Reflecting on the state of the world there seems to be a sense of doom across the church in the West. Many Christians are throwing their hands in the air and giving up. Some are saying, ‘it’s the end'. Christians are either retreating to the safety of the Christian ghetto - or worse - becoming militant Christians, fighting to win the culture wars.

What is going on? Is this the end? Should we give up, or fight? What is a Christian to do? Christians in the West are feeling this way because the church has increasingly becoming marginalised in our society. It’s being moved to the side, ignored and lampooned.

Wars

WARS AND RUMOURS OF WAR: Jesus said people would hear of "wars and rumours of wars", but that we should not be alarmed for these are just the "beginning of birth-pains." (Matthew 24:6-8). PICTURE: Dora Mitsonia/www.freeimages.com

"There is a deep grief in Christian circles at the state of the world with 'Militant Muslims' on one side and 'Scary Secularists' the other. How do we regain our hope?"

It has happened at an amazing pace. Once upon a time media would go to the church for statements on moral and social issues, and the church spoke with authority - but the tide has turned. Now the world takes the moral high ground when speaking to the church about issues like paedophilia and marriage equality. Often Christians seem to be put on programs like Q&A to be mocked and ridiculed - although sometimes the Christians don’t need any help to do this.

Ten years ago it was hard to image the traditional view on marriage being belittled and vilified such that average Australians are scared to say anything.

There is a deep grief in Christian circles at the state of the world with 'Militant Muslims' on one side and 'Scary Secularists' the other. How do we regain our hope?

I want to say with Solomon, "There is nothing new under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 1:9) We are not in a time any worse than what has gone before. Christian persecution is not the trigger for the end of the world.

Jesus said, "You will hear of wars and rumours of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth-pains." (Matthew 24:6-8)

Persecution - unfortunately - is normal. Peace, is an anomaly! The sign of the end of the world is not bad news happening, but good news preached: "And this Gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come" (Matthew 24:14).

If you are a student of history you know the church has seen worse than this, much worse. When the Roman Empire fell, 'barbarians' from everywhere invaded. At the time the church had status in the Empire. Stories are legend of the barbarians storming monasteries and killing monks who were pacifists and didn’t have weapons. Not just Rome fell, but the church fell. How did the church survive something that was 10 times as terrible as what we are experiencing?

Remarkably the barbarians realised they didn’t have the skills to run this huge empire - but the monks and bishops did - and they weren’t a threat. So they employed them in their service. These monks and bishops were able to influence the new empires that grew and write Christian principals into pagan laws, and many of these 'barbarians' eventually became Christian! Remarkable.

My point is - the church has seen worse, and the end didn’t come. What is going on then? Why are Christians despondent?

Grief. Much of the church is in grief. Our perception is we are grieving at the death of Christianity. That is not true. What we are experiencing is the death of Christian privilege; the death of Christianity’s central, honoured, and respected place in society.

This, we should grieve. It is a sad thing to witness - but we need to understand that Christianity is not dying, our privilege is. As sad as that is, it is not necessarily bad. It might actually be the best thing for us, for it will enable a resurrection just like those ancient bishops experienced!

Let me explain. Christianity has a great history of building positive influence in a culture, until, at some point, that culture becomes ‘Christian’. This usually results in a golden era of peace, prosperity, morality, health, welfare. Think about the South Korean experience of the 20th century.

But, being the dominant feature of a culture changes things. It even changes Christianity. No longer do we invite people to follow - we expect people to follow. No longer do we live our way regardless of the world, we expect those in the world to live it too.

Instead of a guest earning our credibility, respect and honour - we are the 'ruler', demanding, expecting and enforcing such honour. And only one thing can result - rebellion. People will rebel against an enforced Gospel, and so they should. Power corrupts - even the church!

So a death, a dying of privilege, is exactly what the church needs to resurrect our self into Christlikeness.

Numerous people have written about the end of the Christian dominance of the West. Malcolm Muggeridge published The End of Christendom in 1980! It has been happening for years. What we are experiencing is the consequences. Institutions - the media, government, the judiciary - no longer giving Christianity special status.

It’s hard. It’s terribly hard. And it’s going to get worse. But look what Jesus says: "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." (Matthew 5:10-12)

"Here we have many in the church seeing such times as bad, but Jesus tells us this is a blessing - rejoice! Why are we surprised when the world wants to behave worldly? Why are we distressed at that? This is normal. Do not be alarmed, rejoice."

Here we have many in the church seeing such times as bad, but Jesus tells us this is a blessing - rejoice! Why are we surprised when the world wants to behave worldly? Why are we distressed at that? This is normal. Do not be alarmed, rejoice.

Grief explains our current reaction well, too.

Grief brings feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. Perhaps that’s what you’ve been feeling. That’s absolutely normal. There’s nothing wrong with feeling like that. It might help you though, if you realise it’s not Christianity dying - it’s Christian privilege - and that’s different.

Grief also brings anger. Again, this is perfectly normal - there’s nothing wrong with feeling angry. What is dangerous is to project that anger towards others. To get militant in your faith!

It’s like having your parent die, only to get angry at your spouse and weaken your marriage. Taking our anger out on the world will not enable a resurrection.

So what should we do?

It might be too much to ask you to rejoice, but we can ask, ‘How did the church earn the respect and honour of our society in the first place?

The answer is simple and it’s the rest of the reading we just looked at, Matthew 5:1-16, the Beatitudes.

The church was Christ-like in transformative ways. They let their good deeds so shine, that their neighbours gave glory to the Father in heaven!

What was the church like, and who did they value? They were poor in spirit for the poor in spirit. They wept with the mourning. They were meek with the meek, they sought righteousness, showed mercy, were seekers of purity and peace.

That’s the salt and light, how the early church, the English revival church, the South Korean church, the Chinese underground church, spread.

Moses gave the 10 Commandments to a community where ‘the church’ of the time ruled. Jesus got on the mountain and gave the Beatitudes to a church that would rule for eternity.

Our anger and fear wants to emphasis the 10 Commandments (I love the 10 Commandments!). But Jesus wants our salt and light to be these attitudes. That’s how resurrection will come.

When you exhibit the Beatitudes, or the fruit of the spirit - love, joy, peace, patients, kindness - the character of Christ - it transforms. And there is no law against these things! (Galatians 5:23).

Amen.