America, Where Are You? Part 5

The State of the Church


Here is the great evangelical disaster—the failure of the evangelical world to stand for truth as truth. There is only one word for this—namely accommodation. The evangelical church has accommodated to the world spirit of the age.…This accommodation has been costly, first in destroying the power of the Scriptures to confront the spirit of our age; second, in allowing the further slide of our culture. Thus we must say with tears that it is the evangelical accommodation to the world spirit around us, to the wisdom of this age, which removes the evangelical church from standing against the breakdown of our culture.
Francis Schaeffer

Tell me what the world is saying today, and I’ll tell you what the church will be saying in seven years.
Francis Schaeffer


Key point: In its efforts to avoid offending people, will the church wind up offending the One it never would dream of offending—God Himself? Unless it makes a conscious decision to honor God in the environment of moral quicksand in which it finds itself, the church will indeed offend God. The good news is that through the church, God still can turn America back to Himself. God’s people however, must cooperate with Him for this to happen.


Summaries of all the articles in this series are available here.

Last time, we stated the following.

  1. Engel v. Vitale was an initial step in the process that effectively cut off a generation, and future generations, from voluntarily acknowledging God in a public environment.
  2. Having been cut off from God, America had no point of reference for recognizing the intrinsic value of human life. Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton therefore legitimized the practice within the human family of turning against one’s own and killing the most vulnerable and defenseless members.
  3. Obergefell went even further, denying what it actually means to be a human being. Natural man-woman marriage affirms what being being a human being is all about, but same-sex “marriage” effectively removes that affirmation from the institution of marriage, at least as far as public recognition is concerned.

This is not to malign anyone, especially homosexuals and those struggling with gender identity issues. The truth is, however, that telling them to “be who you are” actually will hinder them from being who they really are and finding fulfillment by reaching their God-given potential. Their struggles are real. We must be understanding and offer compassionate and loving help. Yet this does not mean telling anyone it’s OK to follow their base inclinations and desires. Proverbs 14:12 and Proverbs 16:25 are identical. They declare,

There is a way that seems right to a man,
But its end is the way of death.

It doesn’t help that our country has lost a clear understanding of what is required to have and maintain genuine liberty. Liberty is not license—the freedom to do whatever our base desires urge us to do. Rather, it is freedom within the reasonable restraints set by morality, law, and respect for the rights and freedoms of others.


Authentic liberty is not license—the freedom to do whatever our base desires urge us to do. Rather, it is freedom within the reasonable restraints set by morality, law, and respect for the rights and freedoms of others.


Liberty, as Depicted at the National Monument to the Forefathers in Plymouth, Massachusetts (see below)

Where is the church with regard to this cultural quicksand? To answer that question, let’s first recall that in Matthew 10:16, Jesus said to His disciples, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.”

Lightstock

I believe the church is following Jesus’ command to be as harmless as doves but unfortunately is failing to be as wise or as shrewd as serpents. Moreover, the church needs a shot of boldness.

The Pressure to Conform

In a very real sense, God’s people find their situation similar to that of a teen who is outnumbered by the crowd. Here is an excellent example. Researchers recruited several groups of ten young people to help them with a study of how well teens could see. The participants were told that they would be shown numerous sets of three lines, each of different lengths, and would be asked to indicate which was the longest line in each case: A, B, or C.

The researchers, however, weren’t really studying eyes or vision. They actually were investigating the effect of peer pressure on teenagers. Nine of the ten participants in each group were told privately to choose the second longest line rather than the longest one, while the tenth individual was allowed to keep on believing the study was all about teens’ ability to see.

In incident after incident, when the facilitator would introduce a set of lines and ask the group for a show of hands when the longest line was named, nine of the ten would, in unison, raise their hands for the second longest line, bewildering the tenth young person. Could I have misunderstood the instructions? They seemed so simple, the confused teen must have thought. Didn’t they say we are to indicate which line is the longest? The directions were repeated, and no, the student had not misunderstood them. All were to indicate which of the three lines was longest. The pressure to join the group was enormous—so much so that 75 percent of the teens studied raised their hands with the rest of the group, even though everything they were seeing was contrary to all the instructions they had been given and what they knew to be true!

