A young couple sat in my office asking me to perform their wedding. As we talked, I realized that this perfectly nice couple was already living together. Each of us handles those situations differently. My concern is that my presence in a public wedding signifies in some way the blessing of God on the union. If a couple is flaunting the will and ways of God and then I confer God’s blessings on them, I am at risk of offending God. I shared this conviction with the couple. I would do a private wedding with family and a few friends (based on the “it’s better to marry than to burn” verse), but if they wanted a big public wedding, they would need to acknowledge their sin and take some specific acts to correct the problem.
Things got pretty chippy in my office that day. They were deeply offended at my assertion that their living arrangement was somehow sinful. How dare I suggest that they were anything other than “good people?” After they stormed out of my office, I sat there thinking how much things have changed. These people walked into a preacher’s office, unashamed at their sinful behavior and left angry that I had the temerity to apply biblical standards to their lives.
What a rapid and dramatic shift we have seen in popular opinion and conviction in American culture over the last few years. Politicians are switching long held public positions on matters of sexual mores quicker than a Broadway costume change. Things that were once generally agreed to as being wrong and perverse are now considered acceptable, moral and good. Minds boggled, we watch as the world around us changes.
And we are left to wonder why. Why did things change? A lot of Christians are pointing fingers of blame. I have read articles by more progressive Christians who blame the intransigence of the Religious Right. I have seen more conservative Christians blame the church for failing to stand courageously in light of these cultural shifts. I am not sure what value there is to be gained from the assignment of blame concerning America’s cultural shifts.
But I do believe it is good for us to try to understand what is going on around us. We have seen a sea change not just in values and morals in America, but in the basis by which we determine values and judge morals. Not only have opinions changed, but the fundamental process by which we make decisions as well. However we got to this place, we need to understand the new world in which we live and take the steps we need to take to live for God’s glory in it.
Christians have debated the topic of whether America was a Christian nation and to what extent American culture reflected, or ought to have reflected, biblical values. Such an argument is archaic and obsolete now. Popular thought is now no longer Christian, but is in fact diametrically opposed to Christian thought.
Here are some examples.
Concerning the Purpose of Life
Why are we here? What is the meaning and purpose of life?
Popular thought tells us that we are here to be happy, to be comfortable, and to enjoy life. The Bible tells us that we are here to glorify God and to honor him in all we do.
Of course, some have tried to conflate these two ideas and hold that God is here to help us find happiness and contentment. The high priestess of American false religion, Oprah Winfrey, said on her show once that all religions have this as their goal – to help people find happiness and contentment.
And, though the Spirit does produce love, joy and peace in us, the call of Christ is not a call to fulfillment and contentment, but a call to die to self, to take up our crosses and to follow Christ. The attempts by prosperity theologians and some in the modern church movement to make Christianity a religion of self-fulfillment is not a variation of Christianity, but a denial of its core truth.
Are we here for ourselves or for the glory of God? We cannot have it both ways.
Concerning the Human Condition
What is the spiritual condition of a human being? Are we fine just the way we are, or are we flawed?
Popular thought says that you are who you are. Those who believe in God say, “God made you this way. Love yourself. Accept yourself. Be yourself. Don’t change for anyone or anything.” Self-affirmation and self-acceptance are the heart and soul of this thought process. But Christianity teaches that human beings are flawed and sinful.
The Bible teaches that we are all sinners, flawed failures before God. God demonstrated his love for us by sending Jesus to die for us, even when were dead in our sins. God accepts us as we are, but does not leave us as we are. He indwells us with his Spirit to work on us from the inside out, changing us, transforming us, conforming us to the image of Christ.
So, popular thought looks at a homosexual and says, “you are who you are. No one should expect you to change.” Christianity looks at a homosexual and says, “God loves you as you are. He will save you from your sin and transform you to be like Jesus.” It is the same attitude we have toward heterosexuals living in immorality, toward the greedy and materialistic, the proud and self-centered, the dishonest, the gossip and liar – to all sinners.
We fundamentally diverge with the world because we believe that the human condition is flawed, that sin has broken us. What we are is not what we ought to be. We all need to be changed. God loves us as we are – absolutely. And God loves homosexual sinners as much as he loves heterosexual sinners. If we have communicated anything else, we have sinned against God and confused the gospel. But while God loves us as we are, he also sets about to fix what sin has broken, to make us what we ought to be.
Of course, some churches and pastors are started to adopt the gospel of affirmation – God loves and accepts you as you are. But the gospel of affirmation is only true if you also proclaim the gospel of transformation – God loves you as you are and then will change you to be like Christ.
If we preach the gospel of affirmation without the gospel of transformation, we are denying the Cross and the Blood was that was shed there.
Concerning the Life We Live
How does God want me to live?
Popular thought, based on the gospel of affirmation, tells us that we live life to the fullest by asserting our individuality and simply being ourselves. “Follow your heart.” “Do what you think is right.” “If it comes from inside you, it can’t be wrong.” The Bible tells us not to trust our emotions, our thoughts or our own convictions. We are to “trust in the Lord with all our hearts and not lean on our own understanding.” Proverbs says that “He who follows his own heart is a fool.”
If I am a sinner, I cannot trust my own thoughts or my emotions. I must repent of my rebellion against God and submit my mind to his Word and my will to his Spirit. I must not “be myself” or “follow my heart,” but I must seek to be like Christ and I must follow him.
When we try to turn Christianity into a “follow your heart” faith we deny the substance of it.
I’m not sure exactly how things used to be, but I am confident that I speak the truth now: popular thought in America has fundamentally diverged from Christian conviction and Christian thought.
We believe that life exists for the glory of God, that we are flawed and need to be saved and transformed, and that to do that, we must follow Christ and submit our minds and hearts to his Word. The world disagrees at every point.
The world demands that we accept people as they are and affirm them as they are. That we can and should do. God demonstrated his love for sinners in an amazing way. He does not demand that we change to please him or clean ourselves up to be accepted by him. He reaches down into the muck and mire created by our sin and he lifts us out by grace – regardless of how deep the pit or how stinky the mire!
But when the world demands that we stop at affirmation, we must differ. We are saved by grace and accepted in Christ. But the call of the gospel is to repentance and transformation. God accepts us as we are and then makes us what he wants us to be. We affirm sinners, but we also proclaim the transforming power of Christ.
It has become clear that the world will not accept our gospel of transformation, In fact, it infuriates them. They see it as judgmental, intolerant, even evil. But it is the heart of the gospel and it is not an issue on which we can negotiate or compromise. We are fallen human beings who need to be fixed by God’s grace and the Spirit’s power.
We need to proclaim this message clearly. We do not have to be angry as we declare this truth. Perhaps we can change our style, tactics and approach to do a better job of communicating the gospel of transformation. But we cannot compromise this truth without stripping the gospel of its truth and power. If the true gospel offends (and it does) then we cannot blunt the force of that offense. Biblical Christian thought diverges fundamentally from the popular thought of the world. If we conform to the world’s way of thinking, we may achieve greater popularity and acceptance, but we cease being biblical or even Christian.