Why Are We in This “Big Mess” in America?
When one of our grandsons was a little fellow, he looked into his grandmothers food pantry and exclaimed: “It’s a BIG MESS!”
Even the casual observer cannot but note that America is in a BIG MESS – morally, spiritually, politically, socially, and economically. How did we get here? Although the changes have accelerated to warp speed, it didn’t happen overnight.
So, where does the fault lie? Does the blame lie primarily in the White House, the Statehouse, the Schoolhouse, or the Church House?
For me, as a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, I place the blame at the feet of the Church.
What is the primary problem? Beginning around 1825, evangelical pastors and teachers begin to embrace a wrong eschatology as relates to the kingdom of God. It shifted to the view of the Pharisees of Jesus’ time. This was the belief that the kingdom involves a Messiah who destroys all the enemies of Israel and sets up an earthy kingdom that lets them rule the world, while prospering materially beyond measure. They posited the idea that the church was a parenthesis – plan B – less than the main persons - in God’s over-arching plan for the world.
The most widely held view on the kingdom in America is that espoused by dispensationalism. It’s the belief that Jesus offered the Jews the kind of kingdom that we just described, but they rejected Him, and His kingdom was postponed. The kingdom, in this view, is only spiritual and inside individual believer’s hearts.
Because the kingdom touches everything, when one gets it wrong or distorts it, we find ourselves in a BIG MESS. Get the kingdom wrong, and we’ll get politics, education, sexuality, race, injustice, work ethic, and all else wrong.
Pastor Joseph Mattera rightly observes, “When we separate the good news of Christ from His kingdom, we wind up with an individualistic mindset in the church that can easily lead to narcissism and self-focus. This is because a kingdom implies a king’s domain, which includes the systems of the created order such as economics, politics, education, business, family, science, history, psychology, the arts, and all the spheres and/or cultural mountains. Detaching the gospel from these systems of the kingdom leaves the church without an earthly purpose of stewarding the earth, leaving it only to strive for an individual focus of redemption and hope. Conversely, when the church lifts whole cities and nations with the gospel of the kingdom (Isaiah 61:3-4), we will have more souls go to heaven anyway!
Pastor Mattera then lists some of the negative consequences of separating the gospel from the Kingdom of God:
- The church loses its purpose of stewarding the earth according to Genesis 1:28. I believe the Cultural Mandate found in Genesis 1:28 is the key passage that unlocks the rest of the Bible. Without this original covenant given to Adam, we cannot understand the purpose of the church, the resurrection of Christ, and the purpose of the coming of Christ. This is why Jesus commanded His followers to disciple whole nations, not just individual ethnic groups (Matt. 28:19-20).
- The church tends to become self-focused and narcissistic. When we disconnect the gospel from an obligation to care for and steward communities and cities, we are left with a Jesus who just came to redeem us for the sake of ourselves and going to heaven.
- We win hearts but lose the minds of the next generation. It has been said that in the 1960’s “Jesus Movement, ” we saw hundreds of thousand saved and added to the church. The church may have won their hearts, but the world won over the minds of the young people! Now, the youth of the 1960’s humanistic revolution are our nation’s leaders and have shifted our nation towards a secular worldview that marginalizes Christianity!
- We miss the opportunity to disciple many emerging leaders of our nation. If Steve Jobs were alive today as an 18 year-old and visited a typical evangelical church (to connect his creative desire with his Creator), he would probably be disappointed and leave! He would probably only hear sermons related to heaven, personal fulfillment, and the rapture of the church rather than stewarding the earth, leaving him feeling the church has no relevant message to offer emerging cultural creatives like himself. Unfortunately, I believe this scenario is played out week after week in our churches. We are missing the opportunity to attract the greatest leaders of our generation who have an innate desire for cultural engagement and are turned off by escapist theology.
- We fall into a dualism that separates Jesus as Redeemer from Jesus as Creator. In the 19th century when we began separating gospel truths from the kingdom, we largely stopped founding Christian universities (like Harvard, Yale, Princeton that produced future leaders of nations in every aspect of life) and reduced our view of education to starting Bible institutes in which young people learned the Bible apart from the human sciences and natural law. These institutes adapted to the (semi-Gnostic) dualism of the church that taught only spiritual things were important to God, and that the physical world was unimportant! This dualistic hyper-dispensational theology became popular after the Civil War and resulted in the church abandoning culture and leaving the stewardship of the nation to the secular humanists resulting in losing our culture in just one generation! Truly, any sphere that the church refuses to influence will come back and attempt to destroy her!
