Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
Philippians 4:8-9 (ESV)
I’m struggling with the feeling of being powerlessness as the culture around me changes in ways that will make life much more difficult and painful for my children and my children’s children, and result in a last chapter of my life very different from anything I’d imagined.
We’ve lived in a country where up until now, most of our fellow citizens have at least paid lip service to the message of the Gospel, shared a common understanding of right and wrong rooted in Judao-Christian teaching and tradition. American citizens have experienced historically unprecedented freedom not just of worship, but freedom to live out one’s public life in accordance with their faith.
I’ve heard from many friends in recent weeks who share my fears that our way of life is rapidly disappearing. A palpable sense of desperation is in the air as many realize that no political solution is forthcoming. At the same time, fear of the future doesn’t make for a good witness. When Christians try to defend the indefensible out of fear for the future – even though our fears are very legitimate, the reputation of Christianity as a whole becomes tarnished and the credibility of our witness becomes compromised.
Authentic Christianity is both difficult and divisive. Jesus himself said it would be.
Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
Luke 12:51-53 (ESV)
As Christians, we find ourselves (as Jesus predicted) on the unpopular side of some very divisive issues. Leaders of political, economic and educational systems have made an implicit bargain with the people. Under the guise of “diversity” or “tolerance” the institutions of society agree to protect the people from unwelcome intrusions upon conscience in exchange for their support.
For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.
Romans 2:14-16 (ESV)
Scripture teaches us that we’re born with an innate sense of right and wrong, or as Paul put it… “the work of the law is written on their hearts.” Living out the Christian life represents an assault upon our modern culture. And there will be consequences for those who threaten our newly established cultural consensus. You will be made to care. I don’t envision “persecution” coming to our country in the sense that Christians in other parts of the world face imprisonment, torture or death for practicing their faith, but I do think many of us will face some very uncomfortable decisions in the years ahead.
Anyone who works for an organization that receives significant funding from the government (education, health care, social services, state and local government) will likely face pressure to endorse practices and behaviors in conflict with traditional Christian teaching. Faith-based hospitals that refuse to perform abortions will be threatened with catastrophic losses of funding. Adoption agencies with moral reservations about placing children in non-traditional families will be shut down. Persons in occupations that require licensure will be expected to comply with the new cultural norms. I fear that my daughter who will be applying to medical school next year won’t be able to practice medicine ten years from now if physician-assisted suicide becomes a “right” in the U.S., as has occurred in Canada and she refuses to participate.
Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil,
who put darkness for light
and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter!
Isaiah 5:20 (ESV)
As a leader of a ministry organization that helps churches serve families of kids with disabilities, I find myself wondering why would families without a strong faith in Christ WANT to be part of church, given the trends in the culture? They’re already fighting a fight they didn’t ask for as parents of a child with a disability. Who would voluntarily join a church when living in accordance with the teachings of that church (if the church’s theology is more traditional/orthodox) will likely result in more social isolation, and the possibility of economic hardship? They WON’T…unless they see an irresistible quality in the lives of the Christians with whom they come in contact.
How shall we prepare now to fight the good fight in the years ahead when we’ll likely pay a price for practicing our faith?
We’ll need to be more purposeful and intentional about pursuing and maintaining Christian community. We’ll need one another more than ever as the pressures to conform to the expectations of the culture become more intense. Our kids will need to know that there are other kids and families who believe what they believe and that they’re not alone. From a practical standpoint, we’ll need to be better networked with one another and look after one another in educational and business as if we’re members of a cultural minority -because we will be in many professions. To be the “salt” in the culture, we’ll need to do a very good job of maintaining our “saltiness.”
Consider the witness you wish to present in a culture hostile to God. Want a role model for how to respond in a hostile environment? Consider Daniel. He remained faithful to God when he had every reason in the world to compromise. The combination of his personal integrity and the excellence of his service to the king led him to a position of great influence. Daniel also attracted lots of unwanted attention because of his insistence upon living out his faith when doing so violated the laws of his country. His faith was such that he was willing to trust in God for his protection even when the dangers were great.
Live out the Gospel. I happen to believe a great way of doing so is by caring for and advocating on behalf of persons with disabilities, especially children. When culture rejects God’s law, the most vulnerable among us will be at the greatest risk. Just last month, the first report of physician-assisted suicide of a minor under the law permitting the practice in Belgium. In the Netherlands, physicians have been killing babies with severe disabilities for years, even though the practice is illegal there in children under the age of 12, and sufficiently emboldened to publish their protocol for doing so in the New England Journal of Medicine.
In the early days of the church, Christianity made an impression upon the people of the Roman Empire through the selflessness with which Christ followers cared for destitute or disabled children who had been abandoned by their parents and attended to the sick at great personal risk during the plagues that ravaged the empire. We find ourselves surrounded by casualties of a culture war. We fight back by…
- Caring for the children who find themselves in the foster care system as a result of trauma, abuse and neglect.
- Teaching the kids who aren’t well-served by our current educational system – including kids with special education needs.
- Pursuing truth, honor, justice, purity, beauty and excellence.
We’re called to be witnesses to truth in a time when our culture is collectively exchanging the truth of God’s Word for a lie.
