Turkey’s president has declared the Hagia Sophia a mosque once again, after Turkey’s highest court stripped it of museum status, with reporting on the event talking about Muslim crowds celebrating outside, and shouting “God is Great”.
The Hagia Sophia (which means Holy Wisdom) is often seen as a bit of a symbol of the clash of religions, Christianity and Islam, and for many on both sides this event is seen as a win for Islam and a defeat for Christianity. As with so many other events in our culture, quite a lot of Christians see them as a battle-ground for Christianity itself. Each election, there are calls by some that we need to enact “Christian laws”, or legislatively get back to our “Christian heritage”.
In one sense, I understand this. Our culture is changing, and sometimes for the worse, becoming more removed from a Biblical world view, and as a result, at times more hostile to those who faithfully seek to follow Jesus. Each political defeat, each change in the law, each converting of a church into pub, museum, mosque or yoga centre, feels like Christianity is being squeezed out, crushed down, the edifice slowly being chipped away at, until who knows how little might be left.
This is, in part, because Christians are so used to looking at everything through a political lens, which is the lens that everyone else views things through. Political signs and meanings are attached to everything today, from tax policy and pandemic responses through to school curriculums, family structures, and sit-com jokes. Christians live in and soak up that view of the world, we take on the signs of symbols of victory and political ascendancy, and we want to feel that our ‘side’ can get some runs on the board too. So we hope for a ‘win’, and get disappointed with a ‘loss’.
While it might be a bit sad that people won’t be able to walk into the Hagia Sophia and marvel at its incredible architecture, read about its history, and be amazed at the way it was constructed a millennia and a half ago, and has survived wars, earthquakes, fires and plagues, having it re-converted back into a mosque isn’t a sign of loss for Christians. Muslims do consider it a sign of victory for Islam, because for Muslims ‘victory’ in this world is a sign of dominance. Religion is political in the Islamic world.
But Jesus said “my kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Political victories here and now have no bearing on Jesus’ reign or triumph or supremacy. The measure of success of Christianity is not whether every church that is ever constructed actually forever remains used as a church. Its whether individuals confess Jesus is Lord, and follow Jesus wherever he leads them (John 10:27), gathering together to worship the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 15:5-6), no matter what the political situation around them.
Our hope as Christians is not that the laws of our countries reflect God’s intent for human life and flourishing, although it would be good for society. It is not that the visible symbols of Christian, whether churches or crosses, are built and seen by all who pass by, even thought that would be encouraging for Christians. Our hope is that Jesus will returned, as he promised, to a sinful world, and completely redeem it to God’s glory, and that we will persevere in faith until that time (Jude 17-21).
The Hagia Sophia may be converted to a mosque. The Notre Dame cathedral may be rebuilt. A local church may be converted into a house or a cafe or a museum, or just plain demolished and replaced with a child-care centre. These things are not where we see Christianity triumph or fail. Where we see Christianity triumph is when people confess Jesus is Lord (Romans 10:9), cling to him for salvation, and tell others about what Jesus has done for them and continues to do for them (Mark 5:19;, 12:11).
Perhaps this is something for you to consider – its not how full your church car park is (although a full car-park might be encouraging), or how many programs your church runs for the community that counts (although that will rightly give you a sense of pride at the impact you are having), it is only the faithful following and proclaiming of Jesus as Lord that is a sign of how healthy or well your church (and you) are doing.
So how healthy is Christianity in you?