Nothing gets people as riled up as religion and politics, or so the common sentiment goes. Conversations on either topic can spiral from polite to ferocious in a matter of moments as all involved work to hold their ground and prove their point. Bitter divisions can evolve from just a brief encounter.
I can’t help but wonder if such conflict is really God’s way for his people, particularly in the realm of religion. Are we called to be “defenders of the faith” who forcibly prove the truth of Christianity? Should we protest when the ten commandments are removed from courthouses? Organize rallies against professors who teach college students that God is a myth? The people of the world will fight tooth and nail for the honor of their idols of sexual freedom, personal pleasure, and relative truth. Should we Christians do the same for the one true God?
Religion and Rioting
There’s a scene in Acts 19 that may shed some light on these questions. Paul and a few of his fellow missionaries are in Ephesus, teaching those who have become believers how to walk in the ways of Christ when a silversmith named Demetrius, a man of some influence among the craftsmen in the city, makes this speech to his fellows;
You know, my friends, that we receive a good income from this business. And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that gods made by human hands are no gods at all. There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited; and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty.”
The craftsmen are outraged and “When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’ Soon the whole city was in an uproar.” Things quickly get out of hand as a mob gathers, dragging some of Paul’s companions to a local gathering place, everyone shouting and yelling for nearly two hours “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians” until one of the city officials convinces everyone to calm down and go their separate ways.
Defend Your God
What drove this riot in Ephesus? Demetrius summarizes it this way; “the great goddess Artemis will be discredited…will be robbed of her divine majesty” if Paul and the Gospel he preached kept spreading.
For the Ephesians, Artemis was their identity and their idol. The goddess gave their city prominence and power. If someone attacked the goddess or threatened her preeminence then the people needed to defend her, and thus a riot begins and hours of shouting ensue, all to make sure that Artemis’ divine majesty is clear.
Not that much different from what takes place today in the name of politics and religion. The question is, does a shouting crowd truly prove the majesty and honor of Artemis? Do sharp-witted debates about the truth of creationism or the historicity of scripture prove the glory and power of Jesus?
I don’t think they do. And Paul doesn’t seem to either.
Our God Defends
Paul and the Ephesian believers don’t stage a counter protests. They don’t take to the streets to yell “Greater is Jesus Christ!” Instead they ride the wave of the uproar and when it subsides Paul leaves town after encouraging the believers who would remain. There’s no organized resistance, only quiet confidence in God just like what the Apostles demonstrated earlier in Acts when they were brought before the Sanhedrin.
You see, here’s the thing that separates followers of Christ from the people of this world; we don’t have to defend our God. He is the one who defends himself. There’s never any fear that he will be discredited or robbed of his divine majesty. In fact, our God not only defends himself, he also defends his people. See Moses and the Isrealites at the Red Sea, where God commands them to simply stand still and watch him work for their salvation. In stark contrast to Artemis and the tens of thousands of other “gods’ in this world who need their followers to defend them, the Christian God keeps his own glory and honor, and protects his people as well.
In a world that goes wild at the merest mention of the true God and the Gospel of Christ, I’m convinced it’s not our job to defend the faith. It’s not our job to organize rallies and protests and social media movements to get Christianity a seat at the cultural table so our God can be legitimate again. He’s never been illegitimized. Jesus is so glorious that even should the entire world attempt to shove him aside and ignore him, he would lose nothing. He doesn’t need men to defend him.
Instead we ought to live the faith, always being ready to give an answer when we are asked about the hope that we have. Like the Apostle Paul our day-by-day life ought to be so potently Spirit-filled that we shift the very foundations of the cultures we are in as we proclaim the Gospel and make disciples. Our job is to proclaim Christ and make disciples. It’s up to God how that will impact the culture. In the long run that is what will make true change.