America, Where Are You? Part 5

The State of the Church


Here is the great evangelical disaster—the failure of the evangelical world to stand for truth as truth. There is only one word for this—namely accommodation. The evangelical church has accommodated to the world spirit of the age.…This accommodation has been costly, first in destroying the power of the Scriptures to confront the spirit of our age; second, in allowing the further slide of our culture. Thus we must say with tears that it is the evangelical accommodation to the world spirit around us, to the wisdom of this age, which removes the evangelical church from standing against the breakdown of our culture.
Francis Schaeffer

Tell me what the world is saying today, and I’ll tell you what the church will be saying in seven years.
Francis Schaeffer


Key point: In its efforts to avoid offending people, will the church wind up offending the One it never would dream of offending—God Himself? Unless it makes a conscious decision to honor God in the environment of moral quicksand in which it finds itself, the church will indeed offend God. The good news is that through the church, God still can turn America back to Himself. God’s people however, must cooperate with Him for this to happen.


Summaries of all the articles in this series are available here.

Last time, we stated the following.

  1. Engel v. Vitale was an initial step in the process that effectively cut off a generation, and future generations, from voluntarily acknowledging God in a public environment.
  2. Having been cut off from God, America had no point of reference for recognizing the intrinsic value of human life. Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton therefore legitimized the practice within the human family of turning against one’s own and killing the most vulnerable and defenseless members.
  3. Obergefell went even further, denying what it actually means to be a human being. Natural man-woman marriage affirms what being being a human being is all about, but same-sex “marriage” effectively removes that affirmation from the institution of marriage, at least as far as public recognition is concerned.

This is not to malign anyone, especially homosexuals and those struggling with gender identity issues. The truth is, however, that telling them to “be who you are” actually will hinder them from being who they really are and finding fulfillment by reaching their God-given potential. Their struggles are real. We must be understanding and offer compassionate and loving help. Yet this does not mean telling anyone it’s OK to follow their base inclinations and desires. Proverbs 14:12 and Proverbs 16:25 are identical. They declare,

There is a way that seems right to a man,
But its end is the way of death.

It doesn’t help that our country has lost a clear understanding of what is required to have and maintain genuine liberty. Liberty is not license—the freedom to do whatever our base desires urge us to do. Rather, it is freedom within the reasonable restraints set by morality, law, and respect for the rights and freedoms of others.


Authentic liberty is not license—the freedom to do whatever our base desires urge us to do. Rather, it is freedom within the reasonable restraints set by morality, law, and respect for the rights and freedoms of others.


Liberty, as Depicted at the National Monument to the Forefathers in Plymouth, Massachusetts (see below)

Where is the church with regard to this cultural quicksand? To answer that question, let’s first recall that in Matthew 10:16, Jesus said to His disciples, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.”

Lightstock

I believe the church is following Jesus’ command to be as harmless as doves but unfortunately is failing to be as wise or as shrewd as serpents. Moreover, the church needs a shot of boldness.

The Pressure to Conform

In a very real sense, God’s people find their situation similar to that of a teen who is outnumbered by the crowd. Here is an excellent example. Researchers recruited several groups of ten young people to help them with a study of how well teens could see. The participants were told that they would be shown numerous sets of three lines, each of different lengths, and would be asked to indicate which was the longest line in each case: A, B, or C.

The researchers, however, weren’t really studying eyes or vision. They actually were investigating the effect of peer pressure on teenagers. Nine of the ten participants in each group were told privately to choose the second longest line rather than the longest one, while the tenth individual was allowed to keep on believing the study was all about teens’ ability to see.

In incident after incident, when the facilitator would introduce a set of lines and ask the group for a show of hands when the longest line was named, nine of the ten would, in unison, raise their hands for the second longest line, bewildering the tenth young person. Could I have misunderstood the instructions? They seemed so simple, the confused teen must have thought. Didn’t they say we are to indicate which line is the longest? The directions were repeated, and no, the student had not misunderstood them. All were to indicate which of the three lines was longest. The pressure to join the group was enormous—so much so that 75 percent of the teens studied raised their hands with the rest of the group, even though everything they were seeing was contrary to all the instructions they had been given and what they knew to be true!

