The Culture War

An increasing number of Evangelicals are finding themselves drawn into a bitter conflict. In this struggle between light and darkness, it is reported that the very future of Christianity is at risk. All the forces and resources of the church have been marshalled against this formidable foe. This opposer of Christianity is not a modern enemy—surprisingly, it is as old as the church itself! What is this enemy? It is anti-christian culture in society. This multi-headed beast is thought to possess powerful tentacles which threaten to strangle Christian morals and traditional family values in society. Some of these tentacles are abortion, pornography, the public school system, liberal politics, the “gay” advances within society.

Are the Roman Catholics our Allies in the Culture War?

So important is this new battle that Christian leaders are calling for alliances with the Roman Catholic church, and other doctrinally unorthodox religious bodies to fight this adversary. Unwisely, the deep doctrinal chasm which lies between these religious bodies is now being bridged in order to enlist a greater army of foot soldiers to do battle in the culture war. In doing so, the recent casualties of this war have been the long-held doctrinal convictions of the reformers: solo fide (by faith alone), solo gratia (by grace alone) and solo scriptura (Scripture alone). And now, “missing in action” are the trusted allies: evangelistic zeal for world missions, gospel preaching, and soul-winning. The strategists of this movement against anti-christian forces are prominent evangelicals. Their ranks include such notables as Bill Bright, the president of Campus Crusade for Christ, theologian J. I. Packer, and Pat Robertson, the president of The Christian Broadcasting Network. Their insistence for change is earnest and compelling. However, their arguments and reasoning are aimed at the emotions, rather than the spiritual mind. Former presidential advisor Charles Colson, who is currently a Christian leader in this culture war, displays this approach when he writes,

“Believers on the front line, battling issues such as abortion, pornography, and threats to religious liberty are forging an ‘ecumenism of the trenches’. As the hosts of secularism and New Age spirituality threaten to sweep every trace of Christianity from the public arena, we must gather together. In today’s culture war, Christians ought to heed the classic of principle: Concentrate your forces. This was the driving motivation for those who signed the Evangelicals and Catholics Together(ETC) statement.” (1)

His tone is urgent and he characterizes the situation as a pressing crisis. He implores us to immediate action; otherwise the consequences will be dire, as “every trace of Christianity will be swept from the public arena…”

Author J. I. Packer uses similar reasoning in explaining his convictions. He writes,

“North American culture generally has lost its former knowledge of what it means to revere God, and hence, it has lost its values and standards, so that it drifts blindly along materialistic, hedonistic, and nihilistic channels. It is the ‘Theological conservationists’ (Christians), and they alone—mainly, Roman Catholics and the more established evangelicals—who have the resources for rebuilding of these ruins, and the domestic differences about salvation and the church should not hinder them from joint action seeking to re-Christianize the North American milieu.” (2)

J. I. Packer describes the same ominous scenario but his conclusions and goals are mis-guided. He and others seem shocked that “sin”, like an unholy plague, has spread to infect every segment of society. Rather, it should surprise us when a world shrouded in spiritual darkness would bring forth works of righteousness. Moreover, he finds the solution to the “crisis” in the “resources of the Roman Catholic and established evangelicals” instead of sovereign God, who can bring spiritual transformation to a sin-ruined world. In addition, he now argues that the primary goal the church is “to re-Christianize North America”. Is this heretofore unestablished biblical mandate now the fitting new course of the church? Is this new focus the right direction for the New Testament Christian?

