Thomas Brooks explains what to do when we feel the cultural current pulling us downstream. Fix your eyes on truth and fight the real culture war – inside.
Us vs. them?
Every year, we see the headlines. The statistics look grim. We wonder what’s going on and how to make sense of it.
The western Church is dying. Europe is basically secular now. Vestiges of Christianity are merely historical and incidental. Atheism, agnosticism, and skepticism have become default worldviews.
America is following suit. The “nones” – persons claiming no religious affiliation – continue to rise. Truly committed Christians, not just culturally or traditionally so, are dwindling. Liberal secularism is mainstream. Holding to historic biblical views is weird.
It’s enough to make a believer think he or she is out of step, on the “wrong side of history,” part of a dying breed.
But ironically, liberal collectivism is really just another religion, with its own moral code, its own rhythms and movements, its own set of gurus and thought leaders. Christianity stands in opposition to this faith trend, pointing to an objective, eternal reality as the truth source.
This tactic of Satan to discourage us from religious devotion is similar to the previous one, to isolate and single us out, to play upon our loneliness. Here, our enemy points to the majority movement of culture away from collective spirituality of any kind.
By presenting before them the examples of the greatest part of the world — who walk in the ways of their own hearts, and that make light and slight of the ways of the Lord.
What do we do when we feel the cultural current pulling us downstream? A strong Christian fights – not systems, not institutions, and definitely not our neighbors. We fight the real culture war, the internal battle, the turn of our hearts downstream. We fix our eyes on truth, and we paddle against the current. Hard.
And little by little, we win. Puritan author Thomas Brooks helps us get there with a few bits of timeless advice.
Remedy 1: Follow God’s word, not man’s wisdom
How susceptible do you think you are to social pressure? How good are you at staying on your own course when the crowd pushes against you?
In this YouTube video, we see through experimentation what happens when a person experiences unexpected social behavior.
The most remarkable thing about this experiment may be that the first subject “taught” the group’s behavior to a new subject. There was no expectation that she would do so. Yet she assumed that demonstrating compliance with the sound cue was her responsibility.
The subject’s behavior and response in this experiment were harmless. Yet they illustrate the incredible power of social conformance.
As Christians, we must learn to recognize the way culture pressures us to follow. We should look to devoted fellow church members as our examples. Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. The sharpness of our devotion to God may grow dull absent interaction with other believers.
This is not to suggest that Christians are immune to following negative behaviors or trends in our own churches. Certainly, there are more than enough examples of bad doctrine and questionable practices passed along with little thought to their accuracy or authenticity.
This is why the greatest source of fuel for our devotion cannot ultimately be other believers. It must be Christ, himself. “I am the vine, you are the branches. Remain in me and bear much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing.”
Neglecting this is what leads to “burn-out.” We feel the need to back away from the church and other believers because of exhaustion. We fail to feed ourselves from the riches of God’s banquet table. It is not selfish to take what God gives us so that we can in turn give of his goodness to others.
Sometimes fighting the internal culture war looks like self-care. Tend to your soul, and watch your desire for service grow as a result.
Remedy 2: Break from the crowd
At the end of this remedy, Thomas Brooks makes a reference to “Isidore” and a serpent. This is likely Isidore of Seville, who compiled the first encyclopedia of the Middle Ages. In a work titled the Sententiae (a sentence or judgment already passed), Isidore states the devil takes on three distinct forms when tempting or deceiving men. The serpent is the form he uses to elicit greed or malice. (Time, Work, and Culture in the Middle Ages, Jacques le Goff, translated by Arthur Goldhammer. University of Chicago Press: 1980.)
The quotation from Isidore, looking upon the serpent of greed, is: “So many colors, so many dolours.” In modern words: “The temptation to be greedy looks so pleasant, but in the end it brings so many sorrows.” Sin is attractive. How much more attractive it is when the multitudes usher you along toward it, happily anticipating its fruits.
Punishment must follow sin. Consequences must follow our actions. We should remain thankful every day that the Lord Jesus has taken upon himself the punishment for us all, healing us of our mortal sin disease with his wounds. This does not grant us license to sin further.
We want acceptance. We long for approval. Yet it is better to remain alone in our integrity than be swept along toward ruin. By the strength God gives you in Christ, turn your eyes from the “serpent” of greed, or any other temptation that allures you. Fix your eyes instead on the one who by his sinlessness crushed the serpent’s head.
Remedy 3: Row against the current
Two friends of mine are experienced kayakers. They know how to handle class-V rapids and all the dangers they contain. They are certified to train other kayakers and have passed classes in swift-water rescue. In short, if you kayak with them, do what they say.
That was how I managed a day on the challenging Hiwassee River with them one recent summer. Having never taken on a river in a solo kayak, I depended on my friends’ wisdom and knowledge to avoid danger. I did as instructed, no questions or arguments.
One technique they passed along came in very handy more than once. “Ferrying” is the means by which you cross from one side of a river to another. It seems counterintuitive, but it works. Turn your boat upstream, point the nose slightly in the direction you want to go, then paddle hard. Although you’re working against the current, your efforts will place you safely ashore.
You fight the current because you’re delivering precious cargo – yourself! You paddle hard because your safety is at stake. When forces move you one direction, you exert every effort to go another. You resist.
Taking the culture war to church
My family and I were once members of a large denominational church. One Sunday morning, our leaders suspended regular adult Sunday school classes so everyone could attend a well-known author’s appearance.
As throngs of adult church members filed through the entrance I suddenly felt sick and disoriented. An unease gripped me. My wife and I did not attend the event. Instead, we drove to a nearby coffee shop to talk while we waited for our children’s Sunday school classes to conclude.
Later that day, I researched the speaker’s background and theology. What I learned troubled me greatly. There were many areas in which I believed this person’s worldview and biblical interpretation departed from correct doctrine. It was one of several catalysts that ultimately drove us from that church.
I don’t tell this story to suggest everyone who attended the event fell into eternal destruction. Sometimes fighting the culture war means rowing against the currents of our own congregations. This may not be a matter of essential doctrine. But it could be something important enough to protect your personal integrity and obey the Holy Spirit’s leading in your life.
That kind of action may cost you friends. It may brand you an extremist or traditionalist, perhaps a troublemaker. Some will question the necessity of your stand. Those are opportunities to speak humbly but boldly of your convictions. And they may lead to your carrying another person to safety with you.