Of all my days of being in and around churches, I have heard some church names that caught my attention. The Halfway Baptist church always made me chuckle when I drove past it in college. I have heard of a few Corinthian Baptist churches which made me wonder what kind of problems they were dealing with. I have even heard of a Laodicea Baptist church. But in all my days I have never heard of a Sodom church. No one is surprised by this. But it does get you thinking, doesn’t it? What would a church do in a modern-day Sodom?
I think we are soon going to find out firsthand. The sexual sins of Sodom are now not only celebrated in pride parades but those who practice such things are given a month of special recognition, and in Canada, a whole season. Gender fluidity and same-sex couples are routinely shown in commercial marketing and made to look as normal as apple pie and baseball.
It seems clear to most faithful Christians that the tidal currents of our culture are swiftly carrying everyone out to the deep waters, where all the big sea monsters live. Western civilization is seeking to squeeze out what it regards as the cancerous tumor of biblical Christianity with its view of men, women, and sex. Of course, we should pray for a Third Great Awakening, but whether God grants us another revival or not, there is a faithfulness which we are called to right here, right now. The mission field is looking more and more like our backyard, and we need to learn what faithfulness means while being a despised minority. I live in Kansas, but even I am saying “we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
The following list contains the necessary features for faithfully proclaiming the truth in a society opposed to the truth. It is ordered by priority, not most important to least important, but a priority of flow. What begins at the top flows down to create and strengthen the features that follow afterward.
Love and Fear God
This is where it all begins. This is the greatest commandment upon which all others hang. Notice that I put love and fear together. The fear of God is distinguished, but not detached, from the love of God. We love God because He is unspeakably awesome in glory, power, and grace; and the One who is unfathomably awesome and uncontainable cannot be trifled with. We are drawn to Him not with a swagger, but with trembling worship that He would save us with such depths of mercy.
But is He truly enough for us? Every person has someone or something of ultimate value, and to lose that valuable thing is often the ultimate fear. The world is going to expose what this value is with threats of loss, pain, and a shame many of us have never experienced. Jesus said,
Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell (Mt 10:28)
The fear with which Sodom will seek to leverage us with will only be overcome by a greater fear of Him whom we love.
To love God is to love Him with all our minds. We must know what God has spoken and become unmovably fixed upon it. As incredible as it sounds, the whole scope of history runs on the rails of manhood, womanhood, and marriage. Ray Ortland calls it the “wraparound concept for the entire Bible.”1 The pinnacle moment of creation was the creation of Adam and Eve, and of them being joined together by God in marriage (Ge 2:22). The entrance of sin and the undoing of creation was achieved by the subversion of marriage; Eve taking Adam’s leading role with the fruit (Ge 3:6). Marriage is created to be the display of the gospel, Christ the groom and the Church the bride (Eph 5:31-32). And the culmination of creation will be the marriage supper of the Lamb with his bride (Re 19:7). Therefore, the biblical convictions about gender and marriage are at the very heart of God’s plan and the gospel.
If these convictions are abandoned, morphed, evolved, blurred, or negotiable, the gospel is lost. This is not a matter of “different strokes for different folks.” This is an issue of being in the kingdom or out of it, of heaven or hell (1Co 6:9). If the truth is going to be spoken in Sodom, we must have firm convictions about exactly what that truth is.
Love of Neighbor
With a love for God and a love for what God has said and created, we can then bring a message of hope and life to people. This is the second great commandment. But how we love people is where things get tricky. I will develop this more fully, but at its core, love for neighbor must be a God-centered, truth-conveying, missions-minded love, because that’s what love is. But our pursuit of love will be the very point of opposition because the world’s conception of love is the unconditional acceptance, celebration and empowering of another’s self-expression. This means biblical love will be viewed as judgmental, intolerant, oppressive, bigoted, and discriminatory. Who is right? Who has the authority to make that determination? Only God can define what humanity is, what sexuality is, what marriage is—therefore he defines what love is.
If one steps outside of what God has created and has said about His creation, they do not come to another viable option, but instead they come to chaos. Those are the only options: Christ or chaos. Just like the prodigal son lived off his father’s money for quite a while, so also Sodom can hold things together on stolen capital and flaunt it while doing so. But the money will run out. Reality will come calling. In this sense we are the ones on the right side of history. When the sandy foundations of the sexual revolution begin to crumble, and people start stumbling our way in their brokenness, we must be there for them. We must be there with the same message we had at the beginning, with the same eyes of mercy, and the same readiness to show them what life in Christ is.
Strong Understanding of the Church
The most powerful proof of life-giving love we can show to our Sodom culture is the creation of a contrast culture: the Church. It is in the Church where every sort of people, with every kind of background, are brought together under one uniting head: the Lord Jesus. It is here that we love one another in Christ, grow together in Christ, reach the world together for Christ, and lift unified voices to Christ. It is within the church that our convictions grow, our love grows, our courage grows, and our fruitfulness grows. The Church matters because the Church, and the Church alone, is what Jesus said He would build (Mt. 16:18).
Therefore, we need healthy churches that rightly handle the Word in preaching and teaching, proclaim the gospel in evangelism, and apply it in discipleship, have meaningful membership, carry out church discipline, and are led, fed, and protected by qualified men.
