St. Patrick as Our Model in a New Missionary Age
Dr. Ben Carson has given us a great analogy for our life as Christians in the United States. He said that we live in “Roman Coliseum time.” That’s the time when “Rome was being destroyed and the people were just interested in going to the Coliseum and seeing the carnage. That’s sort of where we are as a nation right now. I’m hopeful we can get to a much better place, but we have to deal with it where we are and work very hard to make it work for us.”
He’s absolutely right, and we need to get to work. The entirety of the American continent is missionary territory. The once Christian nations of the European continent are mission territory. We need to see ourselves as missionaries in a new missionary age.
On St. Patrick’s Day, everyone is Irish. The celebration is an example of the presence of a Christian memory in the West. We don’t live in what many people call a “post-Christian” culture. Like St. Patrick, we live in a pre-Christian Culture.
St. Patrick stands as a model of just how we must pursue our mission to our pre-Christian culture. When he landed in Ireland in 432, tasked by the Holy Spirit with evangelizing a pagan people, he drew from a deep, living, dynamic faith in Jesus Christ. So must each one of us.
Patrick understood well the challenges he faced. He had been held captive as a prisoner in that land. He knew the culture and the Druids who ruled it. He was aware of the realities he faced in a hostile culture but filled with the courage which comes from living faith. Most importantly, he knew the Lord Jesus Christ whom he served, and he walked in a vibrant and loving communion with Him.
When Patrick entered into a district, he would first preach the Gospel to the chieftains and, following their custom, offer a gift to honor them. Only a few were converted, but Patrick knew exactly what he was doing. He would then ask for two favors: a plot of land upon which to build a church and permission to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to the people. Both would be granted. He understood the culture, and used its practices with wisdom.
He would then go to the sons and daughter of the rulers. He wrote in his Confession, “Wherefore, then in Ireland, they who never had the knowledge of God, but until now only worshipped idols and abominations — now there has lately been prepared a people of the Lord, and they are called children of God. The sons and daughters of the Irish chieftains are seen to become monks and virgins of Christ.”
As a result, all of Ireland became Christian! From its beautiful shores western civilization, rooted in the Christian faith, advanced to change the whole world. The Gospel took root in the Celtic culture, transforming it from within as leaven in a loaf. Ireland came to be known as the “island of saints and scholars”.
We need to learn a lesson from this great missionary. He saw what was good in the culture and “baptized” what could be redeemed. He respected the civil order, but never compromised the fundamentals of the Faith. Then he won the next generation by preaching the Gospel without compromise and letting the Holy Spirit work through him.
We need the Patricks of our age to rise to the hour in this new missionary age. We ought all to be Patricks! The same God he served is still at work, pouring out His Spirit and calling men and women to be fishers of men in this Third Christian Millennium.
It is time to get to work! Happy St. Patrick’s Day.