From “In God We Trust” to “Anything Goes”
Twelve Principles on Drifting that Show How America Has Slipped Far Away From Her Starting Point
Crumbling is not an instant’s Act
A fundamental pause
Are organized Decays.
’Tis first a Cobweb on the Soul
A Cuticle of Dust
A Borer in the Axis
An Elemental Rust—
Ruin is formal—Devil’s work
Consecutive and slow—
Fail in an instant, no man did
Slipping—is Crash’s law.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.”
Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.
—Jesus to the Church at Ephesus in Revelation 2:5—
The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt.
Shortened variations of this statement, such as “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,” have been widely quoted in speeches and books throughout American history by numerous American statesmen.
Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.
Unfortunately, in recent decades America has not been careful to preserve the affections it once held or its allegiance to virtue and integrity. While the abandonment of virtue and integrity is both a symptom and a cause of societal decay, one of the direct causes has been kicking God out of public life.
Historical Markers Show Us Where We Once Were—And How Far We’ve Fallen
A culture does not unravel overnight, but over time. Only when we see where we once were can we begin to understand how far we’ve fallen. Today I’d like to invite you to unlock several time capsules with me.
- First, read this, the First Prayer in Congress, offered by Reverend Jacob Duché, Rector of Christ Church of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on September 7, 1774.
- Next, visit this page to explore “Some of ‘the principles upon which our nation was built.’” The page showcases a small sampling of quotes from several of America’s Founders and subsequent leaders. These insights place a bright light on the secret to America’s greatness.
- Read this prologue to a Gideon’s New Testament and Book of Psalms. Written by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and dated January 25, 1941, it commended “the reading of the Bible to all who serve in the armed forces of the United States.” Indeed, in numerous instances throughout America’s history, presidents and other leaders have encouraged the reading of the Scriptures, not just among military personnel but also among the citizens. Even so, the military has banned special editions of the Scriptures published specifically for personnel in the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps (also go here and here).
- Listen to the prayer offered by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on the occasion of the Allied invasion of Normandy, France, on D-Day—June 6, 1944. Tellingly, President Obama opposed including this prayer at the World War 2 Memorial at the nation’s capital.
- Listen to this special D-Day radio broadcast. In it, NBC reported on the “Cross Country Reaction to D-Day.” The broadcast could be subtitled “A Nation at Prayer.”
- Listen to the prayer offered by Dwight D. Eisenhower on the occasion of his inauguration as president, January 20, 1953.
- Appreciate our national motto, “In God We Trust,” and learn the story behind it. On July 30, 1956, President Eisenhower signed into law a directive that the words “In God We Trust” appear on all US currency and coins. Many US coins had born this inscription since the latter half of the 19th century, but now paper money would showcase it as well. (The postage stamp shown at the top demonstrates the motto has appeared in other places too.) In the bill that passed in the House of Representatives, Florida Representative Charles Edward Bennett, a Democrat, made reference to the Cold War. He declared, “In these days when imperialistic and materialistic communism seeks to attack and destroy freedom, we should continually look for ways to strengthen the foundations of our freedom”
- Listen to this special, long distance Christmas Eve broadcast from 1968. As the three-man crew of Apollo 8 orbited the moon, they gave the world a very special Christmas present.
Apollo 8 Launch, Saturday, December 21, 1968, 7:51 a.m. EST
Twelve Principles Show How We Abandoned Our Heritage
No nation is problem-free, even if—and when—it faithfully acknowledges God and seeks to honor Him. Yet, as America has drifted, its citizens have seen their national problems multiply exponentially—and their freedom and liberty curtailed. The fact that these have taken place simultaneously is not coincidental. How did we move so far away from the solid ground on which we started? Rather than cite specific events in our history that indicated movement away from God, morality, and truth, let’s examine several principles and trends. They tell the story quite well.
- It is natural to drift away from a secure place. The drift involves letting go of moral virtue and ethical disciplines and moving along with the pull of the current downstream.
- It’s always easier to drift and to follow the current than it is to fight against it to stay anchored in a safe place. Remaining where we are requires discipline.
- The drift becomes almost imperceptible when we have no absolute standard by which to judge our movement, or when we ignore points of reference indicating where we once were. Yet we hear from experts (here, here, and here) that to prevent getting lost, one has to focus on fixed points of reference and adjust one’s course accordingly.
- The drift becomes imperceptible when we listen to the popular culture—those surrounding us and moving with us—over the sage wisdom of the ages.
- The drift becomes almost imperceptible when we act on our emotions rather than our intellect, when we follow our hearts rather than our heads.
- The drift inevitably involves choosing to please ourselves over God. In other words, it involves developing patterns of sin—departing from God’s absolute standard of righteousness.
- Sin is pleasurable, but not forever (see Heb. 11:24-25). Still, the immediate pleasure it brings keeps people traveling down its road.
