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WHY ARE WE AFRAID TO JUDGE?
The Future Is Here
The church is to be in the world as a ship is in the ocean; but when the ocean seeps into the ship, the ship is in trouble. I fear that the evangelical ship is taking on water. The world is seeping into the church so rapidly that we might well wonder how long the vessel can stay afloat. The church, which is called to influence the world, finds herself influenced by the world.
If we as Christ's representatives can scarcely stay afloat, how can we expect to rescue a society that is sinking around us? We have bought into the world's values; into its entertainment, its morals, its attitudes. We have also bought into its tolerance, its insistence that we should never challenge the private beliefs of individuals, whether outside the church or within it. In the face of cultural pressures, we have found ourselves confused, hesitant to act, unable to give a loving but convincing witness to the world.
Of course, there are also many hopeful signs in our culture. There are churches and individuals that are making a great impact for the gospel, and for that we are thankful. But for the most part, we as Christians have settled down to a comfortable kind of Christianity that demands very little and therefore, in turn, makes very little difference in the wider culture. When the world takes a step in our direction, we embrace it without a twinge of conscience. But a church that has made its peace with the world is incapable of changing it.
Today there is a myth that the world is more tolerant than it used to be because it accepts "both points of view." If you were to stand on a street corner in the cities of America and ask, "What do you think of Jesus Christ?" you would probably get a favorable response. He would be described as a good teacher or as one who taught us about love. But we can be quite sure that the world speaks well of Him because they misunderstand who He is and why He came to earth.
Listen to His own words: "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you" (John 15:18–19). By and large the world of today has a favorable opinion of Christ only because it misinterprets Him.
Remember this axiom: The better the world understands the purpose of Jesus' coming, the more it hates Him. What the world values, Christ despises; what He loves, it hates. Years ago, F. B. Meyer wrote, "Between such irreconcilable opposites as the church and the world, there cannot be but antagonism and strife. Each treasures and seeks what the other rejects as worthless. Each is devoted to ends that are inimical to the dearest interests of the other." And yet, just think, most Christians think it is possible to follow Jesus without turning their backs on the world!
Generations ago, we heard sermons titled "Biblical Separation," that is, sermons about the belief that we must separate ourselves from that which displeases God and commit ourselves to the values and convictions of Scripture. Many of us were warned about such things as movies, alcohol, tobacco, and a small cluster of other sins. This kind of instruction had its limitations because godliness was often defined in terms of the things we were not supposed to do. But at least we were taught that some things were right and others were wrong; there was an attempt, however imperfect, to distinguish the church from the world.
My generation claimed to be wiser than our parents. We said that the list of "worldly sins" was man-made and that we had to make our own decisions about these matters. Older Christians, who knew their hearts better than we knew our own, warned that if we began to tolerate worldliness, however it was defined, we would trip a series of dominoes and the day would come when the church would be filled with "worldly believers."
That day is here.
Opinion polls show that the difference between the church and the world is, in some ways, indistinguishable. The sins that are in the world are in the church: divorce, immorality, pornography, risqué entertainment, materialism, and apathy toward what others believe. Officially, we believe that without trusting Jesus as Savior people are lost; unofficially, we act as if what people believe and the way they behave really does not matter. No wonder our light has become a flicker and our salt has lost its savor.
Many believe that we have no right to judge anyone's lifestyle or beliefs. Our commitment to radical individualism and the privatization of faith has made us willing to "live and let live" without discussion, evaluation, or rebuke. We have lost the ability to judge the world because we have lost the ability to judge ourselves. We affirm certain beliefs and then act as if they don't matter.
No wonder the most oft-quoted verse from the Bible is not "For God so loved the world" (John 3:16) but, rather, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged" (Matthew 7:1). Even in evangelical circles we sometimes hear, "Who are you to judge?" The clear implication of the question is that we have no right to say, "This lifestyle is wrong," or, "This is heresy," or again, "This preacher is a false teacher." The one word that best describes our culture is Whatever!!!
How did we get here?
Why do we find it so difficult to say that some religious views are wrong? Or that some kinds of behavior are sinful? Why do we allow so much of Hollywood into our homes, pretending that we and our families are not influenced by the entertainment industry? Why do we allow false teachers and prophets to flourish without warning the people of God? Why are various forms of occultism practiced? These are just some questions we will be discussing in the chapters that follow.