In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
Judges 21:25 (ESV)
SAVE THE DATE! Key Ministry is pleased to partner with Outside In Ministries to offer Mental Health Ministry in the Local Church, a one-day conference for pastors, ministry leaders and faithful Christians seeking to take the next steps in helping their churches welcome, serve and disciple children, adults and families impacted by mental illness. The conference will take place on Saturday, November 19th, from 8:30 AM – 1:00 PM at Ironbridge Baptist Church in Chester (suburban Richmond), Virginia. Tickets are currently available here.
Hope to see you on November 19th!
Why did Jesus say he would turn ” father against son,and son against father,mother against daughter and daughter against mother” in Luke 12 :51-53? Maybe he was warning us that our fixation on familial relationships would come to an end.
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I recommend you read take a look at Stanley Hauerwas’ classic “Resident Aliens” if you haven’t done so before. It opens with him talking about the when the blue laws changed in his town and you could see a movie on Sundays so he and a friend did just that. He talks about how this was a great day because it mean the church had the chance to truly be church for the first time in his American experience. The book argues that there is a fundamental impediment to the gospel and to the work of being church ever since Constantine made Christianity the state religion. With his work in mind you seem to be mourning the passage of a kind of constininianism where we do not need to rely on our baptism and new life in Christ to guide us because we count on the broader culture reinforcing those choices and norms that we consider Christian.
The problem of course is that the gospel is shaped ever more by the state interest and the world’s values. The comment above about the fixation on the nuclear family I would even say the idolatry of the family in America and the American church both on the left and right isn’t reflective of the teachings on family in scripture. Churches preach about it uses it as a metaphor for so many aspects of faith and it becomes hard to see how the iodea of being removed from this world taking a new name and new home in the household of God could be meaningfully understood and embraced given the way we have melded our faith and our civic culture.
And it gets played out in countless ways to the point that you have people in our country who I would not be surprised to learn that they thought Jesus swaddling was dyed red whit and blue. The vast majority of people who I know who would describe themselves as evangelical Christians Don’t want to let in Syrian refugees and I don’t know that one of them has ever expressed any objection to the torture and false imprisonment frankly the war crimes the US is still engaged in and that seems to me a huge problem.
But it is a problem that I fear is not very indicative of the sort of changes you are feeling fearful of. And I think the twisting of the gospel is in part growing out of this sense of being oppressed or discriminated against or under undue pressure and judgement by the culture at large. I think that there is in the gospel an expectation that yes you will be at odds with the world. But when in fact the church has partnered up with the state and relyed on social respectability as the near equivalent and acceptable substitute for Christian character and commitment then you start to see a descent into a meanness as people who are free and more than that often in the power seat when it comes to having your ideas and norms and values able to be openly expressed and advanced when all that is the case the effort then to achieve this rejectyed and outsider identity as is the cost of discipleship distorts things in unfortunate and sometimes cruel ways. There is a war in our culture between rural and urban- blue collar and white collar it is ugly still uglier is the political and corporate entities that capitalize on it for their own power and greed.
To long has tghe church willingly let itself get played buy that game so on the right people and many of them verry proudly claiming to be Christian call for harsh penalties and miserliness to those in great need- they deride intellectualism and scientific information (and I am not even thinking about evolution at this point) and paint a picture that is nothing like the generous life they often demonstrate in their own communities finding room to hold those who they claim as their own even if different in ability or sexual orientation.
And on the left everything is diversity expressed with such derision toward those seen as detractors that it seems unwise for folks on the social margins to put too much faith in our espoused allies as their approval seems a mercurial and self advancing offering. They love racial diversity as a cause because it lets them side step the deep and ultimately far more threatening class and wealth disparity.
But I go on too much and I didn’t even get at one of my passions which is the misappropriation of the lessons Paul has to offer us today when we read him verse by verse treating the Bible nit as a library of various genera of literature but as a macro catalog of memes each equally relevant for us today and each fully comprehensible and valid in its interpretation all of them 1 to 3 verses long at most.
I guess my question is in nurturing and supporting our kids with disabilities given your apprehensions I would like to know how you think about and advise fostering the skills and self restraint needed to insure that we give those children the freedom and autonomy as they get older to make choices about their values and commitments – etc. even as they still may need from us or someone real support that may prevent some from living in the sort of independent setting that many depend on to give room to make some of those decisions and choices and try some that may differ from those to which we where raised?
Lots of good comments here. One of our founding Board members was the pastor of the church our family has attended for nearly thirty years and I recall he preached an entire sermon series on Hauerwas’ book when it was released in the early ’90s. Thanks to the wonders of Kindle, I just downloaded the updated digital edition.
Your question near the end is probably worth an entire blog post in and of itself. I’ll give you a little preview. I think Christians 25 years from now will be much more connected to and dependent upon social networks in a church that may have more of an underground component to it. I could see that underground network being involved in resourcing families of kids with disabilities.
If one reads Deuteronomy 6, the picture painted is that of a faith community that assumes responsibility for the spiritual development of children. I think we’re going to need to be very intentional about ensuring that kids have a solid spiritual foundation before sending them out into the larger culture. They may get the opportunity to refine and practice those skills in a broader Christian community.
Tim Elmore is an interesting guy who writes extensively about the topic of helping kids to develop resiliency. If you’re interested in that topic, I’d encourage you to check out his blog and resources… http://growingleaders.com/blog/