March 25, 2014 Broadcast

Scripture & Culture

A Message by R.C. Sproul

A vast cultural gap exists between the people of the Bible and people who live today.  This fissure often makes it difficult for contemporary Christians to understand the biblical authors’ intention.  In this lesson, Dr. Sproul explains how learning about ancient Israelite culture can help us grasp and apply the unchanging message of Scripture.

From the series: Knowing Scripture

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. devotional

    Confident in Truth

  2. article

    Choose This Day

  3. article

    The Christian's GPS

Confident in Truth

Besides the changes in worship and church government that the Reformation brought about, there was also a marked change in church architecture. During the medieval era, the altar was placed at the center of the chancel area in most churches because of the central place the celebration of the Eucharist held in the liturgy. But beginning with the Reformation, many Protestant churches moved the pulpit to the center, at times even elevating it to symbolize the fact that God’s people sit under the authority of His Word.

It is the power and authority of Scripture that the preacher is to stand firmly upon as he proclaims the gospel from the pulpit. He is not afraid to be certain of those things about which the Word of God is clear, a radical position in a postmodern age that loves uncertainty. The confidence and certainty with which the pastor sets forth the teaching of Scripture is not based in an arrogant trust in his own abilities but in the knowledge that the Bible is the very truth of the Lord. Such certainty enables the preacher to stand firm for the gospel and to equip his people to do the same in a hostile world. Martin Luther says that a preacher should never be afraid to “be sure of his doctrine” (Table Talk no. 397).

The greatest threat to the security of Israel under the old covenant was the false prophet who gave the people only what they wanted to hear (Jer. 28). The opposition that the clear proclamation of the gospel always produces can make it difficult to stand on the certainty of Scripture. To avoid suffering, a pastor (and lay people as well) can waffle on the core doctrines of the Christian faith, choosing to preach sermons that make people feel good rather than drive them to repentance and faith. But faithful preachers do not tickle the ears of their flock. They do not ride their own personal hobby-horses or make entertainment the goal of their ministries. Instead, they preach the truth, no matter how unpopular this may be in our relativistic culture.

Uncertainty in matters about which Scripture is clear is a poison that can affect people for eternity. May our preachers always stand firmly on God’s inerrant Word. And may we be encouraged to do the same.  

Choose This Day

Niel Nielson

Recently, an acquaintance of mine gathered these statistics on the choices available today: 200 cable channels; 255 ways to order a Big Mac; 19,000 possible combinations for coffee at Starbucks and 78,998 for ice cream and toppings at Cold Stone Creamery; and more than 500,000 mathematical possibilities for pizza in America.

Now add the amazing variety of cultures around the world, each with its own wide range of choices and traditions and practices, and it is clear that we live in a pluralistic world gone crazy — a world awash in choices, options, alternatives, and which calls to us, “Come, follow me.” One of our long-time philosophy professors at Covenant College speaks of the “recommendations” that come at us from all directions, recommendations about what to like, what to think, what to buy, what to believe, and how to live. Some of these recommendations are relatively innocuous, like “buy Adidas”; some are more important, like “vote for me rather than my opponent”; and some are deadly serious and carry huge consequences, like “follow my religion” or “believe this about sex.”

At the heart of true education is learning to hear these voices clearly, to recognize their sources, and to respond in godly ways, whether in school, at work, at church, in a recreational context, in a relationship, or in those moments of utter personal privacy when no one is watching.

While our choices today may far outnumber those in previous generations, this challenge of discerning and responding biblically has been around since creation. Our first human parents faced it: a choice between two recommendations, as it were — one from the God who had created them and expected them to obey Him, and the other from the enemy of God who wooed them into doubting God’s words and choosing their own way in place of His.

This is the focus of Jude’s short letter, which he tells us isn’t the letter he first intended to write: “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (v. 3). Jude is compelled to address the very problem we are discussing here: recommendations coming to his readers from “certain people” who “have crept in unnoticed” and “who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (v. 4).

Notice that Jude isn’t writing to them about voices calling from outside the visible fellowship of faith. These people have “crept in unnoticed,” that is, they are inside the congregation of God’s people. In other words, the problem of pluralism is not just “out there” in the world; it’s also “in here” even among those who call themselves Christians. In fact, the deadliest recommendations may come from those who claim to be fellow believers, because they masquerade as people of the light, they use “Christian” vocabulary, and they assert that their views are faithful to our most holy faith.

Jude directs some of the harshest language in all the Bible at such people: they are blasphemers, children of Cain, waterless clouds and fruitless trees, ungodly and loud-mouthed boasters. God has already designated their condemnation. And yet Jude’s burden for his readers is to urge them to contend — to fight earnestly — for the faith once for all delivered to the saints — to reject recommendations that would lead them away into unbelief and unholiness.

What is this faith once for all delivered? For Jude’s readers and for us, it is clearly a reference to our faith laid out in the Word of God written in ages past and now faithfully delivered to us. It is “once for all” revelation from God, gloriously complete in providing all we need to know about God and His plan, purpose, and expectations for His creation.

