Conscience

21 ARTICLES IN THIS TOPIC


The Danger of Incrementalism

June 19, 2017

The Danger of Incrementalism

The continuing legal and cultural assault against liberty of conscience, which is occurring in both the public and private worlds, will continue into the indefinite future, and will require a long term perseverance to remain faithful as disciples of Christ. One phase of this assault, against liberty of conscience for individuals in business and the professions, has not gone well. With the notable exception of the case of the Hands on Originals printer in Kentucky, which prominently involved freedom of expression, courts have not upheld liberty of conscience against homosexuality. On the other hand, the longstanding Church Amendment, the lack of any commonly recognized connection with the claims of a minority, and the direction of public opinion, make liberty of conscience against abortion more secure. But only in the second Obama Administration has there been serious and intense conflict about the next phase of the struggle over Christian morality, liberty of conscience for organizations, especially Christian organizations.

Defending liberty of conscience for both individuals and institutions will only make sense, both to Christians, and to the wider world, if there is a substantial Christian life to be defended. And this means that Christians must maintain a Biblical and historic defense of separation from the world. Included in this separation is the need to avoid contributing to others’ sin (Matt. 18:7), maintaining one’s own separation from the world and its sin (II Cor. 6:16-17:1), and not loving the sin in the world (I Jn. 2:15-17).

The imperative of resisting worldliness was well made at the L’Abri conference this past February by Hans Madueme of Covenant College, discussing the pervasiveness of worldliness among Christians, and especially on Christian campuses. His presentation, impactful as it was, needs to be considered in conjunction with the tremendous legal and social pressure to conform to the world. Highlights of that pressure will be reviewed before turning to his comments.

That Christian organizations face increasing and tremendous pressure to accommodate sin was discussed by this writer in an earlier article concerning Christian institutions in mid-2014. The most critical issue involved is maintaining morality codes which include sexual morality. This has been attacked with threats to accreditation (for educational institutions), tax exemptions, refusal to hire graduates, and (most recently in California), an ability to sue Christian educational institutions where Christian sexual morality is enforced, which, of course, is really a requirement that sexual morality codes be given up, or a simple prohibition against them.

While there continues to be substantial resistance to seriously compromising fidelity to Christian morality, there is a measure of compromise at some institutions, and a reticence to clearly state standards that offend the new morality of the wider society, which has accepted or acquiesced in the sexual revolution. At one end of the spectrum, Eastern Mennonite University, having resisted hiring and retaining homosexual faculty for a decade, eventually suspended, and then abandoned its policy. This precipitated a conflict with the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), from which EMU and its sister Mennonite school, Goshen College, then withdrew. An Atlantic article concerning the withdrawal, typical of the mainstream media, scorned the difference between homosexual inclination and behavior, essentially holding discrimination against behavior to be discrimination against people, and discussed the visibility and activity of LGBT individuals and groups on Christian campuses. It highlighted in this connection that Baylor University had ended its policy against homosexual acts, although in fact while the university removed explicit reference to specific sexual acts (including homosexual acts), the university now requires “physical intimacy” to be reserved for marriage between one man and one woman, as defined by the Baptist Faith and Message. In a document referred to in the previous link, Baylor stated its policy did not waive its exemption from Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (prohibiting sexual discrimination, now being used to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity). However, Pepperdine University in California has done just that, leaving it in a dubious position should it wish to enforce Christian standards of sexual behavior.

Other skirmishes, any one of which would have devastating consequences should a Christian institution be required to violate its understanding of Christian faith and morals, have occurred in recent years. What is noticeable is the reluctance to robustly defend Christian morality when attacked, and find policy which does not seem overtly offensive to the new morality while still holding to Christian morality, an impossible prospect, since activists will attack any real effort to defend Christian sexual standards. Belmont University in Tennessee, which, as LifeSiteNews.com noted a number of years ago, broke with the Southern Baptist Convention and “is now considered a left-leaning university,” fired a lesbian coach, while denying that homosexuality was an issue in the dismissal. Later, the university sanctioned a homosexual group on campus after twice denying it recognition. This followed an “ongoing campus dialogue” after the firing which resulted in “sexual orientation” being added to school antidiscrimination policy.

While some Christian institutions continue to maintain a strong commitment to Christian morality – a markedly hostile College Times article from the same period of time (2010) as noted in the stories concerning Belmont University found a strict morality typical of the early twentieth century at ten schools – the decline in the commitment of the American public to Christian morality reported this year by the Gallup Poll is reflected in a similar decline in the commitment of the Evangelical public to Christian morality, according to a 2016 study by LifeWay Research. This study found that only 52% of self-identified Evangelicals considered sex acts outside of marriage to be sinful, a dramatic change from the past. The report, which was focused on doctrine rather than practice, also found, in its statistics on Evangelicals, considerable misunderstanding or dissent from traditional Christian teachings, with majorities of Evangelicals holding that Jesus is fully divine and fully human (orthodox), and the first and greatest created being (heresy).

It is in light of the foregoing dissolution of the Christian subculture, pressured from without and collapsing from within, that we should consider Professor Madueme’s comments about the increasing acceptance of worldliness among Christians. He said we should not be interested “in the kind of fear that leads to despair of cowardice … I want us to arrive at the fear of the Lord … a holy fear that compels us to run into the arms of our Father.”

