As far as I can determine, the phenomenon known as Cancel Culture has the intention of tearing down or removing anything that has within it—or within its past—something that is objectionable in the context of today’s world view. It can motivate something as simple as shutting down conversation and free exchange of ideas, and has been the catalyst behind firings, business closings, the destruction or defacing of public monuments, and worse.
I won’t discuss its pros or cons because I don’t have the experience of most of those affected by the stated issues and, therefore, won’t presume to understand their point of view. The issues are real, and there are no doubt many points of view from which to look at what is happening. Mine is not close enough for clarity.
I will, however, agree with those who say we shouldn’t destroy anything, whether a book, an historical mention, a monument or a statue that honours people who have done good, even if they also supported action that today is, with good reason, unacceptable. To hide any part of history, the good or bad, is unwise because we learn too much from it. We must tell it all. It would be beneficial, in fact, to look back and see how one person can be both a good and bad actor. Some without intent; some with.
This post, however, is about the cancel culture in the church, which predates the cancel culture we are seeing in society.
To be clear, I love the church—the organism, not just the people. I love its gathering places, from stone cathedrals to store fronts, from sturdy red bricks with white trim to Livestreams. I love its heart. The church was God’s idea and creation, and it is, even with its problems and occasional ingloriousness, an absolute necessity in this broken world. It carries God’s testimony.
I’ve heard it said that society mirrors the church. On the other hand, many people say that, in these days, a considerable swath of the church tries to mirror society, to a point, in order to be more relevant. If that is true, it might well be with the best of intentions on the part of church leaders. After all, an irrelevant church is an ineffective church.
In Keepers of the Testimony, I wrote about our telling of God’s stories. We, the church, are not just to retell the precious “old, old, story” from 2000 years ago. We are to be witnesses of both the existence and nature of God by telling of His fingerprints in our own lives and circumstances—by showing what happens “by the finger of God” right now. That, in fact, is how we are to be relevant to today’s society.
Loren Cunningham, founder of YWAM, put it this way, “God’s stories [found in the Bible] are eternal, while ours show how the truth is relevant today.”
But there are far too many—and even one is too many—church leaders and church-goers who become uncomfortable when anyone talks as if the Trinity will be involved in individual lives today in ways His promises offer, and incredulous upon hearing personal stories that suggest as much. Many hope for God-interventions to occur, but have no real expectation, given what they see as common experience.
So, instead of being a carrier of hope or even a motivator to search the scriptures for understanding, the testimony becomes an embarrassment—or worse, an offense. The testimony itself might be acceptable as evidence of God’s existence, power and love, but any suggestion that “what He’s done for others, He will do for you” becomes frowned upon as false hope.
I can almost hear what you’re thinking, and you are right: I can’t read into the minds and hearts of people, so I can’t be sure of motivations. The cancel culture is there, just the same.
But God has always been in favour of the stories, and their purpose has always been to offer hope. Long ago, He inspired the writing of the Emmanuel narrative—stories that show His nature and His power, even though the characters involved were not pure reflections of their Creator. Like us, they were often weak, afraid, and sometimes quite sketchy. It was His part in the story that was transformational, both revealing of who He is and instructive of the magnificence we are called to. And that was the whole point.
God will never be canceled. He still looks “to and fro in the earth” to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose hearts are looking to Him. His fingerprints are everywhere, seen by those with eyes open. The truth is that living and telling stories aligned with His great eternal story is our birthright, our joy, our strength and, I dare say, our whole point.
“Give thanks unto the Lord: call upon his name; make known His deeds among the people. … Remember the marvellous works that he has done; his wonders and the judgements of His mouth,” (Psalm 105:1,5).
“He made His own people to go forth like sheep, and guided them in the wilderness like a flock. And he led them on safely, so that they feared not…yet they…kept not his testimonies,” (Psalm 78:52-56).
“Be not therefore ashamed of the testimony of our lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou a partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God.” (2 Timothy 1:8).