Sunday, April 21, 2013

Is America a pagan nation?

I will say that I was taken aback by the response, both positive and negative, both supportive and challenging of the ideas I put forth in my last post. There are several points from the discussions and online chats I have had with people, which I will seek to further develop in upcoming posts. For example, how should we, as followers of Christ, view and engage our society? Before we answer this question, we need to stop and consider the best way to describe our society and culture.

"America is a Christian nation that has lost her way." Is this the best way to describe our nation? "America is a pagan nation." Is this a more accurate depiction of the United States? I lean toward the latter. It does not give me pleasure to state this, in fact it grieves me to think this is the case. For some, to say that America is a pagan nation might sound unpatriotic. To others, it might seem as if I am giving up on America. However, based upon an examination of the condition of our nation, and then to resign oneself to the reality that the United States is pagan, does not mean we ought to give up and be without hope.

Is it true that all nations will face judgment (for example, Joel 3:2)? Yes, but to give up is paramount to inviting God to bring judgment on the pagan nation now. In a sense, this is what Jonah wanted to do with Nineveh. He thought Nineveh was so pagan and vile that it should just suffer the judgment of God and be eliminated. Perhaps, he might have stood on the side, and even given an approving grin to those who might picket with signs of "God is your enemy," "God hates [your country]," and "God hates you." (like a small group have done in our nation). But is this how God told Jonah he should act toward the pagan people of Nineveh? Absolutely not! Rather, God instructed him to go to the city and to go through the streets calling out against it. In other words, Jonah was called to engage the culture in a way that proclaimed God will still show mercy for all who turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in his hands (Jonah 4:1ff).

So I am not giving up on America. I do not look condescendingly toward other nations, however I am grateful that in God's providence I was born here. I do not think there is anything wrong with being patriotic, as long as it is kept in perspective to our ultimate allegiance to Christ and His Kingdom. The essence of patriotism is having feelings of love toward one's country. To have a love for one's country does not mean to turn a blind eye to the fact that the dominant worldview is paganism. In fact, as the followers of Christ, if we truly love our nation, wouldn't this include a grief and sorrow for where our nation is spiritually?

I continue to stand on this truth that I mentioned in the previous post: If we want to see the culture change; it will change as the hearts of men and women are changed. The way the hearts of men and women will change is by the transforming power of the Gospel. The beginning point is to start with a realistic perspective of the society we live, so that we can best be prepared to engage the culture with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is why I believe we must reject the notion that we are a "Christian nation" and accept the reality that we are thoroughly a "pagan nation." But why do I say that America is, or has become a pagan nation? If you look around, there still are lots of churches and a thriving Christian entertainment and retail industry? You can see crosses along the side of highways and billboards that proclaim biblical messages and Gospel truths and the "Religious Right" still has an influence in politics.

The definition of paganism is somewhat diverse. After looking up several definitions online, there are a few key components of paganism which seem to be found in most of the definitions. Paganism can embrace either end of the spectrum; either embracing polytheism or having little or no religion at all. Regardless, most will state that paganism includes the rejection of monotheism and any postulations that there is only one God and only one way to God. Also, most definitions of paganism will also include the practices of hedonism, which involves delighting in sensual pleasure and material goods. Is this a fair and accurate picture of America? Let's look at each of these individually.

Paganism involves little or no religion It is still patriotic and socially acceptable to say, "God bless America." In times of tragedy, as was evidenced this past week with the Boston Marathon bombing, it is still socially acceptable to pray to God. However, if we take a wider perspective, how much influence does Christianity have in shaping and influencing the major social institutions in society? Since the beginning of the twentieth century, there have been concerted efforts to chisel away at any laws that would tend to reflect Biblical Christianity. For over half a century, it is apparent there is a desire to remove any references, influence or foundations of Christian principles and values in our government and educational institutions as well.

As a nation, we even take great pride in saying that our "public" institutions (albeit schools, government agencies, libraries, etc.) are "neutral." In other words, as a nation we have come to the point where the majority expect the major social institutions that shape society to have little or no religion. We are a nation driven by secularism, humanism and post-modernism. Therefore, from a biblical perspective, the United States is spiritually bankrupt.

Rejection of monotheism Monotheism is the belief that there is one God. On the surface, it might seem as if America does hold to this idea. "There is one God and all religions lead to him/her" is the rallying cry we hear from many sectors in society. But is this even logically attainable? All one needs to do is read the basic teachings of the major world religions to realize that the picture of God each presents is quite different. Each of them also clearly state a prescribed path to relationship and fellowship with God. Therefore, to say that there is only one God but many ways is illogical and contradictory. I would go one step further to say it is just another way to reject monotheism and the acceptance of polytheism.

To say we are polytheistic might really rub many the wrong way. However, let me give you an example of how I see this concept of polytheism - the belief in many gods - creeping in and becoming more widely accepted in our society. Consider the rise and acceptance in our society of "interfaith" dialogue, ministries, worship services, prayer meetings, etc. Just this past week, in the city of Boston, the President of the United States joined many others in an interfaith service. But what is meant by "interfaith"? By definition, interfaith means a cooperation, understanding and often an acceptance of those of different faiths; including Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, etc. So, when we move toward "interfaith" elements, are we not, either consciously or unconsciously, saying there are many different forms of God that are all equally right and true? At the root, is this not a clear rejection that there is only one, true God who is Lord and Ruler of all? For a country that practices, promotes and accepts such ideology as being plausible and even laudable, is it not on par with the same practices seen in the pagan societies of old, who openly worship various gods?

