As followers of Jesus, Seventh-day Adventists are counter-cultural. The "C" in our HAYSTACKS series stands for "Counter-cultural."
Inevitably we are producers, maintainers, participants in culture. Yet God sends us as missionaries into the culture. We are not non-cultural or a-cultural, but counter-cultural. We are live demonstrations, a divine invasion, soldiers marching through Satan's culture. We are not a gaggle of "No's" sent running through the earth, but a battalion of "Yes's"--agents demonstrating a different way.
Light Shines in Darkness
John chapter one puts this all together:
The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it (John 1:5).
The inspired apostle positions our life in creation terms. There is light; there is darkness. The light shines in the darkness. The light is busy in the darkness, not satisfied with the darkness. The light is active; it will not let darkness be darkness. There is no contentment to permit darkness to envelope the world. Good and evil are not a team. Darkness--whether no knowledge or false knowledge--is temporary because truth, light, shines. The Creator creates, He shows right and wrong. Darkness gives way to light. It's like the first time you slept outside in the dark when you were a kid. As you lay awake there in the early morning you saw night's blackness give way to the grey middle light of morning. This happens gradually and at some time in the morning you notice that which you couldn't see in the night: the horizon line. You see the divider between earth and sky. You can make out the difference between one thing and another you could not make out in the blackness of night.
God gives light to every person. His light shines in the darkness. The darkness doesn't comprehend the light and its not going to be favorable toward the light. We need to understand that. Doing the right things will often be misunderstood even by fellow church members. We can be quite well-meaning, and yet do enormous damage plowing onward independent of those whom God is leading. The work of God is easily marred or sidetracked by good but shallow intentions.
This is the conflict of the ages. It will not suffice to baptise paganism, or slather thin spiritual paste onto a selfish life. It will require actual self-examination to discover whether we are on God's side down into the deep ideas. Are we living pure and undefiled religion? Are we invested in keeping ourselves unspotted from the world?
The light shines in the darkness. We must be that shining. The light doesn't run from the darkness, it shines into the darkness. We are light in the Lord. We are engagement. Ephesians 5:6-11:
For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them; for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds /of darkness, but instead even expose them.
Did we coast too much in 2017? And will we learn how to be a stronger congregation in 2018? God wants us to be more than a loose collection of friends or another set of cultural conservatives. Can we advance thinking and feeling and doing as Christians in covenant with God, indwelt by His Holy Spirit, living out the mind of Christ together? Will we make a serious run at supporting each other in emergencies? Is it an unrealistic goal to seek that in 2018 attendance at Wednesday prayer meeting would climb to half our Sabbath worship attendance?
If Church doesn't seem stimulating to us, could it be its because our faith is thin and Christianity thinner? Will we let God grow us this year? Is it enough to be willing? Should we seek a fresh infusion of heart desire from heaven to increase in actual love for each another and for the lost? How can we have God in us and culture out of us?
Changing What We Do
There are two things that work together. We need both. Consider two arrows chasing each other in a circle. Mark one "What we think," the other, "What we do." In the middle of that picture, add Philippians 4:8-9. Verse eight speaks of what we think, nine, what we do:
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
Old humans can be taught new tricks. We mustn't define ourselves opposite fallen human culture. Fallen culture need not exist in order that unfallen culture exist. Evil need not exist in order for us to be non-evil.
What about culture then? There are only two categories: (1) God's transcendent culture, and (2) everything else, namely, the multiplicity of temporary human cultures. God's culture endures forever. Human culture is a short experiment almost over. Culture means inhabiting a place, cultivating it--being responsible for it, responding to it, attending to it, nurturing it, spending affection on it.
God transfers us from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light (Ephesians 5:8). We are shifted from one culture to another when we are willing and we desire to think and do differently.
Two Categories of Culture
How is it that we can be in the world but not of the world--in the culture but not of the culture?
Genesis one and two: God creates man and places him in a sinless place. He creates a garden environment for him, gives a companion, and assigns them responsibilities in his work.
Although warned still they are led into sin. They make choices and become rebels. They are expelled from the garden but even then there is hope. The Father promises to intervene, to send His Son, to restore the original culture.
