As Christians, we are often tempted to look around us with fear. We have a legacy of real persecution that extends from the torture and murder of Christ himself, then of his apostles and the martyrs of the early church, up until the modern day with the persecution of Christians in the Soviet Union and communist Eastern Europe, or the on-going persecution today in parts of the Middle East and China. With this heritage, perhaps it is no wonder that we in modern America can grow anxious about the influence of our surrounding culture on our faith.
It is easy to get caught up in these anxieties, but the greatest threat against Christianity is not from outside; it is our own failure to love. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18) Ultimately, our fears about the future are a distraction from the Christian vocation to demonstrate Christ’s boundless love. In fact, the spirit of fear can ironically bring about the very result that it is trying to avoid: by our behavior we can turn others away from God. As Christians, we ourselves are the number one cause of secularism and atheism.
When a visitor comes through the door, is our first instinct to interrogate them about their choice of clothing, or to smile at them and answer their questions? Are we careful to safeguard holy things, but indifferent toward the people we encounter? Do we treat other people as though they were beneath us if they do not fit our template for an upstanding life? Do we rush to tell others what to believe and how to live without taking the time to get to know them and understand them first? When others who claim the title of Christian proclaim publicly that God hates anyone, do we silently acquiesce, or do we stand up and protest? Why would anyone want to be a Christian if they have only ever known Christians with cold hearts?
Fellow parents, we all want our children to grow up to share our love for God, to treasure their infinitely precious spiritual heritage. But it is all too easy to let our desire to pass on our Christianity become dominated by negativity. In our natural desire to protect our children from bad spiritual influences– don’t make friends with the wrong sort of people, don’t read books with wrong ideas, don’t watch the wrong TV shows or listen to the wrong music, don’t be led astray by the errors of other faiths– it is perilously easy to lose sight of what matters so much more: God’s love. When our children truly encounter God’s profound love, there is no need to worry about whether they will fall away. If we show them the love of God, then everything else will fall into place of its own accord.
Unconditional love, not artificial walls, is the only thing that will defend the Church from harm. Love does not worry about persecution; it is inherently vulnerable. Instead of looking at those outside the church as “the enemy,” we need to remember that they are our brothers and sisters; they too are made in the image of God.
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
“Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful;it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (1 Cor 13: 1-8)