Influencers, or Just Influenced?

The church of Jesus Christ from its earliest days was known for its impact on the surrounding culture. Wherever the new believers went, they stirred up trouble, made a huge impact, and greatly influenced the world around them. Indeed, so much so, that we read this about the early believers: “These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also” (Acts 17:6 KJV).

I have always liked that idea of turning the world upside down – or perhaps more accurately, turning it right side up. And much of church history testifies to this world-transforming nature of the gospel being proclaimed by men and women sold out to Jesus Christ.

It was always the intent of Jesus Christ that we be salt and light influencers in the surrounding culture. However this has not always been the case. Today especially the church is not so much being an influencer as it is being influenced by the world around it.

Instead of being a thermostat by which we determine the temperature around us, we are far too often simply a thermometer, reflecting the conditions we find ourselves in. We have stopped being a godly influence, and have instead been heavily influenced by the secular world we inhabit.

A recent conference put on by The Institute on Religion & Democracy spoke to this very subject, bemoaning the fact that “today’s young evangelical Christians, or ‘millennial’ evangelicals, are too influenced by the culture and do not practice deep thinking, or a ‘life of the mind’.” Speakers there argued that “millennial evangelicals need more orthodoxy, less ‘Oprah-doxy’.”

Yes quite right. Sadly far too many believers today – especially the young – know much more about the surrounding culture than they do about their own faith. They may be experts in reciting the latest hit film, video game, pop song, or clothing trend, but could not tell you who wrote the book of Romans.

They are culture-saturated but biblically-illiterate. This my friends just ought not to be. The Apostle Paul spoke to this very matter in Romans 12:2: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Or as the Phillips New Testament renders it, “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.”

So much of the church is today simply a reflection of the world around it, imitating its thinking, its values, its worldview, and its priorities. It should be leading the way, showing the world a better way. But sadly it seems more often that the world is showing the church the way – and it is not a better way.

We are meant to be having an impact in every area of life, reflecting the Lordship of Christ throughout our society. But for too many believers, their faith has relevance only for an hour or so in a worship centre on a Sunday morning. Sure, there might be some prayers and private devotions at home, but their faith stays there – it has no bearing whatsoever on the world at large.

Christians have basically stopped being salt and light in other words. We make no noticeable difference to the culture we live in. Our lives are just like those of all the non-believers around us. We think like them, act like them, talk like them, and are doing nothing for the Kingdom – just like them.

But this is not a new problem. For some time now evangelicals have abandoned the culture and the use of the mind, and have clung to a privatised faith which has very little impact, at least in the greater society they find themselves in. A few brave and informed voices sought to address this long ago.

Image of The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism
The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism by Carl F. H. Henry (Author), Richard J. Mouw (Foreword) Amazon logo

For example, way back in 1947 Carl F. H. Henry wrote a short but incisive volume entitled, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism. In it he sought to rouse a socially stagnant and intellectually sparse evangelical world into some life-changing interaction with the world around it.

In the book he said this: “If historic Christianity is again to compete as a vital world ideology, evangelicalism must project a solution for the most pressing world problems. It must offer a formula for a new world mind with spiritual ends, involving evangelical affirmations in political, economic, sociological, and educational realms, local and international. The redemptive message has implications for all of life; a truncated life results from a truncated message.”

And again, “The implications of this for evangelicalism seem clear. The battle against evil in all its forms must be pressed unsparingly; we must pursue the enemy, in politics, in economics, in science, in ethics—everywhere, in every field, we must pursue relentlessly.”

Not bad for some 66 years ago. Of course many evangelicals did heed his watershed advice, but far too many Christians still have no idea about being genuine salt and light to a needy culture. Other Christian thinkers since then have also implored the church to get its act together in this regard.

Francis Schaeffer put it this way: “Our culture, society, government, and law are in the condition they are in, not because of a conspiracy, but because the church has forsaken its duty to be the salt of the culture.” And Charles Colson said this: “The church’s singular failure in recent decades has been the failure to see Christianity as a life system, or worldview, that governs every area of existence.”

D. A. Carson wrote this: “Christianity does not claim to convey merely religious truth, but truth about all reality. This vision of reality is radically different from a secularist vision that wants Christianity to scuttle into the corner of the hearth by the coal shovel, conveniently out of the way of anything but private religious concerns.”

Of course the secular culture has managed to convince most believers that their faith can only be practiced in private at best, and no public expression of it can be allowed. To do so would be intolerant and judgmental, and we sure don’t want to be that now do we?

