Christian Faith and the Illusion of Secularism
The world is complicated, and living by faith in Christ is becoming increasingly challenging. Pressures to relinquish some of our treasured beliefs lurk everywhere, and believers are being tempted to negotiate with cultural trends. Indeed, spiritual and intellectual battles are unrelenting. Essential to an intelligent Christian faith now is an acknowledgement that secularism is based on human initiatives which can never remedy societal ills, or provide what people actually need. Secularism should be deconstructed to show how its current ethos is rigid, and illusionary.
The cultural narrative is that Christianity is losing its relevancy. In reality, the very opposite is true, as grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness apply today more than ever, but the culture is making it awkward for the Christian voice to be heard. At best, Christianity is being marginalized as a belief system that may provide some comfort to those who choose to gather on a Sunday morning, but definitely not sophisticated enough to provide anything substantial to society. Yet secular experts and intellectuals can’t seem to reconcile societal conflicts with peaceful resolutions. Tensions are rising with unprecedented complication. You will notice this immediately if you watch Fox and CNN talk about the same news story. In this cultural whirlwind, Christian faith is being convoluted for believers.
Now let’s step back and objectively analyze people in society. Note that we are not analyzing issues, but “people.” Are people still in need of love? Yes, of course. Are they in need of mercy and forgiveness? Without doubt. Do people continue to exercise curiosity about where we came from and what is the meaning of life? They sure do. The Gospel was never intended for entities or issues, but for “people.” The message of Jesus is not an institutional one; it’s a personal one. When Paul was preparing to go to Rome, the center of culture and institutional power of the day, he wrote: “So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of salvation to everyone who believes . . . “ (Rom. 1:15-16). The message of the Gospel was “to you,” and not to the institutional powers or entities of Rome. The “power of salvation” begins and materializes in the hearts and minds of “people” and not anywhere else.
Today we also interact not with institutional abstractions but with people who represent them, and whom we are to love and respect. An institution is meaningless without the people that represent it. People who represent the entity are the institution, and they are in great need of everything the Gospel offers. Our aim shouldn’t be to convert a political system, or to fight the institutions of secularism, but to communicate the values of the Gospel to the people in them, even if it’s only one on one. I am almost certain that if the Apostle Paul were here today, he would not be waving placards in front of institutions, but engaging people in conversation as he did in Athens (Acts 17).
Let me further illustrate the distinction of institution from person. Let’s suppose you were to address a session of the United Nations and present the Gospel; the institution would consider you and your message irrelevant, even though in reality it’s not so. Now imagine sitting down one on one with a nation’s leader, and over coffee discussing the Gospel intelligently with a loving and gentle tone. That “person” is in need of everything the Gospel offers, and regardless of the outcome the conversation would be more impactful than the former presentation. If that person accepted the grace of God, the change of personal influence on affairs would then be remarkable. Don’t think this is wishful thinking. Even high profiled persons have accepted the grace of God and influenced their space. So let’s not focus on institutional entities but on what the Gospel offers to people in all levels of society.
No ideology or religion can answer the call to fulfill the human longing for love, mercy and forgiveness, and provide answers to the great questions of life. Ideologies are human inventions which have always promised more than they have delivered, and religions do not all teach the same thing. Logically, then, religions cannot all be correct, because each one makes a truth claim that contradicts the other. The often-stated quip that ‘all religions are the same’ is simply not true and emanates from an uninformed mind.
Christianity is unique in that it reveals where we came from, why we are here, and offers grace, mercy, and forgiveness which provide an unmistakable experience of new birth. It offers a radical life changing experience of love, and personal friendship with Christ. The advocates of secularism, with their limited scope, cannot appreciate this language and so in culture they often caricature Christian faith for pejorative influence, but that does not invalidate our beliefs.
Our Christian faith is not based on whether or not a secular entity approves of it, because a “natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). Remember, Jesus said: “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You MUST be born-again’” (Jn. 3:7). If you have been reconciled to God, then I encourage you to continue with boldness, and prudently share the grace of God with others.
Nevertheless let’s bear in mind that there is no such thing as a super Christian who can saunter through our secular culture. We must remain vigilant. We are confronted daily by this fiercely rigid opponent, and we shouldn’t let secularism confuse and complicate our beliefs. Secularism is driven by human initiative, and “people” have existential needs that it cannot fulfill. The Gospel, however, will continue to provide comprehensive meaning for the spiritual and intellectual fulfillment of people in all walks of life. “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear” (Mk. 4:23).
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