In one of his classic works, “The Church at the End of the 20th Century,” theologian and scholar Francis Schaeffer noted, “…we must not forget that the world is on fire. We are not only losing the church but our entire culture as well.” His constant challenge to the church to return to the “faith of our fathers” as the first step in redeeming the nation from the grip of relativism and the natural chaos is even more compelling now than it was then. He continued with this admonition:
“We live in the post-Christian world which is under the judgment of God. I believe today that we must speak as Jeremiah. Some people think that just because the United States of America is the United States of America, because Britain is Britain, they will not come under the judgment of God. This is not so. I believe that we of Northern Europe since the Reformation have had such light as few others have ever possessed.
“We have stamped that light in our culture. Our cinemas, our novels, our art museums scream out as they stamp upon that light. Do you think God will not judge our countries simply because they are our countries? Do you think that the holy God will not judge?”
Schaeffer concluded this part of his warning with an assertion that, “The real chasm is not between Presbyterians and everybody else, or the Lutherans and everybody else, or the Anglicans and everybody else. … The real chasm is between those who have bowed to the living God and thus also to the verbal, propositional communication of God’s Word … and those who have not.”
How has that played out in our culture and nation?
As we near the 20th “anniversary of the end of the Reagan Era by preparing to inaugurate an ultra-liberal Democrat of opposite philosophy in almost every way, it might be helpful for us to do as Schaeffer and look back to look forward. I am both old enough to remember all the political dynamics and atmosphere surrounding the 1980 presidential election and young enough that it was the first election I was old enough to vote in. My first vote for any president was for Ronald Reagan, while having grown up in a working class, non-religious and “Yellow Dog” Democrat family and community.
How do I explain such a departure from my “roots”? Fortunately I was given the opportunity in the third grade (at a weekend children’s event led by my public school teacher!) to receive Jesus Christ as Savior. He did not start becoming my Lord until young adulthood, but the spiritual rebirth was real in ways I did not begin to understand until those later years. In addition, during those years I was given the opportunity to learn to love our Constitution, its principles and to begin to understand what government was supposed to do and not supposed to do.
I remember living under the loss of national pride that resulted from Vietnam, Watergate and then the disastrous Jimmy Carter years. I remember hearing Reagan for the first time and being injected with a new hope, sense of patriotism and spirit of “We can do it!” The difference between Reagan’s optimism and Barack Obama’s “Yes, we can!” slogan is that Reagan’s was grounded in the faith, character, self-reliance and ingenuity of the American people as “One nation under God.” Obama’s is based upon the socialistic premise that “We the Government” can give the people hope based on what he can do and provide for us.
That hope is the same promised by Lenin, Stalin, Hitler and other such totalitarian despots as well as failed leaders like Jimmy Carter. We know the results of the initial “hope” followed by tyranny and oppression under those leaders. We do not yet know what President-elect Obama’s policies will be; however, the bottom line is this: Our hope as a nation is as it has always been, by kneeling in reverence to the God Who created us, Who gives us life and Who raises up and brings down nations.
If that is to happen, we must look to the institution that is the trusted carrier of God’s truth upon which that hope is based – the church. Religious and cultural pluralism exacerbated by seeker-friendly, market-driven and church-growth trends have so weakened the institutional church that we are still right where Schaeffer indicated we were when he wrote those words nearly 40 years ago.
Except that we have now witnessed four decades of continued decay in marriage, family, morals, ethics, education, media, government, etc.
Our charge and challenge if we are to witness national redemption that elevates the “good” Alexis de Tocqueville wrote about (“Democracy in America, 1835″) without the “bad” of our past and current national sins, is that the pastors of this nation “speak as Jeremiah,” as the prophetic, bold voice of truth.
Jeremiah’s words to Israel on behalf of God are those we must heed today, “‘Your own wickedness will correct you, and your apostasies will reprove you; Know therefore and see that it is evil and bitter for you to forsake the Lord your God, and the dread of me is not in you,’ declares the Lord of hosts.” (Jeremiah 2:19)
Our hope as a nation in the New Year must be firmly rooted in the church getting it right so the people can get it right so our leaders can get it right. We who have been given so much can do no less.