Confronting Our Culture
Elder Jeff Winfrey, Pastor
Dawson Springs Primitive Baptist Church
101 East Walnut Street
Dawson Springs, KY 42408
An Initial Question: His Way? Or Mine?
“His ways are past finding out!” (Romans 11:33) In so many ways these words concerning His ways are true. Yet in some ways He has very much revealed to us His ways. Sometimes the problem is not that His ways are past finding out. Regretfully, sometimes the problem is that we do not bother to find out His ways. And even more regrettable, sometimes His ‘found out ways’ are so contradictory to our ways that we refuse to try them. (Matthew 5:39-44) “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and not tried.” (G. K. Chesterton)
In so many ways Christianity is such a paradox. It calls for such unusual ways that few ever have the faith to really practice it. We believe in Him. We say we believe in His ways. But when we face the test of facing the culture it seems that our ways are our ways and His ways are forgotten.
Non-confrontational confrontation! What a paradox in thinking! What a paradox to think of really practicing such an unnatural way of confronting our culture!
Over the years the Cincinnati Primitive Baptist Church has hosted gatherings of Primitive Baptist ministers on somewhat of an annual basis. The format of the meetings has been to gather together for two or three days and to attempt to study a particular scriptural topic in a somewhat extensive fashion. The church extends an invitation across the land and typically several dozen men show up for the time of fellowship, worship and learning. In years past the meetings have proved to be times of great refreshing and encouragement to me personally. I have learned much and feel to have greatly benefited from the wisdom and teachings of the men of God who have spoken during the sessions. This year I approach the meeting with a different feeling than in years past. In previous times I have attended and been on the receiving end of the sessions. But this year I have been asked to attempt to teach. As I consider some of the men who have with much wisdom brought God’s word to view in the past at these meetings, I am in a sense almost overcome with feelings of inadequacy.
But in a strange and different way I am truly thankful for the invitation to speak at this session. I may fall flat on my face when it comes my time to speak. I do not know what will happen then. But the time of preparation for the opportunity to speak has been unusually enriching to me. Let me share with you some things that have occurred in the development of this little booklet you now read.
The evening in which I was contacted and asked to be a speaker was a frightening evening and in a real sense the fright is still present. Yet the fright of that evening did not prove to be the most significant part of that particular day, because the midst of that night seemed to hold good, yet very strange hours for me. In the communication I had received that evening I had been told that the general title, Confronting Our Culture, was to be this year’s subject. At some point in the middle of that night I was awakened by the thought of confronting our culture without confrontation. The paradoxical thought of non-confrontational confrontation seemed to be flooding my mind. But something even beyond the paradox filled my head that night. There was a specific application of the yet undeveloped principle somewhere in my confused thinking. My head was filled with more thoughts than my pen could note. I arose and began to study and write down thoughts as they occurred.
Much of what is in this booklet originated in the thoughts of that night, for these writings are an extension of the scribbling that occurred at that time. I regretfully admit that I sometimes do not know where my thoughts come from. We are told to try the spirits and in my life I have often been guilty of listening to the wrong voices. As I consider the things that I have written in this booklet I can see how that they may be controversial and may prove to bring more harm than good. I pray that that is not the case. I pray that the Holy Spirit was the source of the thoughts and that He will bring the ideas presented to be to the honor of our great God.
From my perspective it is hoped that the writings in this booklet might accomplish two things. As I see these writings in this booklet, they are first of all an effort to address a paradoxical principle of non-confrontational confrontation. I do believe that this principle was taught by our Lord and if the principle is better understood, perhaps it might be better practiced to His glory. And in the end these writings are an effort to apply that principle of non-confrontational confrontation to a specific aspect of our lives as Primitive Baptists. Hopefully each section of the booklet will progressively develop the central theme of non-confrontational confrontation. And my prayer is that in the end the Spirit of God might grant us to be able to use the paradoxical principle of non-confrontational confrontation as the method by which we confront a very specific and most important aspect of our Primitive Baptist culture.
Proud Preaching to Proud Preachers
As I begin, I hope that this section is not my attempt to prove to you how proud I am of my humility. I realize that in our Primitive Baptist culture the right words to begin any message with are the presumed-proper words of self-expressed humbleness. I am sure that at times these words have come from the heart. And I am equally sure that at other times they are as shallow as the superficial humility they attempt to exalt. I fear that we sometimes attempt to flaunt before others the greatness of our humbleness. And when all is said and done, we proudly wear our self-proclaimed, self-proven, self-given and self-received humble badges with all the false and hypocritical honors connected therewith.
So after that hypocritical attempt to prove to you that I know the difference between false and true humility, let me now state that my intended purpose for this initial section of the booklet is hopefully not to prove to you how great my humility is. Instead my hope is that this section will serve the purpose of allowing you to see that we all need to deal with the besetting sin of pride. Some need to deal with it more than others do. But even in the best of us, self seems to be the forefront of our concerns. And as you proceed to the next paragraphs where you find that I claim to be overwhelmed by preaching to preachers and preaching before God, be reminded that my pride has proved to be a far greater problem in my life than my self-declared humbleness. I have sinned many times by being too proud. I doubt very much that I have sinned nearly as often by being too humble. And perhaps it is the same with you.
So here we go with thoughts on pride and humility. Preaching to preachers—what an overwhelming task! Once I experienced the humiliation of taking the stand in the presence of more than a dozen preachers and not being able to utter a word that made any sense. The subject I had chosen to speak upon was a very familiar subject and one that I should have been able to discuss with little or no effort at all. Yet I could not speak. Upon being unable to speak I attempted to turn to my text and read it. Even reading seemed to be an impossible task. Determined to save face, I searched my mind for options. But there were none to be had. Upon realizing that I was truly at my wit’s end, I suddenly burst into tears and sat down burying my head in my lap. It was a dreadfully embarrassing moment.
But the feeling of humiliation before men was mild compared to the sense of shame and disgrace that flooded my guilt-stricken conscience as I felt the eye of God looking into my heart. There was a much deeper underlying problem that day than a public speaker that had lost his train of thought. The real problem of the day was an arrogant preacher that had lost all sense of humility. The reason for the failure was sin in my heart. And the sin in my heart was pride. The fault was my own in that I entered the stand on that day with a very puffed up and arrogant attitude. Though my fellow preachers did not perhaps know what was in my heart, my God vividly saw my wretched self-importance. And He was able to quickly and effectively bring me to a much more humble and appropriate state of mind. Oh, I am thankful to my God that in His mercy He dealt with me kindly. He brought me to tears before the people present. He brought me to my knees before His majesty. But in His mercy He did not destroy me. In His mercy He allowed me to live and even has allowed me to continue preaching. That is more than I deserved.
Even as our God is kind when we fail, I have found that our preachers are kind also. I still recollect the kind words of comfort and reassurance spoken to me by the preachers present on that day of my humiliation. They were compassionate in that they had God’s Spirit as their guide. And they were kind in that they probably personally knew how I felt. I expect most of them had experienced a similar thing at some time. And having experienced my circumstances they were in a position where they could truly have empathy with me. They knew how I felt and could truly give comfort. I was never treated with more compassion in my life than I was by that group of preachers on that day. And I am to this day indebted to them for their kindness.
So it does feel overwhelming to preach to preachers. And I believe that a man should feel this sense of inadequacy as he stands before learned men of God. But if this is the only sense in which the preacher feels overwhelmed, then he surely has a very poor perspective of things. We all seem to look at things with a much too earthly view. We are overwhelmed by men and fail to consider that each time we attempt to preach we are in the presence of an all-knowing God. The thought of speaking His message in His presence should be awe-inspiring regardless of the men who may or may not be present.
