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Sauls Challenges Churches to “Love People, Institutions and Cities to Life” at Listen & Speak Conference

There are three ways the Christian community can respond to society in a post-Christian age, according to Scott Sauls, speaker at the recent Listen & Speak conference held at the Cathedral of St. Luke and St. Paul in Charleston this past October. “Christians can compromise, they can judge, or they can bless and serve. Compromise is ineffective,” said Sauls. “Judging hurts things; all that’s left is loving and serving.”

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Post-Christian Culture

    Nominal Christianity is going away, according to Sauls, pastor at Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, TN. Sauls went to Nashville after having spent five years on the staff of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City with noted pastor and author Tim Keller.

    “Nashville, once known as the ‘buckle of the Bible belt,’ is rapidly secularizing,” said Sauls. “It’s now known as the “third coast’ or the ‘Athens of the south.’ We’re not even a southern city,” he said. “We’re a progressive city that just happens to be in the south. Today you lose social standing if you identify with Christ,” said Sauls.

    He described the climate we’re in as one in which the claims of Christ are viewed as evil. “They don’t have a place in our ‘tolerant, open-minded’ discourse,” he said. But rather than encouraging Christians to fight the culture with angry words, Sauls encouraged conference participants to love their communities to life.

Judgment is Destructive

     Sauls pointed out how destructive the fusing of Christianity with right-wing politics has been. “The Pharisee culture is not magnetic,” he said. “The Moral Majority is a failed project. We can’t argue someone into the kingdom.”

    Quoting author Madeleine L’Engle, Sauls said, “We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.”

Compromise is Ineffective

    Sauls wasn’t encouraging Christians to ignore theology and blend in or compromise with the culture. “Compromise is ineffective,” he said. Sauls claimed that the more conservative Christians are in God’s word, the more liberal they’ll be with how they love.

    He highlighted Jesus’ engagement with the woman caught in adultery as well as Christ’s encounter with the rich young ruler. When the rich ruler turned away from Christ because of the steep cost of following him, scripture says: “Jesus looked at him and loved him, and the man walked away sad.”  “That should be our hope for people who don’t accept Christianity,” said Sauls. “That they walk away sad.”

Salt and Light: A Life-Giving Alternative

    Sauls urged Christians to be, as Jesus said, “salt and light,” to live so differently and to respond to their communities so lovingly that people take notice. “Love, empathy and listening go a million miles further than a gospel tract,” said Sauls.

    Quoting Jeremiah 29:5, Sauls urged participants to invest in and make their communities better. “‘Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile and pray to the Lord on its behalf for in its welfare you will have welfare.’ Be a more beautiful, life-giving alternative’,” said Sauls

Beautiful Words, Beautiful Deeds, Beautiful Hospitality

    Sauls’ TN church focuses on three things – beautiful words, beautiful deeds and beautiful homes (hospitality).They sponsor a number of activities intended to improve the life of their community. “Our presence, by our connection to Christ, should beautify the quality of life around us,” he said.

    Illustrating how this works out practically, Sauls described a “beautiful words” public forum the church was sponsoring days before the recent election –  at which prominent speakers from both parties were charged with saying only positive things about the other party’s platform and describing ways their own party could be improved. “We can’t impact society through coercion but by persuasion,” said Sauls.

    Two of the more difficult questions Sauls asked were, “Are the people who are criticizing us the same people who criticized Jesus?” and “Are the ones who were drawn to Christ the same ones drawn to us?”

    “Jesus raised the bar on friendship. He didn’t call us just to be the best friends but the best enemies. Love your enemies.” Sauls urged Christians to love people, institutions and cities to life.

Scott Sauls is the author of two books, “Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who Are Tired of Taking Sides” and the recently released “Befriend: Create Belonging in an Age of Judgment, Isolation, and Fear.”

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