We are all concerned, or at least should be, with knowing what’s going on in our own generation. Even though we may protest, our churches are affected by the present culture often to the same degree as most transient institutions. It is not, therefore, a consolation to have to agree with Neil Postman when he writes, ‘‘Today, we must look to the city of Las Vegas, Nevada, as a metaphor of our national character and aspiration, its symbol a thirty-foot-high cardboard picture of a slot machine and a chorus girl. For Las Vegas is a city entirely devoted to the idea of entertainment, and as such proclaims the spirit of a culture in which all public discourse increasingly takes the form of entertainment.’’
No man understood his generation better than the Apostle Paul. But, when the Apostle penned those words, ‘‘knowing the time,’’ in Romans 13:11, he had a far greater perspective than most culture-watchers today. It seems the contemporary church always considers itself on top of things. We know what methods are out-dated and we know what methods ‘‘work’’ in our time and we change our plans accordingly. What doesn’t seem to change very often is our motive for making change. I often hear men younger than I criticizing a former generation for its method and motive for success. But most of the time I don’t see any difference other than the form their methods and motives take. Today’s young ‘‘progressives’’ are as adept as any before them at reading the market and delivering the goods. I wonder also if their motive is as pure as they often boast. I don’t buy the idea that all methods are matters of preference and only motives are matters of conviction. I have to ask myself, have we merely become professional pragmatists? I agree with one contemporary writer who observed, ‘‘A pragmatist is concerned primarily with whether a given practice is expedient, not necessarily with whether it is in harmony with Scripture. He starts with the question, ‘What do the unchurched want?’ and builds his strategy from there, rather than asking the question, ‘What does Scripture teach about church ministry?’ and following a biblical pattern.’’
Several years ago, Francis Schaeffer warned of this danger. He wrote, ‘‘The Christian is to resist the spirit of the world. But when we say this we must understand that the world-spirit does not always take the same form. So the Christian must resist the spirit of the world in the form it takes in his own generation. If he does not do this he is not resisting the spirit of the world at all.’’ I fear that my generation too often caters to the ‘‘hot-buttons’’ of its peers. We have decided to draw people with what they want rather than what they need. We have decided to concede the battle on the cultural (and sometimes moral) front so that we might somehow win the battle on the eternal front.
The greatest reformer since the Apostle Paul, Martin Luther, said of his generation’s battles, ‘‘If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.’’ Have we not done this very thing in the sanctuaries of our fundamental churches? Are we that jealous of the success of the charlatans? And so much so that we use the sirens of the very people we are trying to help in an attempt to reach them?
In Romans thirteen, when Paul recognized the time, he said, ‘‘that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day.’’ The clear admonition is to piety and godly living, pleasing God rather than men. There is something about the eternal perspective that brings our vicinal perspective into better focus. An optometrist once told me that if I am working at my desk for long periods of time that I should, every so often, look up and focus my eyes on something across the room or outside the window. If I don’t, the muscles that hold my eyes in close focus will be out of balance with those that hold them in distant focus.
The reason Paul had a proper focus on his generation is not because he spent all of his time studying the contemporary landscape, but because he often spent time gazing into eternity. As John the Apostle wrote, ‘‘And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.’’ I am certainly not advocating putting our heads in the sand of our generation. I want to be as effective with my neighbor as the next man. But ‘‘a false balance is an abomination.’’ To be ‘‘wise as serpents and harmless as doves,’’ is it necessary to become friends of the world? Not if the words of Christ are still relevant.