“You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord,
“And my servant whom I have chosen…
I, even I, am the Lord;
And there is no savior besides me…
So you are my witnesses,” declares the Lord,
“And I am God.”
Day by day our neighborhoods are less uniform and more pluralistic. For example, in the neighborhood of our church building, the arrival of Somali people in the last couple of years has changed the face of the street. Many of them are Muslim. Indians with Hindu backgrounds wait with African-Americans and Anglo moms to put their kids on the bus in the morning. Secular local folks espouse relativism with ease: what’s true for you is your God, and what’s true for me is my god—whatever works is fine.
It would be a mistake to reel on our heels as if good old white Protestant America has taken a blow on the chin. Rather, Christians should think that God is designing a situation like the first three centuries in the Roman Empire where Christianity took root and spread so dramatically. There was no Christian consensus. There was no Judeo-Christian ethic. There was no most-favored religion status. There were, in fact, no guaranteed rights for Christians nor any constitutional freedoms. There were no common categories of monotheism or sin or eternity that Christian witnesses could assume. There was no TV and no radio and no TIME magazine giving cultural uniformity to the empire. There were no best-selling books linking Spain with Egypt in a common way of thought.
Instead there was pervasive pluralism. There were many gods and many philosophies. There were stoical and sensual lifestyles. There were trade routes from the East and West with religious and philosophical worldviews from far and near spreading their views. There were popular, new-age-like religious practices that cared nothing for objective truth but only subjective experience and claims to inner light. The similarities to our own day could be multiplied.
In this pervasive pluralism Christians came not primarily with a new idea to think about, but with news of something that had happened. It was relentlessly objective and historical and particular—and therefore absolute and offensive in its claim on people’s lives. God had sent his Son into the world to die for sins. He had lived in Palestine and had taught for a few years, and had been killed like a criminal, though innocent, and had risen from the dead to show that his death was a ransom for sin, and had ascended into heaven where he rules the world until the time when he will come and establish his kingdom for all those who have put their life in his hands. It was a shocking message. Nothing like it had ever been spoken or heard before.
In this process they had a lot of explaining to do. There is a God. There is truth. There is sin. There is wrath and judgment. There is love and redemption. There is Jesus and the Holy Spirit. There is faith. There is heaven and hell. Is it any wonder that when Paul evangelized the great pagan center of Ephesus he spent two years teaching for five hours a day (Acts 19:9-10)? There was so much to explain.
Today God has a great work for us to do. We are his witnesses. Don’t be daunted by the developments of pluralism. Ask for the wisdom and the boldness and the love that drove the early believers, and gave them such amazing triumphs. “‘You are my witnesses,’ declares the Lord.”