When I consider the awesome task of preaching to God-called preachers in the presence of the God who called them, I should truly become overwhelmed. What could I say to you in the presence of our God that would give Him honor? In light of your knowledge what could I speak that you do not already know? So, do I take this opportunity to speak what would be easily spoken and agreeably received? Do I tell you things that will tickle your ears? Or do I confront you with real issues? Is my mission to make you feel good? Or is my mission to attempt to make you more like Christ? And who am I to think that the likes of me could say something that would make you more like Christ? Surely each of you is more advanced in your efforts to be Christ-like than I. So that if I were to try to correct your lifestyle it would be equivalent to the proverbial pot calling the kettle black. In the words of our Savior I am sure that I need to give attention to the beam in my own eye before looking upon the mote that might be in yours.
So as a pot perhaps speaking to a kettle, I proceed now to give further evidence that I need this message of correction more than any. Having shared with you a personal experience concerning my sin of pride, I further confess to you that I have a continual history of pride as a besetting sin. In my life pride remains an unconquered foe. And since I know pride as well as I do, I am certainly aware that pride does not enjoy being corrected. So if you are a kettle of the same nature as this pot, I fear that you will not receive words of admonition and correction with enthusiasm. And that bothers me, because pride enjoys acceptance nearly as much as it dislikes correction. And if you do not enthusiastically receive my message it will hurt my pride that hates to be hurt. Moreover, the fact that I am considering my feelings in these circumstances causes me to have a deep sense of concern about the whole situation, because my being bothered by this is proof that my pride is still a problem for me. So you see that I am so entangled with myself that I can never adequately be what I am called to be, or correctly do what I am called to do.
And I say with much regret that I do believe that I am not the only Primitive Baptist preacher who has a problem with pride. Regretfully I fear that a spirit of pride and arrogance is generally found among many Primitive Baptist preachers in our land. As a matter of observation it seems to me that Primitive Baptist preachers have a strong tendency to be a group of proud men. I shamefully admit that I am among the chief of sinners in this category. But I regretfully observe that I am not alone in possessing too much self-worth.
Before proceeding let me say that these words concerning a general spirit of pride and arrogance do not fit all who are among us. I am thankful to be able to observe that there are some of our preachers who appear to be very humble and do not seem to have my problem of pride. I truly look up to these humble men. And in spite of what you may be thinking about me, I do have much respect for Primitive Baptist ministers as a whole. They do generally have their good side. Please remember that I have already complimented Primitive Baptist preachers for the kindnesses that they showed me when I faltered in my preaching attempt. And I could write pages declaring the many wonderful things that they have done for me. It could not be told of the many encouragements the group has bestowed upon me through the years. Yes, they generally have their good traits. And they are a group much loved by me. But we are a group that needs some correction and reproof at times, myself more than any.
So as we attempt to honestly examine ourselves, we might ask if there is something about us as a group that accounts for this tendency toward pride. And the answer to such an honest quest for right and wrong always lies in the scriptures. The scriptures clearly declare that knowledge puffs up. (1 Corinthians 8:1) Do we have particular and unusual knowledge? I fear that most of us would quickly (and I fear arrogantly) answer that we do have special knowledge above the crowd. And it does appear that the Lord has particularly blessed us with the knowledge of the truth concerning His sovereign grace. The Lord in His sovereign grace has allowed us to see many truths in His glorious revelation of Himself and His salvation. We rejoice in these truths. Are these truths bad? God forbid. These truths are good truths. Is the knowledge of these truths bad? God forbid. The knowledge of these truths is good knowledge to have. The knowledge of the truth about God should cause men to glorify the God of truth. And this is good. The truth is not the problem. The knowledge of the truth is not the problem. Glorifying God for the knowledge He has given us concerning the truth is not the problem. The problem occurs when we forget to glorify God concerning the knowledge He has given us and begin to glory in ourselves because we have it.
According to God’s word man surely has a strong tendency to be proud of his knowledge. And I fear that we as a people are proof of the tendency. But regretfully pride in knowledge is not our only problem. Further observation seems to show that we as a people are very proud of being the people we are. It is the same problem that Jesus encountered in many of the Jews of His day. (John 8:39) They claimed to have a special status due to heritage and lineage. I fear that in addition to pride in our knowledge we as a people seem to have an inordinate pride in our heritage and lineage. The list could go on and further illustrations given, but perhaps this is sufficient to make the point.
And if perhaps you do not believe that we have a problem with pride, I again go to the scriptures for answers. The proof of our pride seems to lie in the words of the scriptures, “Only by pride cometh contention…” (Proverbs 13:10) Is pride a significant problem among our people? In answer to the question concerning our pride let us first look at our state of contention. It seems that we live in a time that we can easily observe many contentions among our people. Across our land you can find heated discussions concerning our contentions. Our contentions are often the topic of conversation as we gather for worship. They are time and again the subjects of discussion at the lunch table after worship. And worst of all, our sermons are sometimes filled with slurs and innuendos about our brethren along with a so-called message of Christ and Him crucified.
What do our contentions have to do with our pride? How are they related? I believe that our contentions among ourselves are in direct proportion to the pride that is within our hearts. It seems to me that the verse is saying exactly that. The verse declares that contention and pride run hand in hand. Without pride there is no contention. In a truly humble person there is no room for contention. The woman that washed Jesus’ feet with her tears was not in any mood to be contentious with anyone. But upon observing the righteousness of true humility, high-minded Simon felt strong contentions against the woman. And not only that, he had a few bones to pick with Jesus as well. (Luke 7:37-39)
A truly humble man has so much contention with his own sin and failure that there is no room for contention with another. On the other hand, a superficially humble man is a different story. On the outside he may have all the words, all the gestures, all the facial expressions and even the lowly posture of humility. But he has a heart empty of humility. And it seems that the deceiver can easily fill that empty heart with pride. And after that heart is filled with pride there seems to follow (almost with certainty) a contentious attitude and even a desire to find and confront the faults of others.
“Only by pride cometh contention.” The words seem to declare a direct, specific and absolute relation of cause and effect between the state of pride and the act of contention. Only with a state of inner being influenced by pride will contentions be produced. And stated the other way contentions only come as a result of a state of inner being influenced by pride. If there are outward contentions, they must be coming from inner pride. And only by inner pride do outward contentions occur. It seems logical from the verse that without pride there would be no contentions. Oh how wonderful it would be to live in a world without contention!
Please hold to these ideas about pride and contention, as they will be important when we attempt to learn the Christian way to confront our culture. But for the moment may we be led to see ourselves as we are and not as we think we are? And may we be led to swallow our pride and watch our contentions disappear in the process.
Christianity: A Paradox
After considering pride and contention and before thinking about confronting our culture, let us look at something that we find throughout the entire concept of Christianity. It seems that all of Christianity is a paradox. By definition a paradox is something that seems to be full of contradictions. By nature there is something about a paradox that makes it always seem to be inconsistent. A paradox seems not only to be inconsistent with itself; it appears to be inconsistent with the natural way of thinking. The paradox may seem right in one aspect, but there is yet something about it that invariably seems wrong. And Christianity by its very nature is a paradox. It is full of paradoxes. Moreover, man by his very nature cannot help but sense a paradox when he examines true Christianity.
As a matter of fact Christianity is to such an extent a paradox that if something concerning Christianity does not in some way seem to be a paradox, then it might be questioned whether that something is really related very strongly to Christianity. And indeed Christianity from start to finish seems to be one tangled paradox. From the explanation of its God to the response called for in order to worship that God, Christianity is one huge paradox. So as we study Christianity we should come to expect the unexpected. We should almost be surprised if we are not somewhat surprised by any detail pertaining to Christianity. And truly it is not surprising that Christianity seems to be surprising to this world. For the truth of the whole thing is that Christianity is not of this world. As a result, it is no wonder that true Christianity does not seem to fit this world’s way of thinking.
Some of the greatest paradoxes concerning Christianity relate to its God. For centuries men in every religion have struggled with the idea of God. Who is He? What is He? And quite honestly some of the world’s explanations about gods are more believable than the Christian explanation. The Christian idea of God is such a paradox that the natural mind will consistently reject it as foolishness. The Christian concept of one God consisting of three persons is quite honestly beyond reasonable explanation even as believers in the idea discuss it. And how much more this is true when unbelieving minds begin to contemplate the eternal relationships of the three persons in the one God. In a finite mind the more the true God is considered the greater the confusion of mind becomes.
