Build according to code
In the early 90s, Hurricane Andrew ravaged Florida causing destruction to countless thriving neighbourhoods. One residential area had nearly every house destroyed, except one. A local reporter went to the site to ask the owner of this house why his home stood strong while all others fell. The owner replied, ‘I built this house myself, but I also built it according to the Florida State Building Code. When the code called for 2×6 roof trusses I used 2×6 roof trusses. I was told that a house built according to Code would withstand any storm, and it did.’
It would not take much convincing for you and me to agree that we are in the midst of a cultural storm. The hurricane of progressivism is in full flight and no one has been left unaffected. For example, what would have been unimaginable 30 years ago regarding gender and sexuality is now a societal dogma we are all expected to accept. This isn’t due to some new scientific discovery or archaeological finding. Quite the opposite. It’s due to a redefining of truth.
Truth is no longer an objective fact we submit to, now truth is relative. Truth is defined by each person’s feelings and experience and if it fits with the agenda of progressivism then society will force you to accept their ‘truth’ or accuse you of bigotry and the denial of human rights.
With this ‘cultural progress’ has come higher suicide rates and the fact that we are now living in the most anxious and depressed generation in recorded history.
The storm has hit, no one has been left unaffected and many lives are crumbling. Yet as Christians, we do not have to crumble because we can build to code, we can build according to the Bible.
Stay in your lane
When Joshua was moving into a new era these were the words God said to him:
Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law… Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go (Josh. 1:7).
When I was learning to drive on the motorway my instructor would often say to me ‘stay in your lane’. What he meant by this phrase was that if I had chosen the inside lane I should stay in it and keep steady because if I swerved to the left or the right, I was inviting an accident.
This is the same advice God gave Joshua and the same advice he gives us today. With the storm of progressivism wailing against our lives we must continue to build to code. How? By not turning to the left or the right but by staying in the Bible. Continuing faithfulness to the Word of God is the only way we will keep steady and not cause an accident.
I once heard it said that when it comes to gospel and non-gospel issues everyone is entitled to their own opinion but not their own truth. In a changing world, the truth of God, the Bible, is unchanging. No matter how people want to redefine truth, they can’t. God defines truth and he is immutable, therefore so is his truth and we must stay in it.
The storm has broken through the windows
Sadly, the hurricane of progressivism has not kept itself to society; it’s also inside the church. Even if someone isn’t a self-labelled progressive, we may still find winds of progressivism in our churches, even evangelical ones. In every evangelical church I have been a part of I have met people who claim to believe the Bible is the Word of God and yet on certain issues they submit to the authority of their lived experience as the basis for their beliefs rather than the authority of God’s Word.
This is most often evidenced by their response to someone who begins to discuss the Bible’s teachings on topics such as gender and sexuality. They will often begin their rebuttal with ‘Well, that’s your opinion but…’
I have great compassion for these people because they are very rarely progressive Christians but instead have just been caught up in the storm and didn’t have a deep enough foundation to keep them grounded. More than that, their submission to subjective lived experience over the objective truth of the Bible is often due to having a loved one that has struggled with gender identity or same-sex attraction. In other words, their heart is to love people and do right but on their way to this destination, they sadly swerved on the motorway and caused an accident that harmed themselves and those they are attempting to love.
Weight-loss that is bad for our health
How does this happen? How does someone who claims to believe in the Bible as the Word of God feel comfortable allowing culture and subjective experience to redefine what the Bible says?
The answer is weight-loss. Many Christians and congregations are on a weight-loss programme that is killing their health. I’m not talking about the excess weight on our waistlines (though we could do with losing that) but the loss of the recognition of the weightiness of the Word of God.
Many have seemed to forget that the Bible is the Word of God. It is not from the pen of Tolkien or Lewis, it is breathed out from the divine mouth of God through the arms of chosen men. This means it is more authoritative than any piece of literature or human experience on planet earth.
Therefore, if our culture is out of step with Scripture, it’s not the Bible which needs to ‘catch-up’; rather it’s culture. Progressive Christianity is nothing more than regressive Christianity, taking us away from God not towards him and no amount of historical, exegetical or experiential gymnastics will change what the Bible says and what the church has believed for the last 2000 years.
Many of our Christian friends and family members have fallen into this progressive trap of being comfortable with each person having their own interpretation or opinion of scriptural truths because they view the Bible as so lightweight that it can be tossed to and fro with the winds of worldly wisdom and popular opinion. They may not admit this in their statement of faith, but their actions and opinions communicate it.
