Every generation has to stop and ask basic questions all over again if it wants to remain faithful to the Gospel. What does it mean to believe in and follow Christ in this century? What does the Cross mean for this generation? The answers we give to these questions shape not only how we live as individual Christians but also how we do ministry, outreach and witnessing.
Most of the time, sadly these questions are not asked and the answers are often taken for granted. Recent developments across the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) have only highlighted how not only the church in the region but also the global church has run out of its conventional wisdom on well-established ways of bearing witness to Christ. It is clear that we can no longer tread the same path we have done for so long and need to stop and reflect, not only for the sake of the survival of the church but also for the Gospel mandate of sharing the Good News with all creation.
The starting point to healthy answers to these questions is the reality of the times in which we live. As Christians, we have a strong tradition of investing countless hours in the study of the biblical world, with its languages, customs, archaeology and cultures. We rightly see this as key in accurately understanding the message of the Bible. Yet, this is only half the process. An understanding of the Bible also requires a proper understanding the age in which we live. This is not only important in understanding ourselves as we approach the Bible so we can recognise the limits on our own perspectives, but in understanding what we do with the truths the Bible teaches us.
In the Middle East, therefore, we need to reflect on the region first – with all its changing politics, and social and economic confusion – then on how these affect us, our perceptions, our worries, our visions of what we can or should do.
While it would be impossible to offer such a detailed reflection here for each and every country in the region, we can perhaps offer some initial thoughts to galvanise deeper conversations.
Whose agenda will be heard?
The entire region is going through a political reconfiguration that will not only determine the future of its political regimes but also its societies. And these will have direct implications for Christians. As constitutions are rewritten and elections held, a wide range of parties are advancing agendas on how they want their country to look. Engaging with issues like these has not been often been seen as ‘ministry’ or Gospel areas. But unless Christians learn to raise their profiles, voice their concerns and bring their solutions to the debate, the concerns Christian have will not be part of any future constitution or debate. Christians themselves will find themselves pushed further to the margins as low-value citizens whose opinions, values and faith do not matter.
Socially, most people across the region yearn for dignity, equality, fairness, justice, peace and ultimately a better personal future for themselves and their families. While the ideologues might grab media attention with totalitarian plans that claim to offer the solution to every problem, the reality is that they can’t. In this process, unless Christians emerge as an alternative voice on social values and an affirmative community that demonstrates an alternative way of living, forgiving, and pursuing justice, mercy and reconciliation, they will become sitting targets for radicals to use as scapegoats on which to enforce populist policies.
Responding to religious political movements
Religious movements across the region which have been in opposition for almost 80 years are finally entering the mainstream arenas of politics and public life. Soon, their performance will make or break their decades-old promises of being the answers to all their societies’ ills. In reality, we know that no human being can offer that hope, that security and ultimately that future.
So what do these trends mean for us? They mean that the Church has to bring the Cross to the bleeding wounds and longings of this region. Not solely through an individually centred faith, but through public presence, political, social and cultural engagement that bears the marks of the servant Saviour. This will not only mean that Christians will have a share in the future of their country, but that they will also be able to bring the Gospel and fulfil their mandate to be salt and light at this critical moment.
Views and opinions expressed by SAT-7 contributors are their own and do not always reflect those of SAT-7.