RESPONDING TO SECULAR IGNORANCE

by Dr. J. W. Jepson

Our text describes what happens when any society refuses to acknowledge God. It goes into idolatry. In secularism the idolatry is the worship of self. Whatever form it takes, it is motivated by a commitment to self-gratification against all reason. The result is spiritual, moral, and intellectual darkness. At the end of the line awaits the judgment of God. America is at a defining moment. A battle is underway for the very soul of the nation. The moral code is under attack by militant secularists, and God and His word are the bulls-eye of their target. It has been said that if half the people in this country were thoroughly converted to Jesus Christ, the other half would get fighting mad! The issue is clear: are we going to continue to be a nation under God, built on the solid foundation of the universal moral law, revealed in the Bible; or are we going to sink into moral license and corruption? The battlefield is the human mind and heart. The war is being waged on almost every front: the media, the entertainment industry, education, and politics, even religion. At the same time, this is perhaps our moment of greatest opportunity. God is mightily at work. Signs of a spiritual awaking are being seen. Because this is a spiritual battle, we do not wrestle against flesh and blood. We are not fighting people; we are fighting for people. Our weapons are not the ones of human flesh but are mighty through God for demolishing the strongholds of all specious systems of thought that raise themselves up against the knowledge of God. Our objective is to liberate people from error and bondage and bring their hearts and minds into the freedom of willing obedience to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:4, 5). Christ Himself is our Captain; presenting the truth in love is our strategy; and prayer is our effective weapon. The issue is the moral rule of God versus secularism. Funk And Wagnalls defines a secularist as "1. A person who bases morality on the well being of mankind in this world without any consideration of religious systems and forms of worship. 2. One who believes that religion should not be introduced into public education or the management of public affairs." It is the people of faith versus the people of unbelief, the faithful versus the faithless ("lacking in or devoid of faith, especially in the Christian religion"--Funk and Wagnalls). It is impossible to separate religion and morality; the attempt to do so destroys both. That fact challenges a basic assumption of secularism. Secularists consider themselves to be moral people even though they are not religious. In effect, they have sought to establish their own righteousness (Romans 10:3). Let us examine this matter and attempt to expose the fallacy of secular "morality." Secularism is the product of a perverse bias. At the root of secularism is human pride. It is the unrealistic and unreasonable determination to be one's own supreme being in one's own self-created world. It is self-refusing to get off the throne, and love and obey its lawful Sovereign. Secularism attempts to eliminate self's chief Competitor--God. If a person can be self-convinced that God does not exist, that person will also be self-convinced that it is possible to be of good moral character without loving, obeying, and worshiping God. After all, no one can be guilty of committing an offense against a non-existent being. So on that premise the secularist assumes that he or she can ignore God, blaspheme His name, abuse Him, withhold from Him the love, obedience, and worship that is rightfully His, influence others to do the same, and nor moral offense has been committed. Hence he or she is a good, moral person who treats other human beings with respect and good will. In secularism, man is his own starting point, his ultimate authority, his own judge of reality and truth. He selects the criteria and arrives at his own conclusions. This secular assumption permeates science and most of the rest of culture. Satan reinforces it (2 Corinthians 4:4). According to our text, the perverse determination to eliminate the true and living God--the God of creation and the universal moral law--from human thinking is driven by an unreasonable commitment to self-gratification. Sometimes it is cloaked in euphemistic terms, such as: "self-fulfillment, self-actualization, self-realization." Whatever words are used, it is still a commitment to self-gratification. As such, it is selfishness, and selfishness is immoral. As our text says, in many societies people simply create their own gods, gods that will justify their deeds and provide a moral base for their culture. It might be a metal image or a "mental" image. In either case it is a false god. Self--the god of secularism--is also a false god. So the suppression of light results in darkness--moral, intellectual, and behavioral. Dishonesty of heart results in perverse thinking (John 3:19). Secularism is seeking to control and use the mechanisms and institutions of society to further its cause and secure its objectives. It calls for state "neutrality" toward religion. But secularism cannot be neutral. By its very nature and definition it is hostile to the God it rejects and denies, and to everyone and everything that represents His authority. If it controls the state, the state will be hostile to religion, not neutral. Human government cannot be neutral regarding God. Government must neither prescribe nor proscribe religion. But that does not mean that government itself has no obligation to God. Even though we cannot force one another to obey God, each of us has a moral obligation to obey Him. Likewise, even thought government cannot force anyone to obey God, government itself has a moral obligation to obey Him. On this point secularism makes a fundamental mistake. It assumes that "separation of church and state" requires government to be godless, to function on the premise that God does not exist. But government must deal with moral issues, and that places it under the jurisdiction of moral law--the law of nature and nature's God. Secularism cannot provide a basis for human values and therefore human rights. America's founding fathers knew that. In the Declaration Of Independence they affirmed that we are all created equal and are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights. Thus they appealed to a Source of our rights that far transcends every level of human authority. If human rights are merely conferred