Before we begin our journey, we must have a better understanding of how the prevailing ideas of our culture have influenced the church. We might find that we are more affected by the world than we realize. So before we turn to speak about our responsibility as members of the church, we have to take a few moments to understand the challenges we confront in the world around us.
We've all heard that we are living in a postmodern society, but what does that mean? And how does postmodernism impact the church? Every generation must fight its own battles; sometimes the pressure points of one generation are the same as those of a previous one, but often the issues are different. But each generation must confront the world, either to change it or to be changed by it.
Today our challenges are unique, for no generation has been influenced by technology as has ours. We are bombarded with television, the video revolution, and the Internet. Perhaps no generation has had as many opportunities as ours; nor has any had as many pitfalls. In the midst of great opportunity, we have, I fear, turned from much that is good toward much that is trivial and even irrational. In our day there has been a mega-shift in thinking; this generation perceives reality differently from the way past generations did. Yes, people in general don't view life the way they used to, and we Christians don't either.
So let's take a brief tour into what is called the postmodern mind so that we might better understand the challenges before us. Then let's ask ourselves how we have been influenced by the world and what can be done about it.
Descending into Decadence
Truth has disappeared, and few have noticed. Before our eyes, the old thought forms are crumbling, and in their place we find new ways of seeing the world and our experience of it. Some of us grew up with assumptions that are being discarded, and in their place are new assumptions that stand in direct opposition to the Christian gospel. Perhaps it is not too strong to say that war has been declared on the past in favor of a brave new future.
We can't understand postmodernism unless we understand what modernism was (and is). Modernism was the belief that reason had the power to make sense out of the world; the human mind, it was thought, has the ability to interpret reality and discover overarching values. It was optimistic, believing in progress; there was the belief that science and history could lead us to various truths that would help us interpret reality. Modernism attacked religion, particularly Christianity, because it believed Christianity was filled with superstitions, but at least modernism believed that truth existed and it was not afraid to say so.
The contemporary notion is that reason has failed to make sense out of the world. Indeed, modernism, it is said, does not have the building blocks necessary to construct a system of truths that would be applicable to all cultures. So the old assumption that there is objective truth must be replaced with the notion that there really is no "truth"—if by truth we mean values applicable to all cultures and all times. Truth, if it exists at all, does not exist "out there" to be discovered but rather is simply my own personal response to the data that is presented to me. I do not discover truth; I am the source of truth.
Whereas modernism attacked religion as being superstition, postmodernism accepts all religions and gives a high place to all kinds of superstitions. Spirituality of every sort is now accepted without any suggestion that one point of view might be wrong and another right. Since truth is now defined as my personal opinion of reality, it follows that we have any number of "truths"—about as many as there are individuals in the world.
Theoretically, then, postmodernism says that there is no independent standard of right or wrong, no independent standard of truth and error. Yet, because we are moral beings, not even postmodernists can discard all moral judgments. When postmoderns see something they don't like, they have new ways of describing what they see; they have invented notions that replace the concept of truth.
These new thought forms have changed the dialogue in our modern world. We had best understand our culture if we wish to challenge it.
Truth Is Replaced by Fairness
As mentioned, time was when people believed truth existed, even though they disagreed as to what it was. Today, a belief is evaluated not on the basis of whether it is true or false but by asking, "Is it fair?"
Think of what this means for those of us who believe the gospel. The idea that salvation comes through Christ alone certainly does not appear "fair," given the many different religions in the world. Thus our message is ruled unacceptable no matter how much evidence might be adduced for it. In fact, what we believe, we are told, is based on narrow prejudice. Christianity is just our bias.
The same approach is taken in evaluating morality. Postmodernists say that morality, if it exists at all, is an exercise in psychology. So if you and I were to say, "I believe this to be immoral," the modern mind hears us saying, "I have this prejudice." We've all heard gay rights organizations refer to those who believe in the traditional marriage as people who are bigoted. In other words, morality is not a matter of objectivity but narrow, personal bias.
Perhaps this illustration from baseball will help. Someone has said that a pre-modern umpire would have said, "There are balls and there are strikes and I call 'em as they are." A modern umpire would have said, "There are balls and there are strikes and I call 'em as I see them." But a postmodern umpire would say, "There are balls and there are strikes and they are whatever I call 'em." So in matters of religion and morality, truth is whatever I say it is.
