The Church’s Role in Preventing America’s Collapse
I ended my last blog by saying that we Christians are the ones who will bring renewal out of the ruins of American society. But as of yet there’s no consensus that America is collapsing. We’re the frog in the hot pot, remember? We’re not aware that we’re getting cooked. Jesus himself warned For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them away. So people generally don’t see beyond the end of their noses. But wise Christians can see beyond their noses, and that’s one reason why the Church can prevent America’s coming collapse.
In this blog I’ll discuss the Church’s role in a disintegrating society. Basically, our role is to be like the monasteries of medieval Europe or the Puritan communities of early America. These small Christian communities formed islands of stability in a sea of chaos. Because they were a light in the darkness, over time society came to (mostly) embrace both their message and their way of life.
To show how this works I’ll borrow the idea of a bell curve. A bell curve describes the life cycle of a group; it can apply to businesses, churches, and even nations. We could get more specific about the phases of the life cycle, but here’s the basic pattern:
There’s a proverb that describes this pattern: “faith leads to character, and character leads to prosperity; and prosperity destroys both faith and character.” In other words, when a group reaches maturity, they get fat and happy and lose the inspiration that fueled their growth. They stop caring and drift from the sacrifices necessary for continued vitality.
But death isn’t inevitable for a nation. A nation can make choices to adapt when decline starts to set in. The graph then looks like this:
while maintaining its core vision. And America has had some success in reinventing itself. One example is the integration of racial minorities into leadership throughout society. It’s too soon to say whether all races can cooperate in completing that integration, but gains have been made.
So what is the Church’s role in this continual renewal of society? I’ll use a new metaphor – the metaphor of a human body. (Apologies for the shabby artwork.)
The health of the body politic depends on many things, but four things in particular are crucial:
Work Ethic: The “muscle” of a society is the hard work necessary to maintain a functioning society. Citizens must do their jobs and fulfill their vocations energetically. Spouses must work hard to stay married; teachers must work hard to educate children; farmers must work hard to grow food; businesses must work hard to provide good products. In a declining society, people lack the work ethic to do this. More and more people become dependent either on government support or on inherited privilege.
Moral Character: The ability to work hard springs from the moral character of a people. This is a society’s “heart”. It is formed in the family and reinforced by a society’s religious and educational institutions. Moral character enables a people to stay motivated to make sacrifices and function at a high level when life is not easy or rewarding. It enables goodness to prevail over the perennial sins of ego, lust, and greed. A society without moral character surrenders to pleasure-seeking and becomes unable to bounce back from national crises.
Vision: How on earth can a people be motivated to maintain its moral character when it’s often so unrewarding to be moral? By a compelling vision. Vision is a shared picture of the good life, and it brings a powerful hope. It is “seen” clearly by the members of a society, and it unites them. Vision is sung at public gatherings (as the national anthem is sung); vision is taught in public schools; it is prayed in churches; it is portrayed in the arts; it is corrected by a society’s prophets. In America vision is conveyed in words like “democracy”, “the American dream”, and “liberty and justice for all”. But in our culture the entertainment industry puts out a powerful competing vision of the good life that thwarts the Church’s vision.
Spirit: The body politic needs “breath” – a spiritual power that is unseen and yet is powerfully felt. Spirit underlies and animates all three of the above factors, and it comes either from God or from Satan. Consider the spirit that galvanized Nazi Germany: though it was evil, it effectively inspired the Germans to take over most of Europe.
For Christians, our animating spirit is the Holy Spirit. He breathes into us a vision for the Kingdom of God, which in turn inspires in us the moral character to love. Only God can provide the Spirit; but through the Spirit the Church can provide both vision and moral character. This is why the Church is the only institution that can prevent America’s coming collapse.
In a collapsing society, much of the Church also collapses. It is too weak in Spirit, vision, moral character, and work ethic to be the light in the darkness. But God always leaves a faithful remnant of believers. Whether that faithful remnant is able to bring renewal to that ruined society depends on how inspired the Church’s leadership is and how faithful the people are.