Marti and I just returned to England from a brief trip to Colorado where we connected again with family, friends, and home church. As always, we were refreshed by the beauty of the mountains and desert, enjoyed long walks and climbs. Both of us grew up in less populated communities and we like the benefits of more space and less traffic.
We all know that the USA, and Western societies in general, have been drifting away from Biblical Christian values for a long time, but the pace can no longer be described as “drifting away”. Now it appears to be a headlong rush into beliefs and values that are untried in any major culture until now.
No true truth?
The original post-modern philosophy has continued to evolve. There was substantial truth in the idea that a given text or event can be experienced and recounted in many ways—ultimately as many ways as there were people having the experience. That idea morphed into the unworkable assumption that each person has their own truth and there is no such thing as “true truth”. By that I mean objective truth; truth that exists independently of what people think is true.
Attacking our children
That has, in turn, set people and groups of people against one another in ways that were unimaginable a few decades ago. That was illustrated when we had a conversation with the parents of a 12-year-old girl. A few weeks earlier, she had phoned her mother in tears from the school to plead with her to come get her because she could not return to the classroom. Her teacher had made her feel so guilty for being white that she couldn’t face her another day, nor the non-white members of her class.
What made this incident more troubling is that the class was a bi-lingual group of young people who had been together through several years of schooling without racial tension, and their friendships had been oblivious to race. But the anti-racist teaching (a departure from the official curriculum) divided friends from friends along racial lines.
I needn’t go on with more examples. There are so many of them, and you will have some of your own!
The Prince of Peace, or a fight for power?
This rush into a new belief system looks like it could thoroughly displace Christianity (or what we might call Civil Christianity) with different beliefs. These are based upon seeing the world through the paradigm of struggles for power between competing groups.
Should we be lamenting these rapid and dramatic changes?
Yes and no.
Yes—because Civil Christianity produced a measure of individual freedom and prosperity that is unprecedented in human history. The limited number of Biblical values embraced by society at large, were short of New Testament faith, but still resulted in low crime, high innovation, great individual opportunity and more. That is not to say that those benefits were equally distributed, but it was widely recognised that they should be available to all—as much as possible in a “fallen” world. That system was always flawed, but most people recognised it had to be improved rather than discarded all together.
The power of teachers and professors
There were, however, some influential intellectuals, mostly in academia, who claimed that Civil Christianity, and the democracies that sprang from it, were fatally flawed, could never be reformed, and had to be destroyed. That view has come to dominate much of our educational system, from the Universities first, right down to pre-schools now. Yes, we should lament the erosion of all those benefits and the pain being suffered by our children.
The future could still be bright!
There might, however, be a reason to celebrate.
Civil Christianity was something of a vaccination against the real thing. The entertainment industry has been stuck on the theme of the hypocrisy of Church-going people for decades. And it was true—though not as universally true as depicted. But there was never more than a small minority who were fully committed to loving God “with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength and their neighbour as themselves”. The social and civil commitment to Churchgoing provided common values for our societies, but also provided false comfort for millions, each of whom thought of themselves as a “good person”, with no need of redemption or a genuine faith. As a result, there was a superficial gloss of good appearance which often hid corruption, greed, and immorality that damaged millions of people.
The good news is that, when we the darkness seems overwhelming, the light is much easier to see. That’s what happened in the earliest days of the Church and it has happened several times since.
Drawn to the light in Odessa
Many years ago, I was travelling through the USSR with a group of young Christians. We spent a few nights in a campground near Odessa, Ukraine and a young man named Igor visited our camp. He spoke good English and immediately began to ask questions about Christian faith. He was proud to have come into possession of a copy of the soundtrack to “Jesus Christ Superstar!” Our conversations demonstrated that, when our spiritual dimension is denied and forbidden, the hunger for spiritual life grows and grows.
Truth can be demonstrated by statistics
The proof of that truism is not just anecdotal. The greatest numerical growth in the history of Christianity was in China during the decades when faith in God was most persecuted. From about 1952 until the early 1990s, Christians and adherents to other religions were hated and feared by the Communist regime and yet the Church grew from just over half a million to over 50 million—and possibly double that number.
Iran provides another illustration of growth under pressure. Students of Church Growth have noted that the greatest percentage growth of the Church under any regime has been from the inception of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979 until now.
Opposition makes us stronger
When the governmental powers of a nation are opposed to Christian faith, then hunger for true Christianity grows—often dramatically.
Though we lament on one hand; on the other we see a cause to celebrate. The beauty of Jesus Christ is no longer obscured by a counterfeit; evil is clearly seen to be evil and people of Christian faith standout in contrast to it. In other words, it is possible that the stage is being set for “the great end-times ingathering”.
If that lies before us soon, what does it mean to sincere Christians now? I think Peter writes it well in his first letter, chapter 1 and verse 7.
These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So, when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honour on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.