Culture Decay—But Who Cares? part one
I drove by a billboard several years ago that was probably sponsored by the American Dental Association. It read: “Ignore Your Teeth; They’ll Go Away.” I snickered. I’m not laughing about cultural decay though, because I want to keep a Christian culture. But if we ignore it, it will go away too.
This last week somebody sent me a DVD produced by Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis, entitled, “Genesis the Key to Reclaiming Our Culture.” I haven’t watched it yet, but on the cover (and you can see this by clicking on the DVD after going to the link provided) is a photograph of a girl with multiple piercings in her nose and her arms wrapped around the tattooed right arm of an older male, her head also planted on his shoulder. I guess Ken Ham thinks that something in this picture isn’t right, so he believes it illustrates that culture needs reclaiming. I showed the photo to my wife and I asked her what she thought was wrong with it. Her first words were: “It’s extreme.” I said, “But I want something Scriptural. What verse would you use to tell me what’s wrong with it? Why is it ‘extreme’?” She paused and wrinkled up her face a little. I added, “It’s not that easy to get a verse that makes a direct statement about these types of things. Because of that, many evangelicals and even now fundamentalists believe it is acceptable.” And Ken Ham is probably in the conservative evangelical category akin to the late Henry Morris. Yet, he thinks that this was the appropriate picture to choose to portray a wayward culture.
I agree with Ken Ham. Something’s wrong in his cover photo. Something’s even worse in the picture of evangelicalism and fundamentalism today. The Christian culture decays all around and few seem to care. With all of my exegetical, observational, and analytical abilities, I want to diagnose what’s wrong.
LOVE OF SELF
As we get closer to the end, 2 Timothy 3:2 says that “men shall be lovers of their own selves.” We’ve arrived. Men love themselves, including in churches. The world’s culture, and this isn’t new, has always been about self. The world pushes the pampering of self, elevating me to number one.
We can see the conflicts between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of me in 2 Peter 1:4:
Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
When the believer becomes a partaker of the divine nature, he escapes the corruption that is in the world through lust. “Lust” is that desire to please self. The world is corrupted by its desire for self-gratification. You’ve heard of the Copernican theory, that says that the world revolves around the sun. The world has more than a theory, more a conviction, that the world revolves around self.
Like I said, we knew self dominates the world, but what’s different is that now Christians are also about self. A lot of terrain on the Christian blogosphere is dedicated to defense of selfish pursuits. They have staked out their love of booze, the movie theater, dance, rock music, dating touching, and a casual dress philosophy. These are all activities, which have historically been rejected by Christians, but not anymore.
Did you notice in 2 Peter 1:4 that at the moment of one’s justification, the believer escapes a world corrupted through lust. He escapes one culture for another culture and the one he escapes has been corrupted through feeding self. What undergirds the culture of the world is a philosophy that centers on self. Since he escapes it, he is no longer of it and that is a direct result of his partaking of the divine nature.
Paul describes this attitude of self interest that captivates the unbeliever in Philippians 3:19:
Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.
Saved people are not about getting what they want. They are not disposed with the same things the world is. They are described earlier in Philippians 3 in v. 3 and are the polar opposite of those in v. 19.
For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.
Genuine believers have won the battle where it counts the most, on the inside, and this sincerity is characterized by the three qualities Paul lists here. These are the cultures in conflict. One sincerely seeks after God, rejoicing in Christ, not following at all the leadership of his own desires. The other minds earthly things, dragged along by his appetites (his belly).
The man with the heavenly citizenship (Philippians 3:20) sees no advantages to fitting in with the world. Tattoos are not about God. Piercings are not about God. A sensual rhythm isn’t about God. The buzz from a Budweiser isn’t about God. What kind of dress will make me most comfortable isn’t about God. The tidal wave of entertainment pounding from the big screen of a theater isn’t about God. Jazz music, let alone rap, rock, and hip, is not about God. Marketing the church by shortening, humoring, and providing an easy-reader, remedial version of Scripture isn’t about God (please keep reading multiple version users). Those are all about self.
I turned on the live stream of the Shepherd’s Conference from Grace Community Church and John MacArthur in Southern California. It was the one message I would have time to tune in. I expected to hear Albert Mohler, but they showed the music before hand. The Master’s Chorale came on first. I perked up. I could see them only from the distant camera, but they were very modestly and conservatively dressed. They looked reverent. I smiled in hopeful anticipation. I’m going to mention only their second number, because it was an arrangement that mainly utilized jazz, ragtime and blues, components to communicate a theological message supposedly to God. I’m confident that God rejected the song, so that it never got further than the ceiling of the auditorium. Why? The jazz composition wasn’t about God. It was about about having fun and feeling good. The message of the words were corrupted by lust, a whole dimension of life that the professing believers were to have escaped.
