Recent events must lead those of who live in the United States to ask, where are we going? The new year brought in with legalization of marijuana for recreational use in two states. Last year brought with it the decision to strike down DOMA, which has led to the creeping normalization of same-sex marriage by way of judicial ruling. To quote Bob Dylan “the times they are a changing.” We might think that we live in a unique time, and that our situation is unique, it’s not.
One of the greatest thinkers of the Christian tradition wrote and ministered in conditions much like our American context. He lived in an empire in which the lines between the church and the world were increasingly blurred. He lived in a time where Christianity was professed and normalized but not practiced. Augustine wrote one of his greatest works, City of God, as the Roman empire of which he was a citizen and inhabitant crumbled after a long period of moral decay led to cultural dry rot. One can look at Roman history and trace the lives of the Emperors and see a steady decline all the way up to the fall of the Empire. Sexual immorality of every shade was known and had someone to defend and celebrate it in the Roman empire, much like our own time. The Senate was in constant conflict with the emperor, and the public was distracted with bread and circuses. While Rome decayed, the barbarians were at the gate. As we can see there’s nothing new under the sun, times like these have come before.
Augustine in writing in the face of circumstances provided a lucid biblical response. Comparing the earthly city, the one which rises out of sin and the fall, and the heavenly city Augustine says “The Heavenly City outshines Rome beyond comparison. There, instead of victory, is truth; instead of high rank, holiness; instead of peace, felicity; instead of life, eternity.” The great thing, the supremely glorious thing is this, if we are a believer in Christ our citizenship is in heaven, in the heavenly city. Where America is going is clear, it is going the way of Rome, and will continue to do so unless there is a foundational change.
What do we do? Do we withdraw? Do we imitate the Amish and other sects and withdraw from the world? If we’re faithful to the Scriptures we can’t do that. The God who calls us to be holy is the same God who commanded the children of Israel to seek the good of the city during their Babylonian captivity. Some might say they don’t care what other people do and think as long as it doesn’t effect them. The fact of the matter is that God cares. There was a city in the Old Testament noted for its moral decay, and in fact the Lord had threatened judgment. He didn’t threaten judgment without warning, in fact he sent the most reluctant prophet of them all, Jonah, to warn them of wrath to come. Warn them he did, and their was repentance for a time and judgment was delayed, but the Bible teaches us that Nineveh drifted back to its old ways and faced the judgment promised. While we might not know if revival will come from our words and actions, we know we can’t sit and do nothing. Silent or spoken outrage over abortion, homosexuality, and all the other immorality celebrated in our culture changes nothing, what does change things is the gospel, God’s power for salvation. They may imprison us for it one day, they may marginalize us today, but if we don’t speak and live out the gospel nothing will ever change.