“For 75 years, CDC and public health have been preparing for COVID-19, and in our big moment, our performance did not reliably meet expectations.” With this statement, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, announced yesterday a “reset” that will focus on making the organization quicker to respond to new health threats. She wants a new culture “that emphasizes accountability, collaboration, communication, and timeliness.”
Dr. Walensky should begin with the first. Colonial American writer Thomas Paine was right: “A body of men holding themselves accountable to nobody ought not to be trusted by anybody.”
To illustrate: the clergy abuse scandal that has rocked the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) continues to make headlines with recent reports that the US Justice Department “has initiated an investigation” into the denomination. The SBC and its entities have committed to cooperating with the investigation.
And Hillsong Church, one of the largest churches in the world, is being sued by a whistleblower who alleges the megachurch moved millions of dollars in payments through overseas entities to avoid scrutiny by Australia’s charities regulator.
The problem with “political religion”
The less our culture believes in objective morality, the more we need others to help us choose to be moral. However, those who are to hold us accountable are also fallen people who need to be held accountable themselves. And our all-pervasive political culture is exacerbating the problem.
German theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg observed, “The idea of democracy has more the function of political religion than that of a description of political reality.” He points to centuries of conflicts between Protestants and Catholics and between Protestants and Protestants, animosity which has persuaded Western society that cultural unity cannot be based on religious unity. So we sacralize the secular, investing religious devotion in political parties and their leaders.
Both parties do this, each insisting on loyalty to party doctrine and believing the other side to be more immoral and dishonest than other Americans.
However, as Pannenberg notes, replacing religion with politics results in “the emancipation of the political order from its ties with Christianity.” Institutional order and traditional morality lose legitimacy. The autonomy of the individual is reinforced as a consumer rather than a worshiper.
Such autonomy expresses the essence of the fallen human condition: the “will to power” that seeks to be our own god (Genesis 3:5). At the same time, it meets our need for community by uniting us with like-minded partisans who are convinced of our righteousness and of the immorality of our opponents.
“Have you fallen into the world’s trap?”
The solution is to seek accountability from the only One who needs no accountability.
The psalmist noted, “Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lᴏʀᴅ!” (Psalm 119:1). Commenting on this text, Billy Graham wrote: “These words from the Psalmist’s pen present a view of life that is the exact opposite of what the world around us promotes—through advertising, the media, entertainment, even the lifestyles of the rich and famous.
“‘Live for yourself,’ the world proclaims. ‘Have a good time; indulge your senses; pursue every pleasure; strive for success. And if you do,’ these voices add, ‘then you’ll be happy and blessed.’”
How does this work out? Dr. Graham, who was personally acquainted with many US presidents and some of the most famous celebrities of the twentieth century, answered: “Some of the most miserable people I have ever known were highly successful in the eyes of the world. But down inside they were restless and spiritually empty.”
He then asked, “Have you fallen into the world’s trap, following its self-indulgent goals and driven by its self-centered motives?” He warned, “It can happen without you even being aware of it.” His solution: “Make sure Christ is first in your life and make it your goal to live according to his word.”
(For more on living this day fully for eternal purposes, see my latest website article, “Battle-equipped robot dog debuts at Russian arms fair.”)
“He will be the stability of your times”
This week we have focused on the biblical mandate, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). When we orient our lives around the vertical, we will be used by the Holy Spirit to transform the horizontal.
In her latest blog, my wife pointed to the promise of Isaiah 33: “The Lᴏʀᴅ is exalted, for he dwells on high; he will fill Zion with justice and righteousness, and he will be the stability of your times” (vv. 5–6, my emphasis). Exalting God is the key to experiencing his “justice and righteousness” and the “stability” only he can bring.
To this end, Janet notes, “The Holy Spirit is the presence and power of God in our lives. Those who ‘walk in the Spirit’ will bring God into every room they enter.”
Then she asks, “Does the room sense the stability of God when you enter? . . . Are your home and your heart filled with the stability of God?”
If not, why not?
NOTE: Knowing our spiritual gifts is vital to using our influence to impact the culture for Christ. And God has uniquely wired you for serving him and others. In Dr. Ryan Denison’s new book, What Are My Spiritual Gifts?, you’ll read about 17 spiritual gifts, people in the Bible who exemplify each gift, warnings against potential pitfalls, and encouragement on how to exercise your unique gifts. Please request your copy today of What Are My Spiritual Gifts?.