Saturday, May 20, 2006

What if we are making a difference?

Tisha (my wife, for the uninitiated) and I had a conversation last night that raised a theme that has been rolling around in my head for a while. Christians, it seems, often have a complex about making sure that what they are doing is distinctively Christian. While this is surely a laudable mindset, sometimes I think it has bad implications because it can amount to the idea that everything that Christians do must be different--in some clearly identifiable way--from what non-Christians do. The thought is that if Christians look like the world, then they are conforming to the world in a way that violates biblical warnings against just this kind of conformity (i.e. Rom 12 and Eph. 4).

But concluding that it is bad when the church and the world look alike assumes that in every case of such resmeblance, it is the church that is conforming to the world. What if there are cases when the world actually looks like the church?

So consider, for example, our judgments about which marriages are good marriages (one of the topics that raised this issue last night). What are the ostensible differences between good marriages among Christians and good marriages among non-Christians? My guess is, not all that much. It takes a self-sacrificial commitment to the well-being of your spouse to have a good marriage and I see no reason why non-Christians can't make such a commitment. As a result, I suspect that the outward appearance of good marriages will be quite similar no matter who it is that is married. Sure, non-Christians may not be able to place their commitment in a broader vision of the world in the same way that Christians can. But that doesn't mean that their marriages aren't good ones.

If I am right about even this one case (and I think there are probably many others), then why not think that the church has, in some measure, impacted the wider culture regarding the ideals of marriage? Why not think that after 2000 years, the biblical vision of the good life has (again in some measure) transformed the thinking even of those who do not explicitly subscribe to that vision? And if, in some cases, it is the world that is conforming to the church, then it would seem that not looking like the world is exactly the opposite of what we should want.

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