We all know that when the foundations of a house are suspect, it’s useless trying to do major renovations on the house until the problem of the foundations is resolved. The same is true with society as a whole, and it is certainly true when it comes to the Christian Church in general. Satan always works at undermining the foundations, because he knows that no matter how attractively societies or Churches try to present themselves, all he has to do is stand aside, and wait for the building to collapse.
What foundations are we talking about? Are the foundations for society any different really, from the foundations necessary for the Christian Church? Surely, basic to any lasting foundation is the recognition that God is the Creator of all human beings, and that he has every right to rule through his word.
The last few years have witnessed a ‘tsunami’ that has surged through so-called developed countries at a phenomenal rate, trying to wash away any and every vestige of biblical understanding of what is right and wrong, and many Christians have been caught up in its surge.
The Psalmist says,
Why do the nations rage (or, conspire)
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth rise up
and the rulers band together
against the LORD and against his anointed, saying,
“Let us break their chains
and throw off their shackles.” (vv1-3).
It’s like a Rottweiler straining at the leash, wanting to be free to be its destructive self. The only thing keeping it back, is the leash, or the shackles, as we see in the Psalm. These shackles, thankfully, are in God’s hands, and that’s why the attack has always been against God and his Word, the Bible; and anyone who dares to remind people that we are all accountable to God. We saw this recently in the way our ex-PM implied that the Bible does not communicate an unchanging truth in our modern era; yet he sees himself as a Christian.
Advice to rulers
Long before Israel chose to adopt monarchy, God placed bounds around the role of leadership. He said,
When he [the king] takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the Levitical priests. It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites and turn from the law to the right or to the left. (Deut. 17:18-20).
Who gave these instructions? Was he merely the God of Israel; the God of some distant past whose words are no longer relevant, as Mr Rudd said? Or, was he the Creator God of all people, for all time, because he is an unchanging God, a moral God, whose morality doesn’t change because his nature does not change?
What’s more, human nature does not change either, no matter how advanced or sophisticated we become.
Psalm 2 talks about the heathen nations constantly striving to throw off their obligations to their Creator. They don’t want to acknowledge God or his right over their lives. The heathen, including those in our own nation, are doing the same.
If the Ten Commandments were given to Israel at Sinai, and not to the Gentile world, why would the heathen rage against God’s restraints? Doesn’t this imply that they have some knowledge of what God requires of them? And, that’s what they want to break away from?
It is this issue that causes confusion to some Christians who see the Ten Commandments as relating only to Israel. If that is so, then, of course we can’t expect the secular world to conform to these commandments. People are free to murder, rape, steal, and do whatever they want to do. Satan has been very successful in promoting the kind of destructiveness that he is master of.
If we read the Bible more carefully, we will realise that God established his relationship with the whole of creation right at the very beginning. How?
Ancient knowledge of God’s expectations
Why was Abel’s sacrifice accepted and Cain’s rejected, if God had not told them what he expected of them? Why was Cain blamed for murdering his brother, if it wasn’t made plain to them that murder was wrong? What understanding did Noah and Enoch have of God’s laws when we read that they “walked with God”? By what standards did God judge people before he finally condemned them to the great Flood? And here is something to think about that most Christians are not aware of. Hundreds of years before the Law was given formally to Israel at Sinai, God said, Abraham obeyed me and did everything I required of him, keeping my commands, my decrees and my instructions. (Gen. 26:5).
The heathen rage the Psalmist is talking about, and the heathen rage that we see in our day, is not against Judaeo-Christian principles, but against God’s ownership of the whole world. The basis of this understanding is deeply ingrained in every human being; it distinguishes us from animals. Paul, the apostle calls it the “law written on the heart”, or, we call it the ‘conscience’ (Rom. 2:15).
Of course, the conscience is no longer an accurate guide of what is right and wrong, but it is enough of a vestige of the original understanding of what is right and wrong to continue to condemn human beings for not living in the light of even what they know to be right or wrong, no matter how partial that may be.
This is Paul’s argument in Romans 2. Paul says that it doesn’t matter whether we have a lot of knowledge of right and wrong clearly given us in the Scriptures, or whether we only have a little bit of that knowledge through our consciences, we are all guilty before God for not living in the light of what we know. The heathen rage against this knowledge because no matter how hard they try to shake it off, they can’t. That’s why they rage! Young people who have rebelled against their Christian upbringing think that the battle with their conscience is because a false conscience was imposed on them in their upbringing; instead of seeing it as God’s reminder to them that they are being judged by what they know. And they can’t bear to live with this reminder; they have to blame someone for their lack of peace.
