Don’t wait for THE Advent
In the Summer of 1992, shortly after the Lord had goaded me into engaging the invasion of the culture into the church, I was sitting in my office when the phone rang. I didn’t answer because there were other people in the office. In a few moments, a secretary came in and said, “There is a guy on the phone who wants to talk with you.”
I picked up the phone and spoke with a man who said, “I’ve heard about what you are doing, and I want to thank you for your faithfulness to stand up for Biblical truth. It is a huge battle. The culture is not just changing the church; some church leaders are opening the door for it to happen. They are using their authority wrongly. We need to speak about it Biblically and properly. That is what I hear you are doing.”
As we spoke, I realized that I was meeting an elder statesman and kindred spirit who had been called into the battle long before I had.
He went on to say, “The battle is not with flesh and blood. It is a spiritual war. You are going to experience attacks that are worse than anything you can imagine. There is a temptation to hate the people who are used for the attacks, but they are not the real problem. The real problems are the fallen spirits that are driving them and assaulting the church. I have an army of intercessors. If you like, I would be glad to coordinate intercessory prayer for you. If you get in touch with me about concerns, of course my wife and I will pray for you, but I’ll also pass the information on to intercessors. Would that be helpful?”
Ordinarily, it would be foolish to accept the offer from someone that you’ve never met to coordinate intercessory prayer for your family and ministry, but this was different. The call was from Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ. From that time until his death in 2003, Bill coordinated intercessory prayer for me. Bill and Vonette were also extremely generous donors personally to my ministry, with checks coming not from Campus Crusade, but from their personal account. It was tremendously humbling to have the affirmation and support of such luminaries. I don’t see myself in the same category as Bill Bright, but I was proud to share a foxhole with him in the battle to spread Biblical redemption across the world.
One of the greatest contributions that Bill Bright made was in concert with another amazing world-changing Christian, Loren Cunningham, the founder of Youth With A Mission (YWAM). In 1975, Bill and Loren articulated what they called “Seven Mountains of Influence” in culture. They are:
• Arts & Entertainment
• Business (Commerce)
It was an amazing insight. Their purpose was to call for engagement with the culture, not just observing it. While I certainly agree that those ARE the “mountains” of influence, I don’t think that is God’s full design. Most of the descriptions of “mountains” are spot-on. However, the Church should be not just a voice in the culture of “religious influence,” but the place where people are won to faith in Christ, are discipled to know the faith and share it, and impact the world in which we live. The hope is that Christians will stand up, even in the face of death, and bring the world closer to the way things are in the presence of God in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Instead of simply being one of many voices of influence, the Church, when operating faithfully, should be a place of transformation, where people’s lives are so revolutionized by faith in Christ that they are launched as disciples into every sphere of the culture.
I often see the effective witness of this kind of discipleship when traveling internationally. In Nigeria, for example, one can usually tell the Muslim workers in a government office by the way they dress. The Christians are visible because of their behavior and the way they speak. Not an encounter will go by without something being said about the Lord and His blessings. The same is true in East Africa as well. Christians have not surrendered to the influence of Western politically-correct pressures. Across the globe in places like South East Asia, one can often see shopkeepers and others living lives that are a gracious witness to the Lord. When trying to find someone, connections often are easily made by asking who are Christians. It is not that they are bombastic in their lives. Authentic Christian witness is undeniable. Sometimes the response to witness is unpleasant or even violent, but Christians are fruitful all the same.
In the US, though, the “Seven Mountains” accurately describe much about the current culture and the way that the Church has been operating, I think that the seventh “mountain” has a different name. Instead of being “Religion,” the final mountain of influence in the U.S. should be called Health Care & Compassion. Health care doesn’t really fit in any of the other areas of description. Most “7 Mountains” models put health care in the business sphere, but clearly there are many healthcare decisions that are not made based on what is the most profitable course. Acts of compassion are similar. Many things are done based not on cost but on what is right, to bring grace to the most wounded and vulnerable of society.
The anemic role that the Church is currently fulfilling in culture leaves “religious” voices relegated to offering “color commentary” about things rather than the moral and spiritual guidance we were designed to provide. The absence, or weakness, of the voice of the Church has many implications.
When Judeo-Christian values were assumed in the culture, many life situations resolved positively. As militant secularists grew more and more strident, their demands became more and more sweeping. Not content to be a tolerated voice, the secularists have pushed their agenda while skillfully aided by liberals and pagans who despise historic Biblical boundaries. Now, emboldened by political allies who (perhaps unwittingly) serve their agenda, current culture has become utterly hostile to Christian values.
The crazy thing is that it was those same Christian values of freedom, grace, kindness, and protection of the vulnerable that gave place and voice to the wacky world of liberal and secular ideas to exist. Now, the hostile insistence that faith be divorced from the culture is yielding many devastating consequences that were never anticipated.
There are many examples of this. I’ve mentioned before that abortion is one of the arenas, bankrupting Social Security by removing scores of millions of people who could have been working contributors. Leaving the Biblical value for life has resulted in carnage.
