In these days of the demise of principles in every compartment of humanity as well as the abounding of iniquity (lawlessness) in every precinct of life, how should a Christian live? In this dark hour in history, we believe this most important and crucial question demands an answer. Ezekiel 33:10 has asked this question, “How should we then live?” These next two issues of Straightway will consider how we should live concerning six specific contexts that control the End Time in which we live.
This first article asks, “How should we then live in days of the public demise of Christianity?” We have carefully chosen the term demise instead of the word death. Although both words mean the end or ending of life, demise is more frequently used in formal contexts referring to the death of someone or something very important or well known. Often in the context of law, a death causes the transfer of an estate or a transfer of royal power (either by death or abdication). After such a transfer of estate or authority, who or what now takes ownership and responsibility?
This important and sobering question of Ezekiel 33 arises from Ezekiel’s predictions following the destruction of Jerusalem. Ezekiel arises as the watchman of the Lord in contrast to the false shepherds of Israel (chapter 34). Within the first twenty verses of chapter 33, God renewed his call to Ezekiel to be a watchman. Providentially taken down into the captivity during the second deportation, Ezekiel was in Tel Abib, northwest of Babylon, as a dock worker for the Babylonians. By chapter 33, news has just reached Ezekiel that the city of Jerusalem has been destroyed (586 b.c.).
When the prophet hears the news of the fall of Jerusalem (by a man who had escaped the burning city and ran all the way to the captives of Babylon; 33:21–33), Ezekiel’s mouth is opened, and he begins to preach. Why had the prophet been mute; why did his mouth need to be opened? The Lord had earlier told Ezekiel that this was to be so (3:26):
And I will make thy tongue cleave to the roof of thy mouth, that thou shalt be dumb, and shalt not be to them a reprover: for they are a rebellious house.
It seems that up until this time his preaching was limited only to the elders of the captive Jews and key individuals as God would command him. Also note Ezekiel 24:27:
In that day shall thy mouth be opened to him which is escaped, and thou shalt speak, and be no more dumb: and thou shalt be a sign unto them; and they shall know that I am the Lord.
In this word from the Lord, Ezekiel was told that when he heard the news of the destruction of the city he was to be “no more dumb.” By Ezekiel 34, the prophet is giving a scathing message to the false shepherds, the Jewish political and religious leaders. Additionally, he prophesies of the coming true Shepherd (the Messiah) and the final restoration of Israel (34:23).
The immediate context of Ezekiel’s question in 33:10 is at the time when principles of righteousness and truth were at their lowest ebb in the history of Judah. The decline from the Word of God was so steadfast and the disease of sin so malignant that it caused a deep-rooted decline among the people. The despairing souls of the Jews were not able to look for deliverance. The despairing cry arose, “How should we then live?” amidst the prophet’s more hopeful view following Jerusalem’s destruction. The people were declaring, “If this is what is happening to us, that our transgressions and sins are upon us, and we are to pine away in them, if all that you have said about our falling away and sin is true, and things are so bad, then how should we live? What is the hope of even living if things are as bad as this?”
Are Our Times Hopeless?
We live in similar times as these captive Jews. How often in our preaching travels both here in America and in other countries, people ask the question, “If there is no hope for our country to return to God, and if the institutional church is as deep in the apostasy as you say, then what is the use of living for God?” Or “If Fundamentalism has fallen away, then what is our hope to even live and preach the truth and the standards of God’s Word?” These are important questions! “How should we then live in the light of this deep apostasy that has so taken over all areas of human existence?”
The times have so radically changed, and the falling away is so deep in public Christianity that we cannot approach the ministry the way we did decades ago! We cannot approach missions the way we used to! And we cannot approach Christian education the same way of former days. The true remnant preacher in this generation finds himself amidst a new breed of apostasy that has taken a contemporary view of Christianity, worship, music, education, and missions. The remnant must now find from God, “How should we then live?” in the midst of all this.
O dear reader, the former America is gone and will never return. The former biblical Christianity in its public presentation has radically changed since the days of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century revivals. Even former historic Fundamentalism has died, never to return in our times.
In addition to all these changes, we find ourselves in an era of new perceptional thinking, of new concepts of God, Christianity, and a form of Fundamentalism. If such a collapse of Christianity is evident, how are we to live now?
