Here is a three step plan to reach an increasingly secular culture.
First, Purity. 2 Timothy 3.1-9 tells us that we will live in days when people are increasingly likely to live as ‘lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.’ That Paul here means people who are at least apparently followers of God is made plain by his statement that they have ‘a form of godliness but deny its power.’ These are those who, he goes on to explain, will infiltrate the Christian community and try to lead people astray from Christ, but their folly will become evident, and therefore Timothy is to focus on preaching the Word of God. Paul tells Timothy regarding such people, who look like Christians superficially but reject the pursuit of conformity to Christ’s standards morally, that he should ‘have nothing to do with them’. So our desire to be mis-sional and to reach the culture around us must not cause us to lower our standards with regard to the purity of the people of God. We are to pursue church purity.
Second, Witness. 1 Peter 2.11-12 tells us that the people of God’s commitment to moral conformity to Christ will, if diligently pursued, have a concomitant impact on those outside the Christian community. Peter tells the dispersed people of God, surrounded by a culture which is not intrinsically hospitable to the gospel, to live ‘as aliens and strangers in the world’ and ‘to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul’. The reason Peter gives is witness: Christians are to aim to ‘live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us’. Peter is saying that the Christian community’s commitment to moral conformity to the spiritual standards of Christian discipleship in Christlikeness will mean that non-Christians (‘pagans’) will be more open to hearing the gospel articulated, therefore more likely to believe and therefore more likely to joyfully glorify God when Jesus returns, or they die, whichever comes first. So the second priority in these times is not only church purity, it is also the integrity of loving witness to those outside of the gathered people of God.
Third, Wisdom. Proverbs 14.34 tells us that ‘righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.’ Like it or not, politically correct or otherwise, certain standards of behaviour, attitude and action are more likely to lead to a nation’s flourishing than other, less moral standards of behaviour, attitude and action. While the OT prophets’ call of God’s OT people back to obedience of the Torah was a covenant-specific calling – one that does not immediately relate to secular nation states – OT prophetic wisdom points to how biblical wisdom does connect. Joseph was a blessing to Egypt, Daniel a blessing to Babylon. Societies that kill babies, do not have stable families and do not advocate high standards of loving thy neighbour will not flourish as well as societies that protect their children, have happy and stable families and are committed to each other in an interwoven social fabric.
Part of our responsibility as the people of God, with prudent wisdom as revealed in the Bible, is to so act in society (being ‘salt and light’) and so advocate, graciously, winsomely, but also confidently, within that same society, that the culture around us understands that doing good is good for you. In normal circumstance, all other things being equal, following the moral code of righteousness is more likely to lead to a human society flourishing than ignoring that moral code. The Maker’s instructions are flaunted at the cost of the creation.
These three steps – church purity, loving witness, prophetic wisdom – is a plan to reach an increasingly secular culture.
And there is one more. Pray.
Josh Moody is the senior pastor of College Church, Wheaton, Illinois.