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.
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.