The Mark of a Christian

Jesus reduced the mark of a Christian to one word. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples,” he said: “if you love one another.” The most subversive act the church can take is consistently to obey that one command.

Perhaps the reason politics has proved such a snare for the church is that power rarely coexists with love. People in power draw up lists of friends and enemies, then reward their friends and punish their enemies. Christians are commanded to love even their enemies. … Our best efforts at changing society will fall short unless the church can teach the world how to love. – Philip Yancey


Much to Learn from the Spirit of Jesus

Philip Yancey, in What’s So Amazing about Grace?

Today, each time an election rolls around Christians debate whether this or that candidate is “God’s man” for the White House. Projecting myself back into Jesus’ time, I had difficulty imagining him pondering whether Tiberius, Octavius, or Julius Caesar was “God’s man” for the empire.

… the man I follow, a Palestinian Jew from the first century, had also been involved in a culture war. He went up against a rigid religious establishment and a pagan empire. The two powers, often at odds, conspired together to eliminate him. His response? Not to fight, but to give his life for these his enemies, and to point to that gift as proof of his love. Among the last words he spoke before death were these: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

[We] have much to learn from the spirit of Jesus.

Seeking a Renewal of Spirituality

Philip Yancey, in What’s So Amazing about Grace?

A renewal of spirituality in the United States will not descend from the top down; if it occurs at all, it will start at the grass roots and grow from the bottom up.

I must admit that my return to the United States gave me little reason to hope that Russia and the world might learn grace from Christians here. Randall Terry was pronouncing on National Public Radio that the Midwest floods, which caused thousands of farmer to lose their lands, houses, and livestock, had come as God’s judgment against America’s failure to support his anti-abortion crusade. The next year, 1992, proved to be one of the most fractious election years, as the religious right flexed its muscle for the first time on a national scale. Christians seemed more interested in power than in grace.

The Original Mission of the Church

Philip Yancey, in What’s So Amazing about Grace?

Not long ago I had a conversation with an elderly missionary who had spent his early career in China. He had been among the six thousand missionaries expelled after the Communists took over. As in Russia, these Communists too strove mightily to destroy the church, which until then had been a showcase of the missionary movement. The government forbade house churches, made it illegal for parents to give religious education to their children, imprisoned and tortured pastors and Bible teachers.

Meanwhile, the exiled missionaries sat on the sidelines and wrung their hands. How would the church in China fare without them? without their seminaries and Bible colleges, their literature and curricula, without even the ability to print Bibles, could the church survive? For forty years these missionaries heard rumors, some discouraging and some encouraging, about what was happening in China, but no one knew for sure until the country began opening up in the 1980s.

I asked this elderly missionary, now a renowned China expert, what had happened in the intervening forty years. “Conservatively, I would estimate there were 750,000 Christians when I left China. And now? You hear all sorts of numbers, but I think a safe figure would be 35 million believers.” Apparently, the church and the Holy Spirit fared quite well on their own. The church in China now constitutes the second largest evangelical community in the world; only the United States exceeds it.

One China expert estimates that the revival in China represents the greatest numerical revival in the history of the church. In an odd way, the government hostility ultimately worked to the church’s advantage. Shut out of the power structures, Chinese Christian devoted themselves to worship and evangelism, the original mission of the church, and did not much concern themselves with politics. They concentrated on changing lives, not changing laws.

The Place Where God’s Kingdom Thrives

Philip Yancey, in What’s So Amazing about Grace?

I had the distinct impression that God was moving — not in the spiritualized sense of that phrase but quite literally packing up and moving. Western Europe now pays God little heed, the United States is pushing God to the margins, and perhaps the future of God’s kingdom belongs to places like Korea, China, Africa, and Russia. The kingdom of God thrives where its subjects follow the desire of the King; does that describe the United States of America today?

As an American, the prospect of such a “move” makes me sad. At the same time, however, I understand more clearly than ever before that my ultimate loyalty lies with the kingdom of God, not [a single nation.]

What IS the Perfect Government?

[The] state must always water down the absolute quality of Jesus’ commands and turn them into a form of external morality — precisely the opposite of the gospel of grace. Jacques Ellul goes so far as to say the New Testament teaches no such thing as a “Judeo-Christian ethic.” It commands conversion and then this, “Be perfect … as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Read the Sermon on the Mount and try to imagine any government enacting that set of laws.

A state government can shut down stores and theaters on Sunday, but it cannot compel worship. It can arrest and punish KKK murderers but cannot cure their hatred, must less teach them love. It can pass laws making divorce more difficult but cannot force husbands to love their wives and wives their husbands. It can give subsidies to the poor but cannot force the rich to show them compassion and justice. It can ban adultery but not lust, theft but not covetousness, cheating but not pride. It can encourage virtue but not holiness. – Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing about Grace?

How the Church Works Best

Herein lies the chief danger to grace: the state, which runs by the rules of ungrace, gradually drowns out the church’s sublime message of grace.

Insatiable for power, the state may well decide that the church could prove even more useful if the state controlled it. This happened most dramatically in Nazi Germany when, ominously, evangelical Christians were attracted to Hitler’s promise to restore morality to government and society. Many Protestant leaders initially thanked God for the rise of the Nazis, who seemed the only alternative to communism. According to Karl Barth, the church “almost unanimously welcomed the Hitler regime, with real confidence, indeed with the highest hopes.” Too late did they learn that once again the church had been seduced by the power of the state.

The church works best as a force of resistance, a counterbalance to the consuming power of the state. The cozier it gets with government, the more watered-down its message becomes. The gospel itself changes as it devolves into civil religion. – Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing about Grace?