“Don’t cheat your neighbor by moving the ancient boundary markers set up by previous generations.” Proverbs 22:28 (NLT)
Whatever happened to the old way? Whatever happened to the real Gospel of Jesus Christ? I never thought I’d see myself in this position, taking the role of the curmudgeon and decrying the implementation of “something new,” especially where church is concerned. I’d had my share of bad experiences with the “old ways” and I didn’t think I’d ever long to see them again. But things have changed.
The world has changed. This nation, especially, has changed. Not for the better. The pendulum of Evangelical influence in American society has swung from the extreme right –where Evangelicals were embracing a Puritanical approach to living that called for total separation- to a position on the extreme left. The new mindset is that, in order to make lifelong apology for the wrongs of the aforementioned ultra-separatists, we need to eliminate any separation.
Where the church of my childhood (wrongly) labeled almost everything “sin,” the neo-Evangelical church calls almost nothing sin. Lifestyle matters, of any stripe, are avoided and ignored in the name of being “loving” and showing “grace.” Now, nobody is a bigger believer in grace than I am. I am a card carrying member of the Brennan Manning fan club and I have learned in my own life, how invaluable grace –when properly applied- is to a weary, beaten soul. I get it.
But I realize that all those millions of folks who bought, and read, and loved Brennan’s “The Ragamuffin Gospel” failed to go out and buy “The Signature of Jesus” when it was released just a couple of years later. Brennan himself realized that there was a danger of taking the tsunami of Grace out of context and misappropriating the freedom of the love of God as a license to sin and make excuses for it. Signature was his call to right living as a result of grace. Far fewer people got the memo.
James tells us plainly that “Faith without works is dead.” It has no life. Paul’s thirteen letters are bursting with commandments for right, circumspect living. Paul writes voluminously about topics from being drunk, to adultery (many times) to divorce, to poor parenthood, to being a constant student of the Word, to eating meat sacrificed to idols. Paul lays out, in his many books and letters to what was the very earliest Church body, a clear, distinct, systematic approach to the Christian life. The other New testament authors do the same. There is plenty written about right living and it has little to do with “Financial Peace University,” “Mom’s day out,” church-wide yard sales, or countless, endless teachings on the working of the Holy Spirit, the tithe, healing our inner child, or trendily calling God “Abba.” (There is nothing wrong with this, it just became a trend for no good reason)
In the 41 years I have been a believer, we have, as a church in America (and the greater West at large) has moved from preaching entire sermons about divorce, to not mentioning it at all. And we have paid for it. A September 2012 article on “The Gospel Coalition” website reveals:
“People who seriously practice a traditional religious faith---whether Christian or other---have a divorce rate markedly lower than the general population.
The factor making the most difference is religious commitment and practice.
What appears intuitive is true. Couples who regularly practice any combination of serious religious behaviors and attitudes---attend church nearly every week, read their bibles and spiritual materials regularly; pray privately and together; generally take their faith seriously, living not as perfect disciples, but serious disciples---enjoy significantly lower divorce rates than mere church members, the general public, and unbelievers.
Professor Bradley Wright, a sociologist at the University of Connecticut, explains from his analysis of people who identify as Christians but rarely attend church, that 60 percent of these have been divorced. Of those who attend church regularly, 38 percent have been divorced.
Other data from additional sociologists of family and religion suggest a substantial marital stability divide between those who take their faith seriously and those who do not.”
The key here is “People who take their faith seriously.” The fact is that we tend to take our faith as seriously as we are taught to take it. We tend to hold fast to the truths that are presented to us, in direct proportion to the urgency and importance with which we are given them. I have a fifteen year old daughter. If I drill it into her head that she needs to remain pure until marriage, maintain a daily, vigorous prayer habit and Bible study, honor Christ with her talents and time and tithe, seek His will for the rest of her life...she will place the same value on it herself at some point. Now, I have to do it carefully and not weary her of it. And I have to model it in front of her. But if I do it right, the odds are great that she will live it out on her own as she grows to adulthood.
Jesus told us that “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45) He did not say “out of the heart, the mouth speaks.” because the heart contains many things. He said “Out of the abundance...” because Jesus knew that there is much warring for kingship in our hearts, and it’s whatever our heart contains the most of that rules the thoughts of our minds and the words of our mouth. What we pour in the most, is what comes out the most.
Our churches have moved from speaking out against divorce in a concise, scriptural, methodical manner, to not speaking about it at all. The reason for the change was that the church had become cold, unloving, and harsh toward those who were divorced. They failed to grasp the real meaning of “No-fault divorce” and they treated all divorcees as if they were adulterers. That was wrong. Very, very wrong. But the answer was to modify their approach, to become loving again, to render grace while maintaining Biblical absolutes. Instead, they simply accepted the increase in divorce, even among the church, and stopped addressing it at all.
