Moore: ‘Secularizing America’ presents opportunities for Gospel
Feb 7, 2014
By GREGORY TOMLIN

ENGAGING Matthew Malone (l), a member of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, speaks to Russell Moore at the Jacksonville Pastors’ Conference. “I’m very excited to meet Dr. Moore. He really knows the Gospel,” said Malone, a student majoring in political science at the University of North Florida. Another student, Brandon Andreae, looks on. Photo by Joni B. Hannigan
JACKSONVILLE (FBW)—The culture of 21st-century America is more like that of the early Roman Empire than most Christians realize, Russell Moore, president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said at the Jacksonville Pastors’ Conference Jan. 25.

Moore told pastors gathered at First Baptist Jacksonville their children and grandchildren are facing an increasingly secularized America. That is both bad and good, he said.

“The world we are going to be facing is going to be very similar to the world we see in the Book of Acts,” Moore said, adding the continued secularization of America creates opportunities to preach the “strange message” of Christianity much the way Paul preached before the Roman governor Festus and King Agrippa. 

“The Gospel of Jesus Christ does not need Mayberry,” Moore said. “You and I are going to find ourselves in a culture—and often in a culture that is translated into state power—that is going to see what you and I believe as strange and freakish and odd and, perhaps, even dangerous.”

Moore said Paul in Acts 26:24 was in trouble with the law because he was in trouble with the culture. The culture understood what he was saying. Christianity is so “non-controversial” in many parts of the United States, he said, because so many people no longer understand the message. It becomes controversial, as it did in Paul’s time, when the message begins to take root and be understood.

When the Christian message “comes into the darkness, the darkness resists the light and fights back,” Moore said.

RUSSELL MOORE
Photo by Joni B. Hannigan
Paul engaged the culture and defended his liberties as a Roman citizen to the highest authority, in spite of the fact that he could have been released if he had not appealed to Caesar. Moore said Paul recognized his responsibility and stewardship in passing the Gospel forward meant doing everything in his power to maintain avenues of freedom and liberty for the message.

Though Paul was convictional, Moore said, he still showed honor and respect to those in authority, referring to the Roman governor as “most excellent Festus.” Paul addressed the governor as would an ambassador, for that is what he was.

“He is an ambassador,” Moore said. “He is speaking on behalf of Jesus Christ … He is someone using the levers of power to bring about the kind of liberty that allows the Gospel to go forward, which means liberty for everybody.”

Paul spoke to those in power without diminishing “the strangeness of the Gospel,” Moore said. He talked about crucifixion, resurrection from the dead, and about the return of Christ. Festus regarded Paul’s speech as the ramblings of an insane man.

“Increasingly, we’re living in that kind of culture where making the most basic moral affirmations from Scripture sounds insane,” Moore said. “We say, ‘We’re even stranger than you think we are, because we believe all that and that this previously dead guy has been raised from the dead and is coming in the eastern skies on a horse. And as we speak that message, when the outside the culture sees it as freakish and strange and when they say, ‘What are you talking about?’ we will know we are getting close to the Gospel Jesus gave us.”

Moore said the rapid secularizing of America allows the church to reclaim the Gospel from prosperity preachers prominent today.

“There is a reason why Joel Osteen is not translated into Sudanese,” Moore said. “The message that Christianity is to make you the best you that you can be does not make sense when saying ‘Jesus is Lord’ literally means being crucified by mobs around you.”

Today, Baptists are concerned with freedom from coercive power to preach the Gospel, Moore said. God has given legitimate functions to the government, but there are certain powers it does not have. When the government takes those powers, it turns itself into a god. 

Moore said, like Paul, the church must preach the Gospel as it is engaging the culture socially and politically, but it must avoid being a “prosecuting attorney.”

“We can talk to sinners and tell them how they are condemned and we would be right in every single one of those points and you can build a ministry off of that and that alone, but you will have a ministry of condemnation,” Moore said. “The devil is a prosecuting attorney. The devil stands with the law of God and accuses.”

Like Paul, Moore said Christians should offer the grace of God that only comes in Jesus Christ while being a voice for the voiceless in the public square.

 

 

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