Even ancient Israel fell into acceptance of this form of polytheism. They did not reject worship of the one, true God, but they also allowed acceptance of the worship of false gods: "They also set up for themselves high places, sacred stones and Asherah poles on every high hill and under every spreading tree" (1 Kings 14:23). In a similar way, we still have the church in America, but collectively, as a nation, we have also set on equal footing and acceptance many other religions and "gods" in the name of pluralism.

Hedonistic practices I am not sure I need to spend much time convincing anyone that our nation has been consumed with the pursuit of happiness; spending enormous amounts of time, money and resources in delighting in sensual pleasure and material goods. Most statistics will say that the per capita (per person) spending on entertainment is about $115 a month. The per capita spending on just summer vacation is an additional $1200. Combined, that is over $10,000 a year that the average four-person family spends on entertainment and leisure. Several reports say that the spending on luxury consumer goods - including designer clothing and shoes, jewelry, luxury cars, wine and spirits, luxury accessories and electronics, etc. - is about $375 billion a year. To say that the United States, as a whole, is driven by sensual pleasure and material goods is an understatement.

From the above definition, it seems clear that America fits the description of a pagan nation. I don't think any Christian in the Western Hemisphere wants to think of their nation as pagan. When we think "pagan" we immediately turn our attention to those nations halfway around the world in the 10/40 window (those nation-states in between 10 and 40 degrees north of the equator including many countries of northern Africa, the Middle East, and Asia). In one sense, this show a degree of ethnocentrism, where we see ourselves as better and superior to other nations. In another sense, it might reveal just how blind we are to the depravity and spiritual mire we are in as a nation.

So, what if you come to agree that America is a pagan nation, what does all this mean? Because of the fact that I do love my country, it is my desire to see revival sweep through this land. I want to see a radical transformation take place in society. The culture will change as the hearts of men and women are changed. The way the hearts of men and women will change, is by the transforming power of the Gospel. Once the hearts change, then, and only then, will you begin to see a shift in values, beliefs, norms, and laws. Just consider what Jesus stated:
What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and they defile a person (Mark 7:21-23).
Is this also not true of societies as well? Is not the general societal trend to pervert Truth, reject the one, true God and His Word, and to accept and practice many of the evil things mentioned above, evidence of a corrupt and depraved society? Is it not true that these societal values and norms have all flowed from the heart of sinful, depraved and reprobate man? So, if by God's grace we are to see a transformation in our society, the church will be the instrument and conduit God will use to bring about this change. It will be a purified church, that exalts holiness and lives in a way that reflect the same message we proclaim, which God will use to pierce the hearts of sinful humanity of their need of salvation.

But what happens if this transformation does not happen? What happens if we become more and more pagan as a society? The church has long ago lost a "favored" status as a social institution that influences society and culture. What if society progresses to where it becomes unlawful to preach the Gospel openly without legal opposition and persecution? What if the church has to move to the "underground"?

I will be the first to admit that I do not desire to see religious persecution for holding firmly to biblical truths. I do not want to see this type of situation develop in our nation. However, what if the way that God will bring about massive transformation in the lives of many, will come through the means of persecution? What if American society needs to sink deeper into the dark pit of paganism for the bright light of Christ to penetrate the hearts of men and women in our society? What if by God's mercy and grace, before the final harvest, He permits the tide in our society to allow legal opposition and persecution against the church, as the means of God separating the wheat from the tares now, so that the true church becomes more visible (Matthew 13:30)?

From my perceptive, America is already a pagan nation. And, but by the grace of God, I believe our nation will continue to move more in that direction. What can we do? All true followers of Christ have a dual-citizenship. In fact, I believe central to being an "elect exile" is understanding that this world is not our final home and residence. We all have citizenship in an earthly kingdom (nation), but our ultimate citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). We see the Apostle Paul effectively use his earthly, national citizenship - and the privileges and rights that come with being a citizen - but also keep his eye on his ultimate heavenly citizenship (Ephesians 2:19).

This means that as citizens of the United States, we can and ought to use all the means of civil participation available to us. This includes using our rights, such as our "freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." It also includes actively voting for candidates that align with the values, norms and beliefs that we hold. It can also take the form of being involved by running for various political offices, if this is how the Lord is leading.

But regardless of the path that the laws in this land eventually go, this is where the followers of Christ must rest in their ultimate love and allegiance to the Kingdom of God and Jesus Christ our Lord. Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords. He is the Sovereign One. Even if our country becomes a land where we are not allowed worship openly, He is still in control. We must still be "subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God" (Romans 13:1). However, if we come to a point where we are not able to openly proclaim the Gospel, and preach the truth of God's Word, "we must obey God rather than men" regardless of the consequences (Acts 5:29).

May God encourage and strengthen your faith in the journey; where Scripture and culture and life meet!

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