About 20 years ago, my family and I were practicing Catholics. I grew up in the Catholic Church but had fallen away at an early age. My wife had converted after our marriage. Her conversion, plus the fact that we were now raising two sons, had renewed my interest in the church and in my own spiritual voyage.
Having grown up either being Catholic or trying hard not to be, I was quite ignorant of other denominations. I was aware that they existed. However, their beliefs and distinctions had no more meaning to me than the differences between channels on television. To me, there was simply Catholic and Not Catholic.
My Not Catholic Neighbors
One afternoon, our neighbors, who attended an Assembly of God church, invited us next door to a “small group fellowship.” I had no idea what this meant, exactly. I saw a yard full of people I didn’t know and their noisy children. I knew they were people that attended the same church, about which I knew nothing.
These folks looked regular enough. A key difference soon became apparent though when a father yelled at his ornery children to “stop behaving like the Canaanites.”
It occurred to me that I recognized “Canaanite” as a Bible word, likely a geographical term. However, I didn’t really know who the Canaanites were or why they were significant. Furthermore, I had no idea what parallels there might have been to the behavior of the Canaanites and that of this man’s children.
In short, I was aware in that moment that I was woefully ignorant regarding Bible knowledge. Despite the friendly welcome I received from these folks, I felt intimidated. It was like they were on some totally different spiritual plane than I was.
About this time, three of the ladies came over to us. They asked if we had a home church, knowing that we were not from theirs. I told them that we were attending the local Catholic church. They looked at each other with what seemed to be delight. One of them innocuously exclaimed, “Oh, our pastor used to be Catholic too until he got saved!”
It was apparent from her tone that she meant no offense whatsoever from this remark. Nevertheless, I remember clearly that the first thought that went through my mind was…
Saved? From what?
What my Catholic ears heard was that their pastor used to be just like me. Until he was saved from the error, the foolishness, the MADNESS that is Catholicism. As you might have guessed, I found that offensive.
We stayed for the rest of the meeting, and I tried, and I think succeeded, to be gracious to the group for their hospitality, just as they were gracious about my biblical ignorance.
Even so, I just could not get past that word, “saved.”
Looking back on that afternoon 25 years later, now as a Baptist-lite Protestant, I am much more conscious of how we, as evangelical Christians, can unwittingly come across to others with our churchy words.
It is so easy for us to fall into the trap of seeing ourselves as “saved” and everyone else as “lost.” This mindset may be Biblically factual and theologically sound, but it fails to acknowledge the reality that “lost” people don’t know they’re lost. Therefore, to hear from someone they do not even know that they need to be “saved” is offensive to them.
Light and Darkness
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18 EHV)
It is far too easy for us as Christians to look down on “those who are perishing” as though they are lost children groping about in the darkness. Being “in the light,” we know that’s a spiritual reality. We forget, though, that people who have spent their entire life in darkness are accustomed to the dark.
But if someone then turns on the light, you are just as blinded by the light as someone coming in from outside would be blinded by the darkness. Either way, you are probably going to whack your shin on the coffee table.
People who have spent time in the dark room don’t have a problem walking through it. They are accustomed to the darkness, and it suits them. However, a person in the dark room is missing out on so many things that could be seen in the light.
After all, once you get past the initial shock of the light coming on and the brief pain of the rhodopsin breaking down in your eyeballs, then you can see just fine. Much better in fact, than you could even when accustomed to the dark.
This is why we have light switches in our house. We have always instinctively known that light is better than darkness, so we have developed technology that allows us to have light at the flip of a switch.
This raises a troubling question, however.
If it is instinctive to prefer physical light over physical darkness, then why are we so resistant to come out of spiritual darkness into the light?
And even more troubling–why are those who are in the light, or “saved,” so hesitant to go into other dark rooms and flip on the switch?
To a person in the light, light is preferable, and to one in the dark, darkness is preferable. This is simply because people tend to get comfortable in whatever state of existence they find themselves. This becomes what you perceive as “normal.” The longer your “normal” exists, be it darkness or light, the more you can’t imagine life being any other way.
Flipping the Switch
A person sitting in the dark is not necessarily happy about it, but they are comfortable with their surroundings. So, they justify their darkness, rather than turning on the light, which would involve getting out of the chair and flipping the switch. A very simple action that, but it does involve SOME effort.
Likewise, a person outside the church may not feel as though they are missing anything that Christianity can provide. A person walking in the light of Christ knows what the others are missing. However, we as Christians need to remember that sharing the gospel with somebody against their will is like flipping on a 100-watt bulb in a dark room. The light of Truth can burn your brain just like a sudden flip of a light switch can burn your eyes.
That is why so many people reject the gospel when they first hear it. It really has nothing to do with “logic and reason.” It is simply too much of a shock to the system for them to absorb.
We forget that those in the dark experience actual pain when coming into the light for the first time. The pain goes away, replaced by clearer understanding, but you don’t instinctively know that when you’re experiencing the pain.
IT BURNS US!!!
Meanwhile, we should also note that those in the light actually have the same problem with being comfortable. Christians can get so used to the light, that we forget what it was like in the darkness, where we all began.
We can also get comfortable where we are and forget that we were called into the light for a purpose. Our primary job is to flip on the light switch for other people sitting in the dark. This also involves effort and change—a change of attitude toward the people in the dark.
Paul said it best in his letter to Titus:
At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. Titus 3:3-5a NIV
That sounds like my life in a nutshell.
No one saved me by arguing me into heaven. I did not save myself by simply deciding to “be good.” Jesus chose to save me, because that is who He is, and that is what He does.
If I were to walk into a dark room now, I might stub my toe. But I could sit with an inhabitant of the darkness and talk to them about my own previously dark room. I could share that the only way I was able to light up my room was by first acknowledging that it was dark.
And who knows? By God’s mercy and grace, they might ask me to help them find the light switch. At the very least, they will know there’s a switch that needs flipping.