An honest acknowledgement
At his most honest, Aldous Huxley, the agnostic or atheist, whatever we prefer to call him, said that for him, as it was equally true for his contemporaries, to talk about the meaninglessness of life was an instrument to bring about liberation. If there is no meaning to life, then there can’t be some superior being who gives meaning to life. Therefore, people are free to break away from a morality that had been based on God and the Bible. He said, We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom. We objected to the political and economic system because it was unjust. It was all a ploy to confuse people, and by denying that there was any meaning to life, it was a simple way of justifying our own erotic behaviour. Not many people who have rejected God are prepared to be that honest.
What is at stake, and at the same time, foundational to our understanding of what life was meant to be for us? Surely, it is the Creator’s right to define life for us, and particularly, how we are to understand our human-ness. There are many attempts in society to dehumanise people. It is taking place through TV shows; it is taking place through some of the books foisted on our young people in schools; it takes place in the kind of language people have come to accept as ‘natural’. With all the arguments that are going on these days about people’s sexuality, what is at stake is God’s place in the world and our human-ness. In other words, who you and I really are as God intended us to be.
Our humanity under fire
We are told that in the beginning,
God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. (Gen. 1:27).
Our humanity, as an image of God, has been defined by the Creator. It consists of a male/female relationship. At its widest, this relationship represents equality and partnership in every area of life. At its narrowest and most intimate sense, it is to be understood in a permanent marriage relationship. That is why in the next chapter of Genesis God says,
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. (Gen. 2:24).
We are not left to work out for ourselves what it means to be truly human. God tells us. When we come up with an alternate understanding, we are rejecting God. As people created in his image and appointed to reflect him in all relationships, he has every right to tell us how our human-ness is to be worked out. When we interpret it any other way, we attack the One who has made us what we are meant to be.
This is one of the causes of the contemporary rage against what God has said. As we can see from these passages, it has nothing to do with merely being a Christian belief, or even a Judaeo-Christian belief in its narrow sense, because it takes us back to the very beginning of Creation, where God defines for the whole of humanity, what it means to be a human being created in his image.
So, how does the secular world try to wriggle out of this position? If you deny God’s right to tell you who you really are, and how you should live, what alternative is there? This is the impasse facing modern law-makers.
The common argument is that we are becoming increasingly multi-cultural, and, can no longer claim that we are a Christian country. Therefore, biblical laws that have influenced our thinking for centuries can no longer be foisted on people who come from a completely different background and religion.
Let’s think about this kind of logic a bit more deeply.
When it comes to choosing judges for its Supreme Court, American legislators [and, I’m sure this is true in our own country], are not sure that there exists some objective standard of right and wrong against which human legal standards can be measured. An objective standard is like a speedometer in a car. Everyone’s speedometer works the same way and tells us what speed a car is going whether you are in a Holden or a Mercedes Benz.
Phillip E. Johnson, Law Professor at the University of California at Berkeley, pointed out that we have a problem. If someone like a Christian claims that there is such an objective moral standard, he denies that we are morally autonomous, and have the right to make up our own minds about what is right and wrong. On the other hand, if someone, like a lot of people in our present society, denies that there is a higher law, they fall into the trap of encouraging chaos.
If we reject God’s laws, on what other law can we base our understanding of what we should or shouldn’t do? That is what legislators have been looking at. What they are increasingly advocating is Natural Law. What is that? you might rightly ask. A good question!
Although there is no general agreement what that is, people are interpreting it more and more as that which is ‘natural’ to, and widely acceptable within society today. For example, for couples living together without getting married was frowned upon generations ago. Now, it seems that it is a ‘natural’ thing to do while they explore their compatibility. In other words, we should allow society to shape our understanding of what is right and wrong.
Yale Law Professor Arthur Leff, expressed the dilemma facing law makers who have rejected the place of God in modern law. He said, ‘On the one hand I want to believe in a set of propositions that can tell me what I should do. At the same time, I don’t want to know about them because I want to be free to choose for myself what to believe and what not to believe. I want to be perfectly ruled and I want to be perfectly free to create my own set of standards. That is the dilemma facing us all, he said.
Leff recognised that whenever anyone makes an authoritative statement such as, ‘You should do such and such a thing,’ or ‘You shouldn’t do that,’ wittingly or unwittingly, he is implying that there is an ultimate authority; an ultimate right and wrong. But, when we get rid of God from our considerations, we place ourselves in the position of God. In that case we become ‘godlets’, he says. Isn’t this what Satan offered Eve in the Garden of Eden. If you eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you will be like God. This leads to the problem of one ‘godlet’ saying to another ‘godlet’, ‘What gives you the right to tell me what is good for me?’
