The Unbiblical Cultured Expectations of Many Christian Leaders
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What Should We Expect From An Unbelieving Society?
What Can We Expect From The Gospel?
What Does God Expect From Us?
What Can We Expect From The Christian Community?
There are powerful and well-funded organizations, mostly from the Religious Right, making skilled use of television, radio, personal appearances, newsletters, books, pulpits and the Internet, to enlist willing warriors from all across this land to become actively involved in a "culture war." Led by charismatic and persuasive leaders, we are told that it is our responsibility to use any means necessary – especially political – to arrest, if not reverse America’s moral freefall. It is our Christian duty, they believe, to restore our alleged "Judeo-Christian heritage" as the foundation of our nation’s culture. It is a cause that relies for its success on coalitions of concerned citizens from every religious (or non-religious) segment of our society. When it comes to recruiting sympathizers, it has certainly been an effective campaign, assembling constituencies (and financial support) numbering in the millions.
Implicit in this agenda, however, is the assumption that unregenerate sinners – the real "majority" in our society – can and will turn from their hedonistic quests to embrace and practice en masse a Mosaic code of morality. It is a misguided hope that totally ignores both Old and New Testament teaching to the contrary. Jeremiah had no such expectations when he observed, "Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil" (Jer. 13:23). And Jesus himself provided no reason to think that unbelieving sinners can be redirected to more righteous pursuits when he stated summarily, "a bad tree cannot bear good fruit" (Mat. 7:18).
What Should We Expect From An Unbelieving Society?
The expectation that the moral improvement of our culture is possible rests on the false premise, whether explicit or implicit, that a majority of unbelievers still have a natural "spark of goodness" that can be rekindled to support better legislation and stronger enforcement designed to restore "traditional values" (whatever that means). Again, however, the New Testament quashes such hopes when it provides this summary analysis of a fallen society:
They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless (Romans 1:29-31).
Sound familiar? It isn’t necessary to dredge up the names of Sodom and Gomorrah as an example of fallen mankind’s propensity for evil. Right here in "America The Beautiful" the evidence of a universal bondage to sin fills our newspapers, our radio and television broadcasts, Hollywood’s productions, Madison Avenue’s advertising campaigns and every other aspect of our culture’s pursuits. Promiscuity, pornography and permissive paganism are proudly promoted while participation in prayer, preaching and praise is perversely prohibited in the public square. It is a society of sin-blinded pleasure seekers "who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter" (Isa. 5:20). Whether Corinth, Athens, or Rome in Paul’s day or New York, Chicago, or Detroit in ours, the natural bent of any society of unbelievers remains the same: "All have turned away, they have become worthless, there is no one who does good, not even one" (Romans 3:12).
[See America’s End and Living In Babylon]
The idea that within the community of unbelievers "there is no one who does good" is difficult for many to grasp. It is because of a concept of "good and evil" that is relative and horizontal. It is relative because it varies with the circumstances and norms of a given culture and it is horizontal because deeds are deemed "good" or "evil" on the basis of their positive or negative affect on other members of society. But that is not a biblical perspective. The determination of good and evil is not man’s call. It is a judgment reserved exclusively unto an absolutely holy and unchanging God. It is therefore vertical and absolute. It is vertical because it has nothing to do with man’s standing before other men but rather of man’s standing before God. And it is absolute because the standard applied is not man’s best efforts but God’s own infinite holiness and goodness. To be unregenerate, therefore, is to be wholly incapable of doing anything that is pleasing unto God. However men may judge one another’s deeds, the most "righteous acts" performed in unbelief are "like filthy rags" (Isa. 64:6) in God’s sight.
