What Shall We Now Do?

Published in Spintech, October, 1999.

One of the major controversies in the Christian community this year has been the defection of several former leaders of the Religious Right. Former Moral Majority insiders journalist Cal Thomas and Reverend Ed Dobson released a book entitled Blinded by Might: Can the Religious Right save America? In Thomas' words, "it must now be acknowledged that we have failed." In February, Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation, the man who coined the phrase "moral majority" wrote a letter to his supporters stating that no "moral majority" exists, and that whatever influence conservative political victories may have had has been superceded by a rapidly decaying culture. Finally, former Nixon attorney turned evangelist Charles Colson has released a book entitled How Shall We Now Live? which describes how Christians should live in a post-Christian culture.

I have not read Colson's book, although I am very interested. Aside from paraphrasing the book's title (which Colson in turn paraphrased from Francis Schaeffer's How Shall We Then Live?), I have decided to confine the ideas in this essay to my thoughts and those of Mr. Buff Scott of Phoenix, Arizona. This is a continuation of last month' essay on this page about the Cult of the Omnipotent State: Cliche or Reality? Mr. Scott edits a web page and mailing list known as Reformation Rumblings, which have as their aim stripping away so much of the excess baggage which our culture, including many professing Christian churches, has heaped on to Christianity.

In late August, Mr. Scott sent two e-mails dealing with the characteristics of a cult as well as how to distinguish a cult from a non-cult. Last month I dealt with the cultish features of the modern superstate and its supporters in the government, media, church, business, and education. This month, I will deal with the proper Christian response to a decaying culture.

Perhaps this sounds arrogant, but I am convinced that most people do not seriously care about politics. I do not say this to condemn them, as many of them want good things. They want safe streets, good schools, strong families, a prosperous economy, and so forth. They read the papers, they vote, and they genuinely care about the kind of society in which they live. However, they have been misled by the government, media, schools, and -- this is sad -- a Christian establishment which has sold out to the secular state by placing their hope in their government's ability to save America. If we just elect enough of the right people and pass enough of the right laws, we are told, we can have the kind of country we want.

What follows is a list of Mr. Scott's 12 characteristics of how to distinguish a cult from a non-cult (in blue italics)and an analysis (in plain type) of how Christians can be most effective in applying these principles to create a better, freer America.

(1) They confess to being redeemed sinners in need of God's grace.
Living differently from the rest of society does not mean living like pharisees. Bumperstickers rarely make for good social philosophy, but the words of a popular Christian bumpersticker must resonate in our minds: "Christians are not perfect, just forgiven." The more we do this, the fewer people we will alienate, and the more people will take an interest in how a personal relationship with Jesus can transform their lives. Our personal examples speak far more powerfully than our political activity.

(2) Money, elaborate edifices, plush offices, power, and control do not occupy their time and energy. Rather, ministering to any in need and sharing as a communal people are accentuated.
In Jesus' words, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave -- just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve." (Matthew 10:25-28) What secular hero, or for that matter, what hero of any other faith washed people's feet? (John 13:5) Yes, there is a role for government, and, yes, those Christians who are called should serve in government. However, perpetuating our current Leviathan state is not going to bring us the kind of society we say we want. The Bible never promises us this, and we are lying to ourselves and to the secular world if we promise it to others. Mother Teresa and the folks down at your local rescue mission command far more respect from the world than do the folks in the Christian Coalition. Why? Because their daily lives are far more genuine.

(3) They see themselves as only part of the one body of believers, and affirm that wherever God has a child, they have a brother or sister.

Although I am not formally a member of any church, I am active in an evangelical Presbyterian church in suburban Denver. The Evangelical Presbyterian Church of America has as its motto: "In the essentials unity, in the non-essentials liberty, and in all things charity."

Christians are always going to have differences. Indeed, Romans 14 (the great "Chill Out!" chapter) instructs us not to judge one another when it comes to debatable matters. Rather, our priority must lie in acknowledging Jesus as Lord and Saviour, and encouraging others to do the same. Once enough of us acknowledge Jesus, and walk with Him daily (I confess I do a pretty rotten job sometimes.) will we start seeing the kind of society we say we want. And this will happen in God's time, not ours.

Some of you might not like this, but one's political views, lifestyle, and sexual proclivities are not going to change overnight. Just because one homosexual received Jesus and immediately cast off his perverted lust, does not mean that all homosexuals who come to Christ will cast off this lust immediately. Chances are your salvation experience was not like Paul's (Acts 9). I did not arrive at everything I believe overnight, and you probably did not either. The abortionist, the homosexual, the coke fiend, and -- yes -- even the chairman of the local Clinton-for-President committee are far more in need of Jesus than they are of your political program.