Here are the seeds of chaos.
That is where we are in our society today. What many people are saying is that moral standards should be based on the general consensus of what is happening in our nation, or even in the world. We are told that our morality needs to be shaped by society, and we should go along with it. We should not be dictated to by out-of-date laws that might have been given to Israel thousands of years ago. We saw this in the kind of skewed survey the ABC ran prior to the recent elections, called “Vote Compass”. Australians were told that the majority of Australians were for the idea of Gay marriage. In other words, if the majority wants that, then we should all agree to it. Isn’t that ‘natural’? Shouldn’t this so-called ‘natural law’ therefore guide us in what is right and wrong? It seems that the election results put a lie to these conclusions. Yet the media takes upon itself not just to report the news, but to try to shape the moral position of the nation.
If we go down this path then what is ‘natural’ and acceptable to society today might not be natural or acceptable in a couple of decades time.
Although Professor Leff, was an agnostic, he could see the hopelessness of deciding what is right or wrong by simply putting it into the hands of the people, or the ‘godlets’, as he called them. The media see themselves as the ‘godlets’ of our age. Leff said, “Neither reason, nor love, nor even terror, seems to have worked to make us “good,” and worse than that, there is no reason why anything should...As things now stand, everything is up for grabs.” In other words, when you put these decisions in the hands of the people, it is ‘every man for himself.’ The people who are trembling at the state of affairs in our societies, are the people who have the responsibility for shaping our laws, many of them are not even Christians.
Emil Brunner, a German theologian said, ‘When we deny the existence or authority of God, we reject the power of any real and final authority’.
Relevance for the Christian Church
The Church as a Christian community is supposed to influence society around us. Instead, we are seeing a decline in the confidence Christians have in the authority of the Word of God, the Bible. When the Bible came under attack towards the end of the 19th century, it didn’t take long for the effects of that attack to reach the Church. People who were simply cultural Christians or traditional Church-goers simply dropped out. The same thing is happening today. People who have regarded themselves as ‘Christians’ distinct from being Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, or atheists, are the first people to be affected. I have been told that 18-yr old YP in the USA are leaving the Church by the droves. Too many of them have moved from school where they have had to think seriously, to Church activities where serious thinking is sometimes lacking and perhaps even discouraged. How are we helping people to face the issues in our society from a biblical point of view?
But there is another reason why some are drifting away. Sadly, some have been caught up in the spirit of the age that is trying desperately to throw off all biblical restraints, and redefine what it means to be a Christian. Some claim that their argument is with the older generation’s view of Christianity, and what they want is a more honest approach to being a Christian in today’s society.
It is true that not everything the older generation believed or did was right. That’s why we need to understand the issues differently. It isn’t one generation’s beliefs and practices pitted against a younger generation’s understanding. The essential difference its between what the Bible says should be our beliefs and practices as opposed to what the world believes and wants to practise. I think we need to get this straight. Neither the old generation, nor the new generation is going to get it all right. We all need to strive to get it right from what God says in his Word.
God’s laws were creation laws that applied to all people everywhere. All people were created by God, and therefore he had a right to rule by his laws from one end of the earth, to the other. That is what the heathen are chafing at the bit to shake off. So, where does the Christian Church stand in this struggle?
When we as Christians lose confidence in the authority of God’s Word, we have no other authority as Christians left to us. We have lost our very identity as Christians. It is the Bible that gives us our identity as Christians. Because God is Spirit, he rules through what he says—his word. To reject his word, is to reject him. We need to understand the logic of this.
What I find intriguing is that for all Israel’s rebellion against God in the OT, they never gave up the trappings of their worship. They still brought their offerings, they still celebrated many of their religious festivals, they still believed in the sacredness of the temple, and that God had given them the land. While, all the time they went their own way, and did their own thing.
Exactly the same problem exists today among Christian churches around the world. Many seem to feel free to interpret for themselves what it means to be a Christian, yet are ignorant of what the Bible teaches and expects of them. For the Christian, the Bible is the ultimate authority not only for faith, but for the way we live out our lives. It’s not enough either for the old generation or the new generation to say I believe what the Bible says. If we really believe it, we will seek to live out the kind of life it tells us to live. What is a surprise to some is that ‘faith’ is always an action. As James said, Faith without deeds is dead. (Js. 2:26).
