In many ways I believe the Evangelical movement is coming to it’s inevitable end. The reason I say this should be fairly self-evident, as the old adage proves true that a house divided against itself cannot stand. Though it is still early in the year, it would be the understatement of the year to try and put forth the claim that the Evangelical church isn’t divided in almost every meaningful way. The standard divisions are still in play that have been for years; doctrinal divides on secondary and tertiary matters of the faith continue to ebb and flow. Yet we’ve seen a flurry of egalitarian ideals making headway within the broader church. I use “egalitarian” not to highlight the teaching of those who deem women fit for ministry, contra 1 Tim. 2:12.
Rather, I’m alluding to the oft-desired equality of outcome rather than equitable treatment of persons—or what the Scriptures simply call “using just scales” rather than treating people with partiality. In that, a sort of new-wave, Christianized feminism and the proliferation of Critical Race Theory has swept through the church. The rather interesting thing to me in this is that advocates of this new-wave Christian feminism and Critical Race Theory ground their claims in principles which are, at face value, advocating for partiality. In one sense, you might describe it as a reverse caste-system, where the “underprivileged and marginalized” seek to throw off the shackles of their oppressors and right the world.
Of course, there also remains a Laissez-faire manner of indifference from many of the prominent spokespersons of the Evangelical church towards political affiliations with the Democratic Party, which gives full-fledged support to things like sodomy and ripping children limb-from-limb. A summer filled with violence and looting was likewise dubbed the cry of those unheard, or mostly peaceful protests—yet as those on the right partake of the new sacrament of the disenfranchised rioters and looters of the left, there were plenty of notable Evangelicals who tweeted or wrote a lengthy, vapid response to the events at hand, who were eerily silent throughout the summer.
On the other hand, one obviously finds the same style of anarchy and lawlessness on full display in the riotous opportunism on the Capitol building just yesterday at the hand of Republicans. Lest we try to distance ourselves too far from those on the right who act in unseemly ways, we ought to remember the grand fall of a man like Jerry Falwell Jr. or even the late Ravi Zacharias. But these two are the tip of the proverbial iceberg when we consider those who have gone before them and gotten off scot-free.
All of it is disgusting—yet perhaps more to the point—all of it remains unsurprising. All of it is unsurprising because the church at large can’t even quite get some of the basics of the Christian faith down. Ask a question on the Christian faith in a large enough group of Christians—even many likeminded ones—and you’re likely to get a conglomerate of unhelpful answers. Amongst those who get the answer correct, you might try prodding and prying a bit more to see what lay behind the Christian jargon they have come to learn well enough to answer correctly. For many who understand both the correct answer and the jargon of their answer, you might prod a bit further to see how this truth has impacted their life in any meaningful way. Chances are that in all of these cases, you’ll find that depth is not quite as deep as it seems to be. A shallow understanding and/or application of the Scriptures produces a shallow church.
Part of this is obviously due to many who have climbed into a position of authority within the church who have no business being there. This is a rather sad reality that I’ve come to write on quite a bit—but the problem is twofold in this simply because you have a person vying for prominence with a people eager to give it to them. Many simply don’t care about the flagrant sins of their theological heroes. Many others don’t seem to care about the doctrinal issues plaguing the church, in many instances, from these same theological heroes. On both accounts you have every aspect of the qualifications of an elder summarily dismissed, as if to say that what God has said on the issue matters very little.
The point being: no side is left unstained. Even if you wish to divorce yourself entirely from the political spectrum through the oft-cited political homelessness, the problem follows you wherever you may go. These men were “from among us,” though likely never “of us,” but how many times do we see the same problem over and over again before we stop them long before they rise to levels of prominence in the church that no man was ever designed to have? The infatuation with celebrity culture is one thing we of all people ought to reject—yet the church loves it. They love it so much that even after insurmountable evidence of pastoral and moral failure is presented, people in the church still excuse it away or prop up the next up and coming figure.
“David was an adulterer too. David sent a man to die too.” Point granted. However, it might do us well to remember the consequences to David’s sin was not simply continual warfare and unrest all the days of his life, but a house filled with familial insurrection, and the very real threat of losing the abiding presence of God’s unique filling through His Spirit as the anointed king (remember Saul). Surely, David was still a child of God—but David at his worst was still resoundingly better than many of these prominent Evangelical men at their best. Yet perhaps more to the point is that the qualifications for a pastor are not one in the same for the king—a notion that even a simple perusal of the pertinent passages reveals.
