Don’t Romanticize Persecution

Rally (81 of 162)Serious Christians often lament the poor spiritual state of the western church. All around them, they see what Tim Keller calls “sleepy” Christians, those who are united with Christ but lead anemic spiritual lives with little in regards to ministry or carrying out the Great Commission. They also see “make-believe” Christians; those who proclaim faith in Christ, come to church semi-regularly but whose lives are firmly planted in the world.

From time to time, I have heard serious Christians speak openly that perhaps what the western church needs to experience is a little persecution in order to purify the church by waking up the sleepy Christians and giving the make-believe Christians a choice of either standing with Christ or the world. The thinking is that if the church was to undergo a bit of suffering for being an expression of Christianity in the public square, believers would be jolted from their comfortable spiritual lifestyle and forced to take their faith seriously or renounce all identification with Christ.

Under such a scenario, people both inside and outside the church would realize that following Christ is serious business and not a kind of leisure activity that enhances personal fulfillment. Those who decided to follow Christ would then do so with a deep commitment to Jesus, regardless of the personal cost. The words of Christ would be soberly taken: “If anyone would come after me, must deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me.”

The logic is not without precedent. Many people come to Christ or have their spiritual lives revitalized when they are faced with a deep personal crisis that dislocates their lives and often brings internal grief, despair and suffering. They turn to Christ not only out of desperation but also out of dependence on Him, leading them to a deeper relationship with Him that they could not have experience otherwise. In God’s economy, He often uses the trials of life to call individuals and whole groups of people to Himself.

However, I argue that a desire to see the western church engulfed in some kind of moderate persecution is not only unbiblical but harmful for the following reasons:

1. The New Testament never calls on Christians to ask God for persecution in the quest for greater godliness. Although hardships are part of being a disciple of Christ, Christians are not called to pray for persecution as a means of attaining greater Christlikeness. In fact, Paul seems to call for the exact opposite. In 1 Timothy 2:1-2 he writes, “I urge then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone. For kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

2. There is no such thing as made-to-order persecution. People who talk about it always add the adjective “little” in order to express the desire that they are not looking for a large amount of persecution but just enough to wake up people. However, the history of the church is not one of “little” persecution. Millions of Christians through the ages have had to suffer incarceration, the loss of their families, the loss of their careers, even their lives in the face of brutal and long lasting persecution. I’m sure these believers were not looking for any persecution, be it big or small.

3. It paints the persecution experience as some kind of noble enterprise that will achieve positive ends. But this is only to romanticize something that has cost the lives of millions of believers through the ages, torn families apart and sometimes destroyed the church in certain parts of the world, such as in North Africa and the Middle East. In some cases, persecution does not achieve the desired results the romantics are looking for.

4. It trivializes those who are enduring great persecution for the sake of Christ in many parts of the world. The global church should and does fight the persecution of believers around the world, calling on governments to stop the jailing and killing of people whose faith they do not like. To think that a bit of persecution for the western church is a good thing is almost saying that those in jail for their faith are somehow better off for it. It sends a conflicting message in an age where the world wide persecution of the church is at an all time high.

The thinking that a little persecution is the best antidote for a sleepy western church may be well meaning but it is misplaced. It falsely romanticizes persecution and turns it into something minor that leads to a greater payoff. Instead, the church should start taking the scriptures seriously and asking the Holy Spirit to move her heart towards greater discipleship.

Persecution is deadly serious and the western church must respond vigorously against it for the sake of the persecuted church in other parts of the world. Jesus has already promised His church that, in this world, she will experience trouble. She doesn’t have to go looking for it or ask for a little bit of it. She only has to take heart because the Bridegroom has overcome the world.

2016 © Ed LeBlanc

Separation of Christian and World

PEI Vacation Day 3-1008The Christian’s relationship with the world has always been a complex and rocky one. In theory it seems straight forward and clear. In John 17:14-16 Jesus prays to the Father about His disciples:

“I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.”

In His prayer Jesus outlines the relationship between His disciples and the world. Jesus describes his disciples as being not of the world or not of the world’s system of beliefs and views. The disciples were given a different worldview, one that is centred on Christ. The difference is so striking that Jesus acknowledges that the world has hated them because they are not of the world any more.

The divide between Jesus and His disciples and the world is strong and clear. The two are by nature so different that a gulf of animosity exists between them. Yet, Jesus prays that His disciples not be removed from the world but that they be protected from the prince of the world, Satan. Like it or not, disciples of Jesus Christ must live in the world with this tension until He comes again.

The Cover Of Christendom

Not too long ago, it was easier for Christians and the church to live in the western world since Christians had more in common with the culture in which they lived. This was mainly because the culture drew much of its own formation from Judeo-Christian teaching and tradition. Even though people would not consider themselves religious, they still had a basic respect for the church and the Bible. Basic Christian morality was widely incorporated into the laws, institutions and basic practices of society. There was a time when almost everyone went to church, when the Lord’s Prayer was prayed in public schools and stores were closed on Sundays.

