Publication: Pastoral Letter, April 2004
Dear Friend in Christ:
Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus! I pray that this letter finds you and yours doing well. This month, I want to share some thoughts with you concerning present cultural clashes, and how we can have not only hope, but also how we can each make a difference.
Yes, there are indeed many serious culture wars that rage across the world. And here in the United States, those wars are raging during an election year. Secularism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity have varying agendas that struggle for influence. And there are even struggles within each of those movements for the soul of those movements.
The twentieth century was not a good one for the influence of Christianity in the Western world. Europe moved more toward pluralism and secularism, and in the USA, conservative Christians lost ground on issues like the acknowledgement of God in public life, abortion, homosexuality, and other moral values. Considering that church attendance in the United States remains high, one could conclude that the Church itself has altered its values or has less influence. Both are probably true.
Samuel P. Huntington’s book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order describes culture this way: “The overall way of life of a people…to which successive generations in a given society have attached primary importance.” Given Huntington’s description, one could say that the American culture – way of life – has changed dramatically, and generational transmission of culture often does not occur.
It is easy for Christians to become reactors and culture critics. But given that Jesus taught us to be salt and light, we must examine ourselves and address why we are being so influenced by secular culture instead of influencing it. In order to do that, I would like to take us back to some biblical examples of people who successfully created culture – a way of life.
It is vital to understand that Abraham’s name means, “Father of a multitude.” He had a father’s heart before he was a father. A study of Genesis chapters 12-25 reveals that he fathered a culture. It was a culture of faith in Jehovah God, that was based upon covenant relationship to God and family. God chose Abraham not only to create an “example culture”, but to bless all of the families of the earth, and to affect every other culture.
The patriarchal nature of Abrahamic culture is indisputable. Father Abraham was given the responsibility to train his children so that they could receive the covenant promises and blessings of God. The test of Abraham’s calling was not simply his training of Isaac; it was Isaac’s training of Jacob, and Jacob’s training of his children (see Psalm 78). Generational training and relationship is the key to Judaism, and I might add, to any culture’s continual existence.
God confirmed the faithfulness of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in that He confirmed the covenant to those three generations. God is often referred to as “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Three generations set the course.
Some societies have tried to substitute institutions for parents. “Institutional Parenting” does not work. There is no biblical mandate for it. Daycare, school, college, church, and other institutions can do a lot of good, but they cannot fully take the place of father and mother.
Jesus is the Son of God and the manifest wisdom of God. I do not believe that His ways can be improved; though many may think otherwise. Jesus is also the True Son and heir of Abraham according to the faith, though He existed before Abraham (see John 8:37-40, 56; Galatians 3:6-29). Jesus is called the “Seed of Abraham.” In fact, all who believe in Jesus are Abraham’s seed, and heirs of His promises (see Galatians 3:29).
The implications of this reference to “seed” are many and vital. One implication is that we are part of His covenant family under the same covenant promises and responsibilities. Through Christ, “The Branch,” we are grafted into Abraham’s lineage, part of God’s family, and responsible to pass on the promises.
Jesus viewed all who did His will as His family. He related to His disciples as brothers and as sisters (see Matthew 12:46-50; Hebrews 2:10). He trained them to receive the same covenant promises and mission that was given to Abraham. He renewed the covenant with them in the New Covenant, and commissioned them to train others…who would then train others still (see Matthew 28:18-20).
Jesus’ relational training has been vindicated by history. No one has come close to His impact upon nations who have been lifted out of poverty and darkness. Abraham and Jesus teach us that one generation does not a culture make. When a generation is lost or left untrained, culture is lost. Succession is the key to success. Upon whom does the responsibility rest to create successors? Churches? Institutions? No, it rests upon both natural and spiritual fathers and mothers.
The commission to bear fruit was given to individual disciples and is the proof of their discipleship (see John 15:8). The church must become more than a meeting of believers; it must become a gathering of disciples who are being equipped to carry out the Great Commission from one generation to another, if we are going to create the culture of Christ.
