Here’s a concern that seems to resonate in many Churches.
- The older feel that younger leaders won’t “put on the uniform” of evangelical courage to protect our children in the culture wars.
- The younger feel that those older leaders will not humble themselves enough to understand either their children or their cultural realities.
“What often separates the generations by their dominant cultural experience can also separate segments of our church. Those whose main concern is cultural erosion perceive their dominant mission to be protecting the church culture they love and believe is biblical. These genuinely feel the need to combat those inside and outside their immediate church culture who threaten its continuity.
In contrast, there are those whose main concern is cultural impotence; these are also divided into two major subgroups whose main concern is either spiritual conversion or cultural transformation. Despite these differences, both subgroups share the concern that the world has changed, left the church on its own minority island, and death to the church will not come by doctrinal or societal erosion but by sectarian introspection and intramural controversy.
It is important that both main groups understand that the other’s concern is biblical and genuine. We must learn to work for common ends across relational boundaries, loving one another in Christ, believing that the biblical concerns each expresses are genuine, and dealing with one another in integrity even when differences are acute.
If we do not see pluralism for the enemy it is, then we will not make appropriate alliances, link arms for necessary purposes, or allocate resources for the greater ends required.
We should realize the relational boundaries will likely continue to be defined by doctrinal wrinkles that always create intramural debates in a largely homogenous minority culture. In addition, differences over how to respond to the majority culture’s challenges — particularly related to gender and sexuality — will be seen very differently by those whose views are shaped by either erosion or impotence concerns. I anticipate that social changes challenging our family, gender, and lifestyle traditions will threaten to divide our church for the rest of our lifetimes.
United by a Greater Enemy
What has the possibility to unite us is the recognition that there is a greater enemy on the horizon. The issue that dwarfs our doctrinal squabbles and our persistent concern of how to treat issues of sexuality and gender is the issue of pluralism. Nothing comes close to that issue in being a challenge to our church’s future. The social stigma that is already attached to us for claiming that “Jesus is the only way” will be magnified many times for our children in a society increasingly willing to identify minority opinions as “bigotry” and “hate speech.” Pluralism will threaten not simply our orthodoxy, but the willingness of many to remain in this church.
If we do not see pluralism for the enemy it is, then we will not make appropriate alliances, link arms for necessary purposes, or allocate resources and align priorities for the greater ends required. If we do not recognize how seductive pluralism will be for all of us (and all we love) with its promises of societal approval and acceptance, then we will not embrace the means, manner, and message that will communicate the true beauty of grace that is the power of the Gospel.
Without clear identification of the external enemy’s magnitude, the dynamics of a largely homogenous social and doctrinal association will only make us less patient with our differences. We will also become increasingly insensitive to how much we need one another to maintain a voice for Christ in an increasingly pluralistic culture.
Right now our eyes are not focused on pluralism as our greatest enemy. We are more focused on what others in our ranks are doing or not doing. Debates about charismatic gifts are unlikely to divide us. Discussions about the role of women will continue to marginalize us but probably will not break us. Dealing with changing sexual mores may drive our youth away but will probably not divide us. All these issues are secondary to the challenges of pluralism.
Increasingly it will become unacceptable in this culture to say that Jesus is our only hope. Yet saying this against ridicule, isolation, and persecution will drive us to our fundamentals, to each other, and to our God. This great battle is likely to help us work past our doctrinal differences as we join hearts and minds in the struggle to survive.
Unquestionably, the great battle will cool some of the theological experimentation that times of ease can stimulate. At the same time, the great battle will force us to find new ways to show the beauty of God’s grace to the watching world. By the Spirit, the great battle will lead to new levels of graciousness to each other and dependence upon the grace of our Savior. The need of the hour is to believe the realities of this great battle are real, serious, and near; and that grace and truth are the power of our fight.”
by Bryan Chapell, senior pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Peoria, Illinois.