Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Christian Influence on Society

Even with a cursory reading of the book of Acts in the New Testament there is no denying that after the birth of the Church at Pentecost these people who named Christ as their Savior and Lord had a profound effect on whatever society they lived in. From the public proclamation of the Gospel on the portal of Solomon’s Temple to the house churches, from the public square to the jail cell, from cities corridors to the quarters of the Emperor, from the centers of highest learning to the by-ways of poverty, they infiltrated society with their influence. They did it on a personal individual level as well as a corporate level. Their method was mass evangelism and one on one. Their influence was in private and in public.

These same people who had lived in harmony with their society all their lives were now agents of massive societal tension. What changed? Had society changed so much in their lifetime that they now felt the need to stand in the gap and recoup the past? Had the government forced unacceptable influence upon society that they rebelled against? Had evil infiltrated the life of society so much that, in their goodness, they were motivated to bring about a better society? Had the quality of their lives deteriorated to the point that they were driven to recapture a better life for themselves and their posterity?

I purpose to you that the answer to all these questions is no. What had changed was not society at all. What had changed was the people who believed that this person who was known as Jesus of Nazareth had lived, died, and rose from the dead was and is the Son of God, the Messiah, Savior, Lord, Master, King. These people had accepted the report that this Jesus was “the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through [Him].” (Jn 14:6) He was not just a truth, a way, and a life. They were not just convinced but they were convicted of the fact that “there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” (Ac 4:12) With this belief these people’s hearts were invaded by the Holy Spirit by whom they were empowered and motivated to proclaim these truths that they now embodied. They believed that His word was truth and that anything that spoke something different was false.

I purpose that the influence that these people wielded upon society was more than just a “plan of salvation” but that their influence was the entire embodiment of the Gospel. They believed that Jesus Christ was an absolute and that His way was not just the only way to eternal life but the best possible way for human beings to live. These people that were willing to go to their deaths for these truths were convicted that their message was the best message for society.

With the before mentioned premise, when we hear people who claim to be Christian say that they do not want to force their views on society we must question what these people believe. Do they believe what those earliest followers of Christ believed? Do they believe that Jesus is the only way to salvation? Do they believe that His Word is truth? Do they believe that His message is the best possible way for human beings to live?

How can someone be a follower of Jesus Christ and not believe that the entire embodiment of the Gospel is the best influence any society can have? Aren't we as Christians suppose to be salt and light to the world? The teachings of the Bible will make better marriages, families, children, employees, employers, neighbors, politicians, etc. Influencing society with the truths of Christianity will bring about an atmosphere that respects all people. Not only will it bring about respect but it emphasizes responsibility and consequence in relation to behavior.

The Scriptures present the standard by which believers are to live. Obviously, this can only be done by grace. Yet the influence will be one of godliness and righteousness. Hosea proclaimed in his prophetic writing, “the ways of the LORD are right, And the righteous will walk in them, But transgressors will stumble in them.” (Ho 14:9) He called to his society “Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God, For you have stumbled because of your iniquity.” (Ho 14:1)

In my opinion, Christians have lost their influence in America because we have stumbled in the ways of God. We have believed the lie that religion and politics don’t mix. We have segregated our faith from our society. Christians don’t believe that their salvation is in being an American but in being in Christ. We are citizens of the Kingdom of God and that citizenship is greater than being an American citizen. Still, we have stumbled in letting this earthly kingdom influence the Kingdom of God rather than vise versa. Being an American we have believed that we are free to believe what we want and behave how we want. Yet, in being a follower of Christ we are constrained to believe that true freedom is found in the truth and that truth drives us to behave appropriately.

 Christianity is not bound by democracy. If a Christian finds himself in a totalitarian society he is still bound to live out his faith privately and publicly. Being found in a democracy does not change that. However, if a Christian is found in a democracy where he is given a voice and choice shouldn't that believer be all the more salt and light to his/her world? Shouldn't their voice and choice influence their society to holiness and righteousness?

Let me give two examples of current politics where, in my opinion, the Christian who is an American citizen can influence society to the better. One is in the area of abortion. In 1973 the law of the land established a freedom to seek abortion. Over 40 years that law has reached further and further into the duration of pregnancy. There is no doubt that abortion has become a major choice of birth control. No doubt that the 1960’s brought about a public sexual revolution and abortion has encouraged a society that is loose in the morals of sexual relationships. It has been used to try to ease the physical responsibility and consequence of sex. The Scriptures are clear that the act that brings about the formation of a child is to be holy and righteous within the bonds of marriage. Also, the Scriptures are firm on the truth that it is God who brings about life in the womb. To kill that life is the antithesis of seeing God as the author of that life. Just as murder is the taking of an innocent life, so is abortion. Abortion, as birth control, is the opposite of believing God when He says, “children are a gift of the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward.” (Ps 127:3) If a Christian is given the voice and choice in establishing laws to govern society shouldn't they protect the life in the womb? Shouldn't the Christian place a higher value on life than on personal freedom? Shouldn't the Kingdom of God influence this earthly kingdom? Shouldn't they encourage holiness and righteousness by influencing the physical responsibility and consequence of sex?

