“When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule, the people groan.”
I have a question: Are American Christians simply too comfortable enjoying the modern conveniences of the 21st century to do the difficult and demanding work of making disciples and building organizations that will have an impact on the ideas, individuals, images, and institutions shaping the direction of our nation?
The Left understands the power of ideas, individuals, images, and institutions. In fact, at the heart of the Left’s strategy to radically change American society is “the long, slow march through the institutions.” They have intentionally sought to infiltrate America’s culture-shaping institutions with persuasive individuals who promoted leftist ideas, and they have been masters at manipulating images to magnify their message.
The Left has been extremely patient and persistent in their master plan to control the social structures that create, shape, and transmit the beliefs and behavior patterns of human society. Their strategy has been very successful, and it is blatantly evident in the radical leftist worldview that now dominates nearly every university campus in our country. It is shamelessly displayed in the unrestrained bias of the mainstream media. It is reflected in the misguided and disastrous policies of the government.
Tragically, the Christian community has no comparable strategy for influencing and leading the culture-shaping institutions of our nation. In the decades following the Civil War and into the early 20th century, the church retreated from the primary institutions of our nation and sought refuge in its own isolated churches, colleges, seminaries, and organizations.
The church did not (and still does not) have a collective, coordinated, and disciplined strategy for leadership in science, government, business, education, media, and the arts. The reality is the church abandoned the culture-shaping institutions to the forces of secularism. It is no surprise, then, that these institutions — and our national culture — have become thoroughly secularized and hostile to the Christian faith.
What is surprising is that Christians are surprised.
If we want a rational, common-sense culture in America that honors the principles and traditions of our founding, it is necessary for the Christian community to develop and execute a multi-generational strategy for re-shaping American institutions by recovering and applying ideas based on timeless truth, disciplined research, and real world results. I say multi-generational, because only so much can be done in one generation. Deep cultural change requires focused and relentless effort over time. It requires faith, discipline, and perseverance.
The progressive left has faith, discipline, and perseverance in shaping our culture. Why doesn’t the church?
The success of such a strategy requires the full support of the church to encourage and equip Christ-centered individuals and institutions to earn the credibility to engage with the secular ideas, individuals, and institutions of our time. Again, this is a complex, challenging, multi-generation strategy. It will not happen quickly or easily.
I am not confident the Christian community understands the cultural reality, opportunity, and responsibility that lies before us. I fear we are satisfied with being saved and lack a clear and compelling vision for fulfilling the Lord’s command to have dominion and be salt and light. The result? While the Christian community enjoys the conveniences of modern life in America and is comfortable in its churches, the forces of secularism and cultural decay in our society grow ever stronger.
Consider this observation from Francis Schaeffer:
“I believe the majority of the silent majority, young and old, will sustain the loss of liberties without raising their voices as long as their own life-styles are not threatened. And since personal peace and affluence are so often the only values that count with the majority, politicians know that to be elected they must promise these things. Politics has largely become not a matter of the ideals of our founding—increasingly men and women are not stirred by the values of liberty and truth—but of supplying a constituency with a frosting of personal peace and affluence. They know that voices will not be raised as long as people have these things, or at least an illusion of them.”
Schaeffer wrote those words in the 70’s. Since that time, America’s cultural decay has continued unabated, secularism’s grip on the institutions has grown increasingly stronger, fundamental liberties are threatened and lost, darkness spreads deeper and wider … and the church still has no disciplined strategy to impact and influence the institutions that dominate American society.
It is time — indeed, long past time — for the church to respond to the call of Jesus to be salt and light in the culture. I contend that our impact in our generation will be greatly enhanced if Christians address and restore the integrity of the church.
I love the vision that Colson and Pearcey cast in their book How Now Shall We Live? They write:
“God cares not only about redeeming souls but also about restoring his creation. He calls us to be agents not only of his saving grace but also of his common grace. Our job is not only to build up the church but also to build a society to the glory of God. As agents of God’s common grace, we are called to help sustain and renew his creation, to uphold the created institutions of family and society, to pursue science and scholarship, to create works of art and beauty, and to heal and help those suffering from the results of the Fall.”