Only 25 percent of the teens refused to go along with the crowd; just 1 in 4 was willing to take a stand for what he or she knew to be right, despite all his or her questions and the undeniable awkwardness of the situation. I can’t understand why no one else is choosing the right line, but I am certain which line is longest, and I’m going to raise my hand for it!1 Their courage and their actions are to be admired—and emulated!

Several lessons arise from this true story.

  • First, appearances can deceive. In terms of reality, the participants who were informed about the study actually were ignorant about the lengths of the lines. Moreover, even though the ones whose responses were being studied were not “in the know” about the real purpose of the study, these individuals actually were right about which lines were the longest. This is especially true when the student went against the consensus of the group. Let’s put it another way: The enlightened really were misinformed, and the misinformed were enlightened.

The enlightened really were misinformed, and the misinformed were, in fact, enlightened.

  • Second, the instructions were straightforward and simple, and in one sense, following them was simple. Still, following them was anything but easy! Even obvious realities can be hard to acknowledge in the face of a group consensus to the contrary.
  • Third, decisions to “go along with the crowd” were made based on emotions, including the understandable desire to be liked and the awkwardness of taking a singular stand.
  • Fourth, in real-life situations, the choice to follow the crowd brings only short-term benefits. By contrast, aligning oneself with reality, even though one is made to fell quite uncomfortable in the here and now, affords an individual or group a host of advantages in the long-term. Why? Reality is a friend to those who accept it and cooperate with it, but an enemy to everyone who denies and resists it.

The church is like each young person in the study who faced nine others with different opinions. What would he or she do—state the obvious, despite being overwhelmingly outnumbered, or go along with the crowd to avoid controversy?

Equipped with God’s Truth, the Church Is in Touch with Reality

Abortion advocates claiming to contend for women’s rights have loud voices and great influence, and in their eyes, to be pro-life is to be anti-woman. Nothing could be further from the truth (go here and here). On January 31, 2018, the following statement appeared on BreakPoint’s Facebook page:

Too many pastors soft-pedal their teaching on #abortion. Maybe they don’t want to be seen as getting “political.” Or perhaps they believe this subject is not their calling. They might even fear offending people. #Pray that God would grant the #pastors in your community #courage to teach the entire counsel of #Scripture, including commands to protect the innocent. Pray that they would have the #wisdom to speak accurately. Pray that they would also have the #compassion to speak kindly.

With regard to marriage, the situation is desperate, as evangelicals increasingly warm to the idea of same-sex marriage. If the church doesn’t understand what marriage is, then the real definition of marriage, including marriage as a picture of Christ and the church, and consequently marriage as a picture of the gospel, will forever be lost to society. We must realize people do not have to understand the theology to benefit from the model! Even atheists benefit from it! Natural man-woman marriage reflects and conveys divine realities even “under the radar,” even without people realizing they are recipients of divine truth. The natural world does the very same thing (see Psalm 19:1-4).

Remember the study on peer pressure. Do not forget that the enlightened actually were misinformed, while the misinformed were enlightened. Do not forget that God is truth and the source of truth, and He has revealed truth in His Word. Human life is His masterpiece, and to destroy it is to offend Him. Natural, man-woman marriage has God’s fingerprints all over it! For Christians to withhold the truth about marriage when society is so terribly misinformed on this issue is to fail to faithfully represent the God who established it, and the gospel.

One is reminded of Joshua and Caleb, who also were outnumbered when they gave their report on the land of Canaan. In their case, they were outvoted 10 to 2. Could the Israelites conquer the land? Joshua and Caleb said yes, but the other 10 spies said no! Because these two men remained faithful to God despite appearances and even against overwhelming odds, the Lord permitted Joshua and Caleb to enter the promised land, even as he He barred everyone else in their generation from doing so.

James Tissot, The Grapes of Canaan

Please know it is not my wish or intention to disparage or discourage the church or its leaders. Ministry, including evangelism, is very hard work, especially in this culture! Moreover, many pastors’ plates are so full they are overwhelmed! I sympathize, and I understand.

Even so, Jesus said,

13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.

14 “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.15 Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

A Place to Start

The church can begin speaking out for the truth by doing so within its own walls, educating its own people. It must talk about and defend those ideals and institutions that are under vicious attack. Start with marriage. Hebrews 13:4 declares, “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and the sexually immoral” (NIV). This article names twelve traits that must characterize the church’s case for natural marriage. Pastors and other leaders should explore and explain to God’s people the deep theological truths reflected in natural marriage, including ways that marriage is a picture of the gospel. Here and here some articles that will help you convey these ideas.