For example, when the idea of a Begotten Son who is eternal is seriously considered, it presents such an apparent impossibility that many through the ages have thrown up their hands in despair at this ultimate paradox. How can there be equality between two when one begets and the other is begotten? Would not the one who begets necessarily have to precede the one begotten? If begotten then how can the Son be eternal? If not eternal, how can He be God? Though the idea has been debated for centuries, it is probably a concept that goes beyond any sense of reasonable discussion. It is simply past our finding out. There is no more difficult task in nature than to attempt to comprehend God. The scriptures are clear that He is past our finding out. His ways are past our ways and He is past our understanding. He has revealed much about Himself in His word, and yet we as finite creatures cannot even understand what He has revealed.
But thankfully we do not have to be able to understand all about Him in order to believe in Him. We are told to believe that He is. We are told that He is one. We are told that He is three. We may not be able to understand this paradox, much less explain it, but by the gift of faith we can believe it. We may not understand how the Son can be eternal and be begotten. We do not have to understand it. We just need to believe He is and that He is who and what He is said to be. We do not understand how a man can be fully God and how God can be fully man in the same being, Jesus Christ. Yet if He is not both there can be no hope for a sinful world.
May we strive to understand all that we can understand. And when we have reached the point that is past our finding out, may we by faith believe the impossible paradoxes that are presented. For with our God the impossible is easily attainable. With Him the paradoxes are logical. Let us praise Him in our knowledge of Him and beyond our knowledge, by faith may we praise Him in that which we do not know.
The paradoxes concerning the God/man Jesus Christ are seemingly endless. It is a very interesting study for a believer to read the accounts of the gospels and look for the wonder of the paradoxes. In Jesus’ conception and birth there are great paradoxes. The Creator of all was himself made. John declared concerning this same Jesus, “all things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made.” (John 1:3) The Father who is eternally equal to the Son in some paradoxical way made the Son. “Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith…a body hast thou prepared me.” (Hebrews 10:5) It seems that the following words from Psalm 139 apply to the Creator as maker as well as the Creator who was made. “For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.” (Psalms 139:13-16) The one whom Isaiah called ‘the everlasting Father’ was born. God came down. The Ancient of Days was an infant in His own world. In so many ways God came down. How can these things be?
The paradoxes concerning the life of Christ are incredible. In His earthly life unbelievable things happened.
The Omniscient One learned.
Eternal Peace was troubled.
Limitless Strength grew weary.
Everlasting Contentment wept.
His hands held the world, yet He had no place to lay His head.
The Feeder of the birds hungered.
The Living Water thirsted.
God—asleep on a pillow.
The Almighty said, “If it be possible.”
The Word answered not.
The All Wise asked “Why?”
‘Vengeance is mine’ called for forgiveness.
A man-made nail held the hand that none could stay.
The All in All was set at naught.
“Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain to it.” (Psalm 139:6) But not only does the Christian face a paradox when he attempts to understand his God, he finds himself entangled in a paradox when he attempts to serve his God. How can one explain such statements as the first shall be last and the last shall be first? How is strength made perfect in weakness? Why are the exalted abased and the humble exalted? How can those that see not see, while those that see be blind? How are the least the greatest? Why are the servants greater than those that are served? How can we be strong by being submissive?
We are told to act like men by turning the other cheek. We are asked to contend for His cause by loving our enemies. We are commanded to preach the word and then our example is to answer not a word. We stand fast by carrying the oppressor’s pack an extra mile. We are told to bear one another’s burdens while every man is to bear his own burden. One was told to take a sword and then told to put it away.
Happy are the poor in spirit.
Happy are they that mourn.
Happy are the meek.
Happy are the hungry.
Happy are the persecuted.
How can these things be?
The list could continue but perhaps the point is made. Christianity is seldom what one would naturally expect it to be. From the triune God to the born-again child of God it is a story of the unexpected. From the God/man to the man with God dwelling in him, everything about the whole concept is paradox. God is not what we would expect Him to be. We as His children are called to be what we would not expect to be called to be. It seems that we are often commanded to do the exact opposite of that which appears to be appropriate. And Christian paradoxes are so involved in Christianity that if it does not seem strange to our natural point of view, it is probably not Christian. If our actions and our reactions are not in some sense paradoxical, then it might be questioned whether they are truly the Christian way. It seems to hold true that whether you consider the God of Christianity or the practices ascribed by the God of Christianity, you should come to expect a sense of paradox in the whole concept. Whatever it is, if it is Christian, it will in some sense seem to be a paradox. So as we study Christian confrontation, let us not be surprised if a Christian is called upon to confront the culture in a different way than the way the culture would confront the culture. Oh that we might learn to confront our culture without confrontation!
Are the Primitive Baptists a Subculture?
The World Book Encyclopedia describes a culture as the complex whole that includes knowledge, beliefs, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society. So the culture of a civilization includes many things that make the civilization what it is. And the culture affects individuals at the level of their inner makeup as well as affecting them at the level of their social interactions.
The encyclopedia further declares that the Mennonites make up a subculture, a culture within the culture that has cultural traits that set it apart from the culture. Thinking upon this concept of a subculture, it certainly seems that the teachings of the New Testament declare that the church is to be a noticeably different entity in the world. Though the Bible does not declare that the church is to be a ‘subculture’ in those exact words, surely the principle is taught. So with these things in mind and recognizing that the culture sees the Mennonites as a subculture, it might be asked whether the Primitive Baptist people make up a subculture in the modern American culture.
First of all, in our lack of understanding we may not believe that the church is called to be a subculture. If this is the case then we need to further study the principles our Lord taught. I believe that anyone interested in honestly addressing this question can find a wealth of evidence in God’s word declaring that the church is to be significantly different to and conspicuously unlike the culture of this world. The teachings seem to be abundant and we will not take time to presently review them.
But if we agree that the church is to be a noticeably different subculture we still may err concerning the concept. For it is possible that in our own deceitful eyes we may see ourselves as different when we actually blend right in with our culture. When I try to honestly assess the situation I come to the conclusion that at least in the most noticeable ways we as a people are not much different to the rest of the culture. In many ways the Mennonites stand out as different. In most ways I fear that we blend in as the same.
Now the point of it all is not to just be eccentric enough to be noticed. Being odd and different is not necessarily equal to being scriptural. Yet being truly Biblical will invariably appear to our culture as odd and different. The point is not to be just some other subculture for the sake of being strange. But we are to be a Biblically based subculture for the sake of glorifying our God.
When the culture as a whole looks at the Mennonites they see a subculture. When the world looks at the Primitive Baptists what do they see? They may notice that we do not have a piano. They may see that we have no Sunday school. Now these things are important but in comparison to other things they probably comprise the ‘mint, anise and cummin’ spoken of by Jesus. Jesus certainly said that these ‘mint, anise and cunmmin’ smaller things were important and that they should not be left undone. But His point was that there were ‘weightier matters’ that should be more urgently done. (Matthew 23:23)
In addition, the culture may notice that we wash feet. And they may even notice that we seem to have a so-called hang-up on such things as sovereignty and grace. These are important and do tend to set us apart. But are these things the things most noticeable by the culture? How about the ways we interact with the culture? The subject of this study is confronting our culture. How do we come face to face with our culture? And when we stand face to face with our culture and our culture stands face to face with us, how do we see each other? Do we truly as a subculture set ourselves apart in the practice of the culturally interactive things spoken of by Jesus? (Matthew 25:31-46) Are we set apart in the eyes of the culture as the subculture that feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, visits the prisons, etc? Are we seen as the subculture that the culture will call upon in the day of its visitation from the Lord? (1 Peter 2:12) Are we letting a light shine that is particularly seen by our culture as a different kind of light? And do our works especially bring glory to our heavenly Father? (Matthew 5:16)
When I honestly assess how I confront my culture, it causes me to fear confronting my God. When we imagine ourselves face to face before Him, surely we see that we are not the subculture we have been called to be. Perhaps when He confronts us He sees Ephesus that left her first love. Or perhaps God sees in us the lukewarm Laodiceans who said they were rich and had need of nothing, while they were truly wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked. Perhaps, before confronting our culture we need to confront our God. It would be good to visualize ourselves standing face to face before Him and see where we are lacking. We are able to see ourselves as He sees us by looking at ourselves in the mirror of His word. The mirror of His word allows us to confront and assess our own situation.
