(This is part 1 or a two part series. Part one may by read by clicking here).
Should American churches curse their collapsing culture or isolate themselves from it or engage it? The answer must be to engage their culture. Separation from sin does not equal isolation from the culture. Therefore we must ask: What is the Biblical method of engagement?
Here are four Biblical steps of engagement.
#1 – Preaching, not Politicking
Preaching, not politicking is the main strategy for unleashing God’s truth into an ungodly society.
- 1 Corinthians 1:21 – “For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.”
The act of preaching and the content of the message preached seem like foolishness in the judgment of worldly wisdom. Both the strategy and the substance of gospel preaching run counter to what common sense might suggest is the best way to communicate truth to a sophisticated society.
Conventional wisdom says that if you want to get your point of view across in America, you must do it through the democratic process; campaign for candidates and lobby for legislation that reflect your point of view; harness the power of the Supreme Court and Congress and use them to halt the moral unraveling of the culture.
But preaching, in the public square and the private residence, not lobbying in the halls of congress, is the Biblical way, and the only truly effective way for Christ’s churches to make His truth known. Incidentally, when Scripture speaks of “preaching” in a context like this, the reference is not exclusively to a message given from the pulpit. Paul is speaking of every kind of gospel proclamation; everything from open-air preaching to one-on-one personal evangelism. Whatever the venue, “preaching” is simply the clear and emphatic proclamation of the gospel. That’s what Paul has in mind here.
That’s your calling, in election years and in non-election years; when the President is pro-life or pro-abortion, you are called to stick to the message. Stay on point. Determine to make the message of Christ crucified, buried, raised, and coming again as the heart and centerpiece of everything you “preach”.
#2 – Gospel, not Law
Second, churches are to engage the culture with the Gospel, not Law, because the Gospel is what changes sinful hearts.
- Galatians 2:21 – “I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness [come] by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.”
Paul was battling the error of the Judaizers who taught that the OT Law made sinners righteous. Paul answered their error by saying that if righteousness could be brought about by legislation, the whole Gospel would be unnecessary (Galatians 3:21). Paul’s argument dealt with the Law of Moses and its role in salvation. The law was given to awaken us to our sin, to reveal the exceeding sinfulness of sin, and to eliminate every possible option for salvation other than the transforming grace of God. The law didn’t lay out a way of salvation, because law is totally impotent when it comes to transforming human hearts.
Now if that’s true of Moses’ law, which came directly from God, it is certainly true of earthly statutes that are the result of political wrangling and compromise. Law has its rightful place, and no righteous person would ever want to see a lawless society. But when it comes to the question of how Christians might transform an already evil-society, the answer lies in proclaiming the gospel, not in campaigning for legislation.
Laws have their rightful place in restraining evil and punishing evildoers. Romans 13:1-7 recognizes that. Even in the hands of such an utterly wicked ruler as Nero, the mechanism of government still functioned in that common-grace sense, to bring a measure of peace and order to the most fallen, sin-cursed society, but if your true goal is really the transformation and redemption of the culture, or more precisely, the salvation of individual sinners, law is not the proper tool for that; Gospel is.
#3 – Service, not Dominion
To influence your culture and community for Christ understand that preaching not politicking is how we make truth known, Gospel not law is what changes sinful hearts, and the third principle is: service, not dominion, is the most effective way to win people in any culture.Mark 10:42-45
Jesus is emphatic that His followers are not to seek greatness, or influence, or power in the kingdom of Christ by the raw exercise of authority over other people. Instead, Jesus says that the way to greatness is service. Be servants to others.
Let’s be clear here: Jesus is not spurning the idea of legal authority or human government. Scripture recognizes and affirms the proper role of civil authorities, but here in this context Jesus makes a clear differentiation between the kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of Caesar. The two kingdoms are run with completely different principles. They operate in totally separate arenas. They function with exactly opposite strategies. They are pursuing entirely different goals. The way they leverage their power and influence is therefore likewise thoroughly and radically different. Christ and Caesar rule different kingdoms, by different principles.
During the turmoil that followed the British Civil War, the Puritan General and statesman Oliver Cromwell seized control. He became known as the Lord Protector of the Commonwealth, and he’d shout Bible verses during battle, such as Psalm 68:1: “Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered: let them also that hate him flee before him.”
But it would be wise to keep in mind what one historian wrote about Cromwell:
“His private morals were impeccable, [but] his public morals were no better than those of other rulers; he used deception or force when he thought them necessary to his major purposes. No one has yet reconciled Christianity with government.”
The problem, I believe, is the very thing Jesus highlighted in Mark 10:42-45 the kingdom of God is ultimately not advanced by the flexing of political clout.
#4 – Christ, not Moralism
The final principle for how churches should engage their culture is this: Christ, not moralism should be the primary substance of our message. Society is not going to be redeemed, or even influenced for good, by a moralistic message. The vast majority of the moralism we get from the religious right is lacking any clear reference to Christ or the Gospel. It is devoid of any Biblical authority, because it has been distilled into a purely political message. It is frankly indistinguishable from the teaching of the Pharisees.
Think about it: we don’t abstain from every appearance of evil just because it’s pragmatically expedient or rationally sensible to do that. We do it because that’s what God’s Word says to do. Remember that we are agents and ambassadors of Christ’s kingdom. Christ crucified is the one proper subject and center of our message to a hostile world. Our first calling is to proclaim and glorify His name.
The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:4). Worldly wisdom and political strategies can never save either society or individuals. The advancement of Christ’s kingdom has never depended on democracy or even basic civil liberties. Even in very recent history churches in nations that are politically hostile to Christianity have flourished, while churches in the free, democratic, West have become anemic.
If our energies are so focused on defending our civil liberties that we neglect to make the gospel clear, we’ll lose our liberty anyway, along with the influence of the gospel. That is precisely what has been happening in America in the past half-century. It’s time we woke up to that fact. Preaching, not lobbying, is how we are supposed to make the truth known. Gospel, not law, is what changes sinful hearts. Service, not dominion, is the most effective way to win people in any culture. And Christ, not moralism, should be the primary substance of our message.