At the close of World War II, General Douglas MacArthur spoke of the future in these words: “We have had our last chance… The problem is basically theological. The solution must be of the spirit if we are to save the flesh.”
Today the world in which we live is dramatic proof that the theological problem can have greater effect on civilization than the economic problem, the political problem, or any other with which mankind is confronted.
In America, in particular, all other problems pale into insignificance alongside those traceable to theology. We have made progress in science beyond the power of our fathers even to imagine. Our affluence testifies to a steady and progressive economic development. While some poverty remains in our land, in comparison with other nations of the earth our poverty is relative indeed.
But while our material well-being exceeds that of all other nations, our moral and spiritual degradation also promises to exceed, not only that of any other contemporary culture but also perhaps that of any culture which has gone before.
The current disintegration of moral standards, the collapse of personal and collective integrity, the skyrocketing incidence of crime and social disorder, the crisis in education – in short, the corruption of our culture in all of its parts bears witness to the severity of the theological problem in our time.
The root cause of the problem is not hard to find. It lies in the broken relationship between sinful man and his Maker. And the virulence of the problem clearly suggests that the salt of Christian influence and the light of Christian guidance have failed in our time.
Commanding voices continue to tell us that the solution must be of the spirit if we are to save the flesh. But by their words and their actions even churchmen have tended to deny that insight and as a consequence this great evil has come upon us.
The organized church itself has been in the forefront of the secularization of our culture. Churchmen have taught the nation to believe that the flesh is more important than the spirit, that we must save the flesh in order to save the spirit, or that the flesh is all that must be saved for there is no spirit.
New theologies, new moralities, new forms of worship have corrupted the Christian religion sometimes almost past recognition. The god of permissiveness has replaced the God of principle in the exercise of law and administration of justice, sometimes in the teaching of the church itself.
The crisis faced by civilization in our time has not been produced simply by developments in the classroom, the science laboratory, the halls of government or the councils of the military establishment. The crisis faced by civilization – let it be said to our shame – has been produced by developments within the religious community. It is because the salt has lost its savor that the land has become polluted.
As evangelicals we must share the responsibility for the nature of the times in which we live. The Scriptures expressly teach that where God’s people, who are called by His name, are humble and prayerful and repentant and seek His face, He will recover their land from such pollution as has been visited upon ours. The testimony of history invariably has been that where even a remnant of God’s people have proved faithful and immovable, judgment has been tempered and blessing bestowed.
Since the problem is theological, then the failure of the Christian community surely lies at the heart of it. Since the solution must be a spiritual one, then we must be counted among those who have failed. We must be smitten with the realization that we, too, are responsible.
Only a vital church can meet the needs of this hour. And only vital Christians can make a vital Church.
1) Christians and such a Church will be concerned. This is not merely to take notice of problems that all can see; it is to be concerned about the root cause of the problems. It is also to confess the part that our own failures have played in the development of those problems.
Concerned for the spiritual and material problems of mankind, the Church must care with a responsible caring, a repentant caring and a compassionate caring.
2) Such Christians and such a Church will be committed. In a time of almost total relativity, the world longs to believe that there are some absolutes. In a time when many church leaders prize dialogue above dogma, a disintegrating society needs to hear a biblical “Thus saith the Lord.”
In a time when too many churches willingly compromise the faith in order to end their differences, the world need to see true believers in Jesus Christ who are one even as the Father and the Son are one. This means a commitment to visible evangelical unity and cooperation, without compromise.
3) Such Christians and such a Church will be conquering. We fight not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness and against spiritual wickedness in high places. To hold back from this battle or to shirk this contest is to be faithless servants of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In this battle, self-respect, dignity and freedom for all men are valid Christian objectives. The evangelical should be known among men for his humanitarian concern. The evangelical also knows that it is possible to gain the whole world and lose one’s soul. His concern for an empty spirit, therefore, takes priority over all human benefits he can and should provide.
A healthy society must seek justice and equity for its members, and every Christian, as a citizen of Caesar’s kingdom, should be involved in the struggle. However, the cause of moral and spiritual righteousness cannot be secured through the resources of human preferment or the use of secular power.
The poor and the oppressed are properly the concern of all redeemed citizens. As Christians, they express their concern in positive acts of love, but with respect for duly constituted authority.
There are victories to be won in the many struggles that engage men on the earth. The victory promised to His Church by the Lord Jesus Christ is over the “gates of hell” which He said will not stand against it.
That victory is realized in this age when the Holy Spirit through the Gospel turns men from darkness to light and from power of Satan to God, in order that they may receive forgiveness of sins and inheritance among them that are sanctified by faith. All secular victories turn to ashes in the hands of those who win them, if the spiritual victory is not also won.
To such a task, the National Association of Evangelicals is called in such a time as this, confident that He who began a good work on the earth will complete it as the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.