- One of them is the growing distance between rich and poor. This has been occurring in Western nations over recent decades, and the massive accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few show that today we live in an empire. When this happens, we usually are heading for revolution or war. It destabilises society too much for peace to continue.
- Another issue is the gap that develops between nationalities, races and religious groups. Instead of coming together and learning about the trials each group faces, trying to help, we grow apart more. This ends up degrading the value of human life and eventually takes our world into trouble. Creation corrects this, and the more we refuse the correction, the worse the correction we eventually face. The early church was a witness against this gap, by bringing people together in our communities to serve: the sick, the poor, from all backgrounds.
- Another issue is violence. As our world grows apart, we develop weapons to protect ourselves, rather than justice and care of others. The world gravitates more towards wars, starting as smaller ones, but growing, as offences and human rights abuses increase. Large budgets go towards these weapons, and the poor and uneducated of our societies suffer even more, making eventual large-scale war even more probable.
- Another issue is sexual exploitation. This is one of the signs of the degrading of human value. People become commodities, just as they are in war, as collateral damage, or in unjust economics, as social burdens. As sexual definitions change, the result eventually is a self-orientated society, where no one is protected. The weak, whether women, weaker men, or children, become fair game for a self-centred “food-chain.”
- Another issue is environmental degradation. A society that is unchecked in economic injustice, in its violence against other communities in war, and doesn’t care for the value of human life in its sexual appetites, will also not care about the its abuse of the environment. Rome desecrated the landside of Judah, as it sieged and then destroyed Jerusalem. May wars of our past have left environments to lie in ruin. Today, we also see a growing disregard for our environment. If the church loses its witness for the protection of all life, it loses its identity.
- Another is our lack of care for the poor. Our lives become consumed with how we look in public, with entertainment and pleasure, often in “non-sinful” activities, but these things fill our lives. We produce a Christian form of hedonism, in a world of suffering. This, when the world is experiencing the highest level of human displacement in its history.
If we no longer side with a creational God, which other God is there to side with? Our witness is for life, all life, or our witness lacks love and our “moral witness” has no relevance. A moral witness joins with God against all creation destroyers; greed, war, killing, child suffering, environmental degradation, sexual immorality, inhospitality, and hatred of any kind. If our witness is against the self of immorality, it must start with our own selfishness.
The issues above normally occur together, as a society spirals down towards destruction. Greed in one area, means greed and destruction in all areas at once. They come together as a package. Community responsibility in one area, tends towards community responsible in all areas. Today, we hear voices in one of these fields, and other voices in other fields, but we don’t hear voices that unite all these together in a holistic message of life. This was the holistic life message the early church brought to a self-centred, brutal Roman world.
When societies spiral down towards destruction, all the above facets normally coincide as part of selfish human life style. And then, you also see a religious, self-serving witness of judgment, like the Pharisees, shut off from the world, caring for themselves and building their own barns. We tend to do this also today, but this is no witness. The witness we are called to is a counter-cultural love, opposite to both the self-serving secular and religious worlds.
As the world spirals down, secular and religious together, fighting and accusing each other, as liberals and conservatives, eventually out of this ruin, a new world is once again possible. Peter called it a new heavens and new earth, that was being birthed out of the ruins of Jerusalem and his Jewish generation. Out of this judgment normally comes a sense of godliness and revival, a removal of our arrogance and a humility to change our ways, to honour the creation in which we live.
How does the church respond? We have often sought to do that by legal regulation. But that usually doesn’t work. It often amounts to bullying. Trying to enforce our values on a world that doesn’t believe in them is seen as abusive. When we don’t care about people, but just punish them with laws, not understanding the reason for their suffering and trying to help, we are just bullying. This isn’t what Jesus did or taught his followers to do.
Like the way many of us have tried to handle abortion. There are so many things we can do to reduce the amount of abortion in our societies. Just making it illegal doesn’t always help. What are the social conditions people are going through? And if women saw the love of the church, trying to understand, trying to take care and help them, then this love would make a greater witness to community, to the value of the baby’s life, than all the tea in China.
I am not saying there is no place for law here. But a society can’t just make laws against things. It also must support human conditions, renew its cultures of care and understanding.
There are things that need to be handled by law, like child protection, sex trafficking, economic injustice, slavery and the like. But many issues need to be treated by example, just as the early church handled them. They took in babies and lonely mothers, to save children. They changed the values of the society, by showing love to those in need. They did it by example, by laying down their own lives. They took up their cross. They showed the world, the way God showed us, on his cross.
They overthrew inequalities in the society, like the patriarchal culture and they made slaves their brothers and sisters in family. Paul has often been charged as being patriarchal, but he was the exact opposite. His writings have been misinterpreted in this way. We won’t go into the details here. He had several women apostles in his team, who were important, leading members of the work.
When patriarchal society is changed, then women can be helped, rather than condemned for abortions. It’s like the woman caught in adultery. Where was the man? The church has values. We believe in life. We believe in human rights, even of the unborn. We believe we should act for the welfare of others, and not according to our personal rights. We show that belief with compassion, by understanding the pain and serving. Not by condemning.
In our patriarchal societies, we have clearly misunderstood Paul in passages in which he addresses women. Our views of Paul have been at variance with the values that Jesus portrayed, or which the gospel portrays. If we have been so wrong about Paul on this matter, might we also be wrong about things Paul said about sexual morality?
The women issue is a matter of removing hierarchy in our cultures and serving one another in love. This is a matter of gospel freedom and respect. But if we change definitions on sexual morality, we risk undermining the welfare of humans in our societies. Sex becomes irresponsible and then human rights are gone. This is not a matter of gospel freedom and respect, in the same way, except for the respect we are due to show every person, no matter their persuasion.
We might want to relax sexual morality on compassionate grounds, to give freedom to ourselves, but then we find it isn’t freedom, but an unexpected slavery, that brings our whole society into corruption. Paul was for freedom, and this is the reason he spoke clearly about our sexual morality.
Corruption begins when we start to honour ourselves above the common good. This happens in government, in business, in ethics and in sexual matters. All these corruptions have the same root, and harm our collective lives. And the corruption happens when the church becomes self-serving and judgemental, rather than serving a world in all kinds of pain and hurt.
Jesus spoke about the signs of the times. By that he didn’t mean the end of the world, but the judgment coming on that generation. The signs of the coming judgment were the self-centeredness, their unwillingness to serve others. The issues listed above are part of these signs. They are signs today that are clearly visible.
The only real hope is the witness of the church, and this witness is the selflessness of God in our lives. This brings renewal.