Speaking from the text of an imprisoned Paul and Silas in Acts 16, Russell Moore addressed how Christians should engage culture without losing the Gospel witness.
Moore, who spoke at the ERLC National Conference in Nashville Wednesday, emphasized that the Apostle Paul provided plenty of clues on how to operate in a hostile world. He declared that Paul refused to leave under command of the Roman authorities at Philippi for the sake of the Gospel and not merely individual wants, desires, or personal advancement.
"What we have seen in American society is that the illusion of a Christian majority is gone. An illusion that never measured up to reality as defined by the Scriptures," declared Moore. He stressed that churches in America now have to "articulate things they used to assume."
"We engage politically. We engage socially. But we don't forget who we are," he said.
Moore noted that citizens make better Americans when they are first loyal to the Gospel and its transformative power.
"Jesus' Kingdom comes first," he exclaimed.
Moore said that it is imperative that Christians within the culture be motivated more by the Gospel and less by offence. "It is not persecution when the woman at the checkout counter says 'Happy Holidays' instead of 'Merry Christmas.'"
He added that "sometimes the offence is really rooted in a Christ-less form of religion. We should be driven by the Gospel, not by offence."
As an example he declared, "You cannot convert Muslims through city ordinances … that is not what Gospel people do."
The reference was to a practice by some communities in America trying to zone mosques out of their neighborhoods because of opposition.
Moore said the more important issue is carrying out the work Jesus calls us to do and that believers must be a community and a society "that is shaping consciences." He called for an engagement of culture that is more focused on "reconciliation."
Continuing on his theme of uplifting the Gospel, he called on believers to forego adopting "politicians as spiritual mascots or leaders." Moore stressed that politics, while important, is "temporal." Moore noted that Paul and Silas lacked power in the Roman political world, "but they had power because they were equipped with the Gospel."
He exhorted Christians to not withdraw from the world but to be better equipped to be sent out into the world. He reminded the attendees that their communities no longer share their ideals.
"You and I are pilgrims, exiles, not because we have lost in America," declared Moore. "We are strangers and exiles in every culture and in every place. The Gospel gets us out of step with the present to conform us to the future.
"The culture does not define dignity because the culture is not Lord," he added. In a video segment after his remarks Moore urged Christians not to be silent on abortion because silence leaves "consciences in captivity."
The ERLC National Conference took place on August 5, 2015. Other speakers included New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson, Focus on the Family President Jim Daly, and National Hispanic Christian Leadership President Samuel Rodriguez.
Moore, who is president of the ERLC, is the author of a new book titled Onward, which focuses on cultural engagement in a changing American culture.