Church and Culture

I received today an “urgent” appeal to sign a petition demanding the US Senate filibuster an Obama nomination to the federal bench of a certain “anti-Jesus” judge. The judge opposes public prayer using Jesus name, is very much pro abortion and in general is a liberal twit. I will sign a petition opposed to the fellow for being very much pro abortion and in general a liberal twit – but not for being anti-Jesus! Evangelicals in a misguided attempt to be “salt and light” to a decadent culture have gone from preaching to meddling. The moralistic drones of today's Christian Right have proved the secularists correct. We have gone so far over the line in politicizing The Gospel, that charges that Christians wish to impose a theocracy in America have become more right than wrong.

I am grateful to Our Lord that we are not a Christian nation, nor Mohammedan, nor Jewish nor any other theistic political construct. Constantine the first “Christian Emperor” of Rome proclaimed Christianity the official religion of the empire in the 4th century. Once joined to earthly power The Church mutated over the next 1000 years becoming a venal, corrupt and voracious monster that punished unbelief and dissent with death and oppressed its own nearly as harshly. In Ireland state churches have fostered murder and mayhem for centuries.

The Puritans of New England sought to establish the “New Jerusalem”, a “holy city set on a hill.” The laws of New England based on the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy including idolatry and blasphemy were ecclesiastical in nature harsh in enforcement. Dissenters mostly Baptists, were persecuted and banished. In response to these abuses Roger Williams established Rhode Island, the first political entity in the new world to secure free expression of one’s faith. James Madison, a devout Presbyterian and arguably the most truly Christian of our founders was militantly opposed to any attempt to establish The Kingdom of God on the western shore of the Atlantic. We should be as well.

In the second chapter of Revelation Christ chastises the church at Ephesus for abandoning The Gospel in favor of good works. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.” He did not criticize the good works - only that they had eclipsed the purer and more important purposes of His Church.

Just what are the more important purposes of The Church and its people? Jesus answers this in numerous accounts but three seem to summarize them well. According to John’s gospel [21: 15-18], Jesus asked Peter three times “Do you love me”? Peter answered in the affirmative all three times. In reply, on each occasion Jesus said, “feed my sheep”. In what is known as the Great Commission, Christ calls his disciples to "Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation”[ Mark 15: 16] and teach them [those who believe] to “observe all that I have commanded of you” [Matthew 28: 20]. Where within these texts does one find instructions to either establish “Christian Nations” or compel unbelievers to observe what Christ commands? According to Jesus the pure work of the church is to evangelize and then educate and care for those who accept His offer of salvation. Nowhere does He compel atheists, agnostics or pagans to obey Christian precepts. Atheists don’t believe in God or His Son, why would they follow His rules or respect His axioms? To expect unbelievers to accept and obey Christian principles is as preposterous as expecting Christians to obey Buddha or The Koran! Trying to pressure goats to fly accomplishes nothing save making them angry, so too efforts to coerce heathens to follow a code meant for Jesus’ followers.

Jesus also made very clear statements about His Kingdom. Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world." [John 18: 36]. The biblical task of The Church is not ambiguous. Clearly we are to be about evangelizing, teaching, worshiping and ministering to each other. Clearly we are not to be about establishing His Kingdom on earth or creating and ruling Christian Nations. We are to Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s. Civil government is Caesar’s by God’s ordinance.

Doesn’t Christ call us to be “salt and light”? Of course! "You are the salt of the earth . . . "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. [Matthew 5: 13-16]. We are always to model Our Lord and oppose sin both as individuals and corporately. The analogies found in these texts are of great import in this discussion. Salt is but one of many ingredients in a meal. Without salt the stew is not very tasty. However as we all know, too much salt ruins it. A light does not compel, it illumines. The light forces no one to take the right path it only makes it visible. Christians then are to season the world not embalm it, to show the way not coerce the unwilling to follow it.

For one who has been a staunch “culture warrior” the above realization has come painfully. “I have been wrong” does not form easily on my lips. To acknowledge that even a jot or tittle of truth is found in secularist indictments of The Church swallows hard. However I have been wrong in demanding that pagans abide by Christian mores and they have been right that Evangelicals attempt even unwittingly to establish a North American Christian theocracy. I repent.

Does this mean I no longer think I should take a position on public political and moral issues? Again, of course not. I am still to be a light amidst the darkness, revealing the truth. I am to meliorate the culture by proclaiming The Gospel and encouraging public policies that uphold the sanctity of life, respect our God given liberties and secure the future for our children. None of these are exclusively Christian yet all reflect His goodness. It is past time pietistic, Evangelicals repent, quit moralizing the culture and “do the works it did at first” It may be astonishing what a few decades of fervently trumpeting the grace of God in Christ His Son might effect on our perishing civilization.

Emergent Heresy

I have spent considerable time lately reading about the “Emergent Church”. There is much to read, too much. What one may ask is the Emergent Church? Based on my reading Emergent [it goes by this part of the formal name to distinguish itself from the "Emerging Church"] is a “conversation” about the refusal of the hierarchical evangelical church to meet the demands of postmodern man and what must be done about it. It is the latest effort by the “all about me” community to remake The Gospel in its image. What puzzles me is that so many see this movement as something new and take it so seriously. Emergent is nothing more than the extension and updating of the revolt against form, doctrine, and propositional truth that began in the sixties when Father Tim first took his Martin to Mass.

