Knowing What Matters Most
All year long Christianity Today has been publishing a series of articles exploring how Christians can be a counterculture for the common good. Andy Crouch concludes the series with a penetrating article at the importance of knowing what's important. In these days of enormous cultural confusion when we as Christians live in an increasingly global society where we rub shoulders daily with followers of other religions and worldviews that are far removed from our faith, and in a day when the Christian consensus has largely disappeared from our society, to borrow a phrase made famous by Francis Schaeffer, how should we then live? Crouch offers the example of Daniel as an excellent model. When he and his friends were transported to Babylon, they chose to be Chaldean in all things unimportant. They became more Babylonian than the Babylonians. Thus did Daniel rise to a position of enormous political, social and spiritual influence in a pagan kingdom.
We all know that you have to pick your battles carefully. Not long ago I received a letter from a pastor in a growing church who is facing opposition from a man who believes the King James Version of the Bible is the only true Word of God in English and is trying to pick a fight with the pastor. How should I answer him, the pastor wanted to know? My advice: don't bother. That's what he wants. Never wrestle with a pig. You only get dirty and the pig enjoys it. I told the pastor to turn it over to his board and let them handle the man. If they can't or won't, then his ministry may come to a premature conclusion. I hope that it doesn't come to that, but it might, and if it does, the pastor is better off moving on to a church that wants to make a difference for Christ in the world. The King James Version is not a hill worth dying on.
But what hills matter enough to stand and fight and (if necessary) die on? The answer varies from person to person and from place to place. There is no one answer that will fit every circumstance, but Crouch points out that Daniel and his friends picked what may seem an odd fight. They rejected the sumptuous fare offered by the king in favor of a vegetarian diet (Daniel 1). If we were exiles, that particular battle might not have occurred to us. Crouch frames the issue this way:
Commentators observe that the meat might have been offered to Babylonian gods, yet a Jew would have had a thousand encounters every day with all manner of uncleanness and idolatry in the city of Babylon. How did Daniel conclude that the king's table was worth making a fuss over, while enrolling with his friends in a comprehensive course on Chaldean language and literature? Surely avoiding a thorough cultural indoctrination would be more important than choosing the king's asparagus over the king's lamb.
Yet he decided the diet issue was a battle worth fighting. Daniel understood that it is possible to become "more Babylonian than the Babylonians" if you remember who you really are. Crouch offers this helpful insight:
It seems that for Daniel and his comrades, being a counterculture consisted of surprisingly small decisions—small acts of reorientation to remind them daily that in spite of their privileged status in the capital city of the world's most powerful empire, they belonged to another King and another kingdom. The Book of Daniel also records, like the Book of Esther, dramatic decisions to serve God rather than the foreign king. But it is unique in giving us a glimpse into the daily choices, such as eating vegetables and praying in Hebrew, that prepared the exiles for those moments of courage.
At every turn, in matters large and small, we must be prepared to ask, Is this important or unimportant?
Is our culture's celebration of individual freedom a liberating, creative force or does it erode our ability to love? Is Hollywood's Oscar an achievement to be pursued or an image of gold to be defied? Is Burger King just fast food, or is it the king's rations? The fundamentalists of 100 years ago had firm opinions on such questions; their grandchildren seem to have adopted a posture of nearly universal consumption of American culture at its best and worst.
In some ways the fundamentalists of an earlier generation with their rules and regulations grasped this truth better than we do. What does it mean not to be conformed to this present age (the real meaning of Romans 12:2)? The essence of worldliness is to live as if this age will last forever. True worldliness means to buy into the notion that this world is the only world there is or ever will be. Living as Christians means being "resident exiles" whose ultimate loyalty cannot be tied to a country or to a political party or to whatever ideology happens to be number one on the hit parade. Our challenge is to live like Daniel, fully involved in the world around us, appreciating and enjoying the best that it has to offer, and working for its welfare, all the while knowing that we are citizens of a different realm. Strange as it seems, if we remember who we are and whose we are, and if we remind ourselves in small ways of our true identity, we will find the strength to serve God in a pagan land, changing it for the better just as Daniel changed his world 2500 years ago.
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