Our churches have stopped speaking out against adultery. There was a time when a sermon about adultery was expected a few times each year. It was drilled into my head at an early age both from the pulpit of the church I attended, and in the daily devotional times at the Christian high school I graduated from. The same was said for fornication, which is sex between unmarried people. Sermons were preached endlessly about chastity, purity, resisting temptation. Again, the church failed to take a “grown-up” approach to the topic. They chose to simply label it as evil, until marriage made it suddenly not evil. That was confusing to a teenager. They refused to approach the topic as an act of both body and soul. They refused to address the beauty, completeness, the inherit loveliness of the act of sex in the context of marriage, and made it strictly taboo. This only served to make it more attractive to the rebellious and curious, and more a source of shame for those who tried desperately to adhere to purity for purities sake.
Now, we simply don’t hear sermons at all about sex. (Unless you want to include Mark Driscoll’s abhorrent “teaching” which was effectively pornography cloaked as a sermon series) We don’t hear sermons about propriety in our sexual lives and purity for the sake of our souls, and the wondrous beauty of a pure sex life. We just let everyone figure it out for themselves. I attended a church for nine years where the singles were legendarily “hooking up” apparently with the complete ignorance of the leadership at every level. The rest of the singles knew about it and it was treated with about the same seriousness as someone hearing you curse at a traffic light. “That’s okay, just do better next time.” And the time after that, and after that, and after that.
The same is true of music. I grew up in a church that taught that virtually all music not contained in a hymnbook was evil. There was no “world view” argument. You either sang “godly” music or you sang “ungodly” music. There was no way that you could sing about anything other than Faith, and still be a Christian. That was dangerous and costly. Dangerous because it implied that everything about our life had to have a faith component and could not be enjoyed simply for enjoyment sake. It was costly because we yielded, entirely, the music and art world to the unsaved. (With the exception of U2 and a few others.) The solution in modern Christendom? “Christian” music that is so poor in quality, so lacking vision and insight and honesty, that it’s rendered entirely irrelevant.
We have surrendered the matters of homosexuality to silence and fear. We are afraid of standing on Biblical truth because when we did stand on it 50 years ago, we did it without love. Instead of remaining true to the Biblical teaching, and speaking that truth with real, Christ-like love, we have become increasingly silent on the matter. In the void created by our silence, the liberal theology that embraces homosexuality as approved by God, and not a sin, has emerged. More and more, the churches “official” position is being hijacked by those who perpetuate the lie and declare something clearly named as sin, no longer a sin.
We have moved to silence. We have cast our lot in the direction of expending endless energy on things that are meaningful only to mature believers. We have abandoned the Gospel. We have ignored Jesus command to “Go into the whole world and preach the Gospel...” and have jumped ahead to the “make disciples” portion. We teach and teach and over-teach the same series of sermons on the same innocuous topics. Our altars are empty and covered in carpet that has never known the stain of tears brought forth by what the great Leonard Ravenhill referred to as “soul-hot preaching.” In fact, the altar call has become a thing of the past. Relegated to the occasional. The invitation is now offered as an off-the-cuff reference in the hastily muttered closing prayer by the hip, cool, trendy pastor.
When is the last time we attended a church where folks broke down at the altar, convicted of their sin and crying out for mercy from a loving, righteous God? When was the last time a man was brought under such conviction about his intention to divorce his wife to fulfill his lust, that he broke down at the foot of the pulpit? Where he felt the embrace of some men of God who knew how to confront sin, were unafraid to do so, and did it with power in prayer? When was the last time a neighborhood was impacted by a sweeping outbreak of the Holy Spirit that resulted not only in the food closet supplying needs, but souls being saved?
Those stories about entire towns being turned upside down, the stories of taverns and bars closing because the owners heard a real salvation message and had their head-on-collision with Jesus Christ and simply could not continue in the bar business anymore? When have we heard of the abusive alcoholic dad falling on his knees in repentance because of the endless, powerful, relentless prayers of a godly wife who stayed instead of leaving, (while being careful not to abide abuse) surrounded herself with women who partnered in prayer and support, instead of told her how quickly she should file for divorce?
When was the last time we saw teenagers and young adults kneeling at the altar and surrendering to full-time ministry? Why? The answer is that it has become unfashionable, not unnecessary. Because it has never been more necessary than it is today.
We have moved the ancient boundary stone, my friends. We have stepped further toward the world and away from the boundaries of righteousness and godliness and Biblical absolutes. In doing so, we have cheated our neighbor. Because in doing so we have ceased to preach the Gospel. Our silence has yielded to those who believe that Jesus is merely one of the ways to God, not the only way, as He himself declared. Worse still, our silence allows for the increase of the thought that there is no God at all.
We have moved the ancient boundary stones and the land between where the boundaries were and where they are now has been taken by the enemy of our souls.
God help us to take it back.