Challenging the Church and Culture with Truth
Unfolding Bethlehem's Fresh Initiative #6
Our mission and Spiritual Dynamic declare that the all-satisfying supremacy of God shines most brightly through sacrificial deeds of joyful love. The cry of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of our people is for a fresh, decisive emphasis on relationships of love.
Therefore we eagerly embrace God's call for new, visible manifestations of love toward each other, our guests, and our neighbors. With a fresh openness and outgoing spirit to each other and to all new people, we henceforth put understanding above accusation, forbearance above faultfinding, and biblical unity above the demand for uniformity.
6. Challenging the Church and Culture with Truth. We will challenge our culture and the wider Christian movement in fresh ways with the biblical truth of God's all-satisfying supremacy, by courageous Christian action and speech in the secular world.
Today we look at our final Fresh Initiative, #6. I will try to show you why it is implied in our Mission, and, in the process, I hope, stir you up to believe in this Initiative and act on it, especially in the cause of the sanctity of life.
Our Mission statement says: "We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples." Now why does that lead us to this Fresh Initiative #6?
1. The Existence of Absolute Truth
Believing in the supremacy of God leads you to believe in the existence of absolute truth.
Absolute truth is what Francis Schaeffer used to call "true Truth." Not just truth for you or truth for me, but absolute truth whether you or I believe it or like it. Now one of the powerful things about our day is that a lot of very influential people, and millions of very influenced people don't believe there is such a thing. For many our sixth Fresh Initiative is sheer presumption—"Challenging church and culture with the truth." Not just our truth or truth for us, but "THE truth." True truth. Truth that will be true whether we or anyone else believes it or likes it.
The Supremacy of God
How can we set such a goal? The answer is that we believe in the supremacy of God. If the supreme Creator God exists, then there is Truth with a capital T. God is simply there, and he must be taken as he is. We do not make him or shape him or define him. He makes all things. He shapes. And he defines. So we come into a universe that is full of givens. God is simply there. And he has made the world one way and not another way. And he and his ways are the truth. That is what you embrace when you embrace the supremacy of God.
The apostle Paul writes these stunning words in 1 Timothy 3:15, "I write to you so that you may know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth." The church of God is the pillar and bulwark of the truth. The support and the protector of True Truth in the world is the church. Why is this? Because the church is the household of GOD! And God is the Truth. What he is and what he says and what he does defines the truth. So those who submit to him and listen to him and speak his Word and live his way are the "pillar and bulwark of the truth."
This is one reason why God and his church are so unpopular. They represent absolute claims on people's minds and wills and emotions. If God exists, we are not god. If God is true, then we cannot decide what is true. It's out of our hands, we have no say in it. No vote. The universe is not a democracy. It is terribly old fashioned. It is an absolute monarchy.
And since the universe is not up to date, it is simply not accepted. Paul describes ordinary people in Romans 1:25 like this: "They exchanged the truth of God [notice the phrase!] for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen." He says in verse 18 that men "suppress the truth in unrighteousness."
Left to Themselves Our Hearts Always Tilt One Way
In 1979 Arthur Leff, a Yale law professor, spoke at Duke University and expressed how torn human beings are over this issue of absolute truth and the desire for it and the hatred we feel for it.
I want to believe—and so do you—in a complete, transcendent, and immanent set of propositions about right and wrong, findable rules that authoritatively and unambiguously direct us how to live righteously. I also want to believe—and so do you—in no such thing, but rather that we are wholly free, not only to choose for ourselves what we ought to do, but to decide for ourselves, individually and as a species, what we ought to be. What we want, Heaven help us, is simultaneously to be perfectly ruled and perfectly free, that is, at the same time to discover the right and the good and to create it.1
The Bible says, that, except for the gracious work of the Holy Spirit, our hearts always tilt one way: we suppress the ultimate objective truth outside ourselves and we choose to create our own. This is ultimately why the supreme God of the Bible is rejected. If he exists, he is absolute Truth and we must yield to him, and define good and bad, right and wrong, beautiful and ugly, true and false, wise and foolish, and our very selves according to him and not according to us. God is the measure of all things, not man.
