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 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?
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 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. Any time that there is the idea that somehow the gospel is going to get me in this life what it is that I want.
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.
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 chapter 11. 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 spending 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.
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. 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 referent 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.
And then, secondly, to 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. So 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 and how they are to speak to those on the outside and to act.
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 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 those people fall away.
There are all sorts of level of persecution. We don’t know what American culture is going to look like over the next 40, 50 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, that they can come home to that fatted calf and to that party. I think we need to prepare our churches for that as well.
Again, that is very helpful, wise, grace-filled counsel for us living in what appears to be a significant cultural shift. Thank you Dr. Moore. Dr. Moore serves as the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. He is an author, blogger, podcaster and he appears from time to time on TV. You can keep up with him at russellmoore.com. … American culture is changing, and I want to look at the way sexual ethics are changing in particular. So where is the American sex ethic headed? We’ll talk about that tomorrow. I’m your host Tony Reinke, thanks for listening to the Ask Pastor John podcast.