Aliens. Strangers. A peculiar people.
These are the terms used in Scripture to define the people of God, and this was how God’s people “self-identified” in the first century and for centuries thereafter. There were no debates in regard to whether Israel or the Roman Empire were “Christian”. The idea that a nation could be regarded as Christian would have been received with the same incredulity as people today regard the contention that the moon is made of cheese. Nations aren’t Christian. People are Christian.
The early church understood these things, which is why this kind of terminology was used. Christians understood themselves to be “other”, and they expected to be regarded as such by the culture in which they found themselves. The early church took seriously the teaching of Scripture when it tells us that Christians are, of necessity, in this world but not of it. They believed John, and understood him to be speaking of all Christians, not just those of the last generation, when he said that there are only two kinds of people. There are those who “dwell upon the earth”, and there are “followers of the Lamb”. And in the normal course of history, there are many more “earth dwellers” than there are “Lamb followers”.
Of course, we in the West, and particularly those of us in the U.S., have not lived in the “normal course of history”. We have lived in a very unusual time. We have lived in a place and time which has lulled us into a false sense of security, and which has filled us with unrealistic expectations. We have come to think that Christian morality, and the Christian worldview, is the norm. We have come to think that even if people are not Christians by the grace of God and the work of regeneration, that they should, at least, agree that Christianity is the default position of our nation and of the Western world.
But those are false assumptions. The experience of Western Christians is but a snapshot in the long history of God’s people, and it ought not be looked upon as the standard. The experience of Western Christianity is not how “it ought to be”. It is an aberration. And the faster we come to grips with that fact, the better off we, and the Kingdom, will be.
We are aliens. We are strangers. We are a peculiar people. If we can come to grips with that, then maybe we’ll stop wasting our time trying to make the world like us, and instead do what we are called to do, which is to be a light in a dark place, proclaiming truth to a world which knows nothing but lies.