Jude gives his readers two clues for recognizing these false teachers and their recommendations: they pervert the grace of our God into sensuality, and they deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ (v. 4). While this short list is not exhaustive, it provides very helpful tests.

First, does a particular viewpoint rationalize sexual sin, in this case by co-opting the very grace of God? Beware, Jude is saying, of any teaching or perspective that would use the grace and love of God as the means for justifying sexual sin, whether heterosexual or homosexual.

Second, does a particular viewpoint diminish the exclusive glory and truth of Jesus Christ as the only King and Savior? Beware, Jude is saying, of any teaching or perspective that undermines His deity, diminishes His uniqueness, doubts His kingly claims over the creation, or adds or subtracts from His Gospel.

For the Tabletalk readers of my three sons’ generation — your choices are many, and recommendations are coming continually at you for what to think, to love, to look at, to believe, and to hope for. With joy and tears I urge you to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints, written for us in the Holy Scriptures and able to sustain and strengthen you until the day of our Lord’s return.  

The Christian's GPS

Anthony Selvaggio

One of the great inventions of the modern world is the global positioning system (GPS). The devices that use this satellite system make travel easier and enhance marital bliss by eliminating disputes between husbands and wives regarding the need to ask for directions. By providing an objective and authoritative standard, the GPS has removed subjectivism and personal opinion from the process of navigation.

In some ways, God's Word is like a GPS device. Like that device, the Bible provides us with an objective standard to guide us in the direction we should go. Of course, our culture has rejected this role for God's Word. When it comes to truth and authority, our culture believes that truth is, at best, unknowable and that authority resides with the individual. Both of these cultural presuppositions ultimately lead to one reality—in our culture, truth is subject to the tyranny of the individual.

The rejection of objective standards of truth in favor of subjective opinion is known as "relativism." When relativism pervades a culture, it spawns toxic effects. Relativism eats away at the fabric of national character and cohesion. Instead of being bound together by objective truths and shared beliefs, a culture riddled with relativism is torn asunder by a mentality that exalts individual and group rights above all else. This is an accurate description of the culture in which we live, and the toxic fallout of relativism is manifested every day in the news and in our neighborhoods.

While most Christians recognize the prevalence of relativism in our culture and lament its devastating impact, we are sometimes less effective in recognizing its impact upon the church. The church is not immune to the toxic effects of relativism.

A clear example of the impact of relativism on the church is the rise of the emergent church movement within evangelicalism. One of the distinguishing marks of the emergent church is the idea that Christianity lacks certainty and the truth is unknowable. For example, David Wells notes that emergents employ the same mantras as the relativists of our culture: "We do not know"; "We cannot know for sure"; "No one can know certainly"; "We should not make judgments"; and "Christianity is about the search, not about the discovery."

While the perspective of the emergent church as expressed in these statements may sound humble at first, what it really represents is a surrender of God's truth to the spirit of the age. After all, Jesus did not say that He "might be" the Way, the Truth and the Life—He said, unequivocally, that He is all of those things. Wells sounds the following warning regarding the risks of tolerating this type of relativism in the church:

Those in the evangelical church today who are being lured by the siren call of postmodern relativism, who are increasingly uncertain that truth can be known, or that it matters all that much anyway, would do well to ponder the fact that this uncertainty goes to the very heart of what Christianity is all about.

The foundation of our faith is that God's truth is objective, knowable, and certain. While interjecting uncertainty into our message may make the church more "hip" in the eyes of the world, it will not make it more faithful or effective.

The problem of relativism, however, is not limited to the emergent church movement or to broader evangelicalism. Relativism is also impacting the Reformed church. One area where the impact of relativism can be witnessed in the Reformed church is in the erosion of the authority of the church regarding the interpretation of Scripture. R. Scott Clark notes this trend in his book Recovering the Reformed Confession, stating that the Reformed are increasingly adopting a "fundamentally individualistic approach to Scripture and tradition" that places individual private judgments of church members above the corporate and confessional voice of the church. In a mistaken application of the priesthood of all believers, the individual is being exalted as the ultimate arbiter of biblical truth.

Another area where the rise of relativism can be witnessed is in the area of church discipline. While lip service is paid to the authority of the church's office-bearers and courts, it is often the case that when discipline is attempted, the authority of the church is trumped by the will of the individual. For example, if a member believes that discipline is inappropriate, he or she will simply reject the discipline by leaving the church.

In the days of the judges, Israel embraced relativism: "In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit" (Judg. 17:6). Like our culture, Israel tossed out the GPS device of God's Word in exchange for the authority of the individual. The result was that Israel regressed during this period.

Whenever the church embraces relativism, the effects are equally toxic. When we as church members begin to embrace relativism, when we begin to do as we see fit, we undermine the effectiveness and mission of the church. Therefore, it is vital that we ask ourselves, from whom are we taking directions?

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