In Part I of our Snares of the Modern Church series, we dissected the issues of the modern church aligning with the prosperity gospel and an overemphasis on speculative interpretations about the unknown, drawing upon the wisdom of Colossians 2:8, 2 Corinthians 11:3, and 1 Timothy 6:9-10. We discovered how these challenges, much like the snares of Paul’s time, risk diverting the focus from the core tenets of the Christian faith.
Now, transitioning into Part II, we extend our exploration to two additional snares facing today’s church—cultural accommodation and moral relativism. Anchoring ourselves in the timeless truths of Romans 12:2 and 1 Peter 1:14-16, we’ll discern how these challenges might be subtly affecting the professing Church and unveil the enduring wisdom of Scripture in navigating these issues.
Paul, in his epistle to the Romans, admonished the early believers, saying, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2, ESV). His primary readers of this epistle, early Christians living in the heart of the Roman Empire, were constantly confronted with the seduction of cultural norms that often stood in stark contrast to their faith.
Today’s church indeed finds itself grappling with the challenges of cultural engagement. It is undeniable that the church should and must engage with its surrounding culture, for we are not called to be an isolated fortress, unresponsive to societal contexts. Yet, the snare lies in uncritical cultural accommodation, where the lines between engagement and assimilation become blurred.
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Consider, for instance, the realm of worship music which has seen dramatic shifts in recent years. While it is certainly appropriate and indeed desirable to have worship music that resonates with the contemporary audience, a discernible trend is the adoption of a style that mirrors secular and irreverent music. The focus often shifts to catchy tunes and showy performances, and most of the time at the expense of sound doctrine, not to mention the reverence and awe that are due to God in worship. This kind of accommodation tends to lead people astray by obscuring the primary purpose of worship—to exalt and honor God.
Likewise, we see a similar pattern of uncritical cultural accommodation in the lives of professing believers in the adoption of modern trends and fashion. The drive to be relevant and trendy may result in a casual approach to holiness and modesty. While there is nothing necessarily inherently wrong with these things in and of themselves, the danger lies in losing reverence and adopting an overtly casual attitude towards the things of God.
Similarly, cultural accommodation can creep into the preaching of the Word, where the pressure to be inclusive and politically correct dilutes the bold proclamation of biblical truths. Sermons may subtly shift from declaring the uncompromised truth of God’s Word to delivering messages that align more closely with popular societal beliefs, sidestepping difficult or contentious issues in the process.
In a similar vein, the Apostle Peter instructed, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy'” (1 Peter 1:14-16, ESV). Here, Peter was exhorting the early Christians, dispersed and living amongst pagan cultures, to not be swayed by the moral codes of the world around them but to uphold the holiness of God in their conduct.
The snare of moral relativism has become an increasingly pervasive issue in the contemporary world. It presents itself in subtle and not-so-subtle ways as society embraces the notion of ‘personal truth’ and subjective morality, often cloaked in appealing terms like tolerance, inclusivity, or enlightenment. This presents a significant risk to the church, as it could lead to the adoption of a morally relativistic stance.
One clear illustration of this is the emergence of the “woke” movement, which does nothing but propagate a divisive mindset that urges everyone to embrace other people’s differences in moral and social behavior as acceptable. In its drive for diversity and inclusivity, it overlooks or even dismisses the timeless moral absolutes laid out in Scripture.
Take, for instance, the issues of abortion and homosexuality. These topics are frequently discussed in society and in the church with increasing latitude. In the quest to embrace inclusivity and avoid offense, there can be a tendency to downplay or reinterpret clear biblical teachings on the sanctity of life and the biblical design for human sexuality as mere “differences of experience,” either personal or collective. As a result, the moral relativism that is characteristic of the “woke” movement has led to the acceptance of grossly immoral behaviors.
The danger here is profound. We run the risk of conforming to the “passions of our former ignorance”, modifying our ethical and moral standards to match society’s shifting moral landscape. The outcome is a form of Christianity that mirrors the surrounding culture more than it reflects the character and commands of God. This capitulation to moral relativism silences the distinct call to holiness that Peter reiterated.
The timeless wisdom embedded in Romans 12:2 and 1 Peter 1:14-16 offers invaluable guidance to navigate these modern snares. They remind us of the imperative to retain our distinctiveness as followers of Christ, even while engaging with our cultural context. They call us to resist the allure of shaping our ethical and moral standards to the world’s ebb and flow but to anchor them in the unchanging holiness of God. As we journey forward, these passages serve as vital compass points, guiding us to engage with the world without losing our distinctive Christian identity and moral integrity.