Given what we’re seeing in churches across the country, it seems that many who claim the name of Christ are spoiling for a fight. Are these fights being waged for the truth of the Gospel? Or the authority of Scripture? Or a host of other biblical doctrines that either lie at or near the heart of our faith?
No. Christians are sizing each other up on cultural matters such as where you stand on former President Trump, the present racial strife, or whether or not to wear masks. We are drawing so many lines in the sand, the beach looks like a tic tac toe board. And if you violate my code of cultural orthodoxy, we must go our separate ways. It was bad enough when people were trying to choose between Peter, Paul, and Apollos. Now, we’re choosing between Jordan Peterson and Ta Nehisi Coats.
What is happening? I thought the culture wars were over and that we were going to wrestle with matters more central to Christian faith and practice. Our present battles for biblical truth are missing a key ingredient…biblical truth.
Let’s be honest with ourselves: many of us are evaluating churches based solely on their position on mask-wearing or about the present racial climate. We question a pastor’s fidelity or orthodoxy based on how he handles these volatile issues. It would seem, then, that we are allowing the culture to define orthodoxy rather than Scripture.
There is no institution better suited to handle these hot topics than the church. Why? Because we speak where Scripture speaks and resist binding each other’s consciences otherwise. We use confessions to bind as communities to the unequivocal testimony of Scripture. And one such confession gives us an important reminder:
God alone is Lord of the conscience, and has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are, in any thing, contrary to His Word; or beside it, in matters of faith, or worship. So that, to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commands, out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience: and the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also.WCF, 20:2
This is actually a key part of the church’s witness to the watching world. The “gods” of our culture demand absolute allegiance to a political and cultural identity. They dictate that you ‘stand with the enlightened’ and wear a mask; or, they demand that you ‘stand with the free’ and take the mask off. They turn matters of wisdom into life or death, make or break issues. With such gods, every culture and movement turns into a cancel culture.
The God of the Bible does not bind Christians together with a mask or a flag, but with a cross. He requires and enables obedience to what matters most and calls us to practice deference and submission on matters that don’t. Do you have a strong opinion on the hot button issues of our day? So do I…but not at church or before the watching world. People will define us by what we talk about most, and I fear that it’s not often the cross.
Many of us have become emboldened on social media in recent years. When, in all the quarreling and bickering about #stopthesteal or the pejorative scorning of ‘those naive evangelicals,’ did you articulate and defend the hope that can be found in Jesus alone? That no matter who the president is, Jesus is still the king? We were fueled by the scorn we met from opposing positions. We were encouraged by the celebrations we received from our echo chambers. But we were not acting out of our identity and purpose, which is found in Christ alone. We forgot that without this identity and purpose, we have nothing. But if our lives are hidden with Christ in God and he is working in us to will and work according to his good pleasure, we have everything.
This is not to deter one from politics and engaging the culture, or to claim that we ought refrain from political discussions with fellow believers. In fact, I am asking you to engage in the only way possible for the Christian—with the Gospel as your banner and theme. Address the prevalent issues of the day within the context of the unity we are given in Christ, with love, wisdom, and charity that is befitting of that unity.
Just after returning from Afghanistan, I was conversing with a white soldier from the boonies in Indiana and a black soldier from the projects of Norfolk. The soldier from the boonies told me, “Chaplain, before the Army, I would’ve hated this guy.” He put his arm over his black friend’s shoulders. “Now, I’d die for him.” The Army had given to these two soldiers a unity that was greater than their differences.
When the Lord welcomes us into his eternal love with his eternal family through Christ Jesus, we do the same thing. Whatever your position is on the political and cultural issues of the day, our unity in Christ far transcends any differences we may have on those issues. If Jesus has died for you, then I will die to my desire to be right before you. I hope you would do the same for me. If you don’t know the love of Jesus yet, I will die to my desire to score political points at the expense of what really matters.
I want the looters to know Jesus. The bison-guy who stormed the Capitol…I definitely want him to know Jesus. The racists, the anarchists, all of them. And if I cause you to stumble because I have prioritized my political views over my faith, may God give me the grace to repent. The church is too precious of a thing to be wasted on petty divisions.
Amidst the seething cultural turmoil, I know of only one traitor: me. And Jesus died for this guy. The least I can do is reinforce this narrative. May God give us each grace to do so.