The Culture Wars: Never As Bad As It Seems and Never As Good As It Seems

I’ve been hearing some evangelical leaders lately talking about how the evangelical churches in the United States have lost the culture wars. What’s the reasoning behind this? As far as I could tell, it was based on the current poll results for certain attitudes.

Yet it was less than a decade ago that I listened to a program from a major evangelical ministry broadcasting a celebration on how the culture wars were won. What was the reasoning behind this? As far as I could tell, it was based on the current poll results for certain attitudes.

I think that both perspectives are simply naïve, and they take poll results too seriously. From what I can see from the scriptures, though, and the mandates of Jesus in the New Testament for the church, there’s nothing that I can see with him giving the church a mandate to win or lose any kinds of culture wars. Rather, his mandates have more to do with the ministry of evangelism and disciplemaking throughout the entire world (Matthew 28:81-20, Luke 24:46-49, Matthew 9:35-38), and, while all this does have cultural implications, I don’t think that it can be boiled down to a war that can be won or lost with a national culture at large. Rather, there will definitely be battles with civil and religious laws and rulers as the church seeks to continue with its ministry of evangelism and disciplemaking, such as in Acts 4:1-32. And, as the idol makers found out in Acts 19, and the Roman empire found out in the second century, the more Christians there are in a culture, the more it impacts negatively those who had been making their living from oppression, superstition, idolatry and depravity.But all this doesn’t really add up to culture wars that can be won or lost, and especially not upon the results of polls of the general population and evangelical churchgoers. I do think that the results of the polls add up to more wise and diligent work in the areas of evangelism and disciplemaking more than anything.

Ultimately, though, the church will always need to have a real concern for any kind of attempts at governmental control and interference with beliefs and practice. This has been true of the church for ages past; usually the concern has been over governmental authorities that attempt to compel some kind of obedience in some way that compromises obedience to the God of the Bible.  This usually comes out of a greater environment where there is some kind of legal or extralegal coercion of strongly held beliefs and personal rights of conscience. Much more often than not, Christians have opposed such coercion of strongly held beliefs as a matter of unjust rulers and unjust laws.  This is why Paul gave these directions to Timothy, and through him to the entire church of Jesus Christ in all places and in all times, to make these requests part of our public gatherings for worship, prayer and scriptural instruction. Let’s never neglect this at any time in any place for any reason. Pastors, and especially senior pastors, please simply follow scripture in making this a regular and consistent part of public worship services.

“I urge, therefore, first of all, that prayer requests, prayers, intercession, thanksgiving, be made for all people, for kings and everyone in authority, so that we might lead quiet and peaceful lives in all reverence and solemnity. For this is good and acceptable before God our Savior, who wants all people to be save and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

(I Timothy 2:1-4)

What Do We Mean By ‘Surrender’?


There’s a word which keeps on cropping up in our worship songs now, and it’s that word, “surrender.” Unfortunately, though, it’s too often not explained, embellished or elaborated upon in those songs, so I fear that it becomes a ‘fill in the blank’ for many. Many of these songs seem to be taking it from the hymn, “I Surrender All,” where it is definitely embellished, verse by verse, as a summation of an act of personal consecration and devotion to Christ. Frankly, the Biblical term which translates most closely to ‘surrender’  (Greek paradidomi) is more often translated as ‘betray’ and it’s most often used of the betrayal of Jesus. So, if this word is to have any legitimacy at all in our worship  there needs to be a connection of the word ‘surrender’ to Biblical teaching and experience. Here is how I would make that connection in a worship service if I were serving as a worship leader or as a pastor.

