The Early Church response was different, because it did not have a Sacralistic view of the Kingdom.
Sacralism affects theologically liberal Churches as well, in fact it's one of the reasons people still attend them.
What of the pervasive and omnipresent cultural wickedness? How did the Christians in the first century view it? We find no emphasis on the pages of the New Testament which would drive the Church into some kind of activism. We find no encouragement or seed of doctrine leading us to look to the magistrate to transform society. Nor do we find it in the writings of the Early Church Fathers. We do not find it in the letter to Diognetus, nor in the letters of Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, Justin, Tertullian, or Irenaeus. It is only in the Constantinian times that we begin to see this kind of thinking and action.
Why was it absent before the Edict of Milan? Because they lacked the means that we now possess? I would argue they rightly lacked the vision. Their understanding of the Kingdom was not one of political power. They had a different vision.
Sacralism is a dangerous thing, because it confuses us. I wonder how many Americans are really upset over these same social issues the first century Church dealt with, because of their devotion to a romantic and theological vision of America?
I wonder how many would be equally upset if they were citizens of France or China? Take away the 'holy' vision and suddenly the emotion concerning these issues is stripped away.
And it needs to be. Only then can we have a real discussion about these issues today. We need to pause and realize there is nothing new under the sun.
Despite the dubious morality of Roman society's views of marriage, sexuality, idolatry, and violence…life went on.
So how can Evangelicals say our marriages are at risk by homosexuals marrying? Do I like it? Of course not. It's just more sin surrounding us and the conduct of the wicked is sure to vex us, as Lot could tell us. More lost people exhibiting their lost-ness, and all the more as the Hand of Restraint (Common Grace) is withdrawn. It seems along with the withdrawal in the Common Grace realm we also see withdrawal of discernment when it comes to the professing Church.
The Evangelical reaction to these issues borders on hysteria. Do they not realize it will get much worse? Do they not see all of what's happening right now is a backlash, a blowback resulting from generations of sham-veneer Christianity….an imposed Christendom? The more they fight, the more severe the backlash will be. The unbeliever cannot be subject to the law of God, meaning he cannot understand it, he will not accept it, and when forced to comply with it, his response will not be worship and devotion. When it is imposed on him, he gnashes his teeth and rages and now a multi-generational frustration has boiled over.
Our situation today is very reminiscent of what the Christians faced in the 4th century. There was still a lot of paganism about, but it was on its way into the shadows. Sacralism was waxing and rapidly becoming the cultural norm.
We're in a 4th century equivalent, but moving the other direction. Paganism (in whatever form) is ascendant, Constantinianism is in decline. It is these overlap times I think which can be the most confusing and sometimes the most frustrating. We need to discern the signs of the times. The last vestiges of Christendom are being destroyed. In fact, they're already on fire, they just haven't finished burning.
Rather than weep, wail, and lament, we can proceed with confidence knowing that in some ways it is much easier and there is more promise in evangelizing a pagan context rather than a Sacral one. In a Sacral society, particularly a Christian expression of it…you often have to convince people they're not Christians, so they can understand the gospel.
Christendom is a false construct, a perversion of the Kingdom of God. This may sound really strange to some, but in the end it's better for the Church and its mission for the Sacralism to be removed.
We will be more effective in reaching lost people in a non-Sacral context. While we do not celebrate the sin and all the wickedness that come with it, we should not lament the downfall of Christian America, or all the physical and especially spiritual wickedness it has wrought. In Revelation 17 John tells us of the whore and the Beast. I argue (with many others) Revelation is a series of repeating visions, like Daniel's prophecies, each with a different perspective and emphasis. Each section spans the Last Days, the time between the First and Second Advent. This view also allows for the book to be relevant to Christians in all ages. It is not strictly futuristic, nor relegated to the past.
Rather than a specific point-by-point chronological breakdown, it's a thematic story told in symbolic language and poetic language…apocalyptic language. It's the story of Church history, sometimes told from the perspective of earth, sometimes from heaven. It's story of glorious hope for a faithful people, great persecution and violence, a spiritual war, and an enemy working through false religion, empires, cultural entrapments, and a false Church.
The Whore, the false Church, the Covenant people in apostasy gives power to the Beast. The Beast from the deep (the realm of chaos-death) is the self-deified state, lifting up its head, erecting a tower of Babel, a pseudo-kingdom of Heaven. The Whore empowers the Beast, teaches people to worship it, rides upon it, signifying their joint-project.
This is the imagery of Constantinian-Sacralism. But remember we read the Beast in the end turns on the Whore and destroys it. The Beast destroys the Sacralism, and the Religious Entity which promoted it. What is the response of the saints in Revelation 18?
Years ago, somewhat against my will I was involved in a small renovation project at mainline Presbyterian Church. The Presbyterian Church in the USA (PCUSA) is now what is known as a theologically liberal denomination. The Scriptures are not elevated. For example I know of PCUSA woman minister (?) who when asked about how she could justify her position in light of 1 Timothy 2, responded, "I know Paul's argument, I argued with him and I won."
