Why We Shouldn't Let the World Set Our Agenda
by John Lancaster
Republished by CWM with written permission
The Bible is sometimes an uncomfortable book. You read it as part of your devotions, quietly enjoying its stories and being blessed by its inspired words, and then, suddenly, it points its finger at you! It happened to me recently. Reading through the second book of Kings, I was fascinated by the story of the visit by King Ahaz to Damascus for an “international summit” with the Assyrian king, Tiglath-Pileser (2 Kings 16). The location and occasion sounded so much like the politics of our own day—it was a good read.
What followed was even more interesting; in Damascus, Ahaz saw a pagan altar which so impressed him that he had drawings of it sent to Jerusalem, with orders for a replica of it to be made in order to replace Solomon’s great altar in the Temple. That set me thinking; how could Ahaz replace a Holy Spirit designed altar (see 1Chronicles 28:11-19) with a pagan one? Surely that was copying the world.
It was at that point that the Bible pointed its finger at me! It seemed to say, “Isn’t the modern church in danger of doing the same thing?
Isn’t much of her life influenced by ‘contemporary culture’ causing her to adjust her theology, her methods and her lifestyle in order to meet the ‘challenges’ of the present age?”
Take for instance, the “altar” of the cross (c/f Galatians 5:11). In some quarters of evangelical thinking, the old biblical altar of substitutionary atonement has been replaced with a new one which copies the more attractive designs created by post-modern insights. The uncompromising lines of the old altar with its emphasis on the sinfulness of sin, the unutterable holiness of God, the certainty of judgement and the need for propitiation and repentance, have been replaced by the softer, more rounded shape of the new one. This new altar manages to remove some of the “offence of the cross” by offering a revised version of Christ’s atonement which is more acceptable to modern sensibilities.
The word “contemporary” is a powerful one; it affects the way we “do church”, the way we worship, the way we communicate the gospel, the way we counsel people and the values that determine our lifestyle. The slogan “The church must move with the times”, is equally powerful; but while it contains elements of truth it also contains subtle seeds of compromise.
The church is called to challenge the culture, not conform to it. That is why Paul says “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world”(Romans 12:2); and why John writes, “Do not love the world or anything in the world… For everything in the world: the cravings of sinful people, the lust of their eyes and their boasting about what they have and do, comes not from the Father…” (1 John 2:15-16). In other words, don’t let the world set the agenda.
When preaching replaces careful exposition of the Word of God with popular sound-bites (2Timothy 4:2-4)..., when worship is more like a rock concert than the robust, God-centred praise of the Psalms and Revelation..., when counselling methods are more influenced by some of the dubious techniques of popular psychology than by biblical principles..., when leadership styles seem to turn pastors into business managers rather than Spirit-anointed ministers..., when churches seem more like religious factories urgently working to meet customer demand rather than seeking to be what Jesus said it should be: “my Father’s house, … a house of prayer” (Matthew 21:13, Mark 11:17, Luke 19:46, cf. Isaiah 56:7), and when our personal values reflect the aspirations of the consumer society in which we live rather than seeking first the Kingdom of God... then we have allowed the world to set the agenda.
If the above descriptions match our experience, then we have replaced the Spirit-designed, biblical altar for a pagan one, and we will fare no better than Ahaz. Our road to Damascus has led us in the wrong direction and we had better turn back, for “anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God” (James 4:4).
Perhaps we need to have a fresh look at our ‘altars’.
About the Author:
John Lancaster is a respected senior minister with over fifty years experience in the Elim Church of the UK. This article was originally published in Direction Magazine (November 2006), journal of the Elim Pentecostal Churches.