The key reason why it is getting harder for Christians to live in the western world is because of the collapse of Christendom. Western Christians have had it easy over the centuries by living in the world without being openly rejected and persecuted by the world as Christendom provided the foundation for that ease.

Today, broad acceptance of Christian values has turned into indifference, dismissal or even outright hostility. Christians in the west are continuing to find themselves in an environment where they must tread carefully while trying to live out their faith in the public square. Not only has the world discarded Christian values and beliefs, it seeks to actively discredit them and to portray Christians as harmful and dangerous bigots whose religion must be kept in the closet. A growing number of secularists believe that Christianity must never have a seat in the public square again.

Many churches and Christians have reacted to this sudden shift from accommodation and respect to rejection and hostility by doing what 1 John 1:15 tells them not to do. They reverse biblical teaching and embrace the morality of the world that is in contradiction to the plain teaching of scripture in order to gain the acceptance of the world. This has taken place in the areas of the value of human life, sexual morality, the reliability of the Bible and even the nature of Christ. This has been particularly noticed in churches that were once solidly biblical for centuries but who have rapidly abandoned certain key doctrines by replacing them with the world’s key doctrines.

Such churches should look to the historical record of Christian liberalism. Its main focus over the past few centuries has been to shape Christianity into the mold of the world, thinking that this is its future and that the world will be more accepting of Christianity. However, the liberal Christian experiment has failed massively in this regard. Churches that have gone down this path have found their membership in steep decline while the world considers them more and more irrelevant anyway. Liberal churches may be escaping the axe of persecution for now but their pact with the world system is sending them down the spiral of spiritual oblivion.

Living in the World

How can orthodox churches and Christians in the west live out the gospel of Jesus Christ in an environment that ignores them and displays open hostility towards them?

The first step is to continue to be faithful to the Word of God and to Jesus no matter what happens. The western church needs to look at her brothers and sisters in Christ in many parts of the world who are being persecuted for their faith but who have not bent their knees to other gods. Jesus has made it clear that those who love him will be hated by the world (John 15:18-19). Western Christians have forgotten this because of the cover of Christendom but with that cover rapidly disappearing, they are now discovering anew what Jesus was talking about.

The second step is to live in the world by loving its people and not its system. Much has been written on this subject and it is not easy to do but it is what Jesus Himself did when He walked the earth. He interacted with and loved people who were lost and hurting while calling out the world system everyone was trapped in. He calls on His disciples to do the same by loving and serving people genuinely even if they are indifferent or hostile to Christianity, while challenging the world system they embrace. This is especially difficult in the west today as most westerners believe you must accept the belief system of a person in order to accept them. However, the gospel of Jesus teaches that humans are much more than the values they find their identity in; they are made in the image of God.

The third step is to live prophetically in the world by living the out the gospel in a manner that is pure and loving while being prophetic at the same time. Christians must declare to the people in the world that there is a better way than the false gospels of the world.

The fourth step is to remember the promise that this tension will not last forever. As James wrote:

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. – James 1:12

Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus.

2016 © Ed LeBlanc

The Unethical Evangelist

IMG_5322Is it possible to do evangelism unethically? That question may seem hard to understand. How can you do evangelism unethically when it’s the gospel of Jesus you are sharing? What can be wrong with that?

To be clear, the gospel itself is not unethical, although I can think of a few prominent atheists who would consider it unethical and worthy of banishment from society. The gospel itself is not a problem as it is something that Jesus Himself communicated during his three-year ministry and entrusted to His apostles. The gospel is good news, a message of hope to all humanity rooted in the very person and work of Jesus Christ.

A problem can arise in the transmission of that gospel in the form of evangelism, which is the vehicle that communicates the gospel from the church to the world, from one person to another. Can evangelism itself be corrupted to the point of being unethical?

Unfortunately, the answer is yes. A dramatic example was the great tele-evangelism scandals of the 1980s where corruption, fraud, immorality, deceit and more were used in peddling the gospel of Jesus for profit and power. It was a horrible stain on the church and made a mockery of the gospel and Christianity in the public square for years.

Thankfully, the vast majority of Christians do not turn personal evangelism into a means of making a quick buck. Unfortunately, it is quite possible to be the unethical evangelist and not even know it.

Evangelism as Business

One characteristic of unethical evangelism is the turning of evangelism into a straight business model that is geared mainly to generate results. Running a business is not unethical but evangelism is not a business. This philosophy turns evangelism into a series of actions where success is measured by getting people to attend events, getting them to talk about certain things and, ultimately, to make decisions for Jesus. On the surface, it all looks okay. After all, how can you argue against people making decisions for Christ? Isn’t that the whole purpose of evangelism?

