Several years ago, I watched a short-lived series on ancient Rome. While the story was fictional, the characters were historical and the producers aimed to give an accurate account of the customs of the time. I often found myself weeping at the brutality and hopelessness of the paganism of the 1st century BC. A recurring thought was how desperately the people of ancient Rome needed Jesus. So now, when I hear critics accuse those faithfully following Jesus in the midst of a culture resurrecting paganism of “being on the wrong side of history,” I have to shake my head. It is they, not we, who are on the wrong side of history.
The Greco-Roman culture of the first centuries before and after Christ were pagan in that they worshipped a plethora of deities tied to and charged with the forces of nature. These gods and goddesses were ruled by the same passions and whims as human beings, only with more power. They could be petty and cruel, as well as kind and benevolent, when it served their selfish interests to be so. Human beings were deemed as little more than chess pieces moved about on a giant board called Fate. Reflecting the mythical behavior of the gods, Roman society had opened itself up to practices their ancestors abhorred. Homosexuality and gender-bending were accepted, if not widely practiced. Mood-altering and hallucinogenic drug use grew. The buying and selling of human beings in the practice of slavery was a central feature of the Roman system. Infanticide was rampant.
The casual attitude of people toward the value of human life can be seen in the spectacle of the arena, where gladiators fought to the death and condemned criminals were sentenced to public execution by wild beasts, all to sate the desire for entertainment by the mob.
It was into that kind of moral debauchery the Christian faith was born and spent its infancy.
Though it was scorned, then outlawed and labeled by skeptics as a religion fit only for slaves and fools, it grew. So the government waged a war of eradiation on it. Still it grew.
It grew because of the good fruit its adherents bore: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). That fruit fed a hungry world made thin by the moral and spiritual bankruptcy of paganism. The first few followers of Jesus became many. Then many became many more as the fruit kept growing. Eventually, there were enough bearing the fruit of the Spirit that the shabbiness of paganism was revealed and thrown over in favor of the Gospel.
We are not on the wrong side of history. The neo-pagans who want to throw a Biblical worldview over in favor of materialistic humanism are. History’s already seen what society looks like when the God of Scripture is confined to the fringe. It’s not pretty. It’s brutal and cruel when might makes right. It’s chaos when each does what is right in his/her own eyes.
Since history’s already traveled the pagan path and rejected it in favor of Christianity’s enlightened view of man and God, why is western society marching so swiftly back toward it?
If the Gospel has won us over to the RIGHT side of history, why does the wrong side appeal to so many?
Maybe it’s because the Christian tree we call “The Church” isn’t producing fruit. What won ancient pagans TO Christ was the good fruit they bore. The modern return to paganism may be due to a lack of that fruit. In John 15:1-8, Jesus said:
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. . . . Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. . . . By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.”
A tender of vines stays on the lookout for random shoots called “suckers,” which grow rapidly but yield only leaves. They sap the life and vitality of the vine, causing the fruit-bearing branches to languish. When a sucker forms, the vinedresser prunes it, so that the energy of the vine flows into productive branches. The Evangelical Church in the USA appears healthy. It has nice buildings, expensive campuses, an abundance of programs and services. Millions still claim some kind of church affiliation. We even have our own radio stations covering the land from coast to coast. Yes, there are a lot of leaves on the Christian vine. Where’s the fruit?
I can’t ask that of the Church at large without asking it first of myself.
Where’s my fruit?
A vine doesn’t consume its own fruit. Fruit is for others. And in that fruit are seeds that produce more vines and more fruit. If God’s Spirit is really producing fruit in me, it’s going to bless others and lead them to life and fruitfulness. So a good bottom-line question we ought to ask is—“Am I a blessing to others, or am I something else? Do others enjoy the fruit of the Spirit by virtue of my contact with them?” Notice Jesus’ last words in John 15:8. After saying God is glorified when we bear much fruit, He said, “So you will be my disciples.” In other words, being fruitful is a necessary part of being a genuine disciple. The true follower of Jesus bears fruit.
Christians are definitely not on the wrong side of history in regard to the social issues of our time. The best way to persuade an increasingly hostile culture of that isn’t by hurling clever one-liners or shouting angry slogans. It’s by emulating the lifestyle of the first believers, humbly abiding in Christ and bearing the fruit of the Spirit.