Monday, January 14, 2008

Going Public?

Just a disclaimer of sorts before you begin. One, this is very long, and you may be tempted to click away for that reason. I understand that but I hope you will not do that. Two, this is subject matter that applies to every Christian, no matter age, socio-economic standing, or any other type of boundary. My only goal in posting this material that took me several days to compose (over much discussion, thought and prayer), is to encourage my few readers to a Biblical worldview in the face of a message in evangelical Christianity that screams "culture first!" at every turn. May God alone be glorified in what you're about to read.

A friend recently made a comment about persuing those things in life and in ministry that would leave a type of beneficial, lasting impact. I suppose its supposed to work this way, but the older I get the more I think about the same kinds of things. How I spend my time, how I say what I say, and the fruit of such things. Indeed this applies to Christian blogging for me, as well since blogging (writing) is part of what I do. In fact, one of the first things I ever read on a blog was the intro post explaining "why I'm blogging", where the man said he wanted to leave an electronic footprint for his infant son to someday read. I found that intriguing then and still do today. The way we communicate has changed so much, in both style and substance.

Last week, someone who attends Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA asked me if I had heard the first sermon in the "Ask Anything" series being preached by their pastor Mark Driscoll. I had not heard the sermon, and they suggested it might be considered rather scandelous by some. No big shocker there since Driscoll is and has been well known for his shocking language/content when he speaks. Let me first however be quite clear that this post is not about Driscoll. There are plenty of places you can go to read his praises or his critiques. One such place is here, on the latter, which begins with this profound quote by AW Tozer, that I believe bears repeating, and repeating often:

"Pure Christianity, instead of being shaped by its culture, actually stands in sharp opposition to it."

Pure Christianity stands in sharp opposition to culture? Is this true? Is this Biblical? Is this a worthwhile thing to take seriously and see how or if it's something that affects us directly and personally?

While Driscoll himself is not the subject of this particular post, his already infamous impact on what many now call post-evangelical Christian culture is in fact the catalyst for the topic that I want to address today, and hopefully encourage and edify you.

Up above I said that the way we communicate has changed in both style and substance. That may well be a great understatement but I think we'll all agree that it's true. On style, none of us need look any further than our own blog rolls to get a good example of that. I would even go as far as saying that likely every blogger has struck up a friendship with someone else in the blogging world that were it not for this method of communication, they would have never met this side of Glory. Add to this the idea of typing with your thumb on your cell phone or some other high tech toy while you're driving down the highway, or using your laptop in an airport somewhere, or using youtube for evangelistic purposes. The way we communicate has changed drastically just in the last 20 years.

Not only has there be a drastic shift in style, there has indeed also been a drastic shift in substance. My own first exposure to the content of what complete strangers were willing to discuss with each other, was online. Back in the day when the 'net was still called "The Information Superhighway" by fumbling newscasters who obviously had no idea what they were really talking about, and those of us online were cruising along at 2400 baud - folks were already using the method to strike up conversations with total strangers, with content that they'd never discuss face to face. The imagined anonymity (I say imagined because no man is anonymous with God) of the 'net gave people courage to say things from behind a screen that they'd never have the audacity to say in person.

Somehow, and in some way, and some time in the last 20 years, our culture (and Christian response to it) has also shifted toward this kind of communication. There are numerous works anyone can read on this cultural shift, some are good and have a solid Biblical worldview, and some are completely wacked out and are quite frankly a waste of paper. Those that I would consider good sources (your mileage may vary) would be David Wells, Nancy Pearcy, Gene Edward Veith, Albert Mohler and Michael Horton. There are more to be sure, but those alone will keep you busy for a very long time.

In some way, this type of indiscriminate online behavior that I speak of, has found its way offline and into the daily lifestyles of the folks right in our own schools, workplaces, communities and churches. Believers and non-believers alike, laypersons and pastors, younger people and older people, it would seem that this cultural shift in manners, propriety, common sense and common decency no longer has the same boundry it had when I was a teenager just 30 years ago. Much has changed, and while some of it may be good (i.e., the convenience of global communication in seconds), much of it is not good at all. It doesn't take more than a few mouse clicks to prove this out, when you enter an innocent search phrase at google and it yields hard core pornographic links in return. Another prime example is the "see related videos" section at youtube. You might be viewing a completely innocent video, but that doesn't mean the selection of clips in the sidebar is anything remotely close to innocent. What was once considered by polite society to be private, discreet, personal and confidential, is now public fodder via the net, cable & satellite, various face to face relationships and yes, even in our own churches, apparently.

