Toward a response to the moral chaos that surrounds us

Why call your religion Christian if you don't want to obey Christ?
The LORD and the LORD alone is my shepherd

The church is surrounded by moral chaos and we rightly feel the need to respond. It is this writer’s opinion that some of our response is not helpful. Calls for boycott and angry rhetoric about the moral decline seem to escalate the problem rather than help it. Too often we become two groups of people screaming at each other over a great divide.

Transformation of culture is not our job

Culture WarsIn my reading of the New Testament, I see no commands to transform our culture. I believe that a transformed culture is a consequence of the church fulfilling her mission and not a primary goal.

The cultural context in which the Apostle Paul wrote his epistles had many similarities to today. Homosexuality, the breakdown of the family, materialism and philosophical confusion were prevalent.

In this context, Paul writes about personal transformation (Romans 12:1-2), but I cannot find any examples of where Paul encourages the church to participate in boycotts or any other behavior intended to force Christian morality on the society at large.

The church is called to make disciples. The miracle associated with disciple making is that God transforms the hearts of those who receive the Gospel. Those with transformed hearts then behave differently in society. It is this transformation of individual hearts and behavior that transforms culture.

We are called to teach the entirely of the Bible and allow God to operate through his word. But I do not see where we are to force others into accepting our beliefs.

Preaching to the deaf

Some will intentionally distort what we say. One example is the recent brouhaha over Dan Cathy’s remarks on traditional marriage. He said nothing against homosexuals or homosexual marriage, but did make statements in favor of traditional marriage. Those who were looking for an offense found it because an exclusive claim for marriage violates their sense of fairness.

Why is this the case? Isaiah 8:13-14 gives us a clue when Isaiah writes:

It is the LORD of hosts whom you should regard as holy.
And He shall be your fear,
And He shall be your dread,
Then He shall become a sanctuary

Similarly, John Newton penned these words in his song Amazing Grace:

T’was Grace that taught…
my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear…
the hour I first believed.

The point is that until the Grace of God is operative in the people we are speaking with, they cannot understand much of what we say with regard to morality and social issues. It is grace that teaches hearts to respect a higher authority.

If you do not believe that God or anyone else has the authority to sanction a particular form of marriage, then “fairness” would seem to be in favor of not excluding homosexuals from the institution of marriage. It is not until someone has the recognition of authority that our statements about traditional marriage make any sense.

They cannot hear us because they are spiritually deaf.

Toward a proper response

Jesus left us with two Great Commands and one mission. The commands are to love God and love our neighbor (Matthew 22:37-40). The mission is to make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). The Great Commands and our mission should determine how we go about interacting with our culture.

There will be discussion and perhaps even argument, but in that discussion we need to keep in mind that we are called to a higher standard. We should reason with Christianity’s critics with the fruit of the Spirit in action. As a reminder, here is the list from Galatians 5:22-23:

love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control

Paul tells us that against these traits there is no law. In other words, reasonable people will not take offense if we operate with these traits in action.

When we speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) then we put ourselves in the position to be used by God to transform lives.

We must remember that God does the transformation and he does it at the level of the individual.

What do you think? When is the Church justified in taking social action such as a boycott or protest?

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Mark McIntyre

A follower of Jesus Christ who shares observations about how Scripture should impact the church and the world. Mark is the original author and editor of Attempts at Honesty.
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Why call your religion Christian if you don't want to obey Christ?
The LORD and the LORD alone is my shepherd
About Mark McIntyre

A follower of Jesus Christ who shares observations about how Scripture should impact the church and the world. Mark is the original author and editor of Attempts at Honesty.

10 comments
Mike Gantt
Mike Gantt

You are correct that we who love Christ are to focus on Him that we might be individually transformed. However, that personal transformation will result, in other things, a transformation of our rhetoric and political choices. As citizens of a democracy, we have a responsibility to speak up for, and vote for, those people and ideas we think best for the country. To abstain from the responsibilities of citizen would be to dishonor authority, which the New Testament tells us to honor. Thus, we do not have to make a choice between personal transformation and redemption of the culture; we have to do both. We just have to be sure to keep them in the proper order.

James M.
James M.