If we as a people would honestly and humbly examine ourselves we would find areas where we are lacking. Perhaps the first step in confronting the culture is to confront ourselves by open-mindedly confronting the word of God and the God of the word. And after the very necessary preliminary of confronting our God and standing face to face with Him, we may be able to successfully confront our culture in a truly Christian paradoxical fashion.
The Concept of a ‘Super-Culture’
This term, ‘super-culture’ is particularly coined for this study. As used in these writings a ‘super-culture’ is in one sense similar to a subculture. It is similar to a subculture in that it is a culture within a culture. But it encompasses much more than a subculture. A ‘super-culture’ is a culture that originates not from the culture it is within. Its source is from far above the culture it is in. And in many ways the ‘super-culture’ is able to rise above the culture it is within. It is a culture that is in the world; but it is not of the world. With these words of description I hope that you realize that the word, ‘super-culture’ may be new; but the concept is not. The word, ‘super-culture,’ is used in this study to refer to scriptural reality that came into being in Jesus’ day. The ‘super-culture’ of this study is equal to the ‘kingdom of heaven’ that Jesus ushered in. Jesus’ ‘kingdom of heaven’ is a kingdom now within this world, but from above this world, and has cultural traits far beyond this world. The term ‘super-culture’ as used in this study is equivalent to the term ‘kingdom of heaven’ that was coined by our Savior when He walked in the culture of this world. It is admittedly unnecessary to invent another word for the concept he coined. But for the sake of this study it may prove to be useful.
The kingdom of heaven is a rather complex scriptural concept. We will not extensively discuss it in these writings, but in a superficial way let us briefly examine a few details of the notion. In prophecy Daniel spoke of a kingdom that would be established in the days of the Roman Empire. This kingdom was to be set up by the God of heaven. It would never be destroyed and it would stand forever. It would not be left to other people, but instead of being left to others it would continue to be ruled by the one who established it. And it is said of this kingdom that it would break in pieces and consume the kingdoms of the earth. (Daniel 2:44-45)
There was surely much misunderstanding concerning this prophecy when it was written and left on record in God’s word. There was much misunderstanding concerning this kingdom when Jesus, that stone spoken of by Daniel, came and established the kingdom exactly according to the prophecy. There is still much misunderstanding concerning this God established, ever existing kingdom that was begun in the days of Christ and remains in existence in unbroken continuance to this day. It seems that the whole ‘kingdom of heaven’ notion is so unearth-like that it is impossible for man to sort out the concept. Whether men looked ahead to the time of Christ, lived during the time of Christ or now look back on His teachings really does not seem to matter. In all ages the teachings concerning His kingdom have by and large remained a mystery.
Let us look at a few things in an effort to unravel some of this mystery. Christ proclaimed that the kingdom of heaven was at hand in His day. (Matthew 4:17) Whatever it was it was at that time available. It was at hand. It was within the reach of those people. And since it was to be established in that day and stand undestroyed forever it is certain that it is still at hand today. Jesus said that we would not be able to say, look there it is or lo here it is, because it is within us. (Luke 17:21) It seems strange to describe something within us as a kingdom, but that is what Christ did. It is said of this kingdom of heaven that it is not meat and drink, but instead it is righteousness, and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. (Romans 14:17) Again it seems that this kingdom is not external to be taken in as food, but it is internal and the effects of it are to be worked out.
Some have exactly equated the concept of the kingdom of heaven with the concept of the church. I believe that they are close and in many ways probably cannot be separated from each other. The two ideas are so entwined that it is hard to imagine an individual truly experiencing one without the other. Yet they cannot be the exact same concepts. Both are somewhat difficult to define and explain. Each as taught in scripture is a very complex concept. It is not the purpose of this study to make the subtle distinctions. Instead, it is the purpose of this study to establish some of the Bible’s teachings concerning the idea of the kingdom of heaven.
As difficult as it is to define with simplicity the kingdom of heaven, it needs to be done. Some have declared that the kingdom of heaven exists wherever a child of the King is found submitting to the King of the kingdom of heaven. This is probably a good assessment of the whole concept. As Jesus declared that the kingdom is available even now in this world, a servant of the King can now in this world bow in submission to King Jesus. And as Jesus stated in His teachings, this submission is not truly an observable thing. It occurs within the heart, and mind and attitude of the one bowing to his King. The experiencing of the kingdom of heaven is not something that is taken in as much as it is worked out. The submission to the King on the inside results in a righteousness, and a peace and a joy in the Holy Ghost on the inside. These inner conditions result in external manifestations. The submission of the servant to the King results in a righteous life in the midst of an unrighteous world. Bowing to Him in His kingdom affords much peace in the midst of a troubled world. Yielding to your King brings a joy in the Holy Ghost instead of a misery in the world.
So how might the concepts of culture and Jesus’ teachings on the kingdom of heaven be brought together? The kingdom of heaven spoken of by Jesus does not fit the world’s available terms. It is not equivalent to a subculture within the world’s culture. (And as a matter of truth, neither is His church properly described by the term subculture.) His kingdom of heaven is equivalent to a ‘super-culture’ above the world’s culture. He said that His kingdom was in the world, but not of the world. His ‘super-culture’ is not a derivative of the world’s culture. It is a derivative of heaven. It is not to be affected by the world’s culture, but is to affect the world’s culture. It is not ‘sub’ as if it is inferior to the culture. It is a ‘super-culture’ because it is above the culture.
So to use the world’s terms, we have seen that the Primitive Baptist Church is in a sense called upon to be a noticeably different ‘subculture’ within our culture. And at the same time using our own coined term, we as a church and as individuals need to be a part of a ‘super-culture’ that is far above and superior to our culture. What confusion yet lies in the paradoxes of our Christianity!
The Christian Paradox Of Confronting
Your Culture Without Confrontation
Perhaps we are finally near the point of confronting our subject. But before we confront the issue of confronting our culture, let us briefly review some key things that we have learned that are important to our discussions.
First of all, we asked the question, “His way or mine?” Are we willing to confront our culture on His terms? “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and not tried.” (G. K. Chesterton) Though we acknowledge that He is “the way, the truth and the life,” our actions often declare that we want our ways, based on Satan’s lies, that lead to a lack of a life in His kingdom.
Secondly, we have considered the possibility that pride may be an underlying problem that needs to be honestly faced and that Primitive Baptists have an inordinate tendency toward pride. Innate pride enjoys being praised. Inborn pride resists correction. And only by pride comes contention.
Thirdly, we have seen that the reality and the practice of Christianity are shrouded in paradoxes. Hopefully we have learned that what at first seems right to us from a human perspective may not generally be the Christian right. What our pride tells us to do may be the opposite of what our creed commands us to do. We have discovered that as Christians we are often told to do what seems totally unnatural to our inborn way of thinking. And perhaps we have come to realize that the way to accomplish things in the name of Christ oftentimes is by means of what seems to be a backward way of approach.
Fourthly, we have seen that we are called upon to be a noticeably different ‘subculture’ within our culture. We are to confront our culture with the whole paradox of Christianity. And we are ourselves to live that paradox of Christianity in such a way as to be seen by the culture as a truly distinguishable ‘subculture’. Even if we are unable to change the world’s culture, we should not go unnoticed by the world’s culture. Our duty is to confront. But I hope to soon show that our method of confrontation may be paradoxically different to the world’s method of confrontation.
