I’m leading a Bible study on the OT prophets on Wednesday night. They proclaimed the glory of God and warned Israel and Judah that God would not tolerate their sin, their false prophets with their positive messages, their empty religion, or their unfaithful hearts. Israel ignored the impending doom, and even persecuted the prophets for daring to say that God’s judgment would come. Then, one day, the “day of the Lord” came and the chosen nation was laid waste. What the prophets warned had come true.
And Israel was wholly unprepared for the aftermath because they never accepted that the judgment would ever come.
Permit me a momentary hermeneutical break. America is not Israel and never has been. We are not the chosen people of God and have never been special in his sight, nor do we hold a superior position in God’s kingdom. But we have been a nation of (at the least nominal) Christians. Our founding documents recognized a responsibility to God and gave honor to him. We are not the modern Israel, nor do we hold a special place in God’s heart, but we were at once a nation which, in the whole (though inconsistently and imperfectly), recognized the God of the Bible as our God.
Those days are long gone. During my lifetime, our national culture has done a 180 degree turn, embracing a culture of moral independence. Few in 1975 (the year I graduated high school) would have believed that we would be having today some of the moral debates that we are having. Under the current administration, the process of secularization that has been slowly growing over the last 5 decades has exploded into prominence. We are a post-Christian nation which has rejected divine authority and embraced moral individualism.
I’ve heard warnings about this from the pulpit all of my life. Of course, they have often been framed in nationalistic terms – turning America back to God, saving this great country – but the message is that of the prophets, “repent or be judged.” Proverbs 14:34 reminds us that “righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.” Sin brings consequences in our personal lives, in our society and in our nation.
But, if we believe this, the moral collapse of our nation may not be a time for despair for the church of Jesus Christ. If we believe that sin is a reproach, that sin has devastating consequences, then the crumbling moral foundations of America may provide an opportunity for us to minister. The church has been, in my opinion, far too focused on “saving America” and returning this land to the mindset of the past (a concept that the persecuted minorities of the past might not share). Our focus needs to be on ministry to this nation as it crumbles. Israel was unprepared for what came to that sinful nation. We must not follow in its footsteps.
We may not be able to stop the moral crash of our nation, but if the church will be the church God called us to be, we can be there to help pick up the pieces and minister to the fallen.
Here is my reasoning:
1) America (and the West in general) has abandoned any sense of responsibility to God. Our new ethic is self-centered and self-indulgent. Whatever makes me happy must be right. I follow my heart and do what I want to do.
2) That is a recipe for disaster, both personally and nationally. Sin has consequences. Walking in obedience to God brings blessing. When we walk in the ways that seem right to us, we fight out that the Scriptures are right and that walking in our own ways, “leads to death.” (Proverbs 14:12). If our nation continues on this path, there will be horrific consequences. Families will continue to disintegrate and the effects on children will be felt for generations. As people embrace sin, they will suffer the consequences of that sin – dysfunction and brokenness will abound. And, if we believe Scripture, there is even active judgment that flows from God on sinful nations.
Our nation will suffer greatly for its sin.
3) We may not be able to stop that moral fall. Would that we could. There are many that argue that we can still reverse the fall, but once a collapse begins it becomes difficult to prop the building up. There are no political solutions. A massive, nationwide revival that would dwarf the effects of the First and Second Great Awakenings would be required and no one can predict that.
Personally, I think we need to stop focusing on how we can prevent the moral fall of America and start preparing for how we can minister to people as it happens.
4) Our focus needs to be on ministry to hurting, broken, sin-destroyed people. The moral collapse we have seen will produce a bumper crop of dysfunctional families, broken homes, addictions, abused and abusive people, moral perversion and enslavement – what we will see may make us long for the good old days of 2013!
- We need to hone the gospel to make sure we are proclaiming it with clarity. Too often we have added extraneous elements to the gospel. We need to sharpen our understanding of and proclamation of the story of Christ’s death for our sins and resurrection that we might have new lives.
- We do not need to compromise with the world’s sin (by approving of what God condemns) but we must move away from country club churches and develop the concept of the church as a hospital for sinners. The church that molds to fit into a sinful culture is no longer a church. The church that holds on to a culture of the past is ineffective. The church that proclaims the timeless gospel in a culturally appropriate way can prosper regardless of what is happening in the world.
- We need to develop ministries to address the brokenness we are going to see more of in the days ahead. Jesus came to heal those whose lives were broken by sin.
- We should never see sinners as the enemy. The enemy is the Liar, the Evil One, who deceives and devastates. Sinners, even belligerent ones, are the battleground. We do not fight against sinners, we fight FOR them, with the Word, the gospel, and the power of Christ. We battle against the darkness to shine the light, so sinners can be freed to walk in that light.
Remember the words of Jesus in Luke 5:31-32? ”Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” Jesus came to heal the sick. As our nation descends into and embraces moral sickness, does that not provide the true church of Jesus Christ an unparalleled opportunity to do eternally significant ministry.
5) Perhaps, then, the moral decay of our nation can be an unprecedented opportunity for ministry!
Craig was a friend of mine in college. He was a liberal, I was conservative. I came from a church background and his background was sketchy. But we were friends. He told the most entertaining stories about his antics before he ended up in our little school. I don’t know if they were true, but they were hilarious! But one day, Craig and I were talking and he paused, looked at me and then said something profound.
“You good kids need to make sure you are always kind to guys like me. Our lives are always going to lead us into trouble. When we hit bottom, we are going to look for help from the guys who have been kind to them on the way down.”
I’ll never forget those words. I think they are true of the church. We need to be the hospital for sinners Christ called us to be, providing genuine ministry to people who may not seem to care. But when the consequences of their sin crash down on them, we can be there to show them to the healing power of Christ.
Let me leave no doubt about what I am saying. Should we as Christians engage in the public, even political realm? Yes. Should we attempt to influence society? Yes. Should we pray for revival? Absolutely. But we must also prepare for the tsunami of devastation that our culture’s embrace of sin will bring. Barring a mighty work of God, we are facing a societal collapse of epic proportion. The church needs to stop bemoaning this collapse and start preparing to do spiritual disaster relief when it finally hits.
I may always regret that America has become what it has become. But that kind of spiritual nostalgia is unproductive. To the contrary, this moral crash that America is headed toward may provide a unique opportunity for ministry.