White Paper #3: Our Challenges

Challenges Ahead of the Church

With the Lord’s interaction with the Samaritan woman in mind, the faithful Christian Church faces several challenges.

#1: Address the driving force behind the narrative: pursuing individual happiness.

The modern sexual narrative clearly differs from God’s word in its propositions and practices.  At some point, that must be addressed.  Why?  To win?  No—that’s not why Jesus addressed the Samaritan woman.  We must do it because compassion calls for it: if it is sinful, it is also enslaving.  John 8:34:

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.

Romans 6:16

Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?

The main reason we cannot just “live and let live” or celebrate sexual diversity is because to live in a way contrary to God’s word isn’t freeing—it is enslaving.  Love demands that we not turn away from those who are sexually broken.

But it is more than sinful: it is sinister.  It co-opts God’s design in us that our souls would be joyful in the Lord.  That principle in us is perverted into the pursuit of physical happiness.  In effect, we must keep in mind that the soul is more important than the body—because as we see in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus: it is.  This will keep us away from potential pitfalls like an over-emphasis on the person’s lifestyle—something the church has historically been rightly blamed for (like when the disciples returned to Jesus at the well they wondered why He spoke to a Samaritan woman.)

  • Sure trans and bi and homosexual is sin and no one who practices these as a lifestyle will be saved (1 Corinthians 6:10—is very clear) but helping someone turn away from brokenness requires more than using the Law.

Remembering the soul is more important than the body will also help us rightly categorize their anger, their insults and their efforts to cancel us.  In other words, those things come out of a sinful, suffering soul that has been challenged. It is sinful and sinister and yet it issues from a soul that is convinced happiness—now—is the highest good and not the greater joy in the pursuit of God now and heaven in the next life.

  • It is looking for happiness in brokenness and it will fail in this life and be condemned in the next.

#2: Breaking down echo-chambers.

The modern culture can be compared to a mason jar filled with glass marbles.  Each marble is next to but not in the next.  Rub them hard enough together and they won’t join (like Play-Doh)—they will shatter.  Our culture has become like that mason jar: each marble is a person who curates his life including in it only those voices and influences that make him happy.

This is especially obvious on social media.  Indeed social media has been training our culture to make echo chambers.  TikTok, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Snap Chat—not a single one of the most popular social media apps makes our community for us.  This is also true for music and video streaming services.  These each require us to make our own community—that’s part of why they have become so popular. It makes sense then if I’m looking for influences that will make me happy I will include only those and actively exclude those that don’t. Hence, I am sovereign over my marble—I am the god of my life.

There are a number of problems with this (obviously).  One of the largest is this cannot cope with reality.  God hasn’t wired this world or His providence so that we can act like gods over our lives.  No one can do this.  This is why, as a culture, we have never been angrier.  We have never so lacked the ability to disagree.  We haven’t had so much difficulty just speaking to each other.  We can’t have conversations in which we disagree without the threat of getting canceled, ignored or marginalized. 

  • People will not be coaxed out of the so-called “safety” of their echo chambers.

The one way to break down the echo chamber is the gospel.  The gospel shatters my small marble that I am protecting with huge emotion with a message that tells me what’s in my marble is actually garbage—and real beautiful and free life is found somewhere else.  Of course we know this is the path to freedom but it is destructive before that.  

#3: (AIC, 35) Addressing the modern identity narrative: identity, freedom and power.

Identity. Christian teaching about sexuality no longer makes sense because the modern view is that “…sexuality is crucial for the expression of identity.”  Our sexuality is the pathway to unlocking our true and deep feelings and desires—to be authentically “me.”  “I am truly who I am when I am having sex with whomever I choose or I’m expressing whatever sexuality makes me happy.”

  • “…identity is now found in one’s desires, while in the past it was found in one’s duties and relationships with God, family and community.”

“Be true to yourself” and “live your own truth” or “no one can tell you who you are but you” are the repeated mantras and they are everywhere. The modern self is based on feelings and there is nothing rock solid or unchanging about feelings—feelings can change depending on what we eat. This is all very fragile, isn’t it?  My choice and my feelings are supreme and it is up to me to pursue what makes me happy. And everyone needs to get on board with making me happy.  

Freedom and power. Believe it or not, it is no surprise that this is also Critical Race Theory’s ascending hour.  CRT supercharges all of this: the CRT lens says the world is made of the oppressed (who are unhappy) and the oppressors. In a culture committed to personal happiness, of course it makes sense that those who stand in the way of this pursuit are actually “oppressors.” The sexual traditions and teaching from ancient texts are repressive and constraining: they are oppressing our ability to express ourselves sexually so they must be ignored

Is it any surprise the millennials and younger generation consider themselves religious  “Nones” or no religion? “The meaning of life is to determine who you are and to throw off the shackles of an oppressive society that refuses to accept and include you.” Isn’t this the message of the Oscars, The Little MermaidFrozenMulanMillion Dollar Baby, RuPaul, Caitlyn Jenner, Lia Thomas and “Be all you can be”?  

