The changes are dramatic and telling: Christians used to occupy the top jobs in government and universities, they made up the professional class, and were blessed with wealth they used strategically. But over the last one hundred years, and especially in the last generation, the Christian population of the Middle East is declining, both in numbers and influence.
Mideasts Christians Declining in Influence (an article in the May 13, 2009, edition of The New York Times) provides an interesting counterpoint to our own society in which Christians have held places of privilege, but now feel themselves shut out and disenfranchised because of their beliefs. A throw-away line in the middle of the article provides a significant point of comparison between the situation of believers in America and in the Middle East: In America, secularism is often blamed as the reason for the loss of power and prestige. In the Middle East, the article claims, secularism is the only hope for a Christian future in the region.
The challenge for Christians in any age or location is to live as pilgrims, strangers, and exiles with feet planted firmly both in the kingdoms of the world and in the kingdom of God. Our hope isnt in nationalism (either of the American or Middle Eastern kind) or influence peddling. Instead, our confidence is that no matter in what circumstances we live, the Lord still expands his kingdom through the worship and witness of the church.
Despite our circumstances of ease and affluence or persecution and want, all Christians live under the cross in this present age. And whether we are lauded or hounded, we must constantly endeavor to resist conformation to this world (Rom 12:2). Failing to engage our culture with transformed minds that discern the will of God means that we will too-often mistake social success for divine effectiveness or social ostracism for divine disfavor. Can we have confidence in our calling even if the kingdom of man fails to give us the keys to the city?
Fixing our hope on the kingdom that cannot be shaken gives us confidence no matter what the situation is around us. May God sustain the community of Christ in the Middle East. And may God rescue the church in America from doomsday prophets and smiling preachers, both of whom confuse the kingdoms, confuse the sheep, and distract us from our high calling.