Culture has shifted from embracing a Judeo-Christian worldview to one that repudiates every traditional expression related to biblical principles. Basic ideas regarding anthropology—gender, race, ethics—now face challenges for validity with each passing news cycle. The result has witnessed a retreat for many Christians. Rather than being salt and light, many now believe silence is the most loving response. To those Christians, Scripture would seem to instruct us to live quiet and peaceable lives (1 Thess. 4:11). This is true. We are instructed to live quietly and to mind our own affairs as believers in Christ. This truth serves the same purpose as the Scripture passages that instruct believers to love one another: “that they may know you are my disciples” (John 13:35). Nevertheless, this is not an instruction to neglect being salt and light to a culture in need of the gospel of Christ.
Christians are never to be silent about what we believe. We have been commanded in Scripture to be salt and light (Matt. 5:13–16). The previous verse (v. 12) is clear: we are to rejoice and be glad even in the face of persecution. This truth presupposes that we will be attacked by others as we declare truth. As salt, we are a preservative for goodness. Salt was a protectant against putrefaction. What is clear from this example is that as members of the kingdom, we are responsible to stand against the impurity of culture. In this example, Jesus was declaring the sanctifying saltiness of the believer. In the same way that a believing wife sanctifies her unbelieving husband (1 Cor. 7:14), believers are to have a sanctifying impact on culture through righteousness.
Jesus also declares that we are light. We are to be “a city set on a hill” that cannot be hidden. In the Old Testament, we find that Israel was to be the “light of the nations” (Isa. 42:6). Jesus would declare that He indeed is the “light of the world” (John 8:12). However, this same verse points to the fact that as followers of Christ, “we will no longer walk in darkness, but we will have the light of life” (v. 12). As those who have the light of life, we are no longer to fellowship with “fruitless deeds of darkness, but instead, expose them” (Eph. 5:11). As both salt and light, we have only the option to maintain a bold standard for truth in a darkening and decadent world.
In his speech “Vision for America” Ronald Reagan would appeal to this same passage in Matthew 5:14 and declare that America was to be a “shining city on a hill.” This term, however, is reserved for the Christian, not a Christian nation. In our current culture, Christian has come to mean someone who was born in America. As a result, we have witnessed an impotent church culture that has enjoyed the fruits of the gospel apart from being closely tied to the fight for the gospel. Cultural Christianity, particularly in America, has embraced prosperity while abandoning any notion of Christian persecution.
Second, pragmatism has invaded church culture to such a degree that we have abandoned the notion of an offense in the gospel we preach. Scripture is clear that we are to honor Christ above culture. We are instructed to “honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).