• The BaptistWay lesson for Oct. 27 focuses on 1 Peter 1:13-2:10.
If you follow Baptist news, you may have heard the buzz this past summer when Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said that “the Bible Belt is collapsing” and Christians have lost the culture war in America. As a 30-year-old millennial—the generation the church seems to have lost—all I could manage to think was: “It is about time someone admits it.”
I do not expect folks older than me to easily accept Moore’s admission or to mirror my lack of care and concern over it. We all are shaped by our contexts, and I simply do not have the capacity to be bothered by something I already came to terms with long ago. If America ever was a Christian nation, it has not been during my time. No amount of law passing, rally holding or petition signing can change that.
Getting ‘back to our roots?’
A former church member used to forward me email alerts from an organization whose mission is to return America to what it perceives as its “Christian roots.” These always were the same. It usually instructed the recipient not to buy products from a certain company, to sign a virtual petition, or to attend a conference and invite all their contacts to do the same. These emails assured the recipient they were making a difference in their country by doing so.
I believe we are called to make a difference in our country, but not by holding to some past ideal. The fact that we live in a post-Christian society may be frustrating to some, but Moore went on to say in his statement, “It might be good for the church.”
Be holy (1 Peter 1:13-2:3)
From a similar situation, Peter exhorts his readers to “be holy” (vv. 15-16), “with minds that are alert and fully sober” (v. 13). We must remember the recipients of this command are “exiles” (v. 1). They are not living in a Christian culture, and they are not given the responsibility of making it that way. Instead, the focus of their responsibility lies on themselves. Alertness and soberness stand in stark contrast to a society that gives itself over to excess, carnality, indiscretion and faddishness. Simply put, Peter instructs Christians to be disciplined in an undisciplined world.
Three things are mentioned that facilitate this kind of disciplined living—“grace” (v.13), “the blood of Christ” (v. 19) and “the word of God” (v. 23). These all are centered on God.
When it comes to holiness, we often find ourselves walking a thin line. It can be overwhelming to realize the holiness God demands and deserves. I became obsessed with holiness for a while as a teenager. I wore all the Christian T-shirts, listened only to Christian music and surrounded myself with Christian activities and reading material. When it comes to achieving holiness through these kinds of means, singer/songwriter Derek Webb says the word “Christian” applied to anything other than a person is only a marketing term. We cannot make ourselves holy through consuming things with Christian labels any more than we can make our nation holy by looking to the past. What we can do is rely on the God who is making us holy and seek to elevate him over all other influences.
Be chosen (2:4-10)
If anyone came from a nation that could claim to belong to God, it was Peter. As a Jew, he was part of the people who had been chosen specifically by God to bring about his will on the earth. Yet his understanding of what it means to be “God’s people” has broadened. It no longer is about living in a certain area or having a distinct ethnicity; Peter tells Christians scattered across pagan provinces God is building them in to a “holy priesthood … acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (2:5). Living in the midst of people who do not share your convictions does not disable you from being faithful; it makes doing so much more critical.
Before you get too excited about the possibilities of living out this chosen life, note that Peter cites several passages from the Psalms and Isaiah (vv. 6-8) to demonstrate the inevitable nature of stumbling and unbelief. There is no guarantee we will be surrounded by other believers throughout our life, or even that our faithfulness will result in another person coming to faith. Our only guarantee is, in spite of our surroundings, we have received Christ’s mercy and are called to live as “a chosen people” (vv. 9-10).
How could a situation like this be good for the church? Moore said it transforms the church from being a “moral majority” to a “prophetic minority.” We cannot predict or control the direction of our country’s faithfulness to God. Thankfully, the Bible does not tell us this is our job. Our job is to be the people of God, no matter what everyone else is doing. When we do, we will be blessed, and God’s purposes will be accomplished.