The second example is homosexual lifestyle. The Scriptures are very absolute in the lifestyles of unrighteousness; “do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” (1 Co 6:9–11) The homosexual lifestyle is equated with the lifestyles of liars, fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, effeminate, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, and swindlers. They are all unrighteous lifestyles. So, it is no different in caliber of sinfulness than other perversions of God’s ways. Should not Christians use their voice and choice to provide the best possible way for human beings to live together? We have laws born out of nature that protect the righteous. That is the purpose of law; “law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted.” (1 Ti 1:9–11) If we are given a voice of in society shouldn't our voice embody the gospel? Shouldn't we do all we can, in the environment we find ourselves in, to protect the righteous? Weren't we all born with certain dispositions that were antithetical to sound teaching?  Didn't the gospel save us from the lifestyles that perverted God’s ways? Shouldn't the Kingdom of God influence this earthly kingdom? Shouldn't we influence society to live lifestyles that are the best possible way for human beings to live together?

It is my opinion that although salvation in Christ is eternally personal and individual it is never intended to be private. The Gospel of Christ is not something that can be thwarted into silence unless the follower of Christ quenches and grieves the Holy Spirit. I am not advocating a social gospel but a gospel that influences society. Using our voice and choice for the betterment of society may cost us our lives just as it did some of those in the Book of Acts but we must in obedience speak the truth in love. Whether or not our message is received is not the issue. The outcome of our obedience is not what motivates us. It is not even our love for America that primarily motivates us. It is our love for Jesus that motivates us. “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (Jn 14:15)

May we as Christians who are also American citizens return to our Lord, revive our faith, and reunite to influence our society to the best possible way for human beings to live together.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

How Can I Help?

It took me a little longer than a week to put this together but here it is. In light of what I have proposed concerning what I believe to be a culture problem, the question comes “How can we help?” “What can we do to help correct our culture and help prevent these types of tragedies?” Here are ten things that can start reversing the heart condition of our culture.
1.     As a Christian, the first thing we can do is pray. “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men,  for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Ti 2:1–2). Pray that our government will make decisions that allow us as Christians to live in harmony with our culture as we live out the life of Christ in public.
2.     Live out our faith. By that I mean don’t just take the name of Christian but become a true follower of Christ. The followers of Christ “were first called Christians in Antioch” (Acts 11:26) by those who were not followers of Christ because their lives so identified with Christ that it was noticeable to those outside of Christ. In the New Testament age being called a partisan of Christ, Christian, was not a complement but a condemnation. They were supposed to be a partisan of Rome. Christians have lost their influence in our culture because we have tried to be accepted by the “world.” We have tried to make being a Christian non-offensive to a godless, lawless, licentious, unrighteous world. We have done just the opposite of what we are instructed to do: “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking” (The Message Romans 12:2). Following Christ sometimes will put us at odds with our culture. So much so that at times we may even suffer because we follow Christ. Yet, “if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name” (1 Peter 4:16).
3.     At least an aspect of being a partisan of Christ is being someone who spreads the message of the Gospel. Will the true Gospel message be offensive? YES! Why? Because “there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). It is the message that got the early partisans of Christ arrested and killed. Still, it is the message that will confront the evils of our culture. It is the only message that will produce a personal embodiment of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Ga 5:22–23). These are the virtues that will transform our culture.
4.     Just as partisans of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents speak out about their platform let us who are partisans of Christ speak out. We have willingly allowed the evils of this culture drown our voices out. We need to speak out with grace in our conversations but we need to speak. The exhortation to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” is not intended to be just a mental exercise but “so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Ro 12:2). Speak out encouraging that which is good and righteous. Speak out against that which is evil and wrong. Yet, whether we are speaking out for the positive or against the negative let us heed the instruction “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Colossians 4:6). May our speech never be with “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech” (Colossians 3:8). Let our speech be civil even in the face of hostilities.
5.     Let there be unity among Christians. A wise preacher once said “that which units us will also divide us” as he spoke concerning ideas and beliefs of different sects. As partisans of Christ may we let the belief and faith in Jesus Christ be what unites us and what divides us. Jesus unites us together and divides from those who outside of Christ. We may have some different beliefs in some doctrines. We may have some different interpretations of particular Biblical passages. But let’s not allow those things divide followers of Jesus Christ. Among those who are partisans of Christ let us never divide ourselves over politics, denominations, or public opinion. In unity we can stand together and gain greater influence on our culture.
6.     “Love your neighbors as yourself” (Matt 22:39) Begin initiating deeper relationships with those in your neighborhood. Maybe it is through a Neighborhood Watch or through Block Parties, but however it is start paying attention to your neighbors.
7.     Pay attention to those around you. Not just in a suspicious way but in a compassionate way. Look out for those who are doing good and beneficial things for the community and encourage them. Watch out for those who are being bad and destructive and, if possible and SAFE, confront them with grace and kindness. If you see something suspicious or illegal, tip off the police even if in anonymity.
8.     If you are available and qualified get involved in public service. Whether it is in city government, school board, civic organizations, etc. carry your good-sense and good-morals into the public arena. Be an agent of change to better your community.
9.     Voice your concerns and ideas to those who can do something about them. Don’t be afraid to call, email, snail mail, text, etc. those who are supposed to be representing you. From your city council person to the President of the United States of America, they need to hear from you in order to represent you.
10.  Live out what has been called the Golden Rule: “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you” (Mt 7:12). Be the neighbor you would want as a neighbor. Be the costumer you would want to serve. Be the employee or employer you would want to employee or work for. “In everything” and in every way treat others with respect, honesty, and grace.