Summary: A message on how believers ought to live as resident aliens in this world.
“Strangers and Pilgrims”
November 18, 2001
The Rev’d Quintin Morrow
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church
Ft. Worth, Texas
A lot of ink has been spilled in the debate from historians and sociologists concerning the issue of how Christian “Christian” America was, or even if it ever was. What is not in dispute now is that America is no longer a Christian nation. It is a post-Christian nation at best and an anti-Christian nation at worst. The old days of secular society supporting the Judeo-Christian moral vision are over. Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon open their book Resident Aliens with the following:
Sometime between 1960 and 1980, an old, inadequately conceived world ended…and a new world began.
When and how did we change? Although it may sound trivial, one of us is tempted to date the shift sometime on a Sunday evening in 1963. Then, in Greenville, South Carolina, in defiance of the state’s time-honored blue laws, the Fox Theater opened on Sunday. Seven of us—regular attenders of the Methodist Youth Fellowship at Buncombe Street Church—made a pact to enter the front door of the church, be seen, then quietly slip out the back door and join John Wayne at the Fox.
That evening has come to represent a watershed in the history of Christendom, South Caroline style. On that night, Greenville, South Carolina—the last pocket of resistance to secularity in the Western world—served notice that it would no longer be a prop for the church. There would be no more free passes for the church, no more free rides. The Fox Theater went head to head with the church over who would provide the world view for the young. That night in 1963, the Fox Theater won the opening skirmish.
You see, the authors continue, our parents never worried about whether we would grow up Christian. The church was the only show in town. [And] Church, home and state formed a national consortium that worked together to instill “Christian values.” People grew up Christian simply by being lucky enough to be born in places like Greenville, South Carolina, or Pleasant Grove, Texas.
[But], Hauerwas and Willimon conclude, a few years ago, the two of us awoke and realized that, whether or not our parents were justified in believing this about the world and the Christian faith, nobody believed it today. All sorts of Christians are waking up and realizing that it is no longer “our world”—if it ever was.
The news that we no longer live in a Christian culture may be a shock to some of you, though a quick look at primetime TV is enough to demonstrate the point. But what the realization that we no longer live in a Christian culture means is that we as believers in Jesus Christ must order and live our lives differently. We must live, as Hauerwas and Willimon make clear by the title of their book, as resident aliens. In many ways we have awakened to find ourselves behind cultural enemy lines. Consequently, we must live as strangers and pilgrims in this nation and in this world.
Just how to do that is exactly the subject of St. Paul’s exhortations to the young pastor Titus in his epistle to Titus, chapter 3 verses 1-8. He answers the questions “How should we then live?” and “What manner of people ought we to be?”
Titus was Greek and was a disciple of and coworker with Paul. More than likely Titus had been converted under the Apostle’s ministry. The destination of this short three-chapter letter was the Isle of Crete, where St. Paul had left Titus to organize the fledging church. We know very little about the number of churches or Christians on Crete during the young Greek’s ministry there. We do know, however, something about the residents of the island. Paul quotes one of their own poets, Epimenides, in chapter 1 verse 12, and says, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” Indeed, many classical writers wrote of the untruthfulness of Cretans. In fact, the Greek verb kretizein, meaning “to act as a Cretan,” became synonymous with concept of playing the liar in the ancient world. Such was the cultural climate in which Titus found himself ministering.
The first two chapters of Paul’s letter to Titus focus specifically on Christians and the church. The Apostle informs Titus in chapter 1 of the qualifications of elders for the church and admonishes him in chapter 2 to teach and live sound doctrine.
In chapter 3 the Apostle shifts thematic gears and for the first 8 verses focuses specifically on how Christians are to live in a pagan world. He instructs Titus on how to nurture and shape a group of believers into resident aliens—Christians who honor God and live as strangers and pilgrims behind hostile cultural lines. He answers the questions “How should we then live?” and “What manner of people ought we to be?”