In January of 1993 Christians received a wake-up call at best, a death knell for our society at worst. William Jefferson Clinton was sworn in as President of the United States of America. Within days of his inauguration Christians had a very good idea of what they were in for in the years ahead. The new President reversed 12 years of pro-life advances, proposed the open acceptance of gays in the military and revealed an avalanche of new taxes for the masses. He generally made clear that his social agenda was going to wreak further moral havoc on our nation.
How to analyze this in the light of Scripture is important but the subject of another article. It does however point out the need for Christians to respond, to respond loudly and to respond effectively. In the same week that our new President was inaugurated there was a seminar given in Holland, MI showing Christians how to do just that. The Community Impact Seminar is a seminar jointly produced by Focus on the Family (of Dr. James Dobson fame) and the Family Research Council. It aims to assist and equip the local church to impact her community for Jesus Christ so that He may be known there as Savior and as Lord. I must say that after initial uncertainty about what exactly would be said and what theology would be communicated, I was pleasantly surprised and eventually quite excited.
The seminar leaders initially explained what it was they were talking about, social and political action, not service. The former is what most church social justice committees are engaged in while the latter is what the Bible also calls us to. The differences were explained as follows:
SOCIAL SERVICE SOCIAL ACTION
Relieve needs Remove the causes of the needs
Philanthropy (giving) Political and social activity
Minister to needs Transform structures
Mercy A quest for justice
They opened the Scriptures and proceeded to present a Biblical case for social and political involvement. What was striking in the rationale related was that it sounded quite Reformed. It assumed a view of Christ consistent with His Lordship over every area of life, not just the church. There were copious references to Reformed writers such as Francis Schaeffer, B.B. Warfield and others. There was a brilliant analysis of the failure of Christians to effect their society thus highlighting the necessity of a “Reformed” approach. I attended with an elder from our congregation and his wife. By the end of the first section we were looking at each other equally amazed a t how Biblical, i.e. Reformed, the seminar seemed to be. This was not what you usually get from the Evangelical branch of Christianity.
What followed this initial section were eight other sections:
1) The Crisis of Institutional Authority – was examined in the media, education, government and religion. That last area, religion, was a fascinating statistic analysis highlighting the desire of the American people for values. It raised the all important question of just whose values they would be. Obviously the seminar was intended to have Christians flex their moral muscles. Christians alone, we were told, had transcendent standards. Christians alone therefore were equipped to guide our nation out of its moral morass.
2) The Separation of Church and State—was an eye-opener! Did you know that 94% of the writings produced by the Constitutional Convention were based on the Bible? They were. The Christian foundations of America were magnificently detailed from the Pilgrims and Puritans down to our first President George Washington who said: “It is impossible to govern a nation without God and the Bible.” You couldn’t say that today in a public school without the possibility of being thrown into court for violating the “wall of separation” between Church and State. But this supposed “wall” originated not in the Constitution but in a letter of Thomas Jefferson responding to Baptists in Connecticut who themselves were responding to a rumor about the establishment of a denomination as a State Church. It was not until 1947, we were informed, that religion became personalized and freedom of religion became freedom from religion.
3) The Crisis of Cultural Authority—was next. It was a helpful analysis of how we lost a sense of transcendent standards in our culture. Relativism, privatization of values and the popular phrase, “You can’t legislate morality,” have transformed our society’s moral compass. Even the church seems to be off-course. A poll of Bible-believing, evangelical Christians revealed that the overwhelming majority were opposed to abortion on demand. But when they were asked whether they thought abortion should be illegal, the percentage dropped to only 25%!
What a penetrating and indicting diagnosis! The church has drunk deeply from the well of moral relativism and privatization! This is the failure of American Christianity! As Pogo (the cartoon character) says: “We have met the enemy and he is us!” American Christianity, by and large, has promoted a religion that is personal and private and has nothing to say to others except: “You must be saved so that you too can have a personal and private relationship with God.” An unbiblical pietism (used in the sense of a faith that has nothing to do with the world) and an escapist eschatology (a la D.L. Moody: “You don’t polish brass on a sinking ship.”) have actually contributed to the demise and declension of our nation! The tragic thing about this is that there are many, even in Reformed circles, who view this as “good.” Why? Because it shows that “We are living in the last days,” which means, “Jesus will soon be here!”
4) An Understanding of American Culture—was another helpful analysis. It was explained that it is ideas that drive any culture and effect every aspect of our lives. Therefore Christians must be self conscious about the nature of truth and knowledge. What followed was a layman’s level review of the philosophies that have shaped our world from Aristotle to Hume to our present relativistic era. This was enlightening because it was apparent that ideas have consequences. The ideas of our day shape our culture. But it was helpful to know that Christians have distinctive ideas based on a Biblical worldview (or philosophy). The secular ideas of our day are unable to provide either a philosophical or practical foundation for life. This provides Christians a window of opportunity to impact our culture.
5) What Can We Do?—finally got to the “hands-on” aspects of the seminar. A healthy focus on the local church was quite welcome in a day of para-church usurpation of her role. Excellent, helpful information was given on how to start or improve a Community Impact Committee. Things such as what was needed, what are the functions of the committee, getting started and overcoming roadblocks were detailed. Success was defined as being faithful to what God has called us to do. This was a welcome emphasis in a day when so much stress is placed on results.