Only 25 percent of the teens refused to go along with the crowd; just 1 in 4 was willing to take a stand for what he or she knew to be right, despite all his or her questions and the undeniable awkwardness of the situation. I can’t understand why no one else is choosing the right line, but I am certain which line is longest, and I’m going to raise my hand for it!1 Their courage and their actions are to be admired—and emulated!

Several lessons arise from this true story.

  • First, appearances can deceive. In terms of reality, the participants who were informed about the study actually were ignorant about the lengths of the lines. Moreover, even though the ones whose responses were being studied were not “in the know” about the real purpose of the study, these individuals actually were right about which lines were the longest. This is especially true when the student went against the consensus of the group. Let’s put it another way: The enlightened really were misinformed, and the misinformed were enlightened.

The enlightened really were misinformed, and the misinformed were, in fact, enlightened.

  • Second, the instructions were straightforward and simple, and in one sense, following them was simple. Still, following them was anything but easy! Even obvious realities can be hard to acknowledge in the face of a group consensus to the contrary.
  • Third, decisions to “go along with the crowd” were made based on emotions, including the understandable desire to be liked and the awkwardness of taking a singular stand.
  • Fourth, in real-life situations, the choice to follow the crowd brings only short-term benefits. By contrast, aligning oneself with reality, even though one is made to feel quite uncomfortable in the here and now, affords an individual or group a host of advantages in the long-term. Why? Reality is a friend to those who accept it and cooperate with it, but an enemy to everyone who denies and resists it.

The church is like each young person in the study who faced nine others with different opinions. What would he or she do—state the obvious, despite being overwhelmingly outnumbered, or go along with the crowd to avoid controversy?

Equipped with God’s Truth, the Church Is in Touch with Reality

Abortion advocates claiming to contend for women’s rights have loud voices and great influence, and in their eyes, to be pro-life is to be anti-woman. Nothing could be further from the truth (go here and here). On January 31, 2018, the following statement appeared on BreakPoint’s Facebook page:

Too many pastors soft-pedal their teaching on #abortion. Maybe they don’t want to be seen as getting “political.” Or perhaps they believe this subject is not their calling. They might even fear offending people. #Pray that God would grant the #pastors in your community #courage to teach the entire counsel of #Scripture, including commands to protect the innocent. Pray that they would have the #wisdom to speak accurately. Pray that they would also have the #compassion to speak kindly.

With regard to marriage, the situation is desperate, as evangelicals increasingly warm to the idea of same-sex marriage. If the church doesn’t understand what marriage is, then the real definition of marriage, including marriage as a picture of Christ and the church, and consequently marriage as a picture of the gospel, will forever be lost to society. We must realize people do not have to understand the theology to benefit from the model! Even atheists benefit from it! Natural man-woman marriage reflects and conveys divine realities even “under the radar,” even without people realizing they are recipients of divine truth. The natural world does the very same thing (see Psalm 19:1-4).

Remember the study on peer pressure. Do not forget that the enlightened actually were misinformed, while the misinformed were enlightened. Do not forget that God is truth and the source of truth, and He has revealed truth in His Word. Human life is His masterpiece, and to destroy it is to offend Him. Natural, man-woman marriage has God’s fingerprints all over it! For Christians to withhold the truth about marriage when society is so terribly misinformed on this issue is to fail to faithfully represent the God who established it, and the gospel.

One is reminded of Joshua and Caleb, who also were outnumbered when they gave their report on the land of Canaan. In their case, they were outvoted 10 to 2. Could the Israelites conquer the land? Joshua and Caleb said yes, but the other 10 spies said no! Because these two men remained faithful to God despite appearances and even against overwhelming odds, the Lord permitted Joshua and Caleb to enter the promised land, even as he He barred everyone else in their generation from doing so.