Paul met Jesus on the road to Damascus. Soon after, he was filled with the Holy Spirit. From the very beginning he was given a vision to take the Gospel to other nations and to leaders. He took the mission seriously and ultimately gave his life for it.
In Second Timothy, we have what was probably his last recorded letter. In the first chapter, he addressed Timothy as his son. He instructed him to retain the sound teaching that had been received from Paul. He referred to those teachings as a commitment and a trust. In Chapter 2, he tells Timothy to teach faithful men who will be able to teach others also.
We should note that, like Abraham and our Lord Jesus, Paul was not content to teach one generation; he required his disciples to go and make disciples. A “faithful man” was not merely one who would learn, but one who would pass on what he had received. I wonder what would happen if we understood faithfulness the same way?
Is one who learns, but never passes what he learned to a spiritual son or daughter, considered faithful? Titus 2:1-5 puts women under the same mandate. Leading people to Christ, teaching them to observe all that He commanded, and teaching them to entrust all of that to someone else is the method of Abraham, Jesus, and the Apostle Paul. In fact, even natural family demonstrates the divine plan (see Genesis 1:28).
There is a parallel trend in societies which are moving away from traditional family culture; they also lose Christian influence upon culture. Too many “church kids” leave home without their heritage. Our dependence upon institutional training has failed us.
I want to be fair to institutions and organizations. I sit on three boards of directors of organizations that I believe do great service to society. No single family could accomplish what these institutions do. However, none of these institutions view themselves as parental substitutes. When parents give over their mandate to some other group, they lose their greatest opportunity. When, in some cases, those institutions are divorced from the family and from God, and assume an elite and arrogant mindset, they can steal and destroy our greatest prize – the next generation and our culture.
It is easy to blame institutions, the media, and secularists for many unwanted changes in our society. But I doubt that God does. He first looks at his own family for a place to assign responsibility. If we personally ignore the pattern of Abraham, the command of Jesus, and the example of Paul, then we personally bear responsibility.
While there are areas of great concern in our culture_Christian and otherwise – we are not without resources and hope. There are millions of believers who share our faith. What we must do is change our minds about how to re-create culture. Mass media is not our enemy. Megachurches are not either. But neither of these will take the place of personal relationships and personal ministry. Here are some steps I advocate:
- Re-assert the biblical standard of faith and practice; without it, we are leaves in the wind
- Rediscover biblical instruction on the family
- Expect Christian men to lead and train their families
- Re-think what it means to be faithful
- Re-examine how we “do church” – is it theatre?
- Recommit ourselves to the mission to make disciples who will make disciples
- Ask ourselves, “What kind of culture will we leave our heirs?”
Yes, there are “hot button” issues in all of this: male-female identity, abortion, homosexuality, authority, and so many others. Jesus knew there would be challenges for all those who followed Him. And His followers have known it as well. But then, they had the courage to change their cultures, even if it cost their blood. The Abrahamic culture as revealed and fulfilled in Christ, swept over the goddess culture of Corinth, Athens, and Ephesus. The pluralism of Rome fell before the power of the Gospel. The Gospel hasn’t changed in its power to change culture.
The “controversy avoidance” syndrome is another way of saying, “Let evil triumph.” That is not how our spiritual fathers and mothers responded, and by God’s grace, we will follow their godly example.
Please continue to remember us in your prayers and in your giving this month. We are not a large organization, but we do face great challenges. However, we face these challenges knowing that our cause is also great, and we deeply appreciate your willingness to co-labor with us for the sake of Christ’s Kingdom.
Scripture References: Genesis 12-25; John 8:37-40, 56; Galatians 3:6-29; Hebrews 2:40; Matthew 12:46-50; 2 Timothy 2; Titus 2:1-5; Genesis 1:28; John 15:8