So begins Charles Dickens’ novel, The Tale of Two Cities; describing the social, political and moral atmosphere of society in England and France during the mid-1800’s. It was a time not unlike our own, dealing with issues that at times seemed insurmountable but by their very nature created opportunities for success as well, forcing people to rethink their expectations; actually exciting some who saw past the difficulties to the possibilities of impacting their own particular society and the world as a whole.
Appreciating the past while remaining relevant to the present is crucial for maintaining viability for the future. Yet many in and out of the church today feel beset by change and overwhelmed by the challenges confronting them; the very ground beneath their feet seems to be shifting – prompting some to question, “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” Psalm 11:3 Which is not a new experience, the church and most every other organization routinely finding itself challenged to prove itself; rethinking its mission and ministry, rediscovering its purpose. Paul challenging the Roman church with a number of “new” ideas, one of which was to, “…understand… the present time.” Romans 13:11
The truth of the matter is that the church has always had to confront certain aspects of the culture it’s been planted in, creating a certain tension even as it learns to co-exist with people who may not always respond well to our message but who desperately need to hear it whether they accept it or not. It’s a precarious balancing act we must perform; for to ignore the surrounding culture is to risk irrelevance, while accepting it without question runs counter to our calling in Christ. (Being life-altering salt and light to the world. Matthew 5:13-16) Of particular concern are those people who teach truth and morality as “relative” concepts, falsely removing sin from their lives, negating the call to repentance for forgiveness of sin. One recent poll showing 66% of all Americans disbelieving in moral absolutes – 72% of all 18-25 yr. olds living their lives under such a premise – with 53% of people claiming to be evangelical Christians questioning the moral absolutes taught throughout scripture. As such, society is experiencing an increase in willfulness over intelligent decision-making, emotion over-ruling reason, an anything goes mentality superseding any morality “dictated” from an outside force.
Thus the tension between the church and the world, as Christianity rests on the belief that God is the source of truth (John 14:6,7), and that He doesn’t alter it according to the desires of the moment. These difficulties transcend the clash of ideals between individuals, as they actually vex society as a whole; for if any social system or governing body is to be respected and accepted, it must have some kind of moral justification to lend it authority. Conversely, if all moral distinctions are equally valid (The essence of political correctness and today’s definition of tolerance.), then any sense of an over-riding authority is likewise open to question and challenge, leading many to do only what benefits them personally; ultimately ending in chaos. (Judges 21:25) For liberty without law leads to anarchy and rebellion whereas liberty limited by law is the cornerstone of civilization.
What it comes down to is – either man is the measure of all things and has the right and responsibility to decide and dictate what occurs or God and his word is and does. Daniel Webster once noting that, “Whatever makes men good Christians makes them good citizens.”; observing first-hand that, “Liberty exists in proportion to wholesome restraint.” G. K. Chesterton asserting that, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”
To be genuinely relevant, the church has only to recover its true spiritual heritage and firm foundation by teaching the elementary truths of the faith. (1 Corinthians 3:10,11 & 15:4; Hebrews 6:1,2) With these re-affirmed and re-established, we can then “…demolish arguments and every profession that sets itself up against God…”, and his word. Which entails differentiating between wisdom and foolishness (Matthew 7:24-27), our own plans for success and God’s will (Luke 14:28-33), and an acceptance of the consequences of our decisions. (1 Corinthians 3:10-15)
At its core, the proper response to the call of, “Come, follow me,…” Matthew 4:19, is unashamed identification with Jesus and an unabashed allegiance to his will. (Matthew 16:24-27; Mark 8:34-38 & Luke 9:23-27) For when we allow legitimate doctrine to be adjusted by human “wisdom” in accordance with preferred behavior, we destroy the very framework God has given us to direct our lives, it being imperative that we base our practice of the gospel on the doctrine of scripture and not on our desire to please or be pleased. Our stand must be defined by God’s word; the only choices left open to us being to accept it or reject it. What is at stake is not our rights but God’s will!
Let’s never forget that Biblical faith has survived every assault, every persecution and every attempt to exterminate it; proving relevant to every age in spite of efforts to silence or change its message. This is so even as every contrary world-view has proven inadequate and been replaced by still other sets of assumptions. So never be hesitant to testify about our Lord and Savior (2 Timothy 1:8), faithfully proclaiming with Paul, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes…” Romans 1:16
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