Is Christianity repressive and outdated?

Chatswood Baptist Church http://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au

I want to initially answer this question by saying; Absolutely and Absolutely Not!

Or to be really clear Yes and No! Why both yes and no, well because in the first instance it is dependent on the narrative or story with which you decide to see the world or whose version of the truth you decide is real.

If you will bear with me for the next little while I will try and unpack this as clearly as I can. I also look forward to some challenging questions at the end of tonight’s talk.

 

Our Society Today

There is little doubt that in the western world, we are living in a post Christian World. A few generations ago many more Australians could be found in Church pews on a Sunday than is the case today. In fact according to McCrindle Research, 36% of Australians would be in Church at least one Sunday a month in 1972. However, as of 2011 that number had dropped to 15%.  And believe it or not in 1911, 96% of the population of Australia claimed Christianity as their religion. I really give that statistic to show the relatively small period of time in which society has changed from communal to individual. In fact John McClean when writing for the Gospel Coalition in an article took it one step further and claims that we are now living in a ‘Post post Christian Pagan Nation’. In essence what he means by that phrase is that Australia is now largely a country without tradition and this is especially highlighted when it comes to Christianity or Religion. Christianity is largely unknown in the current generations. Hence the gulf between society and Christianity is ever increasing.

Instead, in large part the society that we live in today has the motto that “anything goes” and the more diverse the better. In fact the only consistent theme in this fast paced constantly changing society is ‘the individuals pleasure above all else’. Australian society has gone from Community driven to individually driven, much like the rest of the developed western world. And so for those that embrace where society is currently situated, you could only concur that with the backdrop that I have just explained Christianity is repressive and outdated to this way of life.

Repressive because the Bible makes it clear that as followers of Jesus there are certain actions, thoughts and patterns of behavior that are completely inconsistent with following Jesus. And because of this one needs to have control over their own behavior. There are certain pleasures and actions that should not be undertaken by those who follow Jesus. But, this is completely out of fashion in a society that values ones own pleasure above all else. It seems antiquated and just so old fashioned to a society that changes the rules often to accept things that throughout history have been unacceptable or at the very least hidden away in the dark or a brown paper bag.

Outdated, because society has a genuine belief that it has evolved past Christianity. Post Christian for many people means just that. They have moved past this religion of the last two thousand years. This religion of their great grandparents. I mean come on, look at science and technology and the progress that has been made. Or has it?

I want to briefly look at two very common lifestyle choices that are often used to show that Christianity is out of step.

 

Getting Drunk.

Drinking alcohol is definitely part of the Australian way of life and in and of itself isn’t wrong, if done in moderation. However the following statistics on alcohol consumption make for sober reading (pardon the pun). If all alcohol consumed in Australia was translated into Beer (that’s pretty Australian), then on average Australians drink about 680 bottles of beer, per adult per year. (news.com.au). According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 17% of the adult population regularly drink at a level that is doing them considerable harm, 15% have consumed the equivalent of one and a half bottles of wine in one sitting at least once in the last 12 months, 22% of Australians over 14 years of age had been a victim of an alcohol related incident in 2016. And finally at least a quarter of Adults on a monthly basis consume alcohol at a level that places them in danger. This is definitely the pleasure of the individual outweighing the good of society. The Bible is clear that God’s people are not to get drunk (see Ephesians 5:18).

 

Then secondly, the sexual revolution.

Dave Boehi in an article for a website called family life, helpfully says that “there are two versions of the cultural narrative about the sexual revolution that began in the sixties”. It is the first of these that we will look at now, the other is what Christians believe that the Bible has to say about sex, which is covered a little later. So the narrative that would seem to be alive and well in our society and therefore would say that Christianity is repressive and outdated is this “The Sexual revolution was a good thing. It allowed people to remove the shackles of repressive, puritanical morality and experience freedom. People are sexual beings and they need to explore their sexuality when they feel ready, without fear or guilt or shame.” This quote in a sense has no limits. So, if this quote is reflective of the way society is heading then the sexual revolution will keep going. There are already noises on polygamy. Is this next? Another example of ‘the individuals pleasure above all else.’

