Should we, the church, continue to fight against social innovations – the culture wars? This conflict serves to polarize society and bring contempt on the church. In a New York Times editorial, David Brooks argues that the church should focus on issues where it can make a positive contribution:
- Put aside a culture war that has alienated large parts of three generations from any consideration of religion or belief. Put aside an effort that has been a communications disaster, reducing a rich, complex and beautiful faith into a public obsession with sex. Put aside a culture war that, at least over the near term, you are destined to lose.
Brooks instead proposes:
- The defining face of social conservatism could be this: Those are the people who go into underprivileged areas and form organizations to help nurture stable families. Those are the people who build community institutions in places where they are sparse. Those are the people who can help us think about how economic joblessness and spiritual poverty reinforce each other. Those are the people who converse with us about the transcendent in everyday life.
The church has been discredited in the eyes of the West. Perhaps we must regain that "right to be heard" in ways that Brooks suggests. Perhaps we need to tweak our strategy. Besides, loving our neighbors and even our society is a high biblical priority.
However, we must not disparage our fundamental calling – loving God. And how are we to love God? By abiding in His Word (John 14:21-24; 15:7-14)! This entails being a light to the world, exposing injustices and destructive practices that others do not want exposed.
But isn’t our conservative program already painfully obvious to the world? Haven’t we already made ourselves odious to the very people we are trying to love? Perhaps we have already shed enough light into the darkness. And perhaps we need to apply our energies elsewhere, as Brooks suggests.
Certainly, we have to proceed with a balanced biblical approach, and this includes works of mercy. However, we cannot abandon our calling to be counter-cultural, exposing the sins of the world (Eph. 5:11).
Brooks is advocating for a nice and socially acceptable church, and many churches are listening. They too are tired of the culture wars and the scorn directed against them. They jealously observe the successes of the seeker-sensitive churches, which have toned down their message in favor of one that is willing to live with the prevailing culture.
They attempt to avoid public disdain by avoiding those conflicts that we are "destined to lose." However, there is a price to be paid. Initially, the Gospel could not penetrate the South with its anti-racial-slavery message. The evangelist soon learned, however, that he could make inroads if he simply left certain sins out of his message, but such an omission came with a high price tag - an unbalanced gospel and the Civil War.
During Jim Crow, the church wanted to remain relevant to the culture and failed to preach against sin.
I had attended a seeker sensitive church and an associated home fellowship group. We thought it proper to be "nice" Christians, offering only words of encouragement, never those unpopular words of correction. However, my wife and I silently watched as the brethren made shipwrecks of their faith.
Now I see that we had not fulfilled our Lord's calling. God had explained this calling to the Prophet Ezekiel:
- “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to the wicked, ‘You wicked person, you will surely die,’ and you do not speak out to dissuade them from their ways, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood." (Ezekiel 33:7-8 NIV)
Many churches have taken Brook's recommendations to heart. Even if they haven't extended membership to non-repentant gays, they are no longer speaking on controversial subjects like sexual sins. However, their silence speaks volumes to the brethren, especially to the church youth. It tells them that sexual sin is not an important topic.
In this artificial vacuum, the only voice that is heard is the voice of decadence that informs the world that sex should be enjoyed as casually as a hamburger.
This silence betrays both society and church. It also declares the church guilty before its God, as the Apostle Paul suggested:
- "Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of any of you. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God." (Acts 20:26-27 NIV)
Had Paul not communicated the essentials of the faith, he would have stood guilty before God. We, therefore, have no choice but to abide in the light of God's Word. Failing to do so would make us blameworthy.
A church (or even a parent) must preach the Good News as well as the bad, words of approval as well as words of disapproval, words that are popular and words that will be met with scorn.
It is inevitable we will be hated. Jesus warned that this will happen. It doesn't mean that we are doing something wrong. More likely, it means that we are doing something right:
- “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also." (John 15:18-20)
Jesus also warned us that our blessedness does not depend on the blessings of society:
- "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:10-12)
Nevertheless, we are to be peacemakers. Yes, we need to be a light on the hill, but we needn't be strident and antagonistic, but instead always humble, respectful, gentle, and faithful to our Savior.
Nor can we take social approval or the size of our church as an indication of God's favor:
- "Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets." (Luke 6:26 NIV)
What then must govern our lives? From where must our commendation come?
- “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word." (Isaiah 66:2 NIV)
The approval of the world is not a good indication of God's approval. Instead, the world is fickle. We are darned if we do and darned if we don't. If we speak against society's hypocrisies, we are darned. When we don't, we are also darned.
The churches in Nazi Germany were largely "nice" churches. They supported the social order and failed to meaningfully protest against the Nazis, and this failure earned them the ire of the world.
Brooks understandably points out that we have lost the culture wars and have suffered marginalization, but is this the main point?