"I sought for the key to the greatness of America in her harbors; in her fertile fields and boundless forests; in her rich mines and vast world commerce; in her public school system and institutions of learning. I sought for it in her democratic Congress and in her matchless Constitution. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America ceases to be great." Alexis de Tocqueville - (1805-1859)
You are going to think it is strange that I will write of American values from the Book of Proverbs this morning. But I think one of the deep pains in my heart is the decay and despondency surrounding the country that I do deeply love.
Now, to be fair- in the New Administration of the Covenant of Grace- there seems to be less emphasis on nations and more emphasis put on individuals who live and serve as part of the invisible church- the true church- made up of true believers and sprinkled in various ways among nations and throughout the visible church. The one true church is catholic (universal)- it is unified- and manifests itself as the body of Christ and the bride of Christ.
But even though it is hotly debated- I have no problem arguing that what made America great- what made her version of a republic special- was the large influence and application of Biblical principles deeply rooted in genuine gospel response.
The only way our particular form of freedom can work is that the people themselves are lovingly constrained by the actions of gospel transformed people. For example, capitalism cannot work if the primary heart motive of entrepreneurs is GREED. Our form of free market enterprise was held within beautiful parameters by a positive pressure of godliness.
This does not mean that all Americans have been or are christians- but we had within our founding fathers- within our early immigrants- within our homesteaders- a general consensus that God's moral law- the application of the 10 commandments- and the example of the golden rule was the correct direction for a home, a business, a farm, a state, and a nation.
When I read Proverbs 28- I get sad- because I see all we have lost. When President Bush was fighting hard to export American freedom to the world because of its universal heart cry- I never really bought into it- because freedom without Christ and His example- and His forgiveness- only produces anarchy.
Quick example from history- the American Revolution was nobel and constructive because of Biblical standards. Soon after, the French Revolution was brutal and destructive because of the lack of the overall constraint of those standards.
Every time I bring these things up, I hear the whiners and revisionists and critics- Frankly, I'm getting weary of hearing their dogma.
What has happened to America?
vs 1- The wicked retreat and very few righteous men are standing firm. Ultimately, it is the RETREAT of the church that has led to fast decay and darkness. The American church at large is fairly weak and irrelevant. There is not much momentum of gospel proclamation and personal discipleship. The causes are many and can be best diagnosed by a close study of Revelation 2 and 3. By the way- don't get discouraged if the church struggles- it has been that way since the first century- but we are far below the commendations of those churches and high in the "I have this against you" lists. A couple of quick points on this: 1) The 'invisible' church is faithful and doing Christ's work- the gospel is never hindered- but it can be hidden. 2) It is never as bad as it looks- though our media messages paint it a much more lost cause. 3) We often point to 'preachers' as the problem- but the answer is not in pulpit proclamation but personal evangelism and discipleship. We will not change America by filling the pews- we will change America by walking/talking/proclaiming/defending the good news of Christ in the marketplace.
I'm sad to report that we think the change comes from a neat slogan printed on a cool sign to advertise our newest catchy program.... no- the only fundamental that effectively causes church expansion is evangelism (1 to 1) and discipleship (1 disciple leader to 2 or 3 disciples who go on to do the same). Sure prayer, prep, worship, Bible study are all in that... but until we are willing to have our boots on the ground in this culture war we will realize that the 'air campaign' is not as effective as we would desire.
vs 2- Weak Leadership. There is a huge leadership crisis in this country. We are bogged down by shareholders and gallup polling. Even a session led church needs a few leaders who stand and sell in wisdom and understanding. Where are the Thomas Jeffersons and Abe Lincolns? Part of the problem is that we have become a celebrity image culture- we choose our leaders on star power and appeal- rather that a solid criteria of courage and character. Now, I will surprise you here a little- the problem is not the politicians- it is the people and the pressures we put as far as expectations are concerned. "When a land transgresses, it has many rulers, but with a man of understanding and knowledge, its stability will long continue." We all need to pray for that man or woman who will lead from truth and stand firm- then we need to follow them even if the road is difficult. This is not just in government- this is in every walk of life.
Poor economic fundamentals. "A poor man who oppresses the poor"- better is a poor man with integrity that a rich man who is crooked- gathered revenue ends up with him who is generous to the poor- a rich man is wise in his own eyes- he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty- whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished- a man who robs his parents and says 'no big deal' is companion to a destroyer- a greedy man stirs up strife- whoever gives to the poor will not want...."
Throughout Proverbs- we see a lot of principles regarding wealth. And a full survey of what even this chapter says will show us how out of wack we are. Our 'love of luxury' has produced a vicious cycle that is now a looming debt crisis. Our growth is dependent on consumerism and not in production. Our only hope is to forsake the lavish lifestyle and live within our means. We need to honor companies that work for more than just the outlay to shareholders. By the way- the thought that we can legislate this is preposterous- capitalism works in a free market with the right to private ownership but it requires an internal, godly pressure toward true, heartfelt generosity. Again, as the church retreats we become dependent on the government to rescue- and that has led to entitlements which we cannot afford. The love of luxury and increased dependency to live off the state is what stretches the gap between the haves and have nots so tightly that it is about to snap. Just a personal note: I think the politicians who play 'race card' and 'class warfare' cards to scare voter are the lowest of the low- and put our Union in jeopardy to win seats of power.
Little thought/actions/models of character. "wicked flee- land transgresses- oppression of poor- forsaking the law- misunderstanding of justice- crooked ways- shaming of parents- ignoring the law- misleading of the innocent- rise of wicked rulers- hardened hearts- oppression- biased partiality- stinginess- strife" and that is just in this chapter. We have to stand up and cry out for a quest of personal and national character- we need to stop honoring people who have a lack of integrity- we need to end this society of the celebrity. We have more our daughters wanting to be Lady Gaga and less wanting to be Margaret Thatcher. We have more of our sons wanting to be Sammy Sosa and less wanting to be Billy Graham.
Final Thought: When history is finally closed and the American narrative is re-told- my guess is that the decisions handed down by the Supreme Court in the 1960's to remove the 10 Commandments/prayer from schools and secularize all public institutions- will be the day we look back upon and see when our land lost her compass and broke away from her moorings. My guess is that educators see the techniques, policies, and information in America's classrooms have never been better- but the end results have never been worse. Why? You cannot properly educate without an adopted set of universal standards of right and wrong- you cannot secure knowledge without a world view context to sort and apply that knowledge. My guess is that Islamic schools, Asian schools and communist schools are beating us because they teach under the umbrella of clear and accepted standards- a coherent world view- while American pluralism and secularism- combined with a selfish privatization- has left us with a developmental system that functions like a heart in arrhythmia- no flow, coordination, direction, or discernment.
Combined with a destabilized home (suffering from no-fault/easy divorce and pursuit of leisure/luxury) our children are the ones who are suffering and love for America is not being fostered- instead the harsh criticism of skeptics leads them to want to wish it away and find an answer closer to globalization.
NOTE OF HOPE: I have always agreed with Carl Henry's statement in the 1980's for us to keep fighting until God Himself closes the curtain. There is good soil and good seed in this great nation. I pray all the time for revival and reformation- I have been involved in the Christian school movement since the mid-80's and I like the product that has been produced. The gospel never stops and I see a new movement of hard charging young leaders on the horizon- that is why I pray today for renewal- and I will never stop walking with Christ- no matter the circumstances nationally- whether we rise or slide out with a sad whimper- my God is in control and I will side with Him.