It is the grace that Christ implants in the soul which creates in man enmity against Satan. Without this converting grace and renewing power, man would continue the captive of Satan, a servant ever ready to do his bidding. But the new principle in the soul creates conflict where hitherto had been peace. The power which Christ imparts enables man to resist the tyrant and usurper. Whoever is seen to abhor sin instead of loving it, whoever resists and conquers those passions that have held sway within, displays the operation of a principle wholly from above (The Great Controversy, p. 506).
In other words, man sinned. He acted selfishly and was expelled from the unselfish place. He chose an alien principle. He initiated a human/satanic culture. There would be no escape ever from this culture of death except God intervened. We are trapped in a fallen culture, but God can implant grace in us. Ellen White refuses to leave grace undefined. She calls it "converting grace," "renewing power," "the new principle in the soul," and simply "power." It is a Christ-contributed conflict-creating principle given us. He enables the otherwise impossible. He "creates" in the converted person "enmity against Satan."
According to the religion of the Bible, there are only two categories of culture, divine and human; there are only two stances one can occupy. "All who are not decided followers of Christ are servants of Satan" (Ibid, p. 508). I am a decided follower of Christ, or, I am a servant of Satan. One may be a servant of sin yet all but unconscious of the fact.
I cannot resist Satan unless I embrace God's converting power. So, I am part of God's culture, or, I am part of Satan's culture. I display the operation of the principle that animates me.
Ideologies of the world slosh back and forth in our brains. Certain ideas are heard over and over. Everything is allegedly valid because everything is connected to everything else. But that's not true; it would leave no place for exclusivity, no place for differentiating moral horizon lines.
Multi-culturalism is like a confederation, a convergence of lines--all opposing the Lordship of Jesus. But the fact of absolute truth rules out all relative "truths." There is a particular way to live. Be careful; I do not mean Western culture is correct in every respect while every other culture is false in all respects. Every human culture has insights and deficits. All human culture comes up short.
Few are prepared to hear about God putting enmity back in, that is, making enemies. We've been carefully trained. In the age of the cinemagraphic anti-hero, even heroes are flawed and imperfect. The good guys have bad and the bad guys have good. We think it must be true everywhere and of everyone, so we apply that idea.
Satan must have some bad points and some good points; God must have some good points and some bad points; let's all just get along. That's what we've been set up for in Satan's collection of disobedient cultures. No place is left standing for total right or total wrong. Only a narrow, bigoted God would make people enemies of anything.
But where is the halfway point between unselfishness and selfishness? Show me. There is only the one or the other. There is only the principle wholly from above and the principle completely from beneath. There are only two categories of culture.
Where does that leave us? God refuses to indefinitely permit a toxic philosophy to work its destruction of good in His universe. Thus His prophetic word in Daniel 2:44:
In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and out an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever.
The universe gets to investigate both categories of culture (God's eternal culture and Satan's numerous pseudo-cultures). The inhabitants of the universe will finally choose only one category. And God's culture will endure forever.
Warnings From Jesus
Some passages help us with worldliness and our counter-cultural mission.
In Romans 12:1-2 we are called to present our bodies a living and holy sacrifice. We are not to be conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewing of our minds. We are not to embrace but reject the culture of man. We can't present our bodies as living and holy sacrifices if we embrace the standard of the world. Our culture is different; it is a culture of life.
James 4:4: People are pleading to God and they can't understand why He doesn't answer their prayers. But the word comes: "You adultresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God."
Friendship with the world is hostility toward God. More than this, to desire to be a friend of the world is to make oneself an enemy of God. But haven't you, haven't I, and many times, desired to be friends with the world? Not to marry the world but to be on friendly terms with the world? We desire the easy path. So much stress inhabits our lives; so much to do, so little time, not enough money. How much easier to veg-out. One generation sat in front of the tube; today another sits in front of YouTube. We soak in the latest no matter how empty it is.
