For the Lord’s Day, December 3, 2022
This Wednesday night we finished Ligonier Ministries’ Reformation 500 video series with a final Q&A panel discussion. Something in the end of the video, as you know, surprisingly rang out to me. And it was this:
“What about today? What is the biggest threat to Christianity in this century as you see it right now?”
Dr. Sinclair Ferguson answered with a startling statement of obvious deep conviction:
“Probably Christianity in this century. That’s a greater threat than Islam. Christendom is a far greater threat to Christianity than Islam is. Islam can never destroy the Gospel. But Christendom can easily destroy the Gospel, and is destroying the Gospel, where it has the Gospel in its hands destroying … the Church is the greatest threat to real Christianity in the world. God help us.”
This leads me to further reflect on last week’s e-devotion quoting a number of concerns about modern evangelicals in the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals’ Cambridge Declaration as cited in Here We Stand!: A Call from Confessing Evangelicals for a Modern Reformation, and also noting some sobering observations by David F. Wells in the first chapter of this book, entitled “Our Dying Culture.” I finished the chapter, and he has such an insightful understanding into why our country is degrading. Allow me to share more thoughts to meditate upon as we observe our culture and that of modern evangelicals (admittedly these are many quotes and this is a long message but I believe it is to our great benefit to muse upon them together as citizens of the USA and the Kingdom of Heaven within it but too much of it):
“We live precariously on the knife edge between chaos and control, for what was once an open space between law and freedom, one governed by character and truth, is now deserted. The result is that freedom is now unfettered and law must do double duty by assuming the role of character. That seems to be the best way to understand many of the cultural strains, the turmoil and disarray, which mark our time.
“This third domain is what must regulate life in the absence of legal coercion and government regulation. It is where law and restraint are self-imposed. The demands come from within, not from without. In this area we find what John Silber has called ‘obedience to the unenforceable,’ which was the language of English jurist John Fletcher Moulton earlier this century, who went on to say: ‘The real greatness of a nation, its true civilization, is measured by the extent of this land of obedience to the unenforceable. It measures the extent to which the nation trusts its citizens, and its area testifies to the way they behave in response to that trust.’
“Today the middle territory is shrinking daily as our understanding of ourselves as moral beings collapses, and it is being invaded by the two other domains. It is this fact that raises the most profound questions about American life. Law must now do what church, family, character, belief, and even cultural expectations once did. What is going to happen, then, if we keep stoking the fires of our rampant, amoral individualism and have to keep dousing those fires with greater and greater recourse to litigation and regulation? Our society is going to become a platform on which more and more collisions occur.”
This leads us to recall what John Adams said was necessary for our land of freedom to survive:
“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
“Freedom today is largely understood through the prism of our individualism.
“This reflex, then, carries with it a sense of entitlement to being left alone, to being able to live in a way that is emancipated from the demands and expectations of others, to being able to fashion one’s own life the way one wants to, to being able to develop one’s own values and beliefs in one’s own way, to being able to resist all authority. To be free in these ways, we think, is indispensable to being a true individual.
“Today’s individualist would rather be president than be right. It is not character that defines the way individualism functions today, but emancipation from values, from community, and from the past in order to pursue gain, of one kind or another, in the present.
“The autonomy to devise one’s own values, however, is precisely why the contemporary individualists do not find connections to the world. They are, Riesman says, ‘ignoring those issues of relatedness to others and commitment to keep intact the precarious structure of civilization,’ and this is partly why therapists have come to assume such a large role in our culture. What they try to do is to enable the self to make the adjustments necessary to find meaning in and connections to life, but this is often done under the language of enhancing the self, of enabling it to transcend itself, rather than that of limiting itself through moral obligation, service, self-sacrifice, and commitment to others. The therapist, in other words, is looking at life in ways that are, as Bellah argues, ‘generally hostile to the older ideas of moral order.’ Why is this? The answer, of course, is that technique has supplanted moral discourse, and the manipulation of the self has itself become the new (secular) religious order. Psychology is religion.
