Sunday, November 15, 2015

Secularism and American Culture

1.  A Secular Culture

A.     Secular Defined
Before commenting on how Christians in western and American culture think about their culture, I think want to offer up some thoughts about a word we here used often to describe our culture: secular. We here from many Christian leaders today that American culture is becoming increasingly secular. They talk about the secularization of American culture that, according to how they understand American culture, has taken place over the years. To be sure, it would be silly of me to claim that America is not experiencing some sort of basic shift in terms of its culture. She certainly is undergoing a radical shift and she is doing so at break-neck speed. The hostility toward Christianity is ramping up much faster than most Christian leaders expected. But I want to point out that this is not anything that Christians should concern themselves with. To set this in its proper context I want to offer up a couple of definitions of ­secular. One definition says that the doctrine of secularism is that doctrine that rejects religion and religious considerations. Well, if that is how we define secularism, then why should we care if our culture is becoming more secular? Iran is not a secular nation. Does that mean Christians should be encouraged by Iran’s culture? I don’t think we can answer that question with a positive affirmation. Another definition says that secularism is to be devoted to the temporal world as opposed to the spiritual. Essentially, to be secular is to be unconcerned with religion, that is, without any religious devotion. American culture then, by this definition has been and still is very devoted to its own brands of the Christian religion and they are many. But as Christians, if we look at American culture correctly, what we see is a culture that is full of idolatry, greed, and lust. American is about absolute autonomy, making a god into their own image for self-righteous reasons, the pursuit of the American dream, and sex. Is American becoming more secular? Sure she is. People are less interested in religion than they used to be. So what. What is better? Idolatry in religion or idolatry apart from religion?

America was never a Christian nation. Modern America, since the pilgrims landed, has had a percentage of true Christians, a percentage of false Christians, and a percentage of neither. But American was not founded upon the revelation of Christian Scripture. She may have borrowed points here and there, but she has never been a nation truly under God, submitting to God through faith in Christ. To think otherwise is sheer fantasy. It is here that Christians must begin if they wish to think rightly, to think accurately, to think biblically about the nation in which they find themselves.

B.     Culture Defined

Culture can be defined as a particular society at a particular time and place. Culture can also be defined as the attitudes and behaviors that are characteristic of a group of people. It is true that American culture in this place and time is significantly different from American culture in previous times. Religious freedom was once an idea in American culture that seemed impervious to change, redefinition, and even rejection. But here we are, in a culture now that is on the precipice of changing several basic ideas that served as the anchor and ground of the American experiment. The right to bear arms, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion are all in serious jeopardy, just to name a few. I admit that it is undeniably true that American culture is changing and depending on how one defines secularism, she is become more secular. What I don’t buy into is the alarmist response. I reject the concept that it really, really matters that America should not become more secular. I reject it because she is not becoming any more idolatrous than she has been for centuries now. And I think that Christians ought to be concerned, not with the shallow religious hypocrisy that exists in their culture as much as they should be concerned about the pure idolatry they witness. American culture has never been predominantly Christian, at least not since the very beginning if in fact she really was then. Its time for Christians to let go of that myth. American culture celebrates sexual promiscuity openly now while in the past she practiced it in private. She honors the greedy openly now and she has been doing so for a very long time. American culture openly murders millions of babies in the name of women’s health and women’s rights. American culture perverts biblical Christianity, rewriting Scripture through a hermeneutic that allows them to create the sort of Jesus and the kind of Christianity they can tolerate and embrace. American culture is an idolatrous culture, filled with every kind of greed, lust, lie, and disgusting vice imaginable. And what is more, many American Christians vary from being indifferent to accepting, participating, endorsing, and even celebrating this rebellious culture.

2.  Christian Community

A.     Christian Defined

So what then does it mean to be a Christian? If one wants to defend the idea that American either is or was a Christian nation, they will have to define for us what it means to be Christian. To be a Christian is to be a disciple. Jesus said “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” (Matt. 16:24) Self-denial is at the heartbeat of what it is to be a Christian. Self-denial is also the antithesis of Americanism. American is all about elevating the self, preserving the individual. Christianity is all about the other, all about denying the self. In America, we have men taking other men sexually, calling it love, and then demanding that Christianity accommodate their selfish and perverse lusts. And we have pseudo Christians not only tolerating and celebrating these activities, but demanding that Christianity be reinterpreted to accommodate this disgusting behavior. Christians are children of God while pagans are children of the devil. By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother. (1 Jn. 3:10) Christian’s live a life that is defined primarily by practicing righteous deeds, honoring God’s law, albeit imperfectly. Pagans live a life that is defined primarily by debaucheries, rebellious, and selfish living. Christians love God while pagans do not. “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (Jn. 14:15) Jesus was clear – if you love me, you will keep my commandments. But we have arrogant American Christians turning this upside down on its head and then having the unmitigated gall to tell us that we are the arrogant ones. It is simple: Christians love God. Those who love God will keep God’s commandments. Those who pervert God’s commandments in order to avoid keeping them are clearly not Christians because they do not love God. And if one does not love God, they hate God.Christianity then is defined, not be modern, western, American culture. It is defined by the divine revelation of Christian Scripture once and for all to ancient Jews living in Palestine who were regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit and who were the very first Christians. Americans, with all their money, their technology, and the accomplishments are utterly unable to change what it means to be a Christian.

B.     Community Defined

The Christian Church is the body of Christ. The local assembly of the Christian Church should be viewed, if it is viewed rightly, as Christians in community with one another. We are a distinct culture within a culture. We are gathered by God into Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit. Christians are in a very special group, a family. But this family is bound together by something much stronger than blood. Jesus’ words about the relativization of natural kinship ties and the family created by commitment to a common way of life have multiple resonances and strong precedents throughout the Greco-Roman world. [deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity] Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end. (Heb. 3:12-14) We are part of one flock, members of one body, a people called out for one purpose, a peculiar people, a chosen generation. The Christian community has an obligation to remove from its midst those who reject Christian values & morality as well as those who reject basic Christian dogma. We are bound together in the unity of the Spirit of TRUTH, not error, and we share in common a set of values that transcend the individual. We share in the common nature of God’s own Son who is Himself the one true expression of holiness and truth.

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