It’s gone. Francis Schaeffer, a Christian philosopher, told us back in the 1970s that some day we would wake up and find out that the America we once knew was gone. That day is here.
Schaeffer went on to say that the unthinkable in one generation becomes thinkable in the next, as a nation drifts away from God. When the U.S. Supreme Court issued two rulings in June that assumed the constitutionality and legality of same-sex marriage, once again the unthinkable became thinkable. Or, more ominous, the unthinkable became reality.
Soon other dominoes will fall, including monogamy (if you should be allowed to marry the person you love, why can you not marry the persons you love?), and as the unthinkable becomes thinkable, we are not surprised that we are already hearing calls to lower the age of sexual consent.
The negative impact on our families cannot be exaggerated. To say, as the Supreme Court did, that as a matter of public policy, marriage can be between two people of the same sex, thus depriving a child of a mother or a father, strikes at the very heart of the stability of the family. In such an environment, children grow up with sexual confusion at best and sexual disorders at worst. Also, as a consequence of the gains of the homosexual lobby, in some school districts parents can no longer insist that their children opt out of courses where homosexuality is taught, even in first grade or kindergarten.
When freedom of religion conflicts with those who believe that same-sex marriage is a matter of civil rights, freedom of religion will be expected to surrender to the homosexual agenda. One charity has discontinued its adoption agencies because the organization refuses, on religious grounds, to assign adoptive children to same-sex couples. An independently owned photography studio has been fined for refusing to photograph a same-sex wedding. Legislation is being crafted that would insist that churches that rent out their facilities must rent them for same-sex marriages, and Christian organizations will soon be required to accept same-sex couples in the workplace.
Like a boat caught in the mighty torrent of the Niagara River, we are being swept along by powerful cultural currents that just might put us over the brink. Daily, we are losing the war for America’s heart and mind.
Rather than lick our wounds, withdraw from the public debate and stand aside bemoaning the fate of this great nation, as Christians we must regroup, get our bearings and remember why we are here and what we are called to do. Never before in American history has it been more important for the church to be all that it can be in a society that has chosen to defy God’s Word and show hostility to biblical values.
Let it be emphasized that our rejection of same-sex marriage is not a matter of hate, but debate. If we see a driver unknowingly about to back his truck over a cliff, we have an obligation to warn him. So today, we must stand as God’s loving but also courageous ambassadors giving notice to all who will listen that God has spoken on the subject of homosexuality, and its consequences. Of course we gladly welcome those who struggle with same-sex attraction into our churches, and we invite them to come to Christ and receive His healing and His grace of forgiveness, even as we ourselves have done. Our motivation is not only truth, but love. We urge the self-righteous who condemn homosexuality without humbly acknowledging their own sin, to deeply repent.
So, where do we go from here?
Let us keep our perspective. Study church history and you will agree that the church has always been an island of righteousness in a sea of paganism. Consider the persecutions of Rome and Greece and the massacre of Christian groups throughout the Middle Ages. Or, consider that today hundreds of Christians are being martyred throughout the Middle East and North Korea—and elsewhere. In other words, God is inviting us to join the persecuted minorities who even today face conflicts of conscience, false accusations and unjust laws.
Do we think that the church can survive only in those countries that are tolerant of the Christian message? Have we forgotten Russia, Romania and China? The church survived in these countries without any political power. The consistent lesson of 2,000 years of church history is that the church does not need freedom to be faithful.
Whether at Corinth, Philippi, Ephesus, or the scattered groups to whom 1 Peter was written—all of these believers addressed in the New Testament were trying to be authentically Christian in a pagan culture. The author of the Book of Hebrews chided his readers by comparing their suffering with that of Christ and the martyrs. He wrote, “You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin” (Hebrews 12:4). He reminded them that, though they thought times were tough, they had not yet paid the ultimate price for faithfulness.
God is humbling the American church. Gone are the days when we thought we held the balance of political power or were winning in the national debate. And yet, pessimism is out of place in the presence of the promises of God. “We cannot,” as the saying goes, “talk about standing on the Rock of Ages and then act as if we are clinging to our last piece of driftwood.” Could our anxiety about the future reflect fear—the fear that we shall have to confess our own weaknesses and trust God in ways that are unfamiliar? Someone has well said that the task ahead of us is never as great as the Power behind us: Our God reigns!
Be uplifted by the glorious truth in 1 John 4:4: “You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.”
Let us also keep in mind that the church is still precious to God. To those who lived in an oppressive culture, Peter, who himself eventually died for his faith, wrote: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession” (1 Peter 2:9). The church is to be a transformational community even when it has no political power, is oppressed, falsely opposed and persecuted.
And Peter goes on to remind us in the rest of that verse that we’re to “proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called [us] out of darkness into His marvelous light.”
Remember, this was written to those who were targeted by the pagans for special harassment. Just as flowers sometimes do not emit their fragrance unless they are crushed, so believers often do not exude the beauty of Christ unless they feel the pressure of the world. No matter the political regime or the hostility of the culture, believers are to make Christ attractive to the world. On every level the church must show itself as a redeemed community, filled with imperfect people who themselves struggle with all the failings of the world.
Evangelism must be our priority, but our message must be authenticated by changed lives. We must learn to serve as Christ did. We must be models of love and humility in this day of egoism and crass selfishness.
We must be proactive and penetrate the world of television, law, journalism and government. We can expect that the distinction between the world and the church will become more clearly defined as spiritual darkness settles on the land. The days of nominal Christianity are fast coming to a close. Now is the time for firm convictions, a deepened faith and a praying heart.
Yes, we must choose to fight, but let us do it with love, integrity and a witness for the saving grace of Christ. We must never fight fire with fire, acting like the world, when in point of fact we are citizens of another country. Let us make sure that our fighting is done on our knees and with wet eyes. God will give us the wisdom to know how to respond to the challenges we face.
Whether or not we win in our cultural struggles is really up to God; whether we are faithful is, to a large extent, up to us. We should be satisfied to know that we do not have to be victorious in this world to triumph in the next. We believe in another world.
Throughout history during times of oppression, the sole cry of believers has almost always been to God. Without spite, revenge and hostility, they, like their Master, believed that they were called to pay the ultimate price. Often they remained calm and forgiving.
After a young African was martyred for his faith, this writing was found in his room:
“I’m part of the fellowship of the unashamed, the die has been cast, I have stepped over the line, the decision has been made—I’m a disciple of Jesus Christ—I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away or be still.
“My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, my future is secure—I’m finished and done with low living, sight walking, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, worldly talking, cheap giving and dwarfed goals.
“My face is set, my gait is fast, my goal is Heaven, my road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions are few, my guide is reliable, my mission is clear. I won’t give up, shut up, let up until I have stayed up, stored up, prayed up for the cause of Jesus Christ.
“I must go till He comes, give till I drop, preach till everyone knows, work till He stops me and when He comes for His own, He will have no trouble recognizing me because my banner will have been clear.”
With this kind of resolve we will, with God’s help, have the strength to survive against our cultural stream, or perhaps even reverse it. Of course we are a minority, but armed with the promises of God we can have a spiritual impact that is greater than our numbers might suggest.
It may come down to a simple question: Are we willing to pay the price?
Erwin W. Lutzer is senior pastor at Moody Church in Chicago. Parts of this article were adapted from Lutzer’s message “God, the Supreme Court and the Unthinkable,” found at MoodyMedia.org.
Bible verses are taken by permission from the New American Standard Bible, ©1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 The Lockman Foundation, La Habra, Calif.