on us by government or by society, then no rights exist apart from those that government or society chooses to confer. If government or society creates our rights, then government or society can legitimately abolish them. Whenever a government and/or society fail to recognize its ultimate accountability to a moral authority higher than itself, the seeds of injustice and tyranny have been sown. "Separation of church and state" never was intended by our founding fathers to mean the rejection by the state of its moral obligation and accountability to the Creator. Such a position could not be neutrality. By its very nature it would be hostility. Because the Judeo-Christian assumptions underlie our civilization, we champion human rights throughout the world. Without those assumptions we are merely intruding into the internal affairs of other governments whenever we charge them with violating the human rights of their own citizens, no matter how cruel and brutal those violations might be. Human government conducts its civil and other duties under universal moral law--the law of nature and nature's God. Romans 13 states that human government operates under and as an application of the moral rule of God, and therefore it is accountable to His rule. Also, secularism provides no adequate basis for truly human values. Biological complexity does not create transcendent intrinsic value. Human beings are not of higher value merely because they are complex biological organisms. So was the chicken we ate for dinner last night! The moral relativism inherent in secularism cannot stand up under the weight of objective reality. Certain essential values derive from our nature as human beings and certain universal moral principles and obligations are based in our nature as moral beings, precisely because we are created by God "in His image." If God is not who He is, we cannot be who we are. We are who we are precisely and only because God is who He is. If we reject that, we look in vain for an adequate basis for human values and rights. If we are only matter, we do not matter. Molecules and electrochemical processes have no intrinsic value and therefore no inherent rights. What kind of "morality" can be based on the well being of mankind if man is only a bio-electro-chemical machine? If we refuse to love God supremely, it is impossible truly to love our neighbor as ourselves. The same human pride that rejects God will also reject others when they threaten it. Selfishness arranges everything around the centrality of self--spouse, children, even God if He is useful. Self is at the center of its own world and will reject any intruder. Let a spouse or other family member become a dedicated follower of Jesus Christ. An unwelcome foreign element has invaded the "sovereign's" little kingdom. If the "ruler" cannot somehow accommodate it so as not to be threatened by it, he or she will fight it. So, how should believers respond to secularism? Ephesians 5:11 tells us to reprove the works of darkness. That involves living a life that exposes them, just as light exposes what darkness hides. Proverbs 26:4 tells us not to answer a fool according to his folly (by lowering ourselves to his level, taking his cavils seriously, arguing on his terms and presuppositions, and responding to him in his attitude). Then verse 5 tells us to answer a fool according to his folly (as his folly deserves, and in such a way as to expose it). Some people we are not to answer. We are not to answer scoffers (Proverbs 9:7, 8); nor fools (Proverbs 23:9). We are not to cast our pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6). And some people we are to leave alone (Matthew 15:14). In his final epistle, Paul speaks directly to this subject (2 Timothy 2:23-26). This instructs us both in what we are not to do and what we are to do. Our life is our best answer to any opposition to the truth, including secularism. A consistent godly life is the essential foundation for a credible witness. At times we might have the privilege to speak. At other times we must earn the right to speak. (See Colossians 4:4; 1 Peter 2:15; 3:15, 16; Titus 2:7, 8). When the situation calls for an answer, we must not be afraid or hesitant to speak up. We must speak as politely, kindly and respectfully as possible. We must not become argumentative. When people voice glib, flippant cavils, sometimes the best response is silence and a brief, serious look straight in the face. Sometimes it is appropriate to say, "When you get saved, you'll see things differently." The premise is that the problem is moral, not intellectual. When the heart gets right, the thinking straightens out. When people ask trite questions, such as: "How do you know there's a God?" or, "How do you know the Bible is true?" it is appropriate to respond calmly, "Is that a serious question?" "How serious are you about finding the answer?" ("Are you willing to give to the subject the time and effort that its importance demands?"). To the self-confident unbeliever, an appropriate comment is, "If you are an atheist, you'd better be right." Or, "How much are you willing to risk (how much are you risking) on the chance that Jesus Christ was wrong?" Or, "On a most important subject, you have come to a very definite conclusion. I would like to review your research to see what you have discovered that conclusively discredits all the solid evidence that supports the Christian faith." To the person who expresses his or her ignorance openly and dogmatically, a quiet but firm response might be, "You are talking about something you know little or nothing about." Remember, it is important that we know what we are talking about. We must be ready to give a clear, reasoned explanation of the hope that is in us with humility (1 Peter 3:15). Our task is to convert, not merely confute. We might win an argument but lose a soul. Unless a person is "past feeling"--has deliberately and resolutely hardened himself and crushed all the highest and most noble qualities of his humanity--there resides deep within him a sense of incompleteness without God, an emptiness that only God Himself can fill. God has put eternity in his heart (Ecclesiastes 3:11). The Holy Spirit is drawing him toward Christ, and he is discontented and dissatisfied until he yields that rebellious heart to his Savior and Lord. Our role is to work with the Holy Spirit in this great evangelical task. God is willing and ready. He is calling us to join Him.
2011 Disciple 155x50 2011 AMG 155x50
Disciple Banner Ad