Christians and Culture

I recently was assigned an essay in which I was to answer the question, “How ought Christians react to the shifting moral values of culture?” Here’s my answer…

I have read the assigned book, Reforming the Morality of Usury, in its entirety.

Much like the time of the Reformers, today’s culture is in the midst of a massive shift in moral thinking. As secular culture becomes more permissive concerning topics like abortion, homosexuality, euthanasia, genetic research, and even financial responsibility, it is the responsibility of the church to determine the absolute morality of such issues in light of the absolute truth of the Word of God. Often concessions are made in issues of morality by claiming that, since the culture has changed, many laws of the Bible are now outdated. For example, the Old Testament prohibition on tattooing is used to support this argument because tattooing is currently a culturally accepted art form in America. Issues of capital punishment are also used by some to decry the Bible as a moral authority. Because our current culture does not solicit the use of capital punishment for behaviors such as homosexuality, adultery, or dishonoring parents, then it is reasoned that none of the moral laws or consequences should apply any longer. With this view of law in the Bible, the proverbial baby of moral law is thrown out with the bathwater of time bound, theocratic law.

If believers hold to the presupposition that the “all or nothing” view of law in Scripture is incorrect, how should Christians view and apply Scripture to daily life? The ever-changing nature of the world is further proof that the world is diametrically opposed to the immutable God, Creator of the universe. Secular culture is constantly shifting the boundaries of right and wrong, but Scripture contains God’s statement concerning Himself: “I the Lord do not change” (Mal 3:6). While God was speaking of His covenant promise to Israel, this concept of God’s immutability carries through His entire being. Regardless of the behavior of His chosen people Israel, God’s covenant with them was never changing, and neither was His response to them; when they obeyed He blessed them and when they strayed He disciplined them. The Psalmist praises God that His love and faithfulness endures forever (cf. 100:5; 107:1; 117:2; 118:1-4, 29; 136:1-5).

Just as God is unchanging, we are told that His word is unchanging as well. Throughout Scripture, God’s words never change. From Genesis to Revelation, each author, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, traces the consistent story of redemption and salvation. The Lord tells Isaiah to proclaim to the people in Isaiah 40:7-8, “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.” Though men will rise and fall and be blown away like the grass in the wind, the unchanging Word of God will remain forever.

According to these very brief glimpses into the nature of God and of His Word, one can surmise that God is unchanging in His very nature. Just as the Scripture sheds light on the nature of God, it also reveals the nature of man. As mentioned above, God told Isaiah that people are like grass and they fade in glory and fall. The prophet Jeremiah was told that the heart of man is wicked (17:9). Samuel told King Saul that “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind” (1 Sam 15:29). When Paul describes weak-willed women to Timothy, part of that description includes that they are “swayed by all kinds of evil desires” (2 Tim 3:6). Though man is always changing in thought and deed and conviction, God never changes

So according to the Scriptures, which have been shown to be unchanging, God is unchanging, trustworthy, and loving in His eternal nature, but man is changing, swaying, untrustworthy, and wicked. If the story stopped there, it would seem hopeless for the church to react to the changing culture in any other way than to mirror culture itself. There are, however, commands given to the church specifically concerning how we as believers are to interact with the changing culture of the current society. In Romans 12:2, the apostle Paul instructs the believers in Rome: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.” As believers, we are not to conform to the changing winds of culture. We are instead to renew our minds so that we are able to test and approve God’s will. By renewing our minds through studying Scripture, we will be able to rightly discern the world around us. Peter also addresses this topic in 1 Pet 1:13-16: “Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’”

Succinctly written in the very words of God, the church is told that as the culture around us changes, we are to nevertheless be holy as God is holy. We are to remain steadfast and unwavering in the beliefs that the precepts in Scripture are right, true, beautiful, restorative, and refreshing. The only way that Scripture will be seen in such a light is for believers to uphold it regardless of the culture around us. Scripture tells us that God is calling unto himself a people from every tongue, tribe, and nation, which assumes that His Gospel supersedes the fluctuating tides of culture. The church’s responsibility is to continue living in such a way that we are not only hearers of the never changing word, but we are also doers of the same.

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