What do we need to do to once again become a nation whose God is the Lord?
By Doug Reed
There are those who say that faith in God had nothing to do with the founding of the United States. Those who say such things ignore history. Just before the Revolutionary War there was a great revival we know as the First Great Awakening. It was such a move of God that it literally transformed the colonies. Before this mighty move of God’s Spirit, the colonies were plagued by alcoholism and lax morals. Some historians say that the colonists would not have had the backbone to stand up against the British if it was not for this first great revival. In fact, one of the Minute Men battle cries was “No King but Jesus!”
After the defeat of England and the advent of democracy, there was such hope in the newly formed United States that many thought Christ’s millennial kingdom was just about to begin. It was common thought that God would use the new nation to usher in His kingdom. In fact, on our dollar bill there is what is called the great seal of the United States. On the seal are the Latin words “NOVUS ORDO SECLORUM.” Above these words is the year 1776 written in Roman numerals. Translated this means “A new order of the ages.” Contrary to some conspiracy theories, Charles Thompson who chose this motto did not have secret “new age” thought in mind. Instead, he was most likely influenced by the popular belief that the United States would be used to usher in Christ’s millennial kingdom.
This feeling of hope and confidence endured in the US for almost a hundred years. Late in the nineteenth century it began to fade. This decline in faith accelerated in the twentieth century until today we wonder if we still are one nation under God. The question is where did that great hope in God go, and what do we need to do to become a nation whose God is the Lord? In this article we will look at two factors that have contributed to our nation’s decline in faith. There are many other factors, but these are two of the most important. We will conclude by discussing hope for the future.
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21)
The twentieth century was a time of enormous change in the United States. Our nation underwent more change in a shorter period of time than any civilization had before. We went from an agrarian society to an industrial society to an information or computer based society all in a hundred year period. With all this change came an enormous creation of wealth. It was so huge, we have difficulty grasping it. In one century our nation created more wealth than all the civilizations combined prior to the 20th century. Suddenly, the common man in the United States had more material possessions than any common man in history.
America’s new found wealth changed its society. In an agrarian or farm based economy the people’s focus is primarily getting what they need. The basic requirements are what people hope for. With all the creation of wealth, the focus of our nation went from what we need to what we want. Having our basic needs met was no longer enough. We had to have more and more.
Add to that the rise of Madison Avenue and modern advertising, and we have a recipe for materialism. Never had a people been so saturated by advertising. Advertising has become so ingrained in our culture that it is impossible to escape. Its message is that material things are the way to happiness. For example, we turn on the TV and see a product that five minutes before we never knew existed, and suddenly our lives are incomplete without it.
The 20th century saw the rise of what we call the “American Dream.” We began to define what a good and happy life is according to our possessions. Our dream of what a blessed life became radically different than the picture Jesus painted of a blessed life. We began to define “well off” in a way foreign to the kingdom of God. During the 20th century in no small way the material pushed out the spiritual. When a people seek earthly treasure at all costs, the cost usually is heavenly treasure. Thus, we became a nation with a full bank account and an empty soul.
Another thing that affected faith in God was the rise of skeptical thought. This actually goes back over 500 years to the rise of the modern paradigm. It has to do with the way people think. In the Medieval times the supernatural was the center of everything. For example, bad things were considered God’s judgment. Good things were His blessing. For the most part they did not think about natural causes for the events of life. It just was not in their paradigm to do so.
Sometime around the 15th century we see the rise of rationalism and modern reasoning. People began to question and analyze things they had never questioned or analyzed before. Did God really create human beings, or did we all evolve from apes? Did the Bible really happen or is it all myth? The modern paradigm brought some good things as people began to study the Bible like never before, but it also brought a hardening and skepticism against spiritual things. Gradually, God was removed from our educational system and in many ways pushed out of public life. He simply had no place in “the real world.” Many began to think that spirituality was best confined to the four walls of the church building. Christianity, instead of being the heart and soul of our culture, became a subculture.
If we take a look at the history of the United States in the 20th century, it is easy to see how these forces began to push God out of the American culture. Add to these horrific events such as World War I and World War II and various social upheavals such as the Industrial Revolution and the societal changes that began in the 1960’s, and the church was left in retreat. Its optimism lost, its motto became “why polish the brass on a sinking ship?” rather than “the new order of the ages.”
And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. 2Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
For they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
For they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
For they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
For they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
For they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
For they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
How do we stand in the midst of such cultural forces that seem so opposed to hope in God? I believe we must follow in the footsteps of our Lord Jesus. We don’t often realize how subversive the message and ministry of Jesus was. He redefined who was truly well off. In the beatitudes the word blessed can be translated “happy.” These twelve short verses paint a picture of a happy life. How different this picture is than what we call the American Dream.