It is unethical if this is the heart and soul of evangelism. Getting people to do certain things, to make certain sounds and giving the appearance that they have been born of the Spirit (making decisions in ignorance), can be horribly misleading. It can give people the impression that being a disciple of Jesus is all about learning a certain lingo, attending certain events and doing a few different things. This is not discipleship but the practice of an ancient religion known as Christendom, which gives the appearance of Christianity but does not possess the Holy Spirit within it. Evangelism is unethical if it misrepresents the gospel of Christ as the gospel of Christendom which is nothing more than a cultural form of Christianity.

Insurance Policies for Heaven

Evangelism can be unethical if it becomes a means of selling life insurance policies for heaven. In the past, certain forms of evangelism were concerned about selling people a means of getting into heaven through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. While this is a wonderful theological truth and a terrific gift of the gospel, it is not the full gospel. In this form of evangelism, heaven and self become the ends. It is all about me and me getting into paradise. Jesus becomes strictly the means.

Jesus is the way whereby people enter into heaven. This is a marvellous biblical truth where Jesus Himself said that no one comes to the Father except through Him. (John 14:6). However, unethical evangelism misses the greater point where heaven is not the ends but Jesus is. To coin a phrase, it is all about Jesus. It isn’t all about getting to a specific place but about being with a specific Person. After all, who is in heaven and is central in heaven? An evangelism that is too heaven-centric and less Christo-centric can misrepresent what is truly important about the gospel message.

I may be too harsh to call this kind of evangelism unethical but in doing so I’m pointing to a large problem that needs to be dealt with. When the gospel places the emphasis on heaven being the good news, there is a tendency to assume that we have secured tickets for our destination (heaven) and nothing more needs to be done except to make sure our bags are packed. If evangelism emphasizes Jesus as the good news, there is a tendency to to assume that we must follow and commit our lives to Him as His disciples. This includes denying ourselves, taking up our cross daily and following Him (Luke 9:23).

People as Projects

A final form of unethical evangelism is the “people as projects”. In this form, the unethical evangelist treats people as projects to achieve their aims rather than as persons who are created in the image of God.

The unethical evangelist will pretend to be interested in and care about people only if they reciprocate by being interested in the gospel message or at least in spiritual things. If they are not interested, the unethical evangelist gives up on them and moves on to more promising prospects.

This form of evangelism is devoid of the unconditional love that the gospel conveys, where people are viewed as being made in God’s image and thus are worthy of respect and love regardless if they are interested in Jesus or not. In ethical evangelism, love, care, concern and friendship are not dependent on how people respond to the gospel but are bestowed upon people as an act of God’s grace. We love others because He first loved us (1John 4:19), not because they love us or the gospel in return. The true gospel of Jesus calls us to love the whole person and to be a source of good for that person regardless of how they respond to a particular evangelistic project.

The Ethical Evangelist

The gospel of Jesus Christ is truly good news. It is the news that God has come into the world in the Person of His Son to redeem humanity from its sinful state and be brought into communion with God. The gospel of Jesus Christ brings with it many things including peace with God, a new ability to love others unconditionally and eternal fellowship with God in heaven. But the gospel is not simply a spiritual transaction that gives us these things. It is the news of being in a relationship with Jesus and how the Christian’s life is transformed as a result.

Evangelism is a call to invite others to receive this good news and enter into relationship and discipleship with Jesus. Anything less distorts the gospel into self-serving spirituality and misrepresents what being a disciple of Christ is all about. May God preserve His church to be truly ethical in her evangelism.

2016 © Ed LeBlanc

The Disappearance of Bible Study

20160319-Bible-3The Importance of Study

Education is considered the ticket to success. If a young person finishes high school but doesn’t go on to post secondary education of some kind, most people will consider their chances of achieving career and financial success very slim. Thus, high school students are being strongly encouraged to do post secondary education and many of them do, otherwise the message is clear: if you don’t have a university degree or a college diploma you will never get a good paying job.

Even after students complete university, many of them will continue into graduate and post graduate work before starting their careers. Many who do embark on their respective career paths after their undergrad will get an masters degree in their field part time or enter into an MBA program while they are working. Depending on career aspirations, the drive to acquire more education can be almost never ending.

Getting a formal education involves many things: books to buy and read, labs to do, assignments to complete, lectures to attend and so on. One of the major activities that students will have to do as part of their education is to study. Many students hate studying, mainly because it takes a lot of time to do and requires an enormous amount of concentration that is usually accompanied by outright frustration. Students have to study because students have to write exams. One cannot pass an exam unless one has mastery over the material and that comes primarily from studying.

