There is an old Chinese proverb which reads, “If you wish to know about water, do not ask a fish.” The only thing a fish knows is water. For the fish to gain a comparison to the water in which he exists, well, it rarely ends well for the fish.
In many ways, our culture is to us as the water is to the fish. Culture is the medium in which we move and exist in a country, a family or a locale. Because our culture is always with us, it becomes extremely hard to identify what culture sometimes “is” and what it “is not.” If you travel outside the U.S., this grants you a perspective that very few Americans have; if you do not travel, most likely “blissful ignorance” will reign.
Recently, there has been much discussion to change the name of the of the Southern Baptist Convention. The reason? There are those who believe we should change the name of the Convention believe that because the word “Southern” is associated in our culture with the institution of slavery, and because the SBC owes much of its beginning to men who either owned slaves or supported the institution of slavery, we must change our name.
Culture is not automatically equivalent to what the Bible identifies as “worldliness.” Worldliness is all that is opposed to God and the coming of His kingdom. Now culture can certainly qualify as worldliness, but it does not have to be. We speak English in church and read Bibles and sing music that also uses the English language. We are, culturally, an American church, yet we seek to measure ourselves against God’s Word and not our culture.
Now back to the name change for the Convention: Why? Will anything change? The supporters claim it will change how we are perceived. Will our convention be redefined? No, not really. Same churches, same pastors and members, same beliefs but no changes in doctrine or theology. Then why change?
There exist within our churches people who have bought into the perception, ideology and thinking of the cancel culture which is now rampant in our culture. To change our name because the Convention is no longer geographically defined as being predominantly “Southern,” well, that has some legitimate, logical reasoning and purpose. But to change it based on what others may think—and these “others” are already hateful toward all things Christian—is a silly compromise to cultural pressure and its unbiblical societal demands.
In Matthew 11:16-19, Jesus said regarding John the Baptizer, “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”
There are those in our culture will never be satisfied even if we acquiesce to their demands. We can attempt to satisfy their calls for cultural compliance, for no matter what we do, we will never satisfy their demands. We will never reach a point where they will cease to insist that our behavior and beliefs should change. If we seek to comply with their demands, or attempt to avoid their retribution, we will find ourselves the victim of their ever-changing rules and definitions which are continually mutable. To do so will only result in our disobedience.
Those who desire that Christians comply will never be pleased. I’ve read the end of the Bible; there will be more and more persecution of the Church coming and believers cannot escape the consequences of prophecy. Again, believers do not seek consolation and comfort in our circumstances, but in our sovereign Lord.
Our worship is to be lived to only One, to the worship of only One. Jesus Christ stated, “Wisdom is justified by her deeds.” Our deeds, the way we live our faith “out loud” amid our culture, will either justify our use of faith before God or convict us before our culture.
Believers do not live in water; we live in faith. We hope in a future we cannot see and is not yet here. Our proof, the proof we offer our culture and this world, is in our deeds.
Robert Frost is the quintessential American poet. Because of Frost’s work, and the masterful way in which he found words to bring to life rural America, there is no shortage of commentary regarding his poetry. I believe I was in Junior High (about seventh or eighth grade) when I first read Frost’s poem, Good Bye and Keep Cold.
Good Bye, Keep Cold seems to have as many meanings as there are commentators. In the poem, Frost is telling an orchard which was planted “on a northerly slope” near a farm house good-bye for the winter season. Frost laments as his imagination considers all the possible injuries which could occur to the orchard while he is away.
The hill which obscures the view of those in the house, could possibly allow the buds on the trees and the tender limbs to be eaten by rabbit, mouse, deer and grouse. He wishes the orchard would call out for his help when he writes, “If certain it wouldn’t be idle to call I’d summon the grouse, rabbit and deer to the wall and warn them away with a stick for a gun.” Frost’s desire to protect his orchard is evident in his desire to see its protection from the coming hungry wildlife.
Frost ends his poem by giving anthropological voice to his beloved orchard when he says, “I wish I could promise to lie in the night and think of an orchards arboreal plight when slowly (and nobody comes with a light) its heart sinks lower in the sod.” In this, Frost is exhibiting a fatherly empathy for the feelings he envisions his orchard may have in the dark of winter’s night. Yet in the equivalent of an audible sigh, Frost pens, “But something has to be left to God.”
As a pastor, I cannot find anything which would allow me to assume Robert Frost knew God intimately and personally; yet I cannot ascertain that he did not. Yet Frost’s life is filled with a gentility and sensitivity which allowed him to exhibit great empathy. In the case of Good Bye Keep Cold, Frost could expand this rapport to even nature itself.
Yet the crux of this poem, its main warning, to an unsuspecting and vulnerable orchard facing wildlife and oncoming winter, is this: “No orchard’s the worse for the wintriest storm; but one thing about it, it mustn’t get warm.” The very thing most would associate with vitality and growth and all that makes springtime and harvest possible, our poet warns against. But why?
The greatest danger to an orchard is an early spring followed by a late freeze. The buds, dormant on the limb, are waiting, indeed anticipating the coming warmth of spring. For temperature to advance too quickly could end up killing the potential of the harvest and perhaps even kill the trees themselves. This is why Frost advises, “How often already you’ve had to be told, keep cold, young orchard. Good bye, keep cold. Dread fifty above more than fifty below.”
While some paint Frost’s work with a brush depicting the sadness of his words as a reaction to the bleakness of the world around him, this is not what I see. Frost understood that while in its dormant state, no sub-zero temperature could cause any damage to his orchard; it was asleep and safe until it was awoken. Yet he was not providing mere “arboreal” insight in this poem; there is also great truth regarding the human condition.
Our society seems to desire great acceleration in many areas while at the same time it consistently retards and hinders natural growth in others. Nowhere is this more clearly seen than in the Western proclivity to stimulate sexual and physical maturation of its children while simultaneously discouraging mental maturity.
While many reject God as Creator and designer of humanity, I embrace this as an absolute truth. Humanity is separate from all other creation due to the fact we are created imago dei, in the very image of God. God, in His wisdom, chose a timeline for humanity to follow spiritually, physically and mentally. Humanity has uniformly rejected its spiritual heritage, but it cannot seem to overcome the physical changes which are inevitable in healthy people.
Parents today, while protecting their children from maturing and even discouraging responsibility, seem to quicken the physical appearance of their children—especially girls—through either proactive choice or willingly being held captive to the latest cultural style. Now for those without a meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ, this is to be expected.
Yet for those who profess to have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, this is nothing less than willful rebellion and the offering up of their children (permanent, enduring people with souls) on the altar of the immediate and passé.
This brings us back to Frost’s Good Bye Keep Cold. Humans are beings with appetites. These appetites are God-given and for them to work appropriately, they must be exercised according to God’s principles. For children especially, to awaken the appetites God has reserved for those who are mature in body and spirit is the equivalent to exposing them to the dangers of which Frost warned; the “fifty above” rather than keeping them in the proverbial “winter of their content” and prematurely exposing them to discontent.
The writer of Ecclesiastes informs humanity, “There is an occasion for everything, and a time for every activity under heaven….and a wise heart knows the right time and procedure” (3:1; 8:5). The rights and autonomy of humanity has not been infringed on by taking away our rights and freedom to choose. The problem with humanity is we have lost both the discipline and patience to wait for the right time.
And the wisdom to keep cold.