How can we live faithfully under the authority of scripture to relate to our surrounding culture?
The federal National Bridge Inventory notes that there are more than 607,380 bridges in the United States. Some bridges are iconic, such as the Brooklyn Bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge, or the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. People will visit these magnificent structures to witness their awesome design and experience their greatness. But every day, most of us will cross a bridge that will take us safely across a river or stream, over a set of railroad tracks, or over a busy street or highway. We seldom think of how bridges make our lives easier as we travel from one place to another.
One of the most beautiful bridges I know is the foot bridge that spans the pond on the north campus of Mid-Atlantic Christian University (pictured above). It allows a person to walk across a small pond – bridging two plots of land. Many students take pictures using the bridge as a backdrop. Weddings are held near the bridge, and numerous citizens of Elizabeth City use the bridge to capture their prom photographs. Some go there to pray and meditate on the greatness of God as they witness a brilliant sunrise across the Pasquotank River.
Building Bridges will be a biweekly email seeking to establish connections between people, churches, and culture as we work to influence our world for Christ. The Scriptures are filled with examples of how God builds bridges to his people and how he expects us to build bridges to others. The author of Ephesians reminds Christians that Jesus broke down the dividing wall of hostility that separated them from salvation and fellowship through the shedding of His blood (Ephesians 2: 12-14). The most widely known scripture says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17). Jesus is a great bridge builder!
As we look at the landscape of our culture, we see many issues or concerns that divide people – some of which are race, religion or spirituality, ethnicity, patriotism – but a myriad of others, as well. Society is grappling with issues such as sexual mores, human life concerns (abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, and capital punishment), immigration, criminal justice, and prison reform. Sadly, we see division and hostility not only over some of these larger cultural issues, but also within our congregations over such issues as worship styles, proper attire for worship, and church polity (who are the decision makers?). And we haven’t even mentioned biblical authority or doctrinal issues at this point.
Most, if not all, of the issues mentioned above evoke strong feelings and responses within each of us. When we feel strongly, it is easy for us to attack another person or to build a barrier between “us” and “them.” It is precisely in these moments that we should seek wisdom from God as to how we might build a bridge to our neighbor and not erect a higher barrier.
Do we view those in the world as an enemy or as God’s beloved? Are they, like we, created in the very image of God? Is the sacrifice of Christ offered for all sinners? And haven’t we all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)?
Every Christian in every generation has to wrestle with what it means to live as a Christian in contemporary culture. Jesus was a revolutionary figure that turned the long standing traditions of the religious elites on their heads. He healed on the Sabbath. He built a bridge to initiate a conversation with a Samaritan woman. He called a despised tax collector to be his disciple. Jesus was the ultimate bridge-builder! The religious leaders were fine with the barriers that kept others away from the truth, so they accused Jesus of being a drunkard, glutton, and friend of sinners (Matthew 11:19). In the book of Acts the church found itself at odds with both the religious leaders of Judaism and the authority of the Roman government. Each generation, including ours, has to answer this question: “How can we live faithfully under the authority of scripture to relate to our surrounding culture?”
It is my hope that we who love God also love our neighbors. It is my prayer that as we engage our culture that we do so with an attitude of humility and repentance, with words of grace, and not with crude jokes, name calling, and abuse. The following scripture gives us a good idea about how we might establish a bridge for the sake of the gospel:
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.
Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.
Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.
Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
Live in harmony with one another.
Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.
Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil.
Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible,
as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Romans 12: 9-18
Build a bridge!