We have decided that whatever the cost we are going to follow Christ in the midst of an unbelieving and increasingly intolerant society. How do we go about being part of God’s Awkward Squad? We Christian dissenters begin with ourselves.
Get In Training Recognise that we are in this for the long haul. Unless the Lord intervenes drastically, change in society will not come overnight but is going to take decades. We work for the world in which our children and grandchildren will live. Any athlete wishing to succeed in a marathon trains hard for the event. To be useful in facing an unbelieving and increasingly belligerent world, training in God-honouring living (I Timothy 4:7f) is essential.
Engaging in the big battles with society requires first of all fighting the little battles within ourselves. When under pressure to conform to the mores of society, we need the fortitude of faith built up over the days, weeks, months and years of patient determination not to weaken in the face of our own temptations. Our personal internal battle lays the base we stand on as we engage in the external battle with the culture around us.
Align With The Word We do this by consciously aligning our lives with the Word of God. The Scriptures, the very words ‘breathed out’ by God, are our supreme rule in faith and life. Only by aligning our lives with the Bible do we become ‘thoroughly equipped for every good work’ (II Timothy 3:14-17).
Normally we associate this passage with our moral behaviour, the avoidance of personal sin and knowing how to help others. But it applies to every aspect of life, including our interaction with the cultural forces confronting us.
Putting the Word into practice is not easy, but nothing essential ever is. Living out the Ten Commandments means not bearing false witness and calling a man a woman or a woman a man. If we fail to affirm Genesis 1:27 and Exodus 20:16 before our friends, how will we be able to affirm the rest of Scripture before the world? There are no ‘safe spaces’.
Reject Excuses Sometimes the intolerance we face is subtle, sometimes explicit, but any Christian living by the Great Commission will be in the cross-hairs of a spiritual battle (Ephesians 6:12). If we are to resist the insidious but powerful influence of the world we have to hold ourselves to the highest standards (Colossians 3:8-10). Stop giving ourselves excuses for failing to live wholeheartedly as God’s people; reject the evasions of everyday life.
Our personal battles have an impact on those around us. Few of us are likely to have mass audiences but we are surrounded by important audiences: our families, friends, workmates and neighbours. Those who know us discern the truth of our lives when we don’t measure up personally to what we ask of others. The witness of some prominent Christian leaders has been marred by the eventual revelation of what goes on behind the scenes in their lives.
What We Take In ‘We are what we consume’ is more than a mantra for vegetarians: it applies to the mind as well. We need to ask questions of the media and train ourselves to discern and reject what is false, untrue and dangerous wherever we encounter it (Ephesians 5:8-10).
We don’t automatically accept the interpretations of events and statements of politicians, celebrities, newsreaders, or anything produced by the media. Instead we test the spirits (I John 4:1).
Everyone who says anything has his or her own agenda, biases and blind spots. Never stick to one source of information or news – find multiple sources for the same story. Read and watch widely, not just that which confirms our own biases. We are our own fact-checkers.
We must train ourselves to question even those whom we support. Never go along with the crowd, no matter how awkward it may be for us. Whenever someone says ‘Everybody knows that . . .’ then remember that ‘everybody’ is often wrong. As Christian philosopher E J Carnell taught us, ‘You don’t find truth by counting noses.’
Question the Church Christians have standards when consuming the media. Difficult as it is, we try to avoid television programmes or films which promote sex, violence, swearing and behaviour involving ungodliness and a false interpretation of reality.
This perceptiveness also applies to the church. We must be discerning about what we hear from the pulpit and denominational committees and publications. Too many churches are like those ‘vegetarians’ who eat chicken and fish and will scoff a bit of bacon when no one is looking.
We can too easily find ourselves maintaining and strengthening churches which dilute or distort the witness. Liberal, humanistic, man-centred preaching harms our own lives as well as the church as a whole. Amongst Evangelicals the prosperity gospel and the Emergent Church can be every bit as harmful.
We should reject bad theology and stop supporting congregations and denominations which don’t preach, teach and uphold the inerrant Scripture. This can be a difficult step to take and will likely incur personal and emotional cost, yet if we are serious about our concern for the future of Christian witness it is necessary.
Important as it is for us today, it will be even more important in the future to be part of a fellowship where we are fed on the undiluted Word without additions and deletions. It is indispensable to be part of a fellowship where we are strengthened in our faith and where we can serve confident of those around us. We will never find the perfect church this side of heaven, but some churches are healthier than others.
Daily discipleship is for every faithful Christian, not the exceptional few; all are called to deny self and follow Christ (Luke 9:23). Conscious active discipleship is an expectation not an option, an essential for the life of the Christian dissenter.