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Shining Light in Our Culture

 

Joshua led Israel during a time when the spiritual focus of the nation was centered on God and his faithfulness. We read in the book of Judges: “The people served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had seen all the great things the Lord had done for Israel.”

 

But then something terrible happened: 

 

Another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. They forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. (Jud. 2: 7,10)

 

These words provoke some pressing questions: Why did a generation grow up in Israel with no regard for God? Why did they turn their hearts toward evil? The obvious answer is that the religious faith of the parents was not embraced by their children. 

 

Second hand faith, or no faith at all, leads a culture into decline. Whenever a culture descends into moral decay and darkness, you can be certain there is a lack of godly living and influence in that culture. Our North American culture has countless people who have no regard for God or for Christian principles. So how did our culture come to be like Israel of old?

 

From the time of Constantine, Christianity has occupied a privileged position in Western society. Up until a generation ago, people generally accepted our Christian culture. Even when they stumbled, at least they nodded in the direction of the Bible. Things were illegal or intemperate or wrong-headed because they weren’t right, and people accepted this because many in our culture had been influenced by Biblical teachings. 

 

There were some down periods for the faith but for the most part, Christianity has colored practically all of education, law, literature, and consciousness in our society. Its influence on society is undeniable. Even atheists agree. Philosopher Luc Perry – surprisingly, in a book promoting atheism – says it was Christianity that introduced the concept of equal rights. It overthrew the ancient social hierarchies between rich and poor, master and slave. According to Christianity, we are all ‘brothers’ on the same level as creatures of God.” [1]

 

Another atheist, Richard Rorty also agrees on Christianity’s influence. In a lecture to UNESCO, he noted that throughout history, societies have come up with various ways to exclude certain groups from the human family. By contrast, Rorty notes, Christianity gave rise to the concept of universal rights, derived from the conviction “that all human beings are created in the image of God.” In the modern age, however Rorty says, “due to Darwin we no longer accept the idea of creation. Therefore, we are no longer morally bound to maintain that everyone who is biologically human has equal dignity.” [2]

 

Does this Darwinian thinking have any consequences? Absolutely!  Such disregard for a Creator led Peter Singer to state that a newborn baby has less value than intelligent animals: “The life of a newborn baby is of less value to it than the life of a pig, a dog, or a chimpanzee is to the nonhuman animal.” [3] He even recommends using humans in medical experiments instead of animals, if the animals have higher cognitive abilities.

            

Are we surprised then when Senators and Governors in the United States recently advocated for late-term abortions? And what about Canada’s abortion rates? Are we not guilty, too? Between 2007 and 2017 there were 1,083,484 abortions in Canada. [4]  Let that number sink in. It is morally reprehensible. It speaks clearly to a culture that lacks a recognition of its Creator and the dignity of every human being. 

 

Sadly, we must admit that our culture’s Christian foundation is no longer recognized by many in our society. We’re skating on a shaky foundation of second-hand and third-hand Christian faith – or perhaps a foundation based on no faith at all.

 

Just as it was in the book of Judges, several generations have grown up in our society without the foggiest notion of who the Lord is or why he would want a relationship with them. Our society seems to mirror the society found in Judges, when “everyone did what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 17:6). Many are adrift on a sea of moral relativism, believing there are no moral absolutes and no god but self. This is today’s North American culture.

 

The consequence of ignoring God’s moral law is that Christians are often targeted. For example, consider the following issues currently happening in Canada:
 

  • Consider Father Tony’s case: An 83-year-old priest is charged with a crime for silently holding a free speech sign in a pro-abortion "bubble zone". [5]
     

  • Consider Morgane Oger's human rights complaint targeting Bill Whatcott: Oger claims that the following statement of Bill Whatcott is illegal and hateful: "The truth is there are only two genders, male and female, and they are God-given and unchangeable."
     

  • In an interview, Whatcott–who described himself as a “Christian activist” who formerly “engaged in same-sex sexual activity”– said he does not believe he did anything criminal. “I gave out medical information. I made theological arguments that I don’t think homosexuality is a good idea. I don’t believe I committed a criminal offence.” [6] His current lawyer, Lugosi, said, “Usually, a Canada-wide warrant is issued when somebody is alleged to have committed a very serious crime, like murder,” Lugosi said. “Normally, with something like this, it’s never done. It’s abnormal.” [7]
     