Finally, we have hopefully come to realize that as servants in the kingdom of heaven and as servants of the King of heaven, we are part of a ‘super-culture’ far above the world’s culture. Though we are to be in the world’s terms a ‘subculture,’ we are truly to be far above our culture. And as members of a ‘super-culture’ our methods of action and reaction are to be much different than the methods of the culture from which we have been taken. We are now different individuals with different ideas and different outlooks.
These ideas speak of high and wonderful things. It is truly glorious to think of the concept of being a part of a ‘super-culture’ above the culture. Yet in a very real sense we are still individuals that are trapped in the thinking of the culture from which we have been taken. Truly the things that seem right in our American culture are totally wrong for our ‘super-culture’, yet we may have great difficulty in realizing this. Many methods that work in our natural culture are forbidden in our ‘super-culture’. The ways of success in our earth-oriented culture are doomed to failure in our ‘super-culture’. Since we as individuals are in a sense involved in both cultures at the same time it can become very confusing for us to know how to bridge between the ‘super-culture’ and the culture. We often tend to forget the paradoxes of our creed and use the methods of the lower culture instead of the methods of the ‘super-culture’. But we must always remember to confront our culture with the techniques of our ‘super-culture’. It is the way of our King.
Remember that foremost we are servants to the King of our ‘super-culture’. And if we are in His kingdom we have bowed to His ways. His ways are not naturally our ways. His ways are not the ways of our culture. And when we confront our culture as His followers we must confront it by means of His paradoxical teachings. Anything less is not living in His kingdom. Anything less is not submitting to Him as King of His kingdom. Anything less is not of the ‘super-culture’.
Any method of confrontation using this world’s method of confrontation is not a Christian confronting his culture. Instead, it is simply one from this world’s culture confronting this world’s culture. Many nonconformists with many causes have confronted our culture in the past. The difference between all these nonconformists and the Christian is twofold. The Christian stands for a much higher cause than any other cause that has ever existed in our culture. And the true Christian must use a higher method of confrontation than any method that has ever existed in our culture.
First Come Face to Face With Your King
When we are asked to confront our culture with the methods of our King, we at first may not realize the difficulty of the request. The King’s way of confronting the earthly culture is so foreign to our human nature that it is indeed impossible for us to accomplish unless we are much aided by the Holy Spirit within. And even beyond the direct influence of the Holy Spirit on our born-again hearts, none of us will ever be able to use the ‘super-culture’ method to confront our culture unless we have first come face to face with our King. His way to confront the culture is so foreign to the culture that none will ever use His way unless they have first become very in touch with Him.
What could motivate us to confront our culture in a manner that is near to impossible? What could cause us to use an approach that is so foreign to the natural way of thinking? Indeed His method is so against our innate tendencies that none will use it unless very strongly motivated. The motivation cannot come from this world. It must come from Him. I believe that in order to be motivated to be like Him we must not just know about Him, we must know Him.
It is possible to intellectually understand the concept of a Savior without ever feeling any affection toward that Savior. Surely a rational individual could sit through lectures and pass a test on the history of Jesus’ life. Certainly one could learn to recite the details of the principles of redemption and atonement. Yet this one who knows all about these things, which are all about Jesus, may never know the person, Jesus. This individual could know every detail associated with the crucifixion of Jesus and never have a warm feeling for the Jesus who was crucified. In order to have the true desire to be like Him, we must know Him. And there is much involved in coming to know Him.
First of all, the initial step in knowing Jesus is divine revelation. No man can recognize Him as the Son of God unless the Father reveals this wonderful truth to the man. (Matthew 16:17) No man can come to Jesus unless the Father first draws him to Jesus. (John 6:44) And no man can call Jesus Lord unless it is by the influence of the Holy Ghost. (1 Corinthians 12:3) All these things just mentioned are vitally connected with the giving of eternal life at the new birth by the life-giving breath of God. This initial act in coming to know Him is a divine act upon the individual by the grace of the sovereign God of heaven. In this act God moves where He pleases and man is a passive recipient of God’s grace in the process. And only after this life-giving event can man have the ability to know and come to Jesus.
But I do believe that it is possible for a person to have been given this sovereign gift of the new birth and never really get to know Jesus very well. A person can be brought to Jesus by the new birth and still be distracted by other things and never actually get acquainted with this Jesus to whom he has been introduced and drawn. Tribulations, persecutions, the deceitfulness of riches and the cares of this world are all said to distract people. Martha was no doubt a good person. Martha was not caught in some vile act. She was engaged in what certainly appeared to be a good activity when she was cumbered with the preparation of a meal for our Lord and Savior. Yet Martha missed something that Mary found. Our Savior said that Mary had chosen the good part. Mary sat at His feet. Mary hung on His every word. Many who have been divinely introduced to Him never really get to know Him in this world. Many are so troubled by the things of this world that they fail to find time to sit at His feet and hear His whispers of peace. Many serve Him at a distance while a few are close enough to Him to touch His feet, to feel His breath, to know His reality. Most of us are Martha’s. A few in the history of humanity by the grace of God have chosen to be Mary’s. Occasionally there is one who is as that beloved one in Song of Solomon that found Him and would not let Him go.
You will never be able to use the paradoxical methods taught by your King unless you first intimately, personally and lovingly know your King. A very important aspect of the whole concept is the love that you come to have for your King as you get to know Him. To really know Him is to love Him with the entirety of your mind, to love Him with all your heart, to love Him with your whole soul, and to love Him with all your strength. And this depth of love will result in a total yielding to Him. One with this kind of love will submit not only to Him, but also to His ways. With sufficient love for Him, His ways will become your ways. You will begin to deal with others in His manner of dealing. Your methods of confronting your culture will begin to follow His examples and His teachings.
His methods will seem too impossible unless you trust Him with the kind of trust that only those have who know Him best. His approach will seem too absurd unless you have come to know Him to the point where you have come to love Him with an exceedingly great love. The paradox of turning the other cheek to an abuser can only be tried if you have the utmost faith and confidence in the One who asked you to try such a thing. The paradox of loving your enemy is so absurd that only those who love Jesus with a love beyond measure will attempt it. Few there are that really know Him. Fewer there are that truly love Him. And even fewer there are that actually follow Him in His methods of confrontation.
But a few along the way have come to know Him to the point of having confidence in His teachings concerning His ways. Some have achieved the level of truly knowing Him in such a way that they are willing to try His ways. A rare few have loved Jesus with the kind of love that follows Him in spite of everything. They trust Him and love Him to the extent that though His ways seem so unworkable, they are willing to use His ways simply because He said that they are His ways. Though His ways seem to our natural ways so doomed to failure, a few have chosen to submit to the King regardless. And a small number along the way have learned to confront their culture from the ‘super-culture’ vantage point of being a true follower of Jesus Christ, even to the point of trying His methods of confrontation. Perhaps, these few have been the true servants of their King. Perhaps, these few are the true members of His kingdom. And perhaps these few are the true individuals in a unique ‘super-culture’ who have made a difference in their culture.
The ‘Super-Culture’ Confronting The Culture
So the first step in using the ‘super-culture’ method of confronting the culture is to know the King by way of divine introduction. And the second step is to know Him by personal acquaintance through time spent in His presence. And after having come face to face with the King, the third step is to trust Him and to love Him to the extent of truly bowing to Him and to His methods. But after perhaps reaching this monumental level of submission how does an individual confront the culture with the King’s method of confrontation? What is His method?
His method is a method of extreme paradox. In our natural way of thinking it is an unbelievable way of confrontation. It is confrontation without confrontation. And it is so foreign to our instincts that it is never considered by the natural mind. His manner of confrontation is never the initial option that comes to our thoughts. It is never the first choice. It never appears to the carnal mind to be the proper approach to the confrontation. His way of confrontation is confrontational-less confrontation. It is confrontation that leaves out any hint of confrontation. His much-taught paradoxical principle is non-confrontational confrontation. And when our carnal mind screams confrontation, the last thing we want to consider from an earthly point of view is non-confrontational confrontation.