The first thing that I would make clear is that ‘surrender’, when it could be used to describe the consecration experience of a Biblical figure or to summarize a Biblical command, is never passive. It’s a “Here I am” like the ‘Hineni’ of Isaiah 6:6 that is a personal commitment to follow the will and the mission of God, and in that case, it had nothing to do with a corporate worship experience and being caught up in the music and the emotions, but with a personal revelation of God that was deeply convicting and transforming and led to a life of ministry and perhaps even martyrdom, if Isaiah was indeed martyred during the reign of Manasseh, as some traditions indicate. It had nothing to do with a description of an momentary emotional state that we achieve in a worship service and much more to do with a life sold out to God that was lived in faith and obedience outside the temple praise and worship experience.

Furthermore, I would bring these scriptures into play to describe what we mean by ‘surrender’ if we mean for it to have any meaning at all which is rooted in Biblical truth:

It means first of all, that I have come into a right relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. There is no ‘surrender’ that has any meaning as long as I am living without Christ and without hope in this world, trusting in the delusion of any of my good deeds to recommend me to God and get me into heaven. Now is the time to do this; there is no waiting to clean myself up or for some experience to come down upon me like some lightning bolt from heaven.

Romans 10:9-10: “ . . . if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus[that Jesus is Lord], and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.”

Mark 1: 15: “ . . . the kingdom of God is at hand; repent ye, and believe the gospel.”

II Corinthians 6:2: “  . . . behold, now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation.”

It means personal consecration to God, to the Lordship of Christ, as someone who has died to sin and who is raised with Christ. It means the recognition and acceptance of the legitimate authority of the risen Lord as Lord, Master and Savior over my life, as the outcome of my faith in him for my eternal salvation.

Romans 6:11-13: “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those who are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto God.”

Romans 6:19: “  . . .  for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity: even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.”

It means consecration of my entire life to God through Jesus Christ as the ultimate act of worship, a refusal to be squeezed into the mold of the fallen world, and surrender to be transformed by the renewing of one’s mind by the Word through the Spirit of God.

Romans 12:1-2: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

It means commitment of all my own plans and desires to be accomplished according to the will and through the provision of God. It means, namely, a refusal of any kind of independence from God in my own plans for my life and what I want in my life, but to recognize his sovereignty, guidance and provision as supreme.

Proverbs 16:3: “Commit thy works unto the LORD, and thy thoughts shall be established.”

It means casting my cares and concerns on God in prayer, since he is the one who really is in control and able to do all things well.

I Peter 5:7: “ . . . Casting all your care upon him: for he careth for you.”

It means a refusal to attempt to control my life and the life of any other person, but to recognize and allow for the Lordship of Christ and sovereignty of God in the lives of others. My surrender of my life to God means also that must recognize his Lordship over others, particularly where they are following the Word of God as they see it, their conscience and the leading of God as they see it. It means that I claim to be and try to be lord and master of no one, based on my self conceit or pride of position.

Romans 14:9-10: “. . . Christ both died and rose and revived, that he might be the Lord both of the dead and the living. But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.”

Its outcome means that my plans and my pursuits are no longer to be as they were before, but that my life is to be a reflection of Jesus Christ in every way. It means that I make no plans and take no courses of action that may end up in transgressions of the will of God.

Romans 13: “And that, knowing the time, that now is high time to wake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day: not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof.”

It means turning to a new life in Christ walking in the light as Jesus is in the light, owning up to my sins in confession before God, and seeking to be walk in the Spirit and be filled with the Spirit.

I John 1:5-10: “This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in darkness we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar and his word is not in us.”

Galatians 5:26: “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”

Ephesians 5:17: “And be not drunk, wherein is excess, but be filled with the Spirit . . .”

In honor of the 40oth anniversary of the King James Version, all quotations are from that version.

Give Some Guidance and Consideration to the Biblically Inexperienced

In one Sunday evening service, not long after I took up the pastorate of a new church, I started to give the Biblical reference for my sermon. I said something like, “It’s in the book of Ephesians, just past the middle of the New Testament. If you opened the Bible to Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, Corinthians or Galatians, keep on going toward the back of the Bible. If you’ve turned to Philippians, Thessalonians, Timothy or Hebrews, go back the other way, more toward the front of your Bible.”

