By Skylar Spradlin
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times …”
That famous quote comes from Charles Dickens’ famous work, A Tale of Two Cities. But what most people don’t know is that this is only part of the quote. The full quote is:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
How eerily true is that quote for our current state of affairs. Perhaps that’s point of the quote—to stand as a description for every age and generation. Still, the truthfulness of it rings all too true for right now.
It takes few words to persuade people of the chaos that reigns in our civil arena. The divide in America has transcended past politics and into the fabric and understanding of life itself.
What once was classified as a political and even generational divide must now be redefined and reexamined.
The divide in America has exploded past the social norms of just a few years ago and now is based on something far different from age, upbringing, culture, region, or even experience.
This is where the Church finds herself living. But instead of living and working in the midst of such things, she finds herself embroiled in the very same complexing situations.
In fact, some churches lunge themselves into this worldly chaos from their own pulpits. Many pastors feel strongly compelled to focus almost exclusively on matters of country and politics—especially in election years.
Yet, even if pulpits aren’t engaging in the rhetoric, most church attenders are; and they are thrusting their entire church into the marsh with themselves.
In fact, such divides, hostilities, and politics seems to be all that “church people” want to talk about.
This leads me to ask a question: Is the church being influenced by the world or influencing the world?
That question requires no small answer. Let me attempt to unpack what I am saying by asking it.
First, is the church being influenced by the world? The simple answer is “yes.” The obvious reason is because she can’t help it.
She’s made up of individuals who must live in this world. People talk about those things that concern them; and people are concerned about our current state of affairs. That’s understandable.
This concern gets expressed in both fear and in haughty disdain rather than from a biblical, pastoral, and accountable worldview.
That being said, this kind of fear and frustration is not what I am talking about. Rather, I’m asking my question about influence based on something much deeper and sinister.
It doesn’t take much time on social media or even in your own church to identify the harmful rhetoric being spewed by God’s people.
It seems as if the hateful tendencies and resentment of the world has infiltrated the church and influenced her mission, method, and message.
Many Christians will chalk their concern and language up to holy passion and godly defense. But the issue is much worse than that.
Just like in the world of unbelievers, God’s people are actually ostracizing other people—even each other—over issues in the public square.
Pastor Dean Inserra highlights this mentality and practice when he writes about people within the church who claim it’s their Christianity that forces them to ostracize others:
“It’s complicated for pastors when church members sincerely believe their pastor is somewhere between malpractice and heresy if the gospel preached isn’t what they’re also hearing on conservative talk radio.
Part of the issue of linking American Republican politics with Christianity is that it often doesn’t allow room for issues of significance that are outside one’s particular way of seeing the world.”
When room for other ways of seeing an issue is not allowed people are ostracized, evangelism is crippled, and the church descends into a chaotic life of trying to keep up with and address every shifting point of view of a corrupt culture.
In short, the church descends into the “us vs. them” mentality. Many of us have abdicated our gospel witness for political jargon and sharp tongues.
We’ve essentially closed our doors and our hearts to those who are different from us.
This is inflicting damage to the mission of Christ. As D.A Carson put it, “… we’re so busy being angry all the time that at the end of the day not only do we lose our credibility with people on the left, they start demonizing us back, but we have no energy or compassion left to evangelize.”
The attitude of the Church has been influenced by the hate, hostility, and divide of the world. We’re letting the world mold and shape us, and thus have some sort of authority over us. God help us!
There’s still another component here to address. And this one should be more piercing.
There’s no doubt that the church influences the world. This is by God’s design and permission. Even underground churches influence their society in many ways.
The question becomes, what kind of influence is the church having?
There’s no doubt that the church is to influence the world in a holy and positive way. Jesus meant at least this much when He compared His people to light and salt (Matthew 5:13-16).
By our speech, conduct, and general disposition toward life we are to influence the world toward godliness.
As I said before, the church will have influence—good or bad. Yet, if we’ve allowed ourselves to be influenced by the world is it possible to have a good influence back on the world?
Indeed, it seems as if a cycle has developed and the church is now feeding back in to the same jargon and destruction that was allowed to infiltrate her walls.
I don’t think the world is being called to a higher standard nor shown a better way by the current conduct of God’s people.
Instead, as Christians attack each other and the “other side,” we’re essentially giving permission to the world to engage in and practice the same sort of conduct.
Though they may not think or realize it, the world takes license from the example of the church.
If the church—the world’s embedded moral authority – is doing it, then it must be okay for me to do it as well.
If the church is doing it then they can’t call me out for doing it also.
If the beacon of light that’s supposed to uphold a higher standard in this fallen world is acting just like the world, who is left to raise humanity to a higher place of morality, conduct, and civility? Who will hold out the beacon of the gospel?
When the church acts like the world she emboldens and approves of the world’s actions. In this way she influences the world—not for Christ—but for selfishness and pride.
We’ve been called to be a light to this world. This is Christ’s expressed desire for His body.
Furthermore, He has told us how to be a light—by going into all the world with the gospel, discipling, baptizing, and calling people to follow Him (Matthew 28:18-20).
We exist to herald the message of reconciliation to God (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).
May the church reclaim her higher calling and her higher way of living.
May we not drag each other to the public court of political animosity (Cf. 1 Corinthians 6:1-8), but rather may we deal with our disagreements, concerns, and attitudes with the heart of Christ and the patience that is born out of love.
Let us transcend the bickering of the world and strive for the higher plane that we enjoy in Christ. Jesus is to be our influence and this in turn is how we are to influence the world.
SKYLAR SPRADLIN (@SkylarSpradlin) is the lead pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Weatherford, Oklahoma. He’s earning his Masters of Divinity from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and is the co-host of “Pastor Talk,” a weekly podcast geared toward helping Christians think biblically.