Why Christians Struggle to Redeem the Culture
By: Robert E. Meyer
Perhaps you are one of those people who often wonder how come there are so many professing Christians in America, yet the culture is deteriorating like a timber foundation infested with termites and dry rot.
My own recent experience is a nut shell illustration of the principle problem.
Last fall, my state was one of several to offer a binding voter referendum defining the parameters of legal marriage. Our local Unitarian Universalist fellowship placed up a large banner under the sign identifying the location of their organization. The banner encouraged passers-by to vote no on the amendment.
While the belief that traditional marriage is a sacred institution in Christianity and other religions, no local house of worship saw fit, or had the fortitude, to place up advocacy for the amendment, or even an endorsement of traditional marriage on their marquees. Furthermore, when I asked a few local Christian pastors if they were addressing the issue of marriage before their congregations, I generally received a lackluster response. On the other hand, clergymen from liberal churches seemed more than willing to either announce or publicly debate their views decrying legislation supporting traditional marriage.
In January I received a similar response regarding the abortion issue.
There seems to be reluctance on the part of many Christian churches, professing an orthodox biblical catechism, to weigh in on cultural issues they deem as overtly political. I don’t know all the reasons for this unfortunate and destructive phenomenon, but I will offer a few lines of thought regarding my suspicions.
First, many newly founded evangelical churches have adopted a model for maximum growth that caters to the senses and common human emotional needs, but neglects strong theological and apologetic instruction.
Secondly, church leaders worry about the legal implications of advocating principles that can be defined in political terms; essentially concerns over separation of church and state. Many religious organizations are chartered as 501(c)3 entities under the IRS code, and fear challenges to tax-exempt status. The best way not to go over some perceived “line in the sand,” is not to venture anywhere near it.
Church leaders sometimes believe that “cultural issues” should not directly be a concern of the Church’s mission. They reason that it may adulterate the Gospel, and that such activism distracts and deviates from the behavioral example set by Christ. Their philosophy can be represented in a statement such as, “Christ told us to be fishers of men, not cleansers of dirty fish bowls.” They perceive the cultural mandate to be a fiat of the “religious right,” or believe it ought to be addressed only in terms of personal piety and conscience. As such, they will profess that they have strong convictions towards issues like abortion, stem-cell research and the family, but won’t emphasize these issues as congregational mandates.
Finally, they see the presentation of these issues as polarizing, and obstacles to church unity. It is far easier to concentrate on less controversial issues of social justice, such as helping the poverty stricken. Unfortunately, even in such areas, leaders don’t delineate the church’s responsibilities for social welfare from the constitutional obligations of the state. As such, they dissolve the “wall” between church and state that they were trying not to breach by avoiding a stand on hot-button issues in their pulpits.
And what are the results of this trend?
You have throngs of people who profess to be Christians, who attend worship regularly, but are ill equipped to be the preserving salt and a light beacon to an increasingly God-neglecting culture. Often these well-meaning people have only the apologetic armor of cliche and platitude which is easily pierced by a clever skeptic. They are either unsure of what they believe or can’t defend the reasons for the positions they hold. Their preparation is not to be “always ready” to give an account for the hope that they profess.
Indeed, we discover that the moral behavior of Christians at large along many categories is scarcely indistinguishable from the same measurements taken out in the secular world of the population in general. A recent Barna survey has also revealed that of those professing to be Christians, few can answer wholly in the affirmative on several basic questions fundamental to the Christian faith. Those results come from an emphasis on the “warm fuzzies” that are the fodder of pop psychology, rather than supplying substance to the interrogative “How should we then live?”
As I was writing this piece, my wife told me that she heard on a radio program that a majority of Christians recently polled were unable to identify more than four of the Ten Commandments. Yesterday we took them out of the public schools–today they are apparently arcane for even the majority of churches.
Among the more liberal churches, you will hear slogans like “Jesus welcomed prostitutes and thieves, so why shouldn’t we?” Fine, as far as it goes. The difference is Jesus added,”go and sin no more,” to complete the package of ministry, whereas many mainline churches want to defend the unrepentant the way Waylon Jennings defined cowboys: “They ain’t wrong, they’re just different.” So in what practical way do these institutions differ from temples of secular humanism with spires protruding from their roof tops?
Until Christian churches of all denominations grasp the urgency of our times, and gain a genuine zeal for emphasizing the cultural mandate, our churches will increasingly become weekend “bless-me” guilds.