If we are to challenge the culture, we must live lives that are subversive to the culture. The most valuable things we have are our relationship with God and our relationship with others. If we treasure our relationship with God and with those whom God has put in our lives, we are going to have a full life.
One problem is that we in the United States so easily lose sight of God’s dream for our lives. We are tempted to think that God’s dream for our lives is the American Dream. We are even told this by some. We hear countless messages about how God wants to prosper us and make us successful. Yet, God’s dream for us is not the American Dream. It is the Kingdom of God. We need countless messages about the kingdom more than we need more things.
I am not trying to say that we should live some sort of minimalist lifestyle. There is nothing wrong with material things. Yet, the world needs to know that things are not our treasure. Jesus is. And our culture needs to see our riches. They need to see once again who is really well off. Who is going to show them but God’s beloved?
The gospel of the Kingdom of God was counter to the culture of Jesus’ day. It turned upside down the world’s ideas about who was in and who was out, who was rich and who was poor, and who was great and who was not. Jesus promised that His kingdom had the power to subvert the kingdoms of this world. If we remain like our culture, we will have no power over it. If we seek first the kingdom of God, we will see the nation transforming power of Christ’s kingdom.
By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:35)
There are many arguments in our day that say the Bible is not true. There are those who say that what we need is a better argument than the skeptics. We need to prove wrong those who say that God did not create humanity. We need to prove wrong those who say the Bible is only myth. Yet, is a better argument what we need most?
Apologetics can be useful, and they have helped a lot of people. There is tremendous work being done in this field. However, we need more than that to win our culture. Many times, when it comes to the facts, many people are going to believe what they want to believe. I have engaged in internet debates (Something I have sworn never to do again!), and people’s bias becomes apparent after awhile.
We need something more than a good argument, and God has given it to us. In fact, He has given us something against which there is no argument. It is love. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” That is the greatest act of love that has ever been or ever will be. It is the greatest story ever told. Yet, we cannot just prove it is true with a good argument. We must show it is true.
Let the culture argue whether Jesus is real and the Bible is true. We will show them by the way we love one another. We live in a nation that has been saturated by gospel preaching more than any in history. We have more books, more church buildings, more Christian TV shows, and more Christian Web sites than any nation on earth. Yet, we must do more than preach the gospel. We must live it. We must become a living gospel. When out culture sees the gospel, they will want to hear the gospel.
In was in Antioch that believers were first called Christians. Actually, it was a derogatory term. The pagans thought of it not the believers. It meant “Little Christ.” In Antioch there were a bunch of people going around acting like Jesus in small ways. Yes, there were miracles, but that is not what impressed the pagans the most. In the writings of the day we see that what impressed them most was the way the believers loved people no one else would love.
One particular Christian community gained the title “The Community of the Kiss.” Paul wrote that Christians were to “greet one another with a holy kiss (Romans 16:16).” These early believers earned their title not just because they gave the kiss of greeting to each other. It was because they would kiss people no one else would kiss. They gave the holy kiss to the diseased, the sinners, the rejected, and the downtrodden.
I am not suggesting that we Christians go around kissing strangers. The early church lived in a culture different than ours. It was a common thing to give a kiss as a greeting. In our modern Western society we would most likely get a slap for such a display or at least a bad reputation. However, we can still keep the spirit of the holy kiss. We can love people no one else will love.
In the second century a pagan named Celus warned of the “dangers” of Christianity saying that “sick and sinful people were acceptable to their God, who would not cast them away, but sent His Son to serve them.”
In the fourth century the emperor Julian the Apostate wrote:
“These impious Galilleans give themselves to this kind of humanity: as men allure children with a cake, so they bring coverts to their impiety… Now we can see what makes Christians such powerful enemies of our gods. It is the brotherly love which they manifest toward strangers and toward the sick and the poor.”
Even these early pagans understood what would one day topple the paganism of the Roman Empire. It would be love. The love of Christ conquers all.
Likewise, the kingdom of God has the power to topple the powers in our culture that draw people’s hearts away from God. We live in a nation starved for love. We have all the counterfeits but little of the true thing. Who but God’s people can show our land the relentless love of Christ?
Do we want to change the culture of our nation? We must once again become subversive in the ways Jesus said we are to be subversive. We must love God and our neighbor. It is only as we do so that the kingdom of God becomes irresistible to our culture.