This is the ultimately unpopular truth for self-sufficient, self-exalting, self-determining human beings. But our sixth Fresh Initiative says that we are going to swim against this stream. We will challenge church and culture with the truth. Why? Because we believe in the supremacy of God; and a supremacy God implies absolute truth.
Clarifying Our Conviction
Caution: We will not say that we see the whole truth or that we see even part of it perfectly (1 Corinthians 13:9, 12). But we will say that
- we have seen the One who is Truth, Jesus ("I am the way the truth and the life," John 14:6), and
- that in him are "hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Colossians 2:3), and
- that he has spoken plainly in his Word on all essential things for living and believing as we ought to live (2 Timothy 3:15–17), and
- that God does not call us to be wishy-washy or indecisive, but to have strong confidence in what he has taught us in his Word (Romans 14:5; Colossians 2:2; 4:12).
The cause of God and truth has advanced in the world not through timid, indecisive, fence-sitting, lukewarm Christians. It has advanced through conviction like Paul's when he said in 2 Timothy 1:12, "I know whom I have believed, and I am persuaded." It has advanced through conviction like Martin Luther's at the Diet of Worms when, on pain of death, he was commanded by pope and emperor to recant for his biblical understanding, and responded,
Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Holy Scriptures or by evident reason . . . I consider myself convicted by the testimony of Holy Scripture, which is my basis; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. Thus I cannot and will not recant, because acting against one's conscience is neither safe nor sound. God help me. Amen.2
That's our first reason for Fresh Initiative #6. Believing in the supremacy of God leads us to believe in the existence of absolute truth. Now let me mention a second reason.
2. Speaking and Acting on God's Truth
To spread a passion for the supremacy of God you have to speak and act on his truth.
In other words, you may believe in truth, but if you don't speak and act on it, it is not honored. Our mission is to spread a passion for the supremacy of God. You cannot spread a passion with silence and inactivity. Silence and inactivity spread nothing good. So our commitment to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things demands that we speak up.
Picture God walking into a room as a guest and no one saying hello or going over and shaking his hand, but only ignoring him, or even snickering at him. That is the way most people treat God today. He is simply ignored, or sometimes snickered at.
Now that is the opposite of a passion for his supremacy. If you want to spread a passion for his supremacy, you speak about his supremacy and his truth. And you change your lives to show it. You pay attention to him. You greet him. You walk with him and introduce him to others.
So the second reason we pursue Fresh Initiative #6 is that a passion for the supremacy of God means that we must speak about it and act differently because of it. Now here's a third reason.
3. Ideas Have Consequences
We challenge church and culture with truth because ideas have consequences.
Wrong Thinking Leads to Wrong Living
We are deeply persuaded that wrong thinking leads to wrong living—that when a society is governed by widespread falsehood, the effect will be disastrous choices and behaviors. Bad ideas about reality lead to bad behavior. "As a man thinks in his heart, so is he" (Proverbs 23:7).
Let me illustrate. Viktor Frankl was a Jewish survivor of the holocaust who became a world famous founder of a school of psychotherapy and wrote a book, entitled Man's Search for Meaning, that has sold nine million copies. He expressed our conviction when he said, "I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Maidanek were ultimately prepared not in some ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and in the lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers."3
In other words ideas produced the gas chambers of the concentration camps. Ways of thinking produced ways of acting. Philosophies produced atrocities. Worldviews produce world crises. So one of the reasons we feel called to challenge our culture with truth is that in the long run this will serve the cause of God and goodness and justice.
The Role of Our Speaking the Truth
This does not nullify the work of the Holy Spirit. The power of ideas does not minimize the need for and power of the Holy Spirit. God-exalting ideas do not take root in the mind and heart apart from the work of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 16:14; Romans 8:7–9). But neither do they take root if they are not spoken. The Holy Spirit's role is to empower the truth, not replace the truth.
So we believe Christians must speak the truth. If millions of Christians keep sowing seeds of truth in millions of conversations and PTA meetings and political caucuses and classrooms and board rooms and talk shows and public forums and sermons and books and essays and articles and letters, there will be a leavening effect that will shape ideas and restrain bad behavior and lead people toward the light.
If the truth is a seamless fabric, then speaking the truth anywhere on any issue will strengthen the cause of truth everywhere on every issue. God only knows how often the gospel of Jesus Christ has been made more hearable because preconditions of truth have been laid down by a thousand prior influences of right speaking. This is part of the salt that preserves the mental life of society so that it can be touched more effectively by the gospel message, which is also salt.
