From the conversion of Constantine (312 A.D.) until the middle of the 20th century, western civilization and Christianity have been viewed as virtually synonymous. However, though commentators disagree on its point in history, Christianity has lost its influence in society.
Christianity Has Lost Its Saltiness
For example, psychohistorian Rudolph Binion writes, "Christianity lost its credibility by and large in the course of the eighteenth century."1 In a volume replete with historiographical resources, Binion makes a fine argument for what he calls "Christianity in collapse." Through extensive literature analysis and polling data, Binion asserts that though western society retains links to historic Christian doctrines, it has shed itself of belief.
In a more recent publication Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey claim, "[T]oday's culture not only is post-Christian but is also rapidly becoming postmodernist, which means it is resistant not only to Christian truth claims, but to any truth claims."2
Evidence that Christianity has lost its leadership role and moral influence in western culture can be found without difficulty. We need look no further than the church. Denominational debates seldom focus on doctrine today. Discussion will more likely center on social policy. The ordination of homosexual clergy and marriage rites for homosexual parishioners have long trumped doctrinal debate as fodder for the annual meeting of most church groups. Mainline churches advocate the availability of abortion services, but few argue against the growing Sunday youth soccer schedule. Sunday school curriculum, where any at all is used, is often infused with the Values Clarification thinking of Sidney Simon.3 This philosophy teaches that there are no right or wrong values. We simply must be clear as to what our individual values are.
Robert Bork, in Slouching Towards Gomorrah, captures the decline of the influence of Christianity this way:
It is not helpful that the ideas of salvation and damnation, of sin and virtue, which once played major roles in Christian belief, are now almost never heard in the mainline churches. The sermons and homilies are now almost exclusively about love, kindness, and eternal life. That may be regarded, particularly by the sentimental, as an improvement in humaneness, indeed in civility, but it also means an alteration in the teaching of Christianity that makes the religion less powerful as a moral force.4
Humanism Is the New Religion of the West
Despite the demise of Christianity as its moral anchor, western civilization is still associated with a religion. That religion is humanism. In a religion that is self-centered, there is no room for a God who asks for repentance or obedience. There is only the drive to homogenize all experience, to make life easier and more palatable for the masses. R.J. Rushdoony, 40 years ago, warned of the logical conclusions of humanism. He wrote, "In all religious faiths, one of the inevitable requirements of logical thought asserts itself in a demand for the unity of the godhead. Hence, since humanity is god, there can be no division in this godhead, humanity. Mankind must therefore be forced to unite."5 "The goal," Rushdoony adds, "is not communion but uniformity." This lemming-like march toward sameness, he asserts, leads to a "pro-one-world" philosophy that pursues pacifism, yet actually requires war, "in that it insists on irreconcilable and contradictory things."6 This crying of "peace, peace" where there is no peace is but one indication that humanism is a flawed replacement for the Christianity of our fathers. Rushdoony insists that Christians must resist this "leveling." Referring to the concept of a United Nations, the outgrowth of humanism, he writes:
First, it insists on uniting a world and leveling all differences…. Second, it seeks to create a super-state which must increasingly coerce every state, civil government, and person into line with its dream of messianic power. Third, it seeks to arrest history and freeze it into a particular mold in terms of Enlightenment thought. Inevitably, this faith is anti-Christian, and a conflict with Christianity is requisite to its being.7 [Emphasis added.]
Reasserting Christian Influence
In order for Christianity to reassert its proper place in western (and eastern) culture, it must first reclaim the churches. Orthodox Christian theology indicates, of course, that Christianity will never be "dead." Certainly, however, it is in need of doctors — spiritual doctors. The condition of the patient has worsened because of the malpractice of the spiritual doctors. The world does not know or understand Christianity because we have not taught it. The leadership of the church needs to extricate itself from the many "isms" and "programs" it is following down the path to humanism and reassert the primacy of Scripture. The very fact that mankind will not allow the Christian memory to die confirms the fact that a spiritual thirst still exists. Seeking some kind of spiritual fulfillment, men and women are casting about trying to find some good news.
An acquaintance with Biblical doctrines is the surest inoculation against runaway humanism. In his plea for preachers who will preach to the heart, Sinclair Ferguson stated, "When there is the exposition of the Scriptures, an enlargement and opening of the preacher's heart, and the exposing of the hearts of the hearers, then the majesty of the Word of God written will be self-evident and the presence of the Word of God incarnate will stand forth in all His glory."8 When we get the relationship between the Creator and His creation right, we can hardly continue to place man in the position reserved for God.
Avoiding Entangling Alliances
A second step toward the repositioning of Christianity within the society is to take the advice of President George Washington, who warned the fledgling United States to avoid entangling alliances. In recent years conservative Christians have bonded with the Republican Party. Branding the other party "liberal," Christian leaders have allowed themselves to be co-opted by the political leaders of their party. Yet, many of the elected officials and political operatives of the Republican Party openly stand for abortion rights, homosexual marriage, and other anti-Christian policies.
Some Christians have simply opted out of politics altogether. This would seem a foolhardy approach, since Christians are called to positively affect the society in which they live. Rather, a careful assessment of candidates, on an individual basis is a more reasonable approach than endorsement of a platform full of humanistic platitudes. Failing to find candidates who are willing to stand for truth and justice as expressed in God's Word might just require Christians to find better candidates — or run for office themselves.
Neither political party is the party of God. Neither is the Christian party. As attitudes and beliefs ebb and flow, politicians adjust to the shifting sands beneath their feet. If Christians are to retake the moral and political high ground, and reassert Christian morality and practice in this land, they need to be wise in their choices and not go along with the "moderates" in the allegedly conservative party.
Proclaim His Wondrous Deeds
Christianity will not magically become the ethos of the land once more. Christians must be willing to work to bring it back to prominence. We are to be the first to model our repentance and obedience to the law of God. We should pray for our land — for our family members, neighbors, and strangers. We are called to work on behalf of the fatherless and widow, and to seek justice. As Colson and Pearcey put it, "We must be men and women who will dare to wrest Christianity free from its fortress mentality, its sanctuary stronghold, and establish it once again as the great life system and cultural force that acknowledges the Creator as sovereign over all."9
Christianity has lost the West, not to invasion or military conquest, but to self-centeredness and smugness. We have "claimed to be wise" and "exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and animals and reptiles" (Rom. 1:22-23). All is not lost. God will use even the weakest of His creatures for His glory. "For the foolishness of God is wiser than Man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength"(1 Cor. 1:25).
1. Rudolph Binion, After Christianity (Durango: This Independent Republic (Vallecito: Ross House Books, 2001), p. 130.
6. Ibid., p.131.
8. Sinclair Ferguson, "Preaching to the Heart," in Feed My Sheep (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Ministries, 2002), pp. 196-7.
9. Colson and Pearcy, p. 36.
- Curt Lovelace
Curt Lovelace is a small town pastor and a student of history. He has finally moved to Maine where, when asked if he would like to declare a political affiliation on his voter registration card, he politely declined.