We want the world's products, participate in its causes, and want to be up-to-date on the world's terms. The latest phone, a nice car, the latest gadget--It's not all bad. But if we are honest with ourselves, much boils down to raw materialism, consumerism, stuffing our lives with stuff, stuff that in the end all burns. I don't know about you but I have been too friendly with the world and too uncritical in accepting its moods and its causes. I must be different. I want my life to be a reflection and demonstration of Jesus' cause and causes in this hour.
Our Friend the Holy Spirit brings to our mind 1 John 2:15-17:
Do not love the world nor the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.
The world and its cultures stand in contradiction to the love of the Father. What is in the world is what is in us: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life. More interesting in this text is it's prophesying: this world is passing away with its desires. If our desires are not changed they will pass away with all other selfish desires. God's kingdom is filling the world; it is in process of completely displacing and destroying selfishness.
First John 3:8 offers another key insight: "The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil." Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil. Everything that savors of selfishness in human culture, everything that caters to and provokes selfishness of being, is to go up in flames. Jesus came, not to make friendly with pseudocultures or add them to a big salad, but to destroy the works of the devil.
Visit the last two chapters of the Bible. Like the first two they portray a world with one culture: unselfishness. It won't be a bad place; it won't be narrow. It will be a beautiful place. It will be unselfish.
Inversion or Correction
Human culture is man's invention. It arises after expulsion from Eden. It is made by the inverted, self-centered, sinning rebel, who chose that stance and aligned himself to contradict God and His creation. Through his own choice man was expelled from God's unselfish presence. Then man proceeded to create a world he inhabits and cultivates round himself. In turn every fallen human is born in this alien, distorted place where it is hard to see clearly. Have mercy on your relative who doesn't see. Of course he doesn't see. In God's culture there is obedience, service to God and to others. In human culture there is illusion on every side.
Satan urges us to embrace his illusion of autonomy. He wants us to think we made this world; we are its princes and princesses; we are its gods. But that is all sad illusion; Adam gave the domain entrusted him over when he obeyed Satan. Satan is the prince of this world now. Fallen man has no life in himself. In human strength we can only wilt and die. Our power is very limited. We are trapped and we need help from beyond ourselves.
So how can we be Yes's? If we are alien to the culture, how can we bring a message that will appeal to people who are trapped in Satan's culture?
"In Him was life, and the life was the light of men" (John 1:4).
"There was the true light which enlightens every person coming into the world" (John 1:6).
"As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the son of Man be lifted up, so that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life" (John 3:15).
"If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those that ask Him" (Luke 11:13).
"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them, for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood by what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened" (Romans 1:18-21).
"The goodness of God leads to repentance" (Romans 2:4).
God has an ally in every person. Moral sensors are built into every man and every woman, an interest in the eternal (Ecclesiastes 3:11).
"O taste and see that the Lord is good" (Psalm 34:8).
"If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself" (John 7:17).
While we are all outside the garden, while we all are occupants of human culture, we all are also equipped to seek and find the true God and His true culture. We were designed for obedience. We are designed to seek God, to be restless apart from Him, to love light. We have an ally in us--the Holy Spirit illumined conscience.
What is God's culture? He gives life, He distribute moral attributes to beings, He shares the gift of existing in service to and for the good of others. He imparts the elements of action in a moral universe, (1) revealing truth, (2) giving responsibilities, and (3) demonstrating the outworking of obedience. That's all positive. God can help us so that we are not "No" people walking through the world and telling everyone what they can't have and can't do. God can show us how to be "Yes's" showing others the possibilities and the goodness in being part of God's culture of life.
We should be counter-cultural. We represent God's culture of "Yes" to unselfishness. "What we think," and "What we do" determine what we think and what we do. As fallen humans born into a fallen world, we have built ourselves into our own world. We need to change. We need to transfer from our human pseudoculture to God's unselfish culture. He calls us to walk through this world and be the one unselfish culture. That will only happen when we internalize God's culture. Where do we get that? By reading, studying and applying His culture where we find it in strongest form: the Bible and inspired writings He has given for those who live at the end of the world.
Deer Park WA SDA 2017-08-19
Chewelah WA SDA 2017-12-30