Having entered into the twenty-fourth year of this new millennium, we never expected that the rapture for God’s saints would be delayed this long. We have experienced the powers of providence pressing us onward in our walk with God while the powers of darkness have taken us increasingly into the vestibule of the coming of Antichrist.
These present articles of Straightway will introduce six areas of present history that consider “how should we then live?” in the light of the present distress rapidly enveloping the world. This first article sets forth the question in the light of “the days of the demise of public Christianity.”
Demise Versus Death
The term demise rather than the word death is carefully chosen for each of the titles of the leading articles of this issue. Both of the terms demise and death mean the end or ending of life, but demise is generally used in formal contexts to refer to the death of someone or something very important or well known, rather than to the death of things such as plants or animals. A demise is a death; but in the context of law, it refers to the transfer of an estate or a transfer of royal power by death (or by abdication). Demise may also refer to the death of a principle. Therefore, when a certain person dies, what will become of his estate, or who will take ownership in the transfer, or what will take his place in the aftermath? Because of that demise, what will actually be inherited due to the death of this individual, or the death of a principle, an ethic, or a concept of living? Will such a death or cessation of existence alter the course of history or the very course of humanity?
Two aspects must be carefully pondered in each of these articles. First, what contemporary problems will arise due to the demise of a certain person, of a crucial principle, or of a vital character trait? Secondly, what will be the biblical remedy for our living in such days of this sad and grievous demise?
How Should We Then Live?
We must also understand the question “How should we then live?” in the light of the burden of Ezekiel 33:10. This passage comes as part of the predictions given to Ezekiel after the destruction of Jerusalem. In chapters 33 and 34, Ezekiel is noted as God’s watchman. God then reveals to him the false shepherds that have arisen, which Ezekiel the prophet must deal with in chapter 34. But within chapter 33, and especially in the first twenty verses, God renewed His call to Ezekiel to be a watchman, appointed by God Himself, for the people.
Ezekiel was taken captive in the second deportation by the powers of Babylon in 597 b.c., but instead of being taken to the great city of Babylon (where Daniel was taken), the providence of the Lord appointed this man of God to be taken to Tel Abib, northwest of Babylon, where he was enslaved as a dock worker. Chapter 33 historically takes place after the city of Jerusalem was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 b.c. News had traveled all the way from Jerusalem to Tel Abib, hundreds of miles away. Ezekiel 33:21–33 reveals that Ezekiel’s mouth was opened on the day he heard of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple.
The question may be asked, “When had the prophet become mute in his speaking in order for his mouth now to be opened?” Note Ezekiel 3:26:
Was his mouth shut from that time to the day he heard of the destruction of Jerusalem? Had he only spoken to the elders and key individuals as God told him to, but not in public preaching? Note also Ezekiel 24:27:
At this time, we read of Ezekiel opening his mouth and proclaiming God’s Word. In chapter 34 this prophet gives a scathing message to the false shepherds, both the political leaders of Judah in the captivity as well as to the religious leaders. Yet, beginning in 33:20 he prophesies of the coming true Shepherd (the Messiah) and the final restoration of Israel.
Our text in Ezekiel 33:10 is declared when the principles of righteousness and truth were at their lowest ebb in the history of Judah. The decline from the Word of God was so consistent and the disease of sin that caused this decline was so deeply rooted, that at that time the despairing soul knew not where to look for deliverance. The question “How should we then live?” is a sort of remonstration offered by the prophet when he turns to a more hopeful view. To the captives the destruction of Jerusalem was believed to be the end of everything, including the nation itself (at least in their thinking at that time). Thus, we are led up to the burden of Ezekiel 33:10, as if the captive Jews, in hearing of the destruction of their sacred city, were saying, “If this is what is happening to us, then our transgressions and sins are upon us, and the only thing we can do is to pine away in them. And if all that you have said is true, and things are so bad as you say, how should we then live?” Their hearts came to hopelessness as if to say, “What is the hope of even living if things are as bad as this?” Yes, what is to become of life, liberty, a nation, and a people if all of this has now happened? This demise was altering everything they had hoped for; because of this death and destruction, Jerusalem’s demise radically changed everything in the future for them. Thus, “How should we then live?”
America: Its Demise and the Future of Its Estate
Oh, the United States of America: we have witnessed its demise! Its inheritance, its legacy, and what should have been our estate, have now been completely overthrown. But what has been the key and the root of its political, ethical, economic, and cultural demise? The key has been the demise of Christianity in our nation’s history. Our nation was great at one time and appeared to have been destined for greatness for its coming generations. But the heart and character of the country have come to a grieving death simply because of the demise of Christianity within its national soul. America was the last frontier of Western civilization; and of all the nations that are part of Western civilization, America knew the deepest working of Christianity in history. America became a haven for religious freedom by the mid-1600s, and Christianity was a prominent principle in those early years. But there was a falling away within the colonies in the living of Christianity in the latter part of the 1600s and into the 1700s. Yet, God graciously sent the First Great Awakening in the 1740s that ushered in a reviving of religious affection in the New England colonies. George Whitefield, crossing the Atlantic Ocean many times, fed the flames of revival on both sides of the Atlantic. Even so, there was a falling away in the ensuing years.
