In my opinion we are not living in the “best of times.” Maybe because I am getting older, but relative to my lifetime, it is the “worst of times” in many ways. As I write this (late June) the world is wracked by chaos and turmoil, terrorism and war. Nations with no love and respect for the United States are belligerently developing nuclear weapons. On the home front we are continually fighting what seems like a losing battle against crime of all sorts, especially illegal drugs. An economic crisis threatens a catastrophic collapse of our being able to function fiscally. All the while materialism motivates us. A day doesn’t go by that we don’t hear or read about apathy, bizarre acts, greed and immorality in high places, injustice or laxity in the justice system. Do I sound like the Preacher of Ecclesiastes?
The words of Abraham Lincoln in 1863 when he designated April 30th as a day of national humiliation, fasting, and prayer are applicable now. Note what he said: “It is the duty of nations, as well as of men, who owe their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon, and to recognize the sublime truth announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by a history that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord. The awful calamity of civil war which now desolates the land may be but a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole people. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us. We have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has grown, but we have forgotten God.”
Unbelief relative to Jesus Christ is on the rise and this is a major factor in my opinion relative to present problems in the United States. There is a negative reaction out there to the institutionalism, immorality, legalism, materialism and divisions manifested by believers. The humanists and secularists have capitalized upon these to promote their agnostic and atheistic agenda. It has been estimated that half the population of the world is nominally atheist.
Our present situation in the United States reminds me of the time of the French Revolution that gave impetus to atheism. Generally we think of what happened in France beginning in 1789 with the fall of the Bastille as a revolution initiated by atheists. That was not exactly the case. The people were desirous of spirituality, but were angry and turned off by the corruption and despotic control and power of the recognized church which was integrated with the government. As the revolutions unfolded atheist leaders capitalized upon the situation to promote their religion.
That is exactly what is happening in the United States today. There is a known desire for spirituality out there, but unbelievers are using our carnal image, particularly manifested in our divisions to their advantage. Christians are the objects of derision, lack of respect, ridicule, and our rights are being threatened. Our lack of unity, legalism, acts of greed, immorality, self-righteousness, are emphasized in the media and good deeds and service ignored.
What did Jesus say? He indicated in John 17 that there is a relationship between unity and believing. He encouraged us to be one in the Godhead “that the world may believe that You sent Me” (John 17:21b). I have been saying for years that we don’t/haven’t realized the magnitude of the effect of our divisions. Now it seems that what we have sown is really beginning to be harvested.
Let me go back to the French Revolution and one of its leading proponents, Voltaire. Upon until recently I had regarded Voltaire as an atheist. He was not, but was a Deist and I am impressed by some of the things he said relative to the church and atheism. For instance, he indicated that “the notion of a supreme being” had been distorted by “warring Christian sects in particular.” He said, “Is it any wonder that there are atheists in the world, when the church behaves so abominably?” He advocated: “Eliminate the immorality, power, and corruption of the church, and what reason for atheism remains?” His argument: “the attractiveness of atheism is directly dependent upon the corruption of Christian institutions. Reform those institutions and the possibility of atheism is dramatically reduced.” He was right in this respect. (This information about Voltaire was gleaned from the book The Twilight of Atheism by the ex atheist Alistar McGrath.)
Our divisions are corrupt or manifestations of corruption to a large extent. Check into them and you uncover striving for authority and control and power, and self-righteousness, often carried out in cowardly, unprincipled ways. Did not the inspired apostle Paul say of the threat of divisions, “…for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?” (1 Corinthians 3:3).
In March, 1983, I sent a California Letter regarding “Our unity of diversity.” In it I listed 68 subjects over which brethren in the Churches of Christ, particularly the one-cup, no Sunday school brethren disagree. It certainly wasn’t an exhaustive list, but a listing of those “disputable matters” which came readily to mind. A number of them are the focal points of our divisions, not only in the sect in which I was raised, but also in the whole denomination known as the Churches of Christ. Recently I read Kenneth J. Wells’ book Sing ye to Jehovah . . . the song of Moses . . . and the song of the lamb in which he lists 24 items that between the years 1950-2005 have resulted in cliques or divisions in the Churches of Christ. He said that his list was not exhaustive. Within the last two years I know of at least four cases of blackballing and splits within the one-cup sect.
Brethren, I hear a lot of bemoaning about the present state of the human predicament. Also, I do my share. The tendency is to blame others. Nevertheless, we are part of the problem. As long as we have the attitude of solving our problems by dividing, and continue to divide and sustain our present divisions, we are contributing to the unbelief in the world. May God have mercy on us!
J. James Albert
P. S. You will want to get the new book Biblical Preaching and Teaching – Jesus and Our Privileges by bro. Dallas Burdette. It is extensive, informative, and pertinent. It is published by Xulon Press and the ISBN number is 9781615790852.