He describes His method with teachings such as turn the other cheek. These words are so different to our way of thinking that men have for years tried to explain His words away. Assuming that He could not have truly meant what He said, they have explained that what He really meant was this or that or the other. Because according to our natural way of reasoning, He certainly could not have meant that we really should be so yielding in a confrontation.
In like fashion, for years men have tried to proclaim that scriptural meekness is not weakness. Instead it is said that Biblical meekness is in some way a boldness that allows one to stand for Jesus’ cause using the world’s ways. No my friends, Jesus’ meekness will always appear to the world as weakness. When He practiced what He preached He appeared to be weak and helpless. But when He through His meekness appeared to be the weakest, He truly had His greatest moment of strength and triumph. And in the same way, one who truly approaches the confrontations of this world with meekness has a spiritual strength within him that is beyond any strength available to this world. So in a real sense the practice of His meekness requires a great heavenly strength. But to the world His meekness will always appear to be a sign of great weakness.
What a paradox His methods truly are! When we appear to the world to be strong we are truly weak and faltering in His cause. When we through the use of this world’s methods have outmaneuvered the one we confront we have truly failed to bring honor to Him. The winners down here have lost in the great cause of representing Him. The apparent greatness of this world is the weakness of His world. The apparent weakest one in this world is the greatest in His kingdom. The victors down here are the true losers in His cause. The conquerors here are the defeated for His sake. Oh, may the Holy Spirit help us to see things not from the earthly viewpoint, but with eyes enlightened from heaven!
And this leadership of the Spirit is exactly the key ingredient necessary for the practice of non-confrontational confrontation. In the account in Luke 9 concerning James and John we find a good lesson concerning the need for us to be looking to the right Spirit, even the Holy Spirit. There are many spirits that can influence us in a confrontation: the spirit of this world, the spirit of our culture, the spirit of our carnal nature, the spirit of our self, the spirit of jealousy, the spirit of pride, the spirit of bitterness, the spirit of hatred, the spirit of Satan himself and many more such spirits. But there is one Spirit that influences us to confront with His method. James and John failed to listen to the right Spirit when they desired to confront the Samaritans with fire from heaven. They had obviously forgotten that their ways as a follower of Him were different to the world’s ways. What a misled way of thinking they truly had at that moment! They desired heaven’s power so that they could confront the world. And to desire heaven’s power would have been proper, except that they desired heaven’s power in order to use the world’s method of confrontation. In the presence of God they sought divine intervention in order to destroy the culture they confronted. Jesus, God in their presence, answered them with the words, “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.” (Luke 9:55) They had forgotten the ways of the One they stood beside. They might have been willing to bow to Him, but they were not bowing to His ways. They had digressed to the world’s ways and forgotten that they knew the King of a different kind of kingdom. They desired to confront their culture on the level of their culture. They desired heaven’s power in order to promote the world’s way of reacting to their culture. They had ceased to use the ‘super-culture’ method of confronting their culture.
As we learn of Him and learn to know Him and learn to love Him, we should begin to look at our culture differently. We should come to see His beloved children as our beloved brothers. He is our most Beloved. And we are to love our most Beloved to the point that we are willing to love our most Beloved’s beloved children. Many of the people we encounter in our culture are His beloved children. And since we do not know who His beloved children are, we are compelled to love everybody alike. Oh if we loved Jesus like we should, we would love others who are beloved of Him for His sake. We would confront the culture with His method of confrontation. We would confront the culture with a method of non-confrontation.
Let me share with you a recent situation that I observed with much wonder. In this event I believe that I saw an unusual, unearth-like kind of light shining forth. I witnessed the intensity of a confrontational moment, yet I witnessed no confrontation. I observed an unknown individual speak more to God’s glory in a moment of non-confrontation than a thousand sermons might speak. In a brief encounter of non-confrontation the ‘super-culture’ shined above the culture. In confrontation-less confrontation Christianity for a moment overcame the world. In an instant of confrontation without confrontation Christ defeated the enemy. One unknown woman’s actions when she confronted a little corner of her culture spoke to me an example that I hope I never forget.
The event occurred at a store in Paducah, Kentucky. My wife and I were standing in what we assumed to be a line waiting our turn to receive help in framing a picture. As it turned out we did not understand the system. But a kind woman who was standing in front of us realized our error and said to us, “There is a sign-up list on the counter. Have you signed up?”
I responded, “No. We thought you were the end of the line.”
She replied, “You may want to sign the list. I have been standing here for two hours waiting.” Upon hearing that we wondered if it would be worth the wait, but we did sign the list.
Very shortly thereafter they called a name that I do not remember. In a sense I wish that I did. It was the name of the woman that had given us the advice. She proceeded to the counter with a shopping cart full of very large, very nice picture frames. I had also noticed that she had several large photographs and perhaps an oil painting or two of a young lady that I assumed was her daughter.
Now I need to tell you at this point that all over the store there were signs saying, ‘PICTURE FRAMES HALF PRICE’. These signs were numerous and seemed to be everywhere. It seemed obvious to me and surely to this woman also that she was going to save a lot of money with this ‘PICTURE FRAMES HALF PRICE’ deal.
So after standing there for two hours her name had finally been called. She proceeded to the counter with those large, expensive looking frames and all those pretty pictures of what I assumed was her daughter. And she began to discuss with the store employee the different kinds of glass that might be used. They were in the process of holding up different styles and colors of matting over the beautiful pictures. It seemed that they were going to get the pictures framed where they would be just right. The lady appeared to be delighted with the whole situation.
They had the first picture well toward being framed and to be honest I really was not paying too much attention to them any longer. But suddenly I heard something that perked my interest. The words that caught my ears were, “Do you mean that the frames are really not half priced?”
The clerk responded, “No the ones you have are not half priced. The ones over here on this side are half priced. But these you have are full priced.”
At first the woman’s shoulders sort of slumped. Her whole countenance seemed to droop. Her eyes looked at the floor for a brief period. And when she began to raise her face I thought, ‘LOOK OUT!!’
She had been waiting for two hours. ‘PICTURE FRAMES HALF PRICE’ signs (with no small print attached) loomed all over the store. But when she raised her head to respond I did not see the show I expected. Instead of the anticipated response, a soft voice simply said, “I cannot afford the frames at full price. I guess I just cannot do it.”
The store attendant uttered a feeble apology and the lady responded with the words, “It’s not your fault.” And then almost as if she was trying to convince herself of the words, she said them again, “It’s not your fault.” She then said, “Thanks.” She retrieved her unframed pictures. And she turned and walked away.
And I said to myself, “WOW!” I really had thought I was going to see a ruckus. The timing seemed to have been perfect for an old-fashioned confrontation to the third power. The whole scene kept replaying in my mind. The face of the woman—the strange look—almost two looks on the same face—the words that nearly came—the biting of the tongue—her self-control—her forbearance—her tone of voice—the paradox in her expression—the paradox in her words—the paradox in that “Thanks.” It was all so unnatural. It was obviously so naturally inappropriate. Nothing seemed to fit. The whole scene was the ultimate in the unexpected. It seemed such a paradox. The incident had confrontation stamped all over it and I witnessed total non-confrontation.
Think of this woman. Consider the situation. The woman had waited two hours. The signs all over the store were at best misleading and more accurately they were very much a misrepresentation of the truth. She had seemed so excited at the opportunity to have the pictures framed. It must have been important to her. She had waited so long. She was willing to spend a lot, even at half price. Money must have been a strong consideration, for she was unable to pay full price. Yet, she turned and walked away without a word of confrontation. She gave nobody a piece of her earthly mind. Her probable thoughts did not become her actual words. In self-control she answered not. She asked for no explanations regarding the inaccurate signs. She did not demand to speak to the one responsible. She did not receive the satisfaction of making the point of how long she had waited. She did not burst into a show of tears in response to her ill treatment. She in no way applied the earthly salve of vengeance to her wounded inner feelings. In the midst of her hurt, she simply said, “Thanks.”
