It is true that, as followers of Jesus, we will be hated and rejected just as He was (Matthew 10:24-25; John 15:18-20). And it is true that many of our words and deeds will be unpopular, as we speak truth to power, as we stand for justice, as we expose unrighteousness, we call people to repentance, and as we confront the corrupt status quo.
This is what happened to the prophets of old when they called their people to account, and this is what will happen to us as we follow in their footsteps today (Matthew 5:10-12).
But that doesn’t mean that we are troublemakers or agitators; instead, we are called to be peacemakers and ambassadors of reconciliation (Matthew 5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:18-20).
It is true that our message will divide people, as Jesus told us long ago (Matthew 10:34-37), but our goal is not to divide people but rather to call them together, to build bridges rather than tear them down.
I’m quite aware that, in the Book of Acts, the disciples were often accused of being rabble rousers who stirred up dissension and conflict.
In Acts 16 Paul and Silas were accused of throwing the city of Philippi into an uproar; in Acts 17 the disciples were referred to as those who were turning the whole world upside down; in Acts 21 Paul was mistaken for the leader of a violent revolution; and in Acts 24 he was accused of being a troublemaker (literally, a pestilence), stirring up riots in city after city.
And in 2 Timothy 3:12, after describing his long history of being persecuted for the faith, Paul told Timothy, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” In other words, “Timothy, I’m not the only one who is going to be persecuted!”
But reality is that Paul was neither a troublemaker nor the leader of a violent revolutionary movement, although he certainly was a leader in a revolutionary movement – the Jesus movement, the most revolutionary movement of all time, not simply in its call for radical change but also in its methods, overcoming evil with good and conquering hatred with love.
As noted by Christian teacher H. S. Vigeveno, “Our world has witnessed many a revolution, but none as effective as the one that divided history into B.C. and A.D. . . . Revolutionary, indeed, this mission, to begin with a cross and sway the whole world through suffering love.”
Do we dare seek to live it out?
Do we dare seek to follow the Jesus model of laying down our lives for others and of loving our own enemies?
Can we find a way to have hearts of compassion joined with backbones of steel, to mingle grace together with truth, to be both caring and courageous?
Can we learn to confront unrighteousness without becoming unruly? Can we stand up for justice without provoking people to carnal rage?
Followers of Jesus may challenge the sinful status quo but our words and deeds will never lead to looting or violence or riots.
Instead, we urge people to put down their sword (which means renouncing acts of lawlessness and violence) and pick up their cross (which means death to our fleshly desires and self-will).
That is how we change the world, and that is how we live out our calling to peacemakers and reconcilers and bridge builders. We are a movement, not a mob.
In the words of Vernon Grounds, former Chancellor of Denver Theological Seminary, “A Christian who . . . becomes a revolutionary will serve as a revolutionary catalyst in the Church; and by the multiplication of revolutionized Christians, the Church will become a revolutionary catalyst in society; and if society is sufficiently revolutionized, a revolution of violence will no more be needed than a windmill in a world of atomic energy.”
In these days of social upheaval and violence in our cities, followers of Jesus need to rise to the occasion, tackling the controversies and confronting the challenges, but doing so in a way that produces light not heat, conviction not rage, and hope not despair.
We do have answers in the gospel – constructive, holistic, life-changing answers – but we must practice what we preach if the world is to listen to us.
Let us, then, lead the way in bringing healing to our nation.
Let us be peacemakers rather than troublemakers, ambassadors rather than agitators.