The previous chapters discussed the scriptural foundations for the Great Commission and the Cultural Commission. and the impact of emphasizing the Cultural Commission over the Great Commission. This chapter examines the consequences of the reverse, to favor the Great Commision over the Cultural.
The church at Ephesus earned the rebuke of Christ because they abandoned the Great Commission, but what can we expect if we abandon the Cultural Commission?
The church will develop a siege mentality. As I mentioned in the introduction, there is a tendency to pull in our horns, crawl into our shell and try to ignore the world around us. This was very prevalent in the sect in which I was raised. Our belief set was fixed on the goodness of believers and the badness of unbelievers -- with a perfect set of blinders on when it came to our own failings. Our children would not consider pre-marital sex! Oh, no? Divorce is not an issue among believers! Oh, no? We do not have a problem with sexual, physical or verbal abuse! Oh, no? We do not have … (fill in the blank) among our members! Oh, no? These are the problems that characterize those pagans and unbelievers who make up the world around us. If they would only let Christ into their lives, then all would be ok! They would be just like us.
The world will decide that we have become irrelevant, that we do not bring anything to the table that addresses those things that concern them in their everyday lives. One article reports that “The results of the survey caused George Barna, the Directing Leader of The Barna Group, to note that many Christians are hard-pressed to convert their beliefs into action. The ultimate aim of belief in Jesus is not simply to possess divergent theological ideas but to become a transformed person. These statistics highlight the fact that millions of people who rely on Jesus Christ for their eternal destiny have problems translating their religious beliefs into action beyond Sunday mornings.”1 And this difficulty in translating their religious beliefs into action is precisely what non-believers judge the effectiveness of Christianity on.
We will lose our ability to carry on a meaningful discourse with the culture. As one Christian has noted, “Society would have us keep our absolutes to ourselves, in our church, and we have generally complied. And as we do, we become less able to share and demonstrate those absolutes, and worse, even to know how they are relevant.” 2
We will lose the vocabulary necessary to express Christian thinking outside our cloisters. We have been forced to adopt the language of the culture to discuss any moral and ethical issue:
We twenty-first century Christians have chosen the way of compromise. We withdraw our Christian consciousness from the fields of public, commercial, and social life. When we enter these fields we are compelled to accept for purposes of discussion the secular frame of reference established there. We have no alternative -- except that of silence. We have to use the only language spoken in these areas. The people there no longer understand our own Christian language. Moreover we ourselves have so long ceased to use it except for discussion of the moral, the liturgical, or the spiritual, that it is rusty and out of date. We have no Christian vocabulary to match the complexities of contemporary political, social, and industrial life. How should we have? A language is nurtured on usage, not on silence, however high-principled. And we have long ceased to bring Christian judgment to bear upon the secular public world.” 3
An example of this can be seen in an article in The Philadelphia Inquirer which reported in a survey of New Jersey Catholics: “By a margin of 69 percent-25 percent, Catholics said it was wrong for church leaders to publicly pressure politicians on abortion and other issues. On another question, 77 percent of Catholics said religious beliefs should be a private matter, with 20 percent disagreeing. 64 percent of Catholics surveyed oppose the denial of Communion to Catholic politicians who disagree with the church's position on issues. Twenty-seven percent of Catholics sided with the church.”
We will tend to join the culture rather than becoming godly dissenters. “Regarding culture wars, David Brooks writes, “As the sociologist Alan Wolfe demonstrates in his book, The Transformation of American Religion, evangelical churches are part of mainstream American culture, not dissenters from it.” 4 When the church no longer engages the culture, we are no longer in the position of being the consciences of the culture.
Our lack of engagement has meant that we have assimilated into the culture. I have to wonder what a survey, based on a secret ballot, would reveal of the position of our congregations on many of the moral and ethical issues facing our nation today.
We no longer live in an agricultural society where people tend to be more conscious of living according to the natural order of things. We have moved beyond the Industrial Age in which the order of God has been supplanted by the order of Man. Humanism, Naturalism, Enlightenment, Post-Modernity, New Age, etc. are the philosophies that have become the order of the day. We no longer base our laws and the day to day operation of our society upon morals and ethics shaped by Christianity, but upon sets of “guidelines” that are relativistic and that seek to satisfy self:
Guidelines that seek only to satisfy self have resulted in the blood of the 43,000,000 American children murdered since the implementation of Roe v. Wade. The blood of these children cries out for resolution of this life-destroying practice.
An example of an action that, if implemented, will further destroy Shalom, was reported in the Rutland Herald on 5/19/2004, in an article entitled “Assisted suicide advocates look to Oregon.” It concludes with the following quotation: “Meanwhile, advocates of assisted suicide plan to try again next year in the Legislature, said lobbyist Candy Moot. Polls show people in Vermont support assisted suicide …. ‘There are issues where the public leads, and the leaders follow, and I think this is one where a significant majority in the public have clarity,’ Moot said.”
This list could go on for pages, example after example of instances where the church has lost its voice. We are unable to bring anything to bear to reveal Christianly thinking in these arenas. Do we really believe that the situation is any different among those who claim to be evangelicals? How will our congregations and communities form a God ordered view of these and similar issues if we do not teach them. And how will our communities be effective in bringing God’s order, according to our responsibilities under the Cultural Commission, if they are not taught?
1 Barna Group. “Faith Has a Limited Effect On Most People’s Behavior.” May 24, 2004
2 Stephen Knisely, private conversation on 5/30/2004
3 Harry Blamires. The Christian Mind, How should a Christian think? Servant Publications, 1997. p 27
4 David Brooks. “Say It Ain’t So, Dave, Evangelicals and the Cultural Mainstream” quoted in Charles Colson’s BreakPoint article. January 16, 2004