The Gathering Storm: A Passive Church in a Hostile Age
by Lawrence W. Hilliard

"And ye, O peoples, to whom God gave the liberty to choose your own magistrates, see to it, that ye do not forfeit this favor by electing to the position of highest honor, rascals and enemies of God."
—John Calvin

"Political slavery ensues when the public sleep."
—John Dickinson, 1732-1808

At this critical time in the history of the United States, as the nation has selected a new president, there is passivity, indifference and unconcern among pastors and the Christian Church. As one prominent church leader, John MacArthur, recently said, "I wouldn't spend five seconds thinking about the fall 2008 election." This mindset is antithetical to the scriptures and historical theology. It reveals a perverted view of church and state that consigns the secular world to a realm outside the influence of the Christian community. By inversion, this myopia views the spiritual as the only sphere wherein God's will is accomplished. The modern church has become a microbe fortress with virtually no voices to call the nation to repentance. There is a somnambulence of spirit and mind that has overtaken the church world. We are insulated within a micro-world and have consigned the society in which we live to irrelevance. The vacuum of non-involvement with the secular world by Christians is immense. One 20th Century theologian diagnoses the passivity of the modern church, "In the early church there were persons called 'Anchorites' who went off into the desert, separating themselves from all social contacts and living solely for God. From that early movement, monasticism was born. In our time, we see a somewhat similar response among some evangelical protestants. They believe that the Christian community should be so separated from the secular sphere that individual Christians should not go into politics or vote in elections, that they should withdraw from the culture, live in distinct communities, have Christian friends exclusively, work for Christian companies, or in general, have nothing to do with this world. It is a way of saying that the authority of the state is illegitimate." (James Montgomery Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, p. 691). The institution of civil government is not illegitimate, it is ordained by God to restrain evil and show forth His glory. In the words of John Murray, "…when the civil magistrate trespasses the limits of his authority, it is incumbent upon the church to expose and condemn such a violation of his authority." (The Relation of Church and State, p. 253).

The Anchorites of the Middle Ages lived in stone cells approximately 12 x 12 with a small aperture cut through the wall to view the world outside. They devoted their entire life to academic and scholastic study, while repudiating a world they felt was irretrievably lost. Their influence on society was as effectual as an ant on a crumb of bread. The present day Anchorites confidently assume that their weekly or weakly sermon will counter the encroaching darkness that is encircling their religious sphere like a hurricane enveloping a small island. Behind a bluster of verbiage they vainly believe their words are holding back the night. The lacuna of pro-test-ant voices from the matrix of the Christian church has allowed the virulent hatred of theism to capture the agora of ideas. Mere exposition is anemic without confronting a degenerating culture. Apologetics confined to an ecclesiastic cell is cowardice not Biblical courage. The words of a Nineteenth Century Reformation Scholar and theologian, Abraham Kuyper, are disturbing to our comfortable isolation: "There is no doubt then that Christianity is imperiled by great and serious dangers. Two life systems are wrestling with one another, in mortal combat. Modernism is bound to build a world of its own from the data of the natural man, and to construct man himself from the data of nature; while, on the other hand, all those who reverently bend the knee to Christ and worship Him as the Son of the Living God, and God, Himself, are bent upon saving the 'Christian Heritage.' This is the struggle in Europe, this is the struggle in America, and this also is the struggle for principles in which my own country is engaged, and in which I myself have been spending all my energy for nearly 40 years. In this struggle, apologetics have advanced us not one single step. Apologetics invariably begun by abandoning the assailed breastwork, in order to entrench themselves cowardly in a raveline [3 sided fortress] behind it. If the battle is to be fought with honor and with a hope of victory, then principle must be arrayed against principle; then it must be felt that in Modernism the vast energy of an all-embracing life system assails us, then also it must be understood that we have to take our stand in a life system of equally comprehensive and far-reaching power." (Abraham Kuyper, Stone Foundation Lectures: Lectures on Calvinism, 1895, p. 3). A one-dimensional perspective of the church is ecclesiastical suicide. It leaves civil government out of the purview of church authority and God's sovereign will. " was always understood that both church and state were responsible to God in whose wisdom each had been established. They were two independent servants of one master. Although neither was permitted to rule the other, each was to remind the other of its God-appointed duties and recall it to upright, godly conduct if it should stray. Today, however, the doctrine of the separation of church and state is taken, primarily by church people to mean that the church is irrevelant to the state--though the state increasingly brings its secular philosophy to bear on the church. Thus, Christians withdraw from politics, neglect even to inform themselves of national and international issues. And, as a result, the articulation of spirital or moral principles is eliminated from debates on national and international policy. The state becomes its own god with its chief operating principle being pragmatism." (James Montgomery Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, p. 665). When the church is anemic, civil government by default becomes the guardian of the people. Government becomes the foci of trust and hope.

