Cycles of Civilization
Revelation Lesson #020
October 3, 2004
As you as an individual believer advance and mature in the spiritual life you impact the arena in your life in which you are involved. First and foremost we have seen that the believer's primary responsibility is for his own spiritual life, spiritual growth. That means you have to be careful that involvement in politics does not become a distraction to your own spiritual life. Actually, that can affect any detail of life. Maybe you like to play golf, maybe you have other hobbies, maybe you are involved in work to such a degree that that becomes a distraction to your life. Everybody has different interests and involvements and any of them can become a distraction to your spiritual life. There has to be an emphasis on balance, you can't do everything at the same level, you can only do some things well. Some people are able to be more involved in legitimate political activities at grass roots level but others can't, simply because of family responsibilities, work responsibilities or other details. Political develop should never threaten your tranquility or inner happiness. It is easy to go into reaction, especially for a Christian because a Christian knows the truth, knows what the absolutes are, and has a perception of what reality is that the average voter does not have. So if the wrong person is elected because they are operating on human viewpoint it is easy to get our eye off of the Lord and His control of history and to become disillusioned, disenchanted with certain political developments. We have to remember that Jesus Christ controls history.
We have to remember that we live in a nation that has provided the greatest freedoms and greatest opportunities of any nation in all of history. That is not to say that America is always right and has always done the right thing. Under the concept of individual liberty we have the freedom to either study the Word and grow and advance spiritually or not. We have the freedom to evangelize, the freedom to proclaim the gospel, to teach doctrine. We have the freedom to train and develop missionaries and to send them to other countries and other cultures. One of the reasons God has blessed this nation is because of those developments. This is one of the reasons this nation is seen as a client nation that God is using to impact the world, to bless the world by means of association. We shouldn't lose sight of the fact that despite all of the problems that we see today as our nation does deteriorated and is mired in the morass of moral relativism, secular humanism and new age mysticism, that there are still tens of thousands of Bible believing Christians who are actively applying the Word and are involved in missions and many other areas. As long as that is going on we believe that God is going to continue to bless this nation.
Now as we have all this for a base as a believer living in the 21st century we have some real challenges before us in terms of our interaction with out culture. How do we respond to the judicial activism, the social activism, the political activism of those who are operating on a pagan worldview. They are operating on secular humanism, new age mysticism, moral relativism, and postmodernism. We live in a world that has in the last 50-100 years become more and more distant from our Judeo-Christian heritage. In fact, the watershed year is 1962. Many historians mark that year as the end of the Puritan influence in America, and that began the post-Christian era in America. But it wasn't because prayer was taken out of the public schools. That was just one of numerous consequences of thought shifts that had been going on for the previous hundred years or so since the middle of the 19th century. So how do we as believers respond to this?
We don't want to overreact into Christian activism. We have to understand that what we do and how we do it is as important as the results we want. A right thing done in a wrong way is wrong. What we see is that Christians always—because we are never taught, because we are so superficial, and we are always reacting in emotion and self-righteousness to negative trends—end up doing is getting involved in illegitimate Christian activism.
Essentially, Christian activism is the inordinate use of the world's methodology to achieve a Christian impact or Christian result. A classic example of this is what took place in the 1980s and early 1990s with a Christian anti-abortion group called Operation Rescue. It went to the extreme of setting the ideological framework for bombing abortion clinics, with marching, demonstrations and all kinds of illegitimate activities which are classified as civil disobedience. Passive resistance and civil disobedience are methodologies that came into the political sphere through whom? Mahatma Ghandi. So here is a Hindu operating on pure paganism who developed this methodology of resistance and civil disobedience. It has an affect, it leads to getting the British out of India and a number of other factors. It achieves results. So then we get a bunch of air-head Christians who come along and follow the same methodology. They use the devil's methods to accomplish so-called Christian ends. That is just erroneous. We have to build our understanding of everything in life from the Scriptures—political involvement, political philosophy, legal philosophies, social standards, everything has to start from the Scriptures. We have to see what the Scripture says about these kinds of things.