By the time our nation was born in 1776, another falling away had taken place, especially in its schools. Then God brought a Second Great Awakening. Nevertheless, the French Revolution came in 1789, led by the principle of the overthrow of Christianity identified with the Romanist Church. This Revolution affected all perspectives of Christianity. Amidst these events happening, God used the Methodist movement in America to keep us from the profound effects of the French Revolution while we entered into our own American Revolution. But sad to say, some of the atheistic thinking of the French Revolution washed ashore in America during those decades through men like Thomas Jefferson, who brought over from England more than five thousand copies of Thomas Paine’s Age of Reason and circulated them among key leaders in our country. There was also the deist Benjamin Franklin, and other religious powers such as Unitarianism moved into the colonies by the 1800s. If the Second Great Awakening had not been sent by God, America would have been in the abyss of spiritual destruction much earlier.
By the 1800s, God brought other movings of revival through men such as Peter Cartwright and D. L. Moody. Perhaps the final outpost of spiritual moving in our country came in the years of the Civil War, which (looking back in our history) may have been the final true move of God nationally in America. While this movement or awakening was more evangelistic, it also had less depth of Scripture needed to sustain the hearts as the years unfolded. It must also be seen that the 1800s birthed Liberalism (an open denial of the infallibility and inerrancy of the Scriptures) within Christianity as well as Modernism (which elevated reason over the revelation of God’s Word, the Bible). Although these movements began in Europe, they subtly and overwhelmingly made their way to the shores of America. Along with all of this was the rise of the cults, of evolution, and even the change of the winds of education under Horace Mann. The darkness that overshadowed the 1800s was also promoted by the infamous birth of psychology under Sigmund Freud and his belief that the repression of the sexual drive is the formative force of character within a man. His contemporary Alfred Adler created his formulation of the theory of “individual psychology,” which became an integral part of the growing desire of the individual to secure authority in the social realm. And then Carl Jung poured into this atheistic, seething pot of psychology his perspective doctrine which he called at first, analytical psychology, and then complex psychology, which gave a greater premium to other forces such as the psychic experience.
The dialectic powers of these forces, as well as the rise of Form Criticism among the Protestants, amalgamated to aggressively confront Christianity in the 1800s. All these forces were adamantly against Christianity, yet they were permitted to infiltrate Christianity and be identified with Christianity. Christianity became so elastic that its expansion included anything and everything with the name of Jesus and Christian.Fundamentalism, born between 1840 and 1860, was truly used of God during the latter part of the 1800s and through the mid-part of the 1900s. However, it never was able to strike a deathblow upon these enemies of the Faith within the Christian seminaries. Although for many decades Fundamentalism maintained “ecclesiastic separation,” Fundamentalism was relaxed in personal separation of heart and living from the world. Because of this vulnerability, it eventually assimilated with a new breed of Christianity that came in the later twentieth century.
The New End-Time Christianity
Among a number of professing Christians in the latter part of the 1800s, there was a growing belief that the twentieth century would be a century called “The Christian Century” and that there would be a universal peace because of the spread of the Gospel to the ends of the earth. But then the first World War exploded in the early part of the twentieth century. This war brought disillusionment, that in turn gave birth to the reactionary 1920s, a decade known for its carefree, non-Christian, liberated attitude in morals and human autonomy throughout America. The Great Depression then fell on our country in 1929 somewhat slowing the inevitable spiritual and moral collapse in America.
Yet it was obvious that a new Christianity had been born and rising from the past century, ever mutating, which brought growing paradigm shifts politically, morally, and religiously in our society. The moods of this trilogy radically changed our society. The aftermath of World War II brought a quest and thirst for prosperity and enjoyment of life. By the 1950s Neo-Christianity was now becoming the warp and woof of the “Christian” fabric of America. This Neo-Christianity included the mixture of Neo-Orthodoxy, Neo-Morality, Neo-Evangelicalism, and Neo-Pentecostalism, which eventually gave birth to the all-pervasive Charismatic movement. At one time, the only hope we had through these oppressive changes was Fundamentalism, for historically, it not only believed in the call “Ye must be born again” but also that we must “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.”
However, it must be noted with deep grief that Fundamentalism openly began making friends with Neo-Evangelicalism, which led to changes in dress and music standards. There is also the evidence in the more recent years that the bastions of Fundamentalism increased their fellowship with academic bastions of Neo-Evangelicalism (e.g., Wheaton College) through the guise of intercollegiate sports with open citadels of the secular world (e.g., Furman University).
