I’ve recently been reading from several books whose themes have sort of converged into a single point of light, laser-like in focus. I am reading about the doctrines of sin in the second book of James Montgomery Boice’s “Foundations of the Christian Faith”, having completed the chapters on the law and the commandments, and man’s sin. A couple of months ago I was reading through John Owens’ work on Sin and Temptation, and more recently Jeremiah Burroughs’ “The Evil of Evil”, although I only read the first couple of chapters. The subject has also come up in some blogs I’ve read recently, and what I am coming to understand is this. All sin is rooted in selfishness, and selfishness is the key to all sin. It was with Lucifer when he rebelled against God (as described by Isaiah); it was with Satan AND with Adam and with Eve in the Garden of Eden. It was with David when he chose to lay with Uriah’s wife, brought him back from the war to lay with her, and then again when he arranged for Joab to have him killed. It was with Peter when he rebuked Jesus for speaking plainly of God’s plan for salvation with His disciples, and again when Peter vowed that he would never abandon or forsake his master even if all others fell away. Pride is a shade of selfishness, but the root of sin is and has always been selfishness—the elevation of oneself above the Most High.
Last night, I read a post that was a response to a movie review by the Christianity Today for the recent release, “Sex and the City” on the blog site, Boundless Line. The reviewer for Christianity Today actually gave the movie higher marks than the overtly Christian “Prince Caspian” that was also recently released. Today on the radio, I heard Todd Friel on Way of the Master speaking about this, and he was (in his typical style) extremely indignant about it. There are several active Christian bloggers out there who have responded to this, who share his feelings. I suppose you could say that I am in their camp.
But what exactly is the problem here? I think it is sad to say that the vast majority of people who call themselves Christians would probably (at least silently) agree with the reviewer. Many people who call themselves Christian (some of whom even attend church fairly regularly) enjoy watching shows and movies like Sex and the City, Desperate Housewives, the myriad reality-tv shows that exploit and exhort “common tendencies” (aka cultural values) like sex and promiscuity, arrogance, avarice, selfishness, and sin. I recently read a poem entitled “The Devil’s Vision” written by an anonymous author (circa 1950). I think it was an excellent summary of the influence of this device on the minds of the people, whether they do or don’t consider themselves followers of Jesus Christ. I quote the first of this three part work here in full:
The devil once said to his demons below,
“Our work is progressing entirely too slow.
The holiness people stand in our way
Since they do not believe in the show or the play.
They teach that the carnival, circus and dance,
The tavern and honky-tonk with game of chance,
Drinking and smoking, these things are wrong;
That Christians don’t mess with the ungodly throng;
They are quick to condemn everything that we do
To cause unbelievers to be not a few.
They claim that these things are all of the devil;
That Christian folks live on a much higher level.
Now, fellows, their theology, while perfectly true
Is blocking the work we are trying to do.
We will have to get busy and figure a plan
That will change their standards as fast as we can.
Now I have a vision of just what we can do,
Hearken, I’ll tell this deception to you;
Then find ye a wise, but degenerate man
Whom I can use — to help work out this plan.
There’s nothing so real as the things that you see;
The eyes and the mind and the heart will agree;
So what can be better than an object to view?
I say it will work and convince not a few.
The home is the place for this sinful device,
The people deceived will think it quite nice.
The world will possess it; most Christians can’t tell
That it’s all of the devil and plotted in Hell!
We’ll sell them with pictures of the latest news
And while they’re still watching, we’ll advertise booze.
At first it will shock them; they’ll seem in a daze,
But soon they’ll be hardened and continue to gaze.
We’ll give them some gospel that isn’t too strong
And a few sacred songs to string them along.
They’ll take in the ads with the latest of fashions
And soon watch the shows that will stir evil passions.
Murder and love-making scenes they’ll behold
Till their poor wretched souls will be utterly cold.
The old family alter which once held such charm
Will soon lose its place without much alarm.
Praying in secret will also be lost
As they look at the screen without counting the cost.
The compromise preachers, who don’t take their stand,
Will embrace this new vision and think it is grand.
They’ll help fool the people and cause them to sin
By seeking this evil and taking it in.
Influence is great — this you can see;
Just look at my fall and you’ll have to agree.
It won’t take too long, my demons, to tell
That the vision of Satan will populate Hell!
Divorce will increase; sex crimes will abound;
Much innocent blood will be spilled on the ground.
The home will be damned in short order I say,
When this vision of mine comes in to stay.
Get busy, my cohorts, and put this thing out;
We’ll see if the church can continue to shout.
The holiness people who stand in our way
Will soon hush their crying against show and play.
We’ll cover the earth with this devil vision
Then we’ll camouflage it with the name television.
The people will think they are getting a treat
Till the Antichrist comes and takes over his seat.