All is not lost, but much has slipped away. Much is slipping away even now. The situation is urgent!

All is not lost, but much has slipped away. Moreover, much is slipping away even now. I believe, and my friend Steve believes as well, that God wants to use His church to call America back to Himself. To do that, the church must repent of seeking to entertain people and once again endeavor first to please God. When it does, it will demonstrate not only that it loves God supremely, but also that it truly loves others.

What is life? What is marriage? What is the nature of God? What is the gospel? What is salvation? All these questions are tightly interwoven.

Which line is the longest?

Are we who have the truth willing to declare it?

Are you willing to do your part?

 

Copyright © 2018 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Note:

1Dr. James Dobson, Preparing for Adolescence: How to Survive the Coming Years of Change, (Grand Rapids: Revell, 2006), 37-39.

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

The Scripture passage marked NIV has been taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

About “Liberty” (see above; photo credit here)

At the National Monument to the Forefathers in Plymouth, Massachusetts, Faith stands atop the Monument, with Liberty and Morality seated at the base in front of her, and Law and Education seated at the base behind her. Genuine liberty isn’t possible without the other virtues portrayed—faith, law, education, and morality. The National Monument to the Forefathers was dedicated on August 1, 1889.

 

Practical Christianity: A Holy Nation

The Extraordinary Adventures of Ordinary Believers Who Worked Out Their Salvation with Fear and Trembling
Part 1

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.
1 Peter 2:9

The Pilgrims comprised one of the most remarkable congregations that has ever existed on the face of this earth.
—D. James Kennedy1

Key point: Members of the Separatist congregation in Scrooby, England in the 1600s — believers who later became known as “Pilgrims” — serve as examples not only of how to “do Christianity,” but also of how to “do church.”

Last time we explored the importance of taking salvation seriously, of “working out one’s salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). It’s fascinating to note both individual and corporate manifestations of this process. Not only must individual Christians work out their own salvation, churches and other Christian groups frequently must do the same. In the Pilgrims—believers who fled England for Holland, then Holland for the New World during the early 1600s and established the Plymouth Colony in what is now Massachusetts—we see evidence of the “working out process” at a congregational level. In this two-part series, I’d like to consider how this process was manifested in the Pilgrims’ decisions and actions up until the time they resolved to leave Holland for North America.

The Church in England

King Henry VIII

The Protestant Reformation is considered to have officially begun in 1517 when Martin Luther, a German monk, released his 95 Theses, a document in which he pointed out and objected to numerous abuses by and within the Roman Catholic Church. The Reformation soon became a movement that spread throughout Europe, wielding its influence in numerous countries beyond Germany.

King Henry VIII, who ruled in England from 1509 to 1547, officially pulled his country away from the Roman Catholic Church in 1534. In that year he declared himself sovereign over a new national church, which, not surprisingly, he called the Church of England. His actions weren’t theologically motivated, but we can’t fully consider that part of the story at this point. Suffice it to say that the move was a very big deal. King Henry, and eventually his daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, who ruled from 1558 to 1603, instituted a number of changes that made England’s new national church distinct from the Church headquartered in Rome. Even so, some of Henry’s subjects didn’t believe enough had been changed. These Christians wanted to see and experience forms of worship that were simpler and less elaborate. Appealing to the Book of Acts, they called for a return to the worship practices of the early Christians. These men and women became known as Puritans, because they advocated purifying the church in this way.

William Bradford, years after he was involved in the Separatist congregation in Scrooby

Another group of believers went further. Seeing the Church of England as beyond reforming, they sought to break away from the national church and form congregations of their own. In a day when church and state were intertwined, departure from the national church would be deemed treasonous. Thus, these men and women were risking a great deal, both individually and as a group of believers.

William Brewster, an imaginary likeness

In the town of Scrooby in Nottinghamshire, England, between 1586 and 1605, a Separatist congregation was formed that included William Brewster (1568-1644) and a young man by the name of William Bradford, who had been born around 1590. Brewster previously had served as a diplomatic assistant to the Netherlands. Because of the congregation’s convictions about the need to separate from the national church, the group faced ridicule, harassment, and in some cases, arrest and imprisonment.