 

God’s Way

If we accept (and I see no reason not to) that we are living in a ‘post, post Christian Pagan Nation’, then it is obvious that what the Bible has to say about living in this world is going to be different to what society at large is saying as we have started to look at already. Can I also say that Christians know that following Jesus and believing God’s word makes us different to those who don’t. The Bible itself is clear on this. Many that don’t believe in God think that Christianity is foolishness. 1 Corinthians 1:18 leaves not doubt that there will be many for whom believing in God and His Son Jesus Christ is just ridiculous. To those who don’t believe the message of the Cross (of Jesus dying for our sin) is foolishness. But not just Jesus dying and coming back from the dead, the whole bible, indeed the whole God thing….

In contrast, for those who follow Jesus, the Bible is the living word of God himself, written down by the inspiration of God’s Spirit. This is God speaking to us, as 2 Timothy 3:16 states when it says ‘All scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.’ So firstly the Bible makes this claim about itself. The Bible also states in Genesis 1 that God created the Heavens and the Earth. In the letter to the Church in Colossae (Colossians 1:17), the Apostle Paul when talking about Christ says, “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” In other words, God through his Son Jesus Christ sustains all things. This is why you will hear Christians say that God is the creator and sustainer of all things.

So if Christians accept that the Bible is the word of God, and it is God who made and sustains everything, then it makes sense that Christians will believe that God’s way is not only the best way, but in fact the only way.

In addition to this, God also clearly states that following His plan is good for you. No, no just good for you, great for you, the best. Let’s revisit Proverbs 3 our reading for tonight. Read with me verses one to eight.

My son, do not forget my teaching,
but keep my commands in your heart,
for they will prolong your life many years
and bring you peace and prosperity.

Let love and faithfulness never leave you;
bind them around your neck,
write them on the tablet of your heart.
Then you will win favour and a good name
in the sight of God and man.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.[
a]

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord and shun evil.
This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones.

 

These verses clearly state that following God’s way will lead to flourishing. Do you notice that in these verses there are wonderful promises of God? Verse 2 speaks of a long life with peace and prosperity. Verse 4, the promise of a good name in God’s sight and in mans. Verse 6, if you submit to God, He will make your paths straight. As John Piper so helpfully states, this means that God is making your path. This is the right path, the correct path, the Joyful path, and the path that God intends for us to walk on. Verse 8 also gives a picture of what following God’s ways will mean. It will bring good things that God has in store for you, health and strength for you as you live for God.

There is little doubt that living life as a follower of Jesus looks very different to the ‘anything goes, individual pleasure’ message of wider society.

 

The Individual Narrative

Back to modern society and the world around us. The Individual Narrative says that personal choice is freedom. In 1960 when the Pill became available it was originally intended for married couples so that they could decide whether or not to continue having children. However, it wasn’t long before the pill became widely available to all women through a trip to their GP. From this moment forward the sexual revolution gained momentum and has resulted in sex outside of marriage becoming commonplace. Divorce has skyrocketed, as have abortions and pornography and ultimately, this unlimited freedom of sexual expression has led to Same Sex Marriage, and now the latest iteration of the individual narrative is Transgenderism. Society has tried to get freedom through sex. Has it worked? Well we have seen the breakdown of the family unit more thoroughly than ever before. 1 in 3 marriages now end in divorce. Before the sexual revolution this was closer to 1 in 8 marriages. But we need to also remember that many more people actually got married in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s than do today. Defacto relationships were not as easily accepted before the sexual revolution.

Frank Sinatra sang I did it my way, he made it clear that he didn’t have many regrets. He got out of life what he wanted. While this song was released in 1969, it was perhaps before it’s time in many ways, or more likely the sound track to what was coming. Frank Sinatra ending up hating this song. His daughter Tina remarked about her father, that he was “a man who all his life looked outside for what was missing inside.” In 2016 the UK’s Co-Op funeral company said that ‘My Way’ is now the UK’s most popular choice of funeral song.[1]This is where society has now landed.

