The modern Christian is confronted by an ancient problem—how to live as a Christian in a non-Christian world. Through the centuries, people calling themselves Christians have devised a number of strategies for doing this. One of these is isolation, retreat from the world’s compelling and insidious allure. This has been the policy of monasticism, in which the religious live separated from the world. Various non-monastic groups throughout history have adopted a strategy of psychological isolation in an effort to maintain their identity within a hostile, contaminating world. Purity is sought through isolation.

A second strategy is accommodation. Out of a concern for relevance grows the idea that the world’s values and attitudes may not be so pagan after all, and that one can accommodate one’s faith to them. Some contemporary theologians have tried to secularize the faith in order to make it “relevant” to modern man. On another level, church members who know and care little about theology have attempted to cope with the challenge of modern life by accommodating their standards of behavior to those of the world. And so the norms of Christianity are gradually modified until in effect they are given up, and the Christian and non-Christian become indistinguishable. Relevance is sought by accommodation.

Another way of dealing with the world is belligerence. On the thesis that the best defense is a good offense, the world and its people are regarded by some with hostility and suspicion, and are considered fair targets for attack. The Christian who is not constantly outspoken in his criticism of the world and of non-Christian people not only may be regarded as in danger of being assimilated by it but also as a lukewarm compromiser. Reputation is maintained through belligerence.

The logical extension of this approach is the fourth strategy: Christianity’s conquest of the world. By whatever means possible—from the exercise of personal persuasion through political pressure and even military power when this is available—the Church is to extend itself over the earth and impose its will upon the nations. The social order is to be reconstructed, the ills and inequities of life eliminated, and a new order built through the imposition of Christian values and the enforcement of the Church’s decrees. The world is to be Christianized by conquest.

Quite different is the strategy of compartmentalization. The Christian copes with the conflict between the world in which he lives and the world into which his faith has admitted him by separating them. He lives in one on Sunday and in the other throughout the week and sees to it that never the twain shall meet. Inner peace is obtained through compartmentalization.

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Although each of these approaches has a certain plausibility, none is a genuinely Christian way of dealing with the world. None follows the example and the teaching of Christ, whose strategy may be called “involvement.”

Jesus was involved with people in need; he met them where they lived. He ate and talked and mingled with them in their homes and shops and on the streets and in the countryside. Jesus neither physically nor psychologically isolated himself from the world. Yet he maintained his purity.

Today’s Christian neither can nor should live in isolation. His task is to relate to the unbelievers of this day as Jesus related to the pagans of his day. People need to know the Christian as a human being—who he is, how he feels, what he thinks about. Christians are too often seen by others as queer specimens of cultic isolation, rather than as fellow human beings with common thoughts and feelings.

The Christian, like Christ, must be careful to maintain his purity. This is no easy task in a permissive society where anything goes and one is constantly bombarded by multi-media sensual stimulation. It is far easier to withdraw behind a Pharisaical robe of piety, thank God that one is not like other men, and isolate oneself spiritually and psychologically from the rest of mankind. But this defeats the Christian’s mission in the world. He is to be Christlike in attitude and behavior, which means maintaining personal integrity while at the same time engaging in relationships with all kinds of people, so that in time of need the Christian can put the non-Christian in touch with the Christ who still goes about doing good.

In the second place, involvement as Jesus practiced it means being concerned enough to interact with the world on issues of current interest in an intelligent and responsive way, without accommodating one’s views to the point of compromise on basic issues. In all the conversations Jesus had, he dealt with issues with which people were concerned, matters that were a part of their experience. But always, rather than lowering his own standards or compromising his convictions, he sought to raise the sights of those he talked with, to cause them to face the issues of life in the light of eternal values.

One problem the modern Christian faces is that of differentiating between conviction and prejudice—between those matters that are essential parts of Christian faith and life and those aspects of thought and conduct that are culturally conditioned. Too often the Christian spins his wheels making major issues out of matters that are really inconsequential to anyone but himself and his narrowly inbred circle.

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Jesus refused to become involved in peripheral issues. He would not arbitrate a quarrel over an earthly inheritance, but he told people how to inherit eternal life. He did not waste his time setting up straw men, or dealing with questions nobody was asking. He related the interests of everyday life to the basic problems of living and dying that are the ultimate concerns of people today as they were then. These are what the Gospel is all about. The Christian need not compromise to be relevant.

