Sometimes we read things in the Bible that don’t jive with our experience, or seem to be confusing. We see the seeming tension between God’s sovereign will and our moral culpability or that the gospel call is to go to all, and yet not all will receive it (nor, it seems, can they). These are but two popular examples. But one place where the Bible shows no tension whatsoever is this:
Being public about your faith.
“There is absolutely zero tension in the Bible between being a ‘private’ and a ‘public’ Christian,” writes Owen Strachan in Risky Gospel. “In a similar way, there is no biblical tension between loving others in word (witness, proclamation) and loving them in deed. The Lord wants both, and if we only focus on proclamation (or the reverse), we miss the mark” (195).
Strachan hits on something we too often overlook: We seem to think we can go about our lives being Christian in private, but not necessarily having to “be” Christian in public. This is, in fact, what our culture encourages by telling us, “you can believe whatever you want to believe—as long as you keep it to yourself.”
And many of us (myself included far more than I’d like to admit) seem okay with it. Yet, if Strachan is correct (and he is) it’s anything but. Why should we demure from being openly Christian in the public square—especially considering we still live in a culture where being a Christian is more or less safe (even if it’s going to win you as many friends as bringing gazpacho to a barbecue). We know we’re not going to be murdered for being Christians, and yet, we get scared. Why?
I suspect it’s because we don’t know how to “be” Christian in public. For some, the only examples of public Christianity they’ve seen are those of Pat Robertson and James Dobson—a highly politicized focus on traditional moral values. Others haven’t really seen an example at all, and so feel completely inadequate, as if they’re going to somehow do it wrong.
I suspect, though, that living out a public faith is easier than we might think. Here are three things that might help:
1. Be concerned about social issues—but get involved in them. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’re on the corner outside the hospital holding up a sign pleading for the end of abortion (but it might). It simply means that where there’s a need you see, you should get involved. And in case you’re wondering, sharing videos on Facebook (remember Kony 2012?) or buying a t-shirt from Sevenly doesn’t count. Volunteer at a street mission or homeless shelter; get involved in an after school program for kids. Sponsor a child with an organization like Compassion. Do something that causes you to invest in people.
2. Talk about Jesus—but talk about Jesus like he really matters to you. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be out on the corner street preaching (though, again, it might). It simply means speaking like a human being about Jesus in a way that shows he really matters to you. So talk about going to church when the barista asks you what you’re up to on Sunday morning. Talk to your coworkers about what you’re working through in your small group. Wherever you can in a way that’s natural, talk about Jesus. Seriously, people aren’t likely to rip your head off.
3. Repent—but repent well. This doesn’t mean owning all of the faults and failings of Christians from days gone by—it simply means owning yours. Or, y’know, having character. This mean we don’t use sketchy language like, “a mistake was made, and if anyone was offended I apologize.” Instead, we say, “I did X and it was wrong, please forgive me.” We own what we do wrong and accept the consequences.
While no doubt there’s more to it, this should be a good starting point for living out our faith publicly. What are some strategies you’ve found helpful?