…[T]hey rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other believers before the city officials, shouting: “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here.… They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.”.
-Acts 17:5-7 (NIV)
In a little town on the Oregon Coast called Rockaway, there’s a little antique store just by Highway 101 as it goes through town. The name of the store, for reasons that are obvious at a glance, is Little White Church Antiques.
Little White Church Antiques is a charming little shop, full of the things that only small-town antique stores have in stock. It’s neat, clean, attractive, and no doubt stuffed to the rafters with antiques. It also has a steeple and bell tower still intact. It was a church. Today it sells antiques.
I have no idea what happened to the church that used to gather in that building, the group of Jesus followers who used to worship, share communion, baptize, marry, and bury there. For all I know, they’re still a thriving community of faith meeting in a better building across town. But the shop rubbed me the wrong way, still. It made me uneasy and I couldn’t explain why immediately. But now I think I know what I didn’t like about it.
Seeing that shop started me thinking that antique-peddling is a stage of life — or death — that most every church has to push hard against.
I’ve always been a little uncomfortable when I’ve read the account in Acts of Paul and Silas and their associates in Thessalonica. See, I’m partially the product of a world and culture that preaches tolerance. I’m a big proponent of churches being loved and appreciated by their neighbors, and I like to think that if we’re just good enough neighbors then people will eventually see what great folks we are and just flock to our doors.
That isn’t the attitude the church in Thessalonica seemed to have, though.
I do think that churches should be good neighbors, and I imagine the church in Thessalonica did too. But that isn’t all that they thought they were supposed to be up to in their city. They thought they were supposed to be telling their neighbors about Jesus, and that kind of got them into some trouble.
Well, “some trouble” might be an understatement. What happened is more like they caused a riot.
Now, hold on, before you run off and create a scene that the police need tear gas and rubber bullets to break up, take a breath and keep in mind that the objections some folks in Thessalonica might have had were motivated by jealousy. There was bad faith involved. But what they accused the church of wasn’t altogether wrong. They grabbed some of the Christians they could get their hands on and brought them to the authorities accusing them of “causing trouble all over the world” and “saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.”
I read this week somewhere that the most persecuted religious group in the world at this time in history are Christians. I imagine there could be some debate about that, but some data over the last month or so suggests that there’s something to it. I don’t mean, let me hasten to add, the kind of persecution that American Christians sometimes complain about: this is a little more than being pressured to bake a cake for a wedding you don’t approve of or hearing “Happy Holidays” when you’d rather hear “Merry Christmas.” I mean the kind of persecution that the church in Thessalonica had to deal with that day, the kind where you’re brought before government officials and essentially accused of treason. The kind where your life is in danger.
People who say that Jesus isn’t political clearly weren’t in Thessalonica that day, were they?
Presumably, those Christians knew about being good neighbors. But they also knew that they needed to tell their neighbors that Jesus is king — and that the kingdom in which they were putting their hope was empty and futile. Because when you believe that a regime change is coming, you have to say so, don’t you? Even when it makes things uncomfortable.
Seeing that antique shop in that little white church makes me wonder if a lot of us in churches aren’t already trying to sell antiques to our neighbors.
Have you ever walked into a church and had the sense of going back in time? Like, you look around you and it looks like nothing has changed in 50, 60 years? You hear what people are talking about, and it really seems like literally nothing has changed? Ever been in a church where maybe they were even proud of the fact that nothing had changed? Or maybe things have changed, but only in an effort to put bodies in seats.
Look, if nothing has appreciably changed in our churches for 50 years, then we’re just selling nostalgia. We’re peddling antiques. We’re trying to get people to buy a piece of a way of life that doesn’t exist anymore. It’s fun to swing an old golf club from the era when a “wood” was really made of wood. It’s fun to poke around in old magazines and old jewelry. It’s nothing to base a faith system on, though.
When you preach that Jesus is king and that his kingdom is even now upsetting the rules and priorities and loyalties of the world we live in, it tends to upset things.
Selling antiques never upsets things. People love antiques.
People don’t always love Jesus. They don’t always love what he does to their lives, to their worlds, to their prejudices, to their self-centeredness, to their certainty that they have the world all figured out. But that’s why we need him; he tells us when we’re depending on the wrong kings and investing in the wrong treasures.
And that’s why the church can never stop calling out the names of false emperors and unworthy treasures. More importantly, it’s why we can never stop announcing that there is another king. One called Jesus.
We’re no good to our world if all we’re doing is peddling antiques. We’re no good to them if we’re replacing Jesus with a quaint, nostalgic “gospel” that locates salvation in the Christianity or the America or the economy of times gone by. Our king is Jesus, and if our churches are looking more and more like antique shops then the answer is for us to remember the name of our king and to lose our fear of speaking it to our world.
Not in arrogance, hatred, and superiority: those are the tactics of other kings and other kingdoms.
In love, and with grace, and accompanied by the acts of kindness, mercy, and generosity that are the marks of our king.
It will cause trouble; then again, our brothers and who are being persecuted sisters all over the world will testify to the fact that Jesus has always caused trouble.
Still; it’s better than selling antiques.