It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad. Two candidates stand before us promising the great days of the past.
Sure, liberals long for The Great Society of 1965 and conservatives desire The Reagan Revolution of 1981, but both suffer from an extreme case of nostalgia. And so we hit July with two seventy-something candidates promising to bring back the “good ol’ days.”
It’s not just political pundits and biased news anchors calling for the days of yore. Christians also enter the fray. You’ve heard it. You may have said it. “I cannot believe how suddenly our nation has departed from any sense of morality. Gay marriage! Transgenderism! We used to be a Christian nation!”
So Christians take the same approach politicians do: we look for a way to turn back the clock. We reach for every opportunity to “seize back the nation.”
An Important Question
In our frenzy, I fear we do not pause to ask some very important questions like, “What would the ‘ideal America’ look like?” I fear many Christians have one of two dangerous visions in mind for America:
- The Christian morality nation: we dream for an America that merely follows basic principles of Christian morality
- The Christian utopia nation: we push for a country that orders people to obey all the laws of God—you know, like OT Israel
The first vision, I fear, would lead to confusion and complacency. If we lead with morality, we confuse the gospel for mere moralism. Unbelievers everywhere will see morality as the basic message of the gospel. In actuality, they already believe that is the core stuff of religion.1 A vision that promotes mere morality, then, then, would only encourage more gospel confusion. It would also, I believe, lead to Christian complacency. I know my heart well enough to admit that I’d settle for moralism. Sure, I’d probably plan on eventually speaking the gospel, but all those moral neighbors around me would lull me into complacency. Why upset my neighbors? We all get along so well. Why talk to my coworkers? I love working in such a friendly environment! Maybe they’re fine as they are.
The second vision has already proven short-lived in our very land. Many early Puritans tried to develop just such an utopia. It worked fairly well for the first generation of settlers, but soon they were neck-deep in Halfway Covenants2 and other concessions. This type of vision correctly longs for a world in which Jesus reigns and his truth orders society, but it looks for it before he has returned. One day, praise God, that day will come. Today, we must preach the gospel.
A Way Forward
So what can we do in the here-and-now? Here are a few governing principles.
1. Morality ≠ Christianity
In all honesty, I fear I’m often interested in having a moral society for all the wrong reasons. I like to be comfortable. I like to feel in the majority. I like to be pleasantly smiled at and talked to with kindness.
As Christians, however, we must be willing to put aside our comfort for the gospel. We must realize that the most moral society without Christ is actually a society against Christ. Those “good deeds” are actually strikes against unbelievers. In Paul’s terms, those good deeds count as “loss” not “gain.” These works will one day serve to condemn their owners. Christless morality is evidence of rebellion, not faith.
Nothing so camouflages and distorts the gospel like mere moralism. Mere moralism leads rebels by the hand, anesthetizing them to their need, confusing moral activity for the gospel, and lulling them step-by-step to hell itself. So encourage right behavior, but do not confuse mere morals for genuine faith.
2. The “Ideal America”
The best America is one in which the gospel may be proclaimed clearly, plainly, and without coercion. The gospel is not served by manipulation. In a sense, the best America is one in which people may openly reject or accept the gospel.
Pray for moral uprightness in our land. Sure. Strive for it in your personal life. Certainly. But long for it as the fruit of the changed life in yourself and others. Long for the workings of grace that move former rebels to good works. Value a nation that permits this message to be proclaimed freely.
3. Even So, Come, Lord Jesus
As Christians, the “good ol’ days” are not behind us, but in front of us. The desire for better days testifies that God has “put eternity into man’s heart” (Eccl. 3:11). One day, we will experience the unhindered rule of our Lord. One day, “He will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4). One day, we will experience fullness of joy in his presence forever (Psa. 16:11). So we proclaim with John, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20).
We must never confuse morality for the gospel. Our voices must speak in public, yes, but they must firstly and predominantly be filled with the gospel message. This broken world does not ultimately need to know the right way to live; ultimately, they need The Way. They don’t need better rules or standards. They need a person; and his name is Jesus.
- This is why many unbelievers are perfectly content to permit and encourage religion. “It’s good for people to be taught morality” or “If the churches would just focus on their job of helping those around them, our society would be a lot better.” Like any good half-truth, truth is present in both of these statements. Yes, it is good for people to be taught morality, but not for morality’s sake. And yes, Christians should physically care for those around them, but that is not the core Christian message or the basic goal of Christ’s Church. ↩︎
- A system developed essentially to allow unbelieving children of believing parents to technically be a part of the church and society without confessing the faith ↩︎