When to change and when to change the culture

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When to change and when to change the culture

May 16, 2012 - Jim Denison, PhD

A gay rights flag with the United States blue field of white stars on it at a 2008 protest in San Francisco (Credit: Martin Eno via Flickr)

In 1996, 27 percent of Americans favored same-sex marriages.  Now, 42 percent favor them.  In 1968, 20 percent of Americans favored interracial marriage; by 2011, the number had risen to 86 percent.

Should churches change their moral positions as the culture changes?  In other words, should the church be a thermometer or a thermostat?  The first reflects its environment; the second changes it.

Paul quoted the Hebrew Bible to Hebrews and Greek philosophers to Greeks.  He said of his ministry, “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22).  Then he explained why: “I do all this for the sake of the gospel” (v. 23).  His methods changed, but his message did not.

Churches sometimes take positions based on internal or external culture; prohibitions against dancing, moderate drinking, or interracial marriage come to mind.  They sometimes take positions based on unchanging biblical principles; murder, adultery, and theft come to mind.  The challenge is knowing which is which.

When Christians determine that Scripture requires a particular moral stand, they should not adapt that position to changing cultural whims.  For instance, after an intensive study of both the Old and New Testaments, I have concluded that homosexual activity is prohibited by the Bible.  I also believe that homosexuality is not the unpardonable sin and that gay people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.  All three positions are based on the teachings of Scripture, not the latest polls.

Once we determine unchanging biblical truth, our job is not to defend truth from culture but to engage culture with truth.  By “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15), our words and witness are used by the Spirit as spiritual salt and light in a fallen world desperate for both (Matthew 5:13-16).

One Galilean and eleven apostles sparked the mightiest movement in human history, with more than two billion followers today.  It doesn’t take much salt or light to change the environment, or the culture.  What could God do with your influence today?

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from the ESV®️ Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®️), copyright ©️ 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The ESV text may not be quoted in any publication made available to the public by a Creative Commons license. The ESV may not be translated in whole or in part into any other language.

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