Examples of civil disobedience in the Bible. In Exodus chapter one the situation is that the Jews are now in Egypt and they have become slaves. There is a prophecy known that a deliverer is going to be born among the Jews. This is, of course, foreshadowing what will occur with the birth of the Messiah. As a result of this we are told in 1:15, "And the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, of which the name of the one was Shiphrah, and the name of the other Puah: and he said, When you do the office of a midwife to the Hebrew women, and see them upon the stools; if it be a son, then you shall kill him: but if it be a daughter, then she shall live." This was operation population control to prevent the coming of the deliverer. They are told by the civil authority, king of Egypt. He specifically addresses these two individuals and we can assume that if there is a population of between 2 and 3-million Jews that they aren't the only two midwives., but this would apply to them as well as all the other midwives. It is a direct order, telling them to murder these infants. What did they do? Did they have a march on Pharaoh's palace? When there was a birth they just didn't do it. They don't violate the principle of God. They don't react to the Pharaoh, they don't make an issue out of it, they go home and do what is right before God.
They are going to have to answer for it because there are a lot of male babies being born. "But the midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the male children alive. And the king of Egypt called for the midwives, and said unto them, Why have ye done this thing, and have saved the men children alive? And the midwives said unto Pharaoh, Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered before the midwives come in unto them." So this isn't civil disobedience in the sense of going out and staging demonstrations or sit-ins or riots, or things like that. It was a personal decision made by each individual as to whether or not they were going to do what the civil authorities said. The civil authority is mandating a course of action and the individual is saying that violates Scripture and I'm not going to do it.
Daniel has three examples of civil disobedience. The Jews were living in the midst of a pagan empire and they have to apply doctrine as a minority within that pagan system. The first situation they faced had to do with diet. The Babylonian diet violated the Mosaic law. Once again there was the same situation. There was the civil authority, in this case the king of Babylon, giving a direct order to, in this case, eat certain things that were prohibited specifically by the Mosaic law. Daniel 1:8, "But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king's meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself." They made a personal decision that they were not going to disobey God, no matter what happened to them. Daniel used good common sense and goes to the prince of the eunuchs. He is not going to create an issue about it, he's not going to react to the person in authority, he is not going to challenge their authority, he is going to work within the system to request the opportunity to follow the biblical mandates. Daniel presents a case; he suggests a test case: a ten-day test, an experiment.
Another example is in Daniel 3, a situation where Nebuchadnezzar erects his statue of gold and mandates that they all bow down and worship this idol when the orchestra plays. So once again there was a civil authority giving a direct order to each individual to bow down and worship. So they don't do it. They don't make an issue out of it, they don't gather all their friends together and have a sit-in, they don't march on Babylon, they just don't obey the command which specifically violates a mandate of God.
A New Testament example is in Acts chapter four. Peter and John have been witnessing and evangelizing their fellow Jews. They are having a phenomenal impact in and around Jerusalem and the Sanhedrin is getting worried. They are arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin which has to decide what it is going to do about them. "Saying, What shall we do to these men? for that indeed a notable miracle hath been done by them is manifest to all them that dwell in Jerusalem; and we cannot deny it. But that it spread no further among the people, let us straitly threaten them, that they speak henceforth to no man in this name. And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus." Here again is a civil authority giving a direct order to some believers to not witness. That is in direct violation of a specific mandate from the Lord Jesus Christ to witness. So now the disciples have to decide what to do. What they do is given in verse 19, "But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard."
This is not civil disobedience in the sense of the modern realm. What happens in the modern realm is this. You have the civil authorities doing something or allowing through legislation certain kinds of action to be legal. In most of these case the civil authority isn't dictating a specific course of action to believers. Take the abortion issue that was so prominent with the Operation Rescue crowd. There was not a case of the Government dictating to specific individuals that they have an abortion. The civil authority was simply making it possible and was allowing a course of action. So there was person X who decides on having an abortion. Then in comes person Z who was not involved at all, and is neither part of the civil authority or the individual who has decided to have an abortion, and interferes as a third party to try to stop. That is illegitimate civil disobedience.
