Reacting to Developments in Culture
Paul Dean Dr. Paul J. Dean's Weblog
- 2005 May 24
Much goes on in the world today about which Christians should and do lament. At the same time, lamenting should not be ultimate for the Christian as the Christian knows that God is in charge and all things are going according to His ordained plan. Rest in God's sovereign plan should be ultimate. That knowledge and rest does not negate our responsibility to be salt and light in the world. But, that knowledge does put this world in perspective. It is passing away and it is not our home.
This truth raises the question of what the church should be and be about in a postmodern culture. A myriad of ideas exist in the larger Christian community as to what the church is or about what it should be. Some see the church as an institution that dispenses grace. Others see her as a cultic community of people who totally separate themselves from the world in a cloistered community with a fortress mentality. Many see the church as just a place where idealistic people help those in need with little reference to the transforming power of Christ. To some, the church is a political entity designed to bring political and economic pressure on others to get what we as Christians want in our culture. Others view her as an institution that will rise from the ashes of world destruction to dominate the geo-political and governmental landscape with a reinstitution of Old Covenant law through governmental authority and power. Many in our culture see the church as something of which we are a part simply because we are born into it, a position to which even the liberal mainline denominations have been relegated. Some view it as nothing more than a social club. Most, by their attitude and actions, make the church to be a place where they go every week, get fed, have fellowship, give their money, do a project here or there, and then we go home having done their duty.
What is church all about? Is it any wonder that the cry of the Jesus movement was "Jesus yes, church no!?" Is it any wonder that para-church ministries have become so popular? Is the Jesus movement or para-church ministry the answer to this abounding confusion with regard to the nature, purpose, and function of the church of Jesus Christ? Is an institutionalized church the answer?
The apostle Peter wrote to Christians scattered throughout Asia Minor. In that letter, he told them what the Christian life is all about. Before that, he told them of their salvation. Before that, he greeted them. His greeting is interesting because in it we find a simple description of the mindset Christians must adopt if we are to live in a world that is opposed to God. Some of us still don't have a grasp of what the church is; what it's all about; why we are here; what we are supposed to do; and how we are to attain to true joy and satisfaction. Only when we know who we are before God and live in light of that reality will we be responding properly to this culture.
We must remember the supremacy of God and the fact that He should be seen as supreme in the eyes of His people and that He should be uppermost in their affections. In other words, we may wish the Republicans would not have compromised on the Judicial Filibuster issue. We may lament and continue to fight for a free democratic process that Christian values and religious freedom might be maintained in the land. But, at the same time, our satisfaction is not determined by the outcome of judicial or congressional proceedings or presidential elections. Only when God is uppermost in our affections; only when He is our satisfaction will we have things in proper perspective.
We must have the mindset that we are strangers to the world. Peter wrote "to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia (1:1)." He referred to believers as strangers; resident aliens; sojourners; or pilgrims on their way to the promised land. That promised land is not America, a free America, or even a Christian America (for there could never be such, biblically speaking, under the New Covenant). Christians are simply passing through. We are here for purpose: to bear the aroma of Christ wherever we go. We are to do so through gospel advance; and indeed that involves cultural engagement. But, we are passing through and we are not here for very long.
If we are simply passing through, we cannot become too influenced by our culture. Does that mean we withdraw from culture? Does that mean that we fight culture? No, it means we are to transform the culture. We transform the culture through evangelism, through involvement, and through excellence. Again, we do all that we do for the glory of God. Bach, the famed Christian composer, signed all of his pieces whether sacred or secular, "To God Be the Glory."
From where did universities come? Who took the lead in the abolition of slavery? Who developed and built the first hospitals? Who were the first great influencers of culture in terms of art and music? Indeed it was Christians. It was Christians who understood the beauty and glory of God and the mandate to put Him on display in every sphere of life including the spheres of music, education, social justice, health care, artistic beauty, and in a myriad of other spheres and ways. The Father of Modern Missions, William Carey, was a missionary to India to be sure. At the same time, it was he who accomplished the abolition of wife-burning in that culture. Christians are strangers in this land, but Christians are strangers who are not to be influenced by the culture. Rather, they are to influence culture themselves.