For Christians, a key component of their spiritual development and training is Bible study. The Bible is so indispensable for Christian growth and development that it is impossible for any disciple of Jesus to walk with Him without a generous and continuous intake from His Word. As Paul wrote to Timothy,

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” – 2 Timothy 3:16

By study, I mean study, not reading. Studying the Bible is very different from reading the Bible. High school and university students know the difference. They know that reading their textbooks and their lecture notes once or twice is insufficient to gain mastery over the material and do well in their exams. Even if they had a photographic memory they would know the data cold but to really know a subject goes beyond committing the simple facts to memory. It means understanding what those facts mean, how they interrelate with other facts and how they can be applied in different situations. Students know that they need to study the material over and over again. Through studying, a student knows the nuances and particulars of the subject. Their exams test them on the understanding not the memorization.

The same applies to the Christian who wants to experience significant growth and communion with God. Simple readings of the Bible, while good and important, cannot take a person into a deeper understanding of the Word and of God. The Bible must be studied.

What is Bible Study?

So what is meant by studying the Bible? It can mean many things but it basically comes down to three actions: observing what the text says, interpreting what the text says and applying what the text says. Into these areas come all the tools and techniques that are used in doing a proper study of the Bible such as the use of concordances, Greek and Hebrew dictionaries, general Bible dictionaries and surveys and even commentaries. It also means taking the time to look at the text, ask questions of it, find answers and writing down your findings. The details on proper Bible study are beyond the scope of this essay but the point is there is more to it than just reading. Once you move beyond mere reading, the great treasures contained in the Scriptures will be found that would be easily missed.

The Bible Study Challenge

Most Christians do not have personal Bible study as part of their spiritual routine. Many struggle with Bible reading and prayer and to add personal study on top of that seems to be even more difficult. Yet, every Christian must ask themselves if they are already devoting time in the study of other things. What about those who are studying for their MBA part time while juggling the demands of a job? What about those taking golf lessons and practicing on the driving range on a regular basis? What about those who are taking guitar lessons and practicing on a daily basis? If Christians are finding time for these kinds of study in order to advance their career or to pursue personal interests, why is time not being taken for the timeless Word of God? If we really have a desire to accomplish something, we will take the time and effort to study in order to achieve it. Do we have the desire to pursue Christ through the Bible that radically?

My challenge to all disciples of Christ is to take up a personal project in doing a study of one book of the Bible, something short and achievable such as the the book of James or 2 Timothy. Spend at least an hour a week studying a book verse by verse, chapter by chapter and seek to find the treasures buried within. Use whatever tools you have on hand and record what the text is saying, the questions you asked, the answers you found and the gems you discovered. I can guarantee that you will not be disappointed and that, over time, your walk with the Lord will deepen.

2016 © Ed LeBlanc

The Decline of Bible Reading

20160310-Bible Cover

People of the Book?

According to Islamic tradition, Jews and Christians are referred to as “the people of the Book”, in this case, the Book being the Bible. Christians have been known as the people of the Book, not just because the Bible is their holy book, the book of ultimate importance to the faith, but also because they are a people who read, study, meditate, memorize and talk about the Book. Being “people of the Book” means people engaged with the Bible.

The Canadian Bible Engagement Study (CBES) conducted by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) in 2013, casts some doubt if Christians in 21st century Canada can still hold on to that ancient title. The study, called Confidence, Conversation and Community: Bible Engagement in Canada, conducted a survey of 4,474 Canadians on their views on how they engage the Bible in their lives. The full report can be read here.

Regular Bible reading has been on the decline in Canada for several decades and the CBES report bears this out but what the report has to say about those who self identity as Christians is of particular interest. As more Canadians don’t consider themselves Christian, it is understandable that this group pays little attention to the Bible but are Canadian Christians far behind?

Taking Christians as a whole, the report’s findings were remarkable. For those who identify themselves as Christian, six percent read the Bible daily, six percent read it a few times a week and only three percent read it once a week. Astonishingly, 70 percent of Canadian Christians seldom read or never read the Bible. This kind of survey result would seem to indicate that Christians are no longer the people of the Book and might be called the people who ignore their Book.

But is that the end of the story? The study breaks down the numbers a bit further into Christian traditions. Catholic and mainline Protestant Christians read the Bible far less than their Evangelical cousins. Mainline Protestants and Catholics who read their Bible a few times a week or weekly are in the single digits. Monthly French Catholic readers are in the single digits as well while English Catholic and Mainline Protestant monthly readers are in the double digits but just barely. Evangelicals seem to do much better with those reading their Bibles at least a few times a week at 44 percent, weekly at 51 percent and monthly at 58 percent.

