At that time Jesus said, “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight. All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
- Matthew 11:25-30
(Note: Beginning with this meditation, I am going to address different issues around Christianity, the church, and culture. Because of the complexity of the topics, the meditations will be longer, and they also will be more controversial. We are followers of the God that the world crucified, and therefore, truly Christian life and faith will be offensive to some, as well.)
We must choose. Isn’t that just the topic of the day…? Everybody needs to choose who to elect based upon the outcomes one thinks likely given the policies of the party elected. We are asked to choose between Biden and Trump, to choose between Democrat and Republican. None of these, however, is the choice about which I am writing today. Rather, I think the more urgent question for Christians – and here, I am speaking to Christians only, because if one is not a Christian, my comments will be meaningless or irrelevant – is whether we choose Christianity or the world. This may seem like an obvious no-brainer, but nothing could be further from the truth. The question is perhaps the most important choice contemporary Christians must make. Christianity or the world? What will it be?
Most Christians have straddled the fence on this for decades, possibly for several centuries. In the last fifty to sixty years, especially, we have witnessed the relentless rise of secularism which coincides, not surprisingly, with the diminishment of Christianity. Secular means ‘worldly, without religion, and rejection of the existence of the transcendent.’ Thus, secularism denies Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and any and all religious faiths. What makes this so tragic for Christians is that most of us are not even aware there is a choice to make. Throughout the church in America today, pretty much in every denomination, we hear secular wisdom dressed up in Christian language, giving us the illusion that Christianity is actually compatible with anti-religious convictions. Unintentionally, by accepting the knowledge and wisdom of our age, we often deny the very faith that we claim to believe.
In the weeks ahead, Servants’ Feast is planning to launch a new website, and the first new feature I hope to offer is a podcast series entitled, “You Have Heard It Said” borrowed from Jesus’ words in reference to Jewish teaching that “everyone knew” to be true in His day. The learned authorities of Jesus’ time – the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes – ordered nearly every aspect of daily Jewish life with their knowledge and wisdom, but they were wrong. In this same vein, I will take “everybody knows” topics, especially what our society’s learned authorities tell us, and compare that knowledge with biblical and traditional Christian teaching. Although I am aware that some will be offended (a cardinal sin for clergy), my hope is that it will provoke us to think seriously about how much worldly knowledge we accept at face value that, in reality, conflicts deeply with the Gospel. How Christian are we? Do we really want to be Christian if Christians are going to believe things that conflict with what “everybody knows”?
Secular thought cannot co-exist with religious belief because a godless perspective can never lead to God. The idea that God is the product of superstitious minds that lack knowledge of physical phenomenon (seasons or weather patterns or disease, for example) came into vogue with the rise in science and Enlightenment philosophy. With all this vast knowledge humans are attaining, such beliefs as resurrection from the dead, virgin birth, and the demonic were increasingly pushed to the periphery. Initially, secular culture made space for religious belief by granting that people can believe, so long as we keep our religion private and do not foist it upon others. This state of affairs is how most of us have lived our entire lives – in a secular (godless) culture with secular (godless) schools and secular (godless) values. The thing we have to decide is whether a godless way of thinking is correct, or if a Christian way of thinking is correct. Recently, after inquiring into – and receiving my response about – a profound, personal encounter with God, the millennial asked if that was therapeutic for me. Please understand, there was no ill-will in the question. But there also was simply no frame of reference for a transcendent, personal God Who breaks through the barriers of our finite existence in order to heal us, in this case, to heal me. Such an experience is nonsensical – as in, makes no sense – to an educated, intelligent young adult in America.
Jesus repeatedly told His disciples and the crowds that followed Him that this world does not understand truth and does not recognize Him. Indeed, in the passage above, Jesus explicitly says that mysteries of God are hidden from the wise and intelligent. Every time someone tells me, “So-and-so Intellectual said…”, I wonder whether “so-and-so Intellectual” knows God? Does that person spend time in the presence of Jesus Christ? If not, then “so-and-so Intellectual” probably does not know everything s/he claims to know. I would never say all worldly knowledge and wisdom are wrong. To the contrary, we know a great deal more than our ancestors. Likewise, our descendants will probably know a great deal more than we do – something almost none of us ever considers. But regardless of how vast and multi-faceted the breadth of human knowledge is or may become, knowledge apart from God is, at best, partial. And in the realm of ideas, whatever the world dreams up and classifies as wise almost certainly is not. For any godless explanation of human beings, meaning, purpose, value, and any other aspect of our living necessarily is wrong because it does not understand the creature in relationship to its Creator.
