Are Christians against or for the world? Ancient history helps answer this.
One man can indeed make a massive difference for Christ. It's happened many times in church history. One example is the man Athanasius.
I love Christian history and regularly commemorate an historical event on my personal Facebook page. Today, February 8, was the day that 5,000 soldiers showed up at the church of early Christian leader Athanasius (296-373 AD) to arrest him.
But he was gone.
Why is this of even marginal importance for you and me?
It's because Athanasius later helped save Christians from going astray into false beliefs.
How? Well, Athanasius helped us deal with two vital words that affect how we live our Christian lives: Athanasius's gave us the phrase contra mundum (Latin for “Against the world”). In other words, Athanasius insisted that, as a Christian, he stood against the pagan world.
We should thank God for Athanasius's proclamation.
Apparently, in 318 AD another powerful church leader named Arius put forth an enticing false doctrine claiming that Jesus wasn’t fully God. He said that Jesus was created by man and therefore wasn't fully God or eternally existent.
That's a big difference from what Christians believe today. We believe Jesus was and is and will be fully God and man.
But Arius's heretical idea was easier for early Christians to understand and so it quickly became popular during those ancient days.
The whole world is with Arius! many proclaimed.
Thankfully, Athanasius countered Arius by coining the phrase contra mundum.
Athanasius knew his Bible, and he knew when falsehood was raising its ugly head. We should also be grateful that he had a doctrinal backbone and great Christian courage. As was mentioned previously, he risked his life when he went against Arius, and was nearly captured by 5,000 soldiers.
Eventually, Athanasius's proclamation that Jesus wasn't created by God, but was always God, won the day. Arius was exiled and the Nicene Creed (still recited today worldwide) was drawn up to help establish and protect the doctrine of the Church:
“I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.”
In other words, Jesus was eternally begotten by God the Father, not created by God the Father. Deep stuff, but absolutely important! Joseph didn't conceive Jesus, which would make Jesus only human. The Holy Spirit did in Mary.
One modern-day prophet, Charles Colson, was captivated by Athanasius. In recent decades Colson encouraged contemporary Christians to take a stand against the onslaught of egregious cultural and theological ideas that are still popping up.
Colson borrowed Athanasius's phrase and used it to help rally Christians. In other words, Colson was calling forth that we be, "Contra mundum!" Against worldly ideas and living.
But Colson’s friend, theologian Richard John Neuhaus, encouraged Colson to round out his heroic call for contra mundum.
Neuhaus said we also need to emphasize that believers aren't simply supposed to be against the world, but also for something as well.
Neuhaus suggested that Colson add to the ancient phrase to make it contra mundum pro mundum—"against the world (and) for the world."
Neuhaus's point was a good one. We need to show others both sides of the Christian coin--that we stand against evil in the world, but also that we promote good in the world.
We do both.
There is nothing captivating, biblical, or Christlike to simply be against something. We must, in love, be for something else. We must remain against the evil inclinations and heresies of the world so that those in the world might fully know Christ's love; we should also positively usher our friends, neighbors and, yes, even our enemies toward what is good--into a biblical shalom, a transcendent peace, well-being, balance that can bring order out of chaos.
Contra mundum pro mundum is a great way for you and me to think and live as Christians today in a world gone crazy politically, culturally, socially, and, yes, even theologically.
But beware; living just the contra (against) without living the pro (for) produces an unattractive mean-spiritedness in us that loses our cultural argument in the long haul. The pro without the contra will create an insipid positivity that leads to cultural ruin.
Contra and pro belong together.