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Online Text Sermon - Knowing the Times

PreacherRev. Gavin Beers, Mebane
Sermon TitleKnowing the Times (Arbroath Young People's Weekend)
Sermon ID1819

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"But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear (1 Peter 3, 15).

You have got to give answers and you have got to have a reason. That is something that perhaps the church and the members of the church do not always have at their fingertips, with regard to the defending of the faith. If you turn to Romans 13 there are some more verses there which at first sight might not seem particularly relevant to what we are going to look at, but there is a statement here that tells us the need to know the time: "Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day: not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof" (Romans 13, 10-14).

In verse 11 the apostle says, "know the time". That is, you know the time, the age, and the circumstances that you live in; because of that "awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand" (Romans 13, 11-12). This 'knowing the time' has got to impact how we live our lives.

I hope you have remembered to prepare your hearts. I also hope that you have remembered to bring your brains. My friends, there is no easy way round the subjects that we are going to deal with. It is going to require that you and I apply ourselves and that we engage our minds. My responsibility is to take things that are perhaps difficult and break them down as best I can, but there are some things that we will be looking at tonight and tomorrow that are difficult. Therefore I ask you to engage with these subjects, not only for your own good, but for the good of your church and for the good of the world in which you live.

The subject is: Tearing down strongholds: a Christian response to the ideas that have shaped our culture.

With this theme we really come into the realm of apologetics. By apologetics we simply mean the defence of the faith. The apostle Paul writes in Philippians 1, 17 that he is "set forth the defence of the gospel". If you had that in Greek the word 'defence' would be ap?l?gia, which we get our English word 'apology' from. As soon as we mention the word 'apology', we think of the whole concept of saying "sorry" to people for ills that we have done. But in the context of the New Testament, this word was a legal term that referred to defence in a court scenario. And so the apostle is saying "I am set as an attorney [if you like] for the defence of the faith that is once delivered unto the saints". That's what we mean by 'apologetics'.

My friends, it's not just the apostle Paul who is called to be an apologist, it's the whole church of God, and it is every individual Christian who makes up that church. Therefore, when the truth of God is attacked, you as a Christian need to be able to adopt a position of strong defence in order to repel that attack. But more is required of you. Not only are you to adopt a position of defence but we also need a holy aggression to engage in the subject of apologetics by way of attack whereby we actually confront the errors in our society. Very often we will find that attack is the best form of defence. You will see that we are using the language of war here. I want to develop this illustration to try and put this weekend in its proper context because perhaps you are wondering "Why are we coming here to study what the world believes?" We are going to think about Darwin. We are going to be thinking about materialism: there is nothing that we can't see, touch and measure; we are going to be thinking about relativism: the whole subject of truth - what is truth? Where do we find truth? How can we find truth? And what the world believes about all these subjects.

You say, "I am a Christian, I have the Bible; why study what the world believes?" Friends, when nations go to war, they don't go to war ignorant of their opponent's strength. They study so that they know their enemy. Therefore they are asking questions like - Do they have tanks? How far can their guns fire? What's the capacity of their Air Force? Do they have a Navy? What is the potential of that Navy to attack us? What of their commanders - Are they skilful? Are they fools? Are they going to be able to lead their troops? Are they going to be able to devise strategies that are going to put us under pressure? You see, when nations engage in war they do so with a need to know who and what they are fighting against.

But then, it is also true that although warfare has essentially been the same in all ages, the methods of warfare have changed. I'll give you an example of that. Winston Churchill, at the end of the nineteenth-century, was involved in the last cavalry charge that the British Army ever engaged in. When he died in 1965 he had lived through two world-wars, tank warfare and air warfare; he had also seen the atomic bomb dropped, and he was living in an age that was developing space travel and nuclear weapons. The essence of war had remained the same but even in these ninety-three years of Churchill's life, the methods of warfare had changed dramatically. So what are we saying? We are saying that the Christian apologist is at war and that he needs to know his enemy; he needs to understand what his opponent believes and the arguments that he is going to employ so that he can defend the truth and attack those arguments in faithfulness to the Gospel. But friends, these ideas in society are not static; they change just like the methods of warfare in the world. They change and so the Christian needs to understand the age in which he lives in otherwise the church ends up fighting ideas which people held two or three generations ago. Therefore when they go out with the truth to this culture, they are not really speaking relevantly to anyone.