James Tissot, The Grapes of Canaan

Please know it is not my wish or intention to disparage or discourage the church or its leaders. Ministry, including evangelism, is very hard work, especially in this culture! Moreover, many pastors’ plates are so full they are overwhelmed! I sympathize, and I understand.

Even so, Jesus said,

13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.

14 “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.15 Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

A Place to Start

The church can begin speaking out for the truth by doing so within its own walls, educating its own people. It must talk about and defend those ideals and institutions that are under vicious attack. Start with marriage. Hebrews 13:4 declares, “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and the sexually immoral” (NIV). This article names twelve traits that must characterize the church’s case for natural marriage. Pastors and other leaders should explore and explain to God’s people the deep theological truths reflected in natural marriage, including ways that marriage is a picture of the gospel. Here and here some articles that will help you convey these ideas.

All is not lost, but much has slipped away. Much is slipping away even now. The situation is urgent!

All is not lost, but much has slipped away. Moreover, much is slipping away even now. I believe, and my friend Steve believes as well, that God wants to use His church to call America back to Himself. To do that, the church must repent of seeking to entertain people and once again endeavor first to please God. When it does, it will demonstrate not only that it loves God supremely, but also that it truly loves others.

What is life? What is marriage? What is the nature of God? What is the gospel? What is salvation? All these questions are tightly interwoven.

Which line is the longest?

Are we who have the truth willing to declare it?

Are you willing to do your part?

 

Copyright © 2018 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Note:

1Dr. James Dobson, Preparing for Adolescence: How to Survive the Coming Years of Change, (Grand Rapids: Revell, 2006), 37-39.

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

The Scripture passage marked NIV has been taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

About “Liberty” (see above; photo credit here)

At the National Monument to the Forefathers in Plymouth, Massachusetts, Faith stands atop the Monument, with Liberty and Morality seated at the base in front of her, and Law and Education seated at the base behind her. Genuine liberty isn’t possible without the other virtues portrayed—faith, law, education, and morality. The National Monument to the Forefathers was dedicated on August 1, 1889.

 

America, Where Are You? Part 2

The Attack on Voluntary Prayer

[A]s D. James Kennedy once pointed out, in 1935, what was the most educated nation on earth? The answer was Germany. But that didn’t prevent Auschwitz from taking place. So there is such a thing as education, where if it’s devoid of God, it is dangerous.
Jerry Newcombe


Key point: In 1962 the Supreme Court denied school children the opportunity to acknowledge God and seek His blessings for their leaders and the nation. America has been paying a heavy price for this ever since.


For summaries of all the articles in this series, go here.

On June 25, 1962, the Supreme Court handed down its ruling in Engel vs. Vitale, a case involving voluntary school prayer. In New York, the state Board of Regents had written a prayer and encouraged students to recite it in school. Participation was voluntary, but in New Hyde Park, New York, a group of students’ families took the matter to court, contending the policy violated their religious beliefs. The group was led by Steven Engel, who was Jewish. The ruling was 6 to 1 in favor of the plaintiffs, and it would have been 7 to 1 if Justice Felix Frankfurter had not suffered a career-ending stroke. Justice Byron White did not participate because he did not take his position on the court until after oral arguments had been made.

Potter Stewart, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, 1958-1981

Justice Potter Stewart, the lone dissenter, did not believe the prayer was unconstitutional because the Frist Amendment prohibits Congress from establishing an official religion, not from encouraging prayer. Focusing on the Constitution itself, Stewart wrote, “I cannot see how an ‘official religion’ is established by letting those who want to say a prayer say it.”