Costly Convictions

William Bradford later would describe the situation by saying members of the congregation

were hunted and persecuted on every side, until their former afflictions were but as flea-bitings in comparison. Some were clapped into prison; others had their houses watched night and day, and escaped with difficulty; and most were obliged to fly, and leave their homes and means of livelihood. Yet these and many other even severer trials which afterwards befell them, being only what they expected, they were able to bear by the assistance of God’s grace and spirit. However, being thus molested, and seeing that there was no hope of their remaining there, they resolved by consent to go into the Low Countries, where they heard there was freedom of religion for all; and it was said that many from London and other parts of the country, who had been exiled and persecuted for the same cause, had gone to live at Amsterdam and elsewhere in the Netherlands. So after about a year, having kept their meeting for the worship of God every Sabbath in one place or another, notwithstanding the diligence and malice of their adversaries, seeing that they could no longer continue under such circumstances, they resolved to get over to Holland as soon as they could….2

Weary of the persecution and longing for freedom in their religious practices, the group fled England for Holland in 1608. They first resided in Amsterdam, then moved to Leyden a short time later.

Lessons from Godly Ancestors

The Separatist congregation stayed in Holland for over 10 years. We’ll consider those years next time, but for now, let’s reflect on the Pilgrims’ journey up until the time they made their decision to leave England. Several observations are in order.

First, these believers knew what it was like to face ridicule and persecution because of their faith, yet they refused to compromise. Their consciences were beholden to their God. Today, we need more believers like that. Persecution was just one aspect of the price they paid.


The Pilgrims’ consciences were beholden to their God.


Second, the Pilgrims apparently didn’t expect their Christianity to bring them ease and comfort. I list this as a separate item because the hardships they endured strengthened rather than derailed them. It’s never fun to endure persecution, but when we expect resistance from the world, we do not become disillusioned. Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Third, they took their relationship with God so seriously that they even were willing to relocate to another country in order to worship Him as they believed they should. How precious to you is your relationship with the Lord? How important to you is your worship of Him?

Fourth, they acted, not individually, but as a church. This not only served to encourage them as individuals and families; it also increased the impact of their strategic actions. In Acts, we do not see an emphasis on accepting Christ as one’s personal Lord and Savior to the extent we hear that emphasis today. Certainly accepting Christ into one’s life is legitimate; in fact, it is absolutely necessary. Yet in Acts, there was a corporate element that we seem to have lost.


Believers today need to rediscover the importance of corporate Christianity.


Jesus was and is Lord of the church. This theme permeated Charles Colson’s classic book, The Body. The Body later was revised, updated, and retitled Being the BodyWe need to rediscover and reapply the corporate Christianity the Pilgrims practiced and Colson upheld. This is biblical Christianity. The Pilgrims knew God had called them out as “a holy nation” (see 1 Pet. 2:9). They lived out the principle set forth in 1 Peter 1:22: “Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart.” Wouldn’t this perspective, if it fully were applied in our churches today, bring God’s people together in ways that profoundly would change both the church and the world? 

The Pilgrims would continue to desperately need their God and one another. Holland would offer them the religious freedom they sought, but also a variety of daunting challenges.

Next time, we’ll explore some of those challenges and how the Pilgrims responded. Their example will inspire and encourage. I promise.

 

Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

top image: birthplace of William Bradford in Austerfield, South Yorkshire, England

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Notes:

1Jerry Newcombe, compiler, The Wit and Wisdom of D. James Kennedy, (Fort Lauderdale, FL: Truth in Action Ministries, 2013), 150.

2William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, Harold Padget, ed., (Kindle Locations 425-432). Portcullis Books. Kindle Edition. Original print release, 1920; Kindle edition, 2016.

Upholding God-Ordained Marriage Is One of the Greatest Ways to Advance the Gospel, Part 2

Advocates of so-called “gay marriage” make the argument “that to deny homosexuals marriage is manifestly unfair. But it’s not unfair. Gays and lesbians are not unworthy of marriage; they are incapable of marriage.”
Charles Colson

 

Key point: One reason Christians are losing the fight to preserve marriage is because the church has failed to educate its people—especially young believers—about the rich and wonderful ways God’s design for marriage reflects the gospel.

