Culture Decay—The Attack on Standards
Have you looked at and compared the crowds that gather for a blue-state candidate or a red-state candidate? I’m not talking about race and ethnicity. Remove that from your thoughts and this discussion. I’m only referring to how they appear in dress and decorum. To make it more simple—notice the difference in the look of a Hillary crowd versus a Huckabee crowd (this is not an endorsement for either of these candidates or world views). By observation it is obvious that these two groups have different standards. Culture shock if they attended the other’s rally. Does this matter? Do the differences mean anything?
We can go further with this comparison. Look at this earlier female golfing attire (and here), early female tennis player (and here), early female cyclists, and then early female swimmers. Have the standards of dress changed? Are we better now? These men were watching a baseball game. Why have things become more casual all around? Is there an underlying philosophical reason? Are we better off with the new standard?
Standard fare today on standards is that they are nasty ole additions to Scripture. I ask myself, “Why didn’t the godly people, who loved the Word of God, not recognize that the standards they implemented weren’t actually biblical?” Corollary: “Were they that much spiritual dunces?” Also, “How could there have been such a widespread conspiracy to get especially young people to do things, i.e. keep standards, that were so detrimental to their lives?” I contend that the standard bearers’ spiritual and biblical elevators did go all the way to the top. They did have a clue.
We have a regular attack on standards today not just in evangelicalism (typical), but also in professing fundamentalism (here, here, here, and here). Are they trying to help us? Have we really been duped by modern day Pharisees? Is the world a more godly place with their new found influence? Or are they actually contemporary Mr. Worldly-Wises who can’t say “no” to their worldly lusts?
“Standard” isn’t an English word found in the English translation of Scripture, so to argue a proposition that standards are good and necessary and that obliterating them decays a Christian culture, we should define the term. The free dictionary online says that a standard is: “a. A degree or level of requirement, excellence, or attainment. b. A requirement of moral conduct. Often used in the plural.”
When we talk about standards, we are talking about institutional application of biblical principles and commands. The two Scriptural institutions are the family and the church, but today there are schools you can add to that. Families have standards—“call if you’ll be late,” “put back what you got out,” “elbows off the table,” “answer when spoken to,” and “you’ll wear a tie on Sunday.” Churches have standards—“no faithful attendance; no choir,” “no tie; no usher,” “no evangelism; no teaching,” “alcohol; no membership,” “divorce; no deacon,” “no haircut; no leadership,” and “movie theater; no leadership.”
Defenders of Christian culture or personal holiness have taken these standards from direct statements or applications from principles. For instance, you might recognize that “divorce; no deacon” comes from 1 Timothy 3. Many evangelicals will argue against that. “No haircut, no leadership” comes from 1 Corinthians 11. No one with whom I fellowship uses standards as a means of justification or sanctification (Romans 3:20; Galatians 5:1-4). We have many explanations for standards that are found in 1 Corinthians 6-10 in Paul’s discussion on the proper use of liberties. We are to flee idolatry and flee fornication. Do we apply these with track shoes? We aren’t to get close to sin, thinking that we will stand and not fall. Romans 13 and 14 give more principles. This is how these verses have been applied or obeyed for centuries.
The Attack on Standards
Evangelicals and fundamentalists combat these standards by many different means. Sometimes they use Scripture. Jeroboam used Scripture to support erecting his idols at Dan and Bethel. Who did he quote? He cited Aaron when Aaron defended his building of the golden calf. Normally, they will attack personally and speculate motives. They say that you are trying to sanctify by works. They claim that you want to impress people out of pride. They say that you are working at conforming everybody into something that you’re comfortable with. They say that it is legalism and not grace. Most often today, they say that you are just making these standards up without biblical support.
Recently, over at a bastion of post-standard fundamentalism, SharperIron, Stephen Davis, an associate pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Lansdale, PA (home of Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary and one of the National Leadership Conferences) wrote:
Yet in my opinion and observation, Fundamentalism’s commitment to the authority of Scripture often attaches itself to interpretations and positions on issues to which scriptural authority cannot be legitimately attached. . . . [O]ne finds great diversity due in part to the level of certainty that is accorded to the application of Scripture to issues that are far removed from the fundamentals of the faith. These applications on a host of issues from standards to music to Bible versions to eschatological distinctives have helped create a fractured Fundamentalism.
That is the common criticism for personal and cultural separation based on standards. A lot of what Davis wrote, I agree with, and especially this:
I will not allow a movement to define me and to choose my battles. The Word stands above every movement and every culture in every time and in all places. To that sacred and timeless Word and to its Author we must yield and give our allegiance.
