Many of us can recall the atmosphere of the late ‘50s and ‘60s. A constant state of fear of atomic warfare permeated our lives. We had seen the devastation of the first bombs over Japan, and we could not get it out of our minds. We can remember the “shoe-pounding” of Nikita Khrushchev in the United Nations. It wasn’t hard to imagine him “pushing the button” that would start a war that might “end all wars.” You could find plenty of places that would sell you an underground bomb shelter during those “cold war” years, and the chill was felt by us all. Things are different now. Many of the most war-like nations have made drastic changes, and war with Russia or Red China is not as likely today
That does not mean that things at home in the good ole’ USA are going “smooth and peacefully.” Threats today are more internal rather than external. Surveys tell us Americans are more concerned about crime, drugs, AIDS, and Swine Flu. Armed guards are in many of our schools. Alcoholism is on the rise. Pundits tell us our greatest threats locally are not bombs from foreign enemies but handguns in our schools that threaten our homes as well. At least, that is what we read and hear in the evening newscast.
We try not to panic, but when we look at our history we realize it is foolhardy to act as though nothing could happen. Historians still read and give attention to Edward Gibbon’s classic work, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. What destroyed the most powerful, influential nation of ancient times? It was not outside enemies with wicked warfare, but it was “a widespread immorality which destroyed family life” and their national integrity.
In 1831, Alexis de Toqueville visited America, and then he wrote a widely read book on our “experiment in democracy.” Among other things, he wrote:
Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I learn the greatness and genius of America. America is great because America is good. If she ever ceases to be good she will cease to be great.
That was in 1831. What if he were to come to America today? Sure, he would see many great individuals and many good things. But who can say that he would hear “her pulpits aflame with righteousness”? Has America ceased to be “good”? In Proverbs 14:34 by inspiration, the wise man wrote, “Righteousness exalteth a nation; but sin is a reproach to any people.” Many years after de Toqueville’s visit, this was posted in America’s Wall Street Journal:
Basically what happened is that the “New Morality” of big cities like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco was imposed upon the rest of the country by movies, by TV, by magazines, and by default, by organized religion. Oh, sure, church doors are open every Sunday, but unhappily for those who enter. Much contemporary American theology has come to be based on a kind of dainty religious mush that has more in common with the sentiments of Rod McKuen and John Lennon than the precepts of Isaiah or the Apostle John.
It may be argued that the Wall Street Journal is hardly the best source for judging America’s sermons, but what they have written is hard to deny. Not until sin is denounced and abhorred will any nation have the right to start talking about “righteousness.” It is not that unusual for people to depart a church building on Sunday morning feeling good about themselves, but not having been challenged and motivated by their preacher to live by higher biblical standards.
It starts with you and me. Nations are made up of people, and America’s people must be taught to be good before America’s people will be good. Preachers are human, and we have many of the same desires everyone else has. We want to be true to the Lord, but it is very tempting to seek instead the favor of those who hear us preach. Solving this problem will take the efforts of all of us. Let us lead America back to greatness by insisting that the Bible be our measuring rod. Remember the words of 2 Chronicles 7:14: “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”
God’s way will always be the best way.