Friends this is the importance of our study over this weekend. We need to be proficient in defending the truth. We need to understand the culture in which we live in. We need to know the times if we are to maximise our usefulness in service to Christ as a defender of the truth and as a winner of souls.

As we come to this whole subject there are many ideas that are shaping our twenty-first century British society, therefore, that makes our task particularly complex. There are any number of 'isms' that we can look at this weekend, and out of those vast array of belief-systems I've had to select two for tomorrow. But in this introductory lecture what I want to do is look at one overarching belief system - 'ism' - and I think that that best describes, in a general way, the age in which we live; the 'ism' that I am speaking of goes by the name of post-modernism. The task that I have is to introduce that to you in approximately twenty minutes.

Who has heard of post-modernism? Who knows what post-modernism is? Who wants to tell us what post-modernism is? When we come to post-modernism there's two ways really we can think about it. First of all, we can think about it historically. You come to this word 'post-modernism' - it's made up of two words. The first word 'post' is Latin and it means 'after'. Post-modernism, in other words means 'after-modernism'. Post-modernism describes something which is historical; it is describing what has come to be believed after the modern era. We historically live in a post-modern age. That means everyone here in this room is post-modern. God has placed us in this culture. It's a post-modern culture; it's after the modern era and therefore in that sense we are post-moderns.

The other way we can look at this term 'post-modernism' is philosophically. If historically we are all post-moderns, we have to see this as an 'ism' in itself. Post-modern'ism' describes what we have come to believe after the passing of the modern age. We are all post-moderns in the historical sense; that's fixed. But we don't want to be post-modernists in this sense. Yet, we all are in some way or another. Every one of us here, to a greater or a lesser degree, are post-modernists. To the degree that you have been shaped by the culture in opposition to the Word of God, you are a post-modernist. You need to correct that in your life, I need to correct it in my life, and we need to go out and confront this belief system in the world that is around us.

What I want to do in the time that is remaining is to show you how we got to where we are today. If we are going to understand post-modernism we need to understand modernism because post-modernism comes after modernism. If we are going to understand modernism, we need to go back to what was before modernism. In short we have got to take a two-thousand five-hundred year round trip through the history of western thought in fifteen minutes. So it's not going to be very deep what we are doing here. But I hope to let you see just how we have arrived where we are.

Let's go right back to ancient Greece. There we meet three significant thinkers: Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Their culture is a culture that is given to idolatry. The people in their society worship many gods: polytheism of the Greek culture. What Socrates, Plato and Aristotle tried to do to a certain extent was to through off the mythology of the culture in which they lived. The way they sought to do that was to study nature: the laws that surrounded them in the natural universe. They went to the law of nature with critical thought; we might call it reason. They believed that by studying nature with reason they could come to the knowledge of absolute truth. That's why we call these men 'classical humanists': they thought that man, independent of a supernatural being, could independently come to a knowledge of the truth by studying what was around him. But they didn't through out the idea of God completely.

Socrates was sentenced to death in a large part because he was corrupting the youth. By corrupting the youth they meant that he was teaching the youth that all the gods of Greek culture weren't true, but that there was one true God. That was partly the reason why he was sentenced to death. So he didn't throw out the idea of God completely. However, the humanism of these men didn't fix the immorality of Greek culture. Theirs was a society of abortions, homosexuality, prostitution and slavery. Immediately we should be thinking of twenty-first century Britain. It was a culture that was different from ours in some ways but it was also a culture that was very like ours in another.

My friends, it was into this culture that the apostle stepped with the Gospel. What started with their preaching in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the utter most parts of the earth, and advanced ultimately through the whole continent of Europe, shaped the minds of the people of that continent for almost fifteen-hundred years: that is, Christianity with its view of one true God - the Creator, the Sustainer of the universe; Christianity with its view that man was created in the image of God with body and soul. That is the majority view not the exclusive view but the majority view of Europeans for about fifteen-hundred years. However, Paganism begins to get mingled with Christianity; some humanism is thrown in to Christianity as well; the church begins to corrupt; superstition begins to abound in the minds of men. At the same time there is a stagnation of critical thought and study within society. You and I are here and we are studying and we have freedom to do so but in the mediaeval period, while there was a lot of study going on, it was really under the jurisdiction of the church. If you disagreed with the church, you either kept quiet about it or you were silenced - very likely by death.