A number of the long time churchgoers in the congregation laughed at that. I let them know that it wasn’t a joke, that there were those who came to our services who didn’t know the Bible well enough to find some of the books. I asked them never to laugh at that again, since we didn’t want to have someone feel ashamed of not having learned something that the long time churchgoers had learned perhaps in their childhood. It’s my experience that many times new believers and the spiritually curious don’t get a lot of help with some basic Biblical navigation. Many times their spiritual hunger and curiosity would find greater satisfaction if they simply had some basic guidance, given with kindness and consideration, during the course of normal preaching and teaching. Many times more experienced believers forget how precious the Bible can be to a new believer, especially if that person has had little or no exposure to it before, and provide too little basic guidance on how to navigate through the written Word of God.

I’ve noticed that in many churches there isn’t much guidance given to someone who isn’t already familiar with the Bible on where to find the text for the sermon, and many times there isn’t any common sense guidance given during the normal course of preaching and teaching on where to find the text for a sermon or lesson. Projecting the text on a screen is helpful, but there is more guidance that could be given. Most books of the Bible are short enough that someone could read them easily in an evening, and it can only be commendable for someone listening a series on a book of the Bible to be interested in reading that book on his or her own. Here are some suggestions:

  • If there is a church purchased Bible in the pew of a church, give the page number of the text in the church bulletin or project it on the screen. Biblically inexperienced listeners may not have the order of books in the Bible sufficiently memorized to be able to find a text, but they know how to turn to a page number.
  • From time to time remind people in the congregation that the vast majority of Bibles have the page numbers for the individual books of the Bible in the front of the Bible. Let them know it’s OK to look there for a reference, since it can take years for someone to get sufficiently experienced with the order of the books to be able to find some references quickly. This seems obvious to someone who has experience with a Bible, but it might not occur to someone who has never used a Bible until recently.
  • Provide some coaching when letting people know the Biblical text for preaching or teaching on where to find the books of the Bible. In this day, I think that this would apply even for the larger and well known books such as Psalms, Isaiah and the four gospels. This is extremely inoffensive and many are grateful when it is done with kindness.
  • Occasionally let people know in a kind and perhaps humorous way that King James English is not inspired, and that there are more modern and understandable translations available. My experience with using the New International Version during my own preaching and teaching is that many times someone would come up to me and say something like, “I can understand that Bible that you’re using better than the one I have. Where can I find a Bible like that?”
  • Occasionally let the people know that there are study editions of the Bible and books like Bible dictionaries and commentaries that can provide greater background information on the Bible.
  • More experienced believers should be aware of anyone nearby fumbling through a Bible to find a text. A bit of help quietly and kindly given will often find a grateful heart.

This may seem like very basic guidance, but it’s easy for someone who has been in church and followed the Lord for years to forget what it’s like in those first few days and months of seeking to learn God’s Word. New believers in Christ often seem to be born with a deep hunger for the Word of God, and often they will keep on going into the Word once they get some guidance. Their inexperience shows in those days, and it’s not because of ignorance or stupidity, but because of lack of exposure to the Bible previously. Quite frankly, professional people with advanced degrees may never have come to a realization that Jesus and the apostles didn’t speak in King James English or that a Bible has a table of contents. It’s not that they are stupid, uneducated people, but they simply hadn’t been exposed to the Bible before or thought about these things before.

The Psalms and Contemporary Worship

The Psalms is the songbook of the Old Testament, and the Temple hymnbook of ancient Israel. The indications are that the first edition was compiled by King David and his associates Asaph and Heman from their own compositions. Certainly the collection was expanded later by additional Psalms, but the majority of the Psalms seem to be from the golden age of Israelite worship during the reigns of David and Solomon. There are many interesting parallels with a modern hymnbook, such as the inclusion of archaic phrases, archaic allusions, and probably even archaic melodic forms. There may have been many melodies included which had been around for centuries, and which had seemed overly familiar to many.

