The Church, Culture and Change
There is no doubt that we are living in momentous days. Historians might well look back in years to come at the late 20th/early 21st century as being a key time of seismic cultural shifts.
A growing individualism, fueled by rapidly advancing technology, and an even more rapidly advancing secularism has left many bewildered by the speed of change in our society. The flagship for many of these changes and perhaps most indicative of them is the changing attitude towards marriage and in particular same-sex marriage. A very short generation or two ago it would have been an unheard-of and very remote possibility – now it is fact, even in the traditionally culturally conservative republic of Ireland. What is even more obvious is the self-evident reality that to oppose such a move puts you on the wrong side of history and in danger of being labelled homophobic. You are hardly allowed to use terms like “right” or “wrong” anymore. Nothing is wrong as long as it is loving! A ‘modern’ society, we are told, allows people to exercise their rights in whatever way they want and we shouldn’t interfere with that. To do so is unloving and after all “love” is the ultimate ethic. To say otherwise makes you weird, old-fashioned, uncaring and brutal. The long-heralded virtue of “tolerance” is not generally extended to those who dare to hold different opinions.
This is but one demonstration of the changes taking place under our very noses. These shifts probably have their conception in the early 60’s and the growth of the sexual liberation movement, advanced by the excessive rebellion against authority, demonstrated in the music of the 60’s particularly. Take a look for example at some of the grainy footage of the hippy movement and open drug use of those days. Many of our current day influencers and opinion formers and cultural shapers were children or teenagers in those days. Many in politics, the media or music grew up with a very tenuous link or understanding of the Judaeo-Christian ethic that their parents and grandparents would have known. Hence, the moorings have shifted and we are now reaping the consequences.
Churches have been (rightly in some cases) derided for a dead legalism, an out of touch mysticism or for feeble attempts to copy the world’s liberalism. As a result many Christians have been left reeling with a dizzy unease as to how to respond to such criticism, how to communicate into such a bizarre world and how to defend what seems like an increasingly out of touch message.
Some have reacted by becoming a kind of ‘pietistic enclave’ – burying their heads in the sand and having their meetings in their own time-honoured way and letting the world outside their door go to hell. Others seem to have become over-friendly with the world, seeking to win approval and acceptance by flattery and assimilation. None of this works of course and leads the Christian church to further derision by a world which is diametrically opposed to Christian things (still not sure about that? Read Jude vv 8-11).
Truth is, we live in Babylon now. Any thoughts that this is still Jerusalem can be forgotten. We stand with Daniel and his 3 friends. We are faced with our own cultural Nebuchadnezzars and we are going to need enormous courage to refuse to bow down to the man-made enormous idol and to say instead, “….we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Daniel 3 v18).
Truth is truth and no amount of cultural shift can change that. The gospel is absolutely true, not just relatively so. It was, is and ever will be true. We may tremble at the moral and ethical consequences of further decline in our society, but God is God and ultimately he will have the last word. That is why to stand with him, his gospel and his truth is ultimately the safest place to be. Even if it makes you unpopular