Specifically in Relation to Sanctity of Life Sunday
But now let's get specific on this Sanctity of Life Sunday. I believe it was Martin Luther who said,
If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proven, and to be steady on all the battle fronts besides is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point. (Source document not known)
Our values on page 6, column 1, numbers 17–19, lead straight to the point on this Sunday. We value:
- #17—Careful, clear, fair biblical thinking about contemporary culture.
- #18—Bold, balanced, winsome confrontation of our culture's clearly unbiblical elements.
- #19—A strong commitment to a diverse and balanced pro-life engagement with our culture.
So the fourth reason we challenge our church and culture with truth is that . . .
4. The Pro-Choice Position Is Faulty and Destructive
The pro-choice position is built on bad ideas that produce behaviors that are deadly for children and destructive to society and scorn the supremacy of God.
Let me try to illustrate—and this is some of the kind of truth that needs to be spoken to our church and culture. There is a fetal homicide law in Minnesota. According to the Minneapolis Tribune it, "MAKES IT MURDER TO KILL AN EMBRYO OR FETUS INTENTIONALLY, EXCEPT IN CASES OF ABORTION."
Now what makes the difference here? Why is it murder to take the life of an embryo in one case and not murder in the case of abortion? Now watch this carefully, because it reveals the stunning implications of the pro-choice position.
The difference lies in the choice of the mother. If the mother chooses that her fetus live, it is murder to kill it. If she chooses for her fetus not to live, it is not murder to kill it.
In other words in our laws we have now made room for some killing to be justified not on the basis of the crimes of the one killed, but solely on the basis of another person's will or choice. If I choose for the embryo to be dead, it is legal to kill it. If I choose for the embryo to live, it is illegal to kill it. The effective criterion of what is legal or illegal, in this ultimate issue of life and death, is simply this: the will of the strong.
There is a name for this. We call it anarchy. It is the essence of rebellion against objective truth and against God. It takes us back to the Yale law professor who said that modern man is torn between wanting to discover what is right and wanting to create what is right—wanting to be ruled by truth and wanting to rule truth. The pro-choice worldview opts for creating what is right rather than discovering it, and ruling truth rather than being ruled by it.
When the pro-choice philosophy chants, "We will not lose the right to choose," it says in effect that the act of choosing is unfettered and unlimited by objective reality and truth outside the act of choice. The act of choice is absolute in itself. It does not have to conform or submit to law, or human dignity, or God. It is the final statement of rebellion. It says, In my choice I create law. In my choice I create my own human dignity. In my choice I do not bow to God, I become god.
This is ultimately why a church that has a passion for the supremacy of God in all things must speak and act against the standard pro-choice worldview, and for the cause of the unborn.
Of less importance, but still worth saying for the sake of our social stability (which God cares about, 1 Timothy 2:1–3), is this: when a government not only codifies the pro-choice worldview in laws (like the fetal homicide law), but even insists on taxing citizens who conscientiously and morally abhor laws that justify feticide, it is a government in the process of undermining it's own ground of existence. The ground of government's existence is respect for human life and the rule of law, not wanton will to power and anarchy. Taxing citizens in order to endorse and fund abortion on demand (the sovereignty of choice) is an endorsement of anarchy where the powerful do what they will without regard for the inherent rights of the weak. That government will not long survive the undermining of its own foundations.
Well, that is all that we have time for this morning. My main concern has been to stir you up to believe in Fresh Initiative #6—that one of our callings as a church is to speak the truth courageously on the major issues of our day, and to live it out with love and justice. This is not our whole calling. But it is part of our calling, because we are a people who exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things. All things! To him be the glory. Amen.
1 Quoted in Phillip E. Johnson, "Nihilism and the End of Law," in First Things, no. 31, March 1993, p. 20.
2 Heiko A. Oberman, Luther: Man Between God and the Devil, trans. Eileen Walliser-Schwarzbart, (New York: Doubleday, 1992, orig. 1982), p. 39.
3 Quoted in Matthew Scully, "Viktor Frankl at Ninety: An Interview," in First Things, no. 52, April 1995, p. 41.