Christians live a very challenging life in the US culture today. It takes serious spiritual maturity to cope with the challenges posed by secularism. It takes even greater strength to face those challenges when they surface within the church itself. The Barna Group survey referenced recently (http://wp.me/pXp5J-10i) pointed out that many Christians do not actually hold a Christian worldview. The truth is that some Christian denominations no longer hold a Christian worldview, either.
Two important elements of a Christian worldview are these:
- Biblical principles are accurate and sound.
- Moral truth is absolute and not modified by circumstances.
The secular worldview, to the contrary, says:
- Moral values derive from human experience
- Truth is relative to circumstances
- Human beings discover truth as they experience it.
The fundamental difference between the origin of moral values in a Christian worldview and the origin of moral values in a secular worldview is revelation versus discovery. Christians believe that God has revealed his moral standards in the Bible. Christians believe that the Bible is God’s all-sufficient guide to faith and life. Secular thinkers believe that humans are evolving and morals are evolving and that people simply discover the right thing to do as they evolve. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America decided in 2009 that rather than use the Bible as a guide for faith and life, it would use human experience. They were not the first to do so, having been preceded by the Episcopalians. The ELCA worded this seismic change in their worldview as follows: “The scriptural witness does not address the context of sexual orientation and lifelong loving and committed relationships that we experience today.”
This quotation comes from a document entitled “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust” adopted by the 2009 Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Church in America. To put this statement in other words, we human beings have evolved beyond the scope of God’s revelation of himself in the Bible. More simply, human beings have outgrown the Bible.
Christians who view the Bible as God’s sufficient guide for faith and life view this statement as heresy. Some would dispute the use of such a strong word, but the definition of heresy is: “adherence to a religious opinion contrary to church dogma,” (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/heresy) or “unorthodox religious opinion: an opinion or belief that contradicts established religious teaching.” (http://www.bing.com/search?q=definition+heresy&qs=n&form=QBLH&pq=definition+heresy&sc=8-10&sp=-1&sk=&ghc=1) Almost certainly some will consider it excessive to call this view “heresy.” Nevertheless, most churches that call themselves Christian would balk at the idea of rejecting the Bible as the authority for faith and life. The Bible is the place where most churches look for guidance on the subject of human sexuality and all other questions about faith and life. For two thousand years, Christians have been willing to die in order to obtain and possess and read and share the Bible, because it is God’s voice in writing, the source where Christians can discover what God has to say about the way they live. In countries like Uzbekistan, people risk re-education sentences and heavy fines in order to read the Bible and live by its teachings. Those people would be horrified to discover that they risk imprisonment and even torture for the sake of something humans have now outgrown.
Some ELCA Lutherans who chose to try to live in peace with four different newly-discovered versions of God’s plan for human sexuality were seriously blind-sided by the almost immediate decision to roster homosexuals living in an active homosexual relationship. The national synod expressed an accommodation for congregations that choose to state right up front that they will not consider a homosexual pastor, but this plan left congregations in which the church leadership avoids taking a vote at risk of being presented with a homosexual candidate, regardless of the majority opinion. Just last week, a bigger issue arose when a California synod elected a homosexual bishop. Suddenly, all the churches in that synod are under the authority of a homosexual bishop, even if some of those churches completely reject the legitimacy of an active homosexual on the roster. The decision of the ELCA to let the secular worldview dominate at the highest levels has now borne serious fruit.
It is very hard for Christians to stand strong for their faith in a world where secular thinking dominates. Even though the worldwide pressure of Islam is also felt in the US, it is not experienced as a daily abrasion the way secularism is. As more and more people openly identify themselves as unconnected with any religion at all, the number of openly secular thinkers increases and the number of openly Christian thinkers decreases. Secular thinkers view all religions with equal scorn, yet they tend to show more accommodation for Islam due to the fact that Christians have been dominant in the culture for so long. Somewhere in the depths of secular thinking is a sense that some cosmic wrong is righted by abusing Christian religious liberty in the name of being “fair” to Islam. However, the real betrayal Christians feel is when their own leaders abandon them. In the ELCA, many Christians who had been proud to identify with the ELCA prior to 2009, suddenly didn’t want anyone to know they were associated with such a group. They felt that their firm footing in their faith had turned from stone to sand when the national leadership and the Church Assembly voted to throw away the Bible and start discovering moral teachings by “experience” the way secular thinkers do.
