Engage The CultureDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | May 1, 2016
Selected highlights from this sermon
As our culture drifts from biblical moorings, Christians are tempted to try a number of reactions. We once thought we could dominate the culture, but that time is gone. The idea of isolating oneself from the culture is appealing to some. But we must engage the culture and share the Gospel.
Our words and actions must bear out the good news. Even the way in which we suffer should glorify Christ. And suffering could be right around the corner.
My topic today is “Engaging the Culture.” I need to begin by saying, here at The Moody Church our doors are as wide open as the city of Chicago. If you’re here today, we welcome you no matter what religion you belong to, no matter the struggles you may have regarding sexual attraction. We believe all people should be definitely treated with a sense of dignity and importance. We welcome you here. But at the same time, we do not accept everything that is coming down the pike in terms of culture, and so I’m speaking this message today for two reasons. First of all, because I’m thinking about the church of the future and issues that will need to be addressed, certainly not only in the next generation, but this generation. Western civilization is actually unraveling, and darkness has descended on the land. And unless something radically changes, it’s going to get darker.
There’s a second reason why I speak this way, and that is [because] I want to assure the congregation that no matter what is up ahead, God is going to walk with us through it. In other words, Jesus does not abandon His church. And if you look at church history, you’ll discover people have been here before, [though] not these specific issues. Our specific issues are new in church history, but the persecution, misunderstanding, and the pressure of culture [have] been with the church since its founding.
We have a course here at The Moody Church on Christ and culture taught by Pastor Steve Mason, and he begins with creation. He talks about the fact that the original intent is that man would rule the world, but in dependence upon God. So man would make the invisible God visible by his commitment to rule under God’s good hand. But sin and rebellion messed all that up, and so what you have is man, thoroughly sinful, but still belonging and still created in the image of God, and therefore a mixture of good and evil. So the same person who can do good things can also do evil things. And certainly there are people— Solzhenitsyn said, “If there were bad people and good people in the world we’d just put all the bad people in one place and all the good people in the other.” But he said, “The line between good and evil does not go between races or boundaries, but through every human heart.”
And so man, after the fall, began culture. I’m using the term today very broadly to refer to everything that is happening basically in society—all of man’s achievements. But the first part of culture, actually, was music. You find there in the fourth chapter of the book of Genesis, after man fell, it talks about using the lyre, and I hope I’ve pronounced that correctly, and the pipe, musicians began (one of the first things that culture developed) because culture can develop some very, very good things. And how thankful we are for music.
And then after that, utensils. It says “items of bronze” and so forth. From now on, man is going to be inventing things, and even those that are good are going to eventually be used for evil. We think, for example, of the internet. We are so appreciative of this modern invention we can use thankfully, even though we do not understand how it works. But at the same time, the internet is being used for gross evil in terms of people being sucked into all kinds of evil and often demonic websites. And that’s the way it’s going to be.
Now, in addition to the development of this kind of culture, you have man developing government because he had to restrain evil, because from now on, man is going to have three drives: passion (we could say pleasure), he is going to have possessions, and he is going to want power, so government restrains all of that.
This past week, I gave a lecture on the history of religious freedom in Europe, because the government oftentimes has been (What shall we say?) limiting human freedom, certainly religious freedom, all throughout Europe’s history until about 1648. And then I studied America and its uniqueness, the fact that we would not have a state church as they had in Europe, and as a result of that, Congress will make no law that will make a state church, and it will encourage religion, but it will not demand it. And people are free to believe or not believe whatever they might like to believe or not believe, a unique experiment.
We here who are Americans have always believed there would be freedom of religion, that churches would have jurisdiction over their territory, whom they hire, whom they fire. All of this would be ours, and now that is being eroded seriously in our culture.
Let me begin by talking about such a thing. Some of our politicians are now talking about freedom of worship, not freedom of religion. There is a difference between freedom of religion and freedom of worship. You see, freedom of worship— there is a bishop by the name of Bishop Warduni who is in Iraq, a Catholic bishop, and he came to America and he spoke to American bishops, and he said, “In Iraq today we do have freedom of worship. We can go into the church. We can close the doors. We can worship whichever god we want, but when we come out, we cannot practice our faith. So we have freedom of worship in Iraq but not freedom of religion.” He said, “We cannot display crosses. We cannot carry a Bible. We cannot talk to others about our faith. If someone converts to Christianity, it is illegal, and they’ll probably be put to death, but we have freedom of worship.” Yeah.
