Offending That Which Is Offensive
I used to have one of those "Jesus fish" emblems on my truck, but due to an unfortunate accident my truck suffered at the hands of a friend's knee (don't ask -- it's still difficult to talk about), the emblem is no longer there. But, driving around an area like Louisville, you are bound to see your share of them on the back of cars. And they come in all variations -- some small or large, gold or silver, and some with either the words Jesus or ICTHUS (which is the word for "fish" in Greek, and actually is an acronym, the words of which are Greek and mean "Jesus, Christ, God, Son, and Savior) inside them. I even once saw one on the back of a Cadillac Escalade that said "Jabez" inside of the fish. Guess those guys were expanding there territory so much that they pushed Jesus out of the fish.
Unfortunately though, even as people have celebrated this symbol that once aided in the recognition of Christians in the 1st century while helping them to avoid persecution, there are a number of people who find this symbol to be fun to use to mock Christians. Not understanding its significance in the history of Christianity, all sorts of people display a fish on the backs of their cars with the term "Darwin" on it. It's usually fitted with a pair of feet to emphasize that the driver believes in evolution, as opposed to Christianity. Of course, there are other types of fish parodies as well. Some say "N Chips" or "Bite Me" or even "Sushi."
Every time that I see this on the back of someone's car I have a real desire to go up to them and ask them if they know how offensive those parodies of the FISH are. Do they, for instance, know that upwards of tens of thousands of Christians were killed by the Romans when the symbol of the FISH was employed in order to acknowledge fellow brothers in Christ without running the risk of being killed? Or that the numbers are even worse today, with some estimating that throughout the world as many as 170,000 Christians die due to persecution every year? Or that many more are persecuted by being starved, beaten, tortured, and imprisoned, all because of the name of Christ? When I actually consider the numbers and what the symbol of the FISH meant to the early Christians it does anger me to see it used so flippantly by some Christians and mocked by those who are not of the faith.
But then I have to stop and remember the offense that Jesus said He would be to people. I have to remember that, according to Paul, the cross itself is an offense (1 Cor. 1:23; Gal. 5:11). The word for "offense" in those passages is "skandolon," from which we derive the English words, "scandal" and "scandalous." Jesus Christ and the cross are scandalous, He is offensive and what He did was offensive. So should we be surprised to see people react to the man and His message with mockery and disdain? Of course not! In fact, we should rejoice that Jesus words noted above are fulfilled even in our day, as they were in His.
When we approach the problem of postmodernism and its emphasis on moral relativity, we cannot be shocked by what a scandal it is to preach truth. Today, many church leaders and pastors are attempting to meld postmodernism with Christianity -- to "contextualize" it to the postmodern culture. But can it really be done? Can something so offensive like Jesus' words of absolute truth, His work on the cross, and His call for His disciples to lay down their lives for Him really be contextualized into a culture that finds it scandalous to proclaim such things? And what about God? Is He surprised that so many people in this new postmodern context reject His message of Love and sacrifice?
I think the answers to the above questions are "NO." The early believers weren't persecuted because they were giving the Romans an alternate choice of gods. Rather, it was because they proclaimed the absolute superiority of Christ to all other choices. They were bold in teaching that the Roman gods were demons or were merely figments of the Romans' imaginations. And as they did this, the Church grew. Read that sentence again -- THE CHURCH GREW! It grew so much despite the culture's rejection of the Christian worldview that Tertuallian, a third century Christian who came to Christ through examining the courage of those enduring persecution, is said to have written, "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church."
So next time you see something like what Madonna did on stage this week, placing herself on a giant mirrored cross as she sang one of her songs, or notice one of those FISH emblems with "Darwin" stuck in the middle on a passing car, let it serve as a reminder of the persecution of the early Christians, the persecution that continues today in places like China and North Korea and Iran, and the persecution that will surely be a part of ours or our children's lives one day. Remember that they are merely offending that which is offensive to them. And let it remind you to be bold, even as those who have lost their lives were, with the message of Christ, not compromising it for the sake of a "contextualization" that will never be as effective as "the blood of martyrs."
China, Christianity, Cross, Culture, Jesus, Madonna, Persecution, Postmodernism