Although some may see this as evidence that Evangelicals have healthy Bible reading habits, the results also tell us that the other half of Evangelicals are not reading their Bibles even on a weekly basis, let alone a monthly one. Mainline Protestants and Catholics have seen weekly Bible reading decline by more than one half since 1996 but Evangelicals have seen daily readers fall by one third in the same period. Evangelicals may be the tradition with the strongest Bible readers but a sizeable number still do not have regular reading habits and the trend in daily readership is not that encouraging.

Followers or Disciples

So why is Christian reading of the Bible falling in such dramatic numbers? The survey found two key factors that affected regular Bible reading amongst Christians: confidence in the Bible and a seriousness about their walk with Jesus.

The survey showed that those who had a strong confidence in the reliability and the authority of the Bible were found to read it once a day, week or month by a wider margin than those who had even a moderate confidence in the Bible. Those who reflected on the meaning of the Bible in their lives, who engaged in discussions about the Bible outside of church activities and who regularly attended worship services, were found to read the Bible much more frequently than those who did not.

The scriptures teach that the Bible, the Word of God, is critical to the spiritual development of Christians. As Jesus famously said to The Adversary, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes form the mouth of God”. The Bible is spiritual food to feed humanity’s spiritual soul. If this survey showed that the majority of self identifying Christians in Canada only ate physical food once a week or even once a month, there would be screams of a crisis in Canadian churches. Christians seem to be starving themselves by eating the spiritual food of the Bible very sparsely and yet few within the church seem to be concerned.

What can be done to turn the situation around? Simply telling people to read their Bibles because they need to is an exercise that will fall on deaf ears. Christians who are not reading the Bible regularly need to recognize their own spiritual malnourishment and to see the Bible as true food.

One key way to address this problem is to re-establish confidence in the reliability and power of the Bible. Many Christians have fallen victim to the secular modernist take on the Bible that in effect waters down its reliability and, by extension, its relevance to life. By marginalizing the Scriptures, Christians will turn to other writings to find spiritual fulfillment such as the latest self-help book. Christian leaders need to not only do a bit of apologetics for the Bible in the church but they also need to encourage everyone to share how the Bible has and is changing their lives. The Bible says that it is living and active. Let others share their stories of how it has been living and active in their lives and not just a repository of ancient knowledge.

The second key way to address this self-starvation of the Bible, is to show Christians that Christianity is not about showing up on Sundays and getting to use the title Christian in their spiritual resume. Christian leaders of all kinds need to show to those under their spiritual care that Christ is calling them not be mere followers of Him but to be His disciples.

The words follower and disciple seem to mean the same thing but in reality they are not. In the Gospel accounts, Jesus had plenty of followers who followed him all over the countryside. Those who followed Him did so looking for free food, free healthcare and political freedom from the Romans. But when Jesus pressed them on the cost of following Him to the point of denying oneself and taking up one’s cross in order to follow Him, many left Him. Jesus wanted disciples to deny their lives for Him, not followers who could come and go as they pleased.

Followers of Jesus will treat the Bible as an optional reading lesson. Disciples of Jesus will treat the Bible as the bread of life. Serious Christians will see the Bible as indispensable in knowing Jesus more deeply. Causal Christians will see the Bible as a dusty, boring book that has little relevance to their earthly pursuits. If the church in Canada wants to regain the title people of the Book, she must be willing to disciple her people and show them the riches and treasures contained in God’s Holy Bible.

2016 © Ed LeBlanc

The Decline of Biblical Authority

St John the Baptist ShrineAuthority: The Dirty Word

In his 1974 book, The Authority of the Bible, John Stott opens his book with the following:

“Authority is a dirty word today – dirty, disliked, even detested. I doubt if any other word arouses more instant aversion among the young and the radical of all kinds. Authority smacks of establishment, of privilege, of oppression, of tyranny. And whether we like it or not, we are witnessing in our day a global revolt against all authority, whether of the family, the college, the bosses, the church, the state or God.”

With the chaos of the cultural revolution of the 1960s firmly in his rear view mirror, Stott’s opening paragraph summarizes the attitude and worldview of modern society when it comes to the general principle of authority. Over the past 40 plus years since this book was published, the dirtiness and disgust of authority has been successfully passed on from the Baby Boomers to successive generations and has been firmly rooted in the western cultural ethos of the 21st century.

As a result of that cultural revolution, esteem in the reliability, trustworthiness and authority of the Bible by the wider culture has eroded dramatically. Once upon a time, people who hardly went to church or rarely read the Bible, held the Scriptures in great esteem. This general submission to the authority of the Bible was one of the hallmarks of the cultural force of Christendom upon much of the West. With the rapid collapse of Christendom, the general belief in the authority of the Bible has collapsed as well.