What was the worst for me was that they syncretized. The belly god yanked the holy, godly words through the sewer culture.Â The last chord of the song was unresolved. My son, who walked in on it at the very beginning, groaned, and I cried, “What?!?!” And then, “Are you kidding me?” I asked, “Did you hear that?!?” And he groaned again. He understood it. He heard the same stuff from some squirrely godless teenagers a few weeks before at the California All State band. He walked out on that because it was spiritually septic.
The earth was without form and void. Tohu Bohu. That’s the Hebrew in Genesis 1:2. A play on words. The ending of the Master’s Chorale song was empty and shapeless too. God hadn’t come through to give completion and fulfillment. They ended tohu bohu. God didn’t move through the song. It wasn’t good. When God is done with something, it’s good, and this wasn’t. I understand a Buddhist leaning on that form of communication, but not a true worshiper of God.
So why? Why did they do it? Self. It felt good. They looked enlightened according to earthly wisdom. “Did you hear that? That sounded just like a real group; you know, the ones in the world.” That has become, in so many cases, the standard for Christians. They imitate the world. They mind earthly things. They hear something they like and do it—the lust of the flesh.
The defense for the belly god? “Scripture doesn’t say it’s wrong!” And, “so you’re saying that we can’t have fun?! We can’t enjoy anything?!” Meats for the belly and belly for meats. “People got emotional in Scripture, didn’t they? So emotion is good, so rock music is good.” They’ll drink to that. They’ll smoke a cigar to that. “Spurgeon would have!“
We can take the individual aspects of earthly things and by convincing ourselves that each part is acceptable, persuade ourselves that so is the whole. “Barley’s fine, right?” “Drums are in the Bible, right?” What guides the pursuit, however, is what led Solomon along in Ecclesiastes. It’s altogether vanity.
Professing Christians and their churches follow after self and call it grace. That same pattern is found in the apostates of 2 Peter 2 and 3. They walk after their own lusts. They offer men temporal things, just like the world. In so doing, they make merchandise of them. They return and then lead others to the pollution of this world, promising liberty, but entangling men again in what God had saved them from.
God the Appetite
Instead of worshiping God in the spirit, professing Christians focus on fleshly pursuits, like booze and big-time entertainment. They justify it by saying it’s not in the Bible, but, of course, neither are crack pipes. What leads them along are their personal appetites. For a Judaizer of that day, it was his own fleshly accomplishment, but that’s not all it was for people in the time Paul wrote Philippians.
Many Gentiles of the day in the Roman Empire were Gnostics who had a dualistic philosophy. The philosophy said spirit is good and matter is evil. The influence was that we are Christians in the spirit. Body is matter, is evil, therefore, what your body does doesn’t matter at all. It’s inconsequential Since it is going to be evil no matter what you do with it, just feed it. That belief went right into what was called in theology antinomianism, which is right in the contemporary libertinism of today which disconnects what we look and sound and act like from who we are on the inside.
Glory in their Shame
Being led along by something other than God, their appetite, their glory becomes their shame. They revel in the things that they should be ashamed of. They are proud of their fleshiness. They stamp liberty on it, but it is their own belly dance. We’ve lost shame for these kinds of things, for improprieties and selfish pursuits. Now evangelicals brag about them. Everything’s the same as the world, except they’re forgiven.
Mind Earthly Things
I really do get worldliness. I get entanglements with the affairs of this life. It’s the struggle that Paul describes in Romans 7, one, however, that we have won. We’ve been delivered and God keeps on saving us. He didn’t release us from the bondage for us to be trapped by fleshly pursuits.
You’re right if you say that the Bible says nothing about lathering our head with juicy hair care products. It doesn’t, so we should just leave it alone, right? Why leave it alone when it cries for attention? A teenage boy with glistening locks wants someone to look. I’m not thinking that it is this forty-five year old man, but it’s someone. I have one question for him. You know what it is. “Why?” He can keep wearing it, but it sends the wrong message for a Christian. He’s got to fit into his state college campus and they require conformity to their philosophies or at least he thinks they do. Or it’s what he perceives that girl that works at the hardware check-out might like, the busty one with the tight top and shorts. His hair communicates a compatibility to her view of the world. His piercing is a whole other story.
I could squeeze all the jell from his hair and lube the wheels of my car and I don’t think he’ll be an inch closer to God. So yes, the insides matter the most, but his outsides are also wrong. They conform to the world. His externals haven’t been transformed by the renewing of his mind. His body isn’t a living sacrifice and isn’t acceptable to God. In addition to his spiritual feebleness, he’s also not fashioning himself in a godly manner.
As I look to Christ’s return, because He is coming back, I will set my affections on things above. That up look will manifest itself in my outward adornment as well as my choice of activities. I’ll gird up my loins like a man and be done with lesser things. The things of earth will dim in the light of God’s glory and grace.