Our Unhealthy Preoccupation with Acceptance

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old guys clappingOne of the troubling, but nonetheless fascinating realizations of the moral revolution has been the number of professing Christians who deviate from traditional and clear biblical teaching on sexuality and gender. It seems like we steadily see new groups, leaders, and people come out of their theological closets to declare their support for such things as same-sex marriage. Myself, I’ve gotten quite a bit of feedback via this blog, social media, and even in person of people who try to persuade me away from being such a theological dinosaur.

Our Thirst for Respectability and Relevance

In thinking about this quite a bit over the last several months it occurs to me how gripped Americans, particularly religious Americans are by honor and acceptance. I live in Omaha, Nebraska. The slogan for the state is “Nebraska Nice”. Did you catch that? We are nice here. I grew up in Massachusetts. I am not going to say that people in New England are mean, but they are, in the words of Megamind “less nice”. We didn’t exactly take pride in our niceness. If someone complained about people being rude we would generally think you were a bit too sensitive. But here, if you say that Nebraskans are not nice it is like you said something about their mom. It is one of the worst things you can say to a native Nebraskan. It seems to me that one of the worst things you can say to American Christian, whether in academia, church leadership, the pew, or on the street, is to say that they either not relevant or not respectable. We seem to clamor for it with alarming intensity.

I believe it is this clamoring for relevance and respect that is and will draw people to embrace these progressive (and errant) views of sexuality, gender and marriage.

Wait, you say, “It is not a desire to be relevant or respectable but compassion and love.” I disagree. In biblical understanding love is always tied to God’s character because he himself is love. Love reflects God because God is love (1 Jn. 4:8). In particular, love is expressed by holiness, it is not contradicted by it. Therefore, to be loving and compassionate our words and actions must be governed by truth, by the Scriptures (Eph. 4:15).

Further, if it is not all about respectability, why do so many go to the “I don’t want to be on the wrong side of history” card? Respectability is absolutely the issue here. Sadly, this standard of being seen as respectable is the governor of so much of how people think and react.

Are Evangelicals Immune?

Evangelicals could read this and say, “Yeah, those liberals (theologically), they’ve been gone for a while anyway; no surprise. We’re Bible-believing evangelicals. This won’t happen to us.”

Hold on. The evangelical church in the last generation has been marked by its preoccupation with being relevant. An entire movement has ben built around making Jesus and church seem relevant to outsiders. We have seen fad after fad come with intensity and go with a whisper only to become illustrations of silliness and obsolescence. The church-growth movement of yesterday and now the attractional church exists to overcome people’s perceptions that we are irrelevant. You could say, “But Erik, this was to win souls to Christ.” Probably was. No issue with this goal, my problem is with the hump they perceived that they needed to climb over in order to win souls. If the issue is relevance than you may be surprised at what you might do in order to be accepted. This is the oil that greases the skids of pragmatism in the church.

Evangelicals are absolutely vulnerable here if they do not have a firm grasp on the inspiration, inerrancy, infallibility, clarity, and preservation of Scripture. If the Bible is not our authority then it is just a matter of time until we will have to do what we have to do to be respected and relevant.

But What About Our Calling?

Those who profess to follow Jesus need to remember what is inscribed on the threshold as someone comes into the Christian church. Jesus is quite clear in his call for and cost of discipleship:

“And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)

He is very clear here. He is not here speaking simply in terms of the ideal. No. He is speaking conditionally. If anyone would….then he must. The calling to discipleship is a call to deny self. This is not simply restricting yourself from eating sweets or something trivial but it is a repudiation of your own identity and a dissociation with self. It means that I no longer live for me but for Christ. He is my identity, Lord, and life. He is the model and motivation for all that I do. I am the servant he is the Lord. But that’s not all, we must take up our cross. Like the first this is not something trivial. In addition to a place of execution, the cross was a shameful public display of humiliation. To take up one’s cross is to embrace the shameful stigma of public rejection. Far from preserving one’s honor the cross is about dishonor. Finally, Jesus says “follow me”. This is to line up behind Jesus and follow him wherever he leads. Many may like the works of compassionate and care that Jesus performed but these things are connected to his ultimate compassion, which is Calvary. If they hated me…says Jesus, you can expect the same as you follow me (Jn. 15:18).

Put in these terms we can see how off we are when we as Christians clamor for respectability, relevance, honor, and acceptance. We follow Jesus after all.

We must see that we cannot deny the Bible’s clear teaching in the name of compassion and love without being unloving to God and unfaithful to our calling. It’s really this simple.

Here’s the beauty of it that too many forget: when you come to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord you come before the highest court of opinion. In Christ we are clothed with his record of obedience, his perfection, and given his holiness. God looks upon us and counts us righteous in Christ (Rom. 4:5; 5:1). Before the highest court imaginable God says “accepted”. Friends, when this coin drops for you then you will never barter away clear biblical teaching for a fleeting moment of acceptance.

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