The expectations inherent in the political agendas being advanced today, therefore, are totally without biblical justification. Whether young or old, rich or poor, liberal or conservative, an unbeliever is incapable of doing anything good in God’s sight and cannot be made otherwise by mere external moral reform. It is only as the Holy Spirit brings men, women and children into the kingdom of Jesus Christ through regeneration, repentance and belief in the gospel that we can ever expect to see a turning from this world’s idols to a willing obedience unto the living God. To suggest, therefore, that society’s moral corruption can be arrested by simply imposing "values" in line with an alleged "Judeo-Christian tradition" through governmental legislation is not only absurd – it is an affront to the redemptive accomplishments of Jesus Christ, "for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!" (Gal. 2:21). If, as many of these leaders argue, society can be significantly improved by enforcing an ethical code – apart from faith in Jesus Christ – does not true evangelism become, at best, a secondary issue? Is there not a great danger that the motivation for personal evangelism becomes less a concern for men’s eternal souls than for their temporal vote? That would seem to be the implication in a sign displayed some years ago in front of Jerry Falwell’s Thomas Road Baptist Church: "Get Them Saved – Get Them Registered."
If these organizations employ strategies based on non-biblical expectations that actually demean the gospel, their methods for gathering and sustaining public support are an even greater insult to the person and work of Jesus Christ. The only way any political "common cause" can be made to appeal to a broad cross-section of the general populace is to relegate Christ and his gospel to the periphery. This is perhaps why an entire vocabulary has been coined to rally support without stirring up "the offense of the cross" (Gal. 5:11). It is a "Judeo-Christian morality" that gets promoted, not the "righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:11). It is society’s alleged loss of "family values" that is decried rather than the increasing compromise within the Christian community that should call instead for "judgment to begin with the family of God" (1 Pet. 4:17). It is a call to take up the political weapons of this world to engage in a "culture war" that cannot be won when believers should be encouraged to "Fight the good fight of faith" (1 Tim. 6:12) with "weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left" (2 Cor. 6:7) in a battle we cannot lose. It is through the propagation of the gospel and the building of the church, not through politics and the renewal of America, that we are promised that even "the gates of hell shall not prevail" (Mat. 16:18).
To demand a return to an alleged "Judeo-Christian ethic" with the unbiblical expectation that the moral quality of our nation will thereby improve is to waste precious time, energy and resources that should be channeled instead to fulfilling Christ’s "great commission." It is not the Ten Commandments or any other law-based moral code that has been divinely invested with the power to change lives, for "no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law" (Rom. 3:20). That power has been given exclusively to the gospel of Jesus Christ, the only "power of God for the salvation [and consequent moral renewal] of everyone who believes" (Rom. 1:16). It is not our responsibility to convince sinners of their need to embrace a moral code, therefore, but to humbly receive the "righteousness from God [that] comes through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ to all who believe" (Rom. 3:22). Adding new laws or enforcing old laws will not make sinners morally responsive, but changing hearts and minds will – and that is the business of the gospel of Jesus Christ, not politics!
The past twenty years have witnessed many efforts by professing Christians to bring moral reform to our nation through political activism. We have seen intense governmental lobbying and a flood of books, magazines, newsletters, videos and tapes calling for a return to "traditional American values." Leading proponents have invaded the media and drawn large crowds at public appearances and seminars. But the moral condition of our society has not improved. It has grown worse! It is time to turn from fantasy to fact. The insatiable lust of our unbelieving society may very well erupt into proportions that would embarrass even Sodom and Gomorrah. Believers will no doubt find themselves an increasingly hated minority in a culture dominated by licentiousness and greed, for "All men will hate you because of me" (Mat. 10:22). And harassment and abuse is inevitable, for "everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Tim. 3:12 – italics added). And yet, if instead of parading the placards of political partisanship, we "lift high the royal banner" that bears the precious Name of Jesus Christ – boldly, and without compromise – God himself will render certain that we become "more than conquerors through him who loved us" (Rom. 8:37). Brethren, when it comes to the current debate over the relative merits of politics vs. the gospel, there is no contest. It is time for us to respond to the religio-political rhetoric with a renewed resolve to "search the Scriptures" and to "test the spirits to see whether they are from God" (1 John 4:1).