It reminds me— you know, of course, because of the Bible’s condemnation of homosexuality, there is the tremendous struggle of religious freedom, and homosexual rights. You all know about that struggle. Well, what’s very interesting is I’ve seen people on the news say things like this: “Oh, there will always be freedom of religion in America, freedom of worship. The time will never come when a pastor is going to be forced to do a same-sex wedding.” Well, I agree with that. I can’t imagine a time when a pastor is forced to marry anyone, but that isn’t freedom of religion.
I mean, when the bill was first passed here in Illinois, which I reread part of this past week, it said explicitly that as far as protection is concerned, it would be for the pastor and for other people who maybe serve in leadership. But if you have a secretary, for example, who wants to marry her same-sex lover, and you were to terminate her, you’d have a lawsuit. That was clarified.
And regarding facilities, if you rent them out to others, you have to rent them out to same-sex couples. Well, I thought the churches are supposed to make their own decisions. That was the understanding most of us had, and today freedom of religion is being severely attacked and compromised.
I told you many times that in 1984, when Rebecca and I were in the People’s Republic of China, we had a tour guide, and we asked her about freedom of religion in China. And she said, “Oh yes, we have freedom of religion in China.” She said, “People can be as religious as they want to be within their own minds.” In other words, “We have not yet found a way to control the human mind, so we have freedom of worship. I mean, if you go home and quietly, in your bedroom, worship God, there isn’t much we can do about that.” So you can worship whomever you like, but don’t you dare live out your faith.
In America, there are today those who would like to criminalize all public expressions of Christianity. It’s very difficult for some of us to see how a crèche in a town square is somehow a threat to the First Amendment, but that’s what has happened in society. So you have that change, and you also have another I want to broach (And by the way, of course we’re going to get to the Bible, but you have to hang on for a while. I have to paint the landscape before we turn to Scripture.), and that is what I have come to call (I’ve coined the phrase) “legislation by vilification.” How do you like that? Legislation by vilification. And this goes back to Saul Alinsky, who wrote the book, Rules for Radicals, which I read many years ago, who by the way, dedicated his book to Lucifer, the first radical. But what he is basically telling people is you have to position your opponent, and of course, the more you can vilify him, the better it is for you.
Let me give you an example. Back in 2015, Mike Pence, who is the governor of Indiana, signed a religious freedom law. It was really a crumb thrown to religious freedom. It said nothing about discrimination. It was just making it clear that the government should not put an undue burden on people when it comes to practicing their religion. Well, you know what happened. Everybody began to scream and holler, sometimes literally, about how terrible this was, and how discriminatory, and how it was going to be used for evil to discriminate, and nobody has the right to discriminate, and on and on. I remember an athlete saying, “Well, we don’t even know if it’s safe to go to Indiana for a basketball game.” And all of these remarks, day after day, over the media, always speaking about how evil it was, even though I am sure most of the people of Indiana were in favor of the law. If you holler enough and call people enough bad names (bigoted, hate speech, angry and on and on), eventually you win the argument. And we’re living at a time when you can hardly have a discussion about these matters without being labeled and vilified.
I’ll tell you, the future is going to be very, very interesting. Eric Walsh was a doctor in California, highly regarded. He went through all of the vetting processes to be a director in the Atlanta area. They hired him, and then a few days after he left California and resigned [from] his job there, they withdrew his invitation because somebody discovered some sermons he had preached. He was in favor of natural marriage only, and opposed to same-sex marriage. That pretty well took care of him.
Dr. Paul Church was fired, not because he was a bad doctor, but [because] he thought a hospital should not be supporting LGBT parades, etc., because he thinks same-sex marriage is bad for health. Well, instead of arguing the point and having a discussion (Is it bad for your health or isn’t it?)—fire him. [snaps fingers] That’s the answer.
I want to ask you something: What if the time comes when you cannot get a job anywhere unless you are asked specifically, “Can you celebrate same-sex marriage?” That indeed may come. If you are committed to natural marriage and not unnatural marriage, that’s where this is going.
And you know, I looked at some of the fines that were levied to those who refused to help those who were involved in wanting to have a cake for a wedding and so forth. One was $130,000 and the other $140,000. Why such outrageous fines? What they are saying is, “We’re going to shut you down, and the way in which we do it is that [hefty fines].” That’s the way totalitarian regimes always do it, and I can give you some examples, but some of you might not like the examples I give.
