By REV. LEE HUTCHINGS
Within the past few months there has been much lamenting from without and within church walls about the state of culture in America and the seemingly new lack of influence of Christianity upon said culture and government. Impending Supreme Court decisions, pew-research statistics, and the onslaught of media reports have rightly captured our attention and caused many to question the direction of our nation and our churches.
However, while many see signs of despair, I see great signs of hope. We may not be “the moral majority” any longer as Russell Moore, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention writes, but we are rightfully becoming the “prophetic minority,” and this is good news.
The church in 2015 in the United States of America has a terrific opportunity to be what it has always been called to be since the apostolic time; pilgrims from another land, called to not to build a political empire but to proclaim the sure coming of a kingdom and her risen King. America is a remarkable place. Our history is rich, beautiful, and wrought with heroic tales of scores of men and women who have dared to dream of a brighter future and even paid ultimate sacrifices to ensure lasting freedoms which we are privileged to enjoy.
This month we remember and properly celebrate the founding of our independence centuries ago. The church has grown here under the prosperous free exercise and enterprise of religious liberty, but it will also grow—and perhaps to an even more powerful extent—under the persecution of an increasingly secular state. Whether or not our leaders recognize that the separation of church and state does NOT mean the separation of the state from God is irrelevant to the reality and promise of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). Jesus Christ will build his church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
I pray that we will be given to neither nostalgia nor apathy concerning our churches and our country. Jesus said in Luke 12: 32, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Admittedly, there are many of us who are rightfully dismayed and disgusted at the relentless attacks and policies of a hostile world and government upon values and institutions that have been essential to this nation’s founding and blossoming.
Yet we need not lose heart! Jesus has given us cause for great rejoicing. He reminds us in John 16:33, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Notice he didn’t say our peace would be found in our circumstances or in the state of our country, but our peace will always rest in Him and his victory over death and sin.
Sometimes as believers we can be lulled by our own affluence and prosperity that we forget our calling to a mission field, and in that calling there will be trials and tribulations. In those trials, we have an enemy whose great arsenal includes deceiving us into believing that our struggle is simply material or political. That it is the neighbor down the street or “those people” in another state—red, blue, or purple—who are “tearing us apart.” No, the battle is bigger and far more important. The battle is still against sin, our own flesh, and the devil. And in this battle, Christ declares, “It is finished”. The war is over, but the battle for now, remains.
I do not mean to give the impression that the Christian ought not to engage in the area of politics, government, or culture. Far from it! We are called to speak and stand for truth in all spheres and areas of life. Only that we not place our trust or hope in success or failure at the ballot box, or in the triumph of an American “Civic Religion.”
C.S. Lewis brilliantly observes in his essay entitled, “The Decline of Religion,” that the withdrawal in church attendance in Great Britain during the 20th Century “did not create a new religious situation, but only revealed the situation which had long existed.” The good news about the supposed tales of the “decline” of America or American Christianity is that its not so much evidence that we are floundering, but that the reality of who we are as a nation and as a church is becoming clearer and more defined.
There are many more culturally observant and wise brothers and sisters who may disagree, but from my own flawed and limited “pastor’s perspective,” this contrast only helps focus our witness to a dying world desperately in need of Christ’s redemption.
Rev. Lee Hutchings is Pastor of Discipleship at Highlands Presbyterian Church in Ridgeland and an Adjunct Professor of Bible at Belhaven University in Jackson. He and his wife Diane, are blessed with one son, two-year old Harper.