What Can We Expect From The Gospel?If expectations for moral improvement among the unsaved populace through political means are futile, is there no other hope for transforming sinners? If a methodology of lobbying congress cannot arrest our nation’s downward spiral, is there no other way for believers to have a positive impact on our culture? If every society of fallen man is morally bankrupt, is there no other context where true love and godliness can flourish? Should we just give up? Absolutely not! Sinners can be transformed. Believers can have a positive impact on the society around them. There is a community where true love and godly living can flourish.
There is indeed no reason for hope if our faith is in the political process. But there is every reason for hope if our faith is in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The sinful heart that legislation cannot change the gospel alone has the power to renew. It was not Christian Barnard who pioneered heart transplants, but the God of grace and mercy who promised his elect, "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you" (Ezek. 36:26). Moral regeneration, therefore, is not a process of reformation. It involves a total transformation. The purpose of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection was not to remodel the old man but to create a "new man" where believing Jews and Gentiles would dwell together in righteousness and peace (Eph. 2:11-22). It was not to bring moral improvement to our nation (or any other geopolitical entity) but to create an entirely new nation – a "holy nation, a people belonging to God" (1 Pet. 2:9). The body of Christ – the church – is the only community "created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Eph. 2:10).
What is the basis for the gospel’s "better hope" (Heb. 7:19)? It is because it includes something that politics cannot provide – a means of reconciliation through the atoning work of God’s Son on Calvary’s cross. All who respond believingly to the gospel’s promise of forgiveness and eternal life are set free from their bondage to sin and are "justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus" (Rom. 3:24). They no longer stand before God clothed in the filthy rags of their own self-righteousness, but through faith "have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (Rev. 7:14). They are "accepted in the Beloved" (Eph. 1:6), not because they have adopted a moral code, but because the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ has been imputed to them; his holiness has been credited to their account. It is a perfect transformation that begins with a new vertical relationship with God and flows into a new horizontal relationship with others. Because believers have received unmerited grace and forgiveness, they are to extend grace and forgiveness to one another – and to even "Love [their] enemies and pray for those who persecute [them]" (Mat. 5:44) – a somewhat different reaction than we often hear from those who complain and whine over the alleged loss of our "constitutional rights."
What Does God Expect From Us?
Human history is the story of the rise and fall of many nations. It tells of beneficent kings and tyrannical despots. Virtuous governments have often given way to oppressive powers while at other times cruel leaders have been replaced by caring authorities. Those who chronicle man’s unfolding drama point proudly to the contributions of prominent citizens while the evils of society’s miscreants are reported with disdain. It is a tapestry of many shades of gray as the relative merits of one society or individual are judged better or worse than another.
Such is the human view of man’s history. But it is not God’s view. The Bible does not classify humanity in multiple shades of gray, but in the stark contrast of black and white – of regenerate or unregenerate, of saved or lost, of redeemed or condemned, of "alive with Christ" or "dead in transgressions" (Eph. 2:5). In God’s eternal plan, there are only two realms – those controlled by the flesh – the unconverted – and those controlled by the Spirit – the redeemed (Rom. 8:5-9). There are the fallen descendants of the "first man Adam" and the redeemed descendants of "the last Adam" (1 Cor. 15:45). There is the kingdom that is "from below" and the kingdom that is "from above" (John 8:23). There is no middle ground, no situational ethics, no compromise. In the world of unbelief the beneficent king has no more claim to mercy than the evil tyrant. Those who follow a moral code will perish as surely as those who follow their own lusts. In the world that is "from above" the thief on the cross will sit with the apostles at the "wedding supper of the Lamb" (Rev. 19:9) and the weakest of saints in this life will reign forever with the stalwarts of the faith. It is a study in total opposites and whether in this life or the next, "ne’er the twain shall meet."