On the heels of the ruling, Erwin Griswald, former dean of the Harvard Law School, also objected to the majority’s opinion. He pointed out that the First Amendment of the US Constitution had not been violated, since Congress had made no law establishing a state religion. Neither had the State of New York, for that matter. This, he maintained, was a local matter, not a federal one. Moreover, he contended, “In a country which has a great tradition of tolerance, is it not important that minorities, who have benefited so greatly from that tolerance, should be tolerant, too?”


In a country which has a great tradition of tolerance, is it not important that minorities, who have benefited so greatly from that tolerance, should be tolerant, too?
—Erwin Griswold, former dean of the Harvard Law School, objecting to the Supreme Court’s ruling against voluntary prayer in Engel vs. Vitale


What was the prayer that so offended the majority of justices, as well as the plaintiffs? It was this:

Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our Country.

The 1962 decision became the basis for other Supreme Court rulings that have further restricted school prayer. Other decisions followed after these, and they’ve affected far more than education: In and through them, “the Supreme Court gave birth to an atheistic tyranny that has bedeviled America ever since.” According to the information site conservapedia.com, “Since the banning of school prayer, there have been a 225 percent increase in amount of children without fathers, a 343 percent rise in illegitimate births, and a 454% enlargement in the violent crime rate. These data are taken from the Index of Leading Cultural Indicators, which in turn relies on statistical data collected since 1960.”

A Departure from Founding Principles

The Founders and early leaders of the United States never intended that God would be separated from government, only that government would not establish an official religion. Consider Noah Webster (1758-1843) who has been called the Father of American Scholarship and Education (also go here), or simply, the Father of American Education.

Noah Webster, the Schoolmaster of the Republic

Writing in 1788, Webster said,

In some countries the common people are not permitted to read the Bible at all. In ours, it is as common as a newspaper and in schools is read with nearly the same degree of respect.…Select passages of Scripture…may be read in schools, to great advantage.…My wish is not to see the Bible excluded from schools but to see it used as a system of religion and morality.

Returning to Engel vs. Vitale, we note that in this critical decision, the Supreme Court severed an acknowledgement of God—actually, an opportunity, not a requirement, to acknowledge Him—from the younger generation of Americans.

When a nation, in this case through its court system, kicks God out of public life, what happens? We’ve seen evidence that God steps back! We see this not only in the unraveling of American culture since the early 1960s, but also in the other two Supreme Court cases my friend Steve cited when he wrote about America’s decline.

Stay tuned!

 

Copyright © 2018 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

About “Education” (see top image; photo credit here)

At the National Monument to the Forefathers in Plymouth, Massachusetts, Faith stands atop the Monument, with Liberty and Morality seated at the base in front of her, and Law and Education seated at the base behind her. Education benefits a nation to the greatest extent possible when it affirms each of the other four values and ideals portrayed. The National Monument to the Forefathers was dedicated on August 1, 1889.

America, Where Are You? Part 1

A Sobering Assessment

I respect the courts, but the Supreme Court is only that—the supreme of the courts. It is not the supreme being. It cannot overrule God, when it comes to prayer, when it comes to life, and when it comes to the sanctity of marriage, the court cannot change what God has created.
Mike Huckabee


Key point: Three landmark Supreme Court decisions have helped chart America’s direction and helped define who and where we now are as a country. To help America recover her moral footing, we first need to understand just how far off the stable path these decisions have propelled our country.


For summaries of all the articles in this series, go here.

In Genesis 3:9 (go here for the context), God asked Adam a powerful question: He “called to Adam and said to him, ‘Where are you?’” This question came on the heels of Adam’s and Eve’s disobeying God by eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. It came for Adam’s benefit—not because God was looking for either Adam or Eve. Adam needed to assess where he now was in terms of his relationship with God, and, as it would turn out, in his relationships with everything else.

God Judging Adam by William Blake, 1795

The beginning of a new year gives us a unique opportunity to reflect on where we are in terms of our relationship with God—not just individually, but also as churches, nationally, and culturally. We need to take advantage of this opportunity. Accordingly, this will be the theme of this series of articles.