This was all to change when we come to the fourteenth, the fifteenth and the sixteenth-century. There are two notable movements that precipitated that change. The first is called the Renaissance. You have maybe heard of it. What that means is 'rebirth'. It describes the rebirth of learning, the rebirth of Greek learning. So the Renaissance jumps back to the classical humanism of Greek culture. Literature from that Greek period begins to be studied again: Socrates, Plato and particularly Aristotle. New works are produced and they are circulated because we are now getting to the age of printing. This information is put into the hands of the people and, remember, it is man who is the measure studying nature in order to come to the knowledge of the truth. But in the providence of God, the Renaissance gave us the Greek New Testament. The Greek New Testament was put into the hands of men like Martin Luther and men like William Tyndale. They translated the Bible from Greek into the ordinary language of the people: German and English and so on. The Renaissance that gave us back the Bible precipitated the Reformation. The Renaissance is back to Greece. The Reformation is a break from Rome but not back to Greece; the Reformation is back to the Bible. My friends, it's these two movements that I believe we can date the beginning of the modern era from. There's a lot of dispute about that, but I see the beginning of the modern era with the Renaissance and the Reformation.

That brings us to ask: What happened in the modern era?

When the Lord comes with power and blesses His church with revival as He did at the time of the Reformation, Satan is usually very busy at the same time sowing seeds of opposition to the work of God. That is precisely what happened in the sixteenth-century. Here's the church and she's getting back to the authority of the Bible: Sola-scriptura. She is learning the simplicity of the apostolic faith. She is preaching it and it is advancing through European countries. But at the same time, the revival of Greek humanism is beginning to undermine the authority of the Bible. We have revelation preached by the Reformation - that is God's Word. And we have Rationalism being proclaimed by the followers of the Renaissance thought. We are now in a new age of free enquiry. Great strides begin to be made with scientific investigation. That was to end up with science together with reason becoming the new gods of the western world.

My friends, this period is known as the period of enlightenment. It gets that name by those who look upon it favourably. In fact, these Rationalists, they give it that name themselves - 'enlightenment'. What they meant was that period when the church had power - that was the dark ages. Now we have moved out of the dark ages, we have Renaissance, the revival of Greek learning; we are now in the period of enlightenment. But in this period men still believed, like the Greeks before them, that there was such a thing as truth, that truth was absolute. They were concerned about how to get to this absolute truth.

Along comes one thinker - Descartes. He says, "I think, therefore I am". How do we come to the knowledge of truth? We use our minds, not only as man the measure but in particular the intellect and mind. That would be the rule of what was true or false. That will be the rule of what is right and wrong. Then a man comes along called John Locke and he says, "Well, I see what you're saying but it's really flawed. You see, we have a mind and an intellect but it's not perfect. How can that intellect lead you to the knowledge of the truth?" So Locke says it's not reason that is going to lead us to the truth, it's scientific investigation; it's verifying truth by way of experiments. If we put these two things together we are going to see something. Science and reason lead us to the truth. If science and reason do not lead us to the truth, if we cannot verify it, if we cannot prove it, then it is not real, it is not true, it has no meaning to us, no relevance to us. Reason together with science is the standard.

Friends, you can imagine what happened. Men began to reject the supernatural. Everything must have a natural explanation. They began to reject the spiritual. They would cut people off. They would come out with their statements: "O well, I've dissected a body and I've never yet found a soul!" - that kind of reasoning. We've tried it, we've probed it, we've looked at it with a microscope, we've looked at it with a telescope; we haven't found it therefore it isn't there. That's the way they thought. Yet at the same time, like the Greeks, they didn't throw God out of the thinking. What did they do? Here's the world and it needed to begin somehow. So God, He created the world, He was the first mover, He was the cause of the world, but that is all He did. He locked the door, He shut Himself out. He wound the world up like a clock and He left it to proceed by only natural laws, and we live in that closed world where we only have these natural laws in order to come to the truth. They locked God out of the universe but they allowed Him to be the Creator.

