“To God’s elect, strangers in the world…”
The apostle Peter addresses his letter to God’s Church, calling them “strangers” (KJV), “pilgrims” (NKJV), “those who reside as aliens” (NASB), “strangers in the world” (NIV). This first line reminds all Christian believers — those scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia as well as those scattered throughout Texas, Oklahoma, California, Montana, and Kentucky — that we are an alternative society. We are a counter culture. The Christian community is called to show a desperate world how to think and speak and act and behave differently.
Holy Scripture and the life of our Christ and his apostles always calls us to change the world; never to conform, instead to convert. And the only way it works is for us to be different.
Vaclav Havel, President of the Czech Republic, was once asked why the revolution there against the communists was successfully non-violent. He answered, “We had our parallel society. And in that parallel society we wrote our plays and sang our songs and read our poems until we knew the truth so well that we could go out to the streets of Prague and say, ‘We don’t believe your lies anymore’ — and communism had to fall.”
God’s Church must be a similar kind of parallel society. And we best form that society when we assemble together to worship. We speak our language together, we read our stories of God and his work with his people together, we sing the hymns of faith together, we pour out our prayers together until we know the truth so well that we can go out into the world around us, denounce the lies that threaten to force us to conform, and invite the world to share the truth with us. We are shaped by a Biblical narrative that tells a much different story from the one in our surrounding culture.
Marva Dawn in A Royal Waste of Time: “Rather than becoming enculturated and entrapped by the world’s values of materialistic and experiential consumerism, of narcissistic self-importance and personal taste, of solitary superficiality, and of ephemeral satisfaction, members of Christ’s Body choose his simple life of sharing, his willingness to suffer for the sake of others, his communal vulnerability, and his eternal purposes.”
Sociologists know that any alternative way of life that is substantially different from the larger society around it needs its own language, customs, habits, rituals, institutions, procedures, and practices if it’s going to remain alternative. These things are paramount to upholding and nurturing a clear vision of how we are different and why it matters.
Are we as Christians committed to the alternative way of life described in the Scriptures and incarnated in the Christ? It’s the only way to communicate to the world what they’re missing. If we’re too much like the surrounding culture, we have nothing, no alternative, to offer.
“Dear friends, I urge you as aliens and strangers in the world…live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God.” ~1 Peter 2:11-12