‘Caving into culture’ is often needed

By John Pierce

Whenever a hot-button issue arises within the larger society, as well as within church life, there are those who charge proponents of social change with abandoning the Bible and caving into culture.

One does not have to be an indefatigable historian to find ready examples about all kinds of changes that faced such criticism and opposition — from Sunday recreation to racial and gender equality — voiced by leading Christian figures at the time.

Southern Baptist Convention president Ronnie Floyd recently took up that charge regarding the fast-moving political embrace of marriage equality, according to Baptist Press. “Even religious leaders are caving in to the shifting sands of cultural change…,” the Arkansas pastor is quoted as saying.

While it is possible to make a biblical case for most sides of any debate, this familiar way of standing in opposition to social change is riddled with problems.

Chiefly, it has been the common refrain used by defenders of the status quo through most every societal shift including women’s rights, dancing, interracial relationships, blue laws, slavery and many others.

The charge in each situation is: You cave into modern culture while I remain true to the unchanging Bible.

Within that charge is the arrogant assumption that one’s long-held social position could not have been influenced by earlier cultural norms that shaped what one claims to be biblical.

To strengthen that position, the charge of disbelief (and well as failed patriotism) is first employed. The 19th century Presbyterian minister and writer James H. Thornwell of South Carolina took such an approach in defense of African slavery.

He labeled supporters of abolition as “atheists, socialists, communists [and] red republicans,” according to Christianity Today. Then his argument of holding the one true biblical position followed.

Because of such historical evidence, much caution about labeling others as failed disciples who cave into culture should rest with conservative evangelical Christians. The track record is simply not good.

One doesn’t have to dig too deeply into history to know that more-conservative Christianity has a solid record of coming down on the wrong side of one social issue after another related to equality and human rights. And, in each case, the go-to argument was one of staying true to the Bible while the less faithful were “caving into culture.”

That reality does not mean that every new issue that arises should be embraced without questioning or even appropriate opposition where one’s conviction lies. But it should cause a sense of humility and caution that doesn’t quickly dismiss those with a different perspective as unbelievers.

Indeed, following Jesus is counter-cultural. However, what many assume to be a “biblical worldview” or “Christian culture” often misses the very essence of Jesus’ words and deeds.

And, as a result, history and the Bible have often been found on the side of those who at the time were deemed heretics who caved in.

On any side of any debate, however, caution is always needed before claiming that one’s own perspective is assuredly shared by God.

 

 

2 Comments

  1. Caution is always needed, indeed. I disagree with your premise that caving to culture is “often” needed. Sometimes, yes. Often? Show me your data where this is proven to be true. You are taking the ad-populum easy path to help prove your point, which has been used by progressive liberals in the media for years, to associate any cultural change with the overwhelmingly wrong practices of our past. Too often proponents of social change will simply state “well, you might not think X is right, but there was a time when slavery was OK”. This is a low blow, and very unfair. We cannot continue to ride on the coattails of the abolition of slavery or equality of women for every possible attempt to erode traditional values. Many of the values that traditionalists hold dear, while true that they are remnants of previous generations passed down, have a solid history of supporting cultural stability and preservation of healthy families and sound raising of children. Whereas many of the lifestyles that these cowardly church leaders are wanting their flocks to now support, have been closely associated with the cultural break down of the family and many associated ills.

    The times we live in are perilous in many ways, but historically are no different than things that happened in many ancient civilizations – ones that collapsed. This intense drive of basically any social change, many times just for the sake of change itself and the thrill of tearing down something held sacred, does a very poor job of setting a demarcation point where change is no longer for the greater good or the strategic stability of the people for future generations. One change begets another in this “group think” model, and in the fervor to be inclusive and tolerant, or at least appear so to the public waiting to pounce if otherwise, unfortunate cultural decisions are snuck in and become part of the platform. Where then do you draw the line sir? Seriously, how can you imply conservative “arrogance” on say, being against ordaining practicing gays in a Baptist church in South Carolina (which just happened), yet then support a ban on polygamy? How can we logically say that a 45 year old man marrying a consenting 15 year old boy is wrong if both love each other and are of sound mind? Where do we get THESE boundaries currently in place? Yes, from past generations who set limits for the greater good and based such on biblical principles. What is the end game here? No boundaries? When will we know that the person crying “discrimination” is wrong and not rush to change things simply to avoid public outcry? That is the fundamental problem with your article. You make implications that traditionalists are backward thinking, stodgy old bigots who care nothing of people and just stubbornly hold up the Bible as though it were a rule book and nothing more. That is far from the truth. The desire to thoughtfully and carefully preserve traditional values is because we understand human nature, and that people have historically made bad choices when they turn away from the Bible and make their own decisions on the best choice for society. When a cultural norm is inherently bad or malicious, such as slavery, society will change it. But it is quite unsound to assume that every move of social change falls into the same category or even remotely compares to these historical examples.

  2. A few additional thoughts…

    1. As a fellow brother in Christ, I would caution you to be *very* careful what seeds you could intentionally or unintentionally plant in the minds of your spiritually vulnerable readers. You need to remember that there are many people out there looking for answers in a culture where popular sentiment is challenging every long-held value they were taught or heard as children. The church has long been a place of refuge to society. A place that represented a stability and strength that was not part of the world. A place of purity, hope and clarity of mind that all of us sinners could go to refresh ourselves and wash away the filth we have thought, done, seen and heard throughout our week in the secular world. It was a place of God, holy…a reflection of the Bible and the heart of Christ. Now, the movement, even within the church and its thought leaders, is to make the church more of a reflection of the outside culture. What value is in the church if we do this? Where will we have the much needed polarity of Satan’s world and God’s heaven if we have a church that reflects the same values that we can hear by tuning into CNN or watching a daytime talk show? There are many out there that are spiritually vulnerable and are desperate, and they are not able to discern the validity of one social change over another. After all, many of the proponents of the social changes to which you had in mind with your article are also proponents of the eradication of marriage, the legalization of recreational marijuana, etc. Taking what you may feel is an open-minded intellectual approach to these topics could also neuter the church and make it culturally irrelevant. Personally, if I see most of the mainstream churches reflecting the world’s view, I will cease and desist my attendance and study at home with my wife. I don’t need a ersatz church that really is nothing more than a social club.

    2. While the Christian in me is saddened by the current state of affairs, the academic in me does find aspects of recent events historically interesting. Ironically, many of the modern views espoused by our liberal media and government, and now by many churches, are very similar to the views held by the 60’s counter culture movement. The Haight Ashbury district, in particular, was somewhat of a microcosm of our greater society now. Non-judgmental sexuality of all types, recreational use of intoxicants, and general tearing down of traditional cultural norms was all the rage. It was all about “love” and tolerance and acceptance, so they thought. Every idea was as good as the rest and there were few if any social boundaries. This freedom, they thought, was the true way and would lead to a new social order free of the oppression and bigotry of previous generations. No need to tell the rest of the story 🙂 Now, here we are 50 years later propagating many of the same ideals. And even the churches are buying in. That should make you baby boomers proud…

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