Authority: Challenged since the Dawn of Time

Simply stated, biblical authority is the recognition that what the Bible says is not only true but authoritative in that it must be obeyed over the wisdom and authority of Man. The Bible is authoritative in that it is the Word of God and reveals the character, wisdom and will of God. Because God is omnipotent, omniscient and all holy, He is worthy of humanity’s worship and obedience. As a consequence, God has authority over Man. If the Bible is the divine will God communicated to Man, it too has authority over Man. The Bible itself claims authority every time it says “Thus saith the Lord God”. When God speaks, humanity is to listen and adhere.

The challenge to biblical authority is nothing new and in fact goes back to the dawn of humanity, in the Garden of Eden, where Satan’s first words to Man was “Did God really say?” Satan’s first words were a sly and subtle attempt to discredit the authority of God’s word. The consequences of Man’s rejection of the authority of God’s Word in the Garden were catastrophic.

Throughout the history of Old Testament Israel, the authority of the Word of God was constantly challenged by the Israelites who regularly flouted that authority through their disobedience. Again, the consequences of the rejection of God’s authority were disastrous for the nation.

Authority: A Collapsing Belief

Biblical authority has collapsed in mainline liberal Protestant denominations and is collapsing in evangelical churches at an alarming rate. In mainline Protestant denominations, that rejection is based on a common consensus that the Bible is a flawed and very human set of documents. The writings are errant and thus lack the full and complete inspiration of God. Because of this belief, that the Bible is more human than divine, it is subject to the judgment of Man in determining how far its authority and reliability can go. In reality, biblical authority in mainline circles no longer exists as it is always trumped by the authority of human wisdom and the need for ancient scriptures to accommodate the desires and whims of modernity.

Mainline liberal Protestants have few qualms about admitting this publicly and many believe it is necessary to dispose of such authority in order to make the Bible and Christianity more attractive to the outside world. Theologian Marcus Borg believes the church needs to adopt a post-critical naivety view of the Bible where its accounts are true but their truth doesn’t depend on facts. In his view, we all do our own picking and choosing of what is authoritative in the Bible anyway, but we must do it responsibly, prayerfully and as a community. Borg’s approach sounds reasonable and even humble but in divorcing truth from facts, he is creating a “relative” truth while still retaining Man as the chief authority over the Bible but in a more politically correct and less arrogant fashion.

Although some evangelicals are courting the mainline liberal Protestant view on biblical authority, others are doing so in a manner that attempts to retain an appearance of submitting to its authority. Instead of saying the Bible is a flawed document that no longer merits our total submission, such evangelicals are using the tools of exegesis and hermeneutics to show that the interpretations of the “difficult” parts of the Bible are not what we originally thought they were. Thus, the evangelical is able to proclaim the authority of the Bible and acknowledge submission to it but at the same time develop an escape hatch to evade those sections that are too repulsive to be submitted to. Thus the tools of exegesis, hermeneutics, cultural studies, etc. are used to develop novel interpretations that defang the authority of the Bible in selective and convenient ways.

One can say the difficult passages of the Bible are an issue of hermeneutics and, in many cases, this is the real issue. However, it is interesting to wonder if deeper motivations are at work to use novel interpretations to dispose of the unpleasant passages. Is it any coincidence that the current re-interpretations of biblical passages on sexual morality within evangelicalism are occurring at the same time the sexual revolution is reaching its high water mark in western culture?

Cultural pressures on western evangelical churches are enormous, pressures that are influencing and forcing churches and Christians to abandon the clear teachings of Scripture and embrace the spirit of the age. But western churches can learn something from churches in parts of the world where Christianity is under great persecution. Last year, a group of young Christian men were videoed kneeling on a Libyan beach just before they were to be beheaded because of their faith in Christ. Their lives could have easily been spared. All they had to do was renounce Jesus as their Saviour and Lord. Yet, they did not. Instead, they submitted to the authority of Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:32-33:

“Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.”

They paid for that submission to authority with their very lives. Can we in the west do any less while we bend the plain meaning of biblical texts that we don’t want to submit to and believe in?

The game of using novel forms of interpretation to dispose of unpleasant biblical passages can be addressed by a direct question. If it could be proven to the ultimate satisfaction of any rational believer that a particular passage of scripture means something that we do not like or believe in because it sounds so anti this or anti that and is offensive to our ears, would we still submit to it? If our answer is no, then there is no point in debating exegesis or hermeneutics. It simply means that we do not want to obey God in everything He desires. If this is the case, we need to question how much Jesus is really Lord of our lives and how much we are truly faithful in submitting to His Word.

The authority of the Bible is critical for the future of the church and for the world the church has been sent to with the gospel. If the church is to totally compromise in this critical area, she will become a part of the world and the hope of the good news of Jesus will flicker out.

2016 © Ed LeBlanc

The Church and the Culture War

church doorSecularists often do not understand the church. Much of that lack of understanding is the fault of the church herself however, it is also difficult for secularists to fully understand and accept the message and meaning of the church.  Many secularists are happy to offer advice to the church on what she should believe and how she should act in the public square.  They, and even a few churchgoers, would like to remake the church in their own image.  Much of that image contains the liberal excesses of modernism, such as a loose form of sexual morality, and the comforts of postmodern relativism, such as cafeteria Christianity.