Part 1 is available here.
View summaries of all the articles in this series here.

Last time we talked about the culture’s influence on the church with regard to the definition of marriage. Most in the modern evangelical church probably still believe in man-woman marriage. Even so, it’s clear the culture has influenced the church’s thinking with regard to society’s bedrock institution. More on that in a moment.

Marriage mirrors Christ’s relationship to the church, so it also represents the gospel—God’s plan of salvation and the best news ever announced.

Yet the church seems to have forgotten, or it frequently overlooks, this truth. If marriage represents the gospel, we ought not hesitate to make the case for either—or for both!

How Did We Get Here?

It is helpful to explore just how we as Christians fell into this trap. In an important BreakPoint commentary, John Stonestreet provides both insights and background. Meet Dr. Abigail Rine, who has taught classes “on gender theory at George Fox University, an evangelical school in the Quaker tradition.” She reports that her students “arrive in my class thoroughly versed in the language and categories of identity politics; they are reticent to disagree with anything for fear of seeming intolerant—except, of course, what they perceive to be intolerant.”

Unfortunately, Rine’s students find arguments for man-woman marriage intolerant, even those that articulately connect the lifelong, loving commitment of one man and one woman to childbearing, childrearing, and the relational bonds arising within the family unit. We must realize these students represent many, perhaps even most, young evangelicals.

Have these young people with Christian upbringings heard a solid biblical case for man-woman marriage? No, Stonestreet says, “only…wooden proof-texting.” Moreover, they already see marriage as the very thing defenders of traditional marriage describe as “revisionist”—a two-person union based on emotions, romance, and sex. Why do they see it this way? On a practical level, this is the definition of marriage on which they were raised! Yes, it had biblical and heterosexual overtones, but nothing deeper. This thin veneer hasn’t been enough to prevent these young people from taking the definition of marriage they were taught and reshaping it into the one the culture is promoting.


What have most Christian young people heard at church to help them understand the biblical basis for man-woman marriage? According to John Stonestreet, little more “wooden proof-texting.” This probably is true of most Christian adults as well.


Rine astutely observes that

the redefinition [of marriage] began decades ago, in the wake of the sexual revolution. Once the link between sexuality and procreation was severed in our cultural imagination, marriage morphed into an exclusive romantic bond that has only an arbitrary relationship to reproduction. It is this redefinition, arguably, that has given rise to the same-sex marriage movement, rather than the other way around, and as the broader culture has shifted on this issue, so have many young evangelicals.

Stonestreet notes that the idea of marriage as an arena for sexual intimacy alone, divorced from procreation, is promoted everywhere. “Even in the Church,” he admits, “children have become an optional add-on to married life rather than its primary purpose.” The church, influenced by the culture, has unwittingly set the stage for the young people in its midst to become convinced of a thoroughly unbiblical idea!


The church, influenced by the culture, has unwittingly set the stage for the young people in its midst to become convinced of a thoroughly unbiblical idea.


What can the church do about this? Obviously, it needs to rediscover and reaffirm the connection between marriage and children. Put another way, it needs once again to celebrate children as assets and blessings. Scripture declares,

Don’t you see that children are GOD’s best gift?
the fruit of the womb his generous legacy?
Like a warrior’s fistful of arrows
Are the children of a vigorous youth.
Oh, how blessed are you parents,
with your quivers full of children!
Your enemies don’t stand a chance against you;
You’ll sweep them right off your doorstep (Psalm 127:3-5, The Message)

This doesn’t mean making childless couples or couples with one or two children feel guilty. It does mean encouraging parents and celebrating children in both large and small families. Moreover, the church must not miss the big picture. Having children isn’t just about families and the individuals within them, but society as well.1

Perhaps even more fundamentally, however, the church needs to rediscover and uphold the truth that a lifelong commitment between one man and one woman mirrors the gospel. It also needs to train Christians, especially young believers, along these lines.

Next time we will examine two specific ways marriage reflects the gospel. The church can start with these truths and begin to emphasize and teach them with fresh enthusiasm. Actually, it must!

Be sure to return!

Part 3 is available here.

 

Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

top image: Parents with child statue, Hrobákova street, Petržalka, Bratislava


Note:

1Go here, here, and here.


Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture in this article has been taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.