Today, we prevent unwanted pregnancies not by abstinence but contraception. No discipline; no problem. Do whatever feels good. Promises made in the dark remain unkept in an age where words and actions are disconnected and often in complete opposition.
Today, we avert the consequences of other ungodly acts such as homosexuality through medicine and contraceptive methods. Lying and litigation are acceptable means by which to achieve objectives. These aren’t God’s ways or representative of His love, which equates to justice and mercy. His speech results in action; He has always done what He says He will do. This was the posture of the early Church: speech-action that mirrored their faith and produced good works accordingly. Their speech and actions were indistinguishable.
Second-century Christian and Church leader Justin notes this of his contemporary Christians: “… community doesn’t consider people true Christians if they simply quote Christ’s teachings but don’t live them.” (Justin, 1 Apol. 16.8 by Alan Kreider, The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, 15). He also lists the saying of Jesus under four categories: sexual ethics, actionable/charitable love, patience, and truth-telling. (ibid.) Many early Church leaders reported that the Christians lived among the non-Christians in community eating, drinking, and working beside them. However, their charity, honesty, and purity as well as patience under trials and hardships set them apart and made an impact that attracted those around the Christians to desire to learn of God’s kingdom and join the faith. Not so today in a world of watered-down preaching full of funny stories and anecdotes framed by entertaining music, coffee, and donuts; no so in a world where churches become the most expensive light-killing lampshades on the planet by hiding and entertaining consumers.
Today, the Western Church looks mostly like the world: same behaviors and worldviews; similar lack of patience, unrepentance, unforgiveness, divorce statistics, selfish driving habits, litigation, financial irresponsibility, and so-on. Why? In my experience as a minister, researcher, and writer, a driving factor is the lack of choice where a covenant with God is concerned.
Removing the consequences of immorality, lying, etc. through contraception, litigation, and ungodly laws can lure us into believing that the lack of consequences imply acceptance. Similarly, and in my experience, Western Christians are lured into believing that God exists to serve them and that prosperity is the goal because covenant and consequences have often been removed in the Church. Churchgoers are anesthetized by receiving a half-baked gospel where, if anything, a silent and personal ‘sinner’s prayer can save them without reciprocation. They are told there’s nothing they have to do – Jesus did it all! No self-discipline, no charity, no sacrifice, no two-way marriage-like covenantal response. No consequence for the pleasure-seeking individual uninterested in communal care who practices behavior antithetical to God’s ways. No accountability. No ongoing spiritual formation or discipleship (Barna, The State of the Church, 2016, for instance: https://www.barna.com/research/state-church-2016/). What to do?
There can be a fix – a positive change that once again draws others to our faith. Turn off the anethsiea of a covenantless gospel; stop entertaining and teach. Hold Christians accountable for ungodly behavior and gently train through discipleship. Move out of the church buildings and live out faith among others in our communities whether at work, play, or dwelling so that they may see our good works, patience, and purity and wonder just as the ancients did.