Since its birth, the Christian faith has been a confrontational force to the social and cultural environments wherever it grows. To the norms of a fallen world, the values of the Christian faith are an oppositional standard, and tension between the two is inevitable. The world sees judgmental Christians but there is more to it than that.
In the faith’s first centuries of existence under Roman rule Christianity’s value for human life repulsed against the dominating order of sadistic disdain with which the powerful ruled over the weak throughout the empire. This was a time period when the mere command of a father could result in the death of a new born child. The practice was known as “exposing.” Infants were tossed out like trash, exposed to the elements to die alone if they failed to meet the desired physical standards of strength and preferred gender. In many Roman cities of the time Christians would rescue these infants and raise them as their own.
The sanctity of marriage and sexual purity contrasted against fertility cults that thrived throughout the ancient world. A specific design for family and familial roles as outlined in Biblical passages like Ephesians 5 and 6 elevated the quality of life for husbands, wives and children in accordance to a value system rooted in the Word of God rather than the cultural norms of might makes right.
In later centuries while many Christians wrongly used the Word of God to justify slavery many others tapped into the true values and principles of scripture to abolish the slave trade. The civil rights movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was inspired by scriptural values of respect for human life and dignity regardless of race or social class.
Light in a Dark World
Throughout the centuries, correct application to Biblical values and standards has increased the quality of life and enhanced the contrast between people of faith and the world around them. Christians recognize they are called to be the light of the world (Matt 5:14). As that light they are to establish and uphold a standard of correct living, thought, and impact toward the world in which they live. Their lives and lifestyles are often the line between the truth and the lie, light and absolute darkness.
Today much of that requirement for Christians to impact the world in which they live with the light of God is squelched under a false sense of guilt and fear. In a day when absolute rights and wrongs have been abandoned and replaced by moral relativism and permissiveness, those who hold to and proclaim a standard of right and wrong are seen as judgmental, harsh and even bigoted. These accusations derive not only from the surrounding world but have crept into the church itself as a pseudo feel-good misrepresentation of God’s of love.
Following is an example from one Christian blogger in 2015 addressing Christians who believe LGBT is wrong:
Jesus said.[sic] “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” He did not say the world will know you are my disciples by:
- Being homophobic
- Being judgmental
- Being hateful
- Being violent
- Condemning people
- Holding signs and picketing events and parades.
While many will say the love of Jesus looks like, “I love you too much to leave you the same.” The truth is, the love of Jesus looks like, “I love you” the end! If you never change, I love you. If you do change, I love you! If we could do anything that made God not love us, it would mean we are more powerful than He is, for He would have to completely deny himself in order to not love us. He is Love and He loves us all!
The problem with this perspective is not only that it is wrong but it neutralizes the role and purpose of Christians toward the world around them. True, we are called to love but love and permissiveness are not synonymous. This blogger has misidentified a worldly perspective of tolerance and acceptance for the love of God and our love for one another.
Imagine if Christians had not challenged the status quo of the ancient world. “I love you and I won’t stand against a standard by which infants are left in the elements to die because they don’t meet your required breeding goals.” What if Christians had failed to speak up against slavery or in support of civil rights? This is unimaginable because it is so alien to the gospel and expectations of a Biblical standard. In those time periods however, a Christian standard of opposition to these social norms was unpopular and unwelcomed.
The true love of Christ depicted in the gospels is full of both empowerment and judgment.
Jesus forgave the woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8) but he also judged her. After all her accusers departed He asked, “Where are those who accuse you? Did no one condemn you?” She answered in the negative to which He replied, “Then neither do I.” That is where many stop reading the story. The next words are important though. “Go and sin no more.” In that final statement He judged that she did indeed sin and that she should change her behavior and sin no more. He wanted her to sin no more not because He was holding a bigoted standard against her but because He wanted her to be free of the shame, guilt and dysfunctional lifestyle she had previously succumbed to.
Many verses throughout the New Testament inform us that Christians are expected to judge. Even the famous “judge not lest ye be judged” from Matthew 7 is followed with the less famous criteria for how correct judgment ought to occur among the followers of Christ. “First get the plank out of your own eye, then you will see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
Christians, far from refraining from judgment are expected and required to judge with a discernment that is not of this worldly system (John 7:24). In doing this they provoke the world around them to a higher standard. This is exactly what occurred in the early church and what has repeatedly occurred in the many centuries since. This is a portion of what being the light of the world means. We make the world brighter with insight and wisdom that is higher than the norms and standards of the culture we inhabit. When we judge correctly, the world changes. The lives of people are made better. It may not be warm and fuzzy and feel good, but the lives of people are improved by correct judgment.
It may be helpful to recognize that the word “sin” in scripture literally translates to “missing the mark.” When we judge something as sinful we are not merely degrading the sinful person as useless and wicked. We are recognizing their lifestyle and errors are enforcing a pathway which will keep them from the peace, happiness and fulfillment which we all seek. It is such a destination that God wants for all of us. It is not attainable by independent standards alone however. There is a right way and there is a wrong way. The difference between the two is recognized in judgment. Therefore, believers can look around and judge that a lot of things are sinful, contrary to the standards and values of God and destined to end in misery for those misled by the darkness.
Being the Light
I have previously noted how the boundaries between right and wrong have become blurred and obscured in our generation. This lack of perspective to recognize clear differences between right and wrong is evidence of growing darkness in the world. We can see this in everything from the LGBT advance to the current presidential campaign and much more in between. The failure to discern between right and wrong is not a sign of greater openness in our society but of impending peril. It is a sign that the light of the world is not shining as it should and darkness is growing in its influence.
The British Parliamentarian Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Christians must hold the line of righteous standards in the earth. To allow the ways of the world, the ways of darkness, deception and confusion to go uncontested may be easier in the moment but in the end the darkness triumphs.
Note also the difference between judgment and condemnation. Many mistake these two. Condemnation allows no pathway for redemption and restoration. Judgment separates what is wrong from what is right and gives those in the wrong an opportunity to change. Many fundamentalists and well intentioned Christians among others in history have crossed these lines by seeking to enforce the standards of righteousness upon society. This does not usually end well. The light shines in the darkness when people see it and are given the opportunity to willingly embrace it.
Another way of looking at this is to realize that as Christians we are not required to enforce the light of God all over the planet. We are required to be the light. This suggests there will be times when we recognize, honor and proclaim the truth but it will not be accepted.
(John 1:5 The light shines in the darkness yet the darkness did not comprehend it.)
This is not a sign of our failure. We stand as the light of God in the earth and ultimately the city on a hill will not be hidden. The battle belongs to God.
We inhabit times of growing darkness in the earth. We can recognize it by both the rampant wickedness but also the foolishness and confusion that surrounds us. The state to which our national political system has fallen (no matter who you support) is ample evidence of this. This is a time when the light must shine. It is a time when believers should not live in fear or confusion but no the truth and wisely and boldly proclaim it.
It is a time where our homes should be full of judgment so that our children are not baited by the confusion, fear and deception of the darkness of our culture. This means boldly, explicitly and confidently explaining to them the standards being paraded before them in society, the media and perhaps even by their friends is wrong because it is in violation to the Biblical standards of God.
We, as Christians, as the light of the world, must Hold. The. Line.