Courage in the Culture #1
CONFRONTING THE CULTURE Trinity
1 John 3:11-24 21.7.19
In 2016, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Tasmania sent a booklet to the parents of children in Catholic schools, “Don’t Mess With Marriage”. It was a fairly ordinary statement of what marriage had been seen to be for thousands of years.
The Greens candidate reported Porteous to the Anti Discrimination Commissioner who said publicly that “there was a case to answer”.
In 2017 Campbell Markham, a Presbyterian pastor, also in Hobart, had a similar complaint made against him because of a comment he made about same sex marriage on his blog.
In 2018 the wedding magazine “White” was closed down after gay activists targeted its owners for refusing to publish gay wedding photos, and companies pulled their advertising as a result.
Jason Tey, a professional photographer in Perth was asked by a lesbian couple to photograph their children in 2018. He said he would, but said they might be happier with someone who agreed with their views on marriage. They reported him to the Equal Opportunity Commissioner. The case against him was dropped, one of the women saying that even if they won, it wasn’t likely to change his views.
Churches now holding services in schools in the A.C.T. are being required to submit all sermons the Thursday before they are to be preached, so they can be vetted by some bureaucrat.
Then the Margaret Court and Israel Folau issues and so on.
I hesitate to go on for a couple of reasons. Firstly, so many of these cases are about sexuality. Listing them makes it sound like this is the only issue we face, or the only one in which we are interested. It isn’t, but it is the issue that keeps being raised out there in what some have called our “sexular culture”.
Secondly, I hesitate because what we face in Australia is so small compared to what believers in other countries face. Today some of them will be killed, die in prison, be tortured and have all they own confiscated, because they will not deny Jesus.
We are where we are, and we are living at the time we are, and there are particular challenges for us in 2019 Australia. We want to preach a short series of three sermons which we have called “Courage in the Culture”, to help us stand, where we are.
Tucked away in the back of 1 Chronicles is a chapter listing different groups in Israel and in 1 Chronicles 12:32, we are told about Issachar’s men “who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do.”
That’s what we want to do today and the next two weeks … to understand where we are in 2019 so we know what to do.
Is it going to take courage for those lovely members of the Early Rain Covenant Church being held and tortured in Chinese prisons to maintain their testimony to Jesus? More than we can imagine. Is it going to take courage in our culture, not to buckle? Maybe not as much, but yes, it will. Some fresh and clear thinking to know how to reconnect with people in this changing culture? Bucket loads.
Let’s launch off today by trying to understand where we are at in our culture in 2019 Australia.
In last weekend’s Australian columnist Janet Albrechtsen wrote of “a new moral code” that is “so omnipresent it reaches on to sporting fields, into boardrooms, universities and bureaucracies. The sacking of Israel Folau is bigger than a legal biff about a contract and a code of conduct. Folau was sacked for sinning against the new moral code. It is a totemic clash of religions, between the old ones such as Christianity … and the new religion promulgated by a new secular class that wants to stop a man from posting different moral judgments drawn from a centuries-old code of conduct called the Bible.” (July 13 2019).
What is this new religion? What are its beliefs and practices? There are hundreds. May I try to describe 3 of the big ones, so we know where to resist, and what we need to overcome to win people in this culture to Jesus?
What I feel trumps everything.
Adultery right or wrong? I don’t enjoy my marriage anymore, but I feel good when I’m with this new woman.
Male or female? I know I look like a man, but really I’m a woman trapped inside a man’s body. Gender is what you feel.
If what you say offends me, you must be a hater.
Keep it private
Friends? Who needs real friends, with whom you relate in person when you can have hundreds through Facebook, and also ‘unfriend’ them at the hit of a button.
Community? Have the neighbours in? No, my home is my castle and when I am in my home theatre, and the drawbridge is up, the only person who gets close is guy delivering the take away.
Opinions? Keep them to yourself. As Janet Albrechtsen wrote on Wednesday “Polite society will not tolerate public expression of some Christian views … Christians are being asked to keep it behind closed doors. Just ask Israel Folau or Margaret Court.”
No one is going to tell me what to do
Why shouldn’t I abort a baby if it is a threat to my peace, my lifestyle and my plans? I am king.
I want the freedom to end my life when and how I decide. I want to be in control to the end.
No one is going to tell me what to do or what to believe. Who are you to say what I should or should not do?
Maybe the desire to be free was best summed up by one of the gurus in Silicon Valley. “Live to be a million years old? Why not?” We can be anything we want.
I know that’s only a start and I know not everyone in our culture is like that, but it is a start.