  • Consider the Canada Summer Jobs debacle wherein thousands of everyday camps, community organizations, churches, and small businesses were barred from a regular federal grant because they refused to renounce their pro-life and pro-family beliefs. Thankfully, in the first week of December 2018 the government announced a revised application for the Canada Summer Jobs program in response to complaints from the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, many individuals and other organizations. Soon after, the application form, Applicant Guide and Articles of Agreement were posted online. The EFC responded in a statement Dec. 7, 2018 expressing pleasure and encouragement that the values test has been dropped from the Canada Summer Jobs program. [8]
     

  • Consider the Ontario couple that was banned from being foster parents because they refused to lie about the Easter Bunny. In a stinging indictment of the actions of the Children’s Aid Society of Hamilton, a court judgment declared the CAS violated the foster parent’s right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression when the children were taken from their home and their fostering agreement terminated over the Easter Bunny dilemma. [9] Thankfully, they were vindicated.
     

  • Consider the Christian private schools in Alberta that are being forced to either change their Bible-based policies to conform to the LGBT agenda or shut down. John Carpay, President for the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedom said, “The government’s duty of neutrality, required by the Supreme Court of Canada, means that a school board cannot dictate whether verses in the Torah, Koran, New Testament or Guru Granth Sahib are acceptable.” [10] The battle still continues with the current NDP government.
     

  • Consider the muzzling of students and professors on our university campuses. It seems there is a new doctrine rapidly gaining acceptance at universities across Canada: Silencing people you disagree with is OK, as long your tactics of disruption and obstruction are not violent. In recent months, there have been a growing number of incidents of university presidents blithely condoning the silencing of speakers who have unpopular views (or at least views that are unpopular with a vocal minority). To cite just one example, a mob of loud protesters effectively shut down a presentation at McMaster University by University of Toronto psychology professor, Jordan Peterson. They rang bells and beat drums, chanting “Shut him down!” Peterson could not be heard in the classroom.  He eventually went outside, and the loud mob followed. Peterson had been invited to speak at McMaster about freedom of speech and political correctness. [11]
     

In the above examples, you can easily see how governmental and societal overreach are constantly trying to redefine freedom of speech and freedom of religion. But hopefully you are encouraged to see that when people politely push back, changes can happen. 

 

So, what effect is all of this having on the church and its mission? How is the church to relate to our current cultural climate? If we are to be disciples of Jesus, our beliefs and actions must reflect the moral foundation found in the teachings of Jesus. Pastors must help their churches understand the social and cultural issues of our day in the light of scripture. 

 

The Barna Research Group recently discovered some interesting data about pastors and how they respond to culturally sensitive issues. The research wanted to know if pastors felt limited or pressured when it comes to speaking about controversial topics. As a result of their research, they discovered, “half of Christian pastors say they frequently (11%) or occasionally (39%) feel limited in their ability to speak out on moral and social issues because people will take offense. The other half of pastors say they only rarely (30%) or never (20%) feel limited in this way.” [12]

 

When Barna asked these same pastors to identify the source of their pressure or concerns they discovered, “pastors are much more likely to say that they feel limited by those inside the church rather than those outside. In other words, the reactions of those in the pews are most on the minds of today’s pastors.” [13]

 

These findings are concerning. When half of today’s pastors are afraid to speak on morally sensitive issues because they are afraid of the reaction of congregants, the pastoral vocation is facing a crisis of faith and conviction. These findings also reveal a lack of biblical conviction and discipleship on the part of the average church attendee – something that does not portend well for the church’s future.

 

Ignoring this problem will not make it go away. This is because many other congregants seem to be increasing the pressure upon pastors to address what God has to say about social issues. Barna found, “Between 2014 and 2016, those ministers who feel pressured from inside their church to speak out on cultural issues (even if they’re not yet ready or not comfortable doing so) rose from 44 percent to 69 percent, a marked increase in a short period.” [14]

 

The issues pastors feel most pressured to speak out about are the same ones they feel limited to talk about. In other words, the squeeze comes from all sides: those demanding that the church take a stand and those outraged when it does (or outraged when that stance is other than what they’d hoped). [15]

 

One thing is certain. The church cannot ignore what God has to say on social issues without putting its purpose and mission at risk. As a moral beacon in our society the church must raise a godly standard. Faith leaders must work to cultivate humility, discernment and courage in the midst of a divided and a deteriorating moral culture. This is likely to come with a steady dose of challenging those inside the church as much as those outside of it. 

 

Pastors must be committed for the long haul, educating and equipping their people to respond with love and conviction, in word and deed. In short, Christians need to exhibit more salt and light in our culture.  This, after all, is the essence of discipleship; and it has to start with this present generation. And, this generation may very well be the church’s greatest asset in making a difference in our culture. 