After a few moments of pondering the unusual nature of the whole thing, I said to myself, ‘I have to find that woman. I do not know what I will say to her, but I have to say something’. I was near the back of the store and began walking the aisles. As I came to a position where I could see to the front of the rather large store I saw her walking out the front door. In a hurried gait I headed her way and caught her in the parking lot. I approached her and stammered out the words, “Excuse me, I want to thank you for something. First of all, I want to thank you for telling me to put my name on the list. That was very considerate of you. And secondly, I want to thank you for your show of patience and self-control.”
She looked at me and said in a voice somewhere between a suppressed anger and a submissive trembling, “IT WAS NOT EASY!”
I softly answered, “I could see that it was not easy. But you did it. And I thank you for showing me that it could be done. You were an example to me. You showed me how a person should react to the world.”
Without further conversation she again dropped her eyes and turned away from me. I watched her take a few steps and I turned and walked back toward the store looking for my wife. When I found my dear wife and told her of my excursion she smiled and jokingly called me, “Mr. Public Relations.”
I guess that I deserved such a remark. And I guess it was silly to chase the woman down. I just needed in some way to tell her thanks. I felt something inside me telling me to find her and try to encourage her. Maybe she needed it or maybe I just needed to look into that unusual face one more time. It was an ordinary face in every way natural. But it was a face that had spiritually reflected a higher way. It was a face that for a moment had shined with a glow unfamiliar to this world. It seemed to me that her ways were past my ways. It seemed to me that she was one who was functioning in a realm beyond the natural realm. Perhaps, she was a member of a kingdom within this world but so different to this world. Perhaps, she had a King that she bowed to in spite of the circumstances of the culture. It sure seemed like it to me, but I suppose that only the King could say for sure. From my perspective it seemed as if she had for a moment not belonged to her world. She seemed to be one of the chosen few that could confront her culture (or perhaps one of the few who chose to confront her culture) from the position of one who actually lives within a ‘super-culture’.
May I never forget!
The ‘Super-Culture’ Confronting The ‘Subculture’
It is hoped that you have by this point seen that there is a Christian way of confronting the culture. The Christian way of confrontation is very different to the culture’s way. It is impossible for the natural mind to even seriously consider such things as turning the other cheek. But the spiritual man through much Spiritual inner persuasion can be convinced that the ‘super-culture’ method is the King’s way. But knowing what is right does not always insure doing what is right. For though the spiritual heart may know the King’s method, the inborn nature is hard to overcome. That great paradox of the spiritual and the natural co-existing is a real obstacle. Before confronting our culture we have to confront ourselves. We may know that non-confrontational confrontation is His much-taught principle. But the flesh will always confront us with the desire to have a confrontational confrontation. That flesh will find a reasonably reasonable reason to justify its ideas. And in a sense the reasoning will all seem to be good reasoning. Remember the whole thing is a paradox. Right can seem as if it is wrong. And wrong can reasonably seem to be right. Remember you are a paradox of spiritual confronting natural. And you are asked to function in the midst of a paradox of ‘super-culture’ confronting culture.
Now we come to the most difficult things to say. These last things will be the hardest things for us as Primitive Baptists to accept and put into action. And please hear these things with grace. I may be wrong in my thinking and I freely admit that there are many things that I do not know and understand. But I believe that there is something that many Primitive Baptist do not know that we should know. I believe that generally our reasoning may have gone astray in the midst of our paradox. I do believe that our people have a desire to do what is right. I just think that in some situations we do not understand what right truly is. Perhaps things have been done wrong for so long that the people, including the preachers, do not know the right from the wrong.
There are certain situations that sometimes arise in our churches that seem to cause us to be especially zealous for the King’s cause. And there is certainly nothing wrong with being zealous or in being especially zealous. I wish we had more of it. But it seems that for some unknown reason in these special circumstances we feel to be exempted from the practice of the principle of non-confrontational confrontation. We may sense that non-confrontational confrontation is His way to face the world, but we have no sense of this when we face His church. It is almost as if we have convinced ourselves that the King’s way of confronting in the culture is different to the King’s way of confronting in the church. It is as if it is good to use His ways in the world, but it is better to use the world’s ways in His church.
Along the same lines, it seems to be the long established thinking among Primitive Baptist people that for some reason beyond my understanding the principle of non-confrontational confrontation could never apply to issues concerning the church. We seem to have placed ourselves in such a zealous position as defenders of the truth that nothing else matters but extreme and absolute defense of the truth. Please do not misunderstand my point. Defense of the truth is urgently important, but it is not the only thing that is important. Defense of the truth is extremely important, but surely the manner in which the truth is defended is just as important. This may seem to you as a surprise, but the manner of defending His truth is just as much a part of His truth as the truth itself is a part of His truth. His entire revealed word is truth. He never designated in His word that a verse describing sovereign grace was any more the truth, than a verse describing the right behavior in the world or in the church. Truth is truth wherever it is in His word. And it is never acceptable to sacrifice what is taught in one section of truth in order to defend what is taught in another.
His truths and His practices should be upheld in all places. But if there is such a thing as a special place to practice what He preached, it surely should be in the midst of His church. Yet it seems that His church is the place where we as a people try to make the exception to the principle of non-confrontational confrontation. We understand that in the church we especially represent Him and His cause. And in the church it is especially important that we stand strong for Him. And thus it seems that if we recognize that someone in the church is not standing like he should, we feel a sense of urgency to correct the situation—and we should. But the problem arises in that in such a sense of urgency we seem to think that we can use whatever method is necessary. It is as if the cause is so great that the means do not matter. Whatever it takes, do it—whether fire, or sword, or words from the tongue! After all it is His cause we are defending! Who cares what method we use!
In all humility I dare to say that He cares. I believe that He wants His truth defended. I believe that He wants us to stand strong in the defense of sovereign grace. And I believe that He wants us to stand just as strong in defending the truth of Christian non-confrontational confrontation. Which brings the more glory to Him—my sermon on sovereign grace or the woman who walked away in the store? We do not have to choose which is the more glorious. Both are important. And never should we sacrifice one truth in defense of another. We are caught in a paradox; and we are listening to the wrong reasoning when we do otherwise.
What is the kingdom of heaven approach to confrontations in the church? How should the kingdom of heaven ‘super-culture’ confront the ‘subculture’ of the Primitive Baptist Church?
(Again I remind you that truly the church is not a subculture. For if she is what she should be, she is superior to anything in the culture. But from the world’s point of view the church should certainly be recognized as a very noticeable subculture.)
So how should a member of the ‘super-culture’ (one serving in the kingdom of heaven and bowing to the ways of the King of heaven) confront a situation within the ‘subculture’ of the King’s church? Well surely the right way must be the King’s declared way. And furthermore, if someone begins to act or react in some way in the King’s church that is not the King’s way then he has ceased to be in the King’s kingdom, for by our simple definition the kingdom of heaven exists wherever one is found submitting to the King. So if someone in the church is not bowing to His ways, at that point we have someone functioning in the realm of the world’s culture attempting to do work for the King in His church. This can occur in the brother who errs or in the brother who attempts to confront the brother who errs. What a dreadfully nonfunctional dilemma this becomes! We can have another James and John desiring heaven’s help to accomplish heaven’s purposes through the world’s methods. What an absurd idea it is for one not willing to bow to His ways and serve in His kingdom to think he can serve in His church!
So the world’s way is the wrong way but what is the way of our King? What is the ‘super-culture’ way of confronting individuals in the church? Many scriptural principles are taught. In a few places such as Matthew 18 a few details are given, but in many places principles are given. (Even the details of Matthew 18 are enshrouded by the great principles of restoration and forgiveness.) We are to always keep in mind that the sheep that has perhaps strayed is His sheep that according to Him needs to be restored. We are to always remember that we are ourselves forgiven sinners. We are to never forget that we are still sinners to this moment. We have yet to achieve perfection and if we are yet guilty of one sin I suppose that in a sense we are still guilty of all. We are ourselves full of pride and our deceitful hearts will attempt to prevent us from objectively assessing our own case. We need to remember that if contention comes then pride is the root cause that brought the contention. Only by pride comes contention. We need to remember the grace that dealt with us. We need to remember the cross. We need to remember the love our Savior has for the one we stand face to face with. The list could go on and on. I realize that there is a time to stand. But please realize that there is also a way to stand.