The Emergent conversation begins with the premise that The Age of Reason [modernism] beginning from The Enlightenment of the 18th century, has passed away. Postmodernism has arrived, an age in which there are no absolutes and objective reality does not exist - a sort of updated, intellectualized “Free to be You and Me”. The thoughtful postmodern will not be reached it is said, by arguments from doctrines that order all creation under a singular universal authority.

Postmodern thought offers a worldview, actually a non world view claiming that every pretense to reality is culturally informed and one culture's perspective is no more or less valid than another's - though it may be antithetical! It is an anti-philosophy that precludes knowledge at all. Emergent proposes to adapt Christianity to these ideas. I am at a loss how one one might merge ultimate truth with nonsense and produce anything but rubbish.

Young postmoderns the Emergents insist, will not respond to the “exclusive” “arrogant” and “intolerant” message of the traditional church. If it is to survive the 21st century, Christianity must be stripped of its hard-edged dogmatism and rigid, confessions. God's precepts must give way to “poetry” “community” “affections” and “mystery”. In other words, The Church must surrender truth and embrace emotion if it is to be palatable to these young Hegelians. The message is clear. Unless the gospel is post-modernized an entire generation will be lost and perhaps The Church as well.

Save that this movement has a smokey smell and will surely lead many astray it would be unworthy of thoughtful consideration. It is derivative, vapid, self- indulgent and intellectually dishonest. The Emergent Church proposes its own anti meta-narrative to answer the questions of a world rejecting all meta-narratives. It offers its own non dogma to a society that denies all dogma. The Emergent conversation prescribes incoherence to a culture dying of incoherence. It would replace an ancient edifice built up in service over centuries on the blood of martyrs and standing on the "shoulders of giants" with an amorphous accretion of free form ,leaderless "faith communities" and house churches, un-guided by un-thinking fresh faced, neo hippies.

The visible church is not infallible, nor is it always warm, loving, accepting or authentic. She is made up of hypocrites, idolaters, drunks, adulterers and every other type of malefactor one can name. St. Augustine is quoted as saying of The Church “she’s a whore but she’s my mother”. She has persevered through a never ceasing progression of persecutions, heresies, corruptions, inquisitions and scandals. She has survived Rome, Marx, Nietzsche and unbelief. Until abandoned by Her betrothed, She is the face of Jesus' Bride.

The Church is slow to learn and slow to turn. She is by nature and necessity a conservative establishment. She must also be organized and functional. The apostle Paul set forth the hierarchy and qualifications for leadership and church discipline in his letters to the New Testament churches. The Church is called to do all things properly and in good order and to hand down the gospel and tenets of the faith to its children. This task requires structure and continuity. Emergents pillory the late 20th century churches for failing in just that mission. I suggest that failure to the extent it is failure is the result not of the constitution of those churches but of abandoning truth reverence and tradition in fearful pandering to whining and demanding children. Emergent offers more of the same poison as cure for the first.

Jesus said,"I am the truth”. How do these new age spiritualists plan to season that clear assertion of universal and exclusive truth to the tastes of multiculturists? He also proclaimed Himself The Son of God and that only through Him may one be reconciled to His father. To all who believe on Him He offers eternal life. To those who don’t He promises Hell. How does Brian McLaren or Rob Bell soften these “hard edged” absolutes?

The entire New Testament teaches the exclusivity of Christianity. Can Christo-Buddhism be true? What about Christian-Satanism? I read recently a progressive believer declare that a Muslim-Christian may acknowledge both Jesus as Savior and Allah as God. Would Allah then be Jesus' father? How can this be? Allah’s word expressed in the Koran denies the deity of Christ. Accommodation with other “equally valid” faiths demands just this sort of syncretism on a massive scale. Be it syncretism or 21st century gnostic mysticism, The Emergent Church preaches something but not the revealed Word of God.

“For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart”.[Hebrews 4:12] -
“So shall My Word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it”.
[Isaiah 55:11]

So the Bible says and it still is news. The common thread in all the movements or conversations to make Christianity more "relevant" is the disregard for the timelessness and power of God’s Word and the sweetness of The Gospel. The Apostles preached, “Christ and Him crucified” to a cultural milieu thoroughly Jewish and pagan. With fearless audacity, they proclaimed Jesus’ resurrection. They built Christ's Church in a militantly, antagonistic environment. The Great Commission commands “spread The Gospel to all nations”. For nearly two thousand years, this message in its pure and unadulterated form has proven relevant enough to win the hearts of Kings and Emperors, sustain The Church and add millions of vastly diverse citizens to The Kingdom of God.

The wise of this world proclaimed God dead, Jesus a fraud and The Church an anachronism - in the 1960's. Oddly since then, Jesus has continued to call His sheep, they have continued to recognize His voice, come to Him and be added to His Church. S0 it was in the 1st century, so it is in the 21st, so shall it be until He returns.