Publication: Pastoral Letter, October 2002
Dear Friend in Christ:
I want to write to you concerning one of the greatest issues facing us today; one with which I struggle even as I write. The issue is: How far do we go to accommodate our current Western culture? To answer this, let’s look first at Church history.
The book of Acts tells us that the Holy Spirit fell upon 120 believers who were gathered in the Upper Room on the Day of Pentecost. Jesus had ascended a few days earlier and commanded His disciples to go to the Upper Room and wait until the “Promise of the Father” came to them in power. They obeyed and the Holy Spirit came.
They immediately began to speak in other languages and were soon preaching to a gathered, curious multitude. Peter, standing with the eleven other apostles, delivered a powerful message on the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, told his hearers to repent and be baptized, and to save themselves from that wicked and perverse generation. That day, 3,000 people responded and were baptized (see Acts 2).
A new culture was created that day. Those who responded began to meet together in houses, hear apostolic teaching, fellowship together, eat together, and pray. They were filled with awe at the power and miracles of God, and shared a single purpose as well as their resources. As the days went on, many people were added to this new culture.
The new society of believers in Jesus was different from the old religious society that had rejected Him. And, it was sorely persecuted. Some were imprisoned and others were beaten, stoned, and even martyred.
It should be apparent that the Holy Spirit came to empower the new Church to be bold, to preach, and to endure persecution. Jesus had known by His own experience and by the Holy Spirit that His followers would need power to deal with their society.
There were many years in the early history of the Church when persecution was so severe that one wonders how this new community of believers survived. But we know from history that our spiritual ancestors showed ultimate courage in the face of torturous persecution.
Right up until our present day, such courage and boldness have characterized many generations of believers, in many parts of the world. I applaud Franklin Graham, who has spoken to Americans about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and Africa. Christians in our times are regularly being tortured for their faith. We are witnessing more martyrdom than at any time in history, especially in cultures dominated by Islam.
“Postmodernism” is the popular label for Western culture at the close of the Second Millennium and the years ahead. Postmodernists would suggest that term “Modern” refers to the period from approximately 1500 to 2000 AD, an age characterized by confrontation, structure, and scientific analysis.
The New Era, according to many, is characterized by “pluralism,” inclusivism, tolerance, sensitivity and subjectivity. It is an era of non-absolutes and non-confrontational approaches toward diversity. Postmodernists seem to promote a pragmatic multiculturalism.
Postmodernism has already had a great effect upon churches, many of whom have enjoyed great success because they have adjusted to and even accommodated the postmodern culture around them. They have adapted popular technology and methods to deliver their message, but in many cases, have significantly altered their message. One hears little about sin, repentance, judgment, and the inspiration of the Holy Scriptures.
Postmodernism is very nonjudgmental, and strong on affirmation and acceptance. It relies greatly upon psychology and technology. Postmodernism would say that “the media is the message” and the media has become more and more visual through dance, drama, and film clips on screen.
There can be no doubt that those approaches play well to an age group that grew up with television and action movies. I personally do not criticize their methods. I certainly do not advocate the “Amish approach” to technology!
Having said that, I do not think that performance constitutes worship or inspires commitment_two issues that I care a lot about.
What if Peter had been postmodern? Would he have so strongly confronted his audience? Would he have instead looked for the good to affirm in his society? Of course, he was not postmodern in his mindset. Peter was not polished or politically correct. He confronted Israel over its rejection of Jesus, and instructed them to repent and be baptized. He went further to describe that generation as wicked and corrupt. Perhaps that’s why he was probably martyred later.
Some would argue that his methods reflected his culture, and that Jesus’ methods did as well. And they may be correct. I wonder what Peter would say about our generation, which is far more corrupt morally than was his. Of course, we live in our times and he did not. We must decide how to deal with the culture around us.
How will we deal with our generation? Ezekiel was warned by God that his generation was stubborn and obstinate, and that if he did not tell them the truth, God would require their blood at his hand (see Ezekiel 3:18). Obviously, Peter felt the same responsibility.
The generations addressed by both Peter and Ezekiel faced imminent destruction, and both men kept their charge. Both men told the truth and confronted the realities around them. Can we confront the realities around us or must we change our approach?
The problem we face is simple_how do we adjust methods and keep our message of the Gospel, and be faithful to the One who has called us out of darkness? Have postmodern viruses so infected the Church that we are simply afraid to tell the truth, or can we tell the truth in a different voice?
I am personally convinced that we are at a crisis point. I want to be both heard by secular society, and faithful to the Lord and my predecessors. If the Church is not candid and if it is not heard, this nation and Europe are in for awful days. Multiculturalism has opened the doors to competing ideas with very different consequences.
No, I am not a doomsayer. But even a casual observer should acknowledge that September 11, 2001 broke new ground in America’s vulnerability. But, this is hardly a beginning if America does not repent. Repentance is a significant issue in our salvation.
“Pluralism,” if it means being kind and tolerant toward those who disagree, is admirable. If it means equating all religious and lifestyles, it is at best naïve, and at worst malignant. If we continue to follows secular Europe down its path, we will find ourselves once again embroiled in a fight for survival and the fight will be within our borders.
The Church has been stupefied by “inspirational” talks, entertainment, and “pats on the back.” Recently, a well-known Baptist church in Houston featured a conference on fundamentalism. Among the speakers were a gay activist and a “Muslim Moderate.” They had a common foe and were themselves more comfortable with Gays and Muslims than fellow Baptists who believed in the absolutes of the Bible.
Also, by inference, they equated fundamentalist Christians with fundamentalist Muslims.
These “moderate,” postmodern Baptists are by no means alone in their thinking. They represent our culture of tolerance toward all_except those who dare confront society with their biblical beliefs. I wonder, given that postmodernism is fundamentally and historically secular, if Christians should identify themselves with the term, “postmodern.” Should we get our agenda from culture or from the liberal universities of the West? Bear in mind, some of the most fallacious and destructive movements in history were spawned on university campuses in the womb of naiveté.
Willingness to adjust, create new language, and try methods does not necessarily make one postmodern. Back in the 1960s, I moved into the charismatic dimension, advocated cell groups/house churches, and practiced personal discipling. I strongly have urged that we build relationships and communities. I have promoted new music and worship, not because I am postmodern, but because I have sought God and searched the Scriptures. Accommodating the Holy Spirit and not culture is my primary motive.
I say the above to stress that new methods do not concern me, if the message remains true to our Lord’s message: His Kingdom. What do we say to people who are on the brink of eternity? It must be more than, “I’m OK, you’re OK,” or “to each his own.” As the West and much of the world grows more postmodern, that may mean that holding to what is true will cause us to be misunderstood and opposed.
There are many churches that are both holding to the truth, and the belief that Jesus is the only way to the Father, and are succeeding numerically. I applaud them. Diversity of methods should not concern us. Diversity of message should.
I ask you to support us at CSM in your prayers and in your giving as we declare the kingdom of God, and Jesus Christ as Lord of all. Our message will always be Bible-based and Christ-centered. Support us as we urge followers of Jesus to share life and faith one-to-one. And support us as we attempt to reach out to a younger generation who are confronted with postmodern philosophies that are vastly different from what past generations experienced.
Jesus gave a parable of a farmer in whose field an enemy sowed tares, “while men slept” (see Matthew 13). We cannot afford to sleep. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.
I agree with many Christians who call themselves “postmodern,” to this extent: we must adjust in order to reach the cultures around us. I applaud that. But, I appeal to all of us_let us not lose our salt.
Scripture Reference: Acts, Ezekiel