In whose presence do I walk? In whose hall do I enter? He is the one who burns with all-consuming fire. He knows all and sees all, including every detail of my life that shames me. Each is well-lit, easily seen by His eyes. Yet, He lavishes me with grace. He pours love over me. He died and rose so that I might live and walk here in His presence. Here I stand–trembling boldly in His presence.
A few weeks ago, I attended a National Day of Prayer observance for the first time. As Christians, we have a responsibility to pray for our government. However, that is not where I want to begin. I want to start with the church’s responsibility to pray for herself–for the church.
I suppose it will strike many as self-centered to say that the church’s duty is to pray for herself. What about praying for leaders? Well, I plan to cover praying for leaders in my next post in this series. However, I think the church will never be active in its mission—its first duty—of making disciples of all nations unless the Church draws near to God and becomes what God desires.
When many speak about renewal or revival, they reference 2 Chronicles 7:14. I see one common misapplication of this verse. Many take the reference to “My people” as somehow being a reference to the United States of America. Without getting into if the Founders founded America as a Christian nation or not, we just cannot theologically conclude that this verse applies to all Americans. The people of God, those called by His name, can only refer to those who have a covenant relationship with Him. Under the New Covenant, only those who have trusted in the substitutionary atoning work of Christ upon the Cross can truly be God’s people.
However, some say that this verse only applies to Israel under the Old Covenant. To use it today as a call to prayer for renewal is to rip it from its context. I disagree. “My people” refers to the covenant people of God, and the Church is the covenant people of God. The actions called for in the verse are timeless principles applicable to the church now as they were in Israel. Though the Church does not occupy land as Israel did as a political entity, the Church is in need of healing, renewal, and revival.
As the people of God, we face many challenges. Our influence in society has decreased. Others marginalize us away from public debate. Politics divides. Our society no longer shares the values that we hold, and in fact, many find our values repugnant.
Therefore, in light of the challenges we experience as a result of being both people of this country and His people, we need to humble ourselves, pray, seek God’s face, and turn from any evil in which we participate. If we are to have any power at all, it must be God’s power working through us to witness, make disciples, and to transform the world in which we live.
I see the panic in some people’s eyes. I see the confusion. They seem to be saying, “What happened? I thought we were a Christian nation.”
The point of this blog post is not to debate if the Founding Fathers of the United States of America founded it as a Christian nation. The answer to that question seems to depend on the perspective from which one begins. Clearly, in the early 1800s, Christianity in its Protestant and comparatively speaking, evangelical form, had an enormous influence over the direction of the country. What some stand in shock of today, the loss of that influence, began gradually in the late 1800s, but it has accelerated exponentially in recent years. In other words, we shouldn’t be shocked.
Also, we should not panic. On one hand, we should not retreat from the public square, build walls around what remains of us, and scream and shout at those outside. The Pagan Empire that I refer to in the title is not the USA but rather the Roman Empire. Christianity has been in this situation before today. In fact, it thrived there. It may thrive again if we prove ourselves to be faithful, which brings me to the other hand.
We must not give in to the temptation to compromise with the world, to heed the call to “modernize” or “post-modernize” or whatever philosophy rules this month. So-called progressive Christians who encourage us to compromise with the world so that we can continue to have a voice are terribly deceived. First of all, to compromise Biblical truth in exchange for worldly influence (yes, some conservative, fundamental Christians are guilty of this as well) is not progress but regression. Also, historically, such assumptions have proven false. Sociologists Peter Finke and Rodney Starke in their book, The Churching of America 1776-2005, point out that the churches that thrived in the USA were “aggressive churches committed to vivid otherworldliness.”(Finke and Starke, 2005, p. 1) They also assert that those churches and denominations that “rejected traditional doctrines” and “ceased to make serious demands of their followers” declined.
So, the the first step for Christians and churches to thrive in our present situation is to accept it for one it is. We are one voice among many competing voices, some of which also claim to speak for Christianity. We live in a pluralistic nation, but we do not accept pluralism. (For a more in-depth discussion of that last sentence please find and read the book that I reviewed here.) Yet, we have the right to speak (at least for now) and to proclaim the gospel of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Let us do so faithfully and boldly. And let us learn from Scripture–from those who came before us–how to live as Christians in a “pagan” world.
Over the next several days or weeks (I don’t know yet), I will write blog posts about Scripture passages that speak to how we should relate to government and society, even when both stand against us. Today, I dealt with the first step we must take–accept reality for what it is. We do not live in a Christian nation, nor do Christians have the influence that they once enjoyed.
Our priority is to share the Gospel and make disciples. But the Bible says other things about how to relate to those around us. What will follow are steps that have no particular order. I hope to write a blog post on each one.
- Pray for leaders, for our nation, and for the church.
- What the Bible says about paying taxes.
- What the Bible says about obeying laws.
- What the Bible says about doing right to all people.
- What the Bible says about the priority of obeying God above all others.
- What happens when the price for following God is high.
*Yes, I am using Christian here to refer to conservative, evangelical Christianity. Yes, I know there is a broader meaning. I do not mean to exclude so much as not to have to explain what I mean in every paragraph.
In reality, I don’t have an original thought tonight. For the past week and a half, I worked on the prospectus for my Ph.D. dissertation. I finished it last night. As a result, thought is not something I am capable of at the moment. All of my thoughts went into the prospectus. Hopefully, I will be able to make another post or two this week. I have one in mind about being a Christian with dual citizenship in the Kingdom of God and an earthly nation. I also hope to write three more book reviews by the end of the month. In June, I hope to highlight some works by independent authors. I have three lined up, possibly four. If you are an independent writer, I can handle one more book in June. Please check the page link to the side to find out what my reading interest are. Contact me through Twitter if you think I would be interested in your book.
In the meantime, I would like to share a couple of links to articles that I found helpful. One is an interview with John Eldredge. Honestly, he is not among my favorite Christian writers. However, he has some good insights in this interview about prayer. Also, at Crossway, there is an insightful article on how Christians can disagree with one another without being disagreeable to paraphrase my seventh-grade homeroom teacher. I hope you find both articles helpful.
This morning I did my usual. Every day I read several chapters of the Bible and one chapter from Proverbs. Most days I do more, but on Sundays I do that and focus on praying for the service at our church, the Bible study classes, and for our pastor and staff.
This morning was different in one way. I was impatient with God. We’ve been waiting on God for an answer to prayer for some time now, and this week, I had grown tired of waiting. So I started my prayer, “It’s Sunday, Lord, and nothing has changed since last Sunday.” It wasn’t long after those words passed through my mind that a couple of questions popped into my mind. “Have YOU grown more like Christ this week? Have YOU drawn nearer to God?”
Romans 8:29 states that God’s purpose is to conform believers to the image Christ. All things—even waiting for God to answer prayer—work toward good according to that purpose. (Romans 8:28) So, if nothing has changed, it is not God’s fault. It is a failure on my part to accept His purpose, to submit myself to Him, and to be transformed by the Spirit’s work through God’s Word that I spend time in each day.
God answered my prayer of complaint, though that is more than I deserved. Because He did, I am reminded what to do as I wait for His response to my other one. I hope that my experience will help others who also find themselves waiting.