In candor, we must admit that the Church has been displaced. Once an authoritative voice in the culture, the Church is often dismissed, and even more often ignored. At one time, the influence of the Church was sufficient to restrain cultural rebellion against God's moral commandments, but no longer. The dynamic of the culture-shift marches onward. On the Protestant left, leaders have simply capitulated to the revisionist ideologies and surrendered revealed morality. On the evangelical wing, however, the greater temptation is to affirm biblical morality in principle, and wink at infractions as matters of merely individual interest.

The displacement of the Church is characteristic of the process of secularization, which has now so thoroughly altered the landscape of American culture. Though sociologists point to continuing high levels of religious activity and statements of belief--both of these in sharp contrast to other western nations--the truth is that very little of this activity translates into authentic discipleship, active church membership, and bold Christian witness.

The worldview of most Americans is now thoroughly secularized, revolving around the self and its concerns, and based on relativism as an axiom. We Americans have become our own best friend, our own therapist, our own priest, and our own lawgiver. The old order is shattered, the new order is upon us.

What, then, is the Church to do? At the onset, we must disallow both optimism and despair. We have no right to expect, as did a previous generation, that "every day in every way things are getting better and better." The same culture that has developed the microwave oven, the CAT-scan, and the vaccine for polio has also produced social pathologies which threaten the very existence of the culture. The operating room and the abortionist's table are both symbols of our culture. Though claiming to be concerned with the quality of life, America is increasingly characterized by a culture of death. At the same time, though the direction of the culture may be dramatically downward, we have no right to assume that this slide cannot be corrected.

We must understand that, in the Christian worldview, culture is important, but never ultimate. Beyond this, we acknowledge that God is sovereign, and His providence rules over all.

The mission of the Church in the midst of this cultural crisis is to proclaim the truth and reach out to the casualties. In the face of rampant relativisms, the believing Church must proclaim the truth of God's Word, the permanence of His commands, and the reality of His judgment. Given the cultural context, this task is one of the most important tests of Christian faithfulness. To proclaim biblical truth to this culture is to risk social isolation, outright rejection, and, in some cases, potent attacks.

The Church which proclaims that adultery, premarital sex, and homosexuality are inherently and unquestionably sinful will quickly discover what it means to be cut off from the cultural mainstream. The preacher who takes on the divorce culture and takes his stand for the enduring covenant of marriage will run into direct confrontation with society's attraction to "open marriage" and what some now describe as "serial monogamy." The Christian who stands in defense of the unborn will be told that her voice is unwanted, unheeded, and unwelcome--and in no uncertain terms.

To contend for Christian truth in the face of this culture is to discover what it means to be a member of a cognitive minority; that is, a minority which quite evidently thinks and lives differently than the larger culture. To confess the truths of God's Word in late twentieth-century America is to take on a counter-cultural posture; to stand against the stream and to press against the grain.

At the same time, we must reach out and minister to the casualties of our cultural rebellion. The Church of Jesus Christ is comprised of sinners saved by grace. With the message of grace, we must reach out to those whose lives have been ruined and warped in the course of our cultural decay. Only the Church has the honest and truthful answers concerning the most basic issues facing our society. Our challenge is to match truth to compassion, and mercy to confrontation.