As I consider these things I think of the one who was casting out devils in Jesus name. The much-loved John told Jesus that he had forbidden him because he was not following them. We are not told in what way he was not following. We are not given their differences. But we are given Jesus’ answer. He said, “Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.” (Luke 9:50)
In the days of Moses Eldad and Medad prophesied but were not associating with the others who were prophesying. Joshua wanted quick action. Moses assured him no action was necessary. Oftentimes no action may be the best action. But if we are compelled to action, let us act in His prescribed meek and lowly manner of action.
In most of our encounters with one another in the church the problem is not that the other brother is against Jesus. He may have some error in his thinking. He may have strayed in some way. But could we really say in most cases that the one we face is against Jesus? According to Jesus, “He that is not against us is for us.” I fear that we often get confused in what ‘against us’ and ‘for us’ truly mean. Though we may differ in interpretations of issues do we not all love the same Savior? Though we may each have our faults and failures did not the same Savior die for us both? Does truth really matter? Without a doubt truth really, really, really matters. Truth is important and truth should not be sacrificed for the sake of unity. But neither should one that Jesus loves be destroyed for the sake of truth. And beyond this it is certain to me that none of us truly have a corner on the ‘truth’ so that we can claim to have all the answers? When we all get to heaven do you not suppose that we will all have to eat some words concerning the way we have interpreted His word? It is bad enough to one day have to eat our words, but it is much worse if along the way we have consumed our brother over his words.
I am reminded of a time when Gus Harter, Travis Housley and I beat our heads against the wall of failure in Taiwan? We were attempting to preach Christ to college students in that nation where only one percent claim to be Christian. For two days we seemed to have gotten nowhere. We were up against such absurdities as placing food out at night to keep your ancestors from haunting you. Yet Christianity was to them the absurdity. I was somewhat downcast as we left an afternoon session and began to walk across the lawns of the campus. But I was raised from my dismay when we heard a distant female voice calling to us. The young lady who appeared to be about the same age as my own daughter was quickly approaching us and excitedly repeating the question, “Are you Christian? Are you Christian?”
I eagerly began to move in her direction responding, “Yes, we are Christian. Yes, yes, we are Christian.” She was almost in a jog as we met. Her arms were extended. Her face was jubilant. And I am sure that I appeared the same to her. How refreshing it was to see an obvious Christian!
We embraced for a moment. And while still holding to me she pulled her face back where we could talk. She said the words, “I am Catholic. I love Jesus Christ.” The way she said the words, “I love Jesus Christ,” truly seemed to express the emotions of a heart. The expression in the single word ‘love’ was so indicative of her sincerity. There was so much warmth in the way she said the word. Her genuine expression of love for Him so soothed my troubled heart.
I responded, “I am Primitive Baptist and I love the same Jesus Christ.” I hope my words seemed as sincere to her as hers did to me. She faithfully followed us for another two days in our somewhat vain efforts. Perhaps we would have disagreed about many things. I never pursued the disagreeable things. I only reminded myself that she loved the same Jesus that I loved. And that same Jesus that loved me, also loved her. She broke through my Primitive Baptist crust. She found a weakness in the thick skin of my heritage. I have never been the same. For that I thank her and I thank the Jesus that she and I loved on that day. I am thankful that she loved Him enough to search me out and find me on that lonely foreign campus. I do not know if I taught her anything concerning Him. But she taught me much about Him. One thing I am certain of is that whatever I may have taught her, will never equal what she taught me.
When we look upon our brethren let us never forget that we love the same Jesus. If we encounter one like the character in Luke 9 who was not following them, let us remember that the one we face loves the same Jesus we love. And Jesus loves the one we face as much as He loves us. According to Jesus it seems to me, that if this one we face is not against Jesus, then this one we face is on our side. If he is on our side and we side against him, then a kingdom divided may be in jeopardy.
If we are to represent Christ, a stand for righteousness is imperative. Yet if we are to represent Christ the way we stand for righteousness is just as imperative. If we are to represent Christ, a defense of the truth is imperative. Yet if we are to represent Christ, the way we defend the truth is just as imperative. And if we are to represent Christ, it is sometimes imperative that we confront an individual that Christ loves. Yet if we are to represent Christ, the way we confront the individual must be Christ’s way of confrontation. There is a non-confrontational way of confrontation that our mind tells us would never work. But our Lord says to our heart, ‘Try me’. The way we deal with the one He loves is the way we deal with Him.
What glory would come to the King if men would truly abide in the ‘super-culture’ of His kingdom! And how much more would the church appear to the world to be a subculture, if her differences were seen to be submissively resolved by using the superior ways of the King to whom she belongs!
1) Only by pride comes contention. Many more sins have been committed through the ages by men acting in a proud fashion than by men acting too humbly. If I am in the midst of contention, I need to look at the real me on the inside that is driving me to the contention.
2) Christianity is a paradox. Belief in its God requires dealing with these paradoxes. And the practice of Christianity requires the same. I need to learn to expect the unexpected and be willing to do the unnatural if I am to serve the God of Christianity.
3) Are the Primitive Baptists a subculture? In principle the scriptures call us to be such. Let us come face to face with our God by coming face to face with the teachings in His word. And then let us commit to interactively facing our culture in the manner taught in His word.
4) The kingdom of heaven as taught by Jesus is a ‘super-culture’. It is in the world, but not of the world. It is presently at hand and available to His children. It involves an internal submission to the King and an external service to the same King. And wherever one is found truly bowing in submission to the King, the kingdom of heaven is found. Let me press into His kingdom.
5) When a servant of the King confronts the culture, he should confront it according to the ways of the King. If he does not he has ceased to be a servant of the King. And in this refusal to submit to his King, he has ceased to dwell in the King’s kingdom. He has fallen from being a member of a ‘super-culture’ and has become a follower of the world. To confront the culture and remain in the ‘super-culture’ involves an extreme paradox. Let me submit to the ways of our King.
6) His ways of confronting the culture are so foreign to our natural ways that few ever truly give them a try. It seems that the single inspiration to non-confrontational confrontation is to personally know Him in an exceptional way. In order to submit to His ways when facing the culture one must be driven by the kind of love and trust that only those who know Him best possess. Let me strive to know Him better, to love Him more, and to follow Him in His ways.
7) His method of confronting the culture is so different to ours. Turning the other cheek seems so undoable. His meekness seems so unlivable. But a few have followed in His example. A few find His strength to confront the culture with the word ‘thanks’ and then silently walk away. Let me be among the few who love Him enough to bring Him such glory.
8) His method of confronting one in His church is the same non-confrontational method. We may feel that someone in the church is not following us, not for us or not on our side. But perhaps the basic question is whether the one is for or against our Jesus. Does the one I face love the Jesus that I love? The way we confront the one He loves is mandated by our love for Him. The desire to zealously defend His truth in the church does not call for the world’s way of defense. The compulsion to stand for His righteousness in the church does not allow us to employ the world’s way of making a stand. If His truth and righteousness are not defended in His way, then He is as dishonored in the defense as He is in the error. Let us remember that we are in a paradox. And let us strive to find His unusual way of defending His unusual ways.
I believe that a true test of whether we know Him and whether we are actually living in His ‘super-culture’ kingdom is how we confront our culture here in this world. We may appear to be in His kingdom. We may be members of His church. Others may think that we are in His kingdom. It may seem that we have bowed to Him and that He is our King. We may even imagine ourselves to be a part of His ‘super-culture’. But unless we confront our culture by His method of confrontation we deceive even ourselves. A very good test as to whether He is your King is whether you submit to His ways. And remember that without a bowing to Him and a submission to His ways you are not in His kingdom.
And if the test applies to our confrontations with our culture, how much more it must apply to the confrontations within our ‘subculture’—His church. May we as ‘kingdomites’ in His ‘super-culture’ function in ways honorable to Him in his church.