I make no apologies for saying that I am "old school" when it comes to certain topics. This is one of them. However, I don't want to assume that just because that was the type of culture I grew up in, that its automatically the correct attitude to have - these things have to be tested according to what the Scriptures teach, lest any of us find ourselves guilty in a sense, of defending traditions just for the sake of the fact that they are our traditions. If the sacred cow or "subjective experience" or "cultural tradition" needs to be tipped, then I say we tip it. If it falls according to the measure of the Word of God, then it was a cow that needed to be tipped all along. Its well worth the effort to ask yourself if "polite society" was deemed such because of prior generations holding to higher standards of cultural eitquette based on their own ideas, or if there was a time in North American society when Biblical values had much more of an impact on culture than they do today. Along the same lines, it is equally imperative that we take the time to understand that we as a society - Christian culture right along with secular culture - have gradually become so desensitized to sensitive things, that subject matter "polite society" once revered as "not for public consumption" has become prime time entertainment for the masses. We didn't get here overnight, and we didn't get here because someone else put us here. We arrived at where we are because our sinful cravings for controversy, scandal and private things, fueled the media machine that gave us exactly what we asked for. The end result being evident and obvious even in the fashion industry, when our 7 year old girls are asking to dress like common prostitutes (because it's common among their peers, not because they understand it to be improper and wish to simply rebel) and parents are giving in. We put ourselves here when we shoved Biblical principles out the door and accepted what became common, in a morally degenerating society. This is our own doing, and every one of us is guilty in some way.

I don't (and never have) subscribe to the idea that intimate subjects [such as Driscoll can be heard teaching on] should be discussed in mixed company (men, women, married, unmarried, etc.), in an open setting. While I certainly do believe they are important subjects and should be considered important enough by the stronger, more mature men and women in the church that the younger believers have a trustworthy source to turn to and learn from (please read my dear friend rozie's post on this, she nails it perfectly), I also believe my thought process on this one to be a Biblical one. I'd like to explain why, so if you've already read this far, I hope this is still making sense to you, and you'll keep reading.

While we are indeed all fallen creatures with corrupt emotions and instincts, for the most part almost all of us sense a bit of nervousness or discomfort when certain subjects are brought up among mixed company. I can only speculate that this may be our natural reaction, an innate sense to something that deep down we know is explicity personal, and too delicate to be just tossed out there for public discussion, opinion, jokes or whatever else might be said about the subject. While that part is speculation, the next part is not.

The Scriptures teach us that we are to take every thought captive (2Cor 10:5) to the obediance of Christ. Further, the Scriptures are filled with teachings on how God thinks of our thoughts, that He knows them, how they affect us and drive us (either to paise Him or sin against Him), and why our very thought life is critical to our growth in Christ. Anyone can do a comprehensive search and study in the Scriptures about 'thought life' and how central it is to the reality of Christian living, but for starters I would direct you to this subject in Job, the Psalms, Isaiah, and especially the passage in Philippians 4 (v.4-9) that address the Who (does the guarding), the what, and thy why of the need to have our hearts and minds guarded against those things which are not pleasing to God. I could easily list all the specific verses here but it would be rather redundant to do that. I would simply hope that most older Christians reading this would already know and agree that keeping our hearts and minds guarded against sinful thoughts is the expected conduct of a believer.

There is a very good reason I stated that first, before I move on. Part of the reason is that I'm fairly certain that there are young believers that don't really know this at all. For them, and due to the culture they have grown up in, the lines have been blurred and in some cases completely obliterated. There is a lack of solid Biblical teaching for young and old alike, but for those who have grown up in this modern promiscuous, irreverant, "post evangelical" culture that makes it all the more important to really address this issue head on. What was obvious and foundational to young people 30 years ago is many instances, completely foreign and unheard of to young people today. This should disturb you, if you have loved ones under the age of 30. I hope it compels you to seriously consider what I am saying. (And please know I am no expert on this, I'm just a mom of seven very important people, dealing with these very things myself, from a Biblical worldview and a desire to please my Lord).

The other part of the reason I wanted to mention thought life first, is because of the various situations & settings we might find ourselves in, where tempting thoughts can lead to sin as James 1:14-15 says. As fallen beings battling with sinful flesh every day, we need to be brutally honest with ourselves and know that anything we set before our ears or eyes that might cause us to be tempted, is to be avoided as much as it is possible to avoid. This is the very heart of the reason we teach our girls to dress modestly and our boys what a virtuous woman is (and is not). This is practical Christian living, parenting, and critical to our maturity in Christ.

There are many reasons why open discussion of private matters can lead to these kinds of sinful situations, but allow me to address just one of them first. (Allow me to say here as well, that I believe this applies to Christian bloggers as well and the material they post for a mixed reading audience).

I'm thinking of an object that is small enough to hold in my hand, is red in color and grows on a tree. Washington state is famous for their production of these items, it is said that one a day keeps a doctor away. They're handy for various baked dessert items, sauces and even dipped in caramel.

