In our parish of St John’s each Monday after work I run a Reflection group. For the past two years we have been working through Bishop Thaddeus Barnum’s devotional book Real Identity. Today’s devotion that we looked at was one that I believe is very applicable. Here it is below:
26 then Moses stood in the gate of the camp and said, “Who is on the Lord’s side? Come to me.”
And all the sons of Levi gathered around him. Exodus 32:26
It’s hard to break from culture.
Best to live for Christ with a little bit of culture. Or to live for culture with a little bit of Christ. The two meshed together like the golden calf in front of the altar.
And then party!
“And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play” (Ex.32:6). Just like today. A world at play. A church – well, for a lot of us anyway – also at play.
Pastors caught between both worlds because, God forbid, they challenge the freedom the culture now gives us. They’ll get instant pushback. Criticism for standing for the Bible at those points the Bible doesn’t stand for culture. They’ll be mocked for being insensitive. Uncaring. Without compassion. Judgmental. Worse if they call people to repent of sins the culture no longer sees as sin. That will make them feel like outcasts. Marginalised. Persecuted.
So we do church like we do half-time at a football game. Or intermission at the local bar when the band takes a break. We have our church services – doing what we do as Christians – and when we’re done, we go back to the game, back to the band, and rock.
A little bit of culture. A little bit of Christ.
She felt marginalised. Judged. Like the world around her has more compassion for her than Christians do.
She had been at church for about a year. Her husband started coming a few months later. The more they came, the more they liked it and decided to get involved. First with a ministry to the poor in the city on Saturday afternoons, then every other week to hang out with Christians at a nearby home.
It just fit. Everything about the church fit.
One night, in conversation, she said it so casually. Like it was no big deal.
A woman asked her how long she’d been married. Her face lit up with surprise. “O my gosh, no, we’re not married. We’ve lived together for about three years. We’ve talked about it some. But no, we’re not ready for that.”
“So how did you two meet?” the woman asked.
“In college. We dated for a while. Then after college, went our separate ways. Couple of years later, we met up and decided to try again. Give it some time. It’s been great for both of us”.
“I’m glad you found our church”, the woman responded. “We are too. He’s from the south. He’s got a strong Christian family. Grew up in the church from the day he was born. My family not so much. It really wasn’t a big thing for me until I got to college. But now, I wouldn’t dream of missing it and sometimes it feels like I’m dragging him here!”
She smiled, having no idea that two worlds clashed together into one.
There’s nothing worse than Moses.
He comes down from Mount Sinai and completely trashes the golden calf. No dialogue. No church politics. No year-long studies, massive position papers, well publicised conferences to listen to both sides of the issue and then adopt a well-crafted, deeply sensitive resolution of semi-daring compromise.
“Who is on the Lord’s side? Come to me.”(Ex.32:26). He doesn’t care who feels marginalised. Unheard. Uncared for. He doesn’t care if the pastors and church leaders are divided over the issue. He doesn’t care if he’s stomped on people’s rights to freely express themselves.
He cares about the glory of God.
That it’s not about us first. It’s about Him first. And when it’s about Him first, it’s actually about us to. The best for us. The Lord wants the best for us. But He will never compromise His glory. Never.
You can have culture. You can have Christ.
But when the two come into conflict, you can’t have both. You have to choose.
The woman did it so well. She called her up, asked her to lunch, said she wanted to talk to her about something. Her new friend eagerly accepted the invite. She did it with love. Compassion and mercy. Kindness and grace.
“It’s hard to break from culture”, she said. “Especially our culture where sexual freedom permeates everything. But there comes a time when it’s right to follow Jesus Christ and do what He wants for our lives. And not just for us, but for our children after us.”
She loved her enough to tell her the truth. About marriage. About living together. About what it means to want His best for her, her future husband, and their family.
“Marriage belongs to God,” she said. “He takes the two and makes them one and when He does that, nothing can break it apart. But we have to do it His way and His way isn’t the way of the culture around us.”
Her friend listened. Smiled. Nodded at the appropriate times. But inside, anger was mounting. She felt judged. Wronged. Looked down on. Like she didn’t fit into the perfect Christian image of this woman from her church.
“Is this what the pastors think too?” she asked. And when she heard her say, “Yes”, she put her napkin on the table, stood up, and grabbed her purse.
“I can find a church that’s not so rigid as yours,” she said in disgust.
And she did.
With a little bit of culture. And a little bit of Christ.
When I reflect on Bishop Thad’s devotion, I was reminded with sadness that we have Anglican bishops in Australia who feel that the Bible is antiquated, outdates and even wrong about the moral issues of our times; that we have Anglican bishops who are caught between two worlds and try to have it both ways.
Bishop Thad writes:
You can have culture. You can have Christ. But when the two come into conflict, you can’t have both. You have to choose.
The Israelites could not have Yahweh and the Golden-calf. Neither can Anglican bishops, neither can anyone who professes faith in the Lord Jesusw Christ.