If the foundations be destroyed,
What can the righteous do?
I am retired one day now, and during this past year I have often found myself shaking my head in incredulousness at where our general society is headed. I am an old man who has watched the Fourth Great Awakening turn into what I call the Great Slide, one of many in our history in which we seem to go so far from our Christian heritage. We seem to be moving off base more and more each day, with the very foundations of what we have counted on as basic virtues. But, I remind myself, there are a couple of things that have brought us to this viewpoint, and I want to write a bit about that in this post.
It is generally true that we are losing our fundamentals, and our foundations are being destroyed, and one only has to read the provocative piece (I am, after all, a public school teacher) from Cal Thomas, recommending that all Christians consider desisting from the public schools until the school administrators “wake up”, to realize that many Christians are rightfully alarmed. But we have been several lifetimes getting here, and I would like to point to a couple of particulars that have helped bring us this awful point.
Says the scripture, sin is a reproach to any people, but righteousness exalts a nation. In our eager pursuit of righteousness, we have erred mostly in our unwillingness to acknowledge sin as sin. Instead, we have attempted to exalt tolerance as the cardinal virtue, allowing it to become the primal lens with which we view ourselves. Tolerance has gained its prominent place largely because of the sins of prior generations. For hundreds of years our nations endured racism and a system where people often were categorized unfairly solely by the color of their skin.
As a fourth grade teacher, I have watched the last decade of kids routinely accuse one another of “racism” with nearly every innocent remark. At the age of nine and ten, they have little understanding of the term, but their very remarks suggest that our society is hyper-acutely aware of this thing called “racism”. Teaching children to tolerate and respect one another is now harder than ever, if only because we have so much to unteach. In that same Cal Thomas article I linked above, Thomas refers to a stand-up comedian who routinely refuses to speak to college groups because they are so charged up with their misunderstandings of tolerance. Evidently the comedian has come to understand some of the veil that is blinding our hearts.
Biblical tolerance was taught during Roman times, when women were seldom included in anything important, and nearly one-half of the population was enslaved to the other half. During these troubled times, Paul penned words which have echoed down the halls of history, and still ring so soundly today. Paul, interestingly enough, has been hated by various groups for his teaching of the place of women, but those who interpret Paul in this way have little understanding of his important declarations. These declarations, properly understood, were against everything the Roman Empire stood for. “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13). Here he, a jewel of Jews, makes Jews and Gentiles to be equal, both slave and free. In another statement he goes even further, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). When we look around ancient literature, or ancient societies, there is little that would or could compare with this epic statement of equality, and it is on that basis that much of our modern republic is based. And therein is the problem.
Early American Christians conceived of a society which would tolerate all beliefs because we believed devoutly in this commonality of man. We declare, as a nation, that “all men are created equal”, and though slavery was a glaring inconsistency in our history, in time these words came to have fuller meaning, based, I think, on these same great statements of Paul. But that is exactly the problem! Paul is applying these great statements to Christians, evidenced in the Galatians statement that we are all one in Christ Jesus. It is our common faith which makes the equality, and equality without that faith I fear we are learning to our dismay is license to flee from godly things.
And so we come to a place where the American experiment de Tocqueville so admired, and who wondered whether it would last, is finally coming to an end. And perhaps it is. We much depended on the Christian influence of our democracy, and if that influence fades we will lose those cherished freedoms also. Look at the other democracies of the world, and nowhere will you find any democratic republic which has tolerated so successfully such a diverse people. In the end, though, diversity is not to be celebrated as the end—rather all are measured by the same yardstick, and all must answer the question to God, “What have you done with my Son?” The battle is not over yet—for our history teaches us that miracles of renewal and revival can happen again and again. The question of focus is whether the Christians of the next generation will boldly speak out, or whether they will choose to fade, as so many of the present generation have, into the sunset of false tolerance and diversity.
Historically, our problem is similar to that of the Corinthians. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he remonstrates the church because they are “tolerating” the sin of a man choosing to live with his father’s wife. The church of Corinth, even as the nation of America, was quite proud of their tolerance. Did they not love? Did they not have the very love of God for every situation and every relationship? Paul reminded them of their obligation to live and walk in purity, and with that holiness in mind, Paul commanded them to put this man out of the church, that they might attend properly to the things of God. In the next letter, the man evidently repenting of his sin, is still being condemned by the church. After all, had not the apostle commanded them to put him out? Yet, in this letter Paul commands them to have mercy and forgiveness for the same man, lest the church be used of the devil and fall under condemnation. There is forgiveness for every sin to those who find faith, and repentance surely brings the mercy of our heavenly Father.
The analogy of course breaks down, for I am comparing a church to a nation. One was supposed to be full of those who had faith in the Son of God; the other is full of many who hate God, or who are blinded by this world, and do not see. And yet we of the nation appreciate the fact of our fall, for who can believe that our new sexual freedom is going to bring us closer to God? It is only our renewal to the things of God, and revival from the Spirit of God which will renew us as a nation toward the things of God. But it was never meant to be complete, as the church is complete. Rather it was a place where we tolerated those with the wrong faith, hoping, often in vain, that they might find a better way.
Most of my generation became afraid of offending someone and so we kept quiet, one testimony at a time, and that more than anything, has led to the Great Slide where our nation has moved and forgotten its roots. We are given those cherished freedoms as an “unalienable” rights, but we have forgotten the Giver, and when we forget the Giver we also forget all proper use of his gifts. It is to be expected that all sorts of deviant behavior is tolerated, and even encouraged, for our people have forgotten their Giver.
I am reminded of Tennessee Ernie Ford who so bravely insisted to Hollywood that he close his famous show each night with a Christian hymn. Hollywood, horrified at the controversy, was reluctant to give him permission, and Ford was able to win his case only by his persistence. He made a famous moment in history, where the things of God were able to be sung, and most of America came to Ford’s side against the common wisdom of Hollywood. In that generation a great battle for Christianity was won, and perhaps the Fourth Great Awakening was prepared in part on the basis of that battle. If Tennessee Ernie Ford won a battle it was temporary, and I suggest that we have lost the war for the hearts and souls of America because we are so afraid of “offending” someone, or we are so afraid of appearing “intolerant” that we scarcely whisper, let alone sing, the glorious freeing gospel of Jesus Christ.
Jesus reminds us that we are given the Rock of offense, and he would remind us that he is not come to bring peace, but rather a sword. The next generation of American Christians will surely be put to the test—will they be willing to offend in order that they may share the truth? Revival may yet come for Christians, if they will but hunger and thirst for righteousness. We need to remember the often admonition of the Psalmist, who said, “I shall not be moved.” Look and learn the things of God, and declare to a lost generation, “I shall not be moved”.