My article last week was about what it means to be an attractional church. This week I want to focus on what it means to be a marginal church. The term “marginal church” refers to the fact that we no longer live in a Christian culture in the United States, and that Christianity no longer enjoys a preferred status in our society. In addition, the gap between the biblical worldview and that of the American culture continues to expand exponentially. As a result, the church in Western societies finds itself marginalized.
The Bible has an important word for the marginalized church. In 1 Peter 2:11, the Apostle uses a phrase to underscore the relationship between the church as a community of Christ followers, and the culture we are called to serve. Peter refers to the believers as “strangers” and “aliens” living in a land where they have no home or family. He also uses this same word in the salutation of the letter (1 Peter 1:1-2).
What does it mean to live as a stranger or an alien in a society and a culture you believe is your own? We really don’t know. Yet, that is exactly what Christians must learn to do in the coming years.
From the time of Constantine (312 AD) until the mid-twentieth century, Christendom enjoyed a central place in Western culture and society – a place of privilege. Christians assumed the culture of the church was similar to the culture of the world, or could claim it should be. During the twentieth century, this began to change – beginning in Europe, and spreading to most of the Western world, religious pluralism and cultural secularism pushed Christianity to the edges of society. Today, evangelical Christians are truly strangers living on the margins of society.
Most Christians however, do not know how to live in a post-Christian culture. We continue to operate our churches and ministries as if we were still living in Christendom. It is like waking up one day and discovering you are a missionary living in a foreign country, and you do not know the language or the culture. You are not only an outsider, but everyone and everything in this new culture is hostile to you and to your message.
The single greatest challenge we face today is learning how to live and serve as strangers in a society that is increasingly hostile to religion in general, and to Christianity in particular.
Rather than being resentful or discouraged over the growing secularization of our culture, we should embrace this as an opportunity to clarify what it means to be a true follower of Jesus, and be willing to suffer and give our lives to glorify God. Living on the margins of society gives us an opportunity to proclaim the Gospel and give a clear witness to the true character of Jesus.
As missionaries in a foreign land, we will discover the methods and strategies used in Christendom, are not effective in a secular culture. The society, and those who lead this society, have no place for God or religion in their worldview. There is little or no common ground for conversations about guilt, faith, religion, or God. Therefore, as missionaries, we must find the bridges into their world by learning their languages and by understanding their worldview. Most of all, we must learn to do what Jesus did, to love them unconditionally.
The church (And all the expressions of church such as denominational entities, Christian ministries, etc.) must learn to live and serve on the margin of society, Those who do, will become the missionary force that changes the world. Those who do not, will simply die or fade into irrelevance.
So, is yours a marginal church, or one headed for extinction?