Public Faith, Public Idols

We are working our way through the book of Daniel right now at church. Could anything be more practically related to college students? Away from home for the first time, confronted with a hundred new temptations, immersed in a culture that is completely hostile to their faith. We’re primarily studying the way our faith influences and shapes our public lives – studying, working, relating, etc.

Most students here assume that it’s easier to be a Christian in America than in China. In a way, of course, they’re right. Claiming to be a Christian is still far more widely accepted in America than any other faith. That’s why it seems unthinkable that a presidential candidate would ever talk about his ‘strong Hindu roots.’ They all at least profess to be Christians. If your family goes to church on Sundays, while probably not the norm for your coworkers and neighbors, it’s not likely to blow anyone’s mind. Unlike China, where just saying you’re a Christian is taken as a little bizarre.

But, as you’ve probably noticed, the second faith ventures out into the public realm, people act like mud has been traipsed on the carpet. It is regarded an egregious offense by both unbelievers and professing believers alike to let your faith out of your house or church and into the school system, workplace, community, or political arena. Doing so is met with cries of ‘exclusivity!’ and ‘intolerance!’ Not just in China, but in America and everywhere else in the world, there is a pressure to keep faith private, personal, and quiet.

But public faith is exactly what the Bible calls us to. Biblical faith necessarily affects the environment in which it is placed. Christianity makes claims that don’t just go away when you pick up a briefcase or don a judge’s robe. In this sense (the sense that actually matters to God!), it’s just as hard to be a Christian in America as it is in China.

Look at Daniel, a political official in a pagan government – every chapter he and his friends come into some crisis, and they must choose to bottle up their faith or let it cause them major problems. And they choose the latter every time. Strange to most Christians – we can’t imagine being inconvenienced for our faith, let alone endangered! But Daniel makes it especially clear – if you’re not serving God in the public realm, you’re serving something else. You’re serving an idol of some kind – a king, a boss, a professor, a constituency, a paycheck, or the status quo. It’s no use saying you’ll serve God in this place, and ‘just work’ or ‘just study’ in that place. Your idol is showing.

This is exactly what is nonsensical about training ‘underground Christians.’ We can talk about different concepts of underground churches – different models for Christians gathering, worshiping, studying, praying, and evangelizing. But any kind of discipleship that encourages believers to live double lives can’t possibly fulfill the Great Commission. Double lives come from double masters – and there’s really no such thing according to Jesus. What’s needed in China is the same thing that’s needed in America – Christians to live out their faith privately and publicly.

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One Comment on “Public Faith, Public Idols”

  1. Mark July 7, 2009 at 8:43 am #

    Amen!

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