To understand this dichotomy is to better understand our responsibilities as "members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 3:6). God has no positive plans for those who stumble through life in the darkness of unbelief. They remain "the objects of his wrath – prepared for destruction" (Rom. 9:22). His eternal interests are centered exclusively in "the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory" (Rom. 9:23). He has no expectations for moral improvement from those who remain in hopeless bondage to sin and "under the control of the evil one" (1 John 5:19). While God certainly "causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous" (Mat. 5:45), such mercies should not be construed as an approbation of sinners. There is nothing a sinner can do to please God except to believe in his Son. He does not bless the unregenerate in response to moral behavior (or church attendance, or "Sabbath keeping," or tithing, or any other works). There is no good deed they can offer apart from faith in his Son that will gain God’s favor and remove the curse that will ultimately send them to hell. Nor does one nation’s moral behavior earn God’s special blessing while another’s atrocities bring special judgments. Whatever "blessing" or blight any temporal nation may enjoy or suffer, it is only to further God’s eternal redemptive purposes that center, not in this world’s realms, but in the kingdom of his dear Son.
As we have observed elsewhere, the strains of "America, America, God shed his grace on thee" may be stirring music, but they have no basis in biblical truth. America is part of a fallen world order and has no claim whatsoever to special blessings from God. Its place in Nebuchadnezzar’s statue is no more than a blister on the "feet of iron and clay." Like the rest of an estranged humanity’s attempts at self-government, it will be "smashed" by the "rock [that] was cut out, but not by human hands" to be swept away "without leaving a trace." While the "feet of iron and clay" most likely refers to the remains of the Roman Empire, a one-time world power that literally fell apart at the time of the coming of Christ and birth of his church, it is important to observe that no other world power ever rises again out of the pulverized remains. [Also See The European Union] With respect to God’s redemptive plans, the subsequent rise and fall of nations – including America – are apparently not significant. Instead, "the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth" (Dan. 2:33-35). Not a pleasant image for flag-waving religious American patriots, perhaps, but one that should put the place of any and all earthly kingdoms in a proper perspective when contemplating "the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will" (Eph. 1:11). Whereas God once accomplished his divine ends through physical nations, primarily Israel, the coming of Christ changed everything. No longer is any earthly kingdom – including present-day Israel or America – the primary instrument of his redemptive plans. Instead,
His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord (Eph. 1:10-11, italics added).
Notice again the dichotomy. There is one "statue" and one "rock." It is the realm of earthly powers versus the realm of spiritual powers and there is no significant role whatsoever for the shattered remains of the former. The kingdoms of gold, silver, bronze, iron and clay all suffer the same fate, ultimate annihilation, while the "rock" prevails and fills the whole earth. And who is "the Rock of Israel" (Gen. 49.24), "the Rock, my Savior" (2 Sam. 22:47), "my Rock and my Redeemer" (Psa. 19:14), "the Rock eternal" (Isa. 26:4), "the Rock that is higher than I" (Psa. 61:2), "the Rock of refuge" (Psa. 71:3), "the Rock of salvation" (Psa. 95:1), the "stone that causes men to stumble . . . the Rock that makes them fall" (Rom. 9:33)? Paul tells us "that Rock was Christ" (1 Cor. 10:4) and Jesus himself promises that "on this rock [himself] I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it" (Mat. 16:18).
Perhaps we have labored this point. But in light of the wide-spread misunderstanding about the place of America and all other world powers in God’s unfolding plans, it is vital to understand that the New Testament identifies only two kingdoms – the realm of those controlled by the flesh (the unregenerate) and the realm of those controlled by the Spirit (the redeemed) (Rom. 8:5-9). Since Scripture plainly reveals that God’s redemptive purposes are focused exclusively on the latter, should we not rethink whether we should be wasting time and energy seeking to bring an unsaved culture into alignment with a "Judeo-Christian morality"? Should we be involved in trying to apply moral super-glue to a broken geo-political entity that Christ himself shattered? Is it really the walls of Washington that need our attention, or should we be guarding and maintaining the walls of Zion? Should we be wasting time trying to apply moral CPR to a society that is already spiritually dead, or should we trust instead in the resurrecting power of the same gospel that "made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions" (Eph. 2:5)? Is it really our mission to build a better society, or should we be giving ourselves wholly to Spirit-led efforts to build up the body of Christ? The answers should be evident. To align our efforts with God’s revealed plans is to undertake a mission filled with expectation and hope. All other causes, including the various political agendas advanced by many Christian leaders today, can only end in frustration, disillusionment and unfulfilled expectations (as the past twenty years bear witness). To soft pedal the gospel in order to gain broader public support for a return to "Judeo-Christian values" as the panacea for society’s evils may keep sympathetic unbelievers on board, but it is a tragic compromise that will never enjoy the blessing of the Holy Spirit.
