…and you will be hated by all because of my name.Matthew 10:22 (NRSV)
Hated by all. That is what Jesus said would happen. That is what many Christians think is happening now. With great apathy towards Christianity, or at least organised Christianity, by many plus outright outrage against the faith by some, this is proof we are being good Christians, right? Not necessarily.
People may reject or be against our particular expressions of Christianity for good reason. They may never get around to experiencing a better expression.
Let me give one example. Suppose we take the Bible at face value, taking the plain sense in every instance starting right at the beginning with how everything came into being. Taking six days of creation literally, and the timing of the patriarchs as accurate, we will arrive at the conclusion that the earth is quite young. However people go off to university, or Google, and are confronted with some pretty convincing evidence that the earth is not nearly as young as we say it is. Some of us will be unflappable: “see, hated by all just like Jesus said would happen! Therefore trust God, not scientists!” The opposition found in universities and online is treated as proof of correctness. We dig our heels in. The questioner walks away. The questioner may walk away, not just from our church or denomination, but from Christianity altogether and, sadly, from the possibility of connecting with Christ.
But what if we are wrong? N.T. Wright has said somewhere about how we do well to consider how history, theology, and literature has shaped the Bible. Something happened in history which either affirmed or challenged what people believed (theology). They then wrote from, and sometimes about those belief perspectives (literature). In the Bible we hold that literature. We don’t necessarily hold the history as it happened.
Having studied English Literature and Classical Studies in my undergraduate studies, I have little difficulty in seeing that there is something quite literary going on in the creation account of Genesis. In fact it is so poetic that I can’t even comprehend that it is supposed to be read as being a straight historical account. The writers of that day were trying to convey, in ways appropriate to their time and place, beliefs about God. They were not trying to write history the way we think we do today.
If we are holding tightly onto the idea that every word of the Bible conveys an accurate historical account, and if we then face opposition from those who have studied science and history, that opposition is not proof that we are being faithful, but rather that we might need to do a rethink. What we need is not more Bible reading from our own perspectives and biases, but more Bible reading with wisdom. The questioners who walk away depend on it.
Let us also note that the opposition Jesus spoke about was not from people outside Jesus’ own religion, but from people within. The opposition Jesus said his disciples will face is also from within, from their own religious peers, from their own faith family:
“See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles….Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.Matthew 10:16-18,23 (NRSV)
Opposition from within still happens in our day. In fact opposition from within Christianity may be better proof of being on the right track than opposition from without.
Recently I preached a sermon called “The Bible Clearly Says that Women Must Be Silent in Church. Is that Fair?.” Here is what one person commented on the video version of that sermon:
Fair? The Most High God determines fairness. This is a question asked by a base conscience person. Repent, walk away from your wicked ways, seek Christ, and live by the fruit of the spirit. Gal. 5:22-23
Evidently my quest for fairness and equality is to be equated with wickedness. Meanwhile people walk away from Christianity because they know better. Maybe they really do know better. Perhaps, like Jesus they have a nose for fairness and can smell injustice a mile away. The danger if we confuse opposition of our bad ideas with the kind of opposition Jesus faced, is that we will fail to break through to a better expression of our faith. We won’t be following Jesus as well as we think we do. We won’t be helping people connect with Jesus.
If we are going to face opposition in our day let it be because we are like Jesus, pushing against the status quo and seeking good things for people, and not because we are holding onto bad ideas.