Christianity as cultural salt

Scott Sauls, pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, has a really good piece from earlier this week titled “No More Moral-Majority Thinking” in which he explores how the church’s influence in the culture should be viewed through Jesus’ metaphor “You are the salt of the earth”.

Salt, he notes, when taken in by itself, offends the senses. It’s bitter and raises your blood pressure. But when it is a “minority ingredient”, it can bring out the best in the culture around it. He traces through history, pointing out that the church grew quickly under the persecution of the early Romans, but then became empty when Constantine established it as a state religion.

Sauls argues that rather than trying to drive Christian principles through government, American Christians should instead focus on being that salty, enhancing presence in the culture that leaves the world better than we found it.

There are many examples of this. All of the Ivy League universities except for one were founded by Christians. Let’s keep doing that. Many hospital names begin with the word “Saint,” pointing to their Christian beginnings. Let’s keep doing that. As secular journalist Nicholas Kristof says, evangelical Christians are the most self-giving, exemplary servants to the world’s poor. Let’s keep doing that. Rembrandt painted world class paintings. Beethoven and Handel made world class music. Dostoevsky wrote world class literature. Let’s keep doing that. Evangelical leader Kevin Palau recently partnered with the openly gay mayor of Portland to resource and bless an under-served public school. Let’s keep doing that. A little Baptist church in Texas pooled funds together to pay for an outspoken, anti-Christian atheist’s medical needs. Let’s keep doing that.

But what if people misunderstand our intent? What if by associating with non-believers in such intimate ways, people begin to think we are soft on truth? If we must choose, and sometimes we must, it is better to be misunderstood and labeled as too soft on sin, than it is to be misunderstood as self-righteous, harsh and strict. Jesus was regularly accused of being a glutton and a drunk, even though he was neither. Why? Because Jesus lived his life around drunks, prostitutes, shady tax collectors, and the like…and never felt the need to explain himself. Jesus welcomed sinners and ate with them (Luke 15:1-2). Mustn’t we?

I love this reminder that Christians have indeed served the culture in amazing, caring ways to serve people in Jesus’ name. My only hesitation is his assertion that “salty” Christianity “always does best” as a minority. Which historically may be true, but it raises a question in my mind.

I think it was the Mere Fidelity guys who talked about this at some point, but – sure, it’s great to be the minority element, the prophet calling out the sinful king and culture… but what happens if/when the king repents? How does Christianity work itself out in people who get elected to high office?

Maybe it’s a hypothetical point, and that Christianity always has been and always will be a minority, but to say it only really works well as a minority seems like an overstatement. Someday Christianity won’t be a minority. Of course, things will be a little different then.

Still, a really good piece from Pastor Sauls. Worth reading the whole thing.

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