This more or less, sums up the general attitude toward the Bible by many in that denominational body. Once sound, in the 19th century it succumbed to theological liberalism and began to slowly abandon the Bible, and is today one of many apostate denominations. It preaches various gospels of self-fulfillment, spiritualism, and social deeds, but the Christ of Scripture is absent. By all rights, these buildings should have shut their doors years ago, but the cultural expression of Christianity, keeps some people coming. To be American is to be Christian, at least that is the formula in many people's minds. Going to church is something nice people do, it's an American thing to do. I've heard many people express those words almost verbatim.
Anyway, while taking lunch at mid-day I sat out in the parking lot, eating a sandwich and reading a Church history volume. The Elder who had been supervising the work came out and started looking over my shoulder and wanted to know what I was reading. He did not seem to approve and proudly told me they were studying the latest Karen Armstrong book in their Sunday School.
Karen Armstrong is an ex-Catholic Nun who converted to liberal Judaism and has written many books about religion. Rejecting the Divine origins of Christianity, she tries to argue for ecumenicism based on the fact that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all stem from a common source, they're all Abrahamic religions. From my standpoint, her books contain some interesting historical points here and there, but are largely worthless. That a 'church' would use her works for study during their meetings is deplorable and only confirms the depths of their apostasy.
"Why would you be studying that?" I asked him. He was genuinely shocked.
"Well, she's not a Christian," I replied. "What would she have to teach people in a Sunday School setting?"
"What she's saying is important," he replied. This was shortly after 9/11. "And if we don't start paying attention and working toward bringing us all together, this world is in big trouble."
I then said something about how we need to understand where other people are coming from, but we don't abandon the message of the gospels and the authority of Christ just to get along with people. I said we needed to re-think what America was doing or something like that.
Well, he was pretty disgusted with me and went back inside and we never said anymore about it. While finishing my lunch, I noticed a young man walking up the street. He obviously belonged to the crowd which frequented the Tattoo Parlour located a few blocks away. Driving by one would see the usual assortment out front, young people, gothic garbed, tattooed, pierced, all with dyed hair all trying to look like they got it all figured out.
At one time I knew many people from those circles, or at least the expression of it in the previous generation. One thing I've always found with them… they know they're sinners. Looking at the pierced fellow making his up the street I thought, he doesn't try and pretend like he's a 'good person,' he knows he is not. He rejects the Saviour, but he doesn't try and pretend he is a saint.
This Elder on the other hand, thinks he is a saint but in reality is just as lost as the pierced guy walking up the street. In fact, he's worse. Because he presents himself as a leader in the Church, and he has credibility because he's a well-to-do presentable person, well spoken, and he and the like minded pastor-minister have all the trappings. They have the old building, a sign with the right letters and so forth.
I will admit, I do know of a few mainline churches, but very few, who seem to have a zeal for the Word of God and for whatever reason have not broken their ecclesiastical ties with the larger apostate entity. There are movements within the PCUSA and even the Episcopal church to combat the general apostasy, but even there, I have to admit, I've not been terribly impressed with what they're standing for. The whole spectrum proves aggravating. We have more theologically sound churches which actually need doctrinal latitude beyond their creeds, but with the mainline churches the inclusiveness has reached the point where there can no longer be any discipline, any accountability, because the basics of the gospel have either been lost or abandoned.
For that particular community, a small town in rural America…who is the greater enemy to Christ and His Kingdom? The pierced, black-garbed twenty something? Or the Elder in an apostate Church proffering a false gospel of Humanism deceiving himself and others into thinking they are children of God?
The Sacralist points to the tattooed youth and says, "There's the threat."
To what? The Church? Or do you mean the culture? The false elder is the threat to the church.
It was a lesson I already knew, but that day it was particularly poignant. I think we need to keep this in mind as we look at the lost people all around us. Sometimes the most lost, to my mind have the most hope, and those that say, "We see," are often the most blind and difficult to reach.
Over the years we've had Bible studies in our home and people from some of these types of 'Churches' have attended. Usually they are grossly ignorant of the Scriptures. Please understand I'm not saying that because I enjoy sounding cruel. One lady having attended the local Methodist church for 30 years, did not understand how the chapter and verse divisions worked in the Bible. Someone said to turn to John 6.30, and she didn't know what the six or the thirty meant. The room was very silent. Everyone was stunned.
When presented with Scriptural doctrines (like sin) that wounded pride or cultural sensibilities this woman became very offended and her concerns were affirmed by the local 'minister,' and that was the end of her attendance. He had the legitimacy, because he had a degree from an apostate seminary and his name was on a sign outside a building. The Word of God had no credibility to her, but the words of this trained so-called pastor did.