The role of the church in any society was best described by Jesus himself, using two powerful metaphors: salt and light.

“You are the light of the world. A town built 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 others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:14-16)

Let’s be clear: prayer is the first priority of the church. The key to standing is found on our knees. It is in the prayer closet that we see the light. This is where we encounter the God who shakes the heavens and the earth. Jacob, in fear and on the run from his brother Esau, camped out on the desert floor for the night laid his head down in fear and frustration, only to awake crying “surely God is in this place!” He dreamed of a stairway to heaven. In the place of prayer, coming boldly before the throne of grace in time of need,  we encounter God. We see the light, and rise to walk in newness of life.

Yet as the church, called to be salt and light, we cannot isolate “light” to the prayer closet, to the quiet time of even to the weekend mission trip to a needy community. The ecclesia cannot see itself as an entity that operates in some sort of “private sanctuary” amidst a corrupt world. It must be a public beacon, not a private candle.

Someone once said “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” We do this by demonstration and proclamation. This is the Jesus model, as Luke reminds us, in introducing the Book of Acts that our pattern as disciples is to focus on what  “Jesus began to do and to teach.” (Acts 1:1) This is the role of the church in culture: to demonstrate and proclaim the values of the King and His kingdom.

When Offenses Come

While there are those who believe that church has no business engaging the fallen culture in any way that might offend those locked into that culture, I would remind them that such a mindset runs counter to the scripture narrative. Let’s begin with Jesus himself. As the Good Shepherd, he ministered with compassion and healing to the broken-hearted individuals he encountered. His reputation as a “do-gooder” spread far and wide.  But he didn’t stop there. He spoke truth to power, denouncing the hypocrisy of the Scribes and Pharisees, Herod and others. On one occasion, he drove out the moneychangers and toppled tables to demonstrate his displeasure.

QUESTION: Was it the good deeds that drove the people to crucify him, or the words he spoke? ANSWER: The words he spoke. Our culture will never decry us for doing good, so long as we leave it there. If our religion is tamed and domesticated to fit the culture around us, we will be tolerated and left un-persecuted. But should we speak truth to power, a battle will ensue.

Jesus said:

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matt. 5:10-12)

Do we need to be reminded that Jesus was not nailed to the cross for what he did, but for what he said? Good works are a safe way to avoid persecution. It is the proclamation of the truth that gets us in trouble. Let that sink in.