6–9) Practical Aspects—discussed various scenarios with an emphasis on the individual’s spirituality. Stressed were prayer, personal righteousness and persuasion (being compellingly winsome). The last sectional dealt with the Welsh Revival of 1905. This was important because it yielded an encouraging historical perspective. We all tend to be gloomy and despondent about the poor condition of our society. But it was noted that conditions in Wales were also poor in 1905, and yet God did a marvelous thing there. He poured forth a fresh measure of His Spirit to bring revival to the land. Note was taken that not only did this effect people’s eternal destinies but also their temporal realities. The fabric and course of culture in Wales was dramatically changed, even down to the animals (the mules which worked in the mines had a work slowdown due to the genteel commands of the otherwise gruff miners!).
As I hope has been obvious, there are a number of helpful and encouraging aspects of this seminar. It was Reformed in its orientation and therefore more beneficial than most popular seminars. Most welcome for those of Reformed persuasion was a consistent presuppositional approach. This is obviously the influence of Francis Schaeffer who himself was a student of Cornelius Van Til of Westminster Seminary. I was particularly struck by the fact that Reformed theology has influenced the evangelical world so that they have come to appreciate and apply it. What is sad is that so manyReformed people have abandoned their heritage and retreated from the world along with the pietists and the end times prognosticators. Perhaps the time has come when Reformed people are taught afresh the depth and riches of a Reformed world and life view by those who weren’t raised in it.
I stress the need for this Reformed perspective, for anyone with eyes to see, can perceive the bankruptcy of modern evangelical Christianity. A Christianity that has produced men such as Bill Clinton who carries his Bible to church each week, sings in his choir and is a “card-carrying” member in good standing of the Southern Baptist Convention (the largest denomination in the country). This man has proposed more anti-Christian legislation in six months than a generation of politicians before him. This is consistent with a faith that is personal, private, compartmentalized from the rest of life. Thus faith has nothing to do with being President and running the country. Jesus Christ is openly insulted and blasphemed. in the halls of government and this by a “Christian”!
Another example is Governor Mario Cuomo of New York state who, though personally opposed to abortion on religious grounds (he is a “good” Roman Catholic), will not take a political stand against it because his faith also has nothing to do with the real world. Such faith is reserved for Sundays and prayer closets, and the Lordship of Jesus is restricted to a personal relationship.
We are in desperate need of people with a full-orbed, Biblically informed, world challenging faith. The Reformed faith provides this. The sooner more Christians see and implement this, the sooner we will truly impact our culture.
Apart from a few cautions (see below), I would certainly encourage a church to send its pastor, elders, or at least some members to attend this seminar. They are given frequently at different places in the country. The places and dates are available from Focus on the Family (1-800-A-FAMILY) or in the back of their monthly magazine. I would go so far as to encourage you to try to get your church to sponsor such a seminar. Not only would this be helpful for your church and community, but it would contribute toward the propagation of sound doctrine. We are called not just to protect the faith but to propagate it also. What we can do toward this end, we should do!
While this seminar demonstrates that some evangelicals have come a long way toward being Reformed by the Word, there are some areas which reveal need. for growth. One, there was a latent naivete concerning man and his spiritual condition. This was coupled with an absence of emphasis on the antithesis (not that they are unaware of, or reject it, but it was not incorporated into the seminar). We were told that “people are looking for answers,” answers that Christians alone can provide. While we must certainly seize the window of opportunity that this provides and make every effort to compellingly and winsomely communicate Biblical answers, the Bible teaches that there is “no one seeks God” (Romans 3:11) and that “the sinful mind is hostile to God’s Law. It does not submit to God’s Law, nor can it do so” (Romans 8:7).
My experience both intellectually (in secular schools) and practically (on the streets with the common man) is that when people are presented with the reasonable and beneficial answers of the Scriptures, they reject them, even going so far as to manifest hatred for them (cf. John 3:19, 20). An obvious illustration of this is the secular hatred for the pro-life movement.
A second caution is the position that they have taken toward using the Scriptures in their interactions with unbelievers. They maintain that since the Bible is no longer respected as the authority that it once was, to use it is unprofitable at best and counterproductive at worst. That is, they believe that it does not strike a note of authority with modem man; thus it is unprofitable to use it. Furthermore it could prove counterproductive since you may be tagged as a “Bible thumping” religious fanatic and thus lose any chance of a hearing at all.
In fairness, if by this they mean that you don’t need to quote chapter and verse to people but just wield the Word self-consciously but “stealthily,” then I have less of a problem with it. However, as was intimated, if you are just to “reason” with people out of a neutral approach, then this is a serious defect. In Ephesians 6 where the armor of God is listed, the only offensive weapon given to the church is the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. We cannot and will not have an effective offense or defense without that weapon. The gospel is the power of God unto the salvation of all who believe.
It is here then, that they may have yet more to learn about Reformed theology and its effectiveness in the world. That people resent, revile and reject Christians and their thinking is not because they are “Bible thumpers” (although no doubt, there are those who themselves are offensive and not their message), but because they represent Christ and the world hates Him (1 John 3:13).
All in all, I would highly endorse this seminar. As Christians who are thinking along the same lines, we need to work with one another, drawing on each other’s strengths and bolstering one another’s weaknesses. “All of us who are mature should take such a view of such things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you” (Phil. 3:15). May the Lord bless His people to effectively “take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ.” May it please Him to bring renewal and revival to our land.
Rev. Murphy is pastor of Dutton Independent Reformed Church.