Critical Issues in the Culture War

Certainly, all Christians would agree that abortion and pornography are sin and are wrong. That is not in question. However, to conclude that those who oppose this “culture war” somehow condone evil is unwarranted. A Christian’s non-involvement in this “culture war” is not a test of his or her biblical orthodoxy. Rather, the question should be, is this new focus of political involvement and civil disobedience the proper direction for a sincere Christian? There are three crucial issues at stake for the Christian regarding the culture war: the importance of eternal values over temporal concerns, the use spiritual weapons over political influence and pressure, and the present danger that religious alliances will advance the compromise of Biblical truth. God is, beyond any doubt, concerned about every aborted child, and each moral evil of society. However, is there not a greater burden that weighs heavily upon the heart of God? Was not the cry of the psalmist, “If thou, Lord, should mark iniquities, O , Lord, who shall stand” (Ps. 130:3), the greater concern of God? Indeed, was not this the reason that the Lord Jesus Christ laid down His life on the cross of Calvary? Was not the eternal salvation of every soul ever upon the mind and heart of God? Truly, every pursuit of the Christian must certainly be subservient to this solemn truth. We might reason in the following way. What pleases the Lord more—a dollar given to a faithful missionary laboring to win souls in a forgotten jungle clearing, or a dollar given to a political action committee to lobby politicians in Washington? What pleases the Lord more—a word of loving witness to your neighbor about the Lover of their souls, or to speak to others as a “poll worker” about the virtues of a particular politician? What pleases the Lord more—a sincere prayer to God rising from a burdened heart for the lost, or a letter to your local newspaper pleading the morality of a particular social issue. The answer to these questions is obvious: eternal values have a greater significance.

Eternal Values vs. Preserving Culture

Eternal values have not only a greater significance, but also a greater effectiveness. Concerning the role of the Christian in the public arena, C.S. Lewis writes, with unique insight,

“If you read history you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The apostles, themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the English evangelicals who abolished the slave trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this one. Aim at Heaven and you will get Earth “thrown in”. Aim at Earth and you will get neither.” (3)

Assuredly, a moment given to God is a moment invested for eternity. A life devoted to eternal realities is a life lived and not wasted. Jim Elliot said it best, “A man is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain that which he cannot lose.”

What was the New Testament’s counsel to Christians living amid an anti-Christian society The apostle Paul wrote his epistle to the Romans to a new gathering of believers concerning the immorality and godlessness of first-century Rome. Many observers consider this society to be unequaled in corruption and hedonism. Homosexuality and lesbianism were shamelessly flaunted; murder and violence was unparalleled; broken families and divorce abounded; religious corruption was the order of the day (Rom. 1:21-30). Yet, when the apostle gave the mandate to the Christian church for action, suggestions for the use of political pressure and civil disobedience were strangely silent. Public demonstrations and letter writing campaigns were not considered. The biblical solution to godlessness was gospel preaching. God’s remedy to social problems was spiritual power. He charges them in Rom. 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” Was not this the solution in every generation? Was it not the preaching of William Booth when whiskey ran like water in the gutters of Whitechapel and East London, and that of Moody in the slums of Chicago, and the Wesleys and Whitefield preaching in moors and marketplaces of England? As it was then, so must it be in our day! However, the question rightfully arises: Does not compassionate social action have a place in Christian ministry? Of course, but as an outgrowth and support of the work of the gospel; never in place of the gospel. Gospel preaching must remain pre-eminent. Listen to the words of William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, as Harry Ironside heard them being addressed,

”...take a man from the filth and squalor of the slums, exchange his rags for decent clothing, move him from the stifling stench of the city tenement to a neat little cottage in the pure air of the country, put him on his feet economically where he can make a decent living for himself and his family, and then let him die in his sins, unsaved, and be lost forever at last—really it is not worthwhile, and I , for one, would not attempt it.” (4)

The so-called “culture war” is a deception; for the Christian the battle is truly a spiritual warfare fought with the spiritual weapons of the Word, prayer, and faith in God. Our conflict is “not against flesh and blood, but…against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:12). Today’s anti-Christian culture is not the enemy. The true Enemy, the prince of darkness, would delight to have the church battle in the shadows, squander precious resources, and be distracted from the true war. Christian, refuse the deception, take up the true sword, and in the power of the Holy Spirit join with the Psalmist and say, “Blessed be the Lord my strength, which teacheth my hand to war, and my fingers to fight” (Ps. 144:1).

(1) Charles Colson, “Why Catholics Are Our Allies”, Christianity Today, Nov. 14,1994, p.136
(2) J. I. Packer, “Why I Signed It”, Christianity Today, Dec. 12, 1994, p. 36
(3) C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, MacMillian Publishing, New York, 1963
(4) H. A. Ironside, Unless You Repent, Gospel Folio Press, Grand Rapids, MI 1994, p. 139