I wrote the following article four years ago. I don’t think the changes in our society have done anything to change the illustration I used or the point I made. Rather, what has happened in the US and western society in general in the four years, sort of prove the truth that’s there.
One of the latest “firestorms” that you may have heard about centers around something that happened at Wheaton College, a Christian institution in Illinois and, as it happens, the “sister school” of my alma mater, Westmont College.
A recent e-newsletter from RZIM (apologist Ravi Zacharias’s ministry) summarized the situation:
On December 15, 2015, Wheaton College, a flagship of evangelical educational institutions, placed one of its professors on administrative leave for “theological statements that seemed inconsistent with [their] doctrinal convictions.” Five days prior, donning a hijab and staking her position on a variety of controversial matters, Larycia Hawkins had stated on Facebook, “I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.” (“Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?” by Nabeel Qureshi)
The controversy has begun.
In light of this topic, the racial unrest in parts of the country, the reaction to Syrian refugees coming to the US and Europe, lawsuits and legal moves connected with the liberal direction the current Presidential administration has guided the US toward, this article seems more relevant than ever. So, without further introduction, the reprise.
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Should Christians be dismayed at the way our culture treats Christmas? For example, when the high school down the block from my place was about to let out for vacation, they held a party. The music playing over the school loud speakers, which would suggest it was sanctioned by the administration, wasn’t related to Christmas in any way, let alone focused on or pointing to Christ.
Of course there’s the whole “Happy Holidays” thing—a catch-all phrase that used to mean Christmas and New Year but in many people’s minds now encompasses Hanukkah and Kwanzaa (an entirely made up holiday, not related to any African commemoration of any thing). And we’re all aware that “religious expression,” including nativity scenes, has been curtailed in many public places funded by public moneys because of the new interpretation of “separation of church and state.”
Are these fires Christians should be rushing around to put out?
As I wrote that last line, I couldn’t help but think about a devastating fire here in Southern California a few years ago. Unlike many of the fires we contend with, this one started in an urban center and the chief fuel was people’s homes. The thing was, it could not be contained because embers — not nice little ones as you see coming up from a camp fire, but huge chunks of burning matter — driven by hurricane-force winds, ignited new hot spots miles apart. Essentially the fire department looked like a dog chasing its tail, only less organized. There was no way to get ahead of the fire line for the simple reason that there was no fire line. There was a massive outbreak of fire all over. It was devastating and terrifying.
So I ask again, should we Christians play the part of the over-matched firefighters and chase each new outburst, trying to contain the damage and minimize the spread of the flames? Or is there a better way for us to handle this cultural collapse — because that’s exactly what we’re seeing.
The older generation—the baby boomers—were raised in a religious environment. Characters on TV dramas and comedies prayed, for example, and this was normal. Their children grew up in religious ignorance. Today’s children are growing up in an atmosphere that is increasingly hostile to Christianity and some Christian values.
Do we try to fix the culture? Make it less hostile? Force it to accommodate our values as well as the ones in opposition?
Sadly, or perhaps happily, we’re losing the culture wars as surely as those firefighters years ago were losing the battle against the wind-whipped fire.
The thing about fire—it purges, purifies, refines. Could it be that the religious trappings of our culture that made us look Christian-y on the outside, needed to burn up so we could see what is at the heart of people, even people in a Christian nation?
Now true believers in Jesus Christ have a much clearer choice. Do we play the part of firemen, running hither and thither, to stop the spreading flames? Or do we evacuate to our safe corner of the world, stick our fingers in our ears and close our eyes?
Or do we get on our knees and start praying for a change in the wind? Do we set up rescue centers to help those who are losing everything? And do we think long-term about setting up wind breaks that will prevent future firestorms?
So I wonder, what would happen if a group of Christians started praying weekly for our culture—not that we could have more manger scenes or the Ten Commandments would be allowed to return to public land or even that the Marriage Act might finally become law. Instead, what if we prayed for two people to come to faith in Jesus Christ in the year 2012? Just two (knowing that God does far more than we ask or think 😉 ) for starters. I mean, sometimes we don’t begin a project because it seems too overwhelming. We don’t feel we can pray for God to save everyone in Los Angeles, so we pray for revival—a good request and nebulous enough so that we have no idea if He is answering our prayer. Why not start with something we believe is reasonable, and if we pray for two specific people we know, something we can actually see God answer.
Paul told the people in Colossae to devote themselves to prayer, and in so doing to pray for him and Timothy too so that God would open up for them a door for the Word. And at the time, Paul was in prison.
He didn’t see his cultural situation as the problem (and pray for me that I get out of prison). Instead what he wanted was opportunity to speak forth the mystery of Christ, making “it clear in the way [he] ought to speak.”
Perhaps we should start by devoting ourselves to prayer.