I was teaching an adult class at an area evangelical church recently, when we fell into a discussion (diversion, rabbit trail) about how counter culturally Paul was asking the Thessalonians to live (see especially I Thes. 4:1-12). I was making the point that we Christians in America today may not feel this contradiction on a daily basis the way someone living in Thessalonika would.
Immediately one of the participants spoke up (it’s a very informal class) with “Yes, we do! Why, this very Sunday just up the road from us one of the churches is having a peace thing with Buddhists, and Muslims, and Jews, and God knows who else. What kind of a witness is that? Talk about cultural compromise! [I am paraphrasing.]
“Yes,” I replied, in the interest of full disclosure, “My wife and I are the greeters for it.” After the laughing died down, I tried to outline and illustrate three approaches to interaction with one’s cultural setting [we were getting further from the study of the text all the time – which I heard about later!]: complete cultural compromise (you can’t tell the Christians from the pagans), complete cultural rejection (Christian music, Christian schools, Christian textbooks, Christian real tors, Christian yellow pages and, for Christ’s sake, no Halloween or Easter bunnies!), and somewhere in between, where most of us live. We have to decide daily how to live so as to please God (1 Thes. 4:1) [I was hoping to bring the class back to the text] in a thousand small decisions. The goal I said is to be “in the world” though not “of the world.” This response elicited many nods (I am pretty sure the nodding folks were awake at the time).
But my interlocutor was not finished: “When the Bible says ‘blessed are the peace-makers,’ it is talking about peace with God, not with other people!” Since the “peace thing” that we were greeting for was not very much about peace with God, though I ain’t “agin it,” I suggested that peace-making in the Bible might be about both audiences (God and others, even Buddhists and Muslims) and that the “peace thing” later on was about as significant for world peace as lighting a candle in broad daylight.
We went on to find other ways not to talk about sex (the main subject in 1 Thes. 4:1-12). I left, promising to talk about something less controversial next week: why in 1 Thes. 4:13-18 there is no such thing as the rapture. Who knew adult education could be such fun?
Thomas F Johnson, Coupeville, WA.