The Public Demise of Historic Fundamentalism
If we are in the days of the public demise of Christianity, to whom is the estate being given? Is the Christian faith in America growing, or is it dying? Are we moving to a full abandonment of Christianity as the Europeans? Or are we in America submitting to the adoption of a convenient and more comfortable form of Christianity? Perhaps ultimately, we will be a nation that has abandoned historic Christianity altogether. In the end, both the changing and the abandoning of Christianity will powerfully impact the church worldwide, further ushering in modernity and finally postmodernism into the heart of the institutional church.
Sad to say, it seems this has already taken place. We must acknowledge that we have already moved into a redefining of Christianity and of Fundamentalism, and both are breeding a form of Christianity which is not that of Scripture.
Public Christianity has abandoned biblical truths. It is now experimenting with other perspectives, including a variety of secularist perspectives with the hope that a “neo” reformation accepted by all will spring forth. We have yet to see the final new shapes that Christianity will take in the postmodern world. It must also be acknowledged that all the religions of the world, including Islam, are in the throes of a postmodern rebirth. Because of the fluid, elastic nature of postmodernism, one cannot predict what will be its final product. Not even the leaders of such a movement can predict where this contemporary ship is headed or what sandbars it will hit. The church’s aggressive pursuit of uncharted, non-absolute waters provides a dark exhilaration in such ventures.
Fundamentalism is openly making friends with Neo-Evangelicalism. The visit of the president of Bob Jones University to Wheaton College (the bastion of Neo-Evangelicalism) and open dialogues between BJU, Wheaton, Furman, and other Neo-Evangelical schools all give witness. Existential, postmodern thinking has rapidly made inroads into Fundamentalism. The “anything goes” mentality manifests itself in the casual dress infiltrating churches. American missionaries spread this dress-down style to indigenous churches throughout the world just as they dumb down the souls of the people with shallow preaching and limited accountability to God. Fundamentalism is increasingly blending itself in with the world. Reverential attire of respect for God and His house is basically absent in most of Fundamentalism.
Another sad commentary of postmodernism in Fundamentalism’s seminaries is a nebulous presentation of various interpretations of Scripture. This approach has opened the door for the acceptance of many “subjective interpretations” of Bible passages. “Thus saith the Lord” of past Fundamentalism has now been given over to simply letting the student decide which subjective interpretation he wants for his life. It is to be viewed as equal with any other interpretation. Owning, carrying, and reading a Bible are biblical habits being lost today. Having lost its identity as the “Book,” the Bible is placed alongside the many “apps” on laptops, tablets, and phones. Yes, the Bible has become nothing more than another entertainment of the electronic age. We blend Christianity in with our living, rather than changing our living to be conformed to the Christian Faith. Is this “American” Christianity? Is this becoming the trendy, Western religion around the world?
Postmodern Christianity does not care about the creeds or of asking if Jesus rose from the dead or if He is the everlasting Son of God. The questions that seem to matter to the churches today are, “Why does not the Christian tolerate all lifestyles?” “Why do Christians support warfare?” “Why is Christianity against sodomy?” “Why is Christianity against pro-choice or abortion?” Increasingly, today’s Christianity is about questions of the contemporary rather than declaration of eternal truth. Wine is now accepted by many Fundamentalists. Christian schools promote intercollegiate sports and secular or contemporary Christian accreditation. Christian colleges seek new avenues to be “trendy.” They want to be accepted by the world under the evangelistic cry, “We are witnessing for Jesus.”
There were a few past movements that swept through the Evangelical and Fundamentalist world which were believed to be the answer to this falling away. First appeared Bill Gothard, who brought the Institute in Basic Life Principles. His approach influenced well over 25,000 pastors. His movement seemed to have several good things that mesmerized families with its delusion. But can what seems to be a good thing exist in the context of heresy? His ministry was built upon ecumenicity and toleration of the Neo-Christianity, even with its contemporary music. Then in later years Mr. Gothard’s bachelor life of risqué affections with young women finally surfaced. Perhaps he saw the definite problems in Fundamentalism and the Evangelical world; however, methodologically his ministry was based on the flesh, though mixing Bible principles. And whatsoever is born of the flesh, is flesh.