- We limit our ability to impact principalities over nations who rule through ideologies. According to 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, the strongholds in the world we struggle against are based on thoughts and imaginations. When we start dealing with the Kingdom of God, we begin to deal with worldview issues, which is the stuff principalities over nations use to rule over humanity.
- We will attract fewer men in the church. If we separate the gospel from the kingdom, we take away motivation from the majority of men who will never feel called to full-time church work. Consequently, when the church focuses on escaping the earth rather than tilling and stewarding the earth, we lull many men to sleep because men search for meaning and truth through their work, not apart from it. I believe if we connect the gospel to the kingdom our churches will be teeming with men! This will be most welcome to many churches that have an average male attendance of 25% or less.
A wrong view of the kingdom of God has led to the outlook that this world is a sinking “Titanic”!
The late radio preacher J. Vernon McGee, warned his listeners with the rhetorical question, “Do you polish brass on a sinking ship?” McGee used this metaphor often, and referred to the “sinking ship of civilization.”
End times writer, Jan Markell, emphatically insists: “The church is not in the business of taking anything away from Satan but the souls of men. The world is a sinking Titanic ripe for judgment, not Garden of Eden perfection. Jesus will take dominion of the cleansed earth. For men to speak of doing that before the judgment of this earth is spiritually arrogant. I encourage you to flee such false teachers.”
Tom Sine offers a startling example of the effect having a wrong view of the kingdom can have on people: “Do you realize if we start feeding hungry people things won’t get worse, and if things don’t get worse, Jesus won’t come?” interrupted a coed during a Futures Inter-term I recently conducted at a northwest Christian college. Her tone of voice and her serious expression revealed she was utterly sincere. And unfortunately I have discovered the coed’s question doesn’t reflect an isolated viewpoint. Rather, it betrays a widespread misunderstanding of biblical eschatology … that seems to permeate much contemporary Christian consciousness. I believe this misunderstanding of God’s intentions for the human future is seriously undermining the effectiveness of the people of God in carrying out his mission in a world of need…. The response of the (student) … reflects what I call the Great Escape View of the future. So much of the popular prophetic literature has focused our attention morbidly on the dire, the dreadful, and the destruction of all that is.”
Can you imagine what would have happened to the early church if this type of thinking had been promoted after the murders of Stephen at the hand of the soon-to-be apostle Paul (Acts 7:54–60), James the brother of John at the hand of Herod (Acts 12:1–3), the martyred saints in Revelation (Rev. 6:9–11; see 1:9; 2:10; 7:13–14), and the prophesied destruction of the temple and the judgment upon Israel before their generation passed away?
In contrast to a sinking ship” mentality of the world, the 1st century believers, as “kingdom announcers, heralds, criers, or proclaimers,” went forth declaring that the end of the old age had come in Jesus, and a brand-new world order or creation was dawning. The end of all religion had come because Jesus came to establish a relationship with the living God, not to give some more rules, rituals and regulations. They announced that God had made Jesus, both Lord and Christ, and had given Him all authority in heaven and on earth and that He was the One who had sent them forth as heralds – announcers. The announcement declared that the only way to get in on the good news was to renounce all religion and all rebellion and openly confess that Jesus alone was Lord!
Many Bible teachers infer that Jesus went back to heaven disappointed and in weakness and defeat because He had been rejected as King by the Jews and had to postpone His kingdom. He is viewed as an exile in heaven, driven off by the hatred of men, and rules only in heaven and over His people. To console themselves they say, “But just you wait! One day He will come back and get the real, literal, material throne that He has wanted and has waited for centuries to get!”
Praise God, this wasn’t the outlook of the early church! Instead, there was an overwhelming sense of victory because Christ’s resurrection and ascension resulted in His being among them in a way just as real and powerful as He was when He was in their midst in a physical body; that His kingdom had been established definitively and would be extended powerfully and pervasively to the ends of the earth until the end of time! This victory orientation was maintained in spite of the fact that many of them had already died horrible deaths and many others were about to die, suffer persecution, and lose everything for Jesus’ sake. Near Nero’s Circus Maximus, (or Coliseum) in Rome, there is a monument that recounts the vision and determination of the martyrs in the statement: “Christ is conquering, Christ is reigning, Christ rules over all.”
Only a return to the King and His ever-enlarging Kingdom, and His assignment to make disciples of all nations, will get America out of this “BIG MESS”!