I have previously expressed my wariness towards the term ‘culture wars’. The term has been overused, its meaning is unclear, but I would also argue that it presents too much of an ‘us vs. them’ mentality. This is dangerous first of all because it is us vs. the principalities and powers, and second of all, because sometimes we neglect our own closet in the process of challenging the culture.
Let me explain. In Ephesians 6, the Apostle Paul draws a line in the sand. But notice. He does not primarily draw the line between the church and the culture. He draws the primary line between the church and the armies of Satan: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:12) Sure, the wiles of the devil (6:11) are at work in the culture, but they are also at work in the Church. They are at work in our hearts. But the armour of God is strong. When we are in the Lord and in the power of His might, we are strong. (6:10).
Of course, sometimes in the culture wars, garbage piles up in the closet of the church or in the life of the Christian. And we say, hey, look at me! I’m a culture warrior! I am the bastion of orthodoxy! I am pushing against all those crusty old guys who think they are so orthodox! This is how Satan works. In the thick of the us vs. them mentality, I can lose the me vs. me mentality. That is why in Ephesians 6, the Apostle Paul gives the church the personal responsibility to watch out for themselves with a whole list of armoury to protect the most important parts of the body.
When we consider the battle lines, we must be clear on who we are fighting. Are we fighting the culture or are we trying to free the culture from a greater power? Are we fighting Christian brothers or labouring together to serve better under our Lord Jesus Christ?
Sometimes we do have to fight the culture, but we must remember that it is not flesh and blood we contend against. It is not the proponents of the #MeToo movement we contend against. It is not LGBTQ people we contend against. It is not Muslims we contend against. Yes, we must contend with the ideologies and false philosophies, and keep wolves and their teeth out of the flock. But it is easy to lose perspective and forget that our primary goal is not to fight people, but to win people. This is not to deny that there is fighting, but it is always with a bigger picture in mind.
There is definitely an ideological and philosophical battle happening, and these things are deeply spiritual. That is because these ideas are warring for the hearts and minds of those in our culture. We go out as Christians: “casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:5) For that we need the full armour of God: “Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints—” (Eph. 6:14-18)
What is the aim? To glorify God. What is the desired result? To win people’s hearts for obedience to Christ.