"Wherefore no man can doubt that civil authority is, in the sight of God, not only sacred and lawful, but the most sacred, and by far the most honorable, of all stations in mortal life." (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 4, Ch. 20, Sect. 4).

The philosopher and theologian, John Calvin, who designed the secular and ecclesiastical constitution of Geneva in 1540, believed that no walls should separate the influence of the believer from the secular sphere. His doctrine of church/state relations is eye-opening. "All we wish to be understood at present is, that it is perfect barbarism to think of exterminating it [civil government], its use among men being not less than that of bread and water, light and air, while its dignity is much more excellent. Its object is not merely, like those things, to enable men to breathe, eat, drink, and be warmed (though it certainly includes all these, while it enables them to live together); this, I say, is not its only object, but it is, that no idolatry, no blasphemy against the name of God, no calumnies against His truth, nor other offenses to religion, break out and be disseminated among the people; that the public quiet be not disturbed, that every man's property be kept secure, that men may carry on innocent commerce with each other, that honesty and modesty be cultivated; in short, that a public form of religion may exist among Christians, and humanity among men. Let no one be surprised that I now attribute the task of constituting religion aright to human polity, though I seem above to have placed it beyond the will of man, since I no more than formally allow men at pleasure to enact laws concerning religion and the worship of God, when I approve of civil order which is directed to this end." (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 4, Ch. 20, Sect. 3). Calvin valued civil government as having more worth than food to the body and air to breathe. He even calls the state the "religious polity" which is a system of divinely-ordained human government, established by God to glorify Himself and restrain the rebellious nature of man. To him, the state was to reflect from the matrix of the church, a recognition of God as Sovereign Creator and acknowledgement and worship that is due Him. Calvin invested the state with power to restrain idolatry and blasphemy against God. He was in no way apolitical. This is a far cry from pastors and Christians who say that the government is not worth our time and effort to change, amend or restrain. The religious life is not active in the whole of our being, but in a fraction, confined to feelings or the volition. A partial influence of character now obscures the full impact of a redeemed life. Religion and its authority is being excluded, "...from the domain of public life; henceforth the inner chamber, the cell for prayer, and the secrecy of the heart should be its exclusive dwelling place." "And the result is that, in many different ways, religion, once the central force of human life, is now placed alongside of it; and, far from the thriving of the world, is understood to hide itself in a distant and almost private retreat." (Abraham Kuyper, 1895, The Stone Foundation Lectures p. 40). The church shadowboxes phantoms of their own devisings. Conferences are held to attack straw men of antiquity, and rededicate their habitually rededicated lives, while the judicial and legislative organs of the nation are increasingly hostile to the name of God. The time consumed on such minutiae is irrational. Little sermons, pridefully delivered as textually sequential, are as far-reaching as the tip of one's nose. Rhetorical fluff has replaced the Word of God that existentially confronts all of life.

"America is the only country ever founded on a creed." (G. K. Chesterton)