Martin Luther started a huge argument when he nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the church at Wittenberg, and he was up against exactly the same issue as contemporary Christians. The Catholic Church of his day had decided to prioritize other authorities above the authority of the Bible. He started his argument with the Church because he simply thought someone had lost the way, and Luther wanted the Church to get back on the right path. He was not successful in his goal. Compelled to separate from the Catholic Church, he realized that the biggest problem in teaching people to live by the teachings of the Bible was the unavailability of the Bible to the people. One of his great contributions to the faith was a translation of the Bible into the language of the people of Germany.
The point, however, is not the availability. The point is the use. People who consider the Bible to be the revealed word of God go to the Bible for guidance in faith and life. The apostle Paul called scripture the Sword of the Spirit, meaning that the Holy Spirit uses the written words in the Bible to convict us of sin, to teach us what is right and to lead us to the Truth. Contrary to the allegation of the ELCA that human beings have outgrown the Bible, Christians every day discover the truth in the Bible, truth that does not change with the weather or the times. The truth in the Bible is like the rock Jesus spoke of in the Sermon on the Mount.
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. Matthew 7:24-25
2 thoughts on “What Happens When a Church Adopts a Secular Worldview?”
My Christian worldview is what you wrongly call a “secular” worldview: that human beings discover truth. I would call it “Continuing revelation”. It is seen in the Bible: Abraham truly believes that God wants him to sacrifice his son, as the Moloch-worshippers did: God shows him not, with the ram in the thicket. Leviticus sets down precise ceremonial laws, and sacrifices, and later prophets say “I desire mercy not sacrifice”. Jesus fulfils the law, and moves it forward: he had “no beauty or majesty to attract us to him” because he is New, outside earlier experience, and people do not understand- cannot understand, until they give up on “understanding”.
You are not a first-century subsistence peasant or slave.
The beauty of the Christian worldview is that it doesn’t matter if you are a first-century subsistence peasant or a twenty-first century techie blogger; the absolute truth is for all people in all eras. The absolute truth is God’s unchanging love for his creation whose unchanging nature is inevitably wicked.
I stand by my definitions. If you read anything written by secular thinkers, I believe you will see that you can’t very well simultaneously hold a Christian worldview and a secular worldview. Secular thinkers themselves make this deep distinction.
Human beings do learn things. They even learn new facts. The deepest “discoveries” by human beings, however, actually confirm the revealed truth in the Bible. Interestingly, however, in all of recorded history, there is no record that any generation has become any better humans than their forebears. The earliest humans murdered one another, and the most recent ones still do. Human beings in the beginning evinced hatred and envy, and they still do. The Bible is quite clear about that. The biblical revelation is that while the times change (ceremonial law, agriculture, science, communications) human beings do not. God doesn’t change, either, because he is the One who was, who is and who is to come. Eternal unchanging God who dwells in the eternal/infinite realm revealed himself to his creation, human beings, by the mechanism of the Bible, which clearly reveals both unchanging God and the unchanging nature of humans. Absolute truths relate to the unchanging nature of God and the unchanging nature of humans.
To recognize absolute, unchanging truth, and to recognize that the Bible reveals that absolute, unchanging truth, is a Christian worldview. .
Human beings learn new facts. When humans learn new facts, they don’t discover anything new. The discovery is a new discovery, but that which is discovered has always been true. The “truth” humans discover was “truth” before they understood it. Humans invent novel ways to use the truth, or facts, they discover, but they can’t and don’t change the truth.
The Bible is the repository of the revelation of the absolute and unchanging truth that human beings are incapable of absolute goodness. Humans cannot change this truth any more than they can change the law of gravity. More important — they cannot evolve past it. They can create societies that have better laws and more humane punishments, but they never become better humans. Underneath the skin, every human is as capable of hating and killing his brother as Cain was.
The Bible also reveals that God, perfect and unchanging in his absolute goodness, chose to make the sacrifice of Christ as a means of achieving the transformation of human beings that they can never achieve by personal or communal acts. This is unchanging and absolute truth revealed in the Bible. This is a Christian worldview.
To assert that truth is relative to the era and that human beings constantly improve by evolution is a secular worldview. Many people live by this worldview, despite the daily evidence that it is an inadequate explanation for the realities we all observe. It is not a view that can be reconciled with the Christian worldview.
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