The Tension Between Culture and The Church
Christians are at an impasse; the tension between the secular culture and Christendom is critically high. As society around us becomes more accepting of progressive ideologies like gender fluidity, abortion, and homosexuality the church is forced rethink 2,000-year-old stances and doctrines. Recent documents like the controversial Nashville Statement or Denver Statement are indicators of the aforementioned tension and evidence that lines are being drawn. Whether in the organizational context or in individual relationships it is becoming harder for Christians to navigate through secular cultural pressures.
For many, the answer is to pass a white blanket of love and acceptance over the above-mentioned issues and welcome its advocates into the fold; I am reminded of the popular slogan: “open hearts, open minds, and open doors.” This is an attractive option for some as it offers an answer that blends acceptance with love. It mutes criticism and hangs its hat in secular cultural being more advanced than religious. On the outside looking in, it claims to embody the accepting nature of Jesus with no strings attached.
For others, such as conservative evangelical Christians, the issue is more complicated and problematic as it threatens to undermine foundational elements of the church. When culture changes doctrine it always comes with consequences.
When the church takes steps away from confessional Christianity, it brings serious challenges against the existence and nature of objective truth. This is almost always followed by threats to the authority of scripture and the nature of God. An abandonment from historic Christian positions poses new questions on the traditional family structure and its intrinsic values for children. There are even difficulties in resolving debates about identity and what it means to be Imago Deo (made in the image of God).
Do not be deceived; we are at an impasse and, despite the tension, the loving thing for the church to do is hold to her convictions and speak the truth into darkness.
Acceptance is not a Synonym for Love.
For many today, “acceptance” is not only a synonym for “love,” but the relationship is interdependent; one cannot exist without the other. However, conservative evangelical Christians have a unique definition and understanding of love, qualified and exemplified in the person of Jesus Christ. Blanket acceptance (with no qualifications) in the name of love cheapens grace and the work of the cross. Acceptance is not always a replacement for love.
A common progressive rationale argues being unaccepting of other’s morals is to be an unloving bigot. Although this is rarely the case. Just because a Christian disagrees with choices doesn’t mean they hate progressives; in fact, in many cases, the disagreements can be rooted in truth and love.
True Christ-like love speaks the truth in all situations and must tell you of the sin that God surely sees. Love communicates humanity’s need of a justification so radical it required God on a cross to make it possible. The human condition is so wretchedly sinful, no man can come into God’s presence or even look upon Him apart from the cleansing blood of Jesus. Any message of love void of this truth is a cheap imitation. Only Jesus can make us acceptable and lovable.
Critics, I ask you to put yourself in my shoes for a moment. If I truly believe your actions are driving you away from God towards eternal punishment, why would I not speak out against it? It would be unloving for me to act like nothing is wrong in the name of acceptance. Christians should speak the truth even when it’s unpopular.
One doesn’t have to examine the life of Jesus very much to see this replicated. He was hated and despised by the cultural norm. So much so, He was executed for His opinions. However, everything He said and did was in the context of reconciling a Holy, Just God with a broken church. At the culmination of this was the cross, the single greatest demonstration of love the world has ever seen. Consider the words of The Apostle John, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). The best of friends are the ones who are looking out for your interests and are willing to speak clarity even when none is desired.
One rebuttal I hear commonly states that “Jesus came to save sinners and was accepting of them” and was “a friend of sinners.” For this reason, the church should dump decayed religious doctrines and meet the world where it is. After all, Christians will never reach the world it doesn’t understand. Well, it is true that Jesus came to save sinners and meets us where we are. Nevertheless, it is an incomplete statement. In Jesus’ deep love and friendship for sinners, He did more.
It is a grievous theological error when progressives argue the cross was a metaphorical demonstration of love aimed to prepare the world for future philosophies on sex and gender. The cross was about Jesus securing a salvation for His people, for His glory! He bore their sins and purified them so that the great chasm that exists between broken humanity and God would be restored. Through faith, sins are forgiven, and the sinner is justified before God. Deep-rooted in Jesus’ friendship and love for sinners was justification.
This is critical because the sinners’ justification means a sinner’s identity has been permanently imputed with an alien righteousness. This righteousness is a catalyst for change. Once in Christ, “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion” (Ephesians 1:6). This is called sanctification, and it is directly tied to our justification. Jesus is accepting of sinners, but only because He changes them to be like Him. If someone claims to be a Christian but shows no effort to remove themselves from sinful lifestyles or patterns, I question if they ever came to Jesus at all. Without conflict, there is no evidence of life or love.
The Truth & Compassion
While the church is called to speak life into death, if that’s all that’s happening then there is a big problem. Christians must remember to be kind, compassionate, and sacrificial. Christ emptied Himself for others, and we are called to do the same.
One of the hardest commandments to keep in all of Scripture comes when Jesus says that His followers must, “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). It’s worth noting this commandment follows the command to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Jesus, in speaking of these two commands together, says there is “no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:31).
While we should rejoice with truth and speak it boldly, that should never come at the cost of forsaking compassion. We should learn to have meaningful dialogue with advocates of liberal ideologies. It is entirely possible to hold to a conviction and be the first person there when a need arises. Let us be altruistic with our time and energy. Often one of the best ways to remove tension in any situation is offer aid in a time of need. Seek friendships and speak the truth in love.
Finally, Christians must remember that when we speak truth into the darkness, we do so because our ultimate aim is to bring glory to God. Confessional Christianity understands that this is our chief end. Our motivation should always be rooted in bringing honor to Him who loved us first. One day, we will all be asked to give an account for our actions and words; we will reap what we sow. Were our words and actions aimed at the pleasing of man or the pleasing of God? Let us take time to pause, reflect, and think carefully about what we say and how we say it.