Now, there’s another group that is indeed protected. And by the way, regarding the bathroom controversy, let me say this: We are not insensitive to some of the issues that arise regarding those who struggle with sexual identity, and sometimes, in specific instances, they may not know (or we may not know) exactly how to handle the bathroom question. We’re sensitive to that, but the idea that a man who says, “I identify as a woman” can go into— Well, you probably read it. I hope you did. I hope you keep up on it— Where a man undressed in a girls’ dressing room and wouldn’t leave because, after all, the law in his city gave him permission. But once again we see this tremendous outpouring of vilification against anyone who suggests that as a law it’s a bad idea.
Now that I’ve hopped into the deep end of the pool, I might as well continue to swim, [laughter] and there’s one other issue (and then we do get to the Scripture—we are getting there) and that is the protective aura around Islam in society. Because we could give you many instances in which those who belong to the Islamic faith are having very special times of accommodation.
So before I go further, let me say this: If you are here today as a Muslim, you not only are welcome, because we want to get to know you, to connect with you, and we do not blame you for the terrorism that is often done in the name of your religion, so we accept you. And we want to connect with you, but I’m just speaking generally.
The OIC, the Organization of Islamic Communities, has wanted to get a resolution through the United Nations that would make all criticism of Islam a crime. You have to understand, all throughout the Middle East, countries where you have a pure form of Islam, Christians are dying, not because they said anything bad about Muhammad, but because they are Christians, because to believe that Jesus is God in the flesh is an insult to the prophet, and you become an enemy of Islam.
One of our politicians is quoted as saying this: “We cannot here in America stop people criticizing Islam, but we can shame them into silence.” So people today are shamed into silence. That’s why you have you have words like “Islamophobia” (There’s so much more I could say about this.) or racism or bigotry, or all of these things. We shame people into silence. And I say we ought to have some honest discussion with Muslims and with others, and discuss some of the texts in the Qur’an without being shamed, but that’s not where our nation is today. Now, I mention this because these are issues that the church of Jesus Christ (and there are others) [is] going to have to face going forward.
What I want you to do is to take your Bibles and let’s turn for a moment to 1 Peter. Now 1 Peter was written to people who were under persecution. This past year, Rebecca and I were actually in some of these places like Cappadocia, Pontius, and other places—Bithynia. We were actually there. If you open to 1 Peter 1, you notice the different places are listed, and I am truly amazed, absolutely amazed, at the amount of persecution people went through under the Roman Empire in the early centuries of the church. I wish I could tell you more about that.
So Peter is writing to people who know what persecution is, what it is like to have a government that says that if you do not worship Caesar, if you do not give your pinch of incense to him, you could be put to death, and many of them were. I want you to notice now how Peter asks and invites the Christians to behave in the midst of a situation like this.
By the way, before I get there, there are three ways the church could react to what’s happening in society. One is to try to dominate. That doesn’t work. Clearly we have lost the culture war. That’s very obvious. [Another way is] to isolate. “Hey, why don’t we all just go to Montana, buy 20 acres of land on a hill, get a cow, plant a garden, get some chickens, take care of our family and then just wait for the end of the world.” That could be pretty appealing but it would be very wrong-headed. A ship in the harbor is probably safe, but it was meant to sail. So what God wants from us is contact without contamination. And I’ll tell you, that’s very difficult. That’s why the next message in this series is on protecting our homes and protecting our children from the contamination of our culture. Hugely important.
Well, in 1 Peter you’ll notice Peter says we should have a witness in society, first of all, by what we say. But before I get to 1 Peter, here is a verse that just jumped out of the text at me this past week. This is Psalm 94:16: “Who rises up for me against the wicked?” God is asking the question. “Who stands up for me against evil doers?” And now the psalmist David is commenting: “If the LORD had not been my help, my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence,” which is where many evangelical churches live today—in the land of silence.
And I say, from my heart to yours as an older man, older than some of you, but certainly not older than others of you [chuckles], the church is going to run out of places where it can hide.
First Peter. Let me give you what I would like to call three different ways in which we should be confronting our culture. We should definitely take a stand and draw a line in the sand but, [chapter 3] verse 8: “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil.” There you go. You’re called various names. You don’t call people names in return. You don’t render evil for evil. When David was being sought by Saul, and Saul took his spear and threw it at David, and it pinned against the wall, David didn’t pull it out and say, “Oh, you think you can throw a spear? Just watch this.” [boom] No. You do not react.