Another area is prayer in school. I can remember as a boy hearing scripture read over the PA system into all the classrooms. As late as 1963, I can remember being asked to be the one to pray. When the Supreme Court deviated from legal precedent and made the entirely novel ruling that equated religious expression as state sponsorship, they committed an even more egregious mistake. They failed to replace the moral and spiritual foundation with anything except a sort of vague paganism in which anything goes.
In the years following that 1963 ruling, incidences of sexual activity among teens, pregnancy, drug use, peer violence in school, shoplifting, and every other conceivable ill in the USA have continually increased. As people have aged, their decisions have manifest the moral rootlessness of their lives with divorce, out of wedlock pregnancies, and millions of abortions (following another meritless Supreme Court decision in 1973).
An additional area often escapes notice. It has to do with stresses and readiness among members of the military. For centuries, there was an inexorable weaving together of faith and morals with members of the military. A Judeo-Christian foundation helped people process the horrors of war. Chaplains provided a core value to those in armed service, usually winning respect from the fighting men. As an aside, historically, more West Point graduates and other military officers were members of the Episcopal Church than any other denomination. The same was true of members of Congress. The percentage was vastly disproportionate to the actual size of the Episcopal Church. Of course, that faded quickly as the Episcopal Church abandoned Biblical truth.
Although many Christians assume that fidelity to Christ requires pacifism, that has not historically been the case. Many ethicists and theologians have not merely allowed the possibility for Christians to serve in the military, they have even articulated the possibility that intervention of force can be the best choice in a given situation. Historically, that force has focused on protection of the powerless. With just a little thought, it is not difficult to design a scenario in which most people see the need for violent intervention, even if regrettably imposed. In the War College, classes were taught in Augustine’s “Just War Theory,” giving tools to those in combat to help process the weight of their responsibilities and actions that their duties required.
As the politically correct “police” have flexed their influence, a different world now exists. Individuals in the military experience demands that they not express faith. There are countless examples of anti-Christian bias. Marines, soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Coast Guard personnel are pressured not to speak of their faith or even allow their Bibles or other Christian literature to be seen. All the while, Wiccan practitioners, Muslims, and other non-Christians are given amazing accommodation to display and practice their faith and even proselytize. Just War Theory has been excised from the curriculum. Biblical references are forbidden. Rather than being a bedrock, Christian faith is now suspect or emasculated into being a curiosity without the Cross, sin, redemption, or hope.
One of the places where the problem of this process is most acute is being played out hundreds of feet below the surface of the earth. Among those who serve in missile silos with their fingers on the launch buttons of hundreds of nuclear weapons, commanders try to insist on absolute readiness in which faith is proscribed. Their thought is that duty and honor should be sufficient to motivate people to remain focused and devoted to a given task. The problem is that they are not. Duty and honor do not exist in a vacuum: they are virtues derived from greater values. Christians understand the greatest value to be not just a principle but a person.
Proscribed from embracing Christian values, those who sit in the weighty seat that is capable of wreaking utter devastation simmer and stew. In the silos beneath Francis E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming and other bases where countless nuclear missiles wait deep below ground with crews bunkered and isolated sitting cocked and ready, the morale and readiness of those who steward them is terrible. As I write this, today’s Dallas Morning News references incidents of court-martials among missile crews that are 129% of the general military force. Non-judicial punishments are vastly higher as well. Substance abuse is a mission-impacting problem, retention is horrible, divorces are tragically common, and incidents of domestic violence among missile crews are rising at an alarming rate. It’s not like this is an area where we can tolerate mistakes!
We should not, however, be surprised at the state of affairs in the missile commands. The crushing weight of moral responsibility absent a framework in which to bear it is devastating. Because it is such a high stress environment, the breakdown from erosion of the spiritual foundation of the culture is more quickly evident than it might be in other venues, but it will come eventually all the same.
As those who watch and lament example after example of broken values and performance weigh what to do, many opt for a rescue scenario. They simply long for the return of Christ when all things will be set aright. Of course, when He returns things certainly will better manifest His victory and Lordship, but we are not just called to wait.
Jesus commanded us to “Go into all the world,” saying, “As the Father sent me, so send I you.” That means we are not to sit on the sidelines whining and complaining. We are to work and pray and give to make this earth more like heaven. This is not to suggest that we attempt to use faith to justify military might. Instead, we are so thoroughly to embrace the Gospel and its transformation that we are resourced to live and speak Kingdom values not only to military issues but to every area.
Currently, far too much of the Church is gasping for spiritual air, just hoping to survive the rising tide of the world and hold out until the return of Christ. Many ride theological hobby horses with confidence in being right but with little more productivity than the ones that circle on carousels. We are divided and anemic, hardly building credible witness even within our own church’s four walls, much less being platforms to launch an army of world changing disciples.
A maturing Church that understands both the imperatives of incarnational theology, the possibilities that redemption, and the command of Christ to go into all the world, will be preparing and deploying Christians who are shaping events so that God’s “will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Rather than hand-wringing or thumb-twiddling till He returns, doesn’t it make sense to be doing what we are supposed to be doing?
As we enter this Advent season, let us be ever mindful of our responsibilities as Kingdom people to make a difference in this fallen world until THE Advent occurs.