NEW YORK — Timothy Keller, senior pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, warned Christians Thursday against allowing politics to divide the Church and reminded them that before anything else, "you're Christian first."
With less than two weeks to go before Americans vote in the 2016 presidential elections on Nov. 8, Keller, who was speaking on the final day of the Movement Day Global Cities conference held at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City, cited politics as a potential threat to the unity of the Church and city Gospel movements.
"All across the world there is a lot of political fragmentation … there is more and more political fragmentation in so many countries, and unfortunately Christians might be tempted to be fragmented right along. We might start getting divided politically instead of remembering that you're Christian first and you're white, black, Asian, Hispanic, second. You're a Christian first and you're American, or you're British and you're African second," Keller warned after referencing the current tone of the U.S. presidential campaigns as well as the divisive Brexit vote in the United Kingdom.
Keller explained that a city Gospel movement is a body of Christians and churches coming together across racial and denominational lines in a city, unified by the Gospel and a vision to reach that city.
Successful Gospel movements in cities, he said, can: "see the urban body of Christ grow in quality and quantity faster than the population so that the salt and light of Christian love and truth will actually influence the life of that city, renew it, improving it socially, influencing it culturally and lifting up Jesus' name so it's increasingly respected and honored in that city."
Among the challenges to these movements, he said, was politics as well as the post-Christian culture, particularly in the western world.
"There is going to be a growing problem doing evangelism in a post-Christian culture. Western secularism, which of course is present in all western cities, but actually western style individualism and secularism is also growing in the great global cities of the non-western world. The reason why it presents a particular problem for evangelism is because this is the first non-Christian culture that is based on the rejection of Christianity," said Keller.
"The very idea that you think you have the truth, that's what in a post-Christian culture we need to be redeemed from because then we are not all free to live life the way we want to live, and that's what post-Christian culture says is the meaning of life. The meaning of life is to get rid of the idea that there is any kind of overarching moral norm or absolutes and to be free to live life any way you want," Keller explained.
Many churches really don't know how to navigate this post-Christian culture, Keller said, and it will continue to be a challenge until churches figure out a better ways to go forward.
He further explained that another challenge the Church is having is how to disciple people in a "digital, wired, trans-local culture."
He listed four narratives of advanced western secularism which he says are dominating the culture now: The identity narrative, you've got to be true to yourself; the freedom narrative, I should be free to live any way I want as long as I'm not harming anyone else; the happiness narrative and the morality narrative, which argues that no one has the right to tell anyone what is right for him or her.
"Now, if you are an evangelical or Pentecostal church, you know that every single one of those narratives is deeply contrary to the idea of Christian discipleship. You must deny yourself and take up your cross and follow me. The Bible doesn't say blessed are those who hunger and thirst after blessing. It says blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness more than blessedness," said Keller.
"So aim for righteousness you'll get blessedness. Aim for blessedness, you'll get neither. So everybody knows that those narratives are contrary to the Christian way of thinking of things. But in your churches right now, your teenagers, if you listen to them, they'll be saying those things," Keller added.
He explained that when he was young, people were worried about the time they spent on television but social media has become even more dangerous.
"The shaping and forming impact of social media, for example, is far, far greater than television ever was. Churches have got their kids a couple hours a week if they're lucky, and therefore we have not figured out how to form Christians in the culture," Keller said.
Despite the challenges, however, Keller explained that there is still a lot of hope in the Christian movement such as the rise of global Christianity.
"I think I'm in a position where I can, because I'm an old white male, the fact of the matter is white males are getting very secular in the world. So for example in America, 78 percent of all atheists are white, 70 percent are male. Women and non-white people in general are less individualistic. They are not as proud, quite frankly, of their own will and their own reason and so generally speaking, when people say isn't the world getting more secular? No, I say, generally white people are getting more secular but fortunately we're dying out," he quipped.
He noted that with 15–20 percent of Christians in every continent, Christianity is now the "first truly worldwide religion."
"We are the first universal, we are the first truly worldwide religion and the more that the spokesperson's of Orthodox Christianity are not just white people but from every tongue, tribe, people and nation, the more moral authority we're gonna have everywhere in the world. And because of the rise of global Christianity I think the future of Gospel city movements look bright," he said.
Christianity, said Keller, is also well-tailored to the individualistic culture.
"In an individualistic society, conversionist Christianity where you do have to decide … that fits believe it or not. Evangelical Pentecostal Christianity is actually pretty well-adapted to individualistic society," Keller said.
He also urged the audience to have faith in the Church's "supernatural resilience" to new challenges.
"Every time the Church has come up against something that we've never faced before we've broken through. There is a supernatural resilience in the Church … there was this place where Jesus said, 'upon this rock I build my Church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it,'" he said.
He then encouraged churches in cities to make sure their operations had multiethnic leadership, learn how to disciple people in the current culture and believe that evangelism in cities matter.
"We're gonna lose the world if we don't reach the city," he warned.