He’ll rule the world while the viewers behold
The face of the beast to whom they were sold.
We’ll win through deception, this cannot fail;
Though some holiness preachers against it will rail.”
Anonymous (circa 1950)
It’s amazing to think that this was written in or around 1950, when television (by today’s standards anyway) was relatively modest and innocent. Whoever wrote this was obviously quite prophetic. I think it is safe to say that television has wielded more influence than any other single “technological advance” throughout history. It has had a severely detrimental and desensitizing effect on us, to the point that sin and disobedience is both acceptable and tolerable. And that is all the worse for the believer, whose life should be a testament to the saving grace of Jesus Christ. But His power and His influence are greatly diminished by the power of the culture and the devilish devices that drive it. We are a selfish and sinful society, yet we consider ourselves “good”. Nothing could be further from the truth. And I think the there is no more fitting summary of the state of the church in America than this: “Christianity Today prefers Sex and the City to Biblical values and influences.”
Where have we gone wrong? From reading the review, it is clear that the reviewer likes the characters and the story, and the plots and subplots (and the nudity and the sexuality). The vast majority of the church is drawn much more powerfully to the culture that we live in, than the church we should be living for. Our eyes dart to Christ occasionally; oh yes, we acknowledge him now and then, but what they are drawn to, what they long for are the things of the world, the desires of the flesh… the bait on the hook of the Evil One, who draws away from having any real and substantial influence for Christ in this world. We do not live like aliens here. We are as comfortable as can be, yet still complain for all our comforts that what we have is not enough. We are collectively, fat, selfish, lazy, and stupid.
Fat and selfish – we feed our appetites as if we are the most important person in the world. Who is called to fast these days? Who can tolerate this injustice to the flesh? Whether we are feeding our mouths with food or beverage, our eyes and ears with music and media, our minds with dross, our senses with lust, or our hearts with sin… we are a people who consume—who take and take and take, and hate to give. We will treat ourselves to a $50 meal downtown and frown on the homeless person who asks for a dollar on the way back to our car.
Lazy – Though some may say that work hard and put in many hours for the money they make, who is it that they serve in this effort? Lazy for the Lord, the one whom we should truly serve. Work for Him is just too uncomfortable. We can put in 50, 60, 70 hour weeks—so that we have enough to spend on our own passions, but even those who go to church and “give” the Lord and hour or two of their time on Sunday mornings—how much time do they give Him fulfilling the work that He has called His people to, to share His gospel message with sinners in need of a savior and to care for the weak, the sick, and the oppressed?
Stupid – Although we ought to know better, or at least the difference between right and wrong from God’s perspective… and although we say we believe the Bible is God’s word and should be the place we turn for guidance in our lives, most of us live lives that mimic so closely those of the unsaved or “fallen away” ones, that it would be hard to tell for the vast majority of Christ-claimers that they have ever read a single chapter of God’s word or had enough sense to understand it correctly that they may live it out in obedience to Him in their own lives!
We feast ourselves at the table of the world when we should be fasting and taking much better fruit not from the table of worldly feasts, but from the Living Vine we have been called to abide in. Woe to us who have made a bedfellow of this world and a stranger of Christ, who lay claim His name and dishonor Him twice. “Christianity Today”. Indeed. This is the state that we are in. It is sad and sorrowful, but the truth of the matter is that by and large Christianity Today has much more in common with “Sex and the City” than with the traditional Christian values and influences that once separated the Church from the Culture. May God help us abandon the sinful sensuality we have all too comfortably embraced and begin to live again as strangers in a strange land—as aliens again. Let today’s scripture reading be the entire second chapter of Peter’s first epistle. Take heed, fellow believers, and choose carefully what you believe.
1Pe 2:1 Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander,
1Pe 2:2 like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation,
1Pe 2:3 if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.
1Pe 2:4 And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God,
1Pe 2:5 you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
1Pe 2:6 For this is contained in Scripture: “BEHOLD, I LAY IN ZION A CHOICE STONE, A PRECIOUS CORNER stone, AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.”
1Pe 2:7 This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve, “THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE VERY CORNER stone, “
1Pe 2:8 and, “A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE”; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed.
1Pe 2:9 But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;
1Pe 2:10 for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY.
1Pe 2:11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.
1Pe 2:12 Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.
1Pe 2:13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority,
1Pe 2:14 or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.
1Pe 2:15 For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.
1Pe 2:16 Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God.
1Pe 2:17 Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.
1Pe 2:18 Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable.
1Pe 2:19 For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly.
1Pe 2:20 For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.
1Pe 2:21 For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps,
1Pe 2:22 WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH;
1Pe 2:23 and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously;
1Pe 2:24 and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.
1Pe 2:25 For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.