Our national icon is inoffensiveness. So if you think you have the "truth," courtesy demands that you keep your thoughts to yourself. As a good citizen, you should have the civility to keep quiet about your privately held convictions (your prejudices). Even freedom of speech should not extend to making moral judgments about other people's private behavior.
To put it differently, a new "right" has been found in the Constitution. No one should ever have to hear anything with which he disagrees! No one should ever have to hear anything that offends him. "Hate Crimes Legislation" is touted to be a defense of those groups that are supposedly unfairly singled out for bigotry and criminal activity. Whatever the merits of this legislation, we should be aware that the goal is to declare "offensive language" as a hate crime, thus silencing freedom of speech.
For example, in Canada where such legislation has passed, authorities have warned Dr. James Dobson's Focus on the Family and Dr. Jerry Falwell's Old Time Gospel Hour and Dr. Laura Schlessinger that they cannot broadcast unless they cut any portions dealing with homosexuality. The Canadian broadcasting board cites Canada's "hate crime law," which says it is illegal to speak of any group derogatorily. This means that pastors cannot read Bible verses on the air regarding homosexuality, or they endanger the licenses of stations that carry them.
Some take the argument a step further and say it is not just the perpetrator of crimes who is guilty; anyone who is not in step with the homosexual agenda is also guilty. Recall that after the homosexual Matthew Shepherd was murdered, a wide net of blame was cast that included all those who spoke against gay marriages and special rights for homosexuals. Thus since "antigay" expressions contribute to the crime of others, the postmodern stance is that such biases should be held privately—if for no other reason than because they are highly offensive.
Inoffensiveness also has impacted the political sphere. You will recall that after the September 11 terrorist attacks some businesses would not allow their employees to keep an American flag on their desks, for fear that they were offending other workers who were not in support of the war in Afghanistan. S. D. Gade, in his book When Tolerance Is No Virtue, says that the objective of political correctness (essentially another term for postmodernism) is to avoid invading anyone's "attitudinal space."
The result is that we can bear only good news, not bad. You can say that Jesus has changed your life, but what is inadmissible is saying that He is the only way to God. For one thing, such statements are unfair because they make Jesus superior to other religious leaders, and this offends the majority of the world's population. What is more, such statements cannot be objectively true but are only the reflections of one's private religious bias. End of discussion.
Not everything about politically correct thinking is wrong. We Christians have often been judgmental, intolerant, and self-righteous at all the wrong points. We have been guilty of racism, elitism, and doctrinal snobbishness. There are some Christians who could use a good dose of tolerance, especially when it comes to their relationship with other Christians. But notice this: We should be tolerant in these areas, not because not doing so offends people, but because it is the right thing to do. In other words, our tolerance must be based on truth, just as much as our intolerance must be based on truth. In the end, our judgments must come down to truth questions.
The problem is that we are often intolerant where we should be more tolerant; and often we are tolerant where we should be intolerant. In a word, we are intimidated. I, for one, do not have all the answers in our confused world, but we must attempt to be true to what the Bible teaches and live according to the mandate our Lord left for us.
We've learned that for the modern mind, there is no court of appeal in the traditional sense. Truth is subjective, disconnected from argumentation and facts. There is "your truth" and "my truth" but no truth that we must both claim. So our criterion for judging religious beliefs and lifestyles is not truth but fairness.
Truth Is Replaced by Sensuality
If individual perceptions are king, it follows that human beings will gravitate from the rational to the sensual. When God created man, two matters became inherently sacred. One was the sanctity of human life; the second was the sanctity of intimate sexuality. Today we have attacks against both: We have a society rampant with violence on television and on our streets; we also are obsessed with eroticism that destroys the sacredness of marriage.
Our film and media industries have desensitized us to violence. In one study, when children were shown people being shot on television, they accepted it without much ado. But when they saw puppies being shot to death, they were horrified, crying out in righteous anger, shock, and grief. They had been conditioned to accept the violence that kills humans and outraged only at the violence that kills animals.
Excerpted from Who Are You to Judge? by Erwin W. Lutzer. Copyright © 2002 Erwin W. Lutzer. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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Posted February 19, 2013
In today's world too often we "the church" are silent, to our shame. As Billy Graham stated years ago "America will have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah" True tolerance is knowing what to tolerate and not tolerating that which we should not. Mr Lutzer explains simply how to make those Godly judgement choices and live it out (out loud.)
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Posted April 3, 2013
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