Many of the contemporary worship practices seem to point back to the Psalms for their inspiration and justification. The lyrics for many current worship songs and choruses are simply passages from the Psalms. Sometimes these passages taken directly from obscurely or badly translated passages from the Psalms. Other lyrics seem to be reflective of the phrases that occur throughout the Psalms. Unfortunately, these songs and choruses are sometimes as archaic in language and harder to understand than the hymns that they replaced in many worship services. A closer examination, though, of the Psalms shows that these tendencies do not reflect the actual intention and use of the Psalms. In fact, much of contemporary worship practice can find a deeper and stronger direction from a more careful examination of the Psalms.

The Psalms center on worshipping God first of all, in all facets of his character, nature and works.

One of the great contrasts of the Psalms with many contemporary worship services is the great theological depth of the Psalms. All that God is and all that he has done is celebrated. There are also many mentions of the aspects of his nature and character which people nowadays may find less comforting and easy to live with as a finite and sinful human being, such as his justice and judgment. But all this reflects the utterly God centered content of the Psalms as a whole; they are not concerned with what appeals to humans but the truth of who God really is, and what he has really done throughout history, not only in saving his people but also in judging those who reject his will and his ways. Consider three Psalms in particular: Psalms 103, 104 and 105. Not one is longer than a modern hymn, but the first, Psalm 103, is a praiseful consideration of what it means for a person to live under God’s love. The second, Psalm 104, is a praiseful description of how all nature is under the care and power of God. The third, Psalm 105, is a worshipful remembrance of the acts of redemption that God had performed for Israel. All of these take the time to describe and dwell on the truth of God in heartfelt understanding.

This aspect of the Psalms alone rebukes the shallowness of much of the content of many modern worship songs and choruses. God is not referred to repeatedly as ‘You’ or ‘Lord’, and there is much less ‘I’ and ‘me’. There is much less emphasis on how worship makes me feel, and on the truth about the God who is worshipped. His names are celebrated throughout, and there is strong reverence as well as strong intimacy throughout. The Psalms are definitely deeply emotional, but not full of emotionalism; the emotion comes from the intimate knowledge of and relationship with the God of the Bible, not the use of sentimental or emotive phrases and cliches.

The Psalms repeatedly rebuke the idolatry of this world.

Anyone from an idolatrous background that entered the Temple and witnessed the worship of the Israelites would sooner or later understand that there was something wrong with his view of God. In fact, some of the rebuke of the idolatry of this world sounds almost sarcastic in pointing out the foolishness of worshipping the things of the creation rather than the Creator. It’s obvious that there was no desire to spare the feelings of anyone who had indulged in idolatry. Rather, there was a strong call to recognize that the God of the Bible was the true God, and to worship him only.

Idolatry still abounds today. Not only is there the practical idolatry of materialism, where things are more important than God, but there is a dabbling with non Christian religions and practices as well, even by some who attend evangelical churches. Does the worship of these churches then deal with worshipping God rather than the pay raise and the creature comforts, and forsaking all others for the God of the Bible?

The Psalms go into the character and works of God at length.

It is noteworthy how long many Psalms are, and how impressive they are in their depth. This depth of description comes from the deep awareness of God that arises from the deep personal experience of God in the life of the Psalmists. They knew the God of the Bible personally, and had dwelt on his revelation of himself in his written Word. While there are some short Psalms, it is impressive how different many Psalms are in their depth from the short and quick choruses that are popular among many today.

This then brings up the question: do we go through our worship far too quickly? Do we spend the time to explore the character and works of God at length in what we say, sing and do in our worship services?

The Psalms are Messianic.

