Theologian John Piper explained how the church in America is living with "cultural indifference or derision or exclusion or hostility," and why this is not strange but normal, and how Christians are called to respond to it according to the Bible.
Speaking at the Bethlehem 2016 Conference for Pastors and Church Leaders in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Piper quoted Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, as saying that Christianity in America is becoming "less nominal, more defined, and more outside of the mainstream of American culture."
"More outside of the mainstream of American culture" is not the same as saying true Christianity is declining in numbers or faithfulness, clarified Piper, founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary.
The theme of the three-day conference, which concluded Wednesday, was: "Think It Not Strange: Fiery Trials and the Testimony of Christ."
The forces that are making it desirable for nominal Christians to become non-Christians are the same forces that are making our culture increasingly inhospitable to true Christianity, Piper explained, referring to the rise of the "nones."
"The worldview and the moral convictions of mainstream American culture are increasingly at odds with the worldview and the moral convictions taught in the Bible," he said, adding, "The condition of unbelieving culture is not the report card of the church."
Piper said the aim of the conference is "to strengthen your settled and peaceful conviction that living with cultural indifference or derision or exclusion or hostility is not strange but normal, that God calls in those many sorrows to live a life of overflowing and Christ-exalting joy and love."
He quoted 1 Peter 4:12–19, which he said, tells us what is coming upon the Christians in this life and how they should respond.
The sufferings of Christ stand before the believers as a summary of what they can expect, he said. "When these kinds of things happen to you as Christians, they are not strange. This is normal."
"…In God's wisdom, He has planned that the sufferings of Christ save us from the sufferings of punishment, not the sufferings of purification. They save us from the fires of hell, not from the fires of refining," Piper explained.
Peter calls for six responses, he shared.
One, do not be surprised, Piper said. Peter is saying, he explained, "Settle it in your sober mind, and in your heart — suffering is not strange. That's where we start. We start with truth. Revealed truth about God and the way he runs the world. He is telling us: I do it this way. So don't be surprised."
Two, entrust your soul to a faithful Creator. Jesus showed how to suffer without retaliation, even when being treated so unjustly, Piper said. "We entrust the justice of our cause, and we entrust our souls to a faithful creator."
Three, do not be ashamed. "Christianity is founded on a shamed Christ," Piper said. "We have come to a rejected Christ. Thrown out. Despised. Hated. Slandered. Spit on. Mocked. Stripped. Nailed like a piece of meat to pole. And taunted. This is our forerunner."
He added, "This is what Peter is calling us to be in our day: unashamed of Christ! Unashamed of ridicule, sarcasm, mockery, snubbing, abandonment, suffering. Objectively shamed, and subjectively unashamed."
Four, Rejoice. "It was an utterly pervasive teaching of the early church: the Christian response to suffering is joy," Piper said.
"If there is someone in your church clamoring for you to show them from the Bible how they have a right to carry a gun to save themselves and their family from suffering and death, by all means spend ten cents of your labor on that. And then spend a million dollars on this. You don't need the Bible or the Holy Spirit to persuade human beings to protect themselves. But to bring into being a church of people who rejoice when they are treated unjustly — that is a miracle that you should give your whole life to," he added.
Five, overflow in good deeds. "Suffering. Entrusting your soul to God. Unashamed. Rejoicing. Doing good. This is not a mere private morality of avoidance — not doing bad things. This is a public morality overflowing with good works that help other people," Piper explained.
Six, glorify God. "If, when you suffer, you are not surprised and you trust God, and despise shame and rejoice in your suffering, and overflow in good deeds, and you show that your treasure is not in this world but is in God, you show that He is glorious — gloriously satisfying," Piper said.
He concluded: "Therefore, in whatever trials come don't be surprised, entrust your soul to your faithful Creator, don't be ashamed of Christ, rejoice in hope, fill your life with good deeds. And show the world that God is gloriously satisfying."