This year, I had the opportunity to attend the 2016 ERLC National Conference, which was focused on the timely and relevant topic of Christian cultural engagement. It proved to be informative and influential in my thinking.
As a young 18-year-old Christian who is interested in politics, this election season has been soul-crushing. I have felt betrayed. I have listened to demagoguery. I have watched leaders compromise conviction for political power. It’s been disillusioning, to say the least. How could this happen? The conference speakers provided some insight as to how we got here.
How did we get here?
I learned that this is a result of a church with distorted priorities. As Bruce Ashford put it, “Evangelicals have, for too long, been loyal to political narrative over gospel priorities”. We have tolerated heretics in the pursuit of political power. We have been willing to call out the sins of others but refused to call out the sins of our own church body. We have allowed moralistic therapeutic deism to take to take root in our churches in the name of Christianity. We have refused to adopt the racial reconciliation of the apostle Paul, and instead adopted a policy of indifference, which is a problem that we can no longer blame on outside forces; it is a problem within the church itself.
The church has been complicit in allowing itself and its values to be tainted. For too long, the church has traded its gospel witness for temporary political power. Yet, the speakers at the conference did not merely stop at a diagnosis. They also provided solutions.
An opportunity for the church
For the Christian, this should not be a time of doom and gloom; it is an unbelievable opportunity to reshape our priorities. Instead of mourning, we can be thankful that “the shaking of American culture is causing a falling out of the almost-gospel that has plagued the church," according to Russell Moore.
The church has an unbelievable opportunity. We can be biblically bold and honest in a culture that is confused about almost everything. The church can and must be the place that fights for racial unity while bigotry goes mainstream in the culture. We can fight for purity when immorality is celebrated. We can stand on principle when manipulation is the norm. We can stand for justice in a culture of injustice. We can stand for moral courage in a time of moral cowardice. We must be willing to call sin, sin, not only in the culture at large but especially in our own churches. Most importantly, we must stand for gospel truth in any and every circumstance. The church must be a place where the gospel is prioritized above all else.
I left the 2016 ERLC National Conference incredibly thankful for the leadership of Russell Moore and those within the ERLC on these vital cultural issues. I especially appreciate their apparent desire for gospel-centered racial reconciliation. For too long, the church has been silent on racial reconciliation as a gospel issue. As Bryan Loritts said in his talk, “The only thing worse than hate is indifference.” We must combat the racial segregation in our churches. The new heavens and new earth will be made up of every tribe, tongue and nation, and our churches should reflect that here and now whenever possible. “If all of your relationships are with people who look like, sound like, and dress like you; you are missing out on the beauty of the gospel,” exhorted Bryan Loritts. We must follow in the footsteps of the apostle Paul, who believed that any form of ethnic supremacy was out of step with the Christian gospel message, of which he was willing to lay down his own life.
My final thought is a powerful word of gospel courage I heard from Russell Moore’s keynote address: “Because the gospel is true, we must march into the culture, not with fear, but with the courage of people who are going onward and upward." So I say to my fellow millennials, we must move onward in Jesus’ name.