Thursday, September 1, 2011



Throughout the Western world since about the 1950s our culture has been getting progressively cruder. There used to be certain subjects, images and words which most people thought were unacceptable in public. What used to be found only in seedy magazines now appears on billboard advertising. In the old days, if a broadcaster swore on air, he would be fired immediately. There were always people who crossed such boundaries, but in polite company among professionals and especially in the church, certain things were out of bounds. If such things were ever spoken about or seen it would be in the context of the utmost care and caution.

The ‘Emerging Church’ is an attempt by Christian leaders to respond to our ‘Emerging Culture’, mostly by adapting Christianity to fit in with the direction of popular culture. There are different streams within this movement. One stream has focused on trying to accommodate Postmodern ideas. Another stream of the Emerging Church, calling itself ‘Emerging, but not Emergent’ however rejects Postmodernism as doctrinally unorthodox, but often follows the cultural trend towards crudeness.

Many Christians will at times say something, they realise later was a mistake, and may utter some embarrassed apology ‘I shouldn’t have said that’. But these Christian leaders are not embarrassed. Instead they have an idea that to be coarse is to be cool. That somehow they can win over today’s youth, if they can swear like them, talk about the same coarse movies and immoral actors they watch, and tell almost as crude jokes. They think those who disagree with such coarseness are legalistic and old fashioned. Some of these leaders come from overly strict ‘fundamentalist’ backgrounds and have taken a pendulum swing in the opposite direction. Other younger pastors have grown up with a crude culture and think it is acceptable for a Christian.

This ‘crude’ attitude then filters into all aspects of church life: trampling on what was formerly considered ‘holy ground’. Jokes and flippant statements about God and sexuality become acceptable in church. For example, a preacher thinks that if his congregation is a bit asleep, he can wake them up by cracking some joke with sexual undertones, making fun of spiritual things or using language formerly considered unacceptable in polite company.


Unconverted persons slip into church, telling crude jokes or behaving in a crude manner – but instead of being urged to holiness, the hyper ‘seeker sensitive’ evangelism strategy believes one needs to lower the standards in the church to accommodate such people. Particularly, in youth groups, unconverted people are welcomed in without needing to adapt to even outward Christian standards of holiness. This then lowers the standard of what acceptable for Christian youth as well. This is a very risky and unbiblical strategy of evangelism, more likely to corrupt the church than win sinners to Christ. Rather unbelievers should be attracted by young people charged with zeal for Christ and the message of the gospel.


While just about every glossy magazine offers ‘sex advice’, some pastors think they can sell Christianity by offering competing ‘sex advice’. While there may be some teaching on sex in the scriptures, this is usually given in very guarded and euphemistic language, for example 1 Corinthians 7:3-5. There are many good reasons for this. Sex is a sacred subject meant for the privacy of the marriage bedroom. Churches have a lot of unmarried people. Inappropriate talk on sex can provoke illegitimate desire. Keeping sex special means not talking about it everywhere else. Some other young ‘postmodern’ preachers don’t joke, but try to shock their congregations by using crude or sexually explicit words in church, which maybe make them seem more ‘hip with the culture’ than their young followers.

Related to such flippancy about sexuality with words is a casual attitude towards modesty with the body. Many youth part of this new church culture simply don’t see a problem with viewing nudity on television or movies – nor in this state of numbness about immodesty - with lewdly exposing themselves even when members of the opposite sex may see them. Please see my previous article on ‘nudity’ for a rebuttal of this view.


Similarly, jokes about God and spiritual things in church can easily stray into blasphemy. We are meant to reverence God – not make jokes about him. Granted, there may be a few ‘spiritual jokes’ which are legitimate, but one needs to be careful that such joking does not undermine the gravity of spiritual truth such as people’s eternal destiny in heaven or hell, the moral boundaries of sin or the person of God. People who make such jokes need to be very careful that they are not offending God in the process. But the new attitude is as though God doesn’t care, isn’t going to get offended and that any caution is equated to legalism. God can judge a church that doesn’t respect him in many ways, and the most common way is that the Holy Spirit simply withdraws.


One of the worlds most listened to preachers, considered an expert on reaching ‘youth culture’, is offering sexual advice on the internet – with the apparent philosophy that just about anything is permitted provided it is within marriage. And this crude and foolish advice on sexual experimentation in marriage is videoed in the context of an open church meeting. His web site links to other sites offering even more unwise sex advice.


The Bible says we should avoid coarseness: Ephesians 5:3 “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. 4 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.” Yes, we can joke and be funny and tell jokes about all sorts of common things, but we should be careful not to joke about the holy and the unclean. The holy we are to respect and seek after. The unclean we are to detest, avoid and not dwell on. Neither the holy nor the unclean should be the subject of jokes.

Joking is often a way people break down barriers. In many contexts that is good and helpful. But we need some barriers. When people joke about sin, they undermine barriers to sin. When people joke about homosexuality or people having affairs, they increase the risks of such sin – and joking often provides a cover for the initial stages of sinful relationships.

While under the New Covenant we do have access to God through a new and living way Jesus has opened for us (Hebrews 10:20), God has provided a very specific route for us to meet with him – through identification with the death and resurrection of Jesus, by various means such as participation in holy communion, repentance of our specific sins and faith in his forgiveness and cleansing by his blood. That specific route does not mean that people who are unrepentant towards their sin and irreverent towards God can simply joke their way into intimacy with God. Such people deceive themselves. God is not meeting them at church.

In the past there was a debate on dress code at church. Some older folk thought you needed to wear a tie to church to show you respected God. This focus on externals is not relevant to worship unless it actually does reflect the attitude of the heart. But the words people say do let out what is in the heart (Matthew 12:34) and a coarse attitude towards sexuality, sin and the holy things of God does not reflect a right heart attitude.


* The Bible promotes modesty which applies to the display of our physical bodies and our wealth (1 Corinthians 12:22; 1 Timothy 2:9)

* The Bible gives numerous examples of people who fell under divine judgment for failing to show adequate respect to God in worship. Nathan and Abihu, priest (Numbers 3:4) and Uzzah (1 Chronicles 13:9) were struck dead. King Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:19) was struck with a skin disease. These are lessons we should learn from not to do the same.

* Our Hollywood popular over-sexed and blasphemous media culture is seriously toxic to Christian holiness. We should not try to reintroduce the legalism of ‘all movies are of the devil’, but we must use wisdom in managing our exposure to toxic entertainment and sin – otherwise it will numb our boundaries. Pastors who feel they need to keep up with such popular toxic entertainment culture, put themselves at risk and also those who follow them.

* All historic revivals have taken place in the context of conviction of sin, fear and reverence for God and acknowledging the difference between the holy and the unclean. None have ever taken place in the context of joking about sin and the holy things of God. Such compromise with crudeness may fill churches with young people who like it and think their pastor is ‘cool’, but we cannot expect true revival in churches where such an attitude prevails.


If you haven’t encountered this problem. Good. You are probably blessed by being in a healthy church. But if your church or people in it are following any of this new trend of crudeness, please show this article to such people as well as your pastor and home group leaders. If however, your church continues with this trend, you may consider moving elsewhere.