Culture and Compromise

A Romanian pastor once told me, "You Christians in the West are not as fortunate as we are." I was startled. What could he mean? At the time of our conversation, the Romanian church was suffering under Communist persecution, while the Western church was enjoying its tradition of religious liberty. "Ah, but for us at least the enemy is clearly defined," the pastor said. And I realized he was right. American Christians aren't oppressed by an atheistic dictator. Yet for us the challenge to Christianity is in some ways far greater-because it is far subtler. We just want to be accepted, to be agreeable. And as a result, the church has often been seduced. We are too often in the world and of the world. We have lost the power of our Christian distinctiveness. Many Christians have slipped into a habit of compromising the truth. Like pastors who never get around to teaching about repentance. Or leaders who turn a blind eye to sin among the members of their congregations. Sometimes Christians simply want to keep up with what is perceived to be culturally relevant and politically correct. This can affect the language we use, our views on sexual morality, our embrace of cultural icons. Take the 1991 commencement of Fairfield University, a Catholic institution in Connecticut. For its commencement speaker the school decided to invite songwriter Billy Joel. Billy Joel? For a Catholic University? Even Mr. Joel himself was surprised. "What makes me qualified?" he asked. The obvious answer is that he is a celebrity, known for dozens of hits over a long career. But that's precisely the problem. One of his hits is entitled "Only the Good Die Young," an ode to a young man's seduction of a Catholic girl. The song disparages the young girl's virginity, her cross, and her church. What an example of how quickly Christians sometimes accommodate to the times, of how afraid we are to give any hint of being out of touch. But if the church (including its schools) does not defend unchanging truth and fixed moral standards, then who will? Of course we want to be attractive to outsiders in order to draw them in. But we must never forget the lessons of history. The early church grew explosively not because it accommodated itself to the current cultural values. Just the opposite. It attracted people by being a rich and viable alternative—by refusing to bow to Caesar and by declaring Christ as Lord. The early Christians didn't embrace the culture; in fact, they scandalized it. Their opponents spread rumors that the they were cannibals, who ate the flesh and blood of their Savior. This was a horrible distortion of the Lord's Supper, but at least it meant Christians weren't being ignored. Their bold witness commanded attention. The church will regain its power not when it is applauded for being progressive and politically correct, but when it is bold enough to invite slander. When, like the church under communism, we recognize clearly who our enemy is. And when we declare a truth so bold and vibrant that it makes our competition pale in comparison.


Chuck Colson


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