Is the church afraid of bringing Biblical ideas into the public square? It's okay to have a dialogue. Just don't talk about the source of your ideas, or the Bible.
Is the church afraid of bringing Biblical ideas into the public square? It's okay to have a dialogue. Just don't talk about the source of your ideas, or the Bible. The church wants to be relevant to the current culture. But how can it be completely inclusive to a Godless culture and true to the truths in the Bible at the same time? Some para church groups address cultural topics of all kinds in an open forum for discussion. But what if Biblical ideas are missing from presentations?
Is this how non-Christians are won over when talking about cultural topics? Leave out any vestige of Biblical truth from the discussion? It's okay to talk about theology or the Bible in our culture, as long as your God does not tell people that certain lifestyles are sinful or wrong.
The church has always been pressured to conform to the culture of the day, whether in Rome and or in England. Richard John Neuhaus wrote “The Naked Public Square” to address that topic. The idea behind the book is: biblical ideas are filtered out of our culture, while all other ideas or foundations for living are allowed in. If anything, there is probably more pressure to do this now than when the book was written in the ‘80s.
Part of the motivation behind Christians being in public is because Jesus hung out with people who were considered sinners, namely Mary Magdalene, a prostitute, and Matthew, a tax collector, as described in the gospels in the New Testament. So Christians are supposed to make an effort to hang out with non-Christians. That's the idea.
Many evangelical churches believe that there are no errors in the Bible, meaning the Bible is inerrant in Bible speak. That means that all of the Bible, is true in a literal sense, and that God literally created the heavens and the earth, as described in Genesis, the first book in the Bible. This interpretation would be viewed by some in a secular crowd as being conservative or fundamental. Many of these same churches also believe in the exclusivity of marriage, or that it should be allowed only between a man and a woman. Pastors at these churches won't marry two men or two women and will not allow the church building to be used for that purpose either.
The definition of marriage has drastically changed in our culture since the Defense of Marriage Act was approved by congress in 1996 with a veto-proof majority, and signed into law in 1966 by then Pres. Bill Clinton. Even the DOMA would be difficult for many churches or Christians to defend or support today.
Why would churches take a stand on this? Many of them believe that marriage is a symbol of Christ and the church and that God created Adam and Eve, two separate and distinct genders - male and female. The church is referred to as the bride of Christ in the Bible. If this were presented to a secular forum, the question might "be why do you believe this"? The answer is, because the Bible says so, and Jesus said so.
While it would never be stated outright, this strategy of staying away from applying the Bible to issues seems to be what is happening at many churches that appeal to an upbeat, coffee drinking crowd in their 20s and 30s. That is, the church is supposed to back away from issues and politics so they can become more attractive to non-Christians, and even Christians. Well-meaning churches follow this guide: Don't talk about controversial issues so we can attract both conservative and liberal Christians. The problem is that if leaders don't practice talking about ideas, issues and politics from a Biblical view in public, millennials won't know how to do it because it's not being modeled by leaders in the church.
It's great to be positive as a Christian, and as a church, and not to harp on negatives. But when do we talk about sin in our culture? The answer is, we don't; we want to be a popular church. Exactly how does this fit into the whole abolition movement in the 18th and 19th centuries to outlaw slavery? What would pastors today counsel William Wilberforce to do? (Wilberforce gave his life to abolishing slavery in England). Give up? You are talking too much about how you are against a very public and political issue. Wilberforce talked about this issue publicly in the House of Commons, for more than 25 years. He would probably be told to tone it down.
The result for the church, however, is picking and choosing which issues a church can be public about. If it's popular and not controversial, go for it. Further, many churches hold to the unofficial position that if it's something that is an area of disagreement for staunch Republicans and Democrats, we're not going to talk about it either. You're on your own. We'll just study the Bible and leave the issues to people out there in society who know best how grapple with things like that.
This is a far cry from how the church has had to deal with issues in other times. In the first few centuries after the death of Christ, the church was persecuted for taking public stands in the name of Christ. Perhaps we have simply become too comfortable as Christians in the West.
There is typically no price to be paid, no cost to being a Christian in the U.S. Since it's easier to hide here, we do. Preachers may talk about doing everything to the glory of God, in everything we do or say from the pulpit, but can be MIA when a cake baker has a spiritual conviction about baking a cake for a homosexual or lesbian wedding.
Jesus actually spent a lot of time talking about corruption in public. A lot of his ire was focused on the pharisees and the teachers of the law. They were part of the predominant culture of his day. He was not alone. John the Baptist was beheaded for criticizing Herod. Most if not all prophets in the Old Testament were persecuted in some way because they criticized leaders in public. Where are these people today? They're not hard to find. Just look for a committed Christian baker who bakes really nice wedding cakes.
© 2017 Larry Ingram
Based in St Louis,
Larry Ingram writes about the news media, movies and culture, as well as on topics like race, privilege, Christianity, religious expression and tolerance.
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