A month ago I had the privilege of attending a conference on Christian Culture, given by R.C. Sproul Jr. My intention was to blog on the conference earlier this month, but it never happened. As I began to draft a separate post that I plan on posting early next week, I felt it would be good to precede that post with one on Christian Culture.
The conference I attended was so eye-opening and refreshing. I had heard much of the material before, but never all presented at once in such a synthesized format. We started the weekend "In the Beginning. . . " and had moved to Revelation by the end of the conference.
In the garden, man was created to exercise dominion over the earth and cultivate it. After the fall an antithesis was put in place between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. From that point on that antithesis is an overarching theme in the Bible. The theme of antithesis continues throughout all of scripture as a very real spiritual battle fought between God's people and the Devil's people.
R.C. Sproul's outline of the Bible:
I. Genesis 1 & 2 - Creation
II. Genesis 3 - Fall of Man
III. Genesis 4 thru Revelation 22 - Trying to get back to Genesis 1 & 2, only better
The focus of the conference was simplifying our goals and responsibilities as Christians, not being so totally distracted by the world around us. To put it simply, "the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever" (Westminster Shorter Catechism). As R.C. put it, live simply, separately, and deliberately. Simply, meaning with one goal and one master. Separately, meaning the church is a chosen, called out people, a city set on a hill - our culture should be unique from the world. Deliberately, meaning purposely living our lives for the glory of God and the building of His kingdom on earth.
I liked the definition R.C. gave for culture (which I've heard other places): "Culture is religion externalized." Ponder that for a while. . .
The New Testament word for the church was ekklesia - "the called out." If the church of Christ does not look, act, and live differently than the world, how will we cultivate the earth for God's glory? I am not talking about dressing in first century clothing or living in separate communities here, nor was R.C. Sproul Jr., so please don't misunderstand. But if we, as Christians, are living so much like the world that there is virtually no distinction, than we are ignoring the antithesis.
I believe our society has forgotten the five great Solas of the Reformation: Sola Scriptura, Soli Deo Gloria, Solo Christo, Sola Gratia, and Sola Fide. Most notably has the first been cast aside: Sola Scriptura - the scripture alone is standard, also known as the doctrine of the sufficiency of scripture. Aptly put by Doug Phillips: If you were stranded on a desert island with only the scripture as a guide, would you come to the conclusion that ___________ was a sin?
The evangelical church today has largely accepted "middle-class morality" as her standard for living, rather than the inspired Word of God. Christianity is not about trying to be just moral enough to be accepted in our society, or being as good (or just better) than the person sitting next to you in church or than your neighbor next door. As a Christian, my goal should be to slowly, by the grace of God, be molded more like Christ. I was saved, I am being saved, and someday I will be saved - justification, sanctification, and glorification. Christianity is a life-long sanctifying process, not an isolated "decision" for God. As Martin Luther put it, "We are not saved by works; but if there be no works, there must be something amiss with faith."
Does this mean Christians are perfect? By no means! I am a stinkin', sinful, fallen human being saved by the blood of Christ alone. One need not be perfect to be a Christian, but as Christians we need to recognize our sin based on the principles outlined in the Bible, not based on middle-class morality. Evangelical Christians are used to asking the question, "Is this expressly forbidden in scripture?" or "Is this considered moral in our society?" rather than "Is this God's best?" or "Am I going against clear patterns in scripture?"
Do you know what the difference between a fundamentalist and an evangelical is? They have the same core beliefs, but an evangelical is a fundamentalist who wants a modernist to like him.
Do you know what was the most frequent sin of Israel recorded in the Old Testament? It wasn't dancing, it wasn't drinking, it wasn't even mixed bathing. It was idolatry, pure and simple. The greatest downfall of the Israelites was their idolatry, their exaltation of other things above God. They fell into the idolatry of the cultures around them, often trying to synthesize idolatry with the worship of God.
Our American society doesn't have many literal golden idols that tempt Christians today. But I believe that the American society is more rank with idolatry than many of the cultures in the Old Testament. The spirit of this age is personal peace and affluence - the focus on pleasing man rather than God, and the need for more, more, more. American Christians have fallen into this trap of personal peace and affluence, replacing their chief end of glorifying God with a new set of goals: graduate college, get a good job with benefits, along the way raise a few kids who make "decisions for Jesus," and eventually retire comfortably. Make sure you tithe, get involved in church activities, and don't offend anyone else along the way, and you've led a good life.
It is time for the the evangelical church in America to get out of the rut of normality and middle-class morality, and to seek to truly cultivate a culture for Christ. Take dominion! As the church of Christ grows and fills the earth like the parable of the mustard seed, we should see a more and more distinct contrast between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. Sadly this is not what is currently happening in America.
As a body of believers we must rise up in this spiritual battle of the antithesis, using the weapons of truth, goodness, and beauty to set up a city set upon a hill, a light that will draw the world to Christ. Let us rise out of the slums and head for the highlands.
Soli Deo Gloria