One of the greatest influences on American society was another group of strangers. Regardless of whether or not you appreciate their music, the fact remains that the Beetles, a rock group from England, left their mark on this culture, and that in a tremendous way. The repercussions of their philosophy are still being felt today on more than one front. Why is it that they have left their mark in such a great way? They have left their mark because Christians have not left their mark. I do not mean that we should ban the Beetles or their music. "Let it be." Enjoy their music if you have such liberty. But, we can't succumb to their mindset, nor should the culture at large, though it has. Again, the answer is not ban but influence. For example, methodologically speaking, not only is a denominational and adversarial boycott of Disney not a biblical method of cultural engagement, such a measure should not even be necessary if Christians were strangers of influence.
Further, if we are simply passing through, we cannot become too attached to this culture. A few years ago I went to Russia for one purpose: to preach the gospel. I was with a group of Christians who ostensibly went for the same reason, yet, two kinds of people actually went on the "mission trip." There were those who wanted to do nothing but sight see and there were those who wanted to get busy with the task at hand. Admittedly, seeing Moscow was interesting. But we were there for a purpose and we soon got busy with ministry. Moreover, we enjoyed our time in Russia, but looked forward to the day when it was time to go home. When we hit the ground in Atlanta, we kissed the same, and when we arrived here in Greenville, we went straight to the Rib House and loaded up. It was time for the feast. We were home. We were in the promised land. It was time to celebrate. We didn't get too attached to Russia. And, on this earth and in this nation we call America, we enjoy the scenery, but we must get busy about God's business and at the same time long for that great day when we will go home. Our reward is Christ, not all three branches of the government being controlled by the conservative party.
We can become too attached to our earthly agendas and substitute those agendas for God's agenda of gospel advance for the honor of His Name. We can become too attached to a number of things. We can become too attached to our homes or our lifestyles. Sadly, I know many persons who claim to be called to full-time vocational, gospel ministry and yet can't give up their lifestyles to go. We can become too attached to our friends, our traditions, our expectations, or even our idea of what church is.
Church is not what Christians go to. People ask others all the time: "Where's your church?" Now we might know what those individuals mean and even use that language ourselves. But, as we think about these issues, can you imagine that question being asked in the first century? The New Testament church met from house to house for example. By that I do not mean to say that we shouldn't have church buildings. I'm saying we can't become too attached to these things. We can't become too attached to what we have or don't have; we're just passing through.
The difference between a dorm room and my home is obvious. The dorm room is temporary; a place to sleep, study, etc; a place from which to go out, to go to school, to go to the library, or to go to social engagements, etc. My home is much more comfortable. I spend more time there. It has a permanence about it the dorm room does not have. My home is a place to come to and rest. Is the church on this earth a dorm room or a home? It's hard to tell sometimes when millions of dollars are spent on one building, for example, that will only be used two or three times a week, and that building is not much bigger than the previous building the church used. Is our mindset that the church building is a place that we come to and rest and revel in the finest of appointments and decor, or is the gathering place of the church a place from which we radiate that we might reach more people for the glory of God? On this earth, we reside in the church militant. Only when we get to glory we will reside in the church triumphant. We are not the church at rest here. We rest in Christ, but we are busy for the gospel.
Part of the point is that if we are simply passing through, we cannot become too comfortable in this culture. Peter was writing to those who suffer. We will suffer for Christ's sake even in this country. "All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution (2 Tim. 3:12)." We might as well get used to it. But what should we do about it? The Voice of the Martyrs says that more money is spent on wrapping paper at Christmas each year than on missions giving the entire year. Christ's body, the church, our brothers and sisters, are imprisoned in over forty restricted nations throughout the world. Can it happen to us? Three of my missionary team members were arrested in Russia for preaching the gospel. They came within a hair's breadth of being beaten and perhaps never being heard from again. We are strangers in this world. We must remember that people don't always like strangers. Let us not lament, but understand, and persevere.
"Do not fret because of evildoers, Nor be envious of the workers of iniquity. For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, And wither as the green herb. Trust in the LORD, and do good; Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness. Delight yourself also in the LORD, And He shall give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD, Trust also in Him, And He shall bring it to pass. He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light, And your justice as the noonday. Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for Him; Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, Because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass. Cease from anger, and forsake wrath; Do not fret-it only causes harm. For evildoers shall be cut off; But those who wait on the LORD, They shall inherit the earth. For yet a little while and the wicked shall be no more; Indeed, you will look carefully for his place, But it shall be no more. But the meek shall inherit the earth, And shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace. The wicked plots against the just, And gnashes at him with his teeth. The Lord laughs at him, For He sees that his day is coming (Ps. 37:1-13)."
[Part Two Tomorrow]