- Sin is subject to the law of diminishing returns. In other words, when we develop a pattern of sinning, we typically have to go even further the next time to get the same “rush” we got the last time. This increases the speed of our downward spiral.
- People have a tendency to ignore or deny sin’s inevitable consequences because facing them is neither fun nor pleasant.
- When an individual or a culture is drifting, it is difficult to see clearly looking forward. We look toward the future with short-term rather than long-term vision. This makes it harder to break free of our downward spiral.
- We have a problem seeing clearly as we look back. Over time, during the drift, we develop a habit of denying the realities of where we’ve arrived and how far we’ve traveled. Put another way, we can say that when we’ve been sick for a long time, we forget what it was like to be well.
- We have a problem understanding just where we are in the present. A decaying culture is a one of darkness rather than light. Darkness hides the truth about the nature of the place to which we’ve come and its inevitable consequences. (See John 3:19-20.)
Where We Are Now
Rather than cite several examples of where we are as a culture, let’s highlight two.
In a BreakPoint commentary, John Stonestreet of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview reports that recently, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IV) “informed employees that they were expected to align with traditional Christian teaching on marriage and human sexuality. If they couldn’t they were asked to come forward.” A Christian ministry that upholds Biblical teaching has every right to make sure everyone on its staff adheres to biblical teaching in every area of life, especially major areas like marriage and sexuality. Some, however, don’t see it that way.
TIME magazine reported on the event:
Staffers are not being required to sign a document agreeing with the group’s position, and supervisors are not proactively asking employees to verbally affirm it. Instead, staffers are being asked to come forward voluntarily if they disagree with the theological position. When they inform their supervisor of their disagreement, a two-week period is triggered, concluding in their last day. InterVarsity has offered to cover outplacement service costs for one month after employment ends to help dismissed staff with their résumés and job-search strategies.
The article went on to effectively pounce on IV by calling the move a “theological purge.” Certain church and ministry leaders expressed disapproval as well; a group of progressive leaders in what Stonestreet refers to as the “post-evangelical” community wrote a letter to IV stating,
[W]e strongly believe that disagreements over the role of gender and sexual minorities in the church should not be treated as primary, creedal issues that determine the legitimacy of one’s Christian faith.…This decision will cause profound pain, suffering, and trauma for countless LGBTQ Christians. It will tarnish the image of Christianity on college campuses, and it will hinder InterVarsity’s work to provide supportive Christian communities for students seeking to follow Christ.
Yet nothing IV did was arbitrary or abrupt. The organization had studied the matter in light of biblical teaching over a four-year period and had written a 20-page position paper, which it shared with its staff months—not days—ago. No one serving on IV staff should have been surprised, nor should anyone familiar with IV’s work and ministry.
It’s becoming increasingly evident that when Christians, churches, and Christian organizations remain true to their faith as taught in the Bible, they will be maligned. Just ask Watermark Church in Dallas, Texas. John Stonestreet reported on the attacks against this church in a BreakPoint commentary a mere nine days after letting his listeners know what was happening with InterVarsity. Watermark Church removed from its membership rolls a man who was involved in an ongoing same-sex relationship and who had no willingness or desire to change his behavior.
Take note: This wasn’t an arbitrary decision either. The decision was reached after meeting with the man on numerous occasions and seeking to help him understand that a commitment to Christ and a decision to remain in a same-sex relationship are incompatible. Watermark’s actions may seem harsh, especially to the outside world. Yet it wouldn’t seem as harsh if church discipline weren’t practiced so rarely in the body of Christ.
Stonestreet notes that
any firm stand for Christian morality, even within the walls of the church, is hard these days. Those who violate church discipline—especially when it has to do with sexual freedom—will be hailed as the good guys of the story.
Which makes the faithful the bad guys. As George Orwell once wrote, “The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those who speak it.” It’s not hard to imagine that lawsuits will likely accompany the bad press in the near future.
The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those who speak it.
Thus, these two events shed a great deal of light on the place where our culture has arrived. American society once revered God and upheld ethics and morality; yet today it has drifted so far from its starting point that it condemns those few Christians and churches who still do these very things. Remember as well the overall ministries of organizations like InterVarsity and churches like Watermark. IV’s position paper and Watermark’s decision to hold a straying member accountable must be seen against the backdrop everything they do, not judged in isolation from it.
Make no mistake. Whoever becomes president, faithful believers will continue to swim upstream against the culture. Yet we must do this even though we will be misunderstood and hated. Why? Because our first priority isn’t to be loved, but to faithfully represent Jesus Christ in the world. He who was “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14) also was misunderstood.
Since we’re going to be misunderstood, let’s make sure we are misunderstood because we lovingly stood for the truth, not because we avoided doing so.
In this culture, we as Christians will be misunderstood. Let’s make sure we are misunderstood because we lovingly stood for the truth, not because we avoided doing so.
Copyright © 2016 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.