Unsavory Salt

Interest in religion (or at least spirituality) in America remains high but the morality that ought to accompany it is down. What is going on? Charles Colson explains:

The key to the paradox is the fact that those who claim to be Christians are arriving at faith on their own terms—terms that make no demands on behavior. . . . when the not-so-still small voice of self becomes the highest authority, religious belief requires commitment to no authority beyond oneself. Then religious groups become merely communities of autonomous beings yoked together solely by self-interest or emotion.[1]

Responding to Colson’s comments, James Boice remarks, “Evangelicals will try to view other religious bodies in this category, but the sad truth is that they perhaps even more than others have sold out to individualism, relativism, materialism and emotionalism, all of which are the norms for the majority of evangelical church services today. Evangelicals may be the most worldly people in America.”[2]

These thoughts seem indisputably relevant to our day, but what really unsettles this writer is the realization that Colson spoke in 1989 and Boice in 1996! How much worse is our condition these days?

The Church is the body of Christ, an extension of his person, called under his leadership to create colonies of heaven (“communities of hope”, “villages of refuge”, or “neighborhoods of light”) in the midst of the surrounding culture of despair. Messiah’s values—truly human values—are to distinguish us, to characterize, to form and shape us, and in so doing, to be salt to our culture and light to the watching world. Our homes and communities are intended to be Kingdom of God way-stations, oases in the desert of secular humanistic false religion—what we used to call paganism. Of course, pagans used to worship the representatives of demons, but we now worship ourselves and in so doing serve the same principalities and powers that have been scheming to defraud God of his rightful praise, honor and thanks for millennia past.

And so the Adversary’s empire (that is, pagan and secular ideologies and the communities that embrace them) keeps up its futile fight against the advancing Kingdom of God. “The New Testament writers regularly speak of the world in a human and cultural sense, meaning society organized apart from God and against God, and they see the world as always trying to squeeze Christians individually and the church corporately into its own mold—the mold, that is, of the predominant preconceptions, prejudices, behavior patterns, and styles of life of the particular time and place in which God’s people find themselves.”[3]

Secular humanism is the current populist religion, and do not be fooled—it is a religion—recognized as such by the Supreme Court in 1961.[4] Hand-in-hand with the American practice of individualism, egocentrism has become the highest form of realization, often even perverting the worship of God into something designed to satisfy oneself. Jesus himself said, “I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” (John 6:38), but we naively pursue our own happiness, all the while wondering why God seems distant and why it is so difficult to make sense out of this life.

Egocentricity is the central core of the image of Satan in fallen humanity. This can be described as unwillingness to see oneself as existing for the Creator’s pleasure and instead establishing oneself as the center of everything. Pride is the classic Christian name for this self-asserting, self-worshiping syndrome, of which “my will be done” is the implicit motto. Though egocentric pride may adopt the form of Christianity, it corrupts Christianity’s substance and spirit. It tries to manage God and harness him to our goals. This reduces religion to magic. Theocentricity that repudiates egocentricity, recognizing that in the fundamental sense we exist for God rather than he for us and worshiping him accordingly, is basic to real godliness. Without this radical shift from self-centeredness to God-centeredness, any show of religion is phony.[5]

The sad reality is that the very folks who are most concerned with “saving” America, with the alarming devolution of our culture away from Judeo-Christian values, are culpable in the rapid descent of Western culture into narcissism. And this writer is likewise responsible, sad to say, but increasingly aware, happy to report.

…[E]vangelicals have abandoned a proper commitment to revealed truth and have become mere pragmatists. Instead of proclaiming and teaching God’s Word, the Bible, they are resorting to sermonettes of pop psychology, entertainment-style services and technological approaches to church growth, which is a formula not for the increase of true religion but for the end of it. Evangelical churches are growing, but they no longer have anything distinct to offer. They are popular in many places, but the prophetic, challenging voice of the Christian preacher and teacher, which has been the glory and strength of the church in all past ages, has been lost.

   If this is so, then what is called for today is a new generation of people who are confident that the bible speaks the truth of God and who are not afraid to believe what it teaches, build their lives on its doctrines and proclaim it without compromise to others. What is needed is a generation of Christians who know the bible well enough and obey it radically enough to be a new people or new society to stand over against the world and its system. To recall Augustine, they must become a people who ”love God, even to the contempt of self.”[6]

Will you join me in praying that the eyes of our Christian hearts will be enlightened (Ephesians 1:17-19)? Let’s start with ourselves; if Nehemiah and Daniel can confess their own noticeably missing sins on behalf of their nation, there is no reason we cannot as well.

[1] Charles Colson, Against the Night: Living in the New Dark Ages. Ann Arbor, MI: Vine Books (Servant Publications), 1989. p 94.

[2] James Montgomery Boice, Two Cities, Two Loves: Christian Responsibility in a Crumbling Culture. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996. p 28.

[3] J. I. Packer, A Passion for Faithfulness : Wisdom from the Book of Nehemiah (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1995). 178.

[4] “Among religions in this country which do not teach what would generally be considered a belief in the existence of God are Buddhism, Taoism, Ethical Culture, Secular Humanism, and others.” See Torcaso v. Watkins (367 U.S. 488); Washington Ethical Society v. District of Columbia, 101 U.S. App. D.C. 371, 249 F.2d 127; Fellowship of Humanity v. County of Alameda, 153 Cal. App. 2d 673, 315 p.2d 394; II Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences 293..

[5] J.I. Packer, Hot Tub Religion: Christian Living in a Materialistic World. Chicago: Tyndale House, 1993. 71-72.

[6] James Montgomery Boice, Two Cities, Two Loves: Christian Responsibility in a Crumbling Culture. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996. p 28.

One thought on “Unsavory Salt

  1. I just read this again. I think is very telling of where are society is and where it can be, and seems to be, heading. I do appreciate the challenge at the end to be the laboring force of repentance for our nation. Thanks for the labor you put it for this post.

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