The modern western world is all about personal choice and personal goals and happiness. It’s my choice, I can be who I want to be. The Masters Apprentices Song is another anthem of our modern society. Do what you wanna do, be what you wanna be, yeah.

 

Society and Christianity are moving further apart

In the last sixty years, society has changed in an ever increasingly rapid way. Pornography, drunkenness, sex outside of marriage, abortion and divorce have all become much more prevalent. Now let me be clear, none of these things are new. What has changed though, is societies attitudes to these behaviours. What was once not accepted, is now accepted. The latest statistics show that there are around 65,000 abortions in Australia each year. While the good news is that this has come down from 80,000. Abortion is seen as modern and progressive, and indeed every woman’s right and choice. Sixty years ago this was unfathomable.

I would argue that Individual Pleasure doesn’t lead to society flourishing. In fact the statistics would seem to indicate that the way society is heading is stunting children’s flourishing through the breakdown of the family unit and with pornography, alcohol and drugs continuing to be a major causes of illness and misadventure in Australia, yet readily accepted as normal by much of society. The media has a lot to answer for in terms of what goes on in society. While TV shows and movies continue to make attractive that which is harmful, society will continue to follow what they are fed. I would love to unpack this further, but time will not allow this tonight.

If there are two narratives, one being in a sense ‘Man’s Narrative’ and the other ‘God’s Narrative’ then surely in order to judge if one is repressive and outdated we need to look at the narratives effect on what I would call ‘Human Flourishing’?

 

Todays reading from Proverbs 3 paints a complete contrast in message to freedom being found in oneself. In fact Proverbs 3 at its heart says keep, submit, trust, fear and honor God. Find yourself in Him. This is completely at odds with today’s western world thinking that says, whatever makes you happy or feels good.

I also want to be clear about sex from the Bibles point of view. And of course when I say the Bible’s point of view, I am saying what God states through His word. It is important to be crystal clear on this point. In Genesis 2:24 we read “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” Then Jesus also reiterates this pattern in Mark 10:6-9 where he says;

6 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.'”

7 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife,”

8 And the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one.

9 “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.

This is the only pattern that the Bible allows for sexual relations. Everything outside of the marriage union between one man and one woman, the Bible calls sexual immorality, fornication or the like.

 

So in the end there really are two ways to live.

There are only two choices.

Choice #1

Put your trust and hope in yourself, in sex, in pleasure or something that isn’t God. If you believe that ‘the here and now’ is all that there is, then it is highly likely that you will fit in well with the world and satisfy many of your own desires and do what you wanna do, be what you wanna be. But, I believe you will also one day have to meet Jesus and give an account for your life.

Choice #2

Put your trust in God.

If God made the world and everything in it. If He is the creator and sustainer of all things, then would not His word, His way of doing things be the best way.

For if this is true, which I believe it is, then Christianity is not repressive, but the only way to flourish and live in this world and the next.

If this is true then Christianity isn’t outdated, but is the only correct modern way to think and live. Jesus says the following about the two realties.

John 10:10 “But the thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

 

Everybody wants to live the best life. The world will tell you that your best life is all about your personal pleasure. But there is no real promise there, and I am yet to really meet anyone that after many years of selfish freedom is truly content. This is because living life for you own pleasure is not the way that God intended us to live.

God intended us to be in relationship with Him through His Son Jesus Christ. And to live and work to His praise and glory. The most famous bible verse John 3:16 sums up what God wants for us “For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

True freedom, eternal life and being loved by the one who made us can only be offered by Jesus. The world can’t offer this to us. As Keith Green states in a song written for his Son in the early 80’s. “This world will promise love and beauty, but it lied to me.” – Song for Josiah.

 

In the end, if God gives life and belief in Jesus means life everlasting with Him for eternity in Heaven. Then is it really Christianity that is repressive in holding up this message, or the World being repressive in shooting down this life-giving message?

The only promise that the world can hold up is death (and taxes), whereas Christianity holds up the promise of life, life eternal with the God who made and loves us.

[1]Financial Times UK, February 21, 2017