Notice: no evil for evil; no reviling for reviling. You’re reviled— “Oh, you bigot! Why don’t you keep your bigotry to yourself? Why are you so homophobic or Islamaphobic?” All those things. You don’t reply that way.
I have so much to say and not too much time to say it in, so let’s summarize. We approach it all with humility and brokenness, well aware of our own sins and failings, and the tremendous need we have for God’s grace that we extend to others. And so what we do is, we do it that way. We pray. You know, it says of God in verse 12: “His ears are open to their prayers.” We call on God when we have a day of prayer and fasting. We all show up because we believe in prayer and we believe in humility, and what a difference our response should be.
When we were in France, I don’t know, two years ago or so, Michael Rydelnik, who was with us, gave this illustration. He said, “We should never see people who disagree with us on the issues (say, that I have just mentioned) as our enemies.” They may see us as enemies, but we should not see them as enemies. And he gave this example: When Americans and the British came to Normandy, they were not after the French. They didn’t say, “The French are our enemies and we’re invading France.” No. “We’re invading France because France is under occupation.”
We have to see this world [as being] under occupation. John says the whole world lies in the lap of the evil one. We have to know and see beyond the people with whom we are dealing, and to be loving and strong and encouraging and humble and broken. If there is anything that turns people off, it is finger-wagging Christians who like to judge culture. Now, we’re judging culture, but we’re not wagging fingers. We are entreating. That’s what Paul says. He says when we are maligned, we entreat (That’s number one.) by the attitude we demonstrate and by the things we say.
Now I’m in verse 13 and following. It says, “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. (I’m in verse 14.) Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”
And so, it is of course a defense, first of all, of the gospel. Why do we believe on Jesus? That’s why we have classes here that are really designed to help us and to disciple us so that we at least have some answers. We don’t need all the answers, but we should have answers as to why we believe the gospel, but also answers as to why we take the stand that we do. I have to say, actually, all the good arguments are on our side, legally, historically, from the standpoint of natural law. And oftentimes when we are confronted with a person one-on-one (It’s best not to do it in a group where you feel you have to always identify with others in the group.), talk to [them] to help them understand our position.
You know, it says this in Acts 10: “And Peter opened his mouth and spoke to them.” Isn’t that odd? He opened his mouth and spoke to them. Well, obviously since his speech is given, he had to open his mouth. [chuckles] Why does Luke, who wrote the book of Acts, include that? “Peter opened his mouth.” That’s what people do when they are defending the gospel and sharing the gospel and representing Christ in a very broken world. They open their mouth. And I believe the evangelical church today is waiting for some people to open their mouths on issues that we need to be aware of and teaching the church how to confront them.
So I think [that we do this], first of all, by our words. [And] I should say, by our attitudes, confessing self-righteousness, always recognizing that Jesus is Lord. He saved us and we sure don’t deserve it. We offer His forgiveness, His grace to others with an attitude of personal concern.
All right—by the words we speak, and then by how we suffer. Verse 12 of chapter 4 says: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you.” Some time ago (a few years ago) there was an article in the Journal of Orthopsychiatry analyzing intolerance. It says, “The authors explore the possibility of an ‘intolerant personality disorder’” and they list there: racism, homophobia, etc. and its symptoms, and suggest some possible treatment considerations. The “intolerant personality disorder.” What if that becomes a classification in psychiatry? And what if the belief is that all those who believe in natural marriage only are intolerant and unfit to raise children because they have an intolerant personality disorder, and so the Child Protective Services come and take your child? You say, “Oh, that is really bizarre. Now you’re getting out there.” Yes, it is now, but there are other things happening that are very bizarre that we wouldn’t have believed ten years ago.
How would you accept the fiery trial that comes upon you? Why would God allow this fiery trial? Well, to test you. It says it there in the text. I believe a day is coming when God is going to throw onto the sieve the evangelical community, and the chaff and the wheat are going to be separated when times really become hard, and when your convictions really cost something.