This is why I don’t consider myself to be a fundamentalist. However, I will defend fundamentalism when it is attacked for upholding standards of personal holiness. Places like Calvary in Lansdale still practice mixed swimming, which includes men and women stripping down to something sometimes less modest than underwear. In my experience with the Lansdale type cross-section of professing Christianity, I have found that they consider a standard against mixed swimming to be one of these “illegitimate applications of Scripture.” One of the detriments of being a fundamentalist is the initial concept that certain teachings of Scripture are already relegated to something less than a fundamental. In this case, mixed nudity doesn’t count as a violation of a fundamental, so it should be ignored as a matter of separation. And most of the traditional brand of fundamentalists (the Bob Jones, Detroit, Maranatha, Northland, Central axis) do ignore this. That’s why I like Davis’ last quote (read it again to see if you like it). We’ll do just what Scripture says and not worry about whether traditional fundamentalists will agree with us (they won’t).
I’m sure many of these men don’t like that I am saying that they are supporting nudity or maybe better ‘Christian nudist retreats.’ If they don’t support it, then why don’t they separate over it? Are they really uncertain as to whether it is wrong? Maybe not. I do believe it is interesting that these fundamentalists will regularly coddle up to men like C. J. Mahaney of Together for the Gospel, when his church this year is putting on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Last year they put on Godspell. The latter is of the same type of show as the blasphemous Webber musical, Jesus Christ Superstar, which had opened on broadway a year earlier. Perhaps they could rename their fellowship, Together for the Godspell.
When fundamentalist Dave Doran got together with them last year, he reported:
In many respects, it was one of the most spiritually beneficial conferences I’ve attended the message by John Piper alone was worth the time and cost of the conference.
John Piper doesn’t have trouble with the standards of the pastor of Mars Hill church in the Seattle, WA area, Mark Driscoll. This mixture could make things confusing couldn’t it? Isn’t this the reason why we separate ecclesiastically (churches separate) over issues of personal holiness? The evangelicals and fundamentalists don’t have these standards of personal holiness over which they will separate, and so they have an incredible lack of discernment. This causes many to stumble.
The most common text I hear quoted as a Scriptural refutation of standards is Mark 7:7:
Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
Believers have not historically relied on this verse in contradiction to standards of personal holiness. God expects us to apply Scripture to our life and standards are the way. As a means of seeing how that believers have applied Scripture to life, and not considered legalistic, take a look at William Gouge’s Of Domestical Duties (1622). Gouge has a several page section in which he shows that a biblical practice would be a mother nursing her infant children. Most evangelicals and many fundamentalists would call this legalism.
As a result of these kinds of attacks on standards, churches lose their Christian culture, looking, acting, and sounding like the world. The churches of today look more and more like the blue crowd compared to the red crowd they once did. Some may say that this either doesn’t matter or it’s actually good. What do they do with Zephaniah 1:8?
And it shall come to pass in the day of the LORD’S sacrifice, that I will punish the princes, and the king’s children, and all such as are clothed with strange apparel.
Dressing in “strange apparel” was to dress like the world. God would punish those of His people who wore worldly clothes. He expected them to be distinct. Distinctiveness was holiness. This verse alone is a proof text for standards. This is also the historic position on this verse (and here). God expects believers to have personal standards of holiness. Zephaniah 1:8 doesn’t explain what “strange apparel” was. They were to know. They obviously did know. They were going to be punished for something that they knew and were supposed to practice. God hasn’t changed on this, even if we have.
The Relationship to 2 Timothy 3:2
I’ve been relating the cultural decay to the last days. One last expression of the times of apostacy is that men shall be “lovers of pleasure.” Men want their way. They want their creature comforts. On the other hand, Jesus said that His way was self-denial. The rich young man in Matthew 19 said he wanted eternal life, but he couldn’t give up his things. Jesus described His way in Luke 9:58:
Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.
Those following Christ shouldn’t expect to have anywhere to lay their heads. That’s not what people want to hear today. And because people want what they want, churches market themselves to pleasure-loving people. It’s no wonder that they don’t like standards and scramble to find verses to avoid them. They even present a kind of Christian hedonism (these articles are against it). The evangelical, John Piper, has popularized a form of Christian hedonism, and he states the first point in his book, Desiring God (p. 23):
1. The longing to be happy is a universal human experience; it is good, not sinful. 2. We should never try to resist our longing to be happy, as though it were a bad impulse. Instead we should seek to intensify this longing and nourish it with whatever will provide the deepest and most enduring satisfaction.
He starts with man’s longing to be happy. What verse teaches this? Um. (Crickets.) Mark 7:7 anyone? This idea in particular satisfies man’s fleshly desire to gratify himself. As a result of these kinds of philosophies, evangelicalism is full of worldliness.
Low standards or high standards can result from legalism. Grace doesn’t contradict man’s happiness, but it centers on the pleasure of God. It doesn’t make provision for the flesh. It won’t always deliver us if we walk near the edge of the moral cliff. Grace will build a fence there. It won’t make it easier for the flesh. It teaches us to deny ungodliness and lust. Standards graciously apply Scripture. They protect the distinct, holy culture of the Christian.