Referring to the observations of social commentator Neil Gabler, Madueme pointed out that entertainment has come to dominate North American culture, causing a changed perception of reality. People now want drama in their lives, Madueme maintained, because tension and drama are essential to the world of entertainment. Life dominated by contemporary entertainment amounts to “a kind of worldly discipleship, we end up living in a fake story.” He said that as far as the Christian collegiate environment is concerned, there is much to be encouraged about, much real discipleship, but there is also “psychological and emotional turmoils” present on campus. But beyond this, there is for some students at Christian institutions “a real shift in the moral texture, the moral assumptions of life.” This includes “flaunting behavioral norms as if that’s no big deal, sexual experimentation and crass language, toilet humor, porn use is almost accepted now.” What is in fact happening with these students, Madueme said, is that they are coming to accept what Christians have historically regarded as “worldliness.” Even though this word and concept have “fallen out of use … we should resurrect it.”

Madueme said that worldliness involves “the values that we imbibe from our culture, the air that we breathe, the assumptions, those unspoken categories and instincts that marginalize God and his Word in our lives.” He quoted theologian David Wells as saying that worldliness “makes sin look normal, and righteousness seem strange.” He believes that many students at Christian colleges are being “conformed to the anti-Christian sensibilities of our culture.” The increasing acceptance of worldliness can also be seen in older generations, Madueme maintained.

This, he said, is in striking contrast with past generations of Protestants from the seventeenth century until recent decades. Classical Protestantism eschewed sensual indulgence in such activities as excessive food (gluttony), drink, dancing, idle talk, foolish banter, often rejecting card playing, dramatic performances, insisting on Sabbath keeping, always rejecting sexual immorality and even insisting that marital passion be “moderate.”

This began to dramatically change after the 1960s, with many of these activities no longer considered sinful in themselves, but only in excess. Sexual prohibitions have held, but even here there is a softening of attitude, with the traditional condemnation of homosexuality in particular considered by many to be “implausible” and offensive.

Madueme proposed that rather than laughing at the old moral codes of Christian colleges, we consider that their strict morality might inform, if not dictate, a better moral life for Christians today, when many Christians, both young and old, have become “flabby, weak, timid, oblivious to the spiritual warfare.” The problem of North American Christians today is “assimilation and conformity, and that starts looking very much like worldliness.”

In attempting to restore godliness to the contemporary Christian community, Madueme said that the explicit statements of the Bible transcend cultures and are binding; where the Bible is silent, there can be discretion. Consequently, traditional Christian sexual morality, at least insofar as it pertains to activity outside the natural marriage of man and woman, is binding for Christians today and at all times, whereas many other forms of entertainment and activities traditional Christians rejected as worldly, such as card playing or dancing, cannot be held to be always wrong. Nevertheless, entertainment which panders to sensual desires should be questioned, and the witness of earlier generations of Christians taken very seriously, Madueme said, because “worldliness distracts you from God.”

Breakout of some of the Biblical passages in the link above is in order for emphasis:

From the words of Jesus (Mk. 7:21-23): For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.

Rm. 13:13: Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.

II Cor. 12:21: I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practiced.

Eph. 4:19: They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.

Madueme referred to the Canadian Christian writer Craig Gay, who has called worldliness “practical atheism.” This means “we practically live our lives as if God doesn’t exist.” Madueme also said in another extended quote “it might seem an extreme assertion at first, but I believe the challenge of living with popular culture may well be as serious for modern Christians as persecution and plagues were for the saints of earlier centuries … enemies that come loudly and visibly are usually much easier to fight … but the erosion of character, the spoiling of innocent pleasures, and the cheapening of life itself that often accompanied modern popular culture can occur so subtly that we believe nothing has happened. Christian concern about popular culture should be as much about the sensibilities that it encourages as about its content.”

Simply following and enforcing rules against various forms of worldliness is “moralism,” Madueme said, not a true Christian life. Worldliness cannot be overcome by moral effort, he said, but by the love of God. We need “a new affection.” The “new affection” resulting from the new birth means that “my life can never be the same again.” The way we maintain this new affection is, Madueme quoted Sinclair Ferguson, “the way we first discovered it” (by the love of God). Doing this, Madueme said, Christians should “keep the gospel promises first in your hearts, and keep fighting against worldliness.”

Madueme said that the application of holiness to our lives should apply especially to leisure time and discretionary time. He proposed that we consider that “holiness is the new cool … holiness is subversive of the secular plausibility structures that are so toxic to faith.”

Some specifics for fighting worldliness, Madueme said, are regular participation in a worshipping Christian community, prayer, Bible reading, and reading of “cultural commentators and critics who help us discern the times that we are in.” Finally, he recommended reduced participation or no participation in social media.

Faithful Christian believers today are considering different “options” to live for the long term in today’s culture, which is hostile to Christian faith and morals. We have the Benedict Option, the Augustine Option, the Marian Option, and perhaps more. But whatever option we choose, we are not disciples of Christ if we deviate from the clear words of Scripture in our faith and practice in all of life. That incremental deviation is not so slowly, and surely occurring in our homes, schools, and churches. We do not need to be able to say exactly where the kingdom of God ends and worldliness begins to recognize worldliness from the words of Scripture and exclude it from our personal and corporate Christian lives. Then, we can reasonably maintain to the wider world that we have a Christian life to protect, and hold to our standards regardless of the penalty.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *