What Peter does not call the believers to is separation. Throughout 1 Peter, he is calling them to a different style of living—one that does not move them out of society, but that changes the way in which they move through society. In 5:8, Peter explains that it is the devil who is our adversary and he is to be resisted, not society. Evil is not some impenetrable force outside the walls of the Church, but is personified in the devil as a lion that prowls around looking for someone to devour. Further, the believers are equally admonished to resist the desires of their own flesh. Ernst Troeltsch stated that, throughout history, believers typically operate in one of three ways: as a church, a sect, or a mystic. He argues that the church operates out of grace, while a sect operates out of law. The church affirms the world, while a sect separates from it. He’s arguing that believing the Gospel has social implications. On the basis of his thesis, not wanting to define the church as Troeltsch does, Miroslav Volf calls it a “soft difference.” Speaking of the Church, he writes:
It looked as if she did not forge her identity through rejection of her social environment, but through the acceptance of God's gift of salvation and its values. She refused to operate within the alternative “affirmation of the world” versus “denial of the world,” but surprised people with strange combinations of difference and acculturation. She was sure of her mission to proclaim the mighty deeds of God for the salvation of the world, but refused to use either pressure or manipulation. Rather, she lived fearlessly her soft difference. She was not surprised by the various reactions of individuals and communities among whom she lived because she was aware of the bewildering complexity of social worlds in which values are partly the same, partly different, sometimes complementary, and sometimes contradictory. And so it gradually became clear that the child who was born again through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead into a living hope was not a sect at all. The unusual child who looked like a sect, but did not act like a sect, was a Christian community….
A soft difference does not fully reject the culture around them, nor does it fully embrace it. Rather it is a difference that is lived out without fear of others living out their lives and a trust in the God that has elected them to their eschatological hope. Volf continues, “For people who live the soft difference, mission fundamentally takes the form of witness and invitation. They seek to win others without pressure or manipulation, sometimes even ‘without a word’ (3:1).”
Volf brings up another key observation about the Christians in 1 Peter—they are to be a community. This may not be as shocking to us as it should be. We all affirm that the Church is made up of many people from all social strata—whether locally or globally. Throughout 1 Peter, he addresses them with the second person plural u`mw/n. Peter never addresses them as individuals, but corporately. Their lives are bound to one another in their election. Their conduct is not an individual one, but one that is thoroughly communal.
So what does all this mean for us living at the end of Christendom? First Peter teaches us that we need to change our model of Church. Practically, though, what does this mean? It means we need to inform the people who they are in Christ, what that means and how that affects their life. Simply put: preach the Gospel. Too many churches are caught up in getting people in the door with snazzy sermon topics and programs that they neglect the message of redemption found in the person of Jesus Christ. Peter preached in such a way as to affect his readers’ identity. He called them elect and exiles not to entertain them, but to teach them who they have become in Christ. We must preach the new identity our congregations have in Christ. Further, we need to move away from programs that keep people inside the walls of the Church. The Church is not programmatic or structural, it is people. Grace Chicago, the church that I am apart of, purposely does not fill its members’ schedules with church-bound activities, so that they can live their hope out in their communities.
Living in the communities also means seeking the good of them. This is what Jeremiah 29:4-7 instructs. Peter uses another word: blessing. Desire and work for community improvements. Desire that others have adequate housing, schools, social support. I hesitate to give specific examples, because of the variety of communities that abound. But let it suffice to say that whatever you desire for yourself and your family, should also be desired for others.