Tag Archives: secular worldview

A Verse For Meditation

I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, “Here I am, here I am,” to a nation that was not called by my name.   Isaiah 65:1 ESV

Isaiah 64 is a plea for God to come down and be among us. The prayer is fervent, heart-rending, and intense. It includes national confession and acknowledgement that the dire state of affairs in the country is fully deserved because of the apostasy of the people. Yet as the prayer ends at the end of chapter 64, the petitioner cries out, “After all this, Lord, will you hold yourself back? Will you keep silent and punish us beyond measure?” Isaiah 64:12 NIV84

  • What is God’s response in Isaiah 65:1?
  • What elements in contemporary US culture are not seeking God? How does God feel about them?

God continues his pleas:

“I spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices; a people who provoke me to my face continually … who say, “Keep to yourself, do not come near me, for I am too holy for you.” Isaiah 65:2-5 ESV

  • Secular thinkers believe that human beings live exclusively in the time/space frame of reference. They reject the concepts of eternity and infinity. They push God away, because they believe that human beings have evolved sufficiently to be their own moral guides. How does God treat them?
  • Secular thinkers say, “I don’t need God. I can figure out for myself what makes me feel happy.” In other words, “Do not come near me, for I am too holy for you.” How can Christians respond to that mindset?
  • God who created heaven and earth stands holding out his hands to a dark world, calling “Here I am,” to people who ignore him. What does this vision of God require of the church, Christ’s hands and feet on earth?
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What am I Supposed to Do About This?

At a recent White House press briefing, a reporter asked what the “red line” is for U.S. action to defend Egypt’s Christians from jihad. The response was, “I didn’t bring my red pen out with me today.” It is easy to understand what this response means: there is nothing that could be bad enough to compel me to defend Egypt’s Christians from the violence of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Such an attitude is completely inconsistent with what most people consider to be American principles, but it isn’t really surprising in view of the clear daily evidence that the US government is committed to secular principles. Secularism considers any and all religions to be childish regression to a fairytale world peopled with beings invisible to the average person, beings that only exist in the minds of those who claim to see them. Secular thinkers refer to expressions of faith in God as a manifestations of personal neediness and immaturity that leans on an Imaginary Friend. To a secular thinker, a Christian who is persecuted for his faith just needs to grow up. Bombing, beheading, burning, looting and raping Christians is certainly undesirable behavior, but to a secular thinker all this uproar could be brought to a halt if Christians simply stop acting like children. That attitude is made very plain by the fact that the White House press secretary didn’t make any case whatsoever for allowing the violence to continue, but instead, smirked and made a joke about it. It would be hard for someone to state more clearly that this whole Christian thing is just silly, and beneath the dignity of a White House response.

In effect, the White House asked, What am I supposed to do about this? How is this in any way my problem?

Christians around the world, on the other hand, joined by non-Christians who have basic humanitarian instincts, are deeply concerned that a violent organization is being permitted to wreak havoc unimpeded. They are concerned that this violent organization, some of whose “warriors” were trained by the US under some past ill-advised aid program, will overwhelm the ability of the Egyptian military to bring order to the streets of Egypt. Christians everywhere see the hands-off attitude of the US president, and he looks just like the Egyptian police who respond to calls for help by saying, “I can’t be bothered to protect every Christian pastor who might be attacked.”

The real problem with the White House response, however, is not whether military intervention or support is the right answer. The problem is that the White House dismisses the question.  It reminds thoughtful observers that the White House has a very narrow interpretation of the legitimate expression of a religious conviction. Demonstrating a viewpoint consistent with secular standards, the White House has asserted multiple times that when a person engages in business, he loses the right to exercise his religion in the course of doing business. From that viewpoint, compelling a Christian businessman to engage in a transaction against his conscience is not persecution, or even restriction of his free exercise of religion. To a secular thinker, if the businessman or any other Christian is free to go inside any house of worship he chooses and engage in conversations with his imaginary friend, then he has all the religious liberty he has a right to. From that perspective, the White House sanely puts distance between itself and some dispute in Egypt between competing religions over which imaginary friend is better.

 

Are you asking yourself, What am I supposed to do about this?

If you are a Christian, you face similar challenges every day. The culture of the US is increasingly secular, and secular advocates are becoming more aggressive all the time. The successes achieved in the campaign to redefine marriage, to make the state (the federal government) the parent, to dissolve all moral boundaries and to restrict religion to an ever smaller footprint in the culture feed an enthusiasm for ever more hostility toward traditional values and the religions which shaped them. Even if you identify with the pain of Christians besieged by Muslims, your own battles are less bloody and fought on a different plain. You may think that because you battle intangible ideas you are in less danger than a Coptic Christian in Egypt.

You are wrong. The US is only at the beginning of a fundamental transformation, which, you may remember, was promised by Barack Obama as part of his campaign. There are many secular governments in the world where you can observe where secularism goes. There are numerous countries where full-blown secularism is the official worldview. The local officials in nations such as those have confiscated the property of Christians simply because they are Christians. Christians are beaten in their own homes for holding unauthorized prayer meetings. Christians are forbidden to take their own children to church, because of a secular law forbidding the inculcation of religious teaching to anyone under the age of 18. And so forth.

It is a tragedy that the late great nation of the USA does not stand up for the vulnerable in the battle between Coptic Christians and Muslim jihadists. Despite that official stance, Christians can and should pray personally for the protection of the Christians and the conversion of the Muslims. However, for American Christians, the real battle is right here in the USA. The real battle is one you will fight first within yourself. How much are you willing to risk for the freedom to exercise your religious faith? The First Amendment is only words if people are not actually exercising their convictions. Are you willing to lose friends for your faith? Some people will actively distance themselves from “fanatics” or “radical fundamentalists” who speak publicly of their religion. Are you willing to risk your job, or to lose your own business for the sake of Christ? Are you willing to be as scornfully dismissed by your government as the Coptic Christians were?

