I am not a biologist by training, but I am amazed at the ability of a chameleon to mimic the colors of its surroundings, creating a form of natural camouflage. I’m sure that someone who specializes in the biology of lizards could give an answer as to how the animal does that, but I am content to marvel not only at the remarkable little creature but also at the God who would design and create this creature to do such a wonderful thing…mutations and random chance my foot.
There is another kind of chameleon, though, that is far less marvelous and needs almost no scientific explanation. This kind of chameleon is the person who essentially tells people whatever they want to hear and who takes no firm positions on anything that matters. This is sometimes done to win supporters and “friends” and sometimes it is done to avoid conflict. Nevertheless, it is a form of camouflage that many people practice in our society.
I suppose that we most commonly associate this behavior with politicians. This is not an insult against all politicians, I have known a number of them over the years who have had a great deal of integrity and who will stand against popular opinion if it is the right thing to do. At the same time, there is often a reason behind the development of a stereotype. My son and I have been watching the various presidential debates over this past year and sadly it seems that these folks largely fit the stereotype to a tee. It is sad to me that politics in America has more to do with rhetoric and campaign finances than with real ideas about real issues. Our nation is poorer because of it.
Yet, though I grieve over the death of politics in America, what grieves me even more deeply is the death of the pulpit in our nation (and beyond!). If there is someone who is not called to be a chameleon, it is the preacher. His calling is to pronounce absolute right from absolute wrong to the people, reproving them in their sins, and teaching them the way they should go. My grandfather, who was a Methodist minister, used to say, “If you aren’t stepping on toes, you aren’t preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” Sadly, preachers in our country rarely step on toes and have sought to be liked rather than to be respected as a man set apart to proclaim the truth.
I am no Wesleyan in my theology, but I do heartily concur with his statement that we are to be men “of one book.” That does not mean we do not read widely and study well; we are to be pastor-scholars as both Calvin and Wesley would have agreed. We are called, though to lift one book high above all of the others. It is the source of all truth and is the absolute guide for our lives. Telling stories may be interesting and telling the occasional joke may endear a congregation to their pastor, but the Bible convicts. And preaching is to be about convicting the heart, not entertaining it.
But, as politicians who do not wish to ruffle the feathers of their political base, so too, pastors often seek not to ruffle the feathers of their churches as well — and in fearing offense or seeking to avoid conflict, they fail to do what they have been called to do. Let the entertainer entertain, but let the man of God proclaim. He who is called to preach must do so even at the expense of offending those closest to him for Truth compromises for no one and God will hold those called to teach it doubly accountable.
Be warned, ye chameleons who stand in pulpits, you are nothing to marvel at.
“The fullness of your word is truth; everlasting is the judgment of your righteousness.”
“But he answered, saying, ‘It is written that man shall not live by bread alone, but from every word that comes out of the mouth of God.’”
(Matthew 4:4 — citing Deuteronomy 8:3)
When the Heidelberg Catechism asks the question, “What is True Faith?” (Question 21), the answer begins with the statement that true faith is “the confident knowledge that everything that God reveals in his Word is true.” Every time we recite a creed in church or for another event, we begin with the words, “I believe,” again, implying that there is a body of knowledge that goes along with true, saving faith. But what is the basis for that knowledge? It is the Bible and a commitment to the notion that it is the very word of God and that it is true.
Now, it is easy to critique the liberal church today, which largely seeks to ignore, trivialize, and strip the Word of God of any divine power. And it is even easier to critique the more broadly evangelical churches for picking and choosing what they wish to follow and consider authoritative — paying lip-service to the idea that Scripture is the inspired Word of God, but flatly ignoring things that shake their theological paradigms. It is also easy to critique those churches that are heavily committed to ecumenicism, for they all-too-quickly set the Word aside in favor of fellowship. But fellowship on what basis?
But, let us turn our attention a bit closer to home. We who claim to hold to the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture, do we really believe that everything written in his word is Truth? If we genuinely believe that, why are we so often so quiet when people around us treat God’s word as if it is a lie?
Think about it this way, if someone was doing a math problem around us, and was doing the math incorrectly, would we not say something to correct them? If someone around us is using a word wrong, would we not say something like, “I don’t think that word means what you think it means”? If someone mentions that they have been eating chicken, lightly toasted, but still largely uncooked, we would insist with them that they cook the meat to prevent an infection.
So, if we will insist on true principles when it comes to earthly things, why not with eternal? If we really believe that one of the marks of true faith is a belief that everything in God’s word is true, we should insist on it and stand for it not only in our own circles, but in the world around us. And, we should insist upon it with ourselves. In other words, if we know the Bible says we should do this or that, we should do this or that — whatever it is that God commands. Whatever.
Recently, I heard a challenge to Christianity that was worded like this: “The only reason you identify yourself as Christian is because you were born in America; if you had been born in Iraq, you would be Muslim and if you had been born in northern India, you would be Hindu—religion is nothing more than a cultural expression of morality.” The person making the challenge was Richard Dawkins, a popular atheist in our culture today. Though I had not heard that objection worded in the same basic way, I have heard this objection of Christianity before, and thought that I would like to pose a response from two perspectives.
The first perspective is purely a practical one, for I know that there are many nominal Christian parents that are essentially banking on this principle, hoping that their children will remain Christian (at least in name), while never truly training their children up in the faith. They think that of course, America is a Christian nation, so of course, my children will remain Christians all of their life. This not only exposes a faulty understanding of Christianity (as I will mention below), but it is a dangerous assumption, for America is becoming more and more of a secular, atheistic nation, and not a Christian one. Thus, some are estimating that as many as 80% of teenagers leave the church when they hit their college years, often without returning. Don’t get me wrong, many of them still think of themselves as Christian, but their Christianity has no bearing on the way they live their lives and for all practical purposes, they are secular humanists in practice and thought.
Furthermore, many of these children will openly reject Christianity because they see how self-serving, jaded, lazy, and corrupt so many churches have become. Many embrace the atheism of their college professors, but others are embracing false religions like Islam because they are attracted to the self-discipline and rigid lifestyle that such religions offer. We should not need to be reminded that one of the reasons that the Byzantine empire fell so easily to the Muslim expansion was due to the corruption and self-seeking nature of the church—people saw its weaknesses and rejected it as diseased and dying. Such an observation has been made of much of the church in America. Thus, it is not enough that we are actively pursuing the Christian faith, it is essential for us to recognize that our children must be actively pursuing the Christian faith as well.
That is the purely practical perspective, now for the theological one… While many religions may very well be simply cultural expressions of morality, Christianity, by definition, is different. For in Christ, we are called “new creations” (2 Corinthians 5:17)—in other words, we are changed from the outside in. Christianity is not a mere self-help program, it is a total change of lifestyle that can only be accomplished if one is supernaturally changed by God—we refer to this as being “born again” (John 3:3). This change is impossible to do for oneself, but God must effectively draw us to Christ as well (John 6:44). God draws us from the world, God gives us new life, and God makes us a new creation. This is more than mere morality, it is transformation. And, it is a transformation that takes place all over the world, even in countries where you can be put to death for claiming Christ as Lord and Savior.
The sad thing is that too many Christians simply treat Christianity as a self-help program, and when that happens, they do not live like new creations and Christianity becomes nothing more than a social norm—a norm that is quickly being redefined in America.