Last time we discussed the three different types of cultural engagement. This time we will look at the stick-shaker. Remember last time we defined the stick-shaker as the one who looks at the problems of the world shakes a stick at them, rebukes them, rallies the troops to pick up their sticks, and hopes that by enough stick-shaking the problems will go away. Today we will consider what the stick-shaker gets right and where I believe the stick-shaker turns from the Bible.
The stick-shaker is correct that worldliness is a major problem. When the world infiltrates the church you have major problems (see Corinth). We are told by the apostle John not to “love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”
There is also an element of engagement that the stick-shaker does get right. In Ephesians 5:11 we are told to “take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead to expose them.” Sometimes the way that we are to engage is by loving rebuke. So there are some things that stick-shakers get right and there are areas where we are indebted to their faithfulness to the holiness of the gospel. But there are also serious problems with a stick-shakers view of engagement.
The fundamental error of the stick-shaker can be seen in a quote by JC Ryle’s book Holiness. By no means am I accusing JC Ryle of being a stick-shaker. These words, I think, meant something different in his day. However, this quote will serve to show the underlying mindset of the stick-shaker:
[There] are [those] who are always trying to keep in with the world. They are ingenious in discovering reasons for not separating decidedly, and in framing plausible excuses for attending questionable amusements, and keeping up questionable friendships. One day you are told of their attending a Bible reading; the next day perhaps you hear of their going to a ball. One day they fast, or go to the Lords’ table and receive the sacrament; another day they go to the racecourse in the morning, and the opera at night. One day they are almost in hysterics under a sermon of some sensational preacher; another day they are weeping over some novel. They are constantly laboring to persuade themselves that to mix a little with worldly people on their own ground does good. Yet in their case it is very clear they do not good, and only get harm.
The problem with what Ryle is saying is that there is nothing innately wrong with a ball, watching horses go around a track, opera, or weeping at a novel. Can these things become worldly and sinful? You bet. But can you enjoy an opera, read a novel, watch race horses, or enjoy a ball and it not be sinful? Can Jesus go to a wedding party? Where Ryle errs on this point is that he creates a needless dichotomy between sacred and secular.
This needless dichotomy is the fundamental error with stick shakers. And because of this they will defend their position with a great amount of vigor; after all, they are defending the sacred against the secular—God against the world. The problem, though, is that the “world” that John is referring to is not the opera or great works of fiction. The “world” that John is referring to is the God-hating mindset of secular man. As D.A. Carson points out for John the world, “is not the universe, but the created order (especially of human beings and human affairs) in rebellion against its Maker.”
Furthermore, you do not see this type of cultural engagement with Jesus. His sharp rebukes were often reserved for the religious elite. Prostitutes, tax collectors, and society’s outcast often were given grace. The problem with the stick-shaker is that they create an “us v. them” mentality and often they feel more holy because they are not like the world. I like what Paul Tripp says, “Whenever you believe that the evil outside of you is greater than the evil inside you, a heartfelt pursuit of Christ will be replaced by a zealous fighting of the “evil” around you.”
If you are a stick-shaker that refuses to get your hands dirty and really incarnate the love of Jesus into other people’s lives then you need to come to grips with the sin in your own heart. The reason for you disengagement is probably a combination of fear and pride. So, realize that your greatest enemy is not the person across the street that is in love with world; your greatest enemy is indwelling sin. Realize that the only hope that you have is the same hope that your neighbor has—the gospel of Jesus Christ. Rather than engaging your neighbor with picket signs engage him with the love of the gospel.
To be continued…