Do we remember the Garden in Genesis? What was the allure to rebellion? Was it not all knowledge apart from God? The essence of American education, from kindergarten to post-graduate studies, is the pursuit and dissemination of knowledge without reference to God at all. So entrenched is this ideology that godlessness even pervaded seminary, the place I first heard anyone explicitly say that no intelligent person in the twentieth century could possibly believe in the supernatural or the miraculous.
Secularism is the necessary foundation for progressivism, and this is especially what we need to understand. Progressivism begins with the assumption that there is no god, then turns and bows before the intelligentsia of the day. The more educated an intellectual, and the more insulated from the practical consequences of ideological commitments that intellectual is, then the more likely is the intellectual’s fame and scholastic adulation. At the same time, the intellectual’s ideas are less likely to be correct, much less useful. The policies of these superior intellects abound in our culture, subjecting everyone to unpracticed and unproven intellectual flights of fancy. These are the people who have relentlessly hammered home the idea that human beings have progressed far beyond the earliest, post-monkey beings, and have continued to progress through each succeeding generation until we’ve reached this glorious stage in which we now find ourselves, which is… on the brink chaos and anarchy. If that’s not progress, I don’t know what is… We’ve made it so far from our uncivilized, cave-dwelling ancestors who pillaged, burned, and murdered. Oh, wait… my mistake. That was last night’s news, not millennia ago when everyone believed all those silly, religious superstitions.
For all the advances of science, medicine, and technology that we enjoy, human beings quite obviously have not advanced at all.
The most a Christian can hope for in our political arena today is the freedom to live faithfully in our society. Christians should pray for the country and its leaders, irrespective of who the leader may be. But for the moment, the most for which we can hope in today’s political environment is to be allowed to live faithfully as Christians, to worship our God, and bear witness to Jesus Christ – without persecution in our society.
We make a mistake when we reassure ourselves that the Constitution’s Bill of Rights guarantees our freedom to worship. We need only to look at the censorship of free speech, which is also a right guaranteed in the First Amendment. Yet, we live in a “cancel” culture. If someone deems something we say offensive – and be assured, many think speaking of Jesus is offensive – you can cease to exist, be cancelled, in social media platforms, search engines, and public videos. More and more frequently, we hear of opinions being suppressed and voices of dissent being labeled as hate speech. The right to free speech was a mainstay and fundamental part of American life. However, today, the line that identifies hate speech draws increasingly closer to much of what Christians hold to be true and of what is biblical. Why would we think the First Amendment would defend Christian worship when it does not defend free speech? Additionally, we are inclined to think that, as long as a majority of people adhere to the tenets of free practice of religion and free speech, then all will be fine in the end. We need to look more closely at the French Revolution and the Bolshevik Revolution. In both cases, only a small minority of the intellectual elite were able to swing the populist surge for greater freedom and representation into horrific evils, all while claiming to be for the good of the people.
Christians cannot accept the claim that all politicians are the same. Neither can Christians believe any political system will truly make things right. That is not possible, although our nation’s forefathers came closest to the ideal when they provided individuals with the freedom to choose, a freedom we are close to losing. Most of all, Christians should neverbe deluded by the wise and intelligent in our world today, regardless of how often they tell us that they know best for us, for our planet, for our values and relationships, for anything. Knowledge apart from God may well be accurate knowledge (though it often is not), but it certainly is not sufficient knowledge.
As the vitriol intensifies and rioting, protesting, and threats increase, the church is largely irrelevant. When is the last time a public figure sought out the opinion of any religious leader? Really, since the death of Billy Graham, do we even have a religious leader who might be considered a national voice? Stop and reread Jesus’ words above. The existence of the life-giving, life-changing God may be hidden from the brilliant intellectuals, but it has been revealed to us, the infants, the defenseless. Jesus said He chooses those to whom He reveals Himself, followed by the sentence, “Come to Me all who labor and are heavy laden…” That applies across the board to all human beings. When we reach the point that the weight of the world bears down on us, bending us ever closer to the ground and suffocating us, we can find rest in Jesus Christ. So can everyone else… As always, those who are “full” of the world – with all the shiny toys and fleeting fame and fortune – are blinded to the riches of life and love that are poured out upon us. We can pray for others, and we should. We can and should be kind, compassionate, and caring. But what we cannot do is trust anyone who does not seek the face of God. Moreover, we need to look at our own lives, our own beliefs, and our own values to see whether we ourselves are truly seeking the face of God. There’s an awful lot of worldly knowledge moving through our churches these days, and worldly wisdom prevents us from knowing God.
You are safe in Christ. He offers rest for your soul and lifts the terrible burden of fixing the world, of making it right. We cannot. We can only be faithful and obedient as much as we are able. The less we compromise the truth of the Gospel with the wisdom and intelligence of the world, the more deeply we can enter into the mysteries of God and find rest and life.
This is my prayer for you.
In Christ –
Rev. Elizabeth Moreau
(Originally published 9/23/20)