Have you heard of the Reformed person who says that since Abraham Kuyper said that "every square inch" of this world belongs to Christ, one must venture boldly into every sphere of life with the light of Christ? At first flush it sounds very good.
But what happens if the prevalent 'spirit of the times' or the 'spirit of the age' sometimes called the Zeitgeist exerts its transformative and rather seductive effects on a church, notably a Reformed one?
Impossible you say? Let us look at the data.
Some dominant schools of thought in the 21st century
zeit• geist \ noun the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history.
—origin 19th century: from German Zeitgeist, from Zeit ‘time’ + Geist ‘spirit’. [Oxford English Dictionary]
A. Relativism: I believe what I believe to be true, and you believe what you believe to be true. I decide what truth is, that is that, and you better accept it or else I have the right to call you bigoted or mean.
- For example:
-- "I believe that marriage should be redefined as our culture is doing."
-- "I believe that my read on the Scriptures is just as valid as anyone else's read."
-- "I believe that my view of my non-Christian friend's religion is right."
B. Lawlessness: Why should I listen to your rules of the game when I am the one who makes up the rules?
- For example:
-- "If sleeping with someone I am committed to feel good, who are you to question that?
-- "Who are you to tell me what I can or cannot do? Away with all this authoritarian stuff! After all, I am free in Christ, am I not?"
--"Whatever happened to the priesthood of all believers? I am in communion with the Lawgiver myself."
C. Pragmatism: If it works or appears to be working, why should you stop it? After all, didn't Gamaliel say that if God was in something nothing could stop it?
- For example:
-- "If I want to use this or that method of evangelism, no matter what the theology, the acid test is whether it produces results."
--"If we run a youth group and we can keep big numbers entertained, who can argue with success?"
--"If we have an overflow crowd at the meeting to discuss something disallowed by the historical and global church, who cares since our numbers show it is good?"
D. Self-centeredness: In an age of 'selfies' the prominent place of the ego is front and center. Little wonder that most of the phrases above feature "I"-this and "I"- that.
- For example:
--"I want a church that affirms my brand of sin. Oh, I won't call it sin, I will just call it my predisposition. "
--"I want a church that will not confront my rebellion or call it what it is. That would simply not be nice."
--"I want a church that will affirm my overly strong desires. I will complain loudly and have a temper tantrum if they do anything but."
A key question:
Are we observing these attitudes in Reformed churches? If so, where? Are these pieces of evidence of the seductive influences of the 'spirit of the times?'
How do we respond?
A. Forget the problem. Since Kuyper said "every square inch" why sweat the details. After all "this world belongs to God."
Challenge: What do you do with the passages of "the ruler of this world" exercising control over those not in Christ [See: John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11: Ephesians 2:2]?
Why did James refer to some of his readers as "an adulterous generation?" Obviously, they were having an illicit affair with the world (James 4:4).
B. Go with the flow. Let the spirit of the times dictate how the church should act. Or better yet, call the 'spirit of the times' the "moving of the Holy Spirit."
Challenge: The author to the Hebrews warned against drifting with the current (Heb 2:1) and Paul warned against having one's behaviour shaped by the mold of this world [See Romans 12:2; also I Peter 1:14].
C. Give them what they want. After all, the church is meant to be the most loving, most inclusive, most tolerant institution on the face of the earth, is it not?
Challenge: The church is the society of those who are 'dead men/persons walking.' That is to say it is a community of those who were once in darkness, once enslaved, once dead in sin. Consequently, numerous Scriptures refer to the former state of the converts as something to be avoided at all costs [See Galatians 4:3, 9; Colossians 2:8; 2 Peter 2:20].
D. Avoid squelching people's feelings. Since God made us creatures with the ability to feel, then why should the church get involved with this area?
Challenge: As much as their are legitimate desires, there are also inordinate cravings or lusts that can affect all Christians. The Epistles frequently refer to this word 'epithymia' and I Peter 1:14 for example suggests that the readers should not be "conformed to the passions" of their former ignorance. Paul, James and John strongly advise against being 'in love' with this present world [See 2 Tim 4:10; James 4:4; 1 John 2:15].
E. Avoid anything that has a look and feel of authority. Avoid all authority structures as the church buys into the mantra that in Christ there is no male or female or Greek or Jew, and we are all equal.
Challenge: The spirit of rebellion is a defiance of God-given authority. This defiance has been put on par with "the sin of witchcraft" (1 Sam 15:23) and no church worth its salt will put up with this. The global church has two millennia of experience worldwide in church government and should be able to conduct herself as the "pillar and ground of the truth" quite ably without needing to be fashionable.
1. How would you identify influences of the 'spirit of the times' in the CRC?
2. Is there anything the CRC can do about it, if they exist?
3. Is the CRC willing to do something about it, or is it committed to being fashionable and with the times?
[Note: Some ideas above were derived from Harold Vaughn's "The Spirit of This Age"]