 

Barna discovered that even though many people of faith report feeling misunderstood, persecuted, and marginalized in today’s society, the majority also believe their faith is primarily a positive contribution to society. Large majorities of practicing Christians, especially Millennials and evangelicals, report two confident attitudes: They feel their faith is a force for good (88%) and that it is essential for society (75%). [16]

 

These findings are very encouraging. It may also suggest why Pew Research concluded that Christians in this generation, “tend to be happier and more civically engaged than either religiously unaffiliated adults or inactive members of religious groups.” [17]

 

According to Pew’s analysis “regular participation in religious community clearly is linked with higher levels of happiness . . . . This may suggest that societies with declining levels of religious engagement, like the U.S. [or elsewhere], could be at risk for declines in personal and societal well-being.” [18] The risk of a decline in religious engagement and societal well-being was not lost on America’s first president, George Washington. He said, “Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” 

 

Pew’s research revealed an important truth. There appears to be a direct correlation between those who worship God and are happier and civically engaged, compared to those who do not worship God resulting in a cultural malaise. 

 

When Israel disregarded God, their society plunged into mayhem. The same will happen to any society that disregards God–even though that society may consider itself advanced and educated. Theodore Roosevelt once said, “To educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society.” That’s why the Bible enjoins, “Doing what is right makes a nation great, but sin will bring disgrace to any people” (Pr. 14:34). 

 

Admittedly, we are now missionaries in a dysphoric society where the church may be one more thing that people are dissatisfied with, or even worse, see it as irrelevant altogether. 

 

But I believe the church can make a difference! Jesus said to his followers, “You are the salt of the earth. . . . You are the light of the world.” (Mt. 5:13-16). The metaphors of salt and light illustrate the kind of influence Jesus wants his followers to exude. As a preservative, salt keeps meat or fish from decaying. As Christians, we are to help keep our world from moral decay. As lights, we are to illuminate the world with the love of Jesus wherever darkness and despair exists.

            

John said this about Jesus, “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it” (John 1:5). He also said Jesus came to us  “full of grace and truth” (John. 1:14). Jesus embodied these virtues of light, grace and truth. As light, Jesus dispelled the darkness found in our world. He displayed grace to so many people who needed forgiveness. But light and grace were not complete without truth. This is why Jesus said in John 8:31-32, “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 

 

As Christ’s followers, we are to be lights in our world, speaking God’s truth in love. If we don't have love, our message will be lost, no matter how truthful it may be. Paul suggests that speaking without love results in our message sounding like “a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians. 13:1). Sadly, too many Christians sound like gongs and clanging cymbals because of their lack of love. 

 

Jesus never compromised the truth, and neither should we. He shared it boldly, unequivocally, but he did so with love and compassion. We must follow his example. It is time to bring our salt and light into our world. May this generation of Christ’s followers arise and be the catalyst to bring our nation back to God.

 

[1] Luc Ferry, A Brief History of Thought: A Philosophical Guide to Living (New York: Harper Perennial, 2011), 77. (italics in original)

[2] Richard Rorty, “Moral Universalism and Economic Triage,” presented at the second UNESCO Philosophy Forum, Paris 1996, Reprinted in Diogenes 44, no. 173 (1996).

[3] Peter Singer, Practical Ethics, 2nd ed. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 169.

[4] http://www.arcc-cdac.ca/backrounders/statistics-abortion-in-canada.pdf

[5] https://www.catholicregister.org/item/28370-fr-tony-van-hee-arrested-for-violating-abortion-bubble-zone

[6] https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2018/06/19/anti-gay-activist-wanted-for-promotion-of-hatred-will-surrender-in-calgary-lawyer-says.html

[7] Ibid.

[8] https://www.evangelicalfellowship.ca/Resources/Government/Canada-Summer-Jobs-Grant-Program-(2017-2019)

[9] https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/requirement-to-say-easter-bunny-is-real-violated-couples-charter-rights-court

[10] https://nationalpost.com/news/religion/alberta-christian-school-fights-board-request-to-remove-offensive-scripture

[11] https://nationalpost.com/opinion/john-carpay-canadian-universities-are-far-too-tolerant-of-obstructionist-behaviour-that-shuts-down-free-speech

[12] https://www.barna.com/research/pastors-speaking-out/

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] https://factsandtrends.net/2019/02/11/research-finds-church-attendance-linked-to-personal-happiness/?ecid=PDM165296&bid=573262017

[18] Ibid.

 

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