It should be clear to all those not too blind to see or too deaf to hear that America is facing a profound identity crisis in terms of who we are and what it is we stand for as a people and as a nation.
In significant ways, this “culture war” can be boiled down to two large groups of Americans, each deeply committed to their cause.
One group, while acknowledging America’s faults and imperfections, wants to restore traditional American values (inextricably intertwined with the Judeo-Christian values embedded in our founding documents) while continuing to address the imperfections and inequalities that remain.
For a quarter century (1988-2013) I was privileged to lead a Christian organization that was deeply committed to this vision of religiously driven reformation of American culture and society (The Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission).
The Commission’s Vision and Mission statement spells this out with admirable clarity:
“Our Vision: An American society that affirms and practices Judeo-Christian values rooted in biblical authority.”
“Our Mission statement clarified how this vision was to be achieved. “To awaken, inform, energize, equip, and mobilize Christians to be the catalysts for the Biblically-based transformation of their families, churches, communities, and the nation.”
The other side is composed of the various groups of Americans who make up the “progressive left,” whose collective goal and purpose is to profoundly change an American society they believe to be hopelessly compromised by its racist and sexist past. Racism and sexism must be overthrown and abolished and a new and different society erected on the rubble of the existing order.
In a country as committed to democratic self-government as America is, such culture wars are conducted in the public square through political debate and elections. Students of such conflicts have observed, “Politics is downstream from culture and culture is downstream from religion. This is true whether your religion is monotheistic, polytheistic, agnostic, or atheistic.”
Consequently, before we can begin to address the question of how Christians should address our nation’s profound identity crisis, we must attempt to answer the question: “What does it mean to be a Christian?”
As an orthodox (with a small “o”) Christian of traditional Protestant convictions (of the Baptist persuasion), my attempt to answer that question will always commence by addressing it to the New Testament as my manual for faith and practice.
The New Testament informs one that a Christian is a follower and disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ who has placed his or her personal faith and trust in Christ’s death on the cross as atonement for their sins. As the Apostle Paul informs us, “For by grace are we saved through faith; and that not of ourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph 2:8-9).
While Jesus was still in the midst of His earthly ministry, He taught His disciples that they were to be the “salt” of the earth and the “light” of the world. (Matt. 5:13-16) The context of this teaching is both fascinating and instructive.
Jesus, having seen the multitudes, withdrew and beckoned His disciples to join Him. Jesus, being the Incarnate Son of God, really “saw” the multitudes. He saw them as they really were. Reading the fine print of their souls, Jesus saw them in their darkness and despair. He could see the vast, cavernous difference between what they were and the person God had created each of them to be.
He turned to His disciples and charged them to be the “salt” of the earth and the “light” of the world, ministering to the lost world’s darkness, decay, and despair. Salt is a preservative, stopping decay and putrefaction. Salt is a disinfectant, cleansing wounds of infection. Jesus is calling Christians to be a moral disinfectant and preservative in a decayed, infected world. Salt can’t bring life, but it can stop the decay. Light penetrates the darkness, dispels the gloom and illuminates the truth.
Jesus has commanded each Christian to be salt and light because we are to be living and breathing examples of having been salted and lit by the Holy Spirit.
The New Testament tells us that every Christian is a new kind of man that never existed before and as such, we are to carry that transformative light to a lost and dying world.
In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he proclaims that Jesus Christ has broken down the wall between Jews and Gentiles and He has created a new man (Eph. 2:14-15).
Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Paul uses the Greek term kainos for “new” of a different and unique kind and the Greek κtizō, “to create,” not merely “make.” In other words, after Pentecost, with the coming of the Holy Spirit in a new and mighty way, God has created a new kind of human being, a post-Pentecost, Spirit-born being unlike all others that have gone before. As John Chrysostom, (347 AD-407 AD), an early church father reportedly put it, “It was as if God melted down a statue of silver (the Jews) and a statue of lead (the Gentiles) and produced a new statue of gold!”
This is why the Apostle Paul declared that in Christ there “is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).
Since Christians are indeed a new kind of human being, we are called to a ministry of reconciliation. The Apostle Paul declares, “Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature. Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation” (II Cor. 5:17-18).
Next week we will explore some of the implications of the “ministry of reconciliation” which have been assigned to and entrusted to Christians today.
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.