Many people I speak with think that being a Christian is about being a “good” person and living a “good” life. This message is communicated when the church takes on the role of moral policeman for society – thinking that its main role is to say what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour for everyone – even those who don’t consider themselves to be Christian.
The problem is that this moral message gets in the way of the church’s real message – the gospel, which is good news. Some Christians are so busy trying to clean up others’ lives by Christianising them that they miss their real mission – that of evangelizing by sharing the true gospel. The message of the moral police actually drives a wedge between Christians and the world that God loves.
Jesus didn’t behave this way so why has so much of the church bought into the lie that we are here to moralise and Christianise rather than evangelise? It’s like trying to clean a fish before you’ve caught it. Jesus hung around with all sorts of people who had been regularly rejected by the religious crowd of his day (see Mark 2:13-17). The religious right, who did not understand such love and acceptance, scorned him.
God gave the same message to the Hebrews who had been taken into captivity to Babylon in 597 BC (see Jeremiah 29:4-14). Jeremiah 29 is a letter to the exiles giving instructions on how God’s people are to live when they are foreigners in a strange land. And what a strange place Babylon was! It was the place where astrology, and other occult practices, was developed. In their worship system, they had 37 supreme gods, and one of these, the god associated with the sun, was supreme over all the other gods. These people believed that numbers in some way had power over the gods they worshiped. They counted their gods and assigned a count number to each of the 36 lesser supreme gods, and then added up all of these numbers (from one to 36) and assigned the sum to the sun god – 666. They also practiced Knot Magic: The belief that tying and untying knots could cure all manner of illnesses.
In light of these and other strange and immoral practices you’d think that God would instruct his people to make banners and hold protest marches down the streets of Babylon – “Down with Knot Magic!” “God hates 666.” “Astrologers will go to hell!”
But the message from God was very different. God instructed his people to “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” “Peace and prosperity” is the Hebrew word “shalom” which includes things like safety, happiness, friendliness, welfare, health, prosperity, peace, contentment, completeness, soundness and restoration. This was the impact God’s people were to have on Babylon – this is the impact the church is meant to have on the world today!
Christians are not called to live as conspirators banded together against the world that is for the time their home. Rather Jesus calls his people to live as salt and light “that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”