1 Peter 3:15


“…sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you,…”


The last several days my comments have focused on the disconnect created by modern secularism between the traditional language of the faith and the actual experience of people as they live within the secular culture. The task of Christian witness is challenging at this point, to say the least.  Below are some observations and suggestions as we seek to give meaningful  witness to our Christian faith in this time and place. These posts are longer than usual, so bear with me!



Church life in a secular society has tended to become a largely privatized affair where witness means inviting people onto the private turf of the reservation where they must learn to absorb language and customs in specially constructed environments that are essentially alien to daily life. To consciously or unconsciously get around this, invitation to a church is often couched in terms pointing to how friendly the church is, the likability of the pastor, programs for the kids and the like. The same kind of things you might say when inviting someone to the yacht club.

What if, in response to the question, ‘Tell me about your church’,  we describe what God is doing in the congregation in baptism, the preached word, the Lord’s Supper and so forth. Many church members would actually think it odd to speak of their congregation in this way and would probably have difficulty doing so at any rate. Invitation is fine but it is not synonymous with Christian witness.


A meaningful Christian witness seeks ways to speak the language of shared universal meaning that connects with the experience of people where they actually live and work. If the God we proclaim in the Christian witness does not appear to relate to the actual life and experience of every human being, it is not because God is not God and has stopped speaking. It may be because our language reflects a whittled-down god. To speak of God in terms that confine Him to the private reserves of the church, like some sort of cultic deity, would then be blasphemy. Then we do not have language that connects the Biblical God to every human being, the Lord of heaven and earth.


Consider this. When the early Church used the phrase ‘Jesus is Lord’, they were placing Him in deliberate competition with the Roman emperor, local rulers and the entire pantheon of pagan gods. This three-word confession touched the life of every citizen of the empire right where they lived. People in the Roman world got it. They knew exactly what the Christians were saying. They rejected it, but they understood it. The language was the language of the culture. This immediate and universal language with bite is what we aim for in Christian witness.

What language of meaning do we share in some universal fashion with all people today? For this is where the Christian witness may have some traction in speaking to our family members, neighbors, friends and business associates in ways that necessarily  give weight to our religious language.

At the same time we must be faithful to the Christian proclamation of Jesus Christ and His Gospel. For Lutheran Christians this means we seek, with integrity, to connect the language of the Cross, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, sin and salvation, law and gospel with the actual world we live in. Here are some things to think about in this regard.


We might do well to re-think how we use terms like ‘religion’, words that are out there in the common culture. If we think of religion as a term that describes churchly matters it does us little good. But if we think of religion as pointing to how we value life and particularly the highest values that guide and control one’s life, the word takes on a much wider significance. For then religion may be discussed on the basis of how we actually live. Every person is continually revealing their highest values in what they do. If you could follow me around for a year and observe me, especially in moments of real crisis, you would have some sense of my life’s most important  values. We need to turn the word religion outward, away from churchly matters, so it can help us engage people at the point of their most deeply-held values. If someone says to you they are not religious, this may be a helpful way to frame the discussion.


This leads to another question. Is it really helpful to divide the world up into believers and unbelievers? In point of fact, every person is a believer in something or someone. Martin Luther used the word ‘trust’ and pointed out, quite rightly, that every person trusts a god, in the sense that every person looks to that from which they derive good and to which they turn for refuge in times of trouble. That god may be drugs, money, work, possessions, self, power, another person – anything will do. But belief or trust is not the exclusive property of the Christian faith or any faith. Every persons behaves, acts on the basis of what we trust.To engage people at this level of discussion is to engage them where life actually matters to them. 


Another area of life shared with all people is the sense of fate. We all experience aspects of life where we are controlled but have no control in return. And the two points in life where this is most true for all of us are birth and death. We have no choice in the matter of our birth and while we may have some say in the manner of our death we have no say in the fact of our death. Every person is continually faced with these questions; Where did I come from? Where am I going? Are we all simply fated victims of impersonal powers? Is life a meaningless accident?  Is there any basis for hope? You might be surprised at how often people have these things on their minds. How often are they on yours?


Another area of our universal experience that leads to the question of God is in the awareness of our accountability. Along with this people have real sense of their insignificance in the vastness of the universe. Anyone who has ever walked through a major airport, among thousands of nameless strangers, knows what is to feel utterly insignificant. The structures of existence confront us with this. And it is the real experience of knowing we are potentially nothing, that drives us to gain some kind of foothold through power or prestige, to have our ‘five minutes of fame.’ But the very fact we seek to assert ourselves, to justify our existence, bears witness to our sense of accountability.  We all live with a sense of what we are and what we think we should be or ought to be. What does our understanding of God’s grace have to say to those who live under the relentless pressure of the ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ of existence, often accompanied by a sense of failure? What does it say to you?


Christians are not called to form private religious clubs where we worship little cult deities, stuck in church buildings. To paraphrase Martin Luther, the only thing that sets us apart is that we have been brought into the shelter and handed the free lunch of God’s amazing grace. We are called to give faithful, hopeful and meaningful witness at those places where we are caught in life’s crucible, where people’s hurts and hopes are tangible. Christians sometimes forget that we are all, in the end, needy, hungry, homeless beggars in this life. 


The areas outlined above, it seems to me, are a common currency of meaning we share with those around us that give rise, quite naturally, to the question of God. And while they do not automatically lead to trust in the gracious God we know in Jesus Christ, they are points of contact where we may demonstrate some sensitivity, compassion, humility and solidarity with others around life’s most basic questions and struggles as we respond to God’s call to….

“…sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you,…”

“May the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”