Imagine that your feet are straddling a crack that is increasing at the rate of an eighth of an inch a month. By month 6 it’s only a small gap, less than an inch. But after 16 years you’re looking at 2 feet and after 40 years the gap will have widened to 5 feet. It won’t be long before you will either fall into the gap or be forced to decide which side to stand on. Now let’s make things a little more perilous by saying that because the gap is increasing at such a small annual rate, you hardly notice it.
That’s a crude analogy regarding our position as Christians living in societies in which Judeo/Christian values are steadily eroding.
For most people change is difficult, agonizing even. But one exception to that general rule might be cultural changes, some of which occur stealthily and slowly, giving us plenty of time to adjust.
Many of the early Christians had an advantage we don’t. They were born into societies that were not based on what we would now call Judeo/Christian values. These believers lived in a world in which pagan gods were openly worshiped, in which extreme brutality was the order of the day. The choice before them was obvious. Would they embrace the radical way of Christ or the way of a sin-darkened world?
Because many aspects of our culture still reflect Judeo/Christian values, our choices are not always obvious. Some things about the culture are worth celebrating. But others are not. What then?
Because we want to be compassionate and understanding, to seem enlightened and progressive, some of us have allowed culture to trump faith. Afraid to disagree lest we be accused of self-righteousness, we remain silent. Some of us have gone further than that.
Recently a group of Christians began circulating a petition aimed at pressuring a local Christian college into supporting gays and lesbians. Though the language of the petition is muddled, it seems clear that it is pushing for tolerance of homosexual lifestyles. Instead of evangelizing the culture, I fear these Christians may be allowing the culture to evangelize them.
Or what about other kinds of sins, ones that may be more common on the right than on the left? I’m thinking about those who excel in business but care nothing for the rights or dignity of their employees. Or what about those who are so tightfisted they refuse to see that the poor need help? Perhaps they have been evangelized by a materialistic culture, emphasizing things over people.
Let me suggest a simple rule of thumb about how to respond to the growing gap between culture and Christianity. Whenever there’s a conflict between what the historic Christian faith has always taught and our own personal opinions, we should suspect the shaping influence of culture.
Several years ago a public protest erupted in Sichuan Province in China when angry parents took to the streets in anger over the deaths of children crushed beneath the rubble of a poorly constructed high school. The school had collapsed in the midst of a 7.9 earthquake. Many clutched photographs of their dead children as they knelt outside a Chinese court crying out for justice. Because schools, many of them newly constructed, were the only buildings to buckle in some areas, people suspected corruption. They accused local officials and builders of conspiring to cut corners and pocket the savings. In one instance, a rescuer reported that iron wire, not steel bars, had been used to construct a school that had been reduced to rubble in the earthquake. Another man–a teacher who had photographed several of the collapsed schools and posted them online–was imprisoned after expressing anger at “shoddy ‘tofu’ buildings,” hardly an image the Chinese authorities were eager to promote.
As Christians, we need to be careful lest we build our faith along cultural fault lines. If we attempt to blend non-Christian values like materialism and sexual immorality with Judeo/Christian values, the result will be a kind of “tofu faith,” one that will collapse as soon as pressures becomes great enough.
In the end, it’s not God who should submit to us but we who should submit to him. Because his standards don’t change, neither should ours no matter how much pressure we feel from those around us.
Pray for the grace today to stand up for what is right, but do it as Jesus would—hating the sin but loving the people who’ve committed it.
Ann Spangler is an award-winning writer and speaker. Her best-selling books include Praying the Names of God, Praying the Names of Jesus, Women of the Bible (coauthored with Jean Syswerda) and Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus (coauthored with Lois Tverberg). Her fascination with and love of Scripture have resulted in books that have opened the Bible to a wide range of readers. Together, her books have sold nearly 3 million copies. For the chance to win a free copy of one of Ann’s books visit her website at: annspangler.com
 Human Rights in China, “Press Release: Family Visits Still Denied to Sichuan School Teacher Punished after Quake-Zone Visit,” July 29, 2008, http://www.hrichina.org/public/contents/66524