Our Sunday School teacher used that phrase yesterday. Mainstreams and margins. Our society tends to refer to "majorities" and "minorities," but I think these terms are more accurate. You can be a statistical majority and still be on the margins of society. It's not about the numbers.
In the context of our discussion, the teacher asked us to consider situations in our lives when we have been in either camp. When have you been in the margins? And when you were, what were your thoughts and feelings about those in the mainstream? Conversely, when you've been in the mainstream, how did you think and feel about those in the margins?
We were examining passages in Acts about conflict resolution -- specifically Acts 15, when the Council in Jerusalem had to make a decision about circumcision. Do Gentiles who trust in Christ have to become Jews before they become Christians? Is Christianity just a new branch of Judaism, or is it something else entirely?
At that time, the Jewish Christians were the mainstream. Gentile Christians were the margins. Kind of interesting, when you think about it.
In the United States, Christianity has been the mainstream since Europeans began settling the land. And most people will insist that it still is. Look at all our churches. Look at all the Christian holidays we celebrate. Look at all the surveys indicating how many people identify as Christians, believe in God, attend Christian worship services, etc.
But you see, that's about majority. I'm talking about mainstream. And I contend the national waters are started to flow down a different stream.
Oh, I don't think churches are going to start disappearing right away. Blatant atheism isn't going to be running rampant around here anytime soon. But I'm convinced we're headed the direction Europe has gone. I haven't ever been to Europe, but from what I understand, churches are mostly historical artifacts around there. Very few active members. And very few churches that are serving as salt and light in the dark worlds around them.
John Piper said in a recent sermon, "The Christian Church in America suffers from about 350 years of dominance and prosperity. . . this has deeply ingrained in us a massively unbiblical mindset, namely, a mindset of at-homeness in this world and in this age." It has been easy to be a Christian in America, and that easiness has created a feebleness that will be our downfall.
I vividly remember the words a couple decades ago of a missionary from a country in the Eastern block that had been freed from Soviet control and was experiencing new religious freedoms. His believing friends in that nation were bemoaning to him, "Why did God take away the blessing of persecution?" Easy Christianity was making for weak Christianity. Ineffective Christianity. Faux Christianity. What makes us think our faith was supposed to be easy?
The blessing of persecution. Dare we ask God for that blessing upon our nation? I'm coming to suspect that the Church was always meant to stand in the margins rather than float in the mainstream.