“To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.”2 Thessalonians 2:14-15, ESV
Recently I saw a sign on the side of the road advertising a local church. The sign read, “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.” This statement begs the question: What, exactly, is this church open to? For the true Church – that which “contends for the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3), as confessed in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds – such an advertisement is a truism; the Church should always have hearts open to the Gospel, minds open to renewal (Romans 12:2), and doors open to all who search after God. Without a doubt, the sign in question is instead virtue signaling that its church has long abandoned the more “intolerant” aspects of the Christian faith.
As more and more churches compromise on Biblical conviction to keep in step with the culture, it is as important as ever for the true Church to clearly and visibly identify with the Truth of the Gospel. When churches espouse the latest cultural mottos and vague platitudes, what they are actually doing is obscuring the truth about their spiritual condition (which is decaying) to create the appearance of cultural relevance. By contrast, a congregation of the Church Universal should desire to boldly communicate the truth about its spiritual identity in Christ.
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus exhorts his disciples: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)
God’s people do not have the option to “turn off” their spiritual identity. Likewise, a church that tries to blend in with the surrounding culture does not merely hide its lamp under a basket but instead smothers it out completely. If a church, then, is ashamed of its Christian identity, can it really claim to be Christian at all? The answer, of course, is a resounding “no.”
Discerning Christians must be wise to the folly of conforming to cultural trends. If the myriad twists and turns of the American social and moral landscape remind us of anything, it is that any worldview not founded on the bedrock of Christ is like a home built on a foundation of sand (Luke 6:47-49). In contrast, we know that God’s Word and God’s Church will endure until the end of the age. As Jesus proclaimed to the Apostle Peter, “…on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).
With these truths in mind, I encourage us as a congregation to continue standing firm on Biblical Truth and Christian Tradition (2 Thessalonians 2:14-15). As the world around us further forsakes the Truth and embraces evil, we will face ever-increasing social and governmental pressure to conform to sin. The churches which do conform will be quickly washed away by the cultural flood, but God’s true Church shall boldly and steadfastly worship the Lord in Word and Sacrament until Christ’s Coming Again. If we remain faithful to the upward call of the Gospel, then God will sustain us, and as a church our light will shine distinctly and brightly as a lighthouse throughout the Ocean State.
Image: Rafael, The Transfiguration (1516-1520), detail