Speaking Into an Outraged Culture
This article is from the Nov/Dec issue of our print publication The Baptist Witness. If you would like to subscribe to receive it, click here.
This year has definitely been a unique year, one that will be remembered for many years to come. And topping the list of events this year has to be the global pandemic of COVID-19.
Whatever your opinion of the response to this pandemic, we can all agree it has had a huge impact on our nation and the world. COVID-19 has disrupted our economy, education systems, health care systems, and even our churches for a period of time this year. In addition to the pandemic, we have seen natural disasters, racially charged protests over police shootings, riots and looting in many major cities, and a heated presidential election, all in 2020. If you are on social media, you have had a front row seat to an outraged culture that is constantly looking for the next thing to be upset about or the next argument.
Certainly, there is plenty for a Christian to be concerned about in our nation today. I also believe it is good and right for Christians and the local church to speak into the culture and stand upon biblical truth in a fallen world that looks for answers to the challenges of the day in all the wrong places. We have all heard a lot lately about “listening to the experts” and “following the science.” How confusing this can be when experts disagree and the science is unsettled at best. We have competing experts, contradicting information, a biased media, and political parties looking for every opportunity to gain an advantage.
Thankfully, we as believers have the foundation of truth in this world, the divinely inspired scriptures. We serve the Lord Jesus Christ who is the same yesterday, today, and forever! We affirm that there is absolute truth and that the scriptures are inspired, inerrant, and sufficient. However, many times we allow the culture of our day and their arguments to rule our thoughts, affect our attitudes, and rob our joy.
It is true that we face many very concerning problems today, but should this be a surprise to us? As Jesus prepared his disciples for the road ahead in John 13-16, in the first four verses of chapter 16 Jesus said this:
“These things have I spoken unto you, that ye should not be offended. They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service. And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me. But these things have I told you, that when the time shall come, ye may remember that I told you of them.”
So how do we process this as Christians? How do we speak into an outraged culture? How do we, as followers of Jesus Christ, balance our zeal for biblical truth, our grief over the decline in our culture, and our patriotic concern for the institutions of our nation with our calling to a life of joy, moderation, and thankfulness?
Before we begin to look at the practical aspects of the question above, let us consider together the big picture. The intention of this article is not to encourage the reader to disengage completely from politics, societal problems, and theological disagreements. However, living in such a tumultuous time and seeking to speak into what I have described as an outraged culture is clearly a daunting task.
I believe we need Christians to speak up, speak out, and speak into the culture. In John 17:14-20, Jesus plainly states that we are “not of the world,” however we are sent into the world. This is the very challenge described in our introduction to this topic. We are called to engage with and be in the world.
In this same passage in John chapter 17, Jesus says he is praying for his disciples and “for them also which shall believe on me through their word.” So if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, this principle applies to us. We are called to be “not of the world” — and yet we are sent into it. We are strangers and pilgrims in this world — and yet we are also salt and light. We seek to share the truth of the gospel as well as the practical truths we find in the word of God on how to live our lives. We strive to apply the principles and precepts of the scriptures to the everyday issues we are confronted with as we live in a fallen world. However, as we strive in this world, we sometimes must be reminded that we are not of the world we are sent into. We must be careful not to adopt the ways of this world and its view of truth. It is very easy for us, as Christians, to begin to adopt the methods, attitudes, and even actions of the culture in which we live. Thankfully, we are empowered and equipped for this great task through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that has been sent, as promised, by Jesus, and through the scriptures preserved for us.
Shifting to the more practical aspect of this subject, I would like to turn to the words of Paul in Philippians 4:4-8. Verse four of this passage says, “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.” This is a reminder for us to return our focus to the right place. When we find ourselves in the midst of a 2020 type of situation, rejoice in the Lord! The word translated rejoice means calmly happy. This means there is a steadiness associated with this kind of joy. We must not let the problems we see all around us obscure our view of our glorious God, who is still on the throne. One of the key words in this verse is found in the center of the text: “alway.” We are to rejoice in the Lord “at all times.” Of course this is much easier when our circumstances are more to our liking, and much more difficult when our way is hard. Our joy and hope is in the Lord — not in fallible experts, a political party, or even a nation. We can rejoice in the Lord who created all things, knows all things, upholds all things, and is not surprised by the troubles we see happening in our world today. Our joy cannot be taken from us by COVID-19, national unrest, or political uncertainty.
So, as Christians called into a fallen world, we must let our light shine. We should be joyful people — even in the midst of a pandemic.
If someone scrolled through your social media pages today, would they see someone who is rejoicing in the Lord? We grieve for those who have lost their lives and with those who have lost loved ones; for those who are sick; for those who have lost jobs or businesses in the pandemic or the riots. But as we face these serious trials, we are reminded, “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say Rejoice.”
In verse 5, Paul says, “Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.” The word in the King James Version is “moderation” and means reasonableness, gentleness, and patience. This is such a difficult exhortation to live out practically in an outraged culture. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are not only to be concerned with the content of what we speak, write, and post, but also the way we speak, write, and post. Moderation means we are gentle and reasonable when speaking the truth. Ephesians 4:14-15 says, “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.”
I wish I could say I have never been involved in a Facebook comment war! There have been instances when I felt like a discussion was handled by all involved with moderation and was edifying to all. However, I must also confess that there have been times when I read something that really got under my skin, and I have responded without considering all the implications and consequences of what I posted. Maybe it is a false statement about something in the political realm, maybe a theological post I strongly disagreed with, or — most embarrassingly — something involving sports.
As I have already stated, discussion and debate are not wrong. When done with moderation, reasonableness, gentleness, and patience, discussion and even debate can be edifying to all who participate. In fact, I believe it is good to speak into our culture, and hope to see more and more of the younger generation in our churches rising to that challenge. Speak the truth, a biblical world view, to a fallen and sin cursed world in a way that all men see your moderation.
The remainder of Philippians 4:5 tells us, “The Lord is at hand.” This is a reminder to us that He will one day right all wrongs, settle all disputes, and avenge His elect. We can rest in this truth and realize that it is not our responsibility to do all these things; rather, we commit ourselves to the righteous judge of all the earth.
Our last mediation on this subject comes from verse 6: “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” Another practical way we can speak into this outraged culture is through prayer “with thanksgiving.” Prayer is certainly a key weapon in our attempt to speak into the culture around us. We pray for opportunities, for wisdom, and for a meek and reasonable spirit. There is a key ingredient in this verse, however, that is often overlooked: Thanksgiving to our God will change our perspective on our circumstances and the troubles we are facing.
Take a few minutes and think of five things you are thankful to God for in the past year. Even in 2020, that list is easily made and will overflow quickly! We have much to be thankful for, and when we consider all the blessings God has given us, the list of trials we have faced in 2020 seems to begin to fade.
Philippines 4:7-8 go on to tell us about the benefits of refocusing our thoughts through thankful prayer. Verse 7 says the peace of God will guard our hearts and minds. And in verse 8, we are instructed to meditate on true, noble, just, pure, lovely, good, virtuous, praise-worthy things. This does not mean we must ignore our trials and tribulations as if they do not exist. But thankfulness to God can return our focus from the trials of the moment to the one who has declared the end from the beginning.
May God grant us all the opportunity to speak into a culture that desperately needs to hear the truth. Let the culture see us rejoicing in the Lord, speaking with humility and moderation, and giving thanks to God for all the ways he has blessed his people. What a strong witness that would be in the midst of an outraged culture that is seeking answers in all the wrong places.