to the urgent realities revealed to us in the Scriptures, namely, the character of God, the truth about sin, the reality of heaven, hell, and judgment, and the need for a Savior.
A recent USA today article reported that the response of more and more people to the question of religion and faith is, “So what?” Apparently many simply have no interest at all in spiritual matters. They are not believers, nor are they atheists, nor are they anything in between. To them, the whole subject of religion is essentially irrelevant.
I don’t know how accurate the article is, but there is no question that we are living in a time and place in which, for many, spiritual concerns are minimal. I’m no expert in cultural analysis, but there must be a variety of reasons why this is the case. Postmodern thought, that is, the relativizing of truth and (and with it, morality), is surely one factor. I suspect our material abundance is another reason why people are less concerned about God (when the shelves at Fred Meyer are stocked full, why do I need to pray to God for my daily bread?). Medical advances must also play a part. Last year I had an appendicitis, which historically was often a lethal condition. But for me, thanks to surgery and antibiotics, it was hardly more than an inconvenience. We haven’t mastered death and illness, but we have managed to soften the sharp edges. And I don’t know if our love for entertainment is a cause or result of our general spiritual antipathy, but no doubt questions of eternity don’t seem as pressing when the game is on T.V.
Add it all up, and it’s no wonder many people just aren’t that interested in spiritual matters. We’re far more concerned about life in the here and now. In this environment, faith in God and Christ doesn’t seem wrong, just superfluous. One thing Christians who suffer under persecution have going for them is that their willingness to die for the sake of the gospel at least brings into sharp relief the real issues at stake. There, people see a Christian executed for his faith and say, “What is this hope he will die for?”. Here, people in our culture see a Christian and say, “That’s nice.”
In his parable of the sower, Jesus spoke of some seed that began to grow but once persecution came on account of the word, it immediately fell away. And other seed began to grow, too, but “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things” entered in and choked the word, proving it “unfruitful” (Mark 3:18). It’s the second type of seed failure we should be concerned about. I pray persecution will never come to us. But I fear the powerful forces of culture are doing far more damage to the health of the Church.