Years ago I was driving through a rural area when I came upon a country church. I don’t recall the name of the church, but it sounded good – perhaps something like “Grace Bible Church.” As a pastor of a church in a town less than an hour away, I wondered if this church and its pastor might be kindred spirits for our congregation.
I stopped and walked in the front door (this was in the day when churches left their doors open for people to freely come in and pray). No one was there, but on the bulletin board was a copy of the church’s Statement of Faith. Bingo! As I read, it all seemed to line up with Scripture. But as I kept turning pages (it was about seven pages, single-spaced), I discovered most of their statement was filled with what they didn’t believe and who they disagreed with. I agreed with some of their positions, but I was saddened that they were preoccupied with separating themselves from those who differed with them in any way.
There is an old anecdote from when Puritans were a strong religious movement in America. While I can agree with much of what the Puritans affirmed, they were better known for the way they separated from and condemned those who disagreed with them. The story goes that two Puritans were talking together one day. One said to the other, “There is no one righteous but me and thee” (that’s how they talked). Then he added, “And I am not even sure about thee!”
It’s possible for us to be so preoccupied with the evil and depravity in our world, that it starts to consume us. Like that country church, we focus on what we disagree with in our culture, or in other churches. Like that Puritan, we guard our own virtue by highlighting the errors and evils of others. Don’t get me wrong: There is deepening evil and depravity in our world, and many churches no longer proclaim the truth. But if we focus on them, we may convert some to our morality or theology, and yet not to Christ.
There is a saying, attributed variously to Confucius, Benjamin Franklin, or Eleanor Roosevelt, that goes like this: “It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness,” or perhaps, “Instead of cursing the darkness, light a candle.” There is a time to ‘curse darkness.’ Ephesians 5.11 says, “Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them.” But even there, the key is for Christians to ‘shine the light’ of truth, not focus on darkness.
Romans 13:12 says, “The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” The armor of light! God shone the light of His love and truth into our hearts while we were trapped in the darkness, slaves to sin; in a world caught in the darkness, enslaved to sin, without hope, meaning, and purpose, we can shine the light of God’s love and grace.
It may not seem like much: What can my little ‘candle of truth’ do in the ‘cavern of darkness’ that this world is today? It can’t, of course, solve the whole problem. But it can for one person you meet today! A children’s song I learned growing up (by Susan Warner) puts it well:
Jesus bids us shine, with a clear, pure light;
Like a little candle burning in the night;
In this world of darkness, we must shine,
You in your small corner, and I in mine.