In my previous post I made the bold declaration that we evangelicals have failed. For that statement I was challenged by an old and dear, and highly respected friend. So here, today, I intend to defend that statement. “Yes, We Failed.” Please indulge me.
In that post I mentioned briefly a Christian group that I was involved with for a twelve-year stretch (1973-1985). It was known under several names, among them The Discipleship Movement, The Shepherding Movement, and The Covenant Church Movement.
There were many positive elements of this movement within the Charismatic/Evangelical community in America during that time period. Unfortunately there were also many bad things that happened. Sadly, pastoral authority was often abused and misused, and many people suffered wounds, some of them very deep. Marriages were destroyed. The faith of some was shipwrecked.
Fortunately for me, and for our little band in Northern Virginia, we escaped, for the most part, the really, really bad stuff. For that I am very grateful.
Well, as the saying goes, “You don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.” I haven’t.
There is much more to this story. You can Google “Shepherding Movement” and you’ll find all kinds of stuff, most of it negative. And I’ll be telling much more about my personal involvement with this movement in a several episode arc in my podcast project, NightWatch. The episodes are already in the can as I continue to build my collection for kickoff.
Anyway, the image above is a cover from the September, 1977 issue of the magazine published monthly by the leaders of this movement. The magazine was called New Wine. You can see the title of the month—Lawlessness. It’s a pretty heady title. But these were the kinds of themes that our leaders taught us about.
Let’s leap from 1977 to 2015. Thirty-eight years. In one sense, the theme of the New Wine issue shown on this page, pretty much sums up the state of our nation today.
OK, that’s some background. In my previous post I rattled off a litany of Biblical topics that are, for the most part, no longer being taught in America’s evangelical churches. If you don’t remember them or you didn’t read my previous post, go back and take a look. These Biblical topics are, in my view, musts for every serious Christian.
Two-hundred and twenty eight years ago, in the summer of 1787, our founders crafted our U.S. Constitution in Philadelphia. As the convention was wrapping up, Benjamin Franklin stepped out onto the cobblestone street. He was approached by a woman who asked him a question.
“Dr. Franklin, what have you given us?” came the query.
“A republic Madam, if you can keep it,” came the reply.
We have not. However, we did keep it for a good number of decades. Our founders, the crafters of this document, this Constitution, made it very, very clear that this new republic could only work if the people for whom it was created remained a moral and religious people. Here are some direct quotes from them regarding this necessity:
- John Adams: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
- John Adams: “It is the duty of the clergy to accommodate their discourses to the times, to preach against such sins as are most prevalent, and recommend such virtues as are most wanted. For example,—if exorbitant ambition and venality are predominant, ought they not to warn their hearers against those vices? If public spirit is much wanted, should they not inculcate this great virtue? If the rights and duties of Christian magistrates and subjects are disputed, should they not explain them, show their nature, ends, limitations, and restrictions, …”
- James Madison: “To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical (unrealistic, fanciful) idea.”
- Thomas Jefferson: “When virtue is banished, ambition invades the minds of those who are disposed to receive it, and avarice possesses the whole community.”
- George Washington: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim tribute to patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness–these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens … reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principles.”
- Benjamin Franklin: “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”
- Patrick Henry: “… Virtue, morality, and religion. This is the armor, my friend, and this alone that renders us invincible. These are the tactics we should study. If we lose these, we are conquered, fallen indeed . . . so long as our manners and principles remain sound, there is no danger.”
Are we not today seeing the consequences of neglecting this high call and responsibility?
Before some of you say what I have so often heard when I try and tell this story in some form, please allow me to just say it for you and let’s get this never-ending mantra part of this exercise out of the way. Here goes:
Yes, Benjamin Franklin was likely a Deist. John Adams was a Unitarian. Thomas Jefferson cut out parts of the New Testament he didn’t like and he, too, was probably a Deist. George Washington was probably a Deist too …
Blah, blah blah. I am so sick of hearing people tell me this. Like I don’t know. So I decided to beat them to the punch and just say it myself. Thanks. I feel better now.
And you know what? I don’t care. It doesn’t matter to me. Whether the founders named above were actual Christians or not, their ideas were shaped greatly by the Bible. And that is what counts as far as I’m concerned because it is the ideas, the truths, the principles that matter, not whether the people were actually Christians. Biblical ideas. Put into play. In all arenas of culture. This is what made America great. Not whether George Washington was actually a born again Christian, or not. Why is this so hard for some people to understand? So, for those of you who might have been inclined to offer those comments in the comment section on Facebook, I’ve taken care of it for you.
