By Robert Cocheu
In last week’s blog we described the growing number of “Nones,” those who express no affiliation with an established religion, Christianity or otherwise. We also listed the five generation groups the church currently ministers to. They are:
· Traditionalists – born between 1930 and 1945 (in major decline)
· Baby Boomers – born between 1946 and 1964 (approximately 73 million)
· Generation X – born between 1965 and 1980 (approximately 65 million)
· Millennials – born between 1981 and 1994 (approximately 78 million)
· Generation Z – born 1995 and later (approximately 84 million)
So where is the church going when we consider this? Up to about 40 years ago, churches dominated the landscape. The “traditional” family was the center of social life. Women stayed home and took care of the house and children while men earned the paycheck. Monogamous, heterosexual social norms dictated behavior concerning sexual relations. Was this ideal? No. Racism was sown into the social fabric, inequality of wealth was growing, and churches at times were nothing more than social gathering places. Family fractures—addiction, adultery, financial difficulties, abuse–were hidden out of fear of shame. Yet while on the surface things may have changed, others have not only stayed the same but accelerated. Scripture provides specific guidance on how we should approach culture and the world. Three specific examples are found here.
“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.
–2 Corinthians 4:1-2 (NRSV)
While we have discussed many items about the culture over the course of our podcasts, I want to focus on three over-arching themes.
3. Sexual ethics
All three have caused issues for society, and the church. All three are specifically addressed in scripture, and all three are huge topics that we have discussed.
Let’s start with inequality. I want to focus on socio-economic inequality rather than racism, although even that is difficult because, in America, racism can’t be decoupled from inequality. But worldwide, since biblical times, human prejudice, divisiveness and hatred of “the other” have been part of our sinful world.
But today, because of the global reach of media, we can see inequality is far more rampant than those of us who are comfortable may wish to acknowledge. Steve Titch has mentioned during the podcast, and I think many of us have commented as well, it seems that the COVID-19 pandemic has created two classes of people: high-wage earners who can work from home and low-wage earners who serve them. The arguments regarding masks and vaccines have led to even more divisiveness. I attended two events over the past month. One, a business conference where everyone was socially distanced and required to mask, and second event for donors of a university where there was no social distancing and the only masks were worn by the servers, who in their black outfits and masks became mere background to the people involved. Jesus confronted this type of devaluing of people directly in John 13 when he washed the disciples’ feet. A task usually given to the lowest servant was done by the master instead. As the church we are called to confront this type of inequality. We are not supposed to push people to the back, but are specifically called on to minister to those in need and at the same time make sure they are elevated. Paul specifically chided the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 11 for their insistence at giving special places to those in a higher social order. How do we respond to social inequality as Christian men and leaders? By calling out inequality when we see it. By forcing the institutions we are a part of to acknowledge injustice and force change. Above all, we must start with the plank in our own eye. We must prayerfully examine our own ingrained attitudes toward others, some simply shaped by the environment we grew up in, and shine the light of Jesus’ love on our blind spots.
The second area is consumerism. Our podcast originates from Sugar Land, Texas, a wealthy suburb of Houston. We struggle with it as well. The tenth commandment—against covetousness–addresses this. Our current culture tells us grab whatever we want, whenever we want by whatever means necessary. We have become an instant society. We expect everything to be delivered to our door by the end of the day. If something breaks, we just throw it out and buy new. Cheap items, produced by cheap labor, sold to us by underpaid sales clerks is the norm.
As we look at scripture, we are reminded God promises to meet our needs. There are strands of questionable theology that suggest, if not outright promise, that God not only our meets our needs but also delivers our wants. The Church needs to do better in stressing the difference between needs and wants. Our responsibility as men as church leaders is to confront the culture that stresses monetary success at all costs, as well as a misguided theology that preaches personal wealth is God’s blessing and reward for faithfulness. Stress that while we work hard for the things we have, everything I the end, belongs to God. We lead by living within our means and rejecting acquisitive, throwaway culture.
Finally, sexual ethics, a topic we’ve discussed on multiple occasions, including our recent live show. It’s plain that culture has trivialized, commoditized and commercialized sex to such a degree that it’s created a cognitive dissonance among men. We are told that sex is no big deal, and with a few exceptions, we can do it with whomever we want. Ironically, a cry that has arisen from women—whom for three generations the culture promoted the sexual revolution as liberating–for sexual boundaries.
These are just three cultural issues that challenge the global church today. Unfortunately, the church’s response has been polarized. The Church is in danger of indulging in the very divisiveness and anger that distorts today’s discourse, retreating to respective corners of an anything-goes accommodation and near-Pharisaic legalism.
The honest question is in what direction do we steer our Church and fellow Christians as we learn more about the complexity and mystery of God’s creation, how do we place that knowledge in the context of God’s word, and how do we work alongside the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in creation’s redemption and transformation.
These are the questions we will ask and attempt, in our limited way, to answer on Podcast 223 coming this Tuesday. Tune in and join the conversation by commenting on our Facebook page.