It is often said, “History repeats itself.” I dislike that phrase because it’s often uttered with a degree of passivity that indicates this is just how things are and we bear no responsibility for it. That cliché finds a common place in our society because of the accuracy it conveys about our situation. Even today the expression finds verification when we examine the status of Christian churches.
Following the fall of the northern kingdom by the Assyrians in 722 BC, the existence of Judah continued as it was until it rebelled (c. 605BC). The rebellion against Babylon set up a series of crushing defeats and exile known as the Babylonian Captivity (c. 605BC – 536 BC). This captivity has come to be one of the definitive moments in the history of Israel.
Like the Babylonian Captivity of the 6th Century BC, professing Christians find themselves in captivity in this modern-era. The professing church has been taken captive by the culture and forced into making a choice: be submissive to the culture or be expelled from the culture. To be submissive to it is to compromise the very core of what know to be as right and true. To be expelled from it is to be dominated by attempted harshness and injustices.
Our culturally-created captivity can be rightly called ‘The American Captivity’ in which the culture of America attempts to define the church. There are three major characteristics of ‘The American Captivity’ that are distinctive from the Babylonian Captivity:
- It is culturally induced: Instead of allowing the Triune God and His Word to be the foundation of the church and the core of what we believe, it is the culture. The culture is allowed to influence our stance on sin, even telling us what is sinful and what is not. It has been allowed to change our worship based on the fads and preferences of the day. In fact, the culture is given the ability to redefine everything about Christianity including the church, the Bible, and even God.
- It is voluntarily induced: It is fascinating to learn that the captivity at this point in time is not necessarily coerced. Instead it has been voluntary. Churches and individuals assert greater truth is found in the confines of culture instead of the confines of Scripture. As such, many are adapting to the culture with little discernment or resistance.
- It is figuratively induced: It is important to note that the captivity of the American church is not literal. Unlike the deportation of the Jews for the 70 year captivity, professing believers are not being forced to leave everything they know behind. Instead they are allowed to remain, but with the knowledge that the cultural will continually attempt to force them adhere to the new cultural standards.
These three distinctive points come together to give us a clearer picture of the status of not just the church, but the hearts of people who so willingly compromise.
For those who are not so willing to compromise the Scripture and the very gospel it proclaims, they will notice two characteristics that mirror their predecessors:
- It seeks to supplant God’s people: The treatment of the Jews by Babylon gave limited freedom but under the aura of oppression. They were able to enjoy marriage and family. Correspondence with others was openly allowed. However, underneath that the Jews were forced into a life of servitude. It is similar today. Christians are allowed to practice their religion freely when it does not oppose the culture, yet when there is opposition, oppression by the culture prevails in order to force the church into a place of serving the culture’s wants.
- It seeks to supplant God: The Babylonians quickly destroyed all that the Jews stood for, including the temple in Jerusalem (2 Kings 25:8-9). In doing so they took away the Jews ability to obey God’s commands. As cultural ideals become predominant within the church, God’s ideals are forced to the side (and ultimately so is God).
These notions are built on pride that says, “I know better than God.” It is the same attitude that often forced the Jews to abandon God in the midst of this severe trial.
The difficulty in overthrowing the church’s cultural captors is that it requires a humble, honest, and accurate portrayal of the crisis. Such a crucial evaluation reveals the seriousness of our status. We have professing Christians whose best argument for a presidential candidate is his charisma not his convictions. Others offer a blanket approval of sin because after all, ‘love wins.’ Profanity laced pulpits are common because they bring a desirable level of pastoral celebrity. And God is proclaimed to be fallible because he made someone a man, but that man thinks he is a woman.
In light of what is taking place, it can be easy to despair. The current status has caused Christians to lament the condition of our society. However, God still reigns sovereign. Even the Exile proves God’s sovereignty in that he was clear in his orchestration of the events that took place and in the midst of it all he used prophets to proclaim a hope to the people (cf. Jeremiah 29:10-11).
The Lord has not left us without hope today. Paul warned Timothy of days like this (cf. 2 Timothy 4:1-4). In the midst of that he tells Timothy to stay the course and continue on, especially in the Word of the Lord. Believers are urged to stand firm in the faith (1 Corinthians 16:13; Philippians 4:1; 1 Peter 5:9). Furthermore, we find hope in the future that awaits in which Christ will transform us (Philippians 3:20-21). We stand firm now because of the future that awaits.
For many, this encouragement leaves them despairing because they are unsure how to proceed. To say to believers, ‘Stand firm’ is easy, but the application of such an exhortation can be missed. I would suggest to you that are response is found in the five solas:
- Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone): The Word of God contains the truth of God. As truth, anything that contradicts it must be put off.
- Sola Gratia (Grace Alone): We live under God’s grace. It is a grace the defines who we are and how we live. To live in any other way is man-created and man-centered.
- Sola Fide (Faith Alone): Our justification rests on the principle of by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. It is not imputed unto us by the culture. Therefor our faith rests not in the culture but in God.
- Solus Christus (Christ Alone): The very basis of our faith and salvation rest upon Christ alone. As Steve Lawson has said, “If you please him, it does not matter who you displease and if you displease him it does not matter who you please.”
- Soli Deo Gloria (Glory of God Alone): The glory of God drives all that we are and all that we do. The glory of God alone should supplant our desire for the pride of man alone.
We respond to the culture, we stand firm in the Lord Jesus Christ by living out the five solas brought forth to us by Martin Luther and cultivated further by many godly men who would follow. While certainly this is not an exhaustive list, it is a conclusive list. It captures the very foundation of who we are in the midst of a cultural captivity. The five solas force us to stand firm on principles of truth.
Certainly the issues we face today are not new. The church has always wrestled with the culture. We can expect that this trend will be repeated until Christ returns. However, we must recognize the responsibility we have to steward are own generation and the generation to follow.
Therefore, the culture must not be allowed to wreak havoc on our faith and hold us captive by conforming us to its ways. Instead, we must resist it by the transforming of our lives through the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). Let us be a living sacrifice for the glory of God by standing firm in Him.