The Twelve Apostles and Today’s Culture

Title: The Twelve Apostles and Today’s Culture

Text: Matthew 10:2-4

Date: May 17th, 2009

We come to the section in the Book of Matthew that describes the original twelve disciples. These are men who Jesus selected among all the persons available at the time to be his disciples, to be his apostles, to launch and establish the Christian church after his departure. All of these men were chosen by Jesus, lived and worked with Jesus in his ministry for three years, and shared everything in common with one another during that time. But even though they all started out heading in the same direction towards God by following Jesus, they all didn’t progress at the same rate, and one ultimately departed from the path completely. In the list of the original twelve disciples – or apostles as they were later called – we see a symbol of the citizens of our modern Western world. By Western civilization I mean citizens of the countries and territories that make up Europe, North America and South America, Australia and a few other smaller areas where Christianity was introduced and where Christianity took hold and flourished historically apart from its Middle East origins. The beliefs and values of Christianity have shaped and molded life in these territories for hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of years. In our own country of the United States of America, Christianity has influenced this land from its beginning with the first European settlers. In fact, the earliest form of Christianity introduced into North America was a particularly pure, biblical brand coming from the Reformation Puritans who inhabited New England. The original thirteen colonies were heavily influenced by Christian teachings and that cultural foundation helped create the greatness of the United States. But today, as we look around the nation that started out so many years ago largely Christian in orientation, one can hardly recognize that same nation today. Yes, there are visible signs and symbols of a past consensus of Christianity today, but largely the older Christian world view that shaped beliefs and values and institutions of the past is mostly gone today. In its place is a secular, almost atheistic world view consensus that often communicates an anti-Christian attitude, as if faith and church is a problem to be dealt with instead of a blessing to be embraced. Today, we are witnessing a shift in the world view foundations of our nation and civilization; we are witnessing the shifting of the philosophical and religious foundations of an entire culture from Christian to secular atheistic. Can the old Christian foundations be re-established? Can a secular atheistic foundation actually replace the older Christian consensus? Can the Western world survive such a transition? I see the list of the original twelve apostles and the three basic directions of their individual lives as a paradigm for our own civilization in the years to come. First, there was the example of Peter and the few others who persisted in their faith and became pillars of faith. Second, there are those disciples who quietly lived out their lives and faithfully followed the Lord to one degree or another. Third, there is Judas who fell away and betrayed the Lord. I see the citizens of the Western world as generally falling into one of those three categories. Matthew 10:2-4, “These are the names of the twelve apostles; first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.” Let me explain further.

First, there are the leaders and influential Christians. Matthew 10:2-4, “These are the names of the twelve apostles; first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.” Peter persevered through the many ups and downs of his life to emerge as a leader of Christianity – later, the Apostle Paul would join him as a pillar of faith for Christians of that age and for all Christians through the ages. Peter represents Christian leaders, influential Christians and those Christians who are good examples of faith for others. We need these kinds of leaders and examples today because of the particular challenges to Christianity today from the secular, atheistic world. Unfortunately, one of the reasons why the Christian faith is having such a minimal effect on the modern culture generally speaking is because Christian leaders are so weak and ineffective. According to historical tradition, the Apostle Peter was executed for his Christian faith in Rome during the first century; he died for the faith. Today, however, few pastors, denominational leaders and influential Christians are willing to even sacrifice minimally for the faith? It’s typical to see famous Christian leaders and celebrities interviewed on secular talk shows and news programs, but very often there is little or no distinctively Christian content to their opinions. It seems that today many Christian leaders are more concerned about being popular in the eyes of the pop culture than influencing it by articulating distinct and often unpopular Christian teachings. The pastors of the largest churches in America typically do everything they can when preaching or being interviewed to avoid offending unbelievers or taking the wrong side of a controversial issue. This kind of unfaithfulness discourages ordinary Christians from holding firm Christian convictions and living differently in a secular, pagan culture. If Christian leaders don’t stand strong, how can regular Christians be expected to do so? A major reason why the Western world is so rapidly falling away from its Christian heritage is because so-called Christians leaders aren’t standing firm in the beliefs and practices that have always marked Christianity throughout the ages. We need Christian leaders who stand strong for Christian teachings in the face of opposition and who don’t back down because of pressure, rejection or inconvenience. Now, not everyone in the Body of Christ, the Christian church, is called to be a public, visible leader. Not everyone is called to lead the church and pay the price for doing so, but Jesus called some to do so. Let us pray that those who are called to lead, would lead, and lead in a distinctively Christian way, and not simply take the easy way of cultural accommodation. We need leaders who will stand for truth and pay the price, for the church’s sake, for our culture’s sake.