However, even he still suffered disastrous consequences, as did the whole of Israel due to his unfaithfulness. War brings death. David’s personal, flagrant sin brought incredible pain and destruction for the whole of the nation. Do you truly think that a man after God’s own heart can still bring disastrous consequences upon the nation of Israel, yet the prominent Evangelical celebrity figures who soil the church and reputation of Christ through various political, social, and moral failures will not? Will the Lord bring peace when there is no peace? Will God grant pardon to those who know He requires covenant faithfulness, yet remain a people unfaithful to His covenant? Will God overlook the teachers and leaders who are leading the ignorant, willful or no, into disastrously poisonous theological, philosophical, and sociological ideologies opposed to the Word of God?
In a more particular sense, I believe we are reaping what we’ve collectively sown for years. We are a culture that loves sin—and I’m not using that as a throwaway line. We really do love to get down and dirty and perverse in almost every conceivable way—and then revel in our collective filth. And if you think the American church hasn’t fallen under the purview of this scathing indictment and it is just the American culture, the years of sexual infidelity and abuse, money-grubbing charlatans, the abuse of power, and the rest that can be wrapped up under a wanton malice, would beg to differ with you. Every which way you look within the visible church, there is rampant rebellion—and that rampant rebellion is directly linked to the American church’s whoredom in chasing after every vain idol imaginable. We limit Calvin’s words of the judgment of God to corrupt rulers of a nation—but do we not realize the same truth is applicable to corrupt leaders within the church?
Lest I paint my brushstrokes too broadly, I want to focus in on things that should be relatively benign to acquiesce to as a genuine Christian. Lest I paint too broadly again—I really want to peg this between the eyeballs of the doctrinally pure club who lacks the fortitude to be found obedient to these same Scriptural truths. The fact of the matter is that when you start to look at the outworking of the beliefs many claim within the Evangelical church, both, or rather all, sides have played the whore. What we are seeing is akin to the various tribes of Judah splitting off and going their own way—to the North or to the South—yet both have gone after strange gods and brought judgment upon the whole.
We tend to always conceive of judgment in an apocalyptic fashion (even this is a misnomer; apocalypse simply means “revelation”). Nonetheless, we conceive as judgment being fire and brimstone raining from the skies. The reality is that judgment is far subtler, at least in its infancy stages. Judgment is men and women being given over to a debased mind, a la Romans 1:18ff. If that’s the standard, and it is to establish the baseline at the very least, we’ve been under the judgment of God in this nation for some time.
Arguably, the visible church at large has been under this judgment, and this is clear for all of the aforementioned reasons and more. Perhaps though, the American church as a whole is on its death rattle and has been for some time. We’ve enjoyed enough relative prosperity to be fooled into thinking God has blessed us, when in reality He has given so many over to a reprobate mind in judgment already. Part of me wonders if the time for repentance has passed—not for individuals to be saved—but for the American church as a whole to be spared of the hardships to come her way.
In other words: I ask you to consider all of the things we have seen revealed in the last year alone and ask yourself if we are merely in the birth pains of judgment. I don’t see how all that is secret and all that is revealed can do anything but kindle the Lord’s anger into action. I don’t see how a people can claim that virtual church, administration of the sacraments, and so forth, is all an acceptable replacement for in-person worship—or even that it is a viable practice during a pandemic that has been blown up to bubonic-plague-like proportions, though it is nowhere near as dangerous. Yet in the same breath, those sans-mask Christians who wish to decry this, all the while skipping church for various other reasons not born out of necessity nor providential hindrance, ought to be equally ashamed of themselves for forsaking the assembly.
The same can be said for those who give a free pass to Black Lives Matter riots and the riots from the right. Both can be justified through a series of mental gymnastics, but if we are to use just scales, both must be condemned. The same is even said for those who want maintain the height of doctrinal purity, but cannot be bothered to align their lives to the standard of truth they know—and the same can be said of the Christian who disavows any sense of doctrinal importance. Again, in all of these disparate ends, I simply ask you to consider if the American church in the birth pains of judgment, which is but a foretaste of the wrath to come.
If it is the case, in the midst of that question, recognize the Lord’s work to winnow and prune the visible church so as to purify her, just as He has done throughout all generations. In the midst of this is the beautifully rich truth that the Lord’s judgment on the wicked is inextricably linked to the salvation of the righteous. For many, they will hear those words and wonder why they should be caught up in the midst of such trying times—yet if you are pure in both your doctrine and your life, what cause have you for fear of judgment? Such a judgment is the means of your deliverance and the ensign of His covenant faithfulness. Though all may fail, fall, and never recover, even if the worst possible thing happens to us this side of heaven, we still shall make our way to paradise unscathed. Even as we ask that Christ return, we must grapple with the fact that in His return, the world shall be judged like it has never been before and never will be again. Wrath and mercy intermingle; judgment and salvation intertwine. In much the same as the prophet Habakkuk then, we can and should ask that the Lord’s will be done—yet that in His burning anger, He remember mercy in covenant faithfulness to those who are genuinely His own.