Here we have this period of new light: it's a period of new religion, it's a period of new politics; it's an age of revolution like the French revolution. There was an incident in that French revolution which really describes the whole movement of modernism. They went into Notre Dame Cathedral and they crowned a goddess and named her 'reason'. What they were saying there is that, "The old Christian period is in the past, we now have a new light, we now have a new religion. We are following the religion of reason." I want you to note that change. In the pre-modern period, God is the Creator, He is the sustainer. We believe in the supernatural; we believe in the spiritual. But now there is a shift: reason and science are the only things that can lead us to the truth. God is there but He is locked out of the universe. We can't really know Him.

Now we enter into the nineteenth-century, that is, the eighteen-hundreds, and we reach the logical destination of this rationalistic journey. Let's call it Destination Atheism. You see, the world has been waiting for this and Darwin comes along and gives to this modernistic age a theory of evolution: his view of origins. The previous rationalist then said: "God is irrelevant, He's outside the universe. We need Him to start the universe in the first place but that's all." But here's Darwin, and the implications of Darwin's teaching is we don't even need God to start the thing in the first place. So we move from God being locked out of His universe to God not existing at all. Many rejoiced at this. Nietzsche said: "God is dead! We have killed Him!" Karl Marx called religion 'the opium of the masses'. Nietzsche calls it 'a herd mentality', an invention of man. "We have now killed God. We are moving forward without God. We are in an atheistic age."

My friends, for many years there had been a great air of optimism developing in western thought. You see, this rationalistic movement, this enlightenment, had brought great progress. Think of the British Empire. One third of the world's surface was under the power of the British Empire. Think of the industrial revolution. The great advances that technology has brought us: steam travel and all these kinds of things. When you see people starting to believe that religion wasn't our saviour, but we must save ourselves in this way, if we need salvation at all: through education, through the application of our new ideas to social problems. Modern man was now going to build himself a heaven upon earth. But it didn't quite work out like that. Why? - because we move from the eighteen-hundreds to the nineteen-hundreds. In the first half of the twentieth-century the optimism of the modern age quickly turned into despair. Remember, we are going to build ourselves a paradise on earth through reason, science and knowledge. The First World War 1914-18 - the war to end all wars was quickly followed by the Second World War 1939-45. Hitler's National Socialism, based on Darwinian evolution, was a terrible thing.

Along side that we have Stalin's Soviet regime. Stalin built upon Marx, and Marx said, "We have shut God out. We have no religion in our society. We are going to make a heaven by giving everybody equality." In many ways it is the pinnacle of this scientific, this rationalistic age. There has never been a vehicle that brought more oppression, torture and death to the world than the principles of Marx applied in Communism. You think of Hitler, and Hitler killed six million Jews. Friends, communism killed one-hundred and twenty million people in the twentieth century. This pinnacle of the modern age showed itself to be a brutal monster, a tragic failure. With all of these things - the optimism fades away. Modernism is bankrupt. I like to think of it like Genesis 11. Here's humanistic man wanting to build himself a great tower of pride, a tower that reaches up into heaven. What happens? God comes down and He destroys the tower and He confounds the men that are upon the earth. Friends, that is what God did to modernism. The Christians all said that this is where it was going to end up.

What was the confusion that resulted from the fall of modernism? The confusion that results from the fall of modernism is post-modernism. That's how we got where we are. The fall of this rationalistic, scientific, projection of salvation - it has collapsed. Men who were hopeful are now in despair - and in comes post-modernism. In the pre-modern period there's absolute truth, it's revealed by God in the Bible or - the Roman Catholics got it wrong - through the church. But there is absolute truth and it is revealed. The modern period rejected revelation in the Bible for reason and for science. But, you see, the truth and morality of modernism has just collapsed. Rather than go back to the Bible, rather than realise how bankrupt this system was when man tried to devise his own truth in that way, post-modernism has become disillusioned with the whole concept of absolute truth. It has abandoned it all together. To the post-modern mind there is no absolute truth outside of you, outside of the individual, no objective standard, nothing that can ultimately tell you what is absolutely right and absolutely wrong. The only absolute of post-modernism is that there are no absolutes.