So, what do we do? If we are to see our friends and family return to recognizing the weight of the Word over the winds of the world, what can we do?
Lay down a straight stick
As a pastor I have struggled with this question myself. How can I best serve those whom I love but who have perhaps swerved to the left or to the right? The answer came to me through D. L. Moody. He said:
The best way to show that a stick is crooked is not to argue about it or to spend time denouncing it, but to lay a straight stick alongside it.
I could easily set out a year-long series of sermons analysing and denouncing every crook in the stick of progressive ideology, but that’s not my calling. You and I could easily spend hours arguing every crook in the opinions and ‘truths’ set forth by culture, but that’s not time well spent. Instead, the best approach for us all is to lay down a straight stick by communicating to family and friends the teaching of the Word on a certain subject and doing it in the fruit of the Spirit. Then and only then will they see how crooked their stick is.
Not all of us have the time or intellect to research and debate the countless crooks on the progressive stick. Plus when we attempt this approach, many of us can become argumentative and unloving, something Paul warns us about in 2 Timothy 2:23. So instead, we lay down the straight stick of the Bible. We don’t engage in tireless arguments over-analysing subjective experience, but instead we trust that the Word of God, through the Spirit of God, will do the work of God.
Without a reference point of straightness, their crooked stick seems straight. Without the truth of the Word laid out in a manner which reflects the divine author, your friends and family have no reference point for divine truth. This idea has revolutionised my approach to preaching, evangelism and conversation. It has taken the pressure off me and put it where it rightly belongs, in the strong hands of God. Lay down for someone the straight stick of the simple truth of who God is and what he says in relation to the subject being discussed and you have faithfully accomplished your calling. The rest is up to God. This is very encouraging because many of us don’t have PhDs or extensive experience in the roots of progressive ideology, but we do have a Bible.
How to achieve a straight stick
I want to finish this article with five principles that if followed will guide us towards straight stick beliefs and the confidence to lay them down next to crooked ones. The first three principles are gleaned from Andrew Wilson’s book Unbreakable.
Know what the author meant
The Bible is 66 books written by 40 authors based on three continents over the time span of thousands of years. These authors had brains and personalities, they also had cultures they were writing from and into, and they had audiences they were writing for. Working out what a certain Bible passage meant to the original author and the original audience is paramount to biblical interpretation and will stop us from going into many weird and crooked views. There is a general principle that Scripture can’t mean something to us that it didn’t mean to them.
Know what the ultimate author meant
Though there are many human authors of Scripture there is only one ultimate author who inspired and influenced them all, God the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we do not read the Bible as 66 small stories, but we read it as one big story. This means that our understanding of one passage needs to fit in with the big story and overall teaching of the whole Bible. A helpful tip to achieve this is to allow Scripture to interpret Scripture. For example, if you don’t understand something in one passage, find out where it has been spoken of elsewhere in the Bible and let those passages shed light on the difficult one.
Translate to culture but don’t change for culture
There are some difficult and awkward commands in Scripture, and we can be tempted to say they are cultural and therefore not applicable to us today. Though it is true some commands had clear cultural applications their principle is immutable. For example, none of us wants to greet our brother with a holy kiss, that’s culturally unacceptable here in the west, but for the Apostle Paul it was completely normal. Should we therefore leave the command behind with ancient culture? No, because Paul is teaching us in that command to lavish culturally-appropriate affection on someone. We cannot be tempted to change the truth of Scripture just because we are uncomfortable with its first century application. We must be wise and humble, and with the help of the Spirit and of others, we must learn what it is saying and apply its teaching faithfully in our culture.
Jesus promises us that the Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth. Therefore, we must yield to his power and through prayer seek his illumination of the Scriptures. Though this may take patience it will never be detrimental to our quest for truth because God alone leads us into truth. Also, we must pray so that the truth we learn in our heads can make its way into our hearts and transform our lives. This is vital because there is no point in laying down a straight stick of truth if the person holding it is crooked.
Never learn alone
We are not lone rangers on the quest for truth. Instead, we are church members learning from others and taking on the guidance of our elders. We are students to whom God has given teachers and preachers. We are standing on the shoulders of giants to whom God has given much revelation and illumination that we should learn from, over 2000 years’ worth.
Friend, let’s build to code, stay in our lane, and lay down a straight stick trusting that the Word of God by the Spirit of God is enough to do the work of God. Amen!