What, exactly, are you supposed to do about this?

Worldviews in Collision

When I was a child, my parents owned a book called Worlds in Collision. I didn’t know what the book was about, but I loved that title. I was fascinated by it. They kept the book on a high, forbidden shelf when I was small, and somewhere in our many moves from highway project to highway project, the fascinating book disappeared. Later, in my adult years, I remembered that book, and I discovered that it was a book that rejected a lot of widely-accepted speculation about origins. I learned that its title was an apt description of the public tumult it inspired. The author held very different views about the origin of the universe and the origin of people than the prevailing scientific views of his day. That tumult is still roiling in the world of science, and it is the same sort of tumult Christians experience in contemporary culture.

That book’s title inspired the title of this blog post. This post is about the way a Christian worldview puts Christians in direct and sometimes confrontational conflict with people who hold other worldviews. In the US, Christians are most often in confrontation with a secular worldview, but as the population and the culture change over time, the rising proportion of Muslims in the population is increasing the level of conflict between Christian and Muslim worldviews. Over the most recent five years, secularism has dominated the scene, but statistics for fertility and immigration make it clear that the Muslim worldview will soon be a more powerful component of the conflict of worldviews.

The announcements of the Supreme Court’s decisions on DOMA and on California’s Proposition 8 fall into the midst of a cultural conversation that is a perfect example of what happens when worldviews collide. (There was an old book called When Worlds Collide, too, but it was a science fiction fantasy, not a discussion of ideas.) Law seldom works the way anyone actually wants it to work, and this situation is a prime example of the problem. The decision on DOMA invalidated a definition of marriage without replacing it with anything. The decision on Proposition 8 threw the civil regulation of marriage back to the states, and simultaneously disenfranchised the voters of the state of California. The rhetoric flying through society resembles the confused seas that erupt when a fierce wind opposes a strong ocean current in the vicinity of dangerous rocks and shoals. There are many issues in the culture which produce similar situations. The challenge for Christians is to navigate the battle between competing forces without battering themselves against the rocks and shoals.

How should Christians respond to the Supreme Court decision? How should Christians participate in the social conversation about marriage and family? What is a Christian to do when personally challenged by some element of this discussion?

It is tempting for a Christian to say something like, “God considers homosexuality to be sin, so the law should forbid that kind of thing.” In a culture with no established religion, no religion gets to be the sole arbiter of morality. Statements that appeal to religious teaching for moral authority don’t hold much water in a discussion of what the nation should do. The nation includes people who look to a variety of authorities. Any argument that depends on religious authority will almost certainly fail. Even people who agree with the standard may reject the basis for its authority.

A Christian could certainly say, “There is no evidence that homosexuality is normal human behavior, so the law should not legitimize that behavior.” Secular thinkers counter that argument by appealing to a recent decision by a professional group of psychologists who no longer call homosexuality a mental illness. While the Christian could argue that their opinion is not substantiated by any real scientific studies, an argument centering on battling scientific studies is not very fruitful, considering the truth that science never really “proves” anything; it only concludes that a phenomenon is highly likely due to the preponderance of observations.

A Christian could also draw on human history. In human history, marriage has universally been a heterosexual union. However, secular thinkers believe that human beings are constantly evolving into better and better creatures who are always learning about new and better ways to behave. They also believe that no truth is absolute, and that each person’s individual truth is what makes that person happy. Hence, the tradition of human history is irrelevant to them, because they have grown past musty old traditions.

Any other argument that Christians may advance in the conversation can just as easily be shot down. Consequently, the political issue comes down to one thing – votes. Christians, and those who agree with their desire to retain the traditional definition of marriage might vote together and accomplish their objective of preserving the traditional definition of marriage, as voters did in California. However, after it all came down to votes, Christians, and all the other voters eventually lost the argument, because a court in California struck down the vote. In law and politics, nothing is ever certain.

What can Christians do about this problem? It is easy to feel that evil is winning the war when the momentum shifts toward cultural standards that Christians reject. Christians need to remember that we are not called to win political arguments or elections or culture wars. We are called to share Christ. Last words of famous individuals are usually quite noteworthy. Christ’s last words before he ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of his father, victorious over Satan for all eternity, were these:

“Go … and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

This command was the summation of his work in the flesh. He had one last chance to tell us what was important, and this is what he said. These words must be engraved on our hearts. If we keep these words near, remembering what Jesus came to do, knowing his resurrection power, we can weather the collisions of worldviews in peace and happiness. We participate in a battle for a cultural standard or a political outcome that helps to shape our society in a healthy, godly way without mistaking that battle for the paramount war between good and evil. We can recognize those who hold opposing views in that conflict as human beings created and loved by Christ, people for whom Christ died as he died for us.

This command means that no matter what goes on in the political or cultural discussions, our real mission is to share Christ. We introduce Christ to people who do not know him. We help believers who have wandered away to find their way back. We don’t point fingers at political or cultural opponents; we point our opponents to Christ. An election or a court ruling lasts only for a time. Christ’s victory over Satan is forever.

A Christian traveler once met a man who said, “I believe that I might be your enemy.”  The Christian traveler responded, “Well, my supreme commander teaches me that I must love, bless and pray for my enemies. Will that be okay?” When we find ourselves in a collision of worldviews, we must remember Christ’s command:

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. (Luke 6:27-28)

 

What Happens When a Church Adopts a Secular Worldview?

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