Thursday, June 01, 2006

Decision-Making: Culture or Scripture?

Every day we are faced with decisions...some trivial, some large, and occasionally some that are huge. In the long term, we are faced with the bigger decision of how to organize our individual lives. In what direction should we as individuals and as families go?

Often the answer to the above questions is a non-answer: we simply do that which we are used to doing because that is what our friends and our culture expect and do. Those of us who identify ourselves as "Evangelicals" often do not even realize there is an "Evangelical Culture" in which we swim. As in a previous post...we don't know we are "wet." Unfortunately this culture has its own set of problems.

First and foremost, it seems that the Evangelical Culture (EC, for short) is very, very similar to the overall secular culture. In general, we raise our children in a similar manner. We have the same overall goals for raising our children and for our later years in life. We are generally nice people. We are so focused on our children that we risk making idols of them (and then we wonder why they are so self-centered when they enter the teen years!). (See the series on Children or Idols on my Home Discipling Dad blog.)

So what's different about us? For one thing, we add to our schedule all the church activities, from Sunday mornings to Wednesday evenings to every extra good thing the church offers. The other thing we do differently is that we practice an "avoidance ethic." I heard Dr. John Piper in a sermon on discussing how James and Paul can be reconciled. In this sermon he discussed the concept that our salvation is by faith, but that faith must work itself out it good works. He said that as evangelicals, we tend instead to "practice an avoidance ethic" and call it "good works" or sanctification. An avoidance ethic is nothing more than a series of rules, written or not, that we use to determine what to avoid in pagan culture. That is absolutely not sanctification, and it certainly is not good works.

As a pagan outsider (who may be a very nice person himself) looks at us, I have a hard time imagining why he would want what we have. He doesn't see anything terribly distinctive. He sees nice people living their lives in a busy fashion similar to himself, and then adding on church activities and practicing an avoidance ethic, causing them to be even more harried. What would be attractive about that? What would be distinctive?

The EC has failed us. We are not becoming more like Christ by participating in it. We must turn from determining our direction in life through our friends and our culture and instead look at Scripture. If we are truly becoming more like Christ by changing our lives to mirror His commands and by developing the wisdom that comes from a life immersed in Scripture, then we will definitely be distinctive. We will be different. We will be filled with joy. We will be able to handle the hard times when they come.

We must quit trying to bend Scripture to fit our culture and our ideas, and instead transform our thinking and our lives to fit Scripture. The EC will call that "legalism," especially when it involves actually obeying the commands of Scripture. What those who use that argument don't understand is that legalism is working to merit salvation. Obedience to the commands of Scripture after one is saved by faith isn't meriting salvation, but rather it is becoming like Christ. That isn't legalism.

We simply must transform our thinking through the renewing of our minds (Romans 12). We have to be willing to take the hard look inward, and then change accordingly. Will we look different? Absolutely. Will the EC try to pull us back? Absolutely. I heard a variation on the "boiling a frog to death" story that relates here.

A group of frogs were in a pot of water. The temperature of the water was slowly being raised. The frogs didn't realize it and sat comfortably in the water, even though it would soon reach a temperature that would kill them. But one frog noticed and started attempting to jump out. The other frogs were quite disturbed and tried to hold him back, both physically and through chiding and derisive statements. They didn't want their little world disturbed by a frog trying to leave it and be different. His being different called attention to the fact that they were doing nothing. Those are the members of the EC who don't want us actually looking to Scripture to organize our lives. It calls their lives into stark relief against what Scripture actually says. There will be numerous attempts of all types by many people, all trying to pull the "errant" believer who actually wants to follow Scripture back in line.

So...will we jump out anyway? Or will we stay and boil?

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