We need not approve of someone else's behavior. However, there is only one thing which will bring about real change in their life.

(4) They do not claim to have the truth cornered or God corralled.
Please see remarks after paragraph 3.

(5) They comfortably acknowledge their mistakes and weaknesses, believing God shames the proud but extends grace to the humble.
We can pass all the social legislation we want, but it count for nothing if we do not change on the inside. In Luke 18:10-14, Jesus tells the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector. The Pharisee thanked God that he was, oh, such a morally superior person. The tax collector, on the other hand said, "God have mercy on me, a sinner." Jesus states that it was the tax collector who went home justified before God.
Where are our priorities? Are they in passing laws and congratulating ourselves as if we have "done something"? Or do we focus on living our daily lives in a godly manner? Christians divorce at a rate which is just about commensurate with the secular world. There is a substantial abortion rate among professing Christians. It is commonplace for Christian kids to experiment with drugs. Christians have extramarital affairs at an alarming rate.
The world is watching our actions, which speak far more loudly than our words. When they see so many Christians living such un-Christian lives, they are unlikely to want to commit their lives to Jesus, and much less likely to be influenced by Christian political agendas.

(6) They are believers only, but not the only believers.
Please see remarks after paragraph 3.

(7) They place their confidence in Messiah Jesus, not in flesh and blood or palpable organizations.
In Romans 7:21-25, Paul agonizes about the sin which is so abundant in his life. However, he does not ask the Roman authorities to close down all the strip joints, adult book stores and gambling casinos. Instead he cries out, "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of sin and death? Thanks be to God -- through Jesus Christ our Lord!"
Our experiences with Prohibition, the Drug War, and gun control ought to teach us that superficial restraints on our behavior do not make us better people. If our Christian leaders spent as much time on reaching people with the Gospel as they did in these totally futile social crusades, they just might be pleasantly surprised by the way people turned their lives around without coercion.

(8) They view heaven as life hereafter, not earth as heaven.
God never promises us heaven on earth, or even the elimination of certain social ills. Why, then, are Christians so quick to believe politicians who make these promises? In the 1980s, it was very fashionable for liberal clergymen to visit Communist-run Nicaragua, and come back proclaiming, "I have seen the future and it works!" Today, we hear about the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, which is about as attainable as a stupidity-free America. Utopia is not one of our options.

(9) They accept all those God accepts, and they love those the world hates.
Please see remarks after paragraph 3.

(10) They do not seek public recognition or fear public scrutiny.
In Matthew 6:1-2, Jesus says, "Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets ... to be honored by men." We are to do good works to glorify God, and not to seek recognition from men, whose motives are impure and always changing. Where is there a statist cause whose leaders do not broadcast their victories for all the world to see and hear?
Concerning public scrutiny, if we are concerned with honoring God, we need not emphasize what the world may think. Yes, we want to world to look on us favorably, but this is not nearly as important as doing what is right in God's eyes.

(11) They do not make unrealistic claims or promote ridiculous agendas.
Please see remarks after paragraphs 7 and 8.

(12) They see Jesus as a healer, redeemer, and peacemaker, not as a conspirator or false prophet.
Christian political activists always assure us that God is on their side. This is ridiculous. A chaplain of a football team is foolish to ask for victory in a pre-game prayer. Likewise, we are foolish to think that God is always going to want us to win political victories. (I have been in prayer meetings when this has happened.) He has far more important things on His mind than election returns.
When the Bible speaks of God's government (Isaiah 9:6), it is of a government over our hearts. When Jesus issues the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), He says nothing about the use of force or the attainment of political power.
Although Jesus had no political agenda, He was profoundly concerned with how we live our lives. "The word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword..." (Hebrews 4:12-13) Christians have far more powerful weapons at their disposal than governments, which must rely on brute force, or the threat thereof.
Why would Jesus use second-rate weaponry to build his Kingdom? Why do we Christians want to rely on second-rate weaponry? When we do this, we fail to attain our earthly goals, and also paint a false picture of Jesus.
None of this is meant to say that Christians should not be involved in politics. Indeed, much of my page is concerned with political activism. Please check back next month to see specifically how Christians should be involved in government.

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Freely Speaking: Speeches and Essays by Doug Newman

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