New here. Stumbled on by way of Kevin DeYoung's blog. I sense the same kind of tension regarding culture building, and believe that disciple-making is the essence of what the church does. However, I don't think this is an either-or choice. Disciple-making produces people who, with God-given minds and gifts will choose paths that blaze trails in particular directions; or, shall we say, impact culture. IE, changing the culture happens when Christians intentionally produce the stuff of culture. So, "behaving differently" is OK as far as it goes, but what does that look like in practice? Reagan, in noting your comment "People need Jesus not laws forcing them to appear moral" I would respond that to lump folks like Schaeffer and Colson in that camp is a mis-characterization of their views and approaches. Though some exist who seem to embody a certain caricature that fits here, it is frustrating that this perpetuates to the extent that it is attached to Christ-followers whose purpose is to honor Him to whom they owe their redeemed lives. The idea that such a one's civic concern and political involvement is evidence of forcing morality on others just doesn't follow. Now, one may get it wrong on the merits, but I would ask that we reflect on how it is that we view the motivations of our bretheren. I might add that if you want to trace to what fuels the notion of cultural engagement, you might go a little further back take a look at Abraham Kuyper for starters. Thanks for your efforts, and blessings to you.

Reagan
Reagan

Right on, Mark! I think American Evangelicalism swallowed whole the ideas of Schaeffer and Colson (both brilliant men, mind you) without properly investigating the Biblical grounds for the so-called cultural mandate, Christian's social responsibility, etc. In my mind, the New Testament case for this type of cultural transformation is so non-existant that at the very least all Christians should agree that any attempt to change the world aside from gospel proclamation, while not necessarily sinful, should be the absolute lowest priority for us. What's even the goal? A society where everyone lives by Christian virtues? I agree that that would make for a wonderful society, but how many of those people would still be heading to hell all the while thinking they're fine because they are "good people"? People need Jesus not laws forcing them to appear moral. "We must remember that God does the transformation and he does it at the level of the individual." AMEN! Side note: I'd be interested to hear what you think about voting.

Kevin
Kevin

I some how gave you negative 15 stars, sorry. I just kept hitting the button and it kept going down? I only thought it deserved neg 10 :)

Kevin
Kevin

I think you are right on the mark here, (no pun intended). When you read the New Testament Jesus is usually condemning the religious leaders not the sinners. Rather, he was known as the friend of sinners. I do believe we need to be very careful when we take a "Moral stand" because we too often forget where we came from. It is Jesus who needs to reveal sin in the sinners heart not me.

Mark McIntyre
Mark McIntyre

James, Thanks for your kind words. I agree with you that it is not an "either-or choice." But, we have to give precedence to disciple making. To force someone into a change (i.e. making a behavior illegal) is less desirable than having him want to stop the behavior because his heart has been changed. We need to speak the truth in love and fight injustice when we have the ability to do so, but not loose sight of our primary aim of making disciples.

Reagan
Reagan

Thanks for the reply, James. I don't believe I'm being unfair to Colson and Schaeffer. There work and that of groups like the Moral Majority seem to be the stream from which our concept of Christian cultural concern flows from. You're right I should go back to the fountainhead himself. I hear Kuyper cited often, but haven't read him. That will be my next stop. Here's my dilema. I just don't understand what the end game of civic action and political involvement is for the Christian. I'd be interested to hear some answers to this question: What are we as Christians trying to accomplish with civic concern and political involvement? I think that's where my hang-up is. Thanks

Mark McIntyre
Mark McIntyre

Thanks for the kind words. I think that voting is a privilege that we should take very seriously. They are asking our opinion and we should give them the best considered opinion we can come up with. Sometimes we have to choose what we consider is the lesser of what we think are two poor choices keeping in mind that until Jesus returns there will never bee a perfect government.

Mark McIntyre
Mark McIntyre

Thanks Kevin. We need to be bold in proclaiming Jesus but careful in condemning others. Hard to understand the balance point; even harder to put into practice.

Mark McIntyre
Mark McIntyre

I would use William Wilberforce as an example of a Christian called to political action, but he appealed to the moral sensibilities of the English nation as a basis on which to end slavery. While a Christian might respond favorably to "because God says so" a non-believer will not. Our focus should be on being used by God to change hearts.