Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. —Ephesians 4:17
The perspective, known as postmillennialism or triumphalism, has fallen on hard times for the past century or so. It first stumbled during the American Civil War, which was really a religious or worldview war. The North represented the unitarian aspirations or the Liberalism of state unification through uniformitarian policies of a strong central government driven by Washington D. C. The Unitarian Controversy (early 1800s) had recently swept through the Northeast and claimed a good number of Congregational and Presbyterian churches, and infected many others with its anti-trinitarian doctrines.
In contrast, the South represented trinitarian Calvinism or the conservative idea of small central government with checks and balances that would allow stronger state governments. The issue was whether the primary power would lie with a centralized national government, or with the various states in federation.
Christian triumphalism took another hit during the War of 1812, and another during WWI and WWII. The vision of Christ’s triumphal victory and dominance in the world, like Humpty Dumpty’s fall, has been irreparably broken. The vision for a Christian government of an American Constitutional form will not recover. However, it is necessary to understand that what was broken was a false view of Christ’s triumphalism, not its reality. What was broken was the Great Awakening vision of Christianity, which was itself an historical anomaly that was built on various flawed ideas that had also shaped the U. S. Constitution. And what triumphed was the unitarian/universalist, Liberal ideas of multiculturalism that have produced the current state of affairs in the world.
As good a document as the Constitution is, it is not perfect. The intention of the Constitution was to bring two opposing religious and political factions together through compromise for the sake of the nation. Those opposing factions were essentially composed of those who support traditional American Christianity and those who do not. The American Christianity in view is the Puritanism of the early American colonies prior to the First Great Awakening. Unfortunately, the Puritans imposed the same sort of religious monopoly upon the colonies that they fled from in England. The central difference was that now they were in charge. The corruption involved in the pursuit of power has never been tamed. Notice that the compromise served the purposes of the new nation, not the purposes of Jesus Christ. This is a hard idea to accept because the American experiment has had so many fantastic successes in so many different areas over such a long period of time, and Christians have always thanked God for those successes. While the cultural apparatus was in the hands of Christians during the early years of the new nation, the nation appeared to be Christian. But as the cultural apparatus changed hands over the centuries, the nation has appeared to be less and less Christian, less Puritan.
Indeed, the American experiment is still in the process of bringing to just about every nation on earth a kind of salvation from poverty into the many blessings of Western Civilization, fueled by science and technology. I don’t want to disparage the tremendous successes of this endeavor. I am very grateful! But neither do I want to neglect my prior commitments and claims by God in Christ to be a citizen of His Kingdom on earth.
At the very time that the American experiment began to be seriously exported around the world following WWII, America also began to divest herself of her inherited Christian commitments, traditions and values. Thus, Western Culture was not exported as the fruit of Christianity, but as the fruit of the American experiment, sans Christianity. At the very time that the fruit of Christian civilization began to be exported across the globe, it was also being divested of its true Christian roots, heritage, and character. It has been much easier to export the Godless fruit abroad, and more difficult to expunge Christianity from the home front. Nonetheless, much success has been made on both fronts, to the shame of Christ’s glory.
What is difficult for Christians to realize today is that those Christian commitments, traditions, and values that have been and are under attack by non-Christians and those outside the churches are under attack in part because they are flawed. The Christianity under attack is seriously flawed, and can be improved. The Lord is forcing His people to reconsider, reevaluate, and reformulate some of the most basic Christian commitments, traditions, and values in the greater light of Christ that continues to unfold. This is nothing new, it has happened all through history as the church faced new people, new situations, and new developments. However, this is not an argument for Liberalism, far from it! It is an argument for reconsideration, for rethinking, and repentance by the church! The church must lead with public repentance and real change that truly reflects genuine biblical truth, honesty, integrity, and compassion.
The greatest danger for Christians in the midst of our current situation is the desire for retrenchment and retreat into the past, to call on old solutions to solve new problems. This is a serious danger because it is so attractive and easy to do. It is also a serious danger because Christians are actually still in the cultural driver’s seat. The problem is not that Christians don’t have jurisdiction or control, the problem is that Christians have a lack of vision. We need a vision that is greater than our problems. We cannot expect unbelievers to have true answers for real problems because their unbelief constitutes the denial of the greatest truth available to humanity—Jesus Christ. By the same token, Christians must not deny the reality of the failure of traditional answers to the questions and problems uncovered by scientific and technological advancements.
This does not mean that previous understandings of Christian orthodoxy and orthopraxy are wrong. It means that Christianity is a living tradition. Christianity itself grows and matures because it is alive. It means that old answers, like old clothes, no longer fit a growing body. However, the church must not abandon her past, nor should she become less faithful to God’s Word over time. Rather, she needs to grow and mature in genuine faithfulness. She needs to grow in grace and mercy, of course, but also in righteousness.
(from Ephesians—Recovering The Vision of a Sustainable Church In Christ, forthcoming, 2014)