My little corner of the world is changing. A new mosque was built down the street. It is so popular the police must direct traffic on a busy six lane road to help worshippers attend daily prayers. A few miles away another mosque is as large as any American style mega-church. A few streets over a Hindu temple is built on a prized piece of property on a major highway north of Dallas.
Today when people ask, “Where do you go to church?” they no longer think solely of a “Christian church.” In fact, the number of people in the United States who profess to be “Christians” has sharply declined in the last decade (“America’s Changing Religious Landscape,” Pew Research Center, 2015).
Not only is belief in Christ declining in America, but the number of people who claim no religious affiliation has more than doubled in the last twenty years to over 16% (ibid.). We increasingly encounter people who have never worshiped with a church and who do not know the basic message of the gospel.
The tectonic plates of the American belief system are shifting, and the tremors have fractured the foundations of the family. Families are increasingly fragmented and dysfunctional to the point that many people today lack the daily life skills which are traditionally learned at home like, manners, authority, dependability, work ethic, money management, etc. As a result, some “Christian” churches have sought to fill the gap by becoming a place to learn basic “life skills” without the messy message of discipleship.
In light of these present concerns I find my mind increasingly wresting with the questions of, “How does a disciple live for Christ in the midst of a changing culture? How do we effectively present the gospel to a multi-religious, irreligious, and disintegrating society?”
Please don’t read me wrong. My eyes are not downcast. I am not wringing my hands in fear. I firmly believe God’s word enables us to navigate the changing landscape before us with joy. More than that, it gives us the truth that can change the landscape into something that honors Him.
I believe the prophet Jeremiah has something to say to this generation. He too faced a morally and spiritually disintegrating society, but in the 29th chapter Jeremiah wrote a letter to the people of God who were exiled strangers in a foreign land. It contained three stabilizing decisions believers can make when the sands of culture are shifting under their feet.
Maintain A Caring Attitude Toward Your Culture (Jer. 29:1-9). How shocking is this first demand! Care for Babylon? Pray for its wicked king? Crave the comfort of the very people who drug you away captive? God has little use for bitter people who arrogantly feel the light of God’s blessing should only shine on them. Peter instructed the exiled believers of his day to “honor all people. Honor the king” (1 Pet. 2:17). Paul ordered us to pray and “give thanks for all men, for kings and all who are in authority” (1 Tim. 2:1-2). Yet, I hear us use such vicious words to describe our culture and our government officials. Culture is not something to rail at, but people to care for. Government officials aren’t people to hate, they are people to pray for. Don’t let the changing culture make you sour.
Maintain A Hopeful Attitude Toward Your Future (Jer. 29:10-14). Life in a disintegrating society need not be bleak. The darkness of the day simply focuses our eyes on the brightness to come. Israel knew that in 70 years God would act. We are certain that “when Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (Col. 3:4). We boldly proclaim, “The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Ps. 118:6; Heb. 13:6). The darkness of the night just makes us long more deeply for the dawn.
Maintain A Discerning Attitude Toward Your Message (Jer. 29:15-32). In times of trouble a multitude of “saviors” arise promising the path to peace and safety. While their message is appealing they must not be heeded. This is a truth Israel needed as well as us. The further a culture drifts away from godly values the more we are tempted to conform the demands of the gospel to the will of the culture. In our efforts to stay culturally relevant we become culturally conformed (Rom. 12:1-2). Yes, when it comes to Christian liberties we must be willing to “become all things to all men” that we might save some (1 Cor. 9:22), but the mission of the local church and the message of the gospel must remain firmly rooted in the word of God alone. It is not the task of the church to walk with culture (or maybe a step or two behind), but rather, the first mandate of the gospel has always been, “repent.” Watch out for the voices that say, “Conform.”
Yes, our culture is changing. The evidence is well documented, but so is our reaction. We are not to react with bitter resentment, but with a confidence that God is in control. Since He is in control, then I choose to hold up my head. The world may tremor and shake (it will! Heb. 12:26-28) but we don’t have to.
“Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Cor. 16:14)
*The above article is modified and updated from an article which appeared in Focus Magazine Sept. 2011. I found its message even more relevant today. I hope you do.
The Consistency of Scripture!
We find a New Testament counterpart to Jeremiah’s letter in Revelation 2 – 3. They are letters written by Jesus to churches striving to live godly in a morally and spiritually corrupt society (in the very shadow of Satan’s throne! Rev. 2:13). The letters of Jesus provide solid footing for believers living in a changing world. I find four themes often repeated in the letters.
Take Courage! When you are in the minority and the task before you seems too great it is very tempting to say, “I give up!” But stay at your post. Display your faithfulness. The people of God are not defeated. Never! We do not live in fear, but with a certainty of victory. “Do not fear…be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). We will overcome!
Be Zealous! In our pleasure mad world the number of things that compete for our affection is staggering. We sprinkle out our loves in every direction to the point that we love nothing deeply. The Lord and His people become just a sliver of the pie we crave. Such shallow passions lead to such bored living. Jesus says, “you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works” (Rev. 2:4). He calls us from the appearance of affection (lukewarm), to a life-encompassing zeal for the Lord.
Watch Your Doctrine! The churches in Asia were greatly tempted to conform their message to the interest of the culture. Jesus warned them about the doctrine of Balaam, the deeds of the Nicolaitans, the teachings of Jezebel, and the synagogue of Satan. The faithful church is the one who Jesus says, “has kept My Word, and have not denied My name” (Rev. 2:8). Nothing compares with God’s word. Nothing!
Watch Out for Immorality. It is not only doctrine that gets flawed during troubled times, lives do as well. Materialism, sexual immorality, and pride were widespread in the churches of Asia, and in us as well. Our world needs clear moral instruction and examples. Morality is simply the working out of the law of love, so to demand morality is to promote love.
How Many Houses Have You Lived In?
Our family is in the middle of a move. We are moving to another house in town closer to the church building. Anyone who has moved knows it is exhausting. It is easy to get distracted from real life by real estate! To stay focused I did two things.
First, I asked myself, “How many houses have I lived in?” I counted seven. I suspect most will have a higher number. That means I have moved to a different house every seven years. That realization led to these comforting thoughts, “Change is a common occurrence in life, and God provided for me through every change. So, I will trust He is sufficient.”
[Note: Our choices must put the Lord’s work and His people first if we are to be the recipients of Christ’s peace. Selfish or worldly choices will create distractions and anxieties that will harm our commitment to Christ.]
Second, I opened my Bible to 2 Corinthians 5 and read about my heavenly home. Here my home is like a tent, transitory and fragile. But, I am looking for “a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Cor. 5:1). This vagabond will be at home. No more paperwork. No more aching bones from remolding. “Morality will be swallowed up by life.” (2 Cor. 5:4)
Do you live in a mansion or a hut? It doesn’t matter. It won’t last long anyway. If you are walking by faith you will be at home with the Lord forever! Don’t miss it for a piece of land on a dying planet.