While it is largely the "Religious Right" that is pursuing such inappropriate agendas, both the Christian Right and the Christian Left are guilty of expecting too much from a fallen culture. In their protests and exhortations to unbelievers they both, as Erwin Lutzer puts it so well, are calling the unconverted City of Man (the world of unbelief) to live like the City of God (the body of Christ). Appeals to "justice" and "what is right" are futile if they fall on unregenerate ears because "though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand" (Mat. 13:13). The only appropriate message for unbelievers – whether family member, neighbor, school board member, Congressman or President – is to stop trying to establish their own righteousness (Rom. 10:3), "repent and believe the good news" (Mark 1:15) and receive the "righteousness from God that comes through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ to all who believe." Present moral values are irrelevant, for "There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus" (Rom. 3:22-24). [See Salvation]
What Can We Expect From The Christian Community?
In light of the evidence we have provided to show that efforts to restore "Judeo-Christian values" to our nation are patently unscriptural, why is it that so many professing Christians support these agendas with their time and their money? The answer is a sad commentary on the state of the visible church. Many Americans who identify themselves as "religious" have a Bible on their coffee table or bookshelf, but when urged to political activism by "prominent" and "respected" Christian leaders, they simply do not go to the Scriptures, as did the early Bereans, to verify that what is being preached to them is true (Acts 17:11). A recent newspaper article should give us cause for grave concern:
Both cultural icon and spiritual touchstone, the Bible is revered by three major faiths with billions of believers. But in a paradox to tax the wisdom of Solomon, it is widely unread. According to one religious research firm, two-thirds of Americans don’t regularly read the Bible or know the names of the Four Gospels. More than half of Americans surveyed can’t name even five of the Ten Commandments. And the majority say they find the Good Book irrelevant. The widespread Bible illiteracy comes despite the fact that Bible sales are booming, up 50 percent over the past few years at some publishing houses . . . . "We still hold the Bible in high regard, but in terms of spending time reading it, studying it and applying it – that is a thing of the past," said George Barna.1
Is it any wonder that unbiblical agendas, emotionally propounded with persuasive rhetorical skill, can so infiltrate the religious sub-culture of America? If the "people in the pews" were actually comparing the perspectives advanced so dogmatically by Christian leaders against that which is actually taught in God’s Word, they would certainly withdraw their ideological and financial support from such ministries. Sadly, the only reason that many of these organizations survive is because of the biblical ignorance that pervades the entire evangelical / fundamentalist / liberal religious community.
In this issue of Searching Together we will revisit the "God & Country" controversy we focused on in our Spring 1997 edition. We remain convinced that political agendas being passionately paraded as unassailable truth are not only without biblical justification, but are actually contrary to the church’s true mission. We will examine the current state of the debate over political activism that has greatly intensified with the release of the book "Blinded by Might" by Cal Thomas and Dr. Ed Dobson. We will interact with leading advocates on both sides and endeavor to provide additional material to help sort out the conflicting views. Most importantly, we urge you – our valued readers – to open your Bibles to find out for yourselves if the positions we have taken truly reflect "the mind of Christ" (1 Cor. 2:16). May God’s Spirit "guide you into all truth" (John 16:13).