Scripture makes it clear that there will always be an ongoing battle between the people of God and the surrounding culture. Both can have a big impact on the other, but the hope is that the values and beliefs of God’s people rub off on the surrounding culture.
In the Old Testament Yahweh commanded Israel to neutralise the Canaanites so that they would not adversely impact on Israel. Yet Israel did not fully comply with this, and eventually the Canaanite influence on Israel became far greater than the Israelite influence on Canaan.
What is that saying about ‘it’s easier to get Israel out of Canaan than it is to get Canaan out of Israel’? That is a perennial problem. God’s people are meant to be in the world, and impacting on the world, but at the same time are not to be contaminated by the world.
Christians are called to be the salt of the earth and light of the world (Matt 5:13-16). Yet Jesus warned about the salt losing its saltiness, and our light being hid under a basket. Sadly much of the church seems to have lost its saltiness, and/or hidden its light.
We are warned about this in various places. In Romans 12 2 we read that we are not to be conformed to the pattern of this world. Or as the Phillips translation puts it, “Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold”. But that is happening far too often. As a very recent example of this, consider new research conducted by George Barna:
“A recent Barna Group study shows that Christian teens from the U.S. are less and less enthusiastic about sharing their faith. Information on the study released last week provided evidence that ‘among born again Christian teenagers, the proportion who said they had explained their beliefs to someone else with different faith views in the last year had declined from nearly two-thirds of teenagers in 1997 (63%) to less than half of Christian teens in the December 2009 study (45%)’.”
Terry Erickson of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship said, “I think many teens as well as young college students have really bought into the cultural view of tolerance. You don’t want to offend anyone, so there’s a reluctance to share your faith. So we see lots of students that have to get over that hurdle in college if they want to do evangelism.”
He also said that there is a theological issue as well: “That issue really has to do with many of our students, and I think this is even true for teens, really need more understanding and more conviction about Jesus being the only way to God.”
These findings are alarming, but not unexpected. For decades now the West has swum in a sea of relativism, false conceptions of tolerance and compassion, and a rejection of the notion of absolute truth. Today the only sin is to be intolerant.
This cultural rot has unfortunately infiltrated the churches big time. We now have the very sad situation in which many believers feel they are being judgmental, intolerant or lacking in compassion simply to proclaim the uniqueness of Jesus and his singular role in salvation.
The moral mush and soggy notions of truth found in the West have taken hold of large parts of the church, rendering it insecure, lacking in confidence, and questioning its own purpose and rationale. The strong sense of certainty and assurance which is everywhere found in the New Testament has given way to sloppy sentimentalism and spiritual lethargy.
When we get to the place where we think presenting the gospel is unloving and intolerant, then we might as well give the game away. We need a major turnaround – a turn back to truth, to certainty, and to conviction. We need to remind ourselves of the early believers and the great saints of old.
We need to be reminded that men and women had such rock-bottom certainty and assurance of their Lord and their gospel that they risked everything for it, even life itself. They could endure suffering, persecution, torture and death because of their complete conviction that Jesus was who he said he was, and that everyone desperately needed to know Him.
Imagine Elijah worried about offending the prophets of Baal. Imagine Paul worried about appearing to be intolerant of the Judaisers. Imagine Jesus saying, ‘Well, I might be the way, I could be the truth, and it is possible I am the life, but you never know; we all better find our own path and our own truth’.
Sadly today we see marks of compromise, uncertainty, and unbelief in many churches. Today the stress is on dialogue, interfaith relations, and hearing all sides of the debate. We have become uncomfortable with the radical claims of the gospel, and we instead offer a wishy-washy feel good message, hoping to offend no one.
Jesus had no time for such nonsense. He said quite clearly, “I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God. But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God” (Luke 12:8-9).
But unfortunately the world has squeezed us into its mould, and we are now paying the price for it. We now find such strong words to be lacking in love, inclusion and acceptance. We want to be liked by all people, instead of being liked by God.
Over a century ago Andrew Bonar said, “I looked for the church and found it in the world. I looked for the world and found it in the church.” That is now our condition. What will we do to get out of it? We better decide soon. Too much is at stake, and the world is being starved of the gospel that it so very much needs to hear.