The recent decision of Azusa Pacific University to again reverse an earlier decision on same-sex relationships on campus, reviewed by an article earlier this week, clearly points to the need for contemporary Christians to understand that in the world we live, that there are costs to discipleship, and to know in advance how we will respond to them. It is possible to set such events aside, since they do not immediately affect one’s life, and go on as if it didn’t happen. That would be folly, and really, unfaithful.
For that indeterminate mass of religious Americans who go under the label “Evangelical,” this identity began in the early twentieth century, when many of the major Protestant denominations, what became known as “mainline,” ceased to enforce doctrinal orthodoxy. The loss of Princeton Theological Seminary in the late 1920s is commonly regarded as the signal event. The response of orthodox Christians in these denominations was in some cases to leave, but more broadly to establish a Christian subculture of liberal arts colleges, Bible colleges, mission agencies, youth ministries, publishing houses, and religious broadcasting. It was within this subculture that Christian life was lived.
Things became less secure in the 1960s, as the wider culture and its laws and policies moved away from a broadly Christian basis and toward one based on self-fulfillment and quality of life. The school prayer decision of 1962 might be regarded as the signal event here, and particularly its underlying justification of not giving offense to unbelievers. (“Established religion” was found to foster “hatred, disrespect and even contempt of those who held contrary beliefs”). The common thread of the offensiveness of traditional Christian doctrine and morality runs through all the contemporary legal and social pressure against the practice of orthodox Christianity, and all the political and legal losses since then. After this mid-twentieth century change, Evangelical primary and secondary schools became more common, and homeschooling appeared.
At the present time, the very existence of Christian doctrine and morality in its traditional, pre-Enlightenment forms is the real issue in the fierce culture war, and the Left proposes to destroy the Christian subculture with anti-discrimination law and policy. Whether the Left will have the power to do this remains to be seen. The crucial linchpin of the cultural revolution, the homosexual revolution, was achieved largely by court order. But with cultural trends directed by the entertainment industry, a radical academy, and the leftist news media, the post-1960s generations are increasingly socially and politically leftist. They may well accept and enact into law provisions that make it impossible for Christians to live in obedience to God in their personal and corporate lives. Since Christian commitment to obey God cannot change with public opinion, it is imperative that there be no compromise which involves complicity with sin.
Under pressure, some traditional Christian believers and institutions are accommodating sinful behavior. Some examples of this include Azusa Pacific University, Trinity Western University (which dropped its requirement of chastity for students under pressure from professional associations and the Canadian Supreme Court), Pepperdine University (which dropped its Title IX exemption from sex discrimination requirements, thus opening itself to same-sex and transgender claims), Grand Canyon University (which recently began providing benefits for same sex couples, under ACLU pressure), specifically Christian dating sites (required to facilitate same-sex relationships), and perhaps most well known, adoption agencies (required to provide children for same sex couples, resulting in their closure or secularization).
This kind of compromise, or in the cases of Christian dating sites and secularized adoption agencies, simple surrender, indicates that the Christian subculture is slowly being destroyed under pressure. Leftists clearly hope that, in the case of people still faithful to traditional Christianity, a slow, sluggish acceptance of sinful behavior will make it acceptable and irreversible. An individual’s own viewpoint may change when one is desensitized to sin by constant exposure and compromise. Substantial numbers of people from Christian homes and churches who grow up in the present environment can reasonably be expected demand changes in Christian doctrine and morality to accept both the sexual revolution and an inclusive, or even universalist, understanding of salvation. This clearly shows the two big issues, namely sex and hell – and behind them, the ultimate theological issue of obedience to a personal God – where the liberal/left finds traditional Christianity offensive and intolerable.
It is imperative then, that faithful Christians not be complicit in sin, although it means loss of opportunities, jobs, property, or friends. The difficult and insidious problem, that will work against long term faithfulness, is knowing when an accommodation to the world we find ourselves in becomes sinful. Beyond that, a disciple of Christ cannot go. Short of that will be the world in which faithful Christians can live, perhaps very much reduced in opportunity and income.
Two examples should show how Christian institutions responded to intense pressure. In the second half of the twentieth century, it was thought by some Christian schools that to carry forward the Biblical idea of male headship of the home and family responsibility, men should receive higher pay than women for the same work. This is not legally possible, even for a Christian institution. Hence Christian schools follow the rule of “equal pay for equal work.” Different pay rates for different sexes are not required by Scripture, and doubtless many Christians today would not believe they are desirable. So a state requirement forbidding a practice justified from the Bible can be complied with, because it does not involve sin. Much more questionable is last year’s decision of Trinity Western University in Canada to no longer require Christian sexual morality of its student body. To do this, the university seems to have redefined itself from a covenanted Christian community to a Christian ministry (since Christian doctrine and morality continues to be required of the faculty). The real problem here is that in the ongoing life of the university, it will still be understood as a Christian institution functioning in the Evangelical world. The faithfulness of that world is thereby diminished, and demands for more compromise likely to result. And it likely will be (wrongly) pointed to as an example of how to be “Christian” or even “Evangelical” while tolerating sin.
Perhaps this will be an easier question for individuals. Is one directly facilitating sin, as one is clearly doing by designing a homosexual wedding, assisting in an abortion procedure, publishing literature condemnatory of Christian faith or morals, or participating in a “Christian” organization which has come to tolerate or even advocate sin (II Cor. 6:17)? These activities clearly cause one’s neighbor to stumble (Matt. 18:7), and thus are sins in themselves. On the other hand, we are to live in the world but not of it (Jn. 17:14-15). Thus Christians accept employment with secular organizations that are not committed to obeying God, and might patronize stores offering some goods that facilitate sin (e.g., a drug store selling the Plan B abortifacient).
For a professedly Christian organization, it may not be possible to continue to exist as such. Christian adoption agencies are perhaps the most striking example. Faced with an absolute requirement to provide children to same-sex couples, some have closed; others have redefined themselves as secular. But providing goods and services that facilitate sin, or tolerating sin in the lives of what is supposed to be a community of Christians, is simply contrary to Scripture, and thus disobedience to God.
The intensifying time of trail shows no signs of abating, and signs of getting much worse, as recent articles by this writer on the Equality Act and the multipurpose “dignitarian harm” concept make clear. But here we need to realize that God and his truth do not change, and our commitment to God should not change, nor should our enthusiasm at being Christ’s disciples in a dark world. It may be necessary to live as an underclass for many years. But we know that nothing happens apart from the will of God, and we have absolute assurance is that he will be victorious in the end.Google+