Over the last 5 years we have heard about options for engaging with our cultural situation. The Benedict Option started it off and it was followed by the Buckley Option, the Franciscan Option, the Kuyper Option and more. These represent an array of cultural engagement strategies. But with Jesus’ promise to build the Church, and his Church commission to go into the world, I believe the best option is whatever you want to call a high commitment to the church (possibly the Gospel Option or the Calvary Option fit this). A believer’s engagement with the world will be magnified, sharpened, strengthened, and multiplied as it is done with the giftings, accountability, equipping, encouragement, and shepherding of the church.
Children Launched from Godly Homes
After the Church, the second greatest way to send the truth into Sodom is to send out children like sharp arrows (Ps 127:4). In fact, many saints of old considered the home a little church, where lives are formed as children see and hear the power of the gospel at the most intimate and personal level. They also can smell a fake in about 3.5 seconds. Children will recognize the goodness and blessing of loving, fatherly headship, and joyful, wifely submission, and when joined with the power of new birth, they will carry it into a future where parents can’t go. We must make homes an eighteen year-long discipleship boot camp filled with worship, laughter, love of the church, good books, cultural evaluation, Bible-memory, Christ-centered education (or at least education retrofitted to Christ), and examples of repentance and faith in everyday life.
When we say that we are seeking to love people, and the rage-mob screams that we are haters, clearly there is a disconnect. Of course, there is. We are citizens of another Kingdom with a different King and different values. Peter mentions this three times in his letter about suffering (1 Pt 1:1, 17; 2:11). For the longest time Americans felt that God’s Kingdom and the U.S. operated on parallel tracks. Yet, every culture, including America, has some degree of opposition to the truth. The sooner we see ourselves as Christians first and Americans second, the better. Christ is our King, and we are ambassadors. “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also.”2 Embrace your alien status, grab your pilgrim staff, and stop being shocked that you don’t fit in this world.
At this point we must speak of courage. If you love and fear God, if you speak the truth about gender and sex, if you do this out of love for neighbor and as an alien ambassador, it is going to cost you. You are going to need courage; a tractor trailer full of it with a truck following that reads “wide load.” C.S. Lewis said through the character Screwtape,
Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means, at the point of highest reality. A chastity or honesty, or mercy, which yields to danger will be chaste or honest or merciful only on conditions. Pilate was merciful till it became risky.3
In our Sodom culture, we will need courage on tap every day. Thankfully, God has given us lots of accounts in the Old Testament about impossible odds, and nick-of-time rescues. Know them well.
Jesus said that we are sheep sent out among wolves (Mt 10:16), and you will experience the truth of His statement when you call transgender people by the pronouns God gave them at birth. Jesus isn’t saying how we are going to die, He is informing us why we should have courage. He knows what He is sending us into, and He really is sending us to prove God’s power. Right after Peter and John were threatened by the council, the church body read Psalm 2 and steeled themselves by recounting God’s sovereignty (Acts 4:23-31). Courage flows from the throne of a sovereign God whom no one can thwart.
Wise Cultural Engagement
Outside of a thorough church commitment, there are other particulars in the Scripture that should be mentioned. First, hospitality is one of the best tools at our disposal. There is no better to way to demonstrate love, prove one’s character, dispel misjudgments, and articulate the gospel than to bring people into one’s home. This is critical for discipleship, but it is good for evangelism as well. Jesus ate with sinners (Lk 15:2), and there is no indication that He choked when a particularly odious one sat near Him.
Second, as we live near those in Sodom, we must be careful. Jude warns in verse 23,
save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.
There is a real danger to be drawn into a sin, or a version of it, when the people you are engaging with are so used to it. This danger is compounded by our watered-down Evangelicalism that values commonalities with the world over distinction from the world. We cannot give up holiness for the sake of evangelism.
Finally, look at persecution with different eyes. The “eternal eye” should make you rejoice. Jesus said leap for joy when they persecute you (Lk 6:23). The apostles rejoiced when they were flogged because they had been counted worthy (Acts 5:40-41). With the other eye, scan the various possibilities in your response to persecution. Because we see so many different responses, I believe this is a conscience matter. Paul is a good example of different responses. He was once smuggled out of town in a basket (Acts 9:25), but another time Paul got up from a stoning and went back to the same town twice (Acts 14:20-21). Sometimes the church kept him from entering the fray (Acts 19:30), and other times they couldn’t keep him back (Acts 21:12-14). Similarly, Martin Luther’s conscience dictated that he take a stand. Your conscience will also direct you as you prayerfully consider how to respond to persecution.
We don’t know the details of what will happen to us while living in a Sodom-like culture as faithful Christians. But we do know God is for us, the gospel will advance, no one can thwart God’s designs and we win in the end. Press on, brethren!
1 Ray Ortlund, Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 16.
2 Martin Luther, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, c. 1529.
3 C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, (New York, HarperCollins, 1996), 161.
Jay Lickey is the pastor of Open Door Fellowship in Basehor, KS. He holds a B.A. in Bible from Southwest Baptist University, and a M.Div. from The Master’s Seminary. Jay is married to Emily and is the father of Ty, Paige, Hudson, and Bella.