By Dr. Bill Patterson
In every country where Christianity has gained a strong foothold, major change has taken place. For instance, historian J. Edwin Ohr wrote that in the Welsh Revival of the early 1900s, so many coal miners came to the Lord that the mules hauling the coal from the mines had to adjust—the mules had previously responded to cursing; since the new Christians did not curse, the mules had to be retrained.
Likewise, the police found they had little work to do. Instead of guarding the rowdy bars, they found themselves with time on their hands. Many of the bars closed, and those that remained open had few customers. So the police formed gospel quartets in each precinct and sang in the churches.
In Korea the revival of the early 1900s changed the country for the better. At that time few men and only one-quarter of one percent of women could read and write. After revivals swept the land, schools and then colleges for women were founded. Today South Korea has one of the highest literacy rates in the world.
What made the difference in these two nations and dozens more? Tens of thousands became Christians and immediately set about bettering their countries.
Not a New Problem
What about America? Many came to our land to freely practice their faith in Christ. Each of the 13 colonies had articles of incorporation stating that the colony was established for the propagation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. By the early 1700s, however, religious involvement and belief had declined.
Rev. Jonathan Edwards, Rev. George Whitefield, and others helped bring in a Great Awakening. Along with the new religious fervor came a renewed interest in society. Edwards held that churches ought to strengthen the areas in which they resided. In his 1749 sermon, “Charity and its Fruits,” Edwards said, “The spirit of charity, or Christian love . . . disposes a person to be public-spirited. A man of right spirit is . . . greatly interested and concerned for the good of the community.”
The revival of spiritual interest and fervor helped stage the founding of a decidedly Christian nation. The motto of the Revolutionary War became, “We have no king but Jesus.” Most of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were strong Christians, ministers, presidents of Christian colleges, or leaders of evangelistic tract societies.
A review of thousands of written documents from the founders shows they quoted the Bible far more than they quoted any other source. They often cited passages that applied to the nation:
• “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1).
• “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 33:12).
• “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).
There have been other times when Christians faced declining morality in the nation. Ours is not the first generation. How did our forefathers handle it? By staying true to the gospel and by prayer.
Christ and Culture
Some have chosen to withdraw from culture altogether. Those folks established monasteries or lived a solitary life. Others have become so immersed in culture that there is scarcely any difference between the culture and their church. Are there other approaches? Richard Niebuhr’s classic work, Christ and Culture, describes five:
1. “Christ against culture” (no engagement with each other)
2. “Christ of culture” (the church adopts what the culture embraces)
3. “Christ above culture” (following Jesus on Sunday but cultural norms otherwise)
4. “Christ and culture in paradox” (using culture to advance the church)
5. “Christ transforming culture” (leading culture to adopt biblical values)
Most of the five (except the hypocritical third way) may be appropriate at times. For instance, with substance abuse and other sinful behavior, we should choose “Christ against culture.” Using heat and air conditioning, electricity, sound systems, and so on in our churches reflects “Christ of culture.”
With popular but not sinful media, we should choose “Christ and culture in paradox.” For instance, we can use the Internet to access many good things like the weather, news, devotionals, or to do research. Christians shouldn’t use it, however, to access pornography.
All the time we should hold to “Christ transforming culture.” As in all things, Jesus is our example. He came into the world to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15) but he never became a sinner (Hebrews 4:15). Likewise we are not to be conformed to this world but transformed (Romans 12:1, 2). Our goals are to live like Jesus and to advance his gospel.
The Church Salting the Country
Our Lord asked us to be salt (Matthew 5:13). Our saltiness adds flavor to a culture that has lost good taste. Our saltiness also preserves the high quality parts of our country.
The founding fathers of the United States recognized that a growing nation and economy could only be built upon the virtues of the Lord. They knew that no nation could hire enough policemen to stem the tide of evil among a people who no longer followed the Ten Commandments. George Washington, in his 1796 Farewell Address said, “and let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion.” Washington called for Christians to be the salt that preserved the nation.
Think of some ways you can be salt in your area of influence. Can you encourage preaching and teaching on topics like being salt and light in the world or being in the world but not of it? Why not request your Bible study leader to teach a lesson on what it means to “give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:21)?
Could you create a list of areas where your involvement could add saltiness? You might include things like volunteering at a local pregnancy care center, serving at a local soup kitchen, carrying the gospel message to a local jail, being involved in Habitat for Humanity, or being a Big Brother or Big Sister to a child who needs a mentor. Residents of local nursing homes always need company and companionship, and hospitals can always use volunteers.
The Church Lighting the Country
Not only has our Lord asked us to be salt but also to be light (Matthew 5:14-16). As such, we can shine the gospel into the darkness.
Pray about giving a year of your life to join with other Christians to help begin a new church in a declining area. Ask your minister for his advice and help. He may be able to assist your efforts or to advise about projects which seem to be the most needed.
Christians can vote. If we fail to do so, we leave elections to non-Christians. We can run for office. The country needs, perhaps as never before, the guidance and votes of godly decision-makers.
Also we can be faithful in leading people to Christ. Just as in the Great Awakening, when a huge number of new believers become salt and light, the change in the culture will be tremendous.
Some will argue, “The time is so dark!” Yes, but the light shines brightest in the darkness. True Christians stand out more clearly when contrasted with the darkness around us.
Pray. Ask God for a new Great Awakening to transform our country. We serve the same God as Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield. His arm is not shortened. He can still bring about marvelous change in America.
For centuries missionaries have left family and friends and traveled to share the good news of Jesus with people held hopeless in demonic chains and oppressed by false religions. Missionaries often face ridicule, persecution, and hardships in order to bring the light of the Lord to darkened lands.
We may face some hardships in America in the days ahead. Nevertheless, we must do as the missionaries and share the glorious light of Jesus with our culture today.
Matthew 4:16 directed people to Jesus when he quoted Isaiah saying, “the people living in darkness have seen a great light.” You and I have also seen his light and can shine that light into the darkest corners of our country.
Dr. Bill Patterson is a minister and freelance writer in Henderson, Kentucky.
Throughout American history there have been several times called Great Awakenings. Each one was a time of rapid growth of faith, and each began with fervent prayer and radical repentance in the church (as a community and as individuals).
Is our country on the cusp of revival? Are you and your church committed to prayer in bold, sacrificial ways? or pursuing deep-seated holiness before God?
Here are simple summary videos of the first and second Great Awakenings (for those who were snoozing in history class):
In The Huffington Post article “The Sixth Great Awakening: America’s Only Hope,” author Robert J. Morgan issues this call to prayer: “Join me in making Psalm 85:6 a daily prayer for our nation and world: ‘Will you not revive us again that your people may rejoice in you?’”
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