There is a power element here as well.  This we see in categories like “micro-aggressions” and safe spaces, statue removal and approved censorship. For the so-called “oppressed” their use of language trumps all others—try refusing to call a person by his chosen pronouns: there have been educators fired for that!   Our culture is now giving power over to those who are consumed with personal happiness uninformed by reason, wisdom or religion.  The young now dictate to the old.  It is a Machiavellian culture modeled after the Lord of the Flies.

#4: Rooting the church’s teaching in its full theology rather than simply its ethics: placing human sexuality in the broader framework of the Bible.

Historically, the church has had mainly one sexual message: No sex outside of a marriage between a man and a woman. While that is a true representation of biblical teaching, it minimizes all the rest of the Bible’s teaching on sex and sexuality. This was pointed out in an article written by a woman struggling with homosexuality written to her pastor: “Seven Things I Wish My Pastor Knew about my Sexuality.

From the AIC, 40:

Christian theology answers that sex is part of the image of God–it must image God and in particular, His redeeming love. Sex is not about enhancing one’s power but about mutually giving up power to one another in love, as Christ did for us. The Christian answer to “Why must sex be within heterosexual marriage?” gets us into the very heart of the gospel. We should not, then, present the sex ethic without rooting it in the Bible’s doctrines of God, of creation and of redemption….So what is sex for? It is a signpost pointing to God’s design of saving love, and it is a means for experiencing something of that same pattern of love at the horizontal level between two human beings that we know at the vertical level in Christ.

This is our missionary moment.

Now What?

Beloved, last week was a wrecking ball of a week in our culture.  I want to be honest with you: let’s not pretend that this is just another transition of power for I believe it is not.  I have been a student of politics and this is unlike any of the transitions in the modern era. Something has happened to us as a nation, in part, I believe, because something has happened to us as a church.

Now, established in many levels of government are elected officials who have expressed or demonstrated antagonism towards: the Church and its worship, the unborn and their protection, the gospel and its promotion.

In many of these elected officials, there is evidence of criminal conduct, unethical practices and inclinations towards personal gain.  That isn’t new, but now, through many of these elected officials, the philosophies of man that are directly and openly antagonistic towards the gospel have open doors for influence.  Philosophies such as “critical race theory” and “intersectionality” that promote a victimization mindset and open rebellion against all established norms as a policy including, e.g., tearing down statues, riots, “defund the police” and shutting down worship in churches.  

However, lest we believe our troubles are only found there, we have to recognize that we as a church have for too long given up our prophetic voice in our culture, buying into pragmatic ends that aren’t truly consistent with God’s word and His kingdom.  For example, whereas at one time we judged men unfit to serve by their immorality, many have revised their views and now baptize anything that can bring benefit to our flesh: our retirement, our comfort and our health.

It strikes me that at almost every level, the nation is divided.  How have we become this way?  Beloved, the church is not innocent.  We have not always served the disadvantaged, advocated for the downtrodden, acted for the good of a person’s soul rather than his psychological well-being.  It is complicated to live as salt and light in our culture and we have not been too terribly successful.

In short, now we are reaping in our culture what has been sown since the American Revolution, the Enlightenment, the sexual revolution of the 1960’s, the Moral Majority of the 1980’s and the ubiquity of the Internet.  Additionally, the havoc wreaked by COVID-19, the opportunism of many in politics as a result, the fear and panic it has engendered in our population, all point to the same thing: as a culture we are no longer anchored to the transcendent.  Every man is doing what is right in his own eyes and not the Lord’s.  And, beloved, we are too often guilty.

So, now more than ever, the church of Christ must be a praying church.  Our prayers, however, must be proper before the Lord.  All along, He has been building His kingdom, a kingdom that stands apart from the kingdoms of men.  Must we pray that our government, academia and entertainment reform and return to promoting what is good?  Absolutely. Every day.

But, the trajectory revealed to us in the book of Revelation indicates our culture will descend away more and more from seeking the Lord and promoting the good.  If we are going to penetrate the culture effectively with the gospel, we must not be ignorant but we must be prayerful.  That:

  1. All faithful citizens, Christians whose allegiance is to the Lord come hell or high water, would be men and women of godliness, compassion, service and courage.
  2. All believers would not be fearful or silent but winsome and joyful witnesses in all our spheres of influence. 
  3. God would strengthen His church to be a place of refuge, wholeness and “home” to our culture as it decays into violence.
  4. The church would be truly discerning promoting what is good and praiseworthy, turning away from idols and temporal promises.

