Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Cultural Pressure: Stand or Fall?

On April 7th, syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts wrote a piece proclaiming that conservatives have lost the culture war on same-sex couples and are foolish for continuing to push “discriminatory” religious freedom laws.  We, as a society, have allegedly become more enlightened concerning same-sex relationships, and conservatives need to get over themselves.
Somebody needs to sit them down and explain that when you have taken an execrable stand and been repudiated for it as decisively as the right has been, you only have two options: Change your stand, or shut your mouth.  At this point, either one will do.
Major organizations—media, professional bodies, corporations—approve the agenda, so it must be correct.  Now go away.  As Americans, we are not accustomed to this, because there had formally been a free exchange of ideas in this country.  Open, and often heated, debate among individuals, but increasingly, the West has eschewed individualism for a populist or fascist collectivism.  But this is really nothing new.

During the early centuries of the Church, the prevailing political and religious organizations were condemning and abusing Christians, because they refused to accept or approve of decadent cultural norms.  These early believers were met with opposition like that related by Arnobius of Sicca in Against the Pagans wherein the Christians are accused of practices contrary to society:
You follow profane religious systems, and you practice rites unheard-of throughout the entire world. (I.25)
The opponents in ancient Rome, just like Leonard Pitts, could not understand why there might be a segment of society that would be openly opposed to the generally accepted position.  They cannot fathom standards higher than those being practiced in their philosophically-advanced culture, yet their philosophies just do not grasp the truth.
What do you, O men, endowed with reason, dare to assert?  What do you dare to prate of?  What do you try to bring forward in the recklessness of unguarded speech?  To adore the Supreme God, as the Lord of all things that be, as occupying the highest place among all exalted ones; to pray to Him with respectful submission in our distresses; to cling to Him with all our senses, so to speak; to love Him, to look up to Him with faith—is this an accursed and unholy religion, full of impiety and of sacrilege, polluting through the superstition of its newness the ceremonies established in olden times? (I.25)
In other words, he is asking: “Are you saying that to put God above all in worship and life is polluting the established norms of society?”  The inferred answer is yes, because those ideas society idolizes were not being given their due, therefore pressure needed to be exerted to bring these Christ cult into line or silence it altogether.  Sounds oddly familiar to our modern world, does it not?

Christians are not called to worship or appease the world: we are to speak of Christ crucified.  Arnobius made the case that we are doing what is good, proper, and acceptable before our Lord:
We Christians are nothing else than worshipers of the Supreme King and Head, under our Master, Christ.  If you examine carefully, you will find that nothing else is implied in that religion.  This is the sum of all that we do; this is the proposed end and limit of sacred duties.  Before Him we all prostrate ourselves, according to our custom; Him we adore in joint prayers; from Him we beg things just and honorable, and worthy of His ear.  Not that He needs our supplications, or loves to see the homage of so many thousands laid at His feet.  This is our benefit, and has a regard to our advantage.  For since we are prone to err, and to yield to various lusts and appetites through the fault of our innate weakness, He allows Himself at all times to be comprehended in our thoughts, that while we entreat Him and strive to merit His bounties, we may receive a desire for purity, and may free ourselves from every stain by the removal of all our shortcomings. (I.27)
Arnobius lays out in straightforward terms the disciple’s duty of worship and obedience, plus the privilege, as sinners, to come before God seeking His bountiful provision of mercy and goodness that we might grow in grace.  To do otherwise would be unsafe, even foolish.

The level of Christian commitment would have been understood and praised by pagans of the time, but the object of adoration and resulting life change were not.  As followers of Christ lived before the world, they witnessed of Him in the course of everyday conversations of life with the level of freedom being dictated by the circumstance.  By necessity a culture clash ensued among worldviews.  The collective mindset, rooted in polytheism as it was, would have accepted Christianity if the Christ they adored would have been been offered in henotheistic fashion, but its virtuous exclusivity ran contrary to not only all religious forms, but also as the political and philosophical that had been interwoven to accommodate the masses.  Measures were enacted to either squelch Christianity or rid the empire of its adherents and return the populace to the status quo.

The same collective plans and mindset are working within Western Civilization, so that the Church, once held in high regard for being a beacon of truth, must battle cultural onslaughts from many factions, both internal and external.  Those outside the church are increasingly fighting for normalization of relationships once considered aberrant.  Tolerance and diversity have transformed from being positions of disagreement to cultural weapons to ensure the masses are in lockstep.  Open hostility with extreme measures are applauded as proper tactics to battle so-called “discrimination” of whichever cause or person might be receiving objections to their sin.

Those inside the church recognize that something needs to be done, but have decided that the most effective tactic is to appease the culture.  Mainline Protestants began doing this decades ago, and as they continue to align with the world, their numbers showing a 50% reduction in membership since 1960.  Evangelical and Confessional groups are somewhat better off, but even here there is trouble afoot as well-meaning pastors insist on changing the format, preferring an entertainment-driven experience to solemnity.  (Consider some thoughts by Glenn Chatfield on his experience and reaction.)  In addition, sermons have been changed to be relevant (i.e., they no longer mention sin or the need of a Savior).  Rick Warren and Andy Stanley have given up on preaching truth and are now preaching nonsense (Warren’s Imagination Doctrine) or appeasement (Stanley’s Brand New).

If Christians live out their calling, culture will be affected: people will notice.  (Pastor Jordan Cooper has a few thoughts on this.)  Our attempts may be met with sincere questions, more hostility, or both.  Arnobius was writing when Christians were persecuted.  Beginning with the highest positions of government, these Jesus followers were to be run out, killed, or forced to recant—all for the common good.  Today, our society is moving that direction.  Rather than capitulate, hold fast (Heb 10:23) and stand firm (2 Th 2:15; 1 Pe 5:12).


Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Virtually everything Pitts writes is anti-Christian, pro-racism, pro-homosexuality, pro-feminazism, pro-abortion -- pro everything liberal and ungodly. I only read an occasional column of his to keep up with latest leftist ideology.

Steve Bricker said...

Glenn, I had stopped reading Pitts for the reasons you state, but that particular Sunday when The Gazette ran his column, I decided to read the opinion section and his piece. Since it dealt with the recent RFRA battles, it seemed worth using as an introduction.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Oh, certainly worth using. I was just pointing out what a horrid ideology the man has. Which actually makes him valuable for lessons!