Second, there are regular rank and file Christians who make up the vast majority. Matthew 10:2-4, “These are the names of the twelve apostles; first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.” Now we don’t know much about most of the disciples; there is simply not much information about them. They represent the vast nameless, faceless population of Christians down through the ages and even in the present age. These disciples and followers of Jesus may not be well known as the leaders and heroes of the faith, but they are most important in the long term. These are the actual people who will make or break the Christian church, or cause a nation or civilization to rise or fall. We can talk about leaders and movers and shakers and those who influence and shape opinions, but all of this is for nothing unless the vast majority of people, the regular rank and file citizen believes and acts. The outstanding disciples are clearly known – there was Peter, of course, but also James and John. They formed a special group within the larger group of disciples. And they were important in the formation of the early Christian church. But just as important were the lesser-known disciples; there were more of them. Names like Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, the other James, Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot, don’t receive the attention as the more famous names, but they too were critical in the progress of the Christian faith. Now some of these regular disciples we know from bits and pieces of their lives mentioned in the New Testament, but most of them are almost entirely unknown apart from their names. They represent the average, ordinary Christian throughout the ages. Today, the ranks of the typical ordinary, but faithful Christian are growing less and less. The old Christian consensus of years ago came about because this vast majority held to the beliefs and practices of Christianity, not perfectly or to a saintly level, but substantially and enough to forge a cultural consensus of truth, right and wrong. But today, the old solid Christian world view consensus that formed the basis of the Western civilization in Europe and later in North and South America is rapidly eroding, it’s vanishing. If it continues to decline, if the majority of people who call themselves Christians hold less and less to the teachings and practices of the Christian faith, then our churches, nation and civilization will truly be lost to the powers of secular paganism and a new “dark ages” will emerge where there is no truth or values left. We must pray that the vast majority of those who still identify with Christianity will be strengthened and hold firm to the teachings of Bible in the midst of the secular atheistic assault occurring at the present time. In all of my years, I’ve never seen Christian values being attacked as they are today in our nation. I never thought I’d see the day in our traditional Christian culture where the definition of marriage would be changed from the union of man and woman as taught in the Bible, to include members of the same sex, male to male, or female to female. We need to pray for the average Christian citizen to continue to remain faithful to the Christian faith and not to gradually allow everything good and true from God to drift away.

Third, there is that segment of the population who turn away from commitment to Christ. Matthew 10:2-4, “These are the names of the twelve apostles; first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.” The New Testament tragically outlines how Judas, one of the original twelve disciples, falls away from the faith. It isn’t exactly clear why he chose to betray Christ and actually join in with the enemies of Christ, but he did. Judas represents those people who have actually betrayed either their faith heritage or walked away from the faith they once personally professed. From the statistics that are coming out more and more these days it is clear that there is a large-scale falling away from the Christian faith occurring in most nations of the Western world, including the United States. It’s not as bad here as in secular Europe, but it’s becoming more and more clear that unless some kind of spiritual renewal or revival occurs soon, America will go the way of Europe and fall away from the Christian faith and lose whatever is left of a Christian consensus. In the U.S. there is the problem of heresy and apostasy in the church. For example, one of the old main-line historical denominational churches, the Episcopal Church, is full of false teaching, heresy and open apostasy, not only or not primarily among members but more prominently among its leadership. The Episcopal Church made history a few years ago by being the first church to ordain an openly gay bishop. A so-called shepherd of shepherds – for that is what a bishop is, one who shepherds or cares for the spiritual conditions of other fellow pastors – is openly violating a basic and fundamental moral value of Christianity. Living in open immorality. This “bishop” in a recognized Christian church is now “married” to his homosexual partner. Instead of serving as a leader and role model for the Christian community, this bishop is corrupting and leading astray the Christian community into error and sin. This is nothing less than full betrayal of Christ. This man should be removed and forbidden to teach or lead in the church ever again. But instead, he is applauded for his corruption. But less visible is the turning away or falling away of many former Christians and church members. By being exposed to a continual onslaught of secular and atheistic message through the media, regular, ordinary people react with confusion, anger and rebellion. Many are lost from the faith forever. Many people no longer attend a Christian church, others no longer read the Bible or pray regularly. Others settle in to a casual and almost meaningless nominal faith. It doesn’t take much for them to give up what they don’t hold very dearly to anyway. Judas is the paradigm for these people. For whatever reasons, they fall away or walk away from Christian faith.

So what can be done about this situation? Lots needs to be done, but perhaps the best place to begin is with prayer. We need to pray for our leaders especially. We need to pray that leaders fulfill their callings, especially pastors – those leaders who contact and connect with the average person day in and day out and who must bring God’s Word to the people every week. We need to pray that these leaders would stand firm in the faith, not compromise or accommodate to the powerful secular pagan culture that is pressuring everyone to conform to its atheistic beliefs and practices. We need to pray that these leaders would be outspoken instead of soft-spoken about Christian teachings. The temptation for leaders is to keep unpopular teachings to themselves — but it is a betrayal of their calling, which is to publicly teach God’s Word, not hide it under a bushel basket. We need to pray for denominational leaders and executives who guide and direct not only local churches but also institutions such as colleges and seminaries that train the leaders of the future. These denominational leaders are tempted to run their organizations as secular businesses, embracing the false values of efficiency, worldly success in numbers and dollars, with prestige and power. We must pray that God raises up godly leaders who will stand firm in God’s Word, teach the truth against great opposition inside and outside the church, and hold onto the faith once for all delivered to the saints – as the Bible commands. At the same time, we need to pray for our Christian brothers and sisters who sit next to us in church. We need to pray that the world and its distractions do not turn them away from the truths of God and the values of God. We need to pray that God sends a revival of biblical Christianity that could either start among leaders of Christianity or among the general population of Christians; but however it starts, we need to pray that it happens, because if revival doesn’t come, we may very well see a new dark age of pagan unbelief sweep across a once faith-filled nation and civilization. Then, we must pray for those who have fallen away from the faith or are in the process of falling away from the faith. What are the signs of falling away from the faith? Someone who stops attending the services of any church – and there are millions of persons who are in this category; someone who stops reading their Bible because they doubt whether it is really God’s Word or don’t care if it is; someone who stops praying regularly because they doubt whether there is a God to hear prayers or doubt whether their prayers matter anyway; someone who is distracted by the world in some form or fashion. These are signs a person has fallen away from the faith, regardless of what they say or claim. A tree is known by its fruit. At this point, prayer is probably the first and best thing we can do for individuals and for nations and for our entire culture. We don’t know how God will answer our prayer for revival, but we must pray for revival nonetheless. Let’s begin today.

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