Steve, a friend and coworker of mine, reads my posts regularly and encourages me a great deal. A few months ago, he told me he would like to write a piece reflecting his own thoughts about where America is right now and what can be done about it. On November 11 of last year, he emailed me an article consisting of 338 words. Steve not as “long-winded” as I am.

President Trump and his wife Melania visit a Las Vegas shooting victim

My friend began by citing the recent mass killings at the First Baptist Church of Southern Springs, Texas on November 5 and at a Las Vegas concert on October 1. These incidents left 84 people dead and 566 injured. To what can we attribute these horrific events? Are some people just that mean? Do we need stricter gun laws?1 Steve indicated that if we go down these paths, we totally miss the main message of the larger picture. He wrote,

Three events in the USA’s past are keystone moments in the history of our great nation.

The Authority of Law Statue at the Supreme Court Building in Washington, DC

First, in 1962, the Supreme Court ruled unfavorably regarding prayer in schools.

Second, in 1973, the Supreme Court made murder of our most helpless citizens legal.

Finally, in 2015, our nation, again through the Supreme Court, declared that people of the same sex could marry.

These three events present a drastic change from the attitudes expressed by the Founding Fathers during the last half of the 1700s.


The Declaration of Independence acknowledges, affirms, and upholds “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” yet on numerous occasions, the Supreme Court of the United States has thoroughly rebuffed them.


To murder, to not be allowed to pray, and blaspheme the institution of marriage by making legal an act that God calls an abomination is a dangerous set of events. Historically, in the Bible when people take these paths, destruction follows.

In the book of Romans, the last 15 verses of chapter 1 describe the current state of the culture of the United States. Our nation has been given over to itself in its wickedness.

Then my friend essentially said this:

America has a chance to make a change for righteousness and to be saved from destruction, but needed changes will occur, not primarily through the legislative, executive, or judicial branches of our government, as important as the decisions made in all of these institutions are. The changes that must occur to make America truly great again will come when people of faith turn to God.


The changes that must occur to make America truly great again will come when people of faith turn to God.


The church has to be concerned about reaching people—I get that. And it must reach younger generations if it is to survive in the long term. Yet in its well-intentioned efforts to reach the young, it has become a place of entertainment rather than a place where the truth is upheld, a place where people can find a large gym to maintain physical fitness but not discover the gutsy challenges of the gospel, and a place that all too often seeks to be “relevant” over being authentically truthful.

Upholding the Truth in Love

Is there hope for this country? Yes! But to be the lighthouse this nation needs, the church must repent of its entertainment mentality and once again uphold the truth of Scripture, all the while demonstrating genuine love.


To be the lighthouse America needs, the church must repent of its entertainment mentality and once again uphold the truth of Scripture, all the while demonstrating genuine love.


Concluding, Steve cited two verses of Scripture—one from the Old Testament, and one from the New.

In 2 Chronicles 7:14, the Lord declared, “If my people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

In Matthew 6:33, Jesus said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”

While we must remember that God’s promise in 2 Chronicles 7:14 was extended to His people—those making up the nation of Israel—and that we cannot assume it applies to America in exactly the same way it applied Israel, the principle behind it does have a measure of application for the church in America in the 21st century. Similarly, in the context of Matthew 6:33, Jesus was challenging His followers not to worry about their material needs but to put God’s kingdom first. Even so, the principle of putting God’s kingdom first and of God’s taking care of everything else still is valid and has points of application for the church and the culture today.

Is Steve right in his assessment? I believe he is, and in future posts, I’ll explain why. We’ll look at each of the Supreme Court cases he cites, and then at the state of the church.

Be sure to return next time.

 

top image: www.lightstock.com

Copyright © 2018 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Note:

1While this isn’t a post on the effects of gun-control laws, this article offers some important insights on that subject.