We return with Dr. Russell Moore of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, filling in this week for John Piper. Dr. Moore, as American culture continues changing, and as we see massive ethical shifts taking place, and as our culture secularizes, and as the church becomes increasingly marginalized in society, and as persecution becomes less and less of a distant possibility, what is the church to do in response?
Amid Secular Shifts
As American culture starts to change even more than it already has, it starts to secularize. I think the first thing that we are going to have to do is get rid of our dime-store prosperity gospel. I think it is really easy for those of us in this wing of evangelicalism to think that the prosperity gospel is only something that happens kind of “out there” — in the Joel Osteen, TBN, Kenneth and Gloria Copeland wing of American religious life. But a prosperity gospel often exists in our own hearts, and in our own churches, anytime that there is the idea that somehow the gospel is going to get me, in this life, what it is that I want.
“A prosperity gospel often exists in our own hearts, and in our own churches.”
And I think it has been really easy to think that and to believe that in American culture, because it is helpful in terms of the majority culture to be identified as a Christian — at least, to a certain extent. Being a Christian meant that you weren’t a Communist in the Cold War era. You were standing against godless, atheistic Communism. And it meant, even beyond that, that you were a regular American, part of American life.
That is starting to change, which means that it is going to be more and more costly for people to be Christian in any real sense, because the very idea of walking according to the things that Jesus is teaching are going to seem more and more offensive to people on the outside.
Lessons for Future Generations
Well, that gives us an opportunity to teach our children how to be what the Bible says we are always going to be in this world, which is strangers and exiles (Hebrews 11:13). Our forefathers and our foremothers, they did not receive that which was promised. They died and they were buried, but they moved forward, and they moved onward. Why? Because they were looking for a heavenly city.
I think that we need to spend time from the very beginning teaching our children that they are going to be estranged, to some degree, and alienated, to a great degree, from American culture, and that that is all right. They are part of a big body of Christ, most of whom felt that sort of alienation. I think that is a good start: connecting our children and our teenagers with that global community of Christ around the world right now in Africa and in Asia.
1. Lean on the global church.
I mean, part of the problem is that sometimes I think we have this understanding that the church is Western, the church is white and middle class and American, and the church welcomes people from every tribe, tongue, nation and language, kind of as a part of those that the church is ministering to.
“In reality, the church isn’t white. The church isn’t American. The church isn’t Western.”
But in reality, the church isn’t white. The church isn’t American. The church isn’t Western. The church is existing right now, in heaven, a great multitude, an uncountable number, the vast majority of whom don’t speak English and don’t fit that westernized, American understanding of what sometimes we unfortunately think the church looks like.
We connect our children to that big body of Christ, teaching them that when they say, “We,” their first point of reference is not to their peer group, it is not to their demographic group, and it is not even to the United States of America. The first reference for We is the people of God, the church of Jesus Christ. That takes a lot of intentional discipleship from the very beginning, teaching them how to be strangers, how to be not quite at home in this culture.
2. Season all speech.
And then, secondly, teach them how to deal with outsiders. I mean, the Bible spends a lot of time, the apostle Paul particularly spends a lot of time, talking about how to talk with outsiders in a way that is seasoned with salt (Colossians 4:6).
We prepare our children not to be Pharisaically shocked by what is happening on the outside, teaching them the fact that there are going to be things on the outside that are not going to be the way that Jesus intends them to be: we live in a fallen world. So we need to teach them how they are to speak to those on the outside, and to act.
3. Prepare for prodigals.
And then, finally, I think we need to prepare ourselves for prodigals. What we are saying to our children, these are hard sayings. Saying to people, “We are asking you to be socially marginalized. We are asking you to walk away from what many people would consider to be a normal life in order to follow Christ.”
“We need to know not only how to prepare parents to deal with prodigals walking away, but also how to welcome them back.”
We don’t know exactly how hard that is going to get, but Jesus tells us that where there is a faulty soil, where the seed falls on soil where it doesn’t take root — how do you know that that faith isn’t standing, and isn’t real? It is when persecution comes that those people fall away (Matthew 13:3–7). There are all sorts of levels of persecution. We don’t know what American culture is going to look like over the next forty, fifty years, but it may well be that we are going to have a lot of people who are going to fall away.
We need to be ready to know not only how to prepare parents and churches to deal with prodigals walking away, but also how to welcome them back, how to pray for those who have wandered away, how to be ready to celebrate and to rejoice when those who go out and have a crisis in their lives — when they find out that the promises that were made to them by the world don’t measure up to what they were expecting — so they can come home to that fatted calf and to that party (Luke 15:22–24). I think we need to prepare our churches for that as well.