“And in the public realm what this means is that personality has come to supplant character in importance.
“As celebrities replace heroes, image replaces character, and commercial culture replaces that which is moral, we are left with a kind of individualism that simply festers with lawlessness because moral character is not its central interest. Indeed, it is not an interest at all.
“We lost our sense of ‘we’ in community, which was replaced by the lonely ‘I.'”
“The loss of moral centeredness … by supplanting … of moral purpose by self-interest, changed everything.
“Americans had been slow to see that as the old moral map faded they would be left, not with an alternative, but with no map at all.
“As our understanding of ourselves as moral beings has disappeared, the vacuum has now been filled by alternative anthropologies. These alternatives, however, are not only at the center of our cultural crisis; they are also at the center of our identity crisis. If we are not moral beings, who stand in the presence of God and before his Law, who are we?
“The more we indulge our moral and spiritual illusions, the more we have to douse the consequences by resorting more and more to law and litigation and the more we have to find palliatives for our own boredom, cynicism, and despair.
“When moral principle breaks down, of course, we are left with no other recourse than that of law … The alternative, unfortunately, is usually the evasion of moral responsibility. For on the underside of this multiculturalism is the cultivation of victimhood. This is at the confluence of the deep currents of individualism, the therapeutic framework in which we think, and the loss of the moral fabric to life. ‘The ethos of victimization,’ writes Charles Sykes, ‘has an endless capacity not only for exculpating one’s self from blame, washing away responsibility in a torrent of explanation … but also for projecting guilt onto others.’ This ‘depersonalization of blame’ is a sure symptom of the decay in our character and the loss of our older moral vision.
“It is this cultural dilemma that now drives the debate between Democrats and Republicans, the one wanting more law and the other more freedom, and we need to say, with respect, that both parties are both right and wrong …
“Republicans ask for more freedom, Democrats for more law, but freedom in the absence of public virtue is as disastrous as more law because of the absence of public virtue.
“The evangelical church has lost its nerve. At the very moment when boldness and courage are called for, what we see, all too often, is timidity and cowardice. Instead of confronting modernity, the church is capitulating to it. The gospel we should be preaching is one that offers an alternative to our cultural darkness; what the church is preaching is a gospel that too often reflects that cultural darkness. Because therapeutic language has often replaced that which is moral and the quest for wholeness has taken the place of holiness, sin has become dysfunction and salvation has become recovery. It is a gospel more about self-sufficiency than about Christ’s unique sufficiency, and it goes hand in hand with churches that prize marketing success above moral and spiritual authenticity.
“Designer religion … gives but never takes; it satisfies inner needs but never asks for repentance.
“This is no time for the evangelical world to lose its nerve. It is a time to recover a faith strong and virile enough to offer to our culture the alternative that it needs to hear.”
This book I’ve been quoting from was written in 1996! Alarmingly, Dr. Francis A. Schaeffer summarizes all his other many books in his, The Great Evangelical Disaster (written in 1984!), saying:
“Accommodation, accommodation. How the mindset of accommodation grows and expands. The last sixty years have given birth to a moral disaster, and what have we done? Sadly we must say that the evangelical world has been part of the disaster. More than this, the evangelical response itself has been a disaster. Where is the clear voice speaking to the crucial issues of the day with distinctively biblical, Christian answers? With tears we must say it is not there and that a large segment of the evangelcial world has become seduced by the world spirit of this present age. And more than this, we can expect the future to be a further disaster if the evangelical world does not take a stand for biblical truth and morality in the full spectrum of life. For the evangelical accommodation to the world of our age represents the removal of the last barrier against the breakdown of our culture.”
So there you have it. This is what is wrong with our culture. And what is wrong with our culture is the modern church. And the modern American church is the greatest danger to Christianity and thus to our country.
Let us be transformed by the renewing of our mind. For as we were reminded not long ago at the end of Philippians 3, such a broad immoral path wrapped in worldly evangelical speak would lead much of the Church into destruction of the eternal sort. And it is only in Jesus Who is the Way and by His ways that we shall be set free. Indeed!