Biblical separation is no longer part of the fabric of so-called conservative Christianity, to say nothing of the moderate evangelical spectrum. We are grieved in heart to see the open decline of Bob Jones University and its growing assimilation with the Neo-Christianity of the End Time. Perhaps the word Fundamentalism has become a blight to live with, and the evidence of this is the blending of former Fundamentalism more and more with the world. They desire no difference with Neo-Christianity in their appearance, their music, their terminology, their dramas, and their approach to evangelism. Even the liturgy of worship is becoming more neo in its approach. The line of demarcation has been erased, and where will you find the true remnant now? Though compromise has become the norm, such men talk nostalgically about the past; but they view it through the contemporary, believing they are the same as historic Christianity yet updating Christianity for our time. They speak of praying, seeking God, and revering the landmarks of former days when truth was viewed differently than it is today. Somehow, they have been able to assimilate it all in order to convince and quell the conscience. The public Christianity of today is not the same as that of former days. The term Neo-Fundamentalism was used to make a transition into Neo-Evangelicalism. Jerry Falwell used this ploy to effectively make his mutating change. Fundamentalism then tried to sanitize the Bill Gothard ministry and his Institute in Basic Life Principles (with over 30,000 pastors heavily involved), but it only affected temporarily the outward man through the power of the flesh. Then Vision Forum swept through Fundamentalism with its founder and first president Doug Phillips’ emphasis upon the family. Again, it was the show without the spiritual change within; the leaders’ lives eventually gave evidence of this. It was another movement of the power of the flesh.
Trying to Make the Past Great in the Present
Dear friend, the former view of America is gone! The former biblical Christianity in its public presentation has changed as well. Even the former historic Fundamentalism has changed—never to return to its former days. We hear the slogan “Make America Great Again,” yet the very fabric of conscience and character has now so changed in society; even the concept of God has changed in the public arena of America. We cannot get back what we once had because of the fabric of what America has become. Our very understanding of Who God is and Who Jesus Christ is, is no longer the same. Yes, today’s Christianity in America is so interwoven into the fabric of the contemporary that as a nation, we will never return to God. The greatness is gone, the history of the past is no more. We dare not pray for God to bless America, for He will not bless the mess of deep apostasy.
We are in a new perceptional thinking and viewing of Christianity, the viewing of God, and even the understanding of true biblical ethics. As Europeans have fully abandoned Christianity, America has moved radically into a more convenient and comfortable form of Christianity. This abandonment and laxity of living the Christian life have brought about the breeding of a new form of Christianity which is not that of Scripture. Such thinking of “anything goes” is to be found in the wide variety of Bible versions on the market today, as well as in casual dress, contemporary music, dumbing down of the people in the preaching, limiting accountability to God, and redefining spirituality as an existential term. Postmodern Christianity does not care about creeds, doctrine, truth, absolutes, right and wrong. It will tolerate all lifestyles. The elasticity of Christianity includes anything and everyone.
How Should We Then Live?
If this is the way the world has gone, if this is the direction in which Christianity has mutated, and if everything that once was true is now dead, what hope do we have? “How should we then live?”
Yes, Ezekiel gave the falling away of Judah in its detail, for all of it was prophesied to come to pass. But does this mean we must give up Christianity, the Bible, Christ, His rich atonement, and the hope of His coming? What is the use for us to even live the Christian life if it seems that so many people, schools, and churches are falling away?
Remember, the Bible told us that all of this would happen in the End Time. Though visible, public Christianity has fallen away, and even the most conservative movement in the past—Fundamentalism—has gone the way of all flesh, we dare not sink down, becoming paralyzed in the darkness of despair. This is what the people began to do in Ezekiel’s day.
Almost daily people write us or call us declaring, “There are no churches to attend that have not been affected by the contemporary. It seems everyone is falling into the trap of the apostasy.” Well, thank God, not everybody. There is a remnant that is remaining true to God’s Word and will. Yes, we are in the End Time of the Last Days; yes, the day of the vomiting of the Laodicean church out of Christ’s mouth is here; yes, we live in the worst church age of human history, the most compromising, redefining hour of postmodern Christianity. But thank God we do not have to be part of it in heart and in life. God is able to keep us from falling, to keep us from deception, to keep us from apathy, and to keep us from backsliding!
The question still remains: “How should we then live?” The answer is that we must live by the Book, the blood, and the blessed hope of His coming! Revelation 12:11 declares how God’s saints overcame the accuser of the brethren, the Devil himself. “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.”
How should we then live in days such as these? Remain, continue, abide in Christ! Abide in His Word, His promises, and the grand provisions of His redemption. We do not have to go the way of all flesh!
As public Christianity is now in its demise, its estate has been turned over to “another gospel” that is most accommodating to the world. The institutional church has given itself over to the world and its pragmatic, existential, fluid philosophies. But there is power to keep us from becoming what this age has become! Again, we declare: remain in Christ and in His Word. People have failed, Christians have failed, churches have failed, movements have failed, schools have failed, leaders have failed, even at times our human hopes have failed, Washington has failed, America has failed; but christ has never failed! The message of the Bible will never fail!
Therefore, dear friend, let us live victorious over the world by the Book of God, the blood of our great Saviour, and with the blessed hope of His soon coming for His own. Let that hope purify you even as He is pure!How should we then live in the days of the public demise of Christianity? We shall live in the Book, the blood, and the blessed hope!