So an anaemic and watered-down faith, coupled with the bullying and intimidation of the secular left has resulted in a cowardly church afraid to open its mouth in the public arena, offering biblical truth and concern for the pressing issues of the day.

We have given up being influencers, and are just being influenced, for the most part. If Luke came back today to observe and chronicle the state of Western Christianity, he would be very hard-pressed to be able to use the words he did back in Acts 17:6.

That is to our great shame, and it is time we did something about it. It is time we turned this around, and started acting like the world-changing community we were meant to be, and the early church so decidedly was.

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7 Replies to “Influencers, or Just Influenced?”

  1. The retreat of Evangelical Fundamentalism into decades of a “fortified-camp-cum-monastic-community” mentality towards mainstream social, political and academic life has sadly served only to accelerate the secularisation of Western civilisation and to all but paralyse or anaesthetise Christian Fundamentalists when it comes to a real prophetic engagement with a culture fast headed down the broad road to it own self-destruction.

    If we remain silent amid our culture’s revolt against Heaven, we too are complicit in our nations’ apostasy and their eventual capitulation to the Antichrist of all antichrists.

    John Wigg

  2. When a person becomes a believer, a world view shift is required. World view shifts are notoriously hard to make, but it is indeed required of every new believer. The problem we have is that there are many people in churches – even many who have said that Jesus is their Lord and Saviour – who have made no world view shift in the process.

    Bill, I’d be interested to read your thoughts on how such a world view shift can be facilitated by those responsible in the church for guiding new disciples.

    John Symons

  3. This piece gets to the pointy end of things, not that it doesn’t need to be said. It’s so so hard though, trying to break through their closed eyes and ears. For me as a new christian years ago, I remember going to church full of beans (holy spirit) and slowly over the first few months thinking, whats going on? Everyone just seems to be going through the motions. I slowly became frustrated and thinking surely this is Not what God intended. I’m sure Jesus didn’t die on the cross so we can as a church, be entertained.
    Daniel Kempton

  4. I thought this was going to be about the ”Influencers” church here in Adelaide. Paradise has changed their name from Edge church to ”influencers” recently…always trying to be trendy…and ”attract” people. But in the end they have more in common with big business and real estate companies than the church.
    Jeremy Woods

  5. Bill, through regular Bible reading and prayer, God speaks to me. He changes me, by renewing my mind. God exposes my sin, wanting me to confess it and give it up. Thanks for the encouragement to live differently, speak differently and act differently, starting in the mind first, Romans 12:1. As we allow God to shape our thinking, we can effectively be light and salt in our community. When I don’t make it a priority to read the Bible and discover God’s truth, that’s when I find ‘the cutting edge’ is lost.

    Stephanie Matthews

  6. It’s interesting that you mention the call to be salt and the light here. It reminds me of your article “On Bible Reading”. Often when I hear people talk about being salt and the light I cringe because when they talk about salt they talk about the use of salt as a preservative on food or its use to give food flavour.

    However if one reads Luke (a much loved and neglected gospel, we tend to love the unique stories in Luke and pay little attention to what at first glance appears to be Matthew or Mark said all over again) we read “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.” (Luke 14:34-35, NIV)

    Clearly the salt referred to is neither salt used to preserve food nor to give it some flavour.

    It is referring to a different kind of salt that was scraped off the shore that was used both to fertilise the soil and to disinfect human manure.

    Salt can both stop evil from flourishing and allow good things to grow, but you need both good quality and a good quantity and it needs to applied in the right places.

    Some merchants would mix up the salt with sand to make a bit of extra profit. When the purchaser discovered this they would throw it out on the street (this was how one disposed of rubbish in those days) because it had been rendered useless and it was then trampled by men (Matthew 5:13)

    This vivid description indicates that if we become one with the world we can no longer effectively stop or hinder the spread of evil or cause good things to grow.

    Matt Vinay

  7. Influenced by the world, not the influencers 🙁 (pronounced “in-flu-en-cers” today, sounding like a viral disease)
    I’m not surprised this happens when the majority of Christians rather “emote their faith” (motto of “Sola Feels” rather than think about it, as Paul exhorts us to do in Romans 12:2, after all, God did give us minds to use, did He not?
    Biblical illiteracy is the true plague of today’s world’ you & I are doing our little bits to attempt to eradicate it.
    What gets me is how Christians spend so much time pursuing the ??????? (skubala, translated into rubbish or dung) in Philippians 3:8, with Christ, everything else should be such!

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