The philosophic and theological inflence of the Reformation not only established churches but created nations from the central teaching of God's sovereign will and call. No individual would hold allegiance to any foreign despot that restrained the worship of God, for God alone was the Ruler of heaven and earth. The matrix of constitutional principles came from an understanding of God's sovereign nature. "The Declaration of Independence dogmatically bases all rights on the fact that God created all men equal; and it is right, for if they were not created equal, they were certainly evolved unequalled. There is no basis for democracy except in a dogma about the divine origin of man." (G. K. Chesterton, What I Saw in America, 1922). The individual has dignity and worth not deriving from civil law, but solely from God's hands, as made in His image and likeness. "...Calvinism has captured and guaranteed to us our constitutional civil rights; and that simultaneously with this there went out from Western Europe that mighty movement which promoted the revival of science and art, open new avenues to commerce and trade, beautify domestic and social life, exalted the middle classes to positions of honor, cause philanthropy to abound, and more than all this, elevated, purified, and enobled moral life by Puritanic seriousness;...". The Reformation, "Created a church order, which became the preformation of state confederation, it proved to be the guardian angel of science; it emancipated art; it propagated a political scheme, which gave birth to constitutional government, both in Europe and America." (Abraham Kuyper, p. 29, 155). There are some evangelicals, MacArthur and his followers, who view the American Revolution as illegitimate. Their perspective values the authority of colonial England as the God-honored government of the land. They reject the Reformation foundation of the American constitution and diminish the value of our democratic state, as decreed by God for the enobling of man and the propagation of the Gospel. This ahistorical view rejects our religious heritage and fosters a myopic mindset that perceives no interrelation between the church and state. Such a view of our history is quite simply troglodytic. "America had been founded primarily for religious purposes..." "The Pilgrim Fathers had come to America precisely because England had become immoral and irreligious. They had built the 'City on the Hill.' Again, their descendants had opted for independence and liberty because they felt their subjugation was itself immoral and irreligious and opposed to the Providential plan. There is no question that the Declaration of Independence was, to those who signed it, a religious as well as a secular act, and that the Revolutionary War had the approbation of divine providence. They had won it with God's blessing and, afterwards, they drew up their framework of government with God's blessing,..." (Paul Johnson, A History of the American People, p. 204). The majority of the contributors to the Constitution of the United States, from Abraham Baldwin to George Wythe, were influenced by the writings of John Calvin. The constitutional framers understood that their work was Divinely ordained and empowered by the God of heaven.

What would Calvin have thought or said, living in 21st Century America, where a candidate, and now president of the United States, was accorded titles of divinity? By all that we know of him, he certainly would have spoken out in anger with authority. Just recently, a U.S. House of Representative, Jesse Jackson, Jr., said that an additional book should be added to the Bible, describing the ascendancy of the greatest redemptive figure of Western history. He would call it the Book of Obama. "The single most extraordinary event in American history, even a redemptive act of divine revelation. The event itself is so extraordinary that another chapter could be added to the Bible to chronicle its significance." (from Politico, June 5, 2008, article by Josephine Hearn, "Black Lawmakers Emotional About Obama's Success"). Barack Obama has been accorded the title of "The Messiah" by the Nation of Islam. Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, has declared that he (Obama) has entranced our youth and that the day of messiah has arrived. In Obama's own words, upon receiving the nomination for President of the Democratic Party, "Tonight the tides will slow and the earth will heal." The New Testament portrays Jesus' death and resurrection as the only redemptive hope of humanity but Obama says of himself and his followers, "We are the hope of the future; the answer to the cynics who tell us our house must stand divided; that we cannot come together; that we cannot remake this world as it should be. Because we know what we have seen and what we believe--that what began as a whisper has now swelled to a chorus that cannot be ignored; that will not be deterred; that will ring out across this land as a hymn that will heal this nation, repair this world, and make this time different from all the rest." (Barack Obama, Speech in 2/5/08). With unbridled hubris, he declares, "I am confident that we can create a kingdom right here on earth." (Barack Obama, October 8, 2007 speech). We have no need for political rulers but men and women of truth who will endure rejection and umbrage to support the unborn, maintain the historic definition of marriage, support Israel as a sovereign state without further territorial concessions and maintain the economic value of the individual, the incentive to achieve. The rhetoric from Barack Obama and his adoring throng come from a matrix of unbridled pride and arrogance unprecedented in American political history. We have heard cult voices utilize such language in the past but they were relegated to the lunacy of mindless extremism. But Obama seduces an entire generation with political/cultic language that is more reminiscent of an illusionary god-complex. In ancient Rome when a conquering general returned to the city with his army and the spoils of war, the whole population would greet him with praise and acclaimation. But running behind the general's chariot would be a man who would whisper in his ear, "You are not a god, you are mortal." The church needs to remind Obama that he is not the messiah, he is only a sinful mortal. To perceive of John Calvin's view of state authority is to understand that he would have opposed and exposed such blasphemy against God.

