Religious freedom is a hot button issue in this election and it circles around when and where should faith be exercised. Should Christianity even be in the public sphere or should it only remain within the four walls of a local church building, or practiced in the privacy of your own home? Our constitution says we have the freedom of religion and even though, the majority of Americans would agree to that, the consensuses however says “but please practice it in private, and do it quietly”.
Yet there is a problem. Christianity, according to the Scriptures, is not a private religion nor is it only practiced in a church on a Sunday. In fact, the message that Christians are to proclaim (and yes I said proclaim) is the gospel, which translates from a Greek word that has the connotation of a herald entering the public square and announcing to all the people that victory has been won. That is hardly the image of a discrete, quiet and secretive faith.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us...” (2 Cor. 5:20). Paul uses the word “ambassador” very specifically, hence it is only used twice in the entirety of the New Testament. The reason being, is that an ambassador is a public representative of a nation, and when people look at this individual or listen to that individual, that ambassador is representing the will and bearing the message of a particular nation. Now Paul compares that to the life of a Christian, that he or she is a public representative of Christ and His Kingdom, bearing the good news and imploring people “Be reconciled to God!” Again, this is in stark contrast to the idea that Christianity should be a tight-lipped and concealed faith.
So why have people bought the lie that faith is a private matter? There are numerous reasons from the misinterpretation of what separation of church and state means, to the belief that there is a difference between sacred and secular. However, I think part of the problem is a misunderstanding of Jesus’ own words. Unfortunately, many will take that misunderstanding and apply it as a condemnation towards a public expression of Christianity. Jesus said in Matthew 6:1-6 about giving in secret and praying in secret. He says about prayer, “Go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret” (Matt. 6:6). Now on the surface, some might say “Even Jesus said not to be public about your faith”. Not quite. What Jesus is doing is making a clear and distinct argument against open public hypocrisy regarding a person’s relationship to God versus a genuine sincerity. In other words, there is a real difference to God between a person who is all show, contrasted with a Christian who has a faith that is sincere, humble and full of substance. Jesus does expect Christians to be public about their faith, which is the reason why his last words to his disciples were “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.”(Mk. 16:15).
Is there a correlation between the privatization of Christianity and the overwhelming negativity swirling about in our world today? Probably. As Christians, we must not get caught under the wrong assumption that our faith is a private matter, but instead adopt a more Biblical approach. Christianity and its message is one full of power, hope and love and should impact every area whether it be private or public. Does it take effort to enter into the public arena? Yes, most definitely. Is there an element of risk involved? Of course. Are people going to think that you are a foolish or silly for bearing a public witness for Christ? Yes, even Paul said that he was a fool for the sake of Christ (1 Cor. 4:10). Myself included, have been the recipient of a few scornful looks and ridicule for my application of Christianity in all things including parenting, education and even politics.
Christianity is a very public endeavor, it was designed that way regardless of people’s opinions. Therefore, it should permeate and illuminate every nook and cranny of our lives because what good is a light if it is hidden under a basket?