If you would like to learn what matters to me on this topic, and get a better handle on what I am trying to communicate about the Christian character of early America, may I suggest a book? Get The Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States. It was written by Benjamin Franklin Morris and published in 1864. In it, Morris provides a detailed account of the many, many civil institutions and leaders in our land who were shaped and molded and guided by Christian ideas and beliefs.
For generations, the Church in America pretty much kept up her part of the bargain. Not only was the Church invited to the table in governmental affairs, the Church often sat at the head of that table. For generations, the Church did her job in America and kept Americans in a relatively moral frame of mind. Not that all was wonderful. Some of us held slaves. We fought a civil war. We broke treaties with native Americans. So we certainly were not perfect.
But neither were we as lawless and morally bankrupt as we are today.
So, if as I have postulated in my title above that we have failed, how did we fail? To answer that question, we must go back to the mission statement:
“Go therefore andmake disciples ofall nations,baptizing theminthe name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching themto observe all thatI have commanded you. And behold,I am with you always, tothe end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20
We did just that for decades in America. Again, not perfectly, not without problems, not without failures. But even as I was growing up in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s, America could be considered, relatively speaking, a nation of moral and religious people. Not all were born again Christians. Not all were saved. Not all were regular churchgoers. Nor were all moral and religious. But for the most part, Americans were generally people of decent character.
Marriages and families held together. People generally agreed on what was right and what was wrong and tried their best to follow the ten commandments even though they knew they were sinners. Churches were not necessarily vibrant and exciting, but they still held sway and influence in communities and in people’s lives. People in government held outwardly to the standards and mores of the Christian way of life and didn’t shrink back from quoting from the Bible from time to time.
Even if things were relatively dead on the inside (and we’re still talking about my growing up years, here), the outward practices still reflected Christian ideals. Call it a residue from generations past. It was still a part of our lives, and even in her fading decades, the Church in America still exercised a fair degree of influence.
Now, jump ahead to the present. Godless, socialist ideologues control just about every institution in America, wielding their vain, secular, anti-God philosophies and trampling upon Christianity and Christian ideas.
- Who controls Washington? Godless, socialist ideologues.
- Who controls Washington’s bureaucracies? Godless, socialist ideologues.
- Who controls public education? Godless, socialist ideologues.
- Who controls institutions of higher learning? Godless, socialist ideologues.
- Who controls the news media? Godless, socialist ideologues.
- Who exercises the greatest influence on pop culture? Godless, socialist ideologues.
- Who controls big business? Vain, morally bereft, soulless manipulators.
Yeah … I’m generalizing. There are, of course, exceptions.
- “A republic if you can keep it.”
- “Only for a moral, religious and virtuous people.”
- “Make disciples of nations.”
- Our republic is pretty much in shambles.
- Virtue, morality, and true religion have, in a large way, fled the scene.
- The godless socialists now hold the seats of power and continue to disciple our nation.
Yes Church, we have failed. The evidence is right before our eyes. Obama isn’t the problem. The Democrats aren’t the problem. The wayward Republicans aren’t the problem.
We, Church, are the problem.
We had it. We had America. We counseled presidents and congressmen. We held many positions across the land in the judiciary. We sat at just about every table where important decisions were made. We ran a good number of the universities. We shaped the minds of Americans. Bibles could be found in almost every American home. We discipled the nation. We led. We were venerated.
And we lost it. America has slipped into depravity, from bottom to top. The Church no longer casts a vision or leads the way. We are now the tail on someone else’s dog, reduced to reacting to the decisions and actions of others. If that isn’t failure, I don’t know what is.
Allow me to clarify with one last point. Again, yes, I am speaking in generalities. Not all in our time, or over the last fifty or seventy-five years (however you’re counting) have failed. Many have been faithful to the call to make disciples and teach and preach the whole counsel of God. Just not enough of us to keep our country from marching blindly towards hell.
Why am I being so direct, so negative, so bold with my observations? Because if America is ever to return as the land of liberty, it can only begin with the Church taking stock of herself, and getting herself back into the mission laid out by our Lord – making disciples of nations. And if America does not return as the land of liberty, then what will become of our children and grandchildren? What will we have left them? A wasteland.
I have debated internally whether or not the tone of this article is too harsh, and whether perhaps I should soften it. I decided no. Consider this the extreme swing of the pendulum, meant to pull some toward the center.
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