The Church and the Culture were never the same, for sure, but there was a time they shared basic values. So what you were taught from the pulpit on Sundays was usually compatible with what you’d hear at school; what you heard at school harmonized, in most cases, with what your parents said. America was never a Church, but until fairly recently most aspects of American life – school, church, entertainment, home – did hold to standards of moral versus immoral, natural versus unnatural, decent versus lewd; standards that complimented Scripture.
That’s where we had it easy. To hold to those values was to be aligned with the majority, and while plenty of people definitely preached one thing while practicing another, at least certain mores were intact and affirmed across the board.
Not everything about the good old days was good, duly noted. I remember when racism was smiled on and brutally entrenched, and when women were told where their place was. But don’t even try selling me the idea that those injustices couldn’t have been corrected without overthrowing so much that was right.
Anyway, a sociologist can tell us whether we abruptly kissed all that goodbye in the crazy 60’s, or if we gradually drifted for a few decades until the chasm between truth and trends outdid the Grand Canyon. Regardless, the times are, as Dylan noted so long ago, a’ changing, and the momentum with which we’re redefining right and wrong is breathtaking.
But it’s not just the culture that’s shifting. I’m honestly starting to think we have two general Christian populations, co-existing and sometimes overlapping, both claiming to be evangelical Bible believers but not really on the same page. One is black and white regarding scripture, so its doctrinal and moral views are traditional and predictable. The other claims a Biblical base and does, in fact, acknowledge the Bible. But it gets fuzzy on questions of what salvation is and why it’s needed, what awaits us in the next life, and what’s moral versus what’s not. The first group prizes objective truth; the second says truth matters but, in fact, seems to primarily value experience. The first emphasizes the Word; the second considers any form of judging to be among the worst of crimes. And it’s not hard to guess which group gets the most and loudest kudos from the world.
So today, if you hold to traditional views of marriage and family, or take Jesus literally when He presents Himself as the only way to the Father, or view man as essentially sinful rather than inherently good, or warn about a future place of judgment, then you’re part of an ever-shrinking minority. Some – many? – believers who used to agree with you have now evolved in their thinking and adopted a more “enlightened” Christianity. Psychologists and educators consider you backwards, activists say you’re dangerous, comedians use you for new material, and many people sincerely believe you’re hateful.
The question becomes, then: If the world’s views are changing, and many believers are changing theirs as well, am I missing something? Or do I dare believe the majority is wrong and I’m still right? (A statement sounding so arrogant and audacious it’s hard to even type it.) And as always, the answer’s found by asking Paul’s famous question to the Romans: What saith the Scripture? (Romans 4:3) Because if the Bible says that as time progresses, people’s insights will be more godly, trends will go in the right direction, and truth will become more popular, then I’d say we should look at where the majority’s heading, and go with their flow.
But the end times aren’t described as good in the Bible, not by Jesus, or Paul, or John in The Revelation. So Jesus said error would eventually be so great even the very elect could be deceived (Matthew 24:24); Paul said truth would become not only unpopular but downright unendurable (II Timothy 4:3); and John foresaw more apostasy than apostolic living, in the last days. (Revelation 2-3) So if the Bible describes a future when error will gain popularity while truth draws contempt, should we really be surprised when the majority drifts in the wrong direction? Or when, for that matter, a tenacious hold on sound doctrine brings us more wrath than applause?
I don’t want to fight. I hate arguing, I think controversy’s exhausting, and I’ve no interest in doing battle with believers or non-believers holding different views than mine. But more than ever I’m also aware how impossible it is to cleave to truth without having to, at some point, contend for the faith (Jude 1:3) be ready to give an answer for the hope that’s in me (I Peter 3:15) and hold fast to what is good. (II Thessalonians 5:21) Things are progressing, for sure. But not all progress is good, since you can make progress towards a cliff just as surely as you can progress towards the promised land. Times change; He doesn’t. And the terms and truths He’s set down are not subject to opinion polls. So God grant us a patient and unwavering spirit, a deeper rooting and grounding in truth, and more of the spirit which inspired Martin Luther to say, during his own incredible time of pressure and controversies:
“My conscience is held captive by the Word of God. And to act against conscience is neither right nor safe.”