Last week, we discussed what it means to be a “Christian” and the nature of the “church” in "How Should Christians Respond to America’s Identity Crisis? – Part I." The church is made up of Christians, and Christians are individuals who have accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal Savior, believing that His sacrifice on the cross and His resurrection on Easter Sunday have enabled Him to win salvation for “whosoever will” accept Him as Lord and Savior.
Jesus promised His disciples that it was better if He went away, because then the “Comforter” would come and He would lead them to all truth (John 16:7-15). The church was conceived during the earthly ministry of Jesus and was born on the Day of Pentecost.
Not only are Christians a new kind of human being that never existed prior to Pentecost (Eph. 2:14-20). The church is described as a “colony” of Heaven (Phil. 3:20); and collectively, Christians are a special people, a “royal priesthood,” and a “holy nation” (I Pet. 2:9).
Jesus called upon the disciples to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. He commissioned Christians to go out into the world and share the Gospel, baptize converts, and disciple them, “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:18-20).
The Christian Church is informed by the Apostle Paul, in his second letter to the Corinthian church, that our Heavenly Father has entrusted Christians with “the ministry of reconciliation; “… that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them, and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation” (II Cor. 5:18-20).
Taken as a whole, these biblical passages make it clear that withdrawing from the world into closed meetings of the saints and going into a holding pattern until Jesus comes back is not a viable option for Christians and churches who desire to be obedient to their Heavenly Father’s will.
Salt has to come into contact with that which it is going to preserve from decay and putrefaction. Jesus entrusted the disciples to let their light shine before men so they could be illuminated by the light and feel the heat as well.
If Christians are going to be a preserving salt and a lifegiving light, they have to be in the world but not of the world, and they must “walk the talk.” The watching world needs to see Christians living out their faith as twice-born men and women who have been born again from above and people within whom God’s Holy Spirit dwells (I Cor. 6:19-20).
The Christian witness in America is consistently and significantly diminished by Christians and churches who do not “walk the talk” and whose “do as I say, not as I do” hypocrisy brings shame and reproach to the Gospel. There is an old African proverb that says, “Tell me and I will listen. Show me and I will believe.” The more Christians’ lives demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit: love (agape), joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal. 2:22-23), the more the lost world will pay attention to our witness for Jesus.
Of course, no Christian and no church is going to be perfect. The old nature is still present and ready to pounce at any moment of opportunity. In fact, the local church is one of the very few places in American society where you have to confess your moral failures as a condition of admittance. It is Jesus’ Church and no one will ever find anything wrong with Him. He is the one we worship.
Still, Christians living in God’s will are going to impress the world by how they love each other (Jn. 13:35). Far too often, our Christian church fellowships are characterized by the opposite of love and joy. If we are honest, when we look at the moral record of evangelicalism in the last half of the 20th and the first fifth of the 21st centuries, it is not one to bring joy to our hearts or our Heavenly Father’s.
One reason evangelical Christians have lost the debate on same-sex marriage is that we said marriage was a divinely sanctioned, holy institution and yet we produced divorce rates far too similar to the world’s practices to be taken seriously.
How should Christians and their churches respond to America’s identity crisis? First, we need to get our own house in order. We must practice what we preach.
We must be obedient to our Lord’s command to be “salt” and “light” and ministers of reconciliation. What does that look like?
Seeking to take a Christian approach to several of the most divisive issues besetting Americans today furnishes potential answers to that question.
The abortion issue has been rending the social fabric of our nation ever since the Supreme Court’s outrageous overreach in their 1973 Roe v. Wade decision which overturned almost all the various states’ restrictions on abortion. The result was an immediate ghastly increase in the killing of unborn babies, with the annual rates of abortion going from about 400,000 per year to 1.5 million within 18 months of the decision.
This galvanized the pro-life movement, led by Catholic and evangelical Christians, and the issue has been one of the most divisive moral questions in America for half a century now.
As salt, Christians need to do everything they can to bear witness against the killing of the unborn. The Bible’s clear and consistent message is pro-life. The early church understood this fact. The first post-apostolic teaching of the early church (The Didache, circa 134 A.D.) condemned abortion (a common practice in the Roman Empire and most non-Jewish civilizations in the Mediterranean Basin, according to Will and Ariel Darant's book series, The Story of Western Civilization) was condemned as murder and beyond acceptable moral boundaries for Christians.
As Christians gained influence in the Roman Empire, abortion abated and was unacceptable in the Christian West until the collapse of the Christian consensus in early 20th century Europe. Widespread abortion became acceptable first in the Soviet Union after 1917.
As salt, we must seek to stop the killing of innocent life in the womb. As light, we need to bear witness to the humanity of the unborn baby and that everyone, born and unborn, is a “somebody” to God.