Sex and the Church

The common area of conflict between secularism and the church is the ongoing culture war that rages across the landscape of the west, particularly in the United States.  With the recent ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court on same-sex marriage, many on both sides of the debate feel that the church has suffered a major defeat in the culture war and should either move on or recalibrate her role in the public square.

Many secularists believe the church has it wrong when it comes to sexuality.  They think the church is obsessed with sex and that this obsession is obscuring her view of sex, namely that the church can’t see sex the same way they do.  But this is reading the church wrong.  If one goes to any evangelical church in North America today and carefully listens to what people are saying on a Sunday morning, the message from the pulpit or even home Bible studies, one rarely finds Christians making sex a topic of frequent discussion.

Many secularists claim that they only hear from the church on sexual issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.  But this is selective hearing.  The church is talking about sex in the public square but only because society is talking about sex in the public square and far more frequently than the church.  The church is merely responding and providing a Christian worldview on human sexuality.

If anything is obsessed with sex, it is the cultural institutions of the west.  Hollywood and the entertainment industry churns out thousands of sexuality explicit and implicit media content every year.  As they say, sex sells and for Hollywood it is a key source of revenue.  Universities in North America have had sex on the academic agenda for decades.  Not only are there various kinds of courses and programs dedicated to sexual issues, there is now open warfare on individuals and campus groups that dare to oppose the enlightened sexual ethic of the Academy.  Not to mention the massive “hook up” culture that is standard practice in university residences, something that is torturing university administrators trying to define what rape and consent really mean.
I could continue with more examples of a sex saturated culture such as the heavy sexual themes on the covers of such august publications as Cosmopolitan magazine that grace the checkout counters of every grocery store but I think you get my point.
But all of the above are not the products of a church obsessed by sex but rather from a secular liberal mindset that is enraptured or, dare I say, enslaved, by sex.

The Fall of Christendom

New York Times writer David Brooks, in his essay The Next Culture War, claims that Christianity is in decline in the United States.  Indeed, he might have added Canada and Europe as well.  Mr. Books notes that fewer people are describing themselves as Christians, that church attendance is dropping and that young people are detaching themselves from religious institutions.  More apparent indications that the church is losing the culture war.

However, I believe what Mr. Brooks and others are seeing is not the decline of Christianity but the decline of Christendom.  By that, I mean a cultural expression of Christianity that looks like Christianity on the outside but inside is bereft of the true faith. For decades, it was cultural for most Americans to say they were Christian and go to church on Sundays because that was what everyone was saying and doing. To come out and say that you were an atheist or a nonchurch goer was to basically say that you were unAmerican or a communist.  In parts of the U.S., many people would claim that they were born again and, for a time, it was fashionable to say so.

All of this was in fact Christendom and not true Christianity.  Even though many Americans said they were Christian and went to church, most of them didn’t take the Bible seriously in their personal lives and most didn’t have a true relationship with Jesus Christ.  The followers of Christendom went to church on Sunday but lived as practical secularists the rest of the week.  They made the right Christian sounds but in reality their hearts were far from God.

With such a shaky foundation, Christendom was bound to collapse with secularism filling the void. In a real sense, Christianity in the United States is a minority faith and always has been.  The number of actual disciples of Jesus Christ in the U.S. has always been below what the polls have been telling us for years.  With the collapse of Christendom, that reality is becoming clearer.  It is far easier today for pretend Christians to stop pretending.

A Prophetic Voice in the Public Square

In his essay, Mr. Brooks kindly advises social conservatives to change course in the current climate by putting aside their fight in the culture war oriented around the sexual revolution.  He notes that many conservative commentators have vowed to keep fighting that particular war.  Mr. Brooks is echoing what many are saying to Christians and social conservatives in the wake of the US Supreme Court decision on marriage: the sexual war is over, you lost, it’s time to move on.

However, this is a failure to recognize the nature of the calling that the church has been commissioned to exercise by her Lord. The church engages in the so-called cultural wars not to win those wars but to be faithful to her Master’s calling.  In the early days of the church, the apostles Peter and John were ordered by the religious authorities of their time not to speak or teach about Jesus in the public square.  But Peter and John replied:

“Judge for yourselves whether is it right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” – Acts 4:19-20

Peter and John’s statement summarizes the call of the church: to act as a prophetic voice in the public square and to clearly articulate the Christian worldview anchored in the Lord Jesus Christ.  This is the same call many faithful Christians are adhering to today, even in the wake of the latest setback against the sexual revolution.  It is not a matter of winning a battle or war but being faithful to the call even in the mist of strident opposition.  The Christian worldview has much to say on sexual morality and the church is being faithful to her Lord by articulating that worldview.

