Religion and faith are only private matters.
Do you really believe that? I don’t. In fact, in order to believe this, you have to change the very definition of what faith is.
Here’s a screen shot of the definition of faith from dictionary.com:
The very idea of faith is grounded in relationship beyond yourself – whether you are talking about faith in a person or thing, or God, or religion, or a code, or standards, or a system. These all relate to others. No part of the definition of faith is about you and you alone.
If your faith is only a private matter, then it is a waste. If our faith doesn’t have a public witness or impact, then why bother with it?
Faith isn’t just a set of beliefs that we accept, faith impacts our life in a very public way. Faith impacts our relationships with other. Faith impacts how we speak and act. Faith is the lens through which we see the world. Because of faith, we can see an injustice in the world and are moved to act to change the situation. Our faith prods us to action. And action is public because it impacts others.
One of the reasons I think the church is in decline is because we, as a church, adopted the idea that faith is just private, that it has no place in the public square. More to the point, if faith is only private, it is weak, it is secondary, and it ultimately doesn’t matter.
The unfolding of the reign of God, which we are invited to participate in, isn’t some kind of a private affair. It’s very public. It’s in the face of the culture and the world. It offers an alternative to what the world thinks is normal. It changes lives. It flips the structures that exist. It counters the status quo. It empowers those who have been silenced. It frees the captive. It welcomes the stranger. It claims that Jesus is our Savior, not Caesar or the empire. It calls on us to love our neighbors and our enemies. It re-orders society to live in kingdom values rather than empire values. None of these things listed are just private. They are very public. And that’s a good thing.
Faith calls on us to follow Jesus, the one who holds very public titles – King of the Jews, Prince of Peace, Messiah, Son of God, Lord. These are not private labels. They are very public. It is because of these labels and their impact – because of the faith that Jesus brought that has a public impact – that he was crucified by the empire. Faith is in conflict with the empire and empire theology.
Empires have faith too – their credo, their faith, is summed up as a belief in the ends justify the means, the strong survive. These are also public faiths. They are designed to enslave many, to enrich the few. To maintain order and status quo.
Jesus offers a faith that sets people free, that welcomes many, that offers forgiveness. That lives out love for both neighbor and enemy. That changes the world.
Faith is not just private. It is very public. Thanks be to God for that.