Our Heavenly Father never created a nobody. Everybody is a someone to God. Each and every human life, born and unborn, is sacred and should be protected under the law. However, the church must not just be pro-life from conception to birth. We must treat all life, born and unborn, as sacred since each one is an “image-bearer” of our Heavenly Father. God had a plan and a purpose for each one of these aborted babies.
Have we aborted the next Billy Graham? Have we snuffed out the life in the womb of the next Martin Luther King Jr. or the next Jonas Salk? Have we killed the young woman God was knitting and embroidering together in her mother’s womb (Ps. 139:13-16) to come to faith and be the doctor who found the cure for cancer? The answer is at least a 1-in-4 chance that is exactly what we have done.
It is a certainty that God’s plan and purpose for each of these fellow human beings has been thwarted by this heinous child sacrifice of our children to the false gods of convenience and material well-being. Abortion on demand is a monument to the selfishness, self-absorption and self-idolatry that dominates too much of modern American life.
As Christians, we must bear witness against it. We must also do all we can to rescue the children who are born and never know their fathers and are undereducated in our inner-city schools. We should be there in greater numbers than we have been, ministering to their spiritual and material needs in Jesus’ name.
Our greatest wasted natural resources are our underserved and emotionally neglected children in our nation’s great cities. God distributes talent equally among all human ethnicities. Sadly, our society has not been developing them equally. The church should step in this gap in Jesus’ name and sponsor daycares and better schools that do not neglect the spiritual dimension, while ministering to physical and educational needs.
That brings us to the question of race, what Robert Woodson has correctly called “America’s birth defect.” The issue of race has bedeviled America from the beginning. Our forefathers knew slavery was wrong. You cannot read Thomas Jefferson’s (a slaveholder) quotation on the Jefferson Memorial: “Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free.” The Declaration of Independence’s chief author also condemned slavery as “unremitting despotism” and “degrading submissions.”
America has been attempting to live up to its founding ideals and remedy its “birth defect” ever since 1776.
When Dr. King spoke at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, he said the demonstrators had come to demand that America live up to its founding documents that “all men are created equal.” Dr. King, a Baptist minister and a priceless gift to our nation, called all Americans to the goal of achieving a society where everyone is judged not by “the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Unfortunately, with notable and laudable exceptions, too often majority-white churches have been at best indifferent, and at worst intolerant, of that dream. Increasingly, in my lifetime, however, we have seen many white churches and multitudes of white Christians embrace that dream and recognize and love Dr. King for the national treasure and gift of God to our nation he was and is.
As salt, Christians need to denounce racism in whatever form it rears its ugly, serpentine head (including the perpetual racism to which critical race theory would condemn us all), understanding that there is only one race, the human race; and no matter what our ethnicities, we are all equally made in God’s image.
As light, Christians need to reach out and model the racial and ethnic reconciliation made possible by a Gospel in which there is no longer Jew nor Greek, male or female, bond or free (Gal. 3:28), because we are all new creatures and blood brothers and sisters in Christ in that we all have been redeemed by the blood of the Savior.
Christians — white, black, Hispanic, Asian — should seek to model this new redeemed humanity in truly multi-ethnic churches which model the new Kingdom made possible by King Jesus. Christians should all work toward the goal of churches which have no ethnic majority and where the pastoral leadership is multi-ethnic as well.
Given our past, this will not happen in America without intentionality and courage on all sides of the ethnic debate.
Our experience since the Civil Rights Movement began in the 1950s should have taught us at least one major lesson by now. The salt of the law can only go so far. The law alone cannot take us to where our hearts ache to go.
The salt of the law can change actions. Only the light of the Gospel can change attitudes. The salt of the law can change behaviors. Only the light of the Gospel can change beliefs. The salt of the law can change habits. Only the light of the Gospel can change hearts. That is why Sunday morning is still the most segregated moment in American life. That ugly fact is an indictment of the Christian church — white and black. It must change. Let’s all be about our Heavenly Father’s business — and let the Redeemed of the Lord say so!
Next week — Part III. What about separation of Church and State?
Dr. Richard Land, BA (Princeton, magna cum laude); D.Phil. (Oxford); Th.M (New Orleans Seminary). Dr. Land served as President of Southern Evangelical Seminary from July 2013 until July 2021. Upon his retirement, he was honored as President Emeritus and he continues to serve as an Adjunct Professor of Theology & Ethics. Dr. Land previously served as President of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (1988-2013) where he was also honored as President Emeritus upon his retirement. Dr. Land has also served as an Executive Editor and columnist for The Christian Post since 2011.
Dr. Land explores many timely and critical topics in his daily radio feature, “Bringing Every Thought Captive,” and in his weekly column for CP.