The worship in the Temple of Solomon could not help but be centered on what God had done through his chosen king. The Psalms also were prophetic of what God would do through the ultimate heir to David, the coming Messiah. Prophecies of the Messianic humiliation, death and exaltation are found throughout the Psalms. Most certainly the apostles could not have sung the Psalms after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus without the deeper awareness of their significance. They certainly would have had the words of Jesus burning in their hearts after he had explained the Messianic nature of the Psalms to them in his teaching after his resurrection. Such Psalms as Psalm 22 were seen to be highly predictive of the crucifixion, and Psalms 2 and 110 of the exaltation of Christ, and were featured strongly in the early preaching of the apostles.

The Messianic nature of the Psalms does bring back the question on how much some contemporary worship services exalt Jesus Christ. Is it possible for anyone to sit through our services without getting, if not a strong awareness, at least a glimpse of the glory of Jesus in his deity, crucifixion and resurrection? Is the picture of God at times a more generic view of him simply as a Creator, Provider and occasional Friend, rather than the God who came to bring eternal salvation through his Son Jesus Christ? Would someone from a cult or non Christian background truly see the difference in the God of the Bible that we worship, and the reality of his Son Jesus Christ?

The Psalms contain personal testimonies of God’s salvation and work in the lives of his people.

The Psalmists knew God intimately and saw him working in their daily lives. They had experienced his salvation throughout their lives. God therefore inspired them to put down their experiences and pass on the wisdom that they had gained through their living closely with him and following his Word for the benefit of ages to come. These are the testimonial and the wisdom Psalms. The picture is that God is not someone distant, a passive observer from a distance, but rather someone who cares so much his people can come to him in any circumstance.

The Psalms show that God’s people can share their deepest emotions and needs with God, even when they are not feeling joyful and happy.

A number of Psalms have a strong element of lament. This is from the entirely scriptural realism that righteous living can be painful living if one is living among sinful people. The deep wounds of the human heart from others, such as verbal abuse, ridicule, rejection and physical abuse. Yet even with all the painful feelings that come from these deep wounds inflicted from others, the Psalmists continue to share the deepest needs of their hearts with God. One does not see an ‘always feel good — always get along’ view of a godly person in the Psalms. It’s quite the opposite — it’s quite clear that the person who stands for God will always find other people who are trying to beat him down. But the Psalms are clear in these situations, that God understands, God cares, and God listens even when the words that come from us are words of lament more than words of praise. It demonstrates that God is not necessarily near to those who seem to have it all together, but to those who are brokenhearted and humble before him. Moreover, there is also God’s purpose in suffering that is found throughout; it is part of God’s school.

The Psalms include the call to righteousness among the people of God with the call to worship God.

The God of the Bible finds displays of worship without righteousness of life revolting; that’s one of the strong messages of the Old Testament. Therefore many of the Psalms contain a ringing call to holiness from the people of God. There was no intimation that God was all right with what anyone was doing. Rather, the call was to abandon one’s own ways and follow the Word of God. Moreover, the call to holiness also comes with an outright commitment to do specific things such as God had commanded. Moreover, this call was not about a vague ‘surrender’ as much as a specific commitment to obedience before God. Such Psalms as Psalm 51 express the depth of real repentance and sorrow for sin far more deeply than many songs that talk briefly and almost tritely about ‘surrender.’

In addition, the Psalms display a call to righteousness in following the Word of God. Psalms 1, 19 and 119 deal in particular with how the Psalmists viewed the Word of God: as inspired by God and the true path for righteousness and holiness. A person in true sympathy with the Psalmists would therefore show the same kind of respect for the Word of God as the Psalms do.

Moreover, the Psalms carry the call to live in Biblical wisdom. Psalms 34 and 37, among others which could be classed as wisdom Psalms, sound almost like the book of Proverbs. They tell about what it means to live in God’s universe under God’s rules, and how learning and applying the Word of God in one’s life is true wisdom in this world.

Contemporary worship in many evangelical churches has rightfully been faulted for being superficial and emotionally centered at times. This would not be because of but rather in spite of what the Psalms teach about worship.