Beloved, this is no time for fear.  But it is also no time for pining after a time in our country when (we think) things were better.  Our cultural rot has deepened and it needs the church to be free from it, finding our home and hope instead in Jesus Christ.  The culture needs to “kiss the Son” (Psalm 2:12) but so does the church!  It needs us now more than it ever has. And the gifts of God in the Word, the Church and the Spirit are more than adequate to meet this cultural challenge.  Let us ask the Lord to fill us with His Spirit that we might be the church our generation needs.

Heaven soon,
Pastor Gabe

An Open Letter to Public Servants, Part I

Dear Public Servant,

You have already been long embarked on a mission to bring a political agenda to the municipal, state or national stage.  This path seems sometimes long and always arduous.  As a political student, spectator and sometimes participant (as a voter), I thank and commend you for choosing this area of service.  Having served in this nation’s military for years, I recognize the presence of the costs in many areas of your life.  Thank you.  Do not grow weary in this endeavor – see it through.  If you are headed into the November general elections, it seems that God, who rules both the realms of the Church and the State, may prosper your path and place you into a position of influence.  That is exciting!  As you continue your work toward that end, I wanted to write you; even to begin a conversation with you.

First, it is not necessary for you to agree with me that God rules both realms or that He is the one who may grant you success: this is what I believe (and, as a local talk show radio host says, “you’re welcome to it”).  We have for too long judged someone by virtue of his adherence to a religious manifesto (Christian or Secular).  The Founding Fathers saw something different.  Theirs was a commitment to found a country in part for religious freedom.  That really means something, namely, folks should be free to follow the dictates of their conscience.  (At what point did we lose this view?)  Surely their expectation was that men and women of principle (including religious principle) would bring those into governance.  But not so that they could pursue a Christian or Secular nation (any more than a French nation, for example).

It seems to a large degree our public servants have lost their nerve.  Is it because they have navigated away from principles that lead to good government?  “Principles?  Like what?”  Some would say biblical principles; others secular ones.  Something else.  How is it that our nation has prospered over this 200 years with such a varying degree of religious belief and practice? Has it been by force of arms that one group prevailed over another?  How can men and women of legitimate and real differences govern and be governed together?

This is one of those questions that has never been more important.  Scads of young people and other disaffected voters acted in 2008 to usher into political power those who were different than the status quo.  Maybe it was the Democratic Party platform that persuaded these voters; maybe not.  In fact, “hope” and “change” and whatever people annexed to those concepts is what won the day.

This is part of the reason for my letter to you: it is likely that God has prospered your path towards elected office irrespective of your religious beliefs.  That is, in spite of them rather than because of them. This is important for you to consider.  Long many have held that we need more Christians (or non-Christians) in public office simply because the broader goal of politics must surely be a Christian America (or Secular America).  I urge you to search the Bible and you will see that God has no such goal as a Christian or Secular America.  No.  His goals are far different when we start to consider what He has revealed to us in the Bible.  Nor must this encourage those of you who think that secularism should reign.  Neither is true.

I asked earlier how we have succeeded in forging out a national history that has involved men and women of almost every political stripe?  How are we to govern and be governed in our climate of uber-partisanship?  It is not wrong to answer that question by exploring what the founders initially saw as the pathway to governing.  Do we think that we alone live in a time of discord?  Let’s not be so arrogant as to think that our fathers wouldn’t (or didn’t) understand precisely the pressures to govern a disparate and independent people.  Surely, at the headwaters of our founding there were more factions than today!

So, secondly, the Declaration of Independence speaks of several concepts that can guide us and, I hope, you as well.  These are summed as the “laws of nature.”  Among them: distinction-making, decency, self-evident truth, life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, justice, safety, prudence, definitions of evil and patience.  Each of these concepts drawn from the laws of nature were enshrined in our national origins.

Distinction-making.  You ask, “Where is that in the Declaration?”  It is the Declaration.  This document (as every document like it) is where distinction-making either takes place or is recorded.  The colonists categorize in the Declaration the ways in which the Crown acted tyrannically.  These included such things as making laws that were too difficult to obey, calling convocations in locations that made attendance impossible, quartering standing Army troops in peace, etc.  Experiences and burdens that all could agree where not necessary or right.  We wrongly fear distinction-making today.  We eschew calling nations to account for harboring terrorists, for calling out greedy capitalists, for dressing down corrupt government officials or even for equal treatment.  Yet, we cannot govern if we fear making distinctions.  For these things must be done.

Decency.  Turn on the TV and seek examples of decency; ask congressional staffers about examples of decency.  Indecency is rampant – even having touched the White House in years past.  Decency, according to Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary is that which is “morally praiseworthy.”  We go astray if we ask “whose morals?”  (We continue to prove my first point.)  Language, dress, decorum and vocations that advance honor to all men are decent.  That means prostitution, crime, corruption, immodesty, pornography, violence and vulgarity are not honorable and should be restricted by law.  For whom do these things produce decency?