"On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have appointed watchmen; all day and all night they will never keep silent. You who remind the Lord, take no rest for yourselves; and give Him no rest until He establishes and makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth." (Isaiah 62:6-7)

"And I set watchmen over you, saying, 'Listen to the sound of the trumpet!' but they said, 'We will not listen.'" (Jeremiah 6:17)

"At every stage of her existence the Church is in need of watchmen who will guard the flock from all that would destroy it." (E. J. Young, Book of Isaiah, Vol. 3, p. 470)

As ancient sentinels were stationed on the walls of a city to alert the inhabitants of approaching danger, especially at night, so the prophets of Israel were to sound a tocsin voice to the nation of Israel of impending calamity. The prophets of Israel were the heart of God in human flesh. They encountered every aspect of life in reference to God. The prophets diagnosed the spiritual, cultural, social, economic, political and military condition of the nation from the perspective of eternity. Their voices knew no bounds of influence and repercussion. Nothing was outside the authoritative domain of the prophetic voice. From kings to pauper, all would come to know the mind of God through the enflamed heart of the prophet. Their message embraced the totality of Israel's life and history. Their voice captured the present from the transcendence of eternity. The prophets mindset encompassed the world, not just a sliver of religious activity. "The prophet is not only a prophet. He is also a poet, preacher, patriot, social critic, moralist." "The prophet was an individual who said, 'No' to his society, condemning its habits and assumptions, its complacency, waywardness and syncretism." "The prophet faces a coalition of callousness and established authority and undertakes to stop a mighty stream with mere words. Had the purpose been to express great ideas, prophecy would have had to be acclaimed as a triumph. Yet the purpose of prophecy is to conquer callousness, to change the inner man as well as to revolutionize history." (Abraham Heschel, The Prophets, p. VIII, XIII, p. 16-17). The prophets left no avenue of society untouched by the revelation of God. Their voice hit the solar plexus of society with warning and redemption. No aspect of life was sacrosanct from their fiery confrontation. "By his very claim, his was the voice of supreme authority. He not only rivalled the decisions of the king and the counsel of the priest, he defied and even condemned their words and deeds." (Abraham Heschel, p. 260). The lack of authoritative voices that speak power to power, truth to lie, clarity to obfuscation, is sorely felt in a nation inebriated by the rhetoric of self-exaltation.

Jesus gave a warning in Matthew 10:16 to his disciples, to be alert of impending danger on the horizon, in the midst of a hostile world. "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore be shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves." The phrase "shrewd as serpents" and "innocent as doves" is found in the Midrash on Cant. 2:14. Israel is described as "harmless as the dove", towards God, and "shrewd as serpents" toward the Gentile nations. The serpent has a sensory system that can detect approaching prey or predator by ground vibrations. They can detect motion more than 100 feet away. The believer is to be cognizant of what is on the horizon. We are not to be overtaken by events. When Israel failed to be prudently prescient, they paid a high price as a nation. The epithelium of the church has placed the believer in a state of vulnerability to the encroaching dangers of the culture.

"You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how will it be made salty again? It is good for nothing any more, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men." (Matt. 5:13). There was a common expression among the rabbis in the time of Jesus that the Torah was the "salt of the earth." "For as the world could not do without salt, neither could it do without the Torah." (Soferim 15.8). The Torah was believed to have a preservative effect upon the world. The world would rot in an accelerated rate without the retarding affect of the Word of God. But Jesus does something amazing in this passage, He transfers the meaning of Torah to the Galilean disciples, a band of weak, incompetent, unschooled men, despised by the educated of Jerusalem. Jesus says that the Word in and through them would restrain the spoliation of the world. No teacher in the history of Israel has ever made such a declaration. Our presence in word and deed, is to be a preservative in the midst of a dying age. Our lives are to penetrated every realm, retarding corruption. Our influence is to glorify God and affect this world. May we see the glory of God once again shine from sea to sea as at our nation's birth. Our presence in the midst of this age retards the accelerated spoliation of a dying world.