If you listen to that carefully it is actually a contradiction. The only absolute of post-modernism is that there are no absolutes; a contradiction. But that's ok, because you see, reason, it's outdated; irrationality is now fashionable. It is ok in our age to believe the absurd so long as it makes you feel all right because your feelings and your emotions are the new rule of law. There is no ultimate meaning. Every individual must create his own meaning. Every individual must invent his own truth. As he does so he is creating himself: but as he feels, as he invariably does feel. Rather than create meaning he finds darkness, despair, meaningless, emptiness and he is all at sea.

We were talking around the dinner table about the increase of psychiatric illnesses and how it is related to the culture in which we live. It is very much related to this: people are trying to create their own meaning because there is no meaning out there, and when they feel, they feel miserably. This is the cancer that has affected the whole of our culture, especially from the 1960's. It explains what passes for art today. You'll find it in films and I know many of you watch films, but you need to be able to pick this up: do what you feel; go with the flow. That's the message of these films - it's post-modernism. Soap-operas, if you were to watch them, and I hope you don't but they are filled with it. But it's not just soap-operas; it's the news and the newspapers. They are leavened completely with this outlook. Music, the music that you listen to could very well be filled with this philosophy. Music to the youth culture - that's you - is probably the most powerful means of conveying this truth.

You are dealing with Goth's in Glasgow. You need to understand where they are coming from. You need to understand what they are listening to. They are listening to meaningless, they are listening to emptiness, they are listening to things trying to create yourself, trying to define yourself, trying to give yourself meaning, and very often failing. Friends, it has leavened the whole of our education system. From Primary 1 right through to university I will say perhaps it's strongest in university, especially in the subject of English, History the Social Sciences and Psychology. When we look at the education system we scream - "Agh! Evolution! Sex Education!" My friends, English Literature and the study of it is from beginning to end post-modernistic. History has been revised by post-modernists. We need to see the awful effect this has upon us. I was educated in that system and you have been educated in that system, and we have a problem friends. We need to unlearn things that we have learned. If we don't see the problem and if we think it's all ok, well then the problem is even bigger than we think. This is something that has saturated our society in every area you can imagine.

In one sense our post-modern age lives on the edge of a precipice. We are as a result of what we believe as a nation, destroying ourselves at an alarming rate. You might say it is a really dark day for the church, a period in which we might think it is very discouraging to be a Christian. But I want you to look at it in a different way this weekend and from this weekend. I want you to look at this post-modern age as a wonderful time to be a Christian, and as a great opportunity for the church. Why? - because the old modernism has failed. Man tried to get rid of God and what did he do? - he destroyed himself. Now we are a little more spiritual, now we've got a little more feeling back in, we've got the New Age and all of that. We are defining truth, we are creating meaning in all of these things for ourselves but we have rejected absolute truth. What are we doing? - we are destroying ourselves in a whole variety of different ways. But the church has absolute, eternal truth. The church has to take that absolute, eternal truth to this dying post-modern nation.

If you are here this evening and you are a Christian, every one of you is a missionary to a post-modern culture. Every one of you - none excluded. If we are going to send a missionary to Africa what do we expect them to do? We expect them to learn the culture. Here we are as Christians imagining that we can go out as missionaries into a post-modern culture and not have a clue what the culture is that surrounds us. We think we do but we end up fighting ideas that died maybe fifty or sixty years ago. We need to be able to engage people where they are, relevantly. We need to be able to take what they believe and reduce it to absurdity and show them the truth of God. We need to skill ourselves in understanding the times.

My friends, this is the time and the place which God has ordained we are to live in; there is no mistake in that: He knows exactly what He is doing. This weekend in providence is designed to help you and me live and work for Christ in twenty-first century Britain. We are to understand what it means to tear down strongholds. We are to be able to give an answer for the ideas that have shaped our culture and our society.

May the Lord bless these thoughts to our hearts.

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