It could be argued that we are in a culture war. To be honest, I do not believe that the faithful Christian – if we are to use the term “war” – has ever really NOT been in a culture war.
1 John 3:13 reminds us, “Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you.” Not being a Biblical scholar could make exegeting the above text tricky but “hates you” sounds pretty bad. Much like there are opposing sides or views. John provides some context in the preceding verses comparing the brothers Cain and Able. One was evil. One was righteous. One was full of love. The other not so much. We are to be the brother that “loves one another.”
The “one another’s” can be tough. It’s a headache at times within the family of God. When we try to “one another” those outside of the body of Christ it can get downright ugly. Who reading this has ever hesitated sharing with a friend or family Biblical truths because you were afraid you would be labeled. I know I struggle with this. I often go through 5-6 drafts before I submit a piece due to my “fear” that I will sound uncaring or intolerant.
So back to the “culture war.” What do we know about wars? Well, for starters there is an agenda. Each side wants to win. Each side has tactics and plans, they employ offensive and defensive measures to ensure a victory. Satan loves to twist truths, just ask Eve. Satan loves to distract, just ask Adam. Those tactics worked then and they work today. I have to wonder if we are in a war not of words but for words? Important words. Words that shape society, direct conversations and drive behavior.
And we the Christian must ask ourselves, “do words matter?”
Are certain words in a constant state of change, merely reflecting the values of the people who populate a given culture or sub-culture?
Or, are some words prescriptive? Unchanging? Immutable?
Take for example the word “tolerant.”
A couple of generations ago, if you were “tolerant” that meant you graciously accepted a person but not all their behaviors. Cousin Eddie who always asks for money at the family reunion can attend, just not engage in specific behaviors, i.e., asking for money. Eddie is loved. Eddie’s soliciting of money is not. Eddie can be a really nice chap but engage in awful practices. And at one time we could rightly divide the two.
Today this has changed. Tolerance no longer means graciously accepting a person but not certain behaviors. It often means blind acceptance and even outright endorsement of all behaviors. In our modern lexicon this is called “identity politics.” Self-awareness or self-identification and one’s behavior is so intertwined that addressing an action – regardless of its moral merit – is viewed as a personal attack. This is most evident in our ongoing discussions involving gender and sexuality. If a Christian denounces such behavior a typical response is the claim of intolerance. And tolerance is a funny word in a world bereft of absolutes. If no standard exist we have no real moral obligation to tolerate anything we don’t like. Granted, even in an amoral world actions can be legal or illegal; but never right or wrong, good or bad. If one wants to be intolerant of my intolerance would that not make them intolerant as well. And if I am intolerant and they are intolerant, where does that leave us?
Gender, sexuality or marriage can be swallowed up as well by this black hole of ambiguity. Can a person truly be gender-less? Does that even logically make sense? Can marriage be self-defined or self-determined? By doing so, do we not erase every standard of conduct? That is why the words we use are so vital. Words inform our actions, shape our laws, and define our character; however, when words lose their meaning catastrophe awaits. The danger lurking in the aftermath of a society that has jettisoned reason, logic and absolutes from the picture stalks more than just the religious or the “conservative.” If sexuality is an amoral decision that rests in the heart of the individual who then holds the moral high ground when a disagreement comes up?
What are we to do? This new norm makes apologetics and evangelism difficult. We are informed by Paul in his second letter to Timothy, “Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers.” The Greek word employed by Paul is, logomacheo and it is a compound of logos (a word statement or speech) and machomai (battle or fight). The caution here is one of wisdom and avoiding senseless debates, not silent indifference. Paul continues, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” The Christian should always allow Scripture to speak for itself. Our duty is not to change a mind but to ensure we “accurately handle the word of truth” and present The Truth in such a way that God is honored.
I must remind myself that while I love the written word and wholeheartedly believe in the power of words, God is the One who provides meaning to all of our most noble ideals. We use words like loving, pure and holy when describing Jesus; yet, I would not understand the true meaning of those words or grasp their concepts were it not for God. In reality, I would not know what love is if it was not compared to the unconditional love of God. I could not put my head around the practice of forgiveness had not been modeled for me on the cross. Jesus brings meaning to all of those words the we elevate to prominence in our societies.
Our most noble deeds, eloquent thoughts and grandest ideals are borrowed from the character and nature of God. To redefine these words to fit our base desires is an act of rebellion and pride. It is imperative for the Christian to train themselves to rightly divide His truth and accurately handle the Word of God, not flinching in the face of pressure or condemnation but celebrating the life-changing power of God’s word.