Well, let’s read further: “Don’t be surprised,” because, you see, a secular state is always going to gobble up freedom of religion. That’s been proven throughout history, so the more secular we become, the fewer freedoms we’ll have. You know, don’t pretend some strange thing is happening to you. “But rejoice insofar as you share in Christ’s sufferings.” Is that in the Bible? I thought we should be mad. “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”
God is saying, “I want you to have faith so that when I come, you honor me with your faith,” and that’s the purpose of trials. You know, [Dietrich] Bonhoeffer said we’ll never suffer well as a church unless we realize suffering is a gift from God. And it says that explicitly in Philippians 1: “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, (We say, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, we believe on Him.”) but also to suffer for his sake.” It’s a gift and God wants to bring Himself some glory when His glory is revealed.
[First Peter 4:14] “If you are insulted for the name of Christ (And that’s easy to have happen today because of the present environment), you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” Remember this now. You are going to be receiving enough grace to endure successfully. Why? It’s so you might bring glory to God at the return of Jesus Christ.
Well, I have to end now, but notice it says in verse 19— Well, I have to read the rest. I mean, I can’t stop this. [Verse 15] “But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. (Mm mm, don’t suffer that way.) Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed (“Oh,” you say, “but they’re making all these remarks about me.”), but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And ‘If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?’”
Now verse 19: “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.”
We’re going to have to go places we’ve never been before. We’ve never really had this happen, but who knows what form it will take in the future? And I pour out my heart to you today. I hope nothing I said was too harsh or too condemning, but I am a minister of the gospel, and we are confronting a culture that is very different than many of us grew up with.
You may be here today and you’ve never received Christ as your Savior, and you say, “Well, where’s the gospel here?” Well, right there in the suffering of Jesus. Jesus suffered for us, the just for the unjust, to bring us to God. And no matter where you are, no matter what your feeling is, no matter where you are on the spectrum of sexual identity, everyone is welcome to come to a Savior who actually saves people and forgives them and reconciles them to God and saves them from their sins. And we offer Him to you today.
I have to end with a story based on verse 18 that I’ve probably told you before. Remember, at my age, sometimes we begin to repeat ourselves. [laughter] On the other hand, God may want you to remember this story, and you’ve already forgotten it and you need to hear it again. [laughter]
When John Hus was taken to the stake in Constance in 1415, the official Christendom said, “We commit your soul to the devil.” He was taken there because he was preaching the gospel. He was opposed to indulgences, and believed faith in Christ was the way to heaven. And he was taken from Prague— he actually went to the council because the emperor Sigismund [he became the emperor later, in 1433] said, “I am giving you safe passage,” but when he got there, Sigismund said he didn’t have to keep his word to heretics. So Hus was put in a castle and there he wrote some beautiful letters. But then as he goes to the place where he is to be burned, they said, “We commit your soul to the devil (into the hands of the devil).” He [Hus] said, “I commit my soul to the hand of God.” And he died saying, “Into Thy hands I commit my spirit.”
Probably I’ve said a lot today that you’re going to forget, but I sure don’t want you to forget this bottom line. It’s not necessary for us to win in this life in order to win in the life to come. Right? [applause] Hus didn’t win in this life.
I have to tell you the rest of the story. Before he died, according to one of the witnesses, he said this: “You can cook this goose (because in Czech, “Hus” and “goose” are the same word), and today we still use the expression, don’t we? “Cooked his goose.” That’s where it comes from. But he said, “You can cook this goose, but in a hundred years, a swan will arise.” One hundred and two years later, [Martin] Luther nails his Ninety-five Theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, and Luther believed he was the fulfillment of Hus’ prophecy.
Be that as it may, do you know what God does? One person dies at the stake. Somebody else picks it up because, at the end of the day, the church of Jesus Christ prevails. And will you remember, congregation, we’re on the winning side? We’re on the winning side. [applause]
God bless you. Let’s pray.
Father, we ask in Jesus’ name only one thing today. May we be faithful no matter what comes our way. Help us to love you. And we pray that our faith may bring you glory when you are revealed because you tested us. You threw us on the sieve, and by your grace, you found out we were wheat and not chaff. We pray for those who may be here today who are chaff. We pray they might believe on Jesus and trust Him as Savior even as He gave us the privilege of remembering His death on our behalf, we ask, Amen.
Editor’s Note: In this transcript, the verbatim intelligent transcription process simplifies and enhances spoken content by eliminating redundant words, unnecessary sounds, fixing grammar errors, and clarifying meaning while preserving the author's original intent. All Scripture quotes are according to the biblical text, not as they were originally spoken.