Is America in decline?
That is the question on everybody’s minds, and for years now, the evidence has been pouring in:
- The U.S. government is over $17 trillion in debt, and the executive and legislative branches are at odds over what to do about it;
- many Americans are having buyer’s remorse regarding the Affordable Care Act, as it is prohibitively expensive, among other problems;
- the “American century” may end sooner than many people think;
- the number of single parents has grown 50% in the last fifty years;
- good paying, full-time jobs are on the decline:
- Christian influence in America has shrunk drastically in a very short period of time.
One could go on and on citing stories like this. The facts are clear: religiously, morally, militarily, and economically, America is in decline.
Why is this happening? Is it because we have turned our backs on Him? Is it because of abortion? Is it because we haven’t followed 2 Chronicles 7:14 enough?
In answering these questions, we should not deny that Christian principles are good for society at large (when rightly practiced and understood), that abortion is an abomination, and that it’s good to pray for one’s country (although I would recommend reading this first). These are all very true.
But there is something that is drastically needed: context.
That is to say, American Christians need to see themselves as God sees them. Here’s what I mean: there was only one time in the history of the world where God set aside a nation that would be wholly devoted to Him. This was Old Testament Israel, the one truly “Christian nation” that ever existed; and when I say “Christian nation,” I mean a country with physical borders that was sanctioned by God Himself, and was to be governed solely by His Word.
What about other nations? Isaiah 40:15 says, “Behold, the nations are like a drop from the bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales; behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust.” And for good measure, verse 17 adds, “All the nations are as nothing before Him, they are accounted by Him as less than nothing and emptiness.”
While this is very poetic language, we can at minimum deduce from it that even the most powerful nations are minuscule in God’s eyes. He can raise them up and tear them down at will. And He does.
Case in point with the Old Testament prophet, Habakkuk. This man lamented that Judah was about to be overthrown by the godless Babylonians. But as God makes clear in chapter two of that little book, Babylon will also face a time of reckoning, which they did.
So it has been throughout civilized history. Nations come and go, and this is a perfectly biblical concept.
Since the completion of the New Testament canon, many of these nations have counted themselves “Christian.” To give one example, for nearly 1,000 years, the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Emperor was called the “vice-regent of Christ,” and many of the early Christian councils took place within its borders. But as any student of history knows, this nation’s leadership was notorious for its many devious plots and schemes against each other; hence the adjective “byzantine” is still with us today with all of its negative connotations.
The Byzantine Empire ceased to exist over 500 years ago, as it was conquered by the Ottoman Turks.
Other nations have tried to claim the “Christian nation” mantle as well. But guess what? They’re either no longer with us (Byzantine Empire), or they have brazenly rejected the Christian label, with England being an obvious example.
And now, we come to the U.S.A. Surely there were many Christians involved in its founding; Benjamin Rush, John Jay, and George Washington, to name a few. But there were also those who virulently denied essential Christian doctrine: Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Payne among them.
This is certainly difficult for many American Christians to hear. Many of us were taught the romantic notion that America was founded as a Christian nation (at least in some sense), with the underlying assumption being that it is special and so we need not worry about it going away. But as history shows us, this is a foolhardy way to look at things.
Additionally, the New Testament knows nothing of any other nations being like OT Israel. Rather, the only “nation” spoken of is the Church, in 1 Peter 2:9. This nation is scattered throughout the world, and hence is not confined by any man-made borders.
None of this should be taken as meaning that Christians shouldn’t be active in their government; politics is a legitimate vocation, and it is entirely proper for Christian legislators to propose and pursue legislation according to their worldview. Nor should we say that believers ought not participate in the PTA, volunteer for their favorite candidates, and vote; of course they should. Lastly, it’s perfectly fine to love your country or be thankful for it, as it has so many freedoms that other countries historically have not had.
But context is key: according to the Bible, nations come and go. One day, America’s time will come. Like many, I do pray that it will stick around for a while.
That said, Christians have a far greater and mightier hope than any earthly nation: a city which God has prepared for us ahead of time (Hebrews 13:16). Until then, we are aliens and strangers passing through a foreign land (1 Peter 2:11). While we’re here, we have a code of conduct (Matthew 5:13-16, 1 Timothy 2:1-2, Titus 3:1-2), and we are to demonstrate by it that while we are dual citizens for a time, and while we can certainly “seek the welfare of the city” in which we reside (Jeremiah 29:7) while we are here, our hope does not rest in that city, but in the one that is above.
Context is key.