The need to pray currently for our nation is incumbent upon all of God's people. A united confluence to seek the will of God is the only restraint to the encroaching darkness over the land. There are thousands of believers across America that are grieved and are being awakened by God for the future of this nation. Only dependence on the Sovereign God can redirect the present course that embraces progressively an autocratic view of life. At signal moments in our past, God has drawn his people in concerted prayer. "Wherefore, although it is true that while we are listless or insensible to our wretchedness, he waits and watches for us, and sometimes even assists us unasked; it is very much for our interests to be constantly supplicating Him; first, that our heart always be enflamed with a serious and ardent desire of seeking, loving, and serving Him, while we accustom ourselves to have recourse to Him as a sacred anchor. In every necessity; secondly, that no desire, no longing whatever, of which we are ashamed to make Him the witness, may enter our minds, while we learn to place all our wishes in His sight, and thus pour out our heart before Him." "It is very absurd, therefore, to dissuade men from prayer, by pretending that the Divine Providence, which is always watching over the government of the universe, is in vain importune by our supplications, when, on the contrary, the Lord Himself declares, 'He is nigh unto all that call upon Him, to all that call upon Him in truth.' (Ps. 145:18)." (Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 3, Ch. 20, Sect. 3). God is the Sovereign Lord of all the nations and He has ordained that His will be accomplished in a unique way through the weakness of our intercession.

The church is losing its spiritual and moral ground to the kingdoms of this world. Yet in their conceited illusion the evangelical anchorites justify such societal degradation as a sign that the end of the age is imminent. This is the ultimate escape from responsibility to our children and their children's generation. "Religious living is not only a private concern. Our own life is a movement in the symphony of ages. We are taught to pray as well as to live in the first person plural." "All generations are present as it were, in every moment." (Abraham Heschel, A Philosophy of Judaism, p. 422-423). The Christian cannot shut himself up in his church and abandon the world to its fate. A concatenation of generations have falsely assumed that the consummation of the age was within their lifetime. "...Occupy [Gk. "pragmateuomai", daily affairs of life, commerce, judicial functions] till I come." (Luke 19:13). "Watch therefore: for you know not what hour your Lord doeth come." (Matt. 24:42). Jesus commands constant vigilance regarding the believer's interaction with society.

"...humanity glorifies God by subduing the earth by words and by work. Tragically, the pious abandon culture to the non-pious. They foolishly argue: 'Why polish brass on a sinking ship?' One polishes brass to glorify the ship's Maker, who will not allow His ship to sink. In other words, the 'purpose-driven life' aims among others things to produce a godly culture." (Bruce Waltke, Old Testament Theology, p. 221).

For too many in the church, the canard has been embraced, "Why polish the brass on a sinking ship?" The answer to that sophomoric question is, God is the Captain of the ship and He has not forsaken it. "God is not like a ship-owner who does not own the cargo. But the universe and the fullness thereof are His." (Midrash Tehillim, 24, 2). In spite of the carnage that man's rebellion has wreaked upon this world, God alone holds the title deed, the Divine imprimatur of nontransferable possession. Yes, the ship of state is listing, but we are called to be a restraint and empowerment toward a God-honoring government. We are at a crisis in American history and only the Sovereign God can restrain a movement that is dishonoring to Him at its very core. If we are silent and passive, we will suffer the consequences with the rest of the nation under God's chastening hand. Though millions have cried out for a leader after their own heart, as Israel of old, the consequences of God giving Israel an alter-ego, Saul, for a leader was grievous. "And he gave them their request; but sent leanness unto their soul." (Psalms 106:15). We must pray and seek God to take us out of the small confinement that we are in. We must see Him as the Sovereign Lord of heaven and the nations of the earth. Only God bearing His holy arm can restrain the arrogance and the supercilious movement that is capturing the imagination and seducing millions of Americans.

The systems of dependence are rapidly diminishing in stature and reliance. The promise of constant economic expansion is now being seen to have been illusory and myopic. The stratum of an economic and material foundation of life is being shaken by the seismic changes that call our entire capitalistic system into question. It is as if we as a nation are being sequestered into a cul-de-sac of despair. In this time of the death of America's golden calves may we be granted the grace of God to be quickened by His spirit to breathe again the breath of eternity in the midst of the death throes of a dying age. "A sense of contact with the ultimate dawns upon most people when their self-reliance is swept away by violent misery." (Abraham Heschel, A Philosophy of Judaism, p. 422).

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