WHY THE CHURCH CANNOT MOVE WITH THE TIMES (CULTURALLY SPEAKING)
Big news in the UK last month was to the effect that for the first time in England and Wales, the population of Christians was under 50% (46.2%) based on a recent census conducted.
Personally, I feel conflicted about this. On the one hand, I do not really care because contrary to the “aha! the downfall of Christianity begins!” reaction trailing this, decline in Christianity in the UK is actually the UK’s loss, not Christianity’s. Whether people believe the gospel or not has no bearing on its veracity. As Paul puts it,
“For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect? Certainly not!…” (Romans 3:3–4)
Jesus Christ is Lord of the whole earth (which the UK population is a minuscule portion of, approximately 0.85% of the world’s population) not a social media influencer just dying for followers and desperate for numbers. So what if the entire UK or the whole of the world for that matter do not acknowledge Him? How does that affect Him? or Christianity as a whole for that matter?
On the other hand, I do care because there are consequences (both in the now and at the final judgment) for rejection of Christ and the gospel. The Psalmist says,
“The wicked shall be turned into hell,
And all nations that forget God.” (Psalms 9:17)
And again, Christ tells His disciples,
“And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet. Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!” (Matthew 10:14)
So as a Christian, I do care that people be saved because God does and He does not wish any man to perish (1Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9). I do not want people to perish or be on the receiving end of the consequences for rejecting Christ. I guess the conclusion is that I, like most Christians, do care about the statistics, but not in the sense the media would expect…but I digress…
As part of the fall-out of that news, some UK citizens were interviewed as to why they think Christianity, according to the census, has declined. One of the major themes that emerged was “the church has failed to move with the times, it’s views are archaic and old-fashioned”. This begs the question, should the church move with the times?
My first reaction to this was to recall the first time the church is mentioned by Jesus Christ.
“Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:16–18)
This has been interpreted severally to mean Peter is the rock of the church but the entirety of scripture does not support this view. The rock being referred to was the revelation of Peter that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, i.e., the gospel. This makes sense as God is repeatedly referred to as the Rock all through Scriptures and the same description of Rock was used to describe Christ as well (Deuteronomy 32:4, 1 Corinthians 10:4). Peter, on the other hand, was rebuked by Jesus not long after this, denied Christ three times at His trial and before His crucifixion and even after Christ’s ascension pretended to have nothing to do with gentiles when Jews were in town (Galatians 2:12). How rocky was that?
However whichever view you adopt, the point is that the church’s foundation is built on a rock. Have we ever heard of a rocky foundation being mobile? A rocky foundation, by nature never moves.
Following on from this point, if the church is built on Christ the Rock, it would make sense that His words would be the church’s final authority. As if to drive home this point, how does Jesus Christ Himself describe adhering and living by His words?
“Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24–25)
Hearkening to the words of Christ, which the church is supposed to be doing, is likened again to a house being built on a rock. The same rock the church ought to be built on.
The words of Jesus Christ, the Rock of the church, are eternal and unchanging, as He himself said,
“ Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.” (Matthew 24:35)
Third, the church’s founder Christ does not change. Hear the words of the writer of Hebrews,
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)
This is reminiscent of an Old Testament quote from Malachi regarding God,
“For I am the Lord, I do not change…” (Malachi 3:6)
Hebrews 13:8 in context is admonishing the reader not to be carried away with strange and various doctrines as Jesus Christ does not change. Although the strange doctrines it references were controversies about food and drink, the same logic still applies to non-Biblical doctrines and conventions of this day and age.
Fourth, the church is called to be separate from the world.
“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;” (1Peter 2:9)
“Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For are the temple of the living God. As God has said:
“I will dwell in them
And walk among them.
I will be their God,
And they shall be My people.”
“Come out from among them
And be separate, says the Lord.
Do not touch what is unclean,
And I will receive you.”
“I will be a Father to you,
And you shall be My sons and daughters,
Says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:14–18)
The church is called to be light of the world and salt of the earth. Old Testament Israel were called to live a life distinct from the nations around them, even so the church is called to be distinct from the world around it. Paul, Peter, Jude and the apostles wrote to the churches in a culture that was radically different from the gospel values and the Christ they were preaching. Debauchery, promiscuity, homosexuality, drunkenness, infidelity e.t.c. where prominent features in Rome and Corinth when Paul was writing his letters to the churches in those cities. Yet, we do not see Paul or any of the other apostles ceding ground to these practices within the church.
The question then is, why should the church be emulating the world it is called to be light and salt to? Why should the people in the church emulate the darkness they have, through the gospel, been saved from? Should they not stretch out their hands and call people into the light of fellowship with God in Christ rather than dabble into the darkness of the world? As James says,
“Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4)
Finally, and I think this is the most important bit, THE BIBLE (BOTH OLD AND NEW TESTAMENT) ARE CLEAR THAT THE WORLD WOULD BE JUDGED FOR ITS FAILURE TO LIVE ACCORDING TO GOD’S DICTATES! To Old Testament Israel, God says,
“‘Do not defile yourselves with any of these things; for by all these the nations are defiled, which I am casting out before you. For the land is defiled; therefore I visit the punishment of its iniquity upon it, and the land vomits out its inhabitants. You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations, either any of your own nation or any stranger who dwells among you (for all these abominations the men of the land have done, who were before you, and thus the land is defiled), lest the land vomit you out also when you defile it, as it vomited out the nations that were before you.” (Leviticus 18:24–28)
To the New Testament church, Paul writes,
“But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them.” (Ephesians 5:3–7)
And again, Peter writes,
“Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles — when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries. In regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you. They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead” (1 Peter 4:1–5)
Why then should the church be moving in line with a culture and a time which would be judged by God? Why should the church allow its values to be shaped by a system which according to the words of its Rock are heading for destruction? Did Lot move with the culture around him? Did Noah move with the world he was in? Were those men, by virtue of their sticking with their faith, not spared from the destruction they witnessed overtake the world around them?
Times come and times go, but Christ and His words remain. The church cannot be carried away with the times, it must remain rooted to the Rock it is built on.
In conclusion, there is a sense in which the church must move with the times. It must exploit technological advancement, it must, with godly wisdom and without compromising on scripture and the gospel, adapt its message to ever changing times which bring up ever changing spiritual needs but what it cannot do is let culture dictate its direction, message and values.