There are times in life when a Christian must decide between holding fast to the Gospel, or succumbing to the spirit of the age. And if you remain true to the Gospel, be assured that your message will offend some people no matter how humbly and graciously you invite others to take up their cross and follow Christ.
A case in point: the Justice Conference last month in Chicago.
This gathering is "an annual event created for Christ-followers to gather, engage with, and better understand how to address major justice issues."
John Stonestreet wrote, "The Justice Conference is sponsored by World Relief, the relief and development arm of the National Association of Evangelicals. As such, the group has helped tens of thousands of people in crisis and poverty around the world."
In order to consider how the Justice Conference attempts to tackle critical issues without falling prey to the spirit of the age, it is important to understand the doctrinal foundation of the NAE and World Relief.
The NAE and World Relief share the same statement of faith. The fourth belief on their list states: "We believe that for the salvation of lost and sinful people, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential."
In other words, these evangelical organizations unashamedly proclaim the Gospel and the need to be spiritually reborn through faith in Christ. (John 3:1-8) The Christian leaders within these ministries understand that apart from spiritual conversion, man is not right with God and will not spend eternity with the Lord in heaven. This is what Jesus taught, (John 14:6) and what the New Testament conveys over and over again.
At the other end of the spectrum is the spirit of the age. It champions the popular idea that most sincere people of virtually every religion are on a spiritual path leading to heaven. And man actually buys into this premise quite easily. But it completely misses the biblical teaching regarding the justice of God and the cross of Christ. And so when you embrace and teach the biblical position held by the NAE and World Relief, many reject it as an archaic idea that has no place in today's world.
But that hasn't stopped the NAE and World Relief from faithfully maintaining a biblical stand on the Gospel and on human sexuality. For example, the NAE issued a statement on March 26, 2014, entitled, "NAE Affirms World Relief's Marriage Policy."
It stated, "The National Association of Evangelicals supports and affirms the statement by its humanitarian arm, World Relief, regarding the recent employee policy statements of a different development organization, World Vision."
This was in response to World Vision's decision to change their definition of marriage, and no longer define it as being strictly between a man and a woman.
World Vision wisely reversed course within 48 hours after many expressed deep concern. World Vision president Rich Stearns said, "We believe we made a mistake."
How could this happen you ask? Well, the answer is simple. They were slowly seduced by the spirit of the age.
Meanwhile, the NAE and World Relief have sought to remain true to God's Word in all matters of justice, including faithfulness to God's plan for human sexuality.
The 2014 NAE statement went on to read, "World Relief is committed to the principles of the Christian faith as expressed in the Bible, including the definition of marriage as a sacred covenant between a man and a woman. We ask our employees and volunteers to live lives worthy of God's call, reflecting the entire biblical vision, including fidelity within marriage and chastity outside of marriage. In our pursuit of these principles, we seek to follow the example of Jesus by serving all people, condemning no one, and loving all."
In other words, the NAE and World Relief correctly recognize that homosexual behavior is just as sinful as stealing, adultery, lying, and sex outside of marriage. We are all sinners, and we all need the Savior. Only Christ can forgive our sins and help us in the midst of temptation.
Now consider the Justice Conference last month in Chicago. Russell Moore was one of the speakers, and he bravely addressed a wide range of injustices from immigrant-demonizing to abortion. He also stated that some evangelicals are "afraid to speak up on a biblical view of issues of human sexuality."
Moore encouraged the conference attendees to hold fast to the biblical teaching on sexuality. And he was just as faithful in affirming the biblical position on hell, and the need to be born again in order to go to heaven.
After all, Moore's comments at this World Relief conference were in agreement with the official position held by World Relief and the NAE.
The sixth belief affirmed by the NAE and World Relief states, "We believe in the resurrection of both the saved and the lost, they that are saved unto the resurrection of life and they that are lost unto the resurrection of damnation."
Moore didn't shy away from sharing God's view of justice in light of eternity and man's immortal soul.
In a Religion News Service column, Jonathan Merritt addressed Moore's comments about sexuality at the conference, claiming that "all hell" broke loose and "a handful of apparently frustrated attendees even stormed out of the venue in protest."
Mark and Vickie Reddy are the executive producers of the Justice Conference. Merritt wrote, "The Reddys demonstrated what true tolerance looks like by inviting Moore to speak."
Really? True tolerance?
Merritt's analysis is indeed curious, especially in light of the official position of World Relief regarding sexuality. The Justice Conference was, after all, a World Relief event, and Mark Reddy is listed on their website as their "VP of Brand."
Thankfully, Russell Moore wasn't there to market a brand. Instead, he came to lovingly proclaim truth and justice at a time in our nation when the spirit of the age has a strong foothold, even in many "evangelical" settings. Some in the audience squirmed as Moore faithfully tackled a number of hot-button issues. (Do any of us ever grow in our life of discipleship without some squirming at times?)
Merritt wrote, "Vickie Reddy said she felt Moore unfairly linked a pro-life position with a traditional Christian view on marriage and sexuality. She noted that the tone Moore employed was hurtful to some, but not 'hateful.' Many LGBTQ Christians attend the Justice Conference, which 'does not have a position on sexuality.'"
Is that accurate? Is it true that this World Relief conference "does not have a position on sexuality," especially in light of the March 26, 2014, NAE statement outlined above?
Needless to say, it was good that the Reddy's invited a speaker like Moore who lovingly reminded the attendees of the organization's biblical beliefs on a broad range of justice issues. And it would have been inappropriate for Moore to single out sexuality as the one justice issue he wouldn't go near with a ten foot pole. That may be the approach of a politician, but it is not the approach of a prophet.
By inviting Russell Moore to speak, the Reddy's brought in a prophet who is gifted in diplomacy and deeply concerned about all matters of justice. And Moore's call for justice goes beyond the critical issues of immigration and sex trafficking. While he regularly addresses those topics, he also carefully unpacks the issues of abortion, sexuality, and eternity, among others.
There is nothing groundbreaking in Moore's traditional positions. Just ask the leadership of the NAE and World Relief. Their statement of faith is clear, loving, and faithful to Scripture and to the Savior who shed His blood on the cross for all people, including the outcast and the downtrodden.
I strongly suspect that the NAE and World Relief will continue to affirm their evangelical beliefs. And the more these beliefs can be carefully articulated by winsome prophets like Russell Moore, the more evangelicals of all ages will become equipped to promote justice on a variety of complex issues.
The spirit of the age is tenacious, but the justice of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit is even stronger.
The theme verse for the recent Justice Conference provides God's people with our marching orders. In the words of another prophet from an earlier time, "Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream." (Amos 5:24)
And it's a life-giving river that flows much differently than the spirit of the age.