A similar situation existed in Germany in the 1930s when National Socialism swept the country.  The culture war of that time had been fought and won quite easily.  Many were saying that it was over and that it was time to move on.  Unfortunately, many churches in Germany did just that.  They moved on and looked the other way when it came to the implementation of Nazism. They lost their prophetic voice and decided to align themselves with the new order.  Not all did and many German Christians risked and lost their lives in resisting the victors of that particular culture war.  To them, it was not a matter of winning or losing but being faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ in the public square.

We see the same thing today with Christians in Muslim nations who are resisting the persecutions and executions being inflicted upon them.  They could easily say, its over, we lost, its time to move on and convert to Islam.  But they do not because they are determined to remain faithful to their Lord and Saviour in the public square.

A New Culture War Proposal

Mr. Brooks proposes a change of course to social conservatives and the church:

“Put aside a culture war that has alienated large parts of three generations from any consideration of religion or belief. Put aside an effort that has been a communications disaster, reducing a rich, complex and beautiful faith into a public obsession with sex.  Put aside a culture war that, at least over the near term, you are destined to lose. Consider a different culture war, one just as central to your faith and far more powerful in its persuasive witness.”

Mr. Brooks then describes a society that is currently in social turmoil:

“We live in a society plagued by formlessness and radical flux, in which bonds, social structures and commitments are strained and frayed.  Millions of kids live in stressed and fluid living arrangements. Many communities have suffered a loss of social capital.  Many young people grow up in a sexual and social environment rendered barbaric because there are no common norms.  Many adults hunger for meaning and goodness, but lack a spiritual vocabulary to think things through.”

His description of the current state of society is an accurate one.  This is a revolution that has destroyed common norms and rides on a secularism that lacks meaning and cultivates nihilism.  This is the very revolution that Christians continue to rally against in the public square, something that Mr. Brooks is saying they should give up on!

From there, he proposes that:

“Social conservatives could be the people who help reweave the sinews of society.  They already subscribe to a faith built on selfless love.  They can serve as examples of commitment.  They are equipped with a vocabulary to distinguish right from wrong, what dignifies and what demeans.  They already, but in private, tithe to the poor and nurture the lonely.

The defining face of social conservatism could be this: those are the people who go into underprivileged areas and form organizations to help nurture stable families.  Those are the people who build community institutions in places where they are sparse.  Those are the people who can help us think about how economic joblessness and spiritual poverty reinforce each other.  Those are the people who converse with us about the transcendent in everyday life.”

Mr. Brooks proposal indicates that he has a high regard for his social conservative friends and recognizes that they possess the social and spiritual capital to tackle the great moral problems confronting our culture.  This is in stark contrast to secular liberals who mostly see Christians as backward, a threat to progress and who should be shoved into their private faith closets for good.

What the Church Has Always Be Doing

However, what Mr. Brooks is proposing, the church is already doing and has done for centuries.  Thousands of churches throughout the United States, Canada and the world are exercising their faith of selfless love in inner cities, the suburbs, in schools, hospitals and countless other places where people are hurting and in need of help.  There are churches and Christian ministry organizations that are providing physical aid to countries all over the world.  Christians are out there helping to nurture stable families, build community institutions, tackle economic joblessness and combat spiritual poverty, the things Mr. Brooks talks about in his essay.

For some reason he and others are not seeing the obvious.  He says the culture war the church should be fighting is more Albert Schweitzer and less Franklin Graham.  But the Franklin Graham he sees is the one on CNN from time to time, not the Franklin Graham who also founded Samaritan’s Purse, an organization that has been helping the poor and disadvantaged around the world for years.

Mr. Brooks says that social conservatives should be doing purposefully in public what they already do in private.  However, the church has been doing all of these things purposefully in public for years but the secular media and their elites refuse to see and publicly acknowledge the work the church is doing in the world.

The church has much to offer this suffering world.  By the empowerment of her Lord, she is able and willing to extend His love and grace to millions.  The church does not do this perfectly but she has been doing it for two millennia.  At the same time, she is also called by her Lord to speak a prophetic voice in the public square and this she will continue to do even if everyone else has “moved on”.

Mr. Brooks concludes his essay by saying:

“The more practical struggle is to repair a society rendered atomized, unforgiving and inhospitable.  Social conservatives are well equipped to repair this fabric, and to serve as messengers of love, dignity, commitment, communion and grace.”

Mr. Brooks is quite right. However, the church is already doing this and doing it publicly.  I would invite him to visit churches and Christian ministries in his city of Washington D.C. who are actively making a difference in the culture and see how the Christian faith and worldview are changing millions of people’s lives for the good.

2015 © Ed LeBlanc