The case we have in Scripture is when the civil authority dictates a certain course of action to the believer that is contrary to the specific revelation of God, the believer then simply decides who he is going to obey, God or the Government. They pick their course of action and accept the consequences. They don't go out and get engaged in civil disobedience.
In this country we have the privilege under law of taking certain courses of action. When legislators pass certain laws that we deem to be inappropriate and a violation of what we as believers perceive to be the truth we have the right to influence through legislation, through writing, through political action groups to influence through legislation. These are legitimate, legal and ethical ways to handle the situation. We as believers are no different from any other segment of society and we have a legitimate right to be involved in this because it is a part of the political structure of the United States of America. So we should be involved at whatever level we can without it being a distraction to pour own spiritual life, our own spiritual growth. That is not illegitimate. It is completely legitimate to be biblically accurate. There is nothing wrong with signing a petition, but you are doing it as a citizen of the country, you are being involved in the process. If Christians are silent then we bear a responsibility for what may go wrong.
We have to recognize as Christians we have access to absolute truth and therefore an absolute standard for evaluation. We can easily slip into arrogance and the illegitimate challenge of a nation's authority because they correctly see the injustice that is going on. If we look at how Jesus responded to the illegitimate and illegal activities of the Sadducees and the Pharisees when they brought Him before various illegal trials, and they arrested Him in an illegal manner, and judged Him to be guilty of that for which He was not guilty of and hung Him on the cross. The Scripture says, "As a lamb before his shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth." He does not react out of arrogance of self-righteousness.
There is the challenge of living in a society that is in failure. We live in a society that is deteriorating rapidly and is disintegrating from the inside out, and this is all a part of the trends of civilization. In 1787 there was a classics and history professor at the University of Edinburgh by the name of Alexander Tyler. He was asked about the fall of the Athenian republic. This is his answer: "A democracy is always temporary in nations, it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to its loose fiscal policies. It is always followed by a dictatorship." He went on to say, "The average age of the world's greatest civilizations from the beginning of history has been about 200 years, and during those 200 years these nations always progress through the following sequence. They went from bondage to spiritual faith, then from spiritual faith to great courage. From great courage they understood liberty and they moved in the direction of liberty. Once they had their liberty then the experienced abundance and prosperity. But once they had abundance and prosperity they became complaisant. When they became complaisant they moved to apathy, from apathy to dependence, and from dependence back into bondage." That is the cycle.
Recently, in commenting about this, Professor Joseph Olsen of Hamline University school of law in St Paul, Minnesota, points out the following in relation to our own history: "In the presidential election of 2000, in the terms of the population of the counties that were won by Al Gore—the population of the counties was 127-million; the total population of the counties that President Bush won was 143-million. The square miles won by Gore was 580,000; the square miles won by Bush was 2,427,000. While Gore won 19 states Bush won 29 states. The murder rate in counties won by Gore was 13.2 per 100,000 residents; by Bush it was 2.1. In conclusion, in aggregate the map of the territory Bush won was mostly the land owned by the tax-paying citizens of this great country. Gore's territory mostly encompassed those citizens living in government-owned tenements and living off government welfare." Olsen believes the US is somewhere between the complaisancy and apathy stage of Professor Tyler's definition of democracy—from apathy to dependence and from dependency back into bondage. He claims that some forty per cent of the nation's population has already reached the government-dependency stage. Thus we vote for whoever is going to give us the most. We are voting for selfish, subjective reasons and not objective reasons.
Only the believer operating on external absolutes can have an impact on this negative trend. We do it first through our personal spiritual growth—as goes the believer so goes the nation. We do it through application of doctrine in our marriage and family, in the work place, and in the political process. That is functioning as salt and light. Above all we must do everything with prayer.