Too often we have reinterpreted our Christianity to suit ourselves. We have taken out of the Bible what we feel comfortable with, such as the idea of ‘love’, and deny the relevance of the rest.
Why is it that when we come to explain our position on sexuality, we appeal to this prominent person, or that psychiatrist, but refuse to look at what the Bible says about it? Have we lost confidence in God’s Word?
Need for a biblical stance
We need to start thinking biblically. Part of being human is to exercise the minds God has given us. Our minds are probably one of the few gifts God has given to every single individual on earth. When God gives a gift, he expects it to be used. Whether God has given us great intelligence, or less; whether we are healthy or disabled; he will require of us only in relation to the capacity he has given us. He is never unfair. But, he expects our intelligence to be applied to his Word, as we seek to understand him, and the way we have been called to live out our humanity in obedience to him.
The media, through some of its talk shows, its films, its entertainment is working at dehumanising people God has created in his own image. Unless our spiritual foundations are strong, we will either succumb to these influences, or retreat, because we have no understanding or resources to counter these influences.
If God is the Creator of all people everywhere, doesn’t he have a claim on everyone: whether people acknowledge him, or not? To be truly human, and to reflect God’s image by our lives, involves more than our sexuality. It involves a whole raft of behaviour that keeps society healthy.
Someone says, ‘but we can’t legislate for morality’. Let’s think about this for a minute. Don’t our laws already legislate for morality? Am I not forbidden to steal, whether it is property, reputation, or people through kidnapping? Am I not ordered to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth when I stand before a court of law? Am I not forbidden to tell a lie when it comes to dealing with authorities. Aren’t rape and assault seen as a crime? Isn’t polygamy, incest, and sodomy forbidden by law? Isn’t fairness and justice the basis of our legislation? Aren’t these moral issues? We need to think more carefully about our Christian beliefs and our responsibilities in society, and help the younger generation to understand their responsibilities.
We are not to fear the backlash that might come from people. When the prophet Samuel asked king Saul why he had disobeyed God, and failed to carry out his God-given mission, he said, I was afraid of the people and so I gave in to them (1 Sam. 15:24). As a result he was rejected as king.
Jesus said, If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:26).
When the salt has lost its taste
Historically, God’s people have served as ‘salt’ and ‘light’ in society. During the major spiritual revivals, the impact these revivals had on God’s people was deep and lasting. It affected structures in secular society. The pubs needed to close down; domestic violence was radically reduced; the crime figures fell; greater productivity took place in factories and mines; more humane approaches were introduced in factories and mines; care for the poor and marginalised emerged through new organisations; honesty and integrity transformed many work places. The changes came from within the nucleus of society — the Church.
Today, the Church has lost its effectiveness. Pure salt can’t lose its saltiness, but ‘impure’ salt, dug from the shores of the Dead Sea could gradually become un-salty. On the other hand, the rabbis commonly used salt as an image for wisdom, so that the loss of saltiness could be seen as the loss of wisdom. When a Christian gives up on the wisdom of God as we find in the Word of God, he becomes foolish, and a foolish disciple has no influence on the world.
When any of us neglects God’s wisdom as it is revealed in his Word, we find ourselves adrift in a sea of uncertainty, because we can no longer depend on the stable and dependable truth of God to guide us. We are on our own. As Professor Leff said, “this is an extraordinarily unappetizing prospect.”
Whether we belong to the older generation or the younger generation, we need to be clear that what we believe and the way we live is based on what God has told us; not on some favourite part of the Bible that neglects the rest. Either we accept what God has said in its entirety, or not at all.
Then we need to let our stand be seen and recognised for what it is: that we believe in God’s sovereign right to rule in the affairs of all people, everywhere; that we believe the Bible to be the only authority for faith and practice; and that we have full confidence in God’s unchanging wisdom. But, if we are to be convincing, we need to show by the way we live that we ourselves are under God’s rule. We can’t have a foot in the world and the other one supposedly on God’s side. Prior to his death, Joshua who had led Israel into the Promised Land said to them, “choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve.” (Joshua 24:15). To belong to Christ means living for him, and serving him.
Are we prepared to use our minds for God’s glory in a world that is becoming increasingly corrupt? I came across an interesting expression this week. ‘Who is renting space in your head?’ The world, or God by his Spirit and his Word?
Hope in the midst of judgement
When the OT prophets completed pronouncing doom on the nation of Israel, they also offered them hope. That is the nature of God. He is a God of mercy and of grace. Whenever God’s judgement is promised, a way out is also made available. The apostle Peter reflects this hope in the NT when he says,
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. (2 Pet. 3:8-12a).