Yet, such a dynamic is not new nor are we without hope. God’s people have been put in this culture at this time for a grand purpose. The issue for us lies in the realm of responsibility. As the culture war heats up, and it will, what will be the result and what should we do?
First, as the culture war heats up, Christians will be blamed for the problems in the culture. A biblical parallel occurs in 1 Kings 18:17-21: “Then it happened, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said to him, ‘Is that you, O troubler of Israel (v. 17)?’” King Ahab blamed Elijah for the judgment that had fallen upon the nation. In context, the force of his words indicates that he believed Elijah should be put to death.
This reaction to Christ and His messengers is all too common throughout history. Nero blamed the Christians for the burning of Rome. Decius, in 249, blamed the Christians' refusal to sacrifice to Roman gods for the ills befalling the empire. Persecution followed.
A similar trend is operative in our culture. Creationists are accused of hindering scientific progress; pro-life advocates are accused of hindering freedom; Islam is taught in schools while Christian talk of any kind is banned in the same setting; homosexuality is declared to be normative while Christians are regarded as dangerous.
There is no small amount of blame placed upon Christians for societal woes or potential woes. In the promotional material for Chris Hedges book, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, it should not surprise us that the entire Christian right is mistakenly lumped together with radical theonomy and called fascist. “Hedges argues that the [Christian Right] movement currently resembles the young fascist movements in Italy and Germany in the 1920s and '30s, movements that often masked the full extent of their drive for totalitarianism and were willing to make concessions until they achieved unrivaled power. The Christian Right, like these early fascist movements, does not openly call for dictatorship, nor does it use physical violence to suppress opposition. In short, the movement is not yet revolutionary. But the ideological architecture of a Christian fascism is being cemented in place. The movement has roused its followers to a fever pitch of despair and fury. All it will take, Hedges writes, is one more national crisis on the order of September 11 for the Christian Right to make a concerted drive to destroy American democracy. The movement awaits a crisis. At that moment they will reveal themselves for what they truly are -- the American heirs to fascism.”
Just as Elijah was being fingered as the scapegoat for Israel’s woes, so too will Christians be increasingly fingered for the woes in America. By necessity, religion in general is not the object of scorn, but Christ and His followers.
Second, as the culture war heats up, Christians will be marginalized while others will get state support. Don’t miss the last phrase of v. 19. The prophets of Baal and Asherah “[ate] at Jezebel’s table.” Jezebel was Ahab’s wife. The pagan prophets were supported by the king while Jezebel massacred God’s prophets. Those who were not exterminated by the state survived only by hiding in caves (1 Kings 18:4).
Our context is no different. Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and other organizations of that ilk receive state support while Christian God-talk is systematically removed from the public square. It’s only a matter of time before marginalization becomes ban.
What should we do?
First, as the culture war heats up, Christians must learn to speak the truth louder and clearer. Elijah answers the charge against him and puts the problem at the feet of Ahab. “And he answered, "I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father's house have, in that you have forsaken the commandments of the LORD and have followed the Baals (1 Kings 18:18).”
By louder and clearer I don’t mean more belligerent. I mean that we must speak the truth in love more often, in more places, and with greater clarity than ever before. The bible is clear as to how we are to speak to the culture: “A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.” Specifically, as the culture war heats up, we must say to the culture and indeed to some segments of the church, just as Elijah did, “You have forsaken God and are worshipping idols.”
Second, as the culture war heats up, Christians must recognize just how pervasive the defection really is. In Elijah’s context we read this: “Now therefore, send and gather all Israel to me on Mount Carmel, the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal, and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel's table (1 Kings 18:19).” Think of this subtly massive statement. Israel was God’s chosen people and yet an immense number of pagan prophets were openly supported and leading the people astray. The problem permeated all of Israel.
Christians on the whole are largely ignorant of what’s going on in Congress, of what’s going on the culture, and of what’s going on in the church. We publish a weekly e-zine, Christian News & Views. In that publication, we highlight events that might be of interest to Christians. A sampling of the headlines in last week’s issue serves to elucidate the many fronts on which the culture war must be waged. Consider these: “Al Gore: Global Warming is a Spiritual Crisis;” “Children: Bad for the Planet;” “Rudy Giuliani- Gave to Planned Parenthood Despite the Six-Time Statement he Abhorred Abortion;” “Man Claiming to be Jesus Draws a Crowd - Followers Sport 666 Tattoos;” “Lou Dobbs Chastises the Church.”
How pervasive is the defection? In our country, political correctness is replacing the Constitution (grounded in a Christian worldview). In the church, liberalism is replacing biblical authority; not simply theological liberalism, but practical liberalism. There are millions who claim that the bible is authoritative but are ignorant of what it says or refuse to apply it to their lives. The problem in ancient Israel has manifested itself throughout the church today.
Third, as the culture war heats up, Christians must point out that there is no middle ground. Again, our parallel is in 1 Kings 18, this time in vv. 20-21: “So Ahab sent for all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together on Mount Carmel. And Elijah came to all the people, and said, ‘How long will you falter between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.’ But the people answered him not a word.” The question Elijah put before the people is the question put before Christians, and indeed all in this culture.
In Israel, Baal worshipers had no problem with syncretism. As long as Baal was worshipped, the people could also tip their hats to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But, God Himself does have a problem with such syncretism: it is idolatry and He will share His glory with no one. The people did not answer. Too many people in our culture and indeed the church have no answer to Elijah’s challenge either. And yet, Elijah set up a contest to demonstrate that there is no middle ground when God is involved.
If the culture war is to be waged with any kind of effectiveness, Christians will have to come to grips with this reality: there is no middle ground. It’s time for us to turn up the heat ourselves.
Dr. Paul J. Dean is the pastor of Providence Baptist Church in Greer, SC, and hosts a daily, live, call-in radio talk show: "Calling for Truth." He serves as the Director of Applied Ministry at the Greenville, SC extension of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
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