While some reading might wonder what in the world I'm doing stating the obvious, I can tell you without question that the majority of those reading this just thought of an apple. It's a very elementary teaching tool and most people over the age of 8 never give this much thought. Children are more familiar with this process because they learn it very young from teachers who know how the brain works, and how to stimulate thought, imagination, and memory. Point being, in your thought process as you read the description you had a visual image in your mind of an apple. Maybe just for a split second the picture flashed in your thoughts, but this is almost assuredly what you "saw" in a snapshot-memory in your mind. Almost all of us do this, it's just the way we are. When we hear or read a description of something, we attempt to understand what it is we're hearing by visually associating it in our minds with what it is that we've seen or heard that bears that same description.

Using that same process (and I'm approaching this cautiously), consider the scenario of men or women standing in mixed company graphically describing for all to hear, a private marital act. Those present and hearing this will get the same exact results, with a much different picture/visual in mind. In this setting, those hearing will associate the described act with whatever it is they know that to be. If the speaker used themselves as an example, the hearer will (regardless of whether they wanted to or not) be tempted to have the very speaker in mind in that visual image.

Its the latter visual in this scenario that is the point. While the apple image bears no danger in any way, the same process to mentally identify it, is the very process most people will use to process information via images in the mind, whatever the subject is. In a mixed group (married, unmarried, men, women, older and younger) who among them all is so spiritually mature as to not let that image affect them in any way, but merely consider it from an antisceptic, medical or clinical view? Who among them is desperately weak or struggles painfully with this specific issue and will allow that visual thought to lure and entice them as James1:14-15 says is what leads us into sin? Who also, among that mixed crowd just had the visual of the speaker, doing the very thing the speaker described, and is now attempting by God's grace not to have that image in their mind? Point is, who knows? - it's an open, mixed group of possibly strong, weak, mature, immature, along with those with damaged and confused thinking from horrible past experiences, or those with misinformation from well meaning but ill-informed sources and all present and each dealing with a war against the flesh, in varying degrees.

If anything, such a setting is more of a certainty for harm, than for good. If we're all honest with ourselves, we'll admit that of all the aspects that pertain to our humanity, this is the one that can be the most explosive, most controversial and can lead to the most grievous and shameful situations for a believer. (Please consider here for a moment the crippling affects of pornography addiction that affect believers in the very same way unbelievers are affected). While I will again stress that these are important matters to be discussed, the way in which we discuss them is equally important and should certainly never be approached so casually, flippantly, or irresponsibly. To approach this subject and handle it responsibly, there are several factors that should be taken into very serious and prayerful consideration.

This is just one aspect of the very real and very great potential for mishandling this subject. Just as any pastor and/or mature Christian man or woman worth their salt would never advocate a man and a woman (either of them married or not) discussing private marital matters with one another either privately or publicly [I want to be clear here that I am not referring to pastoral counsel, while even that situation can be awkward and uncomfortable for pastors and they must take great care to deal with these things in a Biblical manner and with discretion and discernment - often referring women to a godly, competant and mature woman either within the congregation or in the field locally. I want to also note that even within the secular counselling field there are laws in place to protect both counsellor and patient. The potential for lines to be crossed and emotional attachment is very real when discussing these private matters. If even the ungodly have laws to protect them from personal harm, this should speak volumes to those who follow the Lord and His word!], this open type of setting is equally a very bad idea, with even more potential for disasterous results, since there are more people involved.

Give no man (or woman) a reason to stumble, as much as it's within your control to do so (Romans 14:13). This basic approach to Christian living applies to absolutely every area of our lives. In what we do, what we say, how we say it, and who we say it to.

Those among us who are considered leaders and more mature, have a responsibility to be living examples holiness, modesty, wisdom, discernment, and at the same time be willing and able to be the kinds of personable, approachable, trustworthy mentors the younger generation of believers need in their lives to learn from. We have a very Biblical reason (as opposed to chalking it up to bygone eras of Victorian prudes who blush at "dirty words") for keeping the private things private, while having a confidential avenue and a resource to address very important questions and concerns in matters which are private.

Culture has changed, there is no argument there. However, the Scriptures have not. Which do we conform to, and which is pleasing to God?

The answer there should be quite clear, to both questions - no matter the moral decline of the culture you grew up in, or the excuses being offered by the adherents of the "culture friendly" crowd insisting that we have to "do church" in a way that panders to culture - as opposed to living Biblically because it's what the Scriptures say to do. If the answer is still not clear, please read the Tozer quote above one more time, and then read this:

And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Romans 12:2 - emphasis mine)

If that were the only verse in the entirety of Scripture to address this subject, it would be more than sufficient.