The rules of our secular culture say there are no givens, there are no laws and there are no limits.
What I feel trumps everything.
Keep it private.
No one is going to tell me what to do.
If we want to be faithful to Jesus in 2019 and beyond, we are on an inevitable collision course with our culture. We are not talking about variations of the same theme, but polar opposites:
Jesus, not what I feel, determines true and false, right and wrong. Facts not feeling. We just can’t trust what we feel.
Jesus made us for community, not for isolation; we are made to need and relate, face to face, with others.
Jesus is the King and we are not, and never were.
What’s going to happen if you live in a way that says there are givens, there are laws, there are limits? If you are so radically different in these significant ways? A fight or a feast?
Go back to the start, to the two sons of Adam and Eve. What did Abel do that made Cain so hostile that he killed him? God asks that question in 1 John 3:12 “And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.”
Peter wrote to Christians living in a culture where there were no givens, no laws and no limits, based in a transcendent God. People lived in all kinds of ungodly ways. He says to them: “They are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you.” (1 Peter 4:4)
John says that we ought not be surprised when the culture loses its respect for you, and opposes you, and even hates you. This is what happens when things that love the dark get exposed by light, they want to smash the light. Like an escaping prisoner wants to take out the searchlight that exposes him.
The people who ARE understandably surprised, are the people in the dark. Why wouldn’t you want to join them in a world without givens, laws and limits?
What is surprising is that it has ever been any different and it has, to some degree. Australia before the 1970’s, is not the Australia of 2019. Back there people said you could leave your door unlocked, most people were ashamed of adultery, your word counted, pornography was seen as sleazy, and The Sydney Morning Herald used to print sermon summaries in each Monday’s paper. In the 1960’s I preached with the Open Air Campaigners at St Kilda in Melbourne – the odd objection, but mostly people were polite and some listened.
It wasn’t a golden age but there were leftovers from the time when the gospel was tolerated and even respected, if not always believed. As those leftovers have evaporated, the gap between the light and the dark is bigger than it has ever been in the history of what we call Western Civilisation. The fight is bound to be more bruising.
What, then, are our choices?
We can give in and accommodate to the new religion.
We can get out and go and live in a safe backwater somewhere.
We can, as God’s holy people who stay different from the culture, engage with it in a way that makes a difference.
How we engage better is next week’s sermon. How we are going to be different is the last part of this one.
How will it show that we believe there are givens, there are laws and there are limits in a fallen world? The two big things that matter both come out in 1 John 3. “Let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (3:18)
There are two parts of God’s strategy for us in the family of God and in a hostile world. Truth and love, love and truth. Not either/or but both/and. We stand on both legs, not one.
We haven’t always done well at that, have we? We have sometimes put our arms around others, accepting them in grace, but then have failed to speak truth into their lives as though there are no givens, no laws and no limits.
Christians in 2019 tend not to think there is much in even knowing the truth. Our love for sound Bible teaching, and for reading good books is to shallow.
Or we have spoken clearly, but only to condemn or censure. We have failed to engage with or care for those that are living recklessly or whose lives are messed up by what has been reckless.
Can we do both? Together? We must. There’ll be some things in Family Business this morning that point to better ways to engage and love people caught up in the secular culture.
In a shallow world where feeling trumps truth, God’s truth can arrest and liberate and change like nothing else.
In a world where people want to be private, hearts melt where there are real relationships, and deep love.
In a world where no-one is going to tell us what to do, the news about Jesus gives depth and meaning to life and to human dignity, in line with the way God made us to be.
Friends, we are at a critical moment in history. We can either let those in the culture set the agenda for us, or we can help set the agenda for those in the culture.
Yes, things have radically changed in 10 or 20 years, but we stand on the shoulders of others who have stood in their culture over the past 2,000 years. We can go with the changes, or we can refuse to bow to the idols of change. Like a good lasagne, some old things are better with age.
In the grounds of the University of Geneva, Switzerland, there is a wall about 120 metres long and 8 metres high. At the centre, at the foot of the wall, there are 5 metre high statues of four men, all carrying Bibles. The whole monument is called the Reformation Wall, and the four men depicted were leaders of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. John Calvin and John Knox are two of them.
Last Sunday night, rainbow colour paint was thrown over them. The hostile message of the rainbow was fairly clear.
Those statues are now being cleaned. One day they may be smashed in a culture that is becoming increasingly angry and hateful. That doesn’t matter too much. The truth for which those men stood, and the way of loving that came with that truth, remain front and centre in the purposes of God for a fallen world.
Let’s pray that we stand where they stood. To the blessing of people around us and to the glory of Jesus.