This article was originally published in Every Thought Captive magazine.
As Pilgrim and Faithful passed through the town of Vanity Fair, they created a “hubbub.” Pilgrim and Faithful dressed and spoke differently from the townspeople and refused to purchase the fleeting pleasures being peddled there. Upon being asked, “What will ye buy,” the Christians responded, “We buy the truth.” (Proverbs 23:23) At this answer, the people of Vanity Fair railed against the Christians, beat them, caged them, arraigned and tried them, and eventually murdered Faithful.
Why did the people of Vanity Fair react so violently at Faithful’s response? Why all the hubbub? The answer lies in the fact that the assertion for truth necessarily implies an assertion against falsity. The Deceiver is happy with any deception at all, for all lies point away from the single truth, and it is also true that anyone who speaks the truth necessarily condemns all falsehoods. Truth and lies are as mutually-exclusive as light and darkness.
John Bunyan points this out through three examples as Pilgrim and Faithful walk through Vanity Fair: their garb, their speech, and their refusal to buy what the Vanity Fairians are selling.
Their garb: Christians are clothed in “white garments” in the eternal, justificational sense, but for the moment let’s look at how this spiritual reality is manifest in the here-and-now. We are not to be like the world, but being in the world, we need to wear clothes, just like the world does. I wear my jeans on the lower half of my body and my shirt on the upper half, just like everyone else on earth, whether Christian or not. As America publicly undresses and Christians continue to cover themselves, no one will think twice about Christians wearing modest apparel unless and until some bold Christian asserts the truth that everyone should cover their nakedness. At that point, the Christian will encounter opposition. The “Truth” will be spoken, and the citizens of Vanity Fair will cry foul. While the world around us exults in their freedom from all constraint, the Christian, who loves their neighbor enough to step into their lives, will find that the particular freedom of speaking the truth in love has been vilified and must be constrained. “We’ll have none of that truth-telling here. Thank you very much,” goes the rule for that crowd that has “no rules.” Jesus said there is freedom in truth. The world wants freedom from truth. I doubt there will ever be a law prohibiting modesty, but there are, and will be, plenty denying the fact that modesty even exists.
Their speech: Many words can, and ought, to be spoken regarding coarse jesting, idle words, slander, gossip, etc., but the battle lines are not drawn on any of these minor skirmishes. The enemy will send out the berserkers when the Christian begins asserting that all of the issues of man’s tongue are judged against God’s single, unchanging standard of Truth. The world truly believes that there is no contradiction in imposing their maxim, “What’s true for you is true for you” on everyone, while also maintaining that it is wrong to insist upon one truth for everyone. Whenever they speak, they are implying that there is a meaning behind their utterances, all the while stating that no inherent meaning lies behind their vehement tongue wagging.
Christians in America speak English; secular humanists in America speak English, too. We do not need a new alphabet, new words, or new syntax to be holy; in fact, the vulgar vernacular is the only tongue that will be any use at all. It will not be different words that get us in trouble; it will be the ordinate use of the ones we have, asserting such a thing as an ordinate use that will cause a fuss.
Their investments: Christian and Faithful would not buy what was for sale in the markets of Vanity Fair. In order to be “relevant,” many American Christians are not only saying that we should buy what they’re selling, but we should slap a fish on it and sell it too. The issue at hand is not about silk-screened t-shirts, trendily-embossed Bible covers, bumper stickers, or WWJD bracelets (or whatever the current trends are); the issue is about where Christians go to find the answer to the question, “How can I best keep the two great commandments: to love God and neighbor?” If we seek to faithfully keep these two commandments before the watching world, we will be cities on hills whose lights cannot be hid, no matter what t-shirt we have on. As the world cries, “be yourself,” what they mean is “be trendy.” As the contemporary church around us cries, “be like them for the sake of the gospel,” we should respond, “no thank you, thank you very much.” We should want to be like Jesus for the sake of the gospel, not be like those who look like they’re all about Jesus. Don’t get me wrong—if you want to wear a “Jesus fish” while loving God and loving your neighbor, then go for it, but it will not be the uniform of a “relevant” Christian that makes you relevant. It will be the steady application of the two great commandments. On these hang ALL the law and the prophets. Christian love, exhibited through the keeping of the two great commandments and all subsequent corollaries, is unmistakable. They will know we are Christians by our love: love of God and love of neighbor.
May God preserve us from being “different” by Christianizing the garb, speech, and baubles of American Vanity Fair; may God gives us grace to speak this truth in love.