Jesus’ attitude was one of compassion and understanding, rather than of suspicion and belligerence. True, he spoke bluntly and acted vigorously. And he was not deceived by the conformity of Judas, the craftiness of Herod, or the latent virulence of the mob. But when he looked at people, he saw them “as sheep not having a shepherd.” And when he talked with individuals, including a rich and self-sufficient leader of the power structure who refused Jesus’ claims on his life, he loved them.

This attitude of acceptance does not mean that Jesus approved of wrongdoing or condoned sin. He had the marvelous faculty of loving sinners while hating the sin that bound them, and the still more marvelous ability to communicate these feelings. How else could he have won the promiscuous woman at the well, the notorious Mary Magdalene, or Zacchaeus, the dishonest tax-collector?

When the Christian today faces his non-Christian acquaintance, what attitude does he communicate? Too often, it seems to be one of mistrust or suspicion. People want and need to be accepted as people—for themselves, for what they are with all their faults and failures. Only when we accept them this way will they be able to realize that Christ also will accept them just as they are, and transform them into what they are capable of being and what in their hearts they want to be. How many hungry hearts, how many inquiring minds, how many anxious spirits have looked for acceptance by a Christian acquaintance, only to be greeted by a barrier of misunderstanding and unspoken condemnation? Involvement means looking at the non-Christian world with compassion and love, not hostility and belligerence.

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And then, involvement surely means something other than conquest. The idea of victory over enemies has always appealed to the natural man. The disciples of Jesus’ day shared the widespread Jewish expectation that Messiah would lead an insurrection against the Romans and re-establish the Jewish state. But Jesus did not operate this way. He came not as a conqueror but as a Redeemer. He sought not to impose his will on men but to transform them from within so they would choose his way. His modus operandi went contrary to the current of his times (and ours). He chose the path of peaceful witness rather than violent revolution. To attempt to reconstruct him in the image of a revolutionary intent upon remaking society, by force if necessary, is to read history through the spectacles of contemporary bias.

The harvest, and the burning of the tares—the revolution that will usher in the golden age about which men have always dreamed—will be accomplished by the angels of God when God’s time comes to bring this era to a close. Until then, the wheat and the tares grow together, and the wheat has no mandate to choke out the tares. The mandate, to change the metaphor, is to infiltrate the enemy forces with the transforming dynamic of the Gospel, so that some who now follow the prince of this world will defect to the Prince of Peace.

Finally, involvement cannot be effective so long as the Christian compartmentalizes his life and thought. Jesus has provided us with an example of a thoroughly integrated rather than fragmented personality. He did not behave one way in the synagogue and another on the street. He did not follow one set of rules on the Sabbath and a different one the rest of the week. He was surely the most consistent person who ever lived.

It may be that compartmentalization is one of the major defects of contemporary Christendom. Christian people seem to have a way of segmenting themselves, so that what they hear and say in church has little relation to the rest of their lives. His faith teaches the Christian to be honest; but he neglects to report some extra income when making out Form 1040. His faith tells him to practice sexual morality, in attitude as well as in act. But in front of his television set he laughs at the double entendres and leers at the girls.

His faith commands him to love God with all his being and to love his neighbor as himself. But too often he treats that neighbor, particularly if he happens to be of a different race, as if he were a “lesser breed without the law,” or a “thing” to be exploited for his own benefit. He conveniently forgets that Jesus’ own illustration of the neighbor went across racial lines as he spoke of the Samaritan who came to the aid of a Jew.

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In short, Christianity too often has become a Sunday sabbatical, an escape from reality, rather than an integral, all pervasive part of daily life. No wonder the modern pagan sees the institutional church as irrelevant and many of its adherents as hypocrites.

The best way the Christian has of coping with the non-Christian world in which he lives is to be involved as Jesus was involved: not isolated, but in contact; not compromising, but concerned; not belligerent, but compassionate; not conquering, but transforming; not compartmentalized, but integrated. This is no easy task. It requires qualities of character, and understanding above the ordinary, and may well bring antagonism and persecution from an anti-Christian, revolutionary age.

But the divine call cannot be gainsaid. Endowed with the mind and heart which God has given, fortified by continuous communication with God through his Word, prayer, and the Holy Spirit, strengthened by the companionship of others of like precious faith, and invigorated by the joyful expectancy of his return, the Christian can engage in this kind of effective Christian living, even in today’s aggressively non-Christian world. In this way he will fulfill the desire Christ expressed in his prayer for his followers:

“I do not pray that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; thy word is truth. As thou didst send me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”

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