Salt and Light, Chameleon and Musk Ox

Christ’s teaching on salt and light is probably quite familiar to all of us. It has been to me since I was a boy in Sunday School. But I’ve always grouped them together, seeing them as two ways of saying the same thing. Here’s the passage from Matthew 5:13-16:

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

I’m currently re-reading a book that I first picked up years ago, entitled Chameleon Christianity by Dick Keyes (Luke Miedema and I had a brief conversation about it the other day…we both agreed that the first half of the book is excellent, while the second half isn’t quite as good…feel free to pick it up, however, if you wish). In it, Keyes describes the sociological reaction of dissonant groups. They either “compromise their distinctive beliefs and way of life and so reduce their conflict with society” or they “keep their dissonance and tribalize, retreating within their own group and thus losing contact with society.” It is easy to see that we Christians often are tempted to do the same thing.

Keyes parallells the first reaction with “saltless salt” and the second with “hidden light.” There are two other images he uses that resonated with me. He sees those who are “saltless salt” as chameleons, creatures that blend in with their environment so perfectly that they are indistinguishable from those around them who hold different beliefs. He points out that when attempting to blend in with culture, the first ideas that Christians let go of are Christ’s uniqueness and anything that would suggest intolerance.

Those who are “hidden light” he sees as musk oxen, which are arctic animals who spend much of their time huddled up in a tight circle with their horns pointed outward. They represent “tribal Christians” who are so caught up in their Christian bubble that they no longer interact with the culture at all. The light that they have been given by God can’t be seen by others (“Live such good lives among the pagans that…they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” – 1 Pet 2:12).

These two common responses to being a Christian are not what God intends or wants. But of course, most of us don’t become chameleons or musk oxen consciously. Months ago Dave preached a sermon in which he challenged us to not only have Christian friends. As I was listening I nodded along in agreement, for I could think of lots of friends who wouldn’t associate with non-Christians because they might be led astray or adversely affected in some way…but then on my way home I realized that compared to my college years, my contact with non-Christians had plummeted. I wasn’t intentionally or consciously only spending time with Christians. But I was essentially doing so nevertheless.

We all do similar things. We begin using the same words, or are conversations begin bordering on the inappropriate, or we tell bawdy jokes. Maybe we drink a little bit more than we should, to make sure we fit in with our friends. Sometimes our spending habits begin to mirror our peers, not because we are following God’s lead, but because our proclivity for materialism has been fed by those around us. Is it possible that we’ve unconsciously acted like saltless salt and chameleons?

Or maybe we distance ourselves from friends who don’t believe in Jesus. Sure, we’re cordial to them for the most part, but we’ve ceased being real parts of their lives because we think we have so little in common. Or maybe we’ve stopped being around such non-Christians because we’re so terribly offended by their language or values, or we’re worried that they’ll taint us in some way. It’s much safer to be a tight knit tribe. Is it possible that we’ve subconsciously acted like hidden light or musk ox?

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