When Christ Shaped Culture
Christ didn’t win souls simply because He loved people. He won souls because He offered them a life of so much more than they ever could have on their own.
I’m a Millennial. I grew up in a landscape that left me embarrassed to say, "I’m a Christian.” No one is perfect, but the culture wars the church had been involved with for a few decades before I entered the world in ’85, left a sour taste in many people’s mouths. Even in the quasi-Bible belt of southwest Virginia, other kids saw all too quickly what the church was against and even looked skeptically at my Christian walk. Many didn’t want to be like me, or have the religion I had. Of course for many, they thought what I had left me paralyzed by rules and the edict to avoid enjoying life at all costs. Honestly during that time I didn’t even know what being a Christian meant.
After two years of rejecting Christ, I came back to Him with a better understanding of His love and grace for me. A few years serving on the leadership of a campus ministry, various roles of service in church, and a year of study at seminary have made me rethink all of my preconceived notions and beliefs about whom we as Christians should be. I’ve battled with the cliché of "what would Jesus do?” on a lot of topics. The matter of homosexuality is no different. Many Christians are divided on how Jesus would respond to today’s culture.
We find ourselves on a swinging pendulum in matters of sexuality. My generation and those younger are questioning the validity of an age-old belief that sex outside of heterosexual marriage is sinful. It’s no surprise that the culture’s gradual acceptance and celebration of homosexuality and bisexuality has young Christians asking questions. People who once held beliefs that homosexuality is sinful now wonder if it really is, because one of their best friends or a relative recently came out to them. An "issue” now becomes personal.
The days of old when homosexuality could be seen as an issue and not as personal are over. The distant, cutoff, "out there” mentality Christians once had about the gay community is fading. More Christians are friends or family members of those who are gay-identified. They see their lives, their joys, their sadness, and their rejection. They’ve finally realized homosexuality isn’t just a policy or sin issue. It’s very personal.
Many of my Christian friends and acquaintances have asked me questions they’ve been battling. "I used to think it was wrong, but my friend appears to be happy. What do I do?” Or, "We are called to love everybody, not judge.” "The Bible isn’t really clear, so what am I supposed to think?”
There are others who continually spout judgment and hate. "Homosexuals will burn in hell!” "If your son is effeminate, slap his wrist.” "We should put all the gays and lesbians in a place surrounded by an electrified fence and watch them die out.”
The pendulum swings to both ends of the spectrum—one side reacting to the personal, deep friendships with gay-identified individuals; the other reacting to the politics and "evil” sin of homosexuality. It’s an us-with-them or an us-against-them mentality that’s polarizing the culture today. The problem with these view points, I believe, come from pressures of society informing decisions, theology, and the way Scripture is read and interpreted.
As Christians, our views and beliefs can only be filtered through our relationship with God. Our Christian walk and perspective of the world beginsfirstwith a vertical relationship with God,thena horizontal relationship with other believers and the world. But today, we see it the other way around. Our friends and their happiness come first, then, through that lens we try to figure out God’s view. One of my seminary professors once described Christians as a cylinder-shaped tube with an opening on each end. Our relationship with God and the world passes through this tube. God moves Himself down through us and out into the world, not visa versa. The world and our cultural atmosphere do not shape God’s word. Rather it’s God’s presence in and through us that shapes culture.
With God as our teacher and the most influential being in our thinking, hate and judgment have no place for the believer. But, excuses and apathy would have no place either. Christ followers are to be set apart from the world. Why? Because we have a savior who lives incarnationally through us.His ways are not the ways of the world. We need to gain back our "peculiarity” again—have that essence of an intriguing difference to the world.
We see the ways of the world running wild in the church today. They are manifested in hate and bigotry—a condescending tone from the pulpit against those despicable perverts. In an effort to put out those flames of intolerance, so many swing far to the other side with approval and celebration. But the ways of the world are manifested here too. The shouts for acceptance overshadow the redemption of Christ. The attempt to be seen as loving only turns into caving in.
The body of Christ is to be different. We are to model Christ’s bold love and we can do that without sacrificing a Kingdom perspective. The Church doesn’t "win souls” by looking like the world, but by being different. Christ came to reprimand the religious leaders who had become legalistic, haughty, and judgmental. He also came to restore those who had been marginalized and cast off by legalism. He not only met with the outcasts, the perverts, and the disgusting refuse, but he formed a relationship with them, he saw them for who they truly were, and called them to restoration and redemption.Christ didn’t win souls simply because He loved people. He won souls because He offered them a life of so much more than they ever could have on their own.
As His light to this world, we must love all people. In that love, we must see the more we were all created to embrace. The more comes from denying our flesh and pursuing Christ. The more comes from hearing and learning from our Creatorfirst, then giving Him authority to inform our understanding of the world around us. It’s Christ’s love that propels us to love others, but it is also His promise of transformation that must compel us to tell others whom we’ve formed relationship with that there is something more, something better.
We all have our opinions. But when it comes to loving others and the issue of homosexuality, there is only one opinion that matters. Let us seekthatopinion over anyone else’s. Let us love the way Christ did—meeting people where they are and urging them forward to the life God created for all of us where denying our flesh ultimately brings new life.