A second movement was Doug Phillips’ Vision Forum. This “ministry” endeavored to address problems within the American family. However, it approached these problems through biblical heresy rather than truth. Mr. Phillips built his theology upon the old postmillennialism of R. J. Rushdoony. His views were against the local church, the local Christian school, and the pastor’s responsibility in the Christian life and home. His Reconstructionist philosophy was perceived to be the hope to bring America back to Christian culture. Vision Forum never took a stand against the contemporary views of Christianity; it took no stand against the Charismatic movement or any other part of apostasy. It too was based on outward appearances without inward change. Vision Forum’s hope was in the power of the flesh, the works of a home, rather than the grace of God coming within the human heart. Sad to say, Doug Phillips also fell into immorality.
A deep, blinding problem among many of the Evangelical and Fundamentalist professing Christians is that they tend to be “evidentialists” rather than Biblicists. Rather than searching out the doctrinal heart of a ministry or movement, they tend to be drawn only to the outward or superficial product. Vision Forum invested much time and money on the outward appearance, endeavoring to perfect it to the neglect of a transformed heart.
How Should We Then Live?
If the only true religion is now in a global apostasy, how should we then live? Amidst its sin, hypocrisy, and redefinings, how should we then live? The prophet Ezekiel sounded the alarm to the people telling them of the conditions of Israel and of their individual lives. Instead of rousing themselves to meet and overcome the danger that was all around them, they began to sink down paralyzed in the darkness of despair. This was implied by the people to Ezekiel concerning his preaching to them. “If you preach to bring us into a consciousness of our guilt, this will overwhelm us, and the sudden awakening to the black darkness is going to lead us into despair.”
It is very true that knowledge given in preaching to the people brings accountability to the people. Judah was now experiencing the consequences of this preaching, “We pine away in them” (33:10). While sin and heresy are destroying our churches, our homes, to say nothing of our communities, our country, and the very world in which we live, still people do not want to be warned about destruction. Preaching produces conviction, and conviction produces guilt, and guilt produces bad feelings, and bad feelings bring discouragement and depression. The question was then asked of the prophet, “How are we then to live?” Perhaps the question was given with no expectation of answer. “The apostasy is so definite, the disease of sin has pervaded to the most advanced stage, how can we even look for deliverance?”
It is true that we are in imminent peril of death in the history of public Christianity. We cannot save our souls through the church, its programs, positivism, or slick formulas of contemporary Christianity. If the world denounces and our nation turns from the message of the Gospel, if denominations leave the truth of former days, if families and relatives separate from us, we must realize that such conditions or people are not our hope. Even if the world redefines everything, including its view of Christ, the way we must live is through the only revelation God has given to us; and, thank God, we still have it and it is still true. We must return to the Book, or remain in the Book, the Bible, the Scriptures, the Word of God.
The Lord told Ezekiel in 33:11:
Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?
Though it seems that nearly everyone today is turning away, following the changes, the redefinings, the permissiveness of sin, yet we cannot go their way. Though according to prophecy the last church age ends in apostasy, we do not have to fall away with it. Its departure from truth does not have to affect us—we do not have to change! God is able to keep us from falling, to keep us from deception, to keep us from apathy and backsliding!
How should we then live? O dear reader, let us live by the eternal Book, the Bible! Let us live by the precious shed blood of our Saviour! And let us live in the blessed hope of His Second Coming. Only the Bible gives us the insight for living in the End Time, exhorting us to simply remain and abide in Christ! In these days of a false eternal security promoting a loose, carnal, worldly, professing Christian life, let us ever abide in God’s Word. Let us abide in the promises and provisions of His redemption. We do not have to go the way of all flesh!
As the public preaching of the Gospel brought much good to homes, churches, and even countries in the past, the legacy of public Christianity’s estate is now being given over to the very enemies of God; its demise has brought a change of owners. The tares have taken over the field and the public view of the church gives evidence that another gospel has taken over publicly the true Gospel.
But, thank God, it does not have to be so with our lives, our local churches, or our homes and families